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Thread: 3 days Hunting in the Karoo, South Africa. The second part of my First trip.

  1. #1

    3 days Hunting in the Karoo, South Africa. The second part of my First trip.

    A Hunters Reflections

    The Karoo Gnu.

    Leaving the mountains of the East Cape behind we traveled North through the town of Kleinpoort and on into the Karoo. The landscape changed dramatically from lush green Mountains to dry open plains broken by rocky Hills and Gorges. In a lot of ways it reminded me of areas of the Australian Outback, particularly the areas around Broken Hill in New South Wales and parts of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. There were deep tree lined Gorges running between high rocky ridges that seemed to run parallel for endless kilometers, then vast open plains of seemingly nothing, it looked like it would be a very challenging area to hunt.

    Driving into the Karoo, you can see the change in the Landscape and Vegetation.

    The Karoo is peppered with rocky outcrops like this, they are fine vantage points to glass the open plains below.

    We arrived at the Royal Karoo lodge early in the afternoon and our host Rob and PH Braun were waiting to greet us, Rob made us feel welcome right away and quickly showed us around before offering us a traditional South African Milk Tart and refreshments for afternoon tea. We then unloaded our gear and were shown our rooms, Jack and I were staying in the main house and our room was 5 star with beautiful polished wooden floors and a wonderful en-suite. Once unpacked we returned to the veranda and discussed with Braun what we would hunt and how we would hunt this area.

    The Royal Karoo Lodge.
    We then discussed the rifles we would be using, Braun had a .375 H&H for most of the game we would hunt and a .222 for smaller game like Duiker and Steenbock. Rob had a range set up behind the House, complete with a bench, seat and targets to 200 meters, so after a short range session to assess our shooting ability Braun declared he was happy and we should now get out and start hunting.
    A Kudu would be our first target and I was eager to once again match wits with the Grey Ghost, all be it in a completely different environment to Pebble Paradise. We drove to within sight of a deep Gorge that had a creek flowing through it and then started stalking on foot, as we entered the Gorge I noticed some caves way up in the rocks, Braun said they were quite often home to passing leopards. One side of the Gorge was more or less bare rock for the most part but the other was more sloped, with areas of rock slides and heavy brush lightly spattered with trees, the Gorge also provided shade offering us and the game a cool respite from the blazing afternoon sun. The edges of the creek were heavily overgrown with thorn bushes and scrub, Braun had told us that the Kudu would come down from the hills to drink from the stream and stay in the heavy cover along the banks as long as they weren't disturbed.
    He was not wrong for we hadn't gone more than 200 meters into the Gorge when we spotted a big bodied Kudu Bull in the stream bed drinking, unfortunately his horns were not very big but he would make an outstanding trophy in a few years time. We watched as he walked from the stream bed and up the bank then started to climb the sloped side of the Gorge. He stopped a few times and looked back toward us I think he knew we were there but not being able to see us he didn't appear too concerned. He climbed higher until he joined a small herd of Cows and then stood with them watching the base of the Gorge.

    Immature Kudu bulls with a group of cows shortly before we were barked at.
    We had no choice but to continue our stalk hoping the Kudu would simply watch us as we made our way around a bend and out of sight, luckily that's just what they did and we proceeded into a more open part of the Gorge. Here the gorge opened up to about 200mts wide and both sides were vegetated and sloped with lots of areas of good cover.
    We hadn't gone more than 500mts or so into this area when we were barked at by a Kudu, this set off a number of unseen Kudu Cows and the whole Gorge erupted in a cacophony of barking Kudu Cows. There were dozens of them scrambling up the rock slides into higher cover then stopping and barking at us. The game was well and truly lost and we sat in the shade listening to the sound of Kudu voicing their displeasure at our intrusion up and down the length of the Gorge. Some what dejected we made our way back to the vehicle, arriving just as the sun set. We loaded our gear and headed back to the lodge, arriving in the dark we were greeted by Rob and asked to sit by the fire in the Boma. Here we were treated to cold soft-drinks and beer and served some amazing appetizers cooked by Malachi the chef.

    Malachi cooking appetizers and dinner over the fire in the Boma.
    We sat and talked over the days events for a while before moving into the dining room of the main house where dinner was served, Malachi had prepared an amazing meal of pumpkin soup followed by Kudu back-straps and roast vegetables, this was accompanied by a wonderful South African Red Wine, and followed up by a pudding and custard desert.

    The food was amazing thanks to Malachi the chef, a real gentleman that just loves to cook.

    The lounge room at Royal Karoo was simple but stunning.
    After dinner we retreated to the lounge room for some after dinner drinks until the days activity eventually caught up with us and sent us off to bed. The bed was soft and comforting and it was not long before I drifted off to sleep with a cool breeze blowing softly through the open windows, crickets chirping in the background.

    I woke early as I often do, just before the alarm I had set and could hear signs of activity form the kitchen, I quickly dressed and woke Jack before making my way down the wide hallway, the smell of freshly brewed coffee meeting me half way to the dining room. I filled a cup with coffee and helped myself to a couple of rusks that had been placed out for us and made my way to the veranda to enjoy the dawn. One by one the others joined me until we were all watching the first rays of sunlight break the horizon. Jacu and Greg had been up for a while taking sunrise imagery and photos to use for the African Hunter TV Episode and had captured some amazing images.
    Sunrise in the Karoo, the hills we hunted that morning are visible in the background.
    We finished our coffee and rusks and packed our gear into Braun's Bakkie, then set of for the nearby hills to glass and hopefully stalk some game. I wasn't planning on hunting Zebra but Rob mentioned a small Family herd and a group of 3 bachelor Stallion's, frequented the flats below the hills, he said the 3 Stallions were causing some trouble in the herd and I could take one if I wanted. I was planning on buying a Zebra rug but both Braun and Rob assured me it was far less expensive to hunt my own and have it tanned. With this in mind we set about glassing the area close to the base of the hills and it wasn't long before we sighted the Zebra and a group of Red Hartebeest together. Jack wanted to hunt Hartebeest and I wanted to hunt the Zebra so we decided to start a stalk and take which ever species presented the first opportunity. The ITZ crew said our plan was fine with them and with that sorted out we set off.

    The ridge we spotted the Zebra and Hartebeest from, they were on the flats to the left behind the rocky outcrop.

    The trouble makers fighting on the flats.
    We stalked up along behind a rocky ridge with the animals on the far side and hidden from view, as we rounded the end of the ridge they came into sight but were feeding away from us forcing us to follow using a dry creek bed for cover. Then they joined the main family herd making things even harder for us, more animals meant more sets of watchful eyes, and as anyone that has hunted Zebra knows they have very sharp vision! We were careful to remain hidden and followed the two groups across the flats as they fed, the Hartebeest had somehow disappeared by this stage. The Zebra led us on for over 3 hours and we eventually caught up with the troublesome 3 when they split from the main herd and started fighting again. We managed to get close enough for a shot while they were preoccupied and Braun set up the sticks. I got ready and looked over the 3 as Braun told me which one I should take. I was holding steady on the animal's shoulder when the trigger broke and I saw a massive puff of dust erupt between me and the Zebra, the Zebra turned tail and ran off completely unharmed. I was more than a little perplexed at what had happened and I wasn't until Richard suggested we replayed the shot frame by frame that we discovered what had happened.

    The Zebra taking off at the shot, at this stage we had no idea what had happened but somehow I had missed.

    Somehow I had managed to shoot a stick that was sticking out of a bush about 6 meters before the Zebra, a closer inspection found the stick to be the remains of a burned tree that had lined up perfectly with one of the black stripes on the Zebra. I could not see the stick and it was only visible in the video once it was hit, through some freak occurrence it was a perfect colour match to the Zebras stripes, we watched frame by frame and could clearly see the bullet deflected harmlessly above the Zebra. Both Braun and I were equally relieved, I had an explanation as to how I missed and both Braun and I were happy knowing I had not wounded the Zebra. We gave the Zebra close to an hour to settle down and started off parallel to the direction they ran but from some higher ground about 1 kilometer away. We could soon see them far in the distance but they appeared to be somewhat settled so we continued to cautiously close the gap on them. Somehow we managed to get close enough to them that we could get another chance for a shot if we were lucky. Braun, myself and the rest of the crew made our way behind a rocky outcrop that hid us from view and used the rocks as cover to close the gap on the Zebra. As we rounded the edge of the rocks we saw we were in luck and some trees threw dark shadows over the area we needed to move through giving us further cover. We slowly moved into a great position in the shade and started to get set up, when all of a sudden the Zebra looked in our direction and took off running away again. At first we were a little confused as to what happened, then a Dassie Rat ran across the rocks in front of us and we realized we must have startled some unseen Dassies above the tree line and that is what had alerted the Zebra to our presence.

    The rocky outcrop where the Dassie's gave us away.
    Disappointed we sat in the shade and had a drink and rested for a little before calling an end to the mornings hunt. Having stalked for quite some distance it took us a while to get back to the vehicle and we thought that as it was nearing midday we would return to the lodge for some lunch. On the way back to the lodge we got distracted and decided to have a quick walk up a narrow rocky gully in the hope of spotting some Klipspringer in the rocks above, we saw a few smaller animals but not what we were looking for so we continued on and returned to the lodge for lunch.

    After eating lunch we rested for a few hours before heading out again around 3:30pm for an afternoon hunt. We set up on a rise with a good panoramic view and started glassing for Wildebeest, locating a herd we moved to a better vantage point to better look them over for a good Bull. Once we saw the herd had some nice animals in it we planned a stalk. They were located in a basin half way to the top of the hills, with the wind blowing as it was we would have to circle the base of the hill and stay hidden in a riverbed, we could then climb the back of the hill hidden from view. If they stayed where they were we would break cover right under a prominent tree and have a slight downhill shot at them from about 150 meters away.
    We set off stalking through the river bed and as soon as we went to climb the hill we spotted a very nice Kudu Bull, Braun instantly put the sticks down and told me to take him if he presented a shot. Unknown to Braun and I there was also a massive Hartebeest Bull near the Kudu, my Son and the ITZ crew saw the sticks go down and saw the Hartebeest. They couldn't see the Kudu and we couldn't see the Hartebeest, my son was a bit miffed as prior to the trip we had agreed that he was going to take a Hartebeest, not me and now here I was about to shoot his Hartebeest or so he thought. Luckily or unfortunately the Kudu never presented a shot and walked off, as did the Hartebeest.

    The guys looked at us and quietly asked why I hadn't shot the Hartebeest, I asked back what Hartebeest I was looking at a Kudu! We worked out what had happened later on, but at the time we just got back to the Wildebeest, hoping they hadn't moved. As we neared the tree we quietly crouched down and slowly glassed the herd from the cover of some fallen timber. Braun picked out a nice big Bull and when it was clear of the herd he told me to take the shot. I steadied the cross-hairs just behind the bulls shoulder and squeezed the trigger on the .375, when the trigger broke I saw the bullet hit the Bull just where I wanted it too. The Bull jumped in the air and ran into the river bed with the rest of the herd, I could tell he was hit hard by the way he ran. The Herd milled about in the river bed for some time then ran down the bank dropping in and out of view as they ran, eventually they ran across the flats and we watched them cross over the next ridge line and disappear.

    The Wildebeest herd running across the flats beside the river bank.

    Deep tracks indicated the direction my bull had taken, now we just had to find him.
    Now we had to locate my bull, we searched from where he was standing at the shot and found a few deep hoof prints that indicated he had gone into the river bed with the herd so we followed them. Then we lost the tracks in the soft sand, we cast about and found a drop of blood on a rock some distance away on the river bank so we knew he had left the riverbed. We searched for quite some time finding no other sign, Braun suggested we needed to catch up to the herd and look them over as he thought the bull could still be with them. He reasoned we knew where he was when shot and we saw them run away over the ridge, one animal was lagging behind and it could be our bull, if he was not with the herd we could return and search further along the river bank. It took quite some time and effort to catch up to the herd and longer to stalk in close enough to look them over properly, our Bull was not with them! it was by now late in the afternoon and we wanted to find him before it got dark.

    Looking over the herd we could tell our Bull was not with them, now we had to find him.

    We called Rob on the radio and explained what had happened and he offered to bring another tracker and help us search for the bull. We met Rob back at the river bed and had a quick discussion on where to search, Richard suggested we review the video footage as it may help us. We crowded around the screen as we watched the footage, it confirmed the shot was perfect so the bull should not be far away. We continued to watch and counted the herd as the animals ran between gaps in the bush, as we counted we noted that at one point 13 animals entered the bush but only 12 emerged from the other side, this allowed us to pinpoint the patch of bush he was likely located in. Cautiously we made our way along the river bank until about 500 meters later Braun let out a WooHoo and I knew he had found the Bull.
    As I made my way towards where the Bull lay I went over everything in my head, I questioned whether we should have searched longer initially or were we right to follow the herd in case the animal was wounded, I reasoned we were right to try and dispatch a possibly wounded animal as a priority. Having found the Bull we quickly set up to take the trophy photos as Jacu said the early evening light was perfect and he didn't want to delay any further and loose the best light. While we did this Rob and his tracker retrieved the vehicles.

    My Wildebeest Bull, these are one tough animal and should not to be underestimated.

    Once we had finished with the photo session we loaded the vehicles and made our way back to the lodge, happy that we had found the bull and he was not wounded and lost. We once again realized how helpful the video footage had been in locating the Bull. Maybe if we had reviewed it earlier we may not have followed the herd to look them over, who knows but either way we did what we thought was the right thing in the situation. We arrived back at the lodge jubilant at having stalked a fine trophy Wildebeest and ready to have a celebratory drink. As we entered the Boma Malachi was once again happily tending to his Brai , no sooner had we sat down and he had a tray of appetizers ready for us.

    Malachi's Kudu skewers cooking on the Brai.
    As we sat around the fire talking and I kicked my well worn boots from my tired feet, Rob told me that the Wildebeest is often referred too as the "Poor Man's Buffalo" due to them being extremely tough and although they aren't thought of as dangerous game, they still should not be underestimated. Braun then told us it is often said that a Wildebeest is born sick and every time you shoot him he gets a little better, I could see where both sayings came from. Rob said if i ever got the chance to hunt Buffalo I should take it as he thought it to be one of the most intense and rewarding hunts one could undertake, then he went on to tell us the story behind the Cape Buffalo mount he had on his wall and how much he had enjoyed that hunt.
    Dinner was once again served in the dining room and was of an extremely high standard, as was the desert Malachi had made us and we gladly ate every last bit. After dinner we made our way out to the veranda and sat and watched the stars for a while before heading off to shower and bed. I opened the windows to let the cool night breeze in then climbed into bed, I rested my head on the pillow and was quickly asleep.

  2. #2

    Hartebeest Hill and a Zebra Too!

    I woke with the alarm this morning and quickly dressed then woke Jack before heading to the dining room for a cup of coffee and rusk’s, I then sat out on the veranda and waited for the others to arrive. One by one they slowly appeared rubbing weary eyes and holding steaming cups of coffee, Braun said we would hunt Hartebeest this morning and there were often some big Bulls in the hills above where we had shot the Wildebeest the day before. So with our sights set on Hartebeest we loaded our gear into the Bakkie and headed off to the same ridge we had glassed from the previous afternoon. As we neared the top of the ridge we could see 3 big Hartebeest way up on a high plateau, Braun glassed them and told us they were all good bulls and we should plan a stalk.

    The base of Hartebeest Hill, what you cant see is the rest of the hill behind that initial shoulder.

    The wind was blowing stiffly from the South so if we used the same approach as we had on the Wildebeest we would remain downwind of them, and there was no risk of this wind unexpectedly changing direction. We set off through the river bed and circled around behind the hill, now began the hard part a long climb to a clump of trees that marked the edge of the plateau the Hartbeest were on.

    Beginning to climb what we later dubbed Hartebeest Hill.
    Loading up just before the crest of the hill.

    We climbed the first part of the hill past the shoulder where I had taken the Wildebeest from and upwards to the edge of the plateau, stopping every few minutes to ensure we weren’t a worn out panting mess when we finally reached the top. Finally after a massive climb we stopped some 20 meters below the summit to get our breath back and have a quick drink before hopefully catching the Hartebeest out on the Plateau. Braun and Jack slowly made their way up the last part of the hill with Richard and Greg following closely behind, Jacu and I brought up the rear. As they crested the hill Braun suddenly stopped and put the sticks up, Jack steadied the rifle and took aim, Richard and Greg had the cameras set up in an instant.

    We are so close and they don't know we are there, if only they would stop moving.

    Taking aim at the Hartebeest, they just have to stop walking for a second.

    For 5 minutes they just stood there bolt still, then Jack slowly applied the safety and shouldered the rifle, Braun collected up the sticks and slowly set off across the Plateau. The Hartebeest were on the move and had dropped over the back of the plateau and down a rough gully out of sight heading towards the next ridge. I asked Jack what had happened and he told me they were nervously moving around and would not stand still, Braun said he thought the wind was unsettling them. Still we had climbed this far we weren’t going to give up and we followed them from a distance watching them as they climbed and crested the next ridge.

    The Hartebeest were always one ridge ahead of us.

    Once they were out of sight we quickly followed trying to make up ground, as we got to the top of the next ridge we could see them in the bush below us making for the next ridge. Once again we followed trying to make ground and at the same time stay hidden. The wind was starting to get very strong by this stage and we knew there was no chance of them ever hearing us so we were less cautious about making noise and that gave us some extra pace. Unfortunately the wind was also against us and the Hartebeest just would not stop they just kept on walking over ridge after ridge and we followed for nearly 4 hours.

    Richard pointing in disbelief at the Hartebeest as they keep moving.

    Eventually the ridges ended and the ground dropped away to more rolling hills and gully’s to the Southeast and climbed to form higher peaks to the Southwest, the Hartebeest headed downhill and made for the horizon, by the time we reached the edge of the slope and had spotted them they were well over a kilometer away and showed no signs of slowing down. We gave up at this point, the wind was blowing even harder and we had covered a huge distance, Greg’s GPS said 6 kilometers horizontally so it would have been nearer 9 kilometers in total. We watched as the Hartebeest kept trekking toward the horizon and disappeared into some scrub.

    The Hartebeest just never stopped walking and eventually dropped off the ridges and away onto the ground below forcing us to give up the chase.

    We sat for a while and had a well deserved drink, somewhat disappointed that the effort we had put in had amounted to nothing but still pleased with our persistence. I was particularly pleased that Braun had resisted the temptation to ask Jack to make a shot on a moving animal. Even though they were only walking and I would have had no hesitation at that range, I was glad to see that Braun recognized that it was too risky to ask Jack, a novice hunter to take the shot. Jack later told me Braun had specifically told him not to shoot unless they actually stopped.

    Once we had rested for a bit we began the long trek back to the vehicle, some 5 kilometers

    away in a straight line by the GPS. We managed to stumble across a pair of Bat Eared Foxes, a Scrub Hare and a couple of small Duiker along the way which broke up the journey a bit. Once back at the vehicle we all shrugged off our backpacks and safely stowed the rifles, then made for the cooler with its contents of cool drinks. Having drained the cooler and satisfied our thirst we headed back to the lodge for some lunch.

    We ate another great lunch and then had our usual midday rest, I walked around for a while and took some pictures of the weaver birds and their nests then had a bit of a nap, while Jack relaxed in the Boma listening to a rooster teeth podcast or something on his Ipod. As the afternoon drew on the wind started to drop and it looked like we would have nice conditions for our afternoon hunt.

    Jack relaxing in the Boma listening to a Rooster Teeth podcast on his Ipod.

    After our lunchtime siesta we all felt recharged and ready to go for what was to be our last afternoon hunt at Royal Karoo, we all got our gear together and left the lodge around 3pm, heading for the hills where we had seen the Zebra the day before. Rob had told us that there was a good chance we would find the Zebra again today particularly after the wind we had had in the morning, he said they liked to shelter in the lee of the hills with the Dassies. With this in mind we got high up in the hills above where they were likely to be and started glassing, at first we drew a blank and mover a little further along the scarp. Then we saw them they were just out on the flats to the West beyond a rocky ridge under some shady trees, Braun looked them over and confirmed it was the ones we were after and there was now a 4th animal with them, he said if we were very careful we may be able to stalk close enough for a shot. The wind was still from the South which was in our favour and had dropped even more, it was no longer gusting but had become a nice gentle breeze.

    The Zebra are just over the hill on the flats behind the rocks.

    With this in mind we back tracked a little to put the rocks between us and them, once we were out of view we made our way to the rocks as quickly as we could. Braun and I slowly stalked ahead behind a natural rock wall about 1 meter high that ran in a North South orientation, we were making our way towards the end of the rocks where they broke up and the ground fell away under a shady tree. This would provide us with a perfect vantage point to watch the Zebra from and hopefully take a shot.

    Watching and waiting for a chance, we had a good vantage point to observe the Zebra from.

    Anyone that has hunted Zebra will tell you they are no easy animal to hunt they have the sharpest eyes on the plains, that’s why a lot of other animals hang out with them, they are a very efficient alarm system and being that bit taller can see further providing an early warning of danger. They are also extremely tough and if the shot is not placed properly they will take some tracking down. Fortunately we made it to the shade without being spotted and slowly the other guys also made their way into position and got set up. It took a little while to get the camera tripods steady and level on the rocky ground but the guys managed it very slowly, quietly and carefully. All the while I was watching the Zebra under the trees, Braun had told me which one to take and I waited until he was clear of the trees and the other 3 animals.

    Braun Glassing the Zebra and giving me a commentary on which animal to take and his movements.

    Once the Zebra was clear I confirmed with Braun he was the correct animal and that the guys were all set and ready. I had a nice steady rest across the rocks and slowly took up on the trigger, my sight picture did not move as the trigger broke, in fact I never felt any recoil at all but I saw the bullet hit and it was exactly where I wanted it to. The Zebra tried to run at the hit and stumbled a bit then stopped by a tree and fell over. It was all over so quick the other Zebra stopped to see what had happened before running off.


    Trying to run.

    Going Down.

    Braun congratulated me on a good shot and a fine trophy animal and shook my hand, I think he was more than a little relieved after the long stalk in the morning drawing a blank. We stayed where we were for a little while just sitting in the shade taking in what had just transpired. It was more than just an afternoon hunt to us, we had hunted hard for Zebra the day before and had a massive morning stalking Hartebeest. this was the culmination of all that effort in one moment.

    Walking up to my Zebra was a complete mix of emotions.
    It is hard to describe the way I felt as I slowly walked down to the Zebra, it was a combination of relief, elation and a touch of sadness all at the same time, and I knew that in the years to come every time I looked at that Zebra skin it would take me back to this moment.

    Jack and I with my Zebra.

    We took our time with taking the trophy photos and Jacu made sure they were perfect, there was no need to rush and we wanted to savor our last afternoon in the Karoo. Braun had sent the tracker to retrieve the vehicle while we were busy with the photos and we all helped load the Zebra into the Bakkie when he arrived. Then we packed up our gear and headed back to the lodge, arriving just before the sunset. We had enough time to unpack, shower and get into some fresh clothes before meeting in the Boma to watch the sun slowly fall below the horizon with a cold beer in hand. Our last day in the Karoo had drawn to a close, in the morning we would be leaving heading North to the Kalahari.

  3. #3
    Another good read Chris , thank you .

  4. #4

  5. #5
    It looks like a great place to hunt. Thanks for the stories. Where abouts is it ?

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