Addo Elephant National Park!

We drove to Addo Elephant National Park, near Port Elizabeth, on Monday, July 14, 2013. The Park is home to at least 39 species of mammals and birds, and with at least seven species found in the marine section.

The 630 square mile Park consists of a network of roads, connecting waterholes, natural terrain, viewing areas and lookouts where the animals of the Park can be viewed. One must remain in the vehicle during the driving tour. The Park is completely wild within, with both predators and prey. One can view many animals there during the course of a day, and we were hoping to see elephant, and lion.

Well, elephant were the most abundant of the animals seen, and we saw many groups of elephants of all ages. One group, at an especially active waterhole had several that appeared to be year old elephants, and one shy baby, who must have been less than a year old. The baby was so small!

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We saw two juveniles engage in a playful shoving match, and more elephants at another waterhole.

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We saw some magnificent kudu, warthog, a lot of Cape Buffalo, and other plains game, but clearly the elephants dominated the day! We were so close to these gentle giants! I will let these photos speak for themselves.

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The OMG kudu, above!  Simply breathtaking!!!!!

Enjoy, friends.

Photos are courtesy of Cindy Grove.

 

The Huntress Is Awakened!

Cindy had her own rifle 35 years ago – a .22 LR rimfire rifle with a 4X scope. Back in those days, one could go to an empty sandpit and shoot at targets, or TV’s, or whatever people left behind. Those were the days, and she was handy with her little rifle at the sand pit. We grew up learning to shoot and hunt with our father, so it was in her blood, too.

After many years, and passing her guns down to others, my sister expressed a desire to get back into shooting. Her oldest son, Brian, gave her a BB gun for Christmas in 2013. Cindy lives at the edge of Reno, Nevada, and beyond her fenced back yard are miles of sagebrush and high desert. Christmas Day, 2013, the family gathered in the backyard to receive shooting and safety instructions from Pat, my neice’s significant other, a Marine gunny, who has been deployed twice to the Mid-East.

Cindy took those lessons to heart, and practiced with her little rifle. She laughed: “Three pumps, and the BB’s bounce off the target. Four pumps, and they are part of my fence!” She became deadly on crows…..

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Cindy was travelling to Africa with me, primarily to baby-sit and to take photographs, but did mention wistfully occasionally, that she may want to hunt, too. We had a vow to watch each other’s backs on this trip and she saved my bacon a few times. Another story for another time!

So, on our first day at the rifle range, our PH, Mike, made sure she shot my rifle, in case she got bitten by the bug. She shot my rifle well from the bench that day, a little bigger than her BB gun, yet she did very well with it. I was so proud of her!

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Well, the bug bit her! After several days of stalking animals with me, Cindy decided she would like to hunt an impala, a game animal that was very abundant, very beautiful, and a perfect African trophy. We had eaten impala several nights in camp, and the meat was delicious. She liked it. So, I gladly handed her “Louise,” my 7mm mag, and we concentrated our efforts on her hunt, and began stalking impala with our PH, Mike, exclusively. Our PH, Mike, carried the rifle, and ensured that everything was safe with this fledgling hunter!

Impala are gregarious herd animals, and so many groups of impala were encountered and each stalk was challenging, with so many eyes and with the impala more often than not in the middle of the expansive grassy veld with little cover. And, we know of the tremendous eyesight most game animals have, and that ‘sixth sense’ that they seem to possess, and the impala were wary, and many stalks ended with the animals leaving the area.

Cindy got her first taste of ‘buck fever’ or, ‘ram fever,’ several times, enduring long stalks and then getting within a reasonable shot distance, to find the animals were not mature and permissible to shoot. It was so good to see her experience this thrill of the hunt, the shakes, the shortness of breath, and the pounding heart – and getting in close.

After a number of stalks, and going into day 5, a large group of impala were spied at the end of a grassy field, in the edge cover, very early in the morning. They were a good 600 yards away, and they spotted us immediately, even though we were careful to stay in what cover we had to conceal ourselves. They all darted into the wooded area, out of sight. A lone hartebeest was the only animal remaining of the group. We abandoned that stalk, and head back to higher ground.

After some walking, a group of zebra on an opposite hill were spotted, and among them were several impala, including a mature ram. They were in the trees on a hillside, and there was an opportunity for us to get onto the hillside opposite them and closer, as the opposite hillside offered good cover. We would then have to find a good spot to shoot. We shadowed their movements, quiet and concealed behind the tall cover that grew on our (the near) hillside. We came to a spot opposite the impala, and Mike found a break in the cover, and then set up the shooting sticks.

Cindy laid the rifle across the sticks, and Mike stood next to her and braced her elbow. Cindy took her time, found a good shot picture across the ravine, and fired. The impala dropped like a stone! Cindy’s face was beaming with joy and accomplishment!

I cannot describe the feelings of pride, joy, and also humility that I felt, watching my little sister take her first big game animal! We then bushwacked our way down the ravine, and up the opposite side to Cindy’s ram.

Her impala ram was just beautiful. Impala are among the most graceful and lithe of the African antelope, with dainty features, and gorgeous horns. Cindy stroked, admired, and spoke to the impala, giving thanks.

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What a morning!!!!!

Back at camp, she told her story several times that evening, clearly enjoying her accomplishment and everyone in camp was thrilled for her. She also said she will want a rifle of her own and would like to join a gun club, upon her return to Reno, Nevada, her home. She will have a lot of hunting opportunities there!

She came to Africa, and left a hunter. She is forever now, a new person.

I love you, Cindy!

Impala morning, kudu afternoon

Tuesday morning, the first hunting day, our PH, Mike, Cindy, myself, and our tracker Peter left the camp and met up with another tracker, Patrick. Kudu and impala were animals I wanted to hunt on this safari, and it was likely we would see both that first day.

So, we would be hunting kudu that first day, a beautiful and majestic animal with spiral horns. Kudu are appropriately named, “the Grey Ghost” as their coloring lends them perfect camouflage, and they seem to melt into their habitat. The bulls are grey in color, with striped markings, a white chevron on the face and a fringe or mane along the back  and beneath the neck down to their chest. The female kudu is more brown in color, and do not have horns. Kudu have very large ears, and our PH, Mike, stated they have incredible hearing and are shy and elusive.

We learned kudu prefer steep rocky hillsides, and thick areas of tall, thorny bush. Early that morning, we climbed to the top of a rocky hillside and began to glass. Almost immediately, we saw a bushbuck move through the thick bush at the bottom of the hill. And off to the left, three giraffe were spied. Seeing no kudu, we then decided to move to another vantage spot.

This glassing continued throughout the morning, and we saw a great variety of animals!  I never thought I would see as much game as I did that first day!

We finally found a kudu bull to stalk just before noon. Silently, we made our way down the rocky hillside, with the tracker, Patrick, leading the way. The thorny brush was thick, and we worked hard to stay silent.

Then, reaching the edge of a small clearing in the bush, we spotted a group of seven impala rams feeding in and along some cover. They were about 120 yards away. We moved up a little closer, and we looked at the impala through our binoculars.

“The big one, facing broadside, is the one we want,” Mike said quietly, as he put up the shooting sticks.

I put my rifle up on the sticks and looked through the scope. All looked big and three were standing broadside. I apologized, and said, “But they all look big, and three are broadside.”

Then one disappeared into the cover, and Mike said that was the one we wanted, and I watched for the impala to leave the cover on the other side. Finally he came out, and presented a broadside shot, and I squeezed the trigger on my rifle. The impala jumped into the air, ran a few yards and fell.

The impala ram was graceful and beautiful, a lovely golden brown color, with a cream color undercarriage. His horns were thick and curved, and with long straight tips. He weighed about 150 pounds and was estimated to be about 7 years old. My first African animal!

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We stopped and ate lunch while the trackers skinned and took care of the impala. We would be hunting kudu hard that afternoon.

Again, we glassed from several high vantage points, looking for a glimpse of “the Grey Ghost.”  Finally, we were rewarded, looking down into a thick, brushy area at the bottom of the hills, probably 3 km away. A kudu bull was spotted, and then two more. One looked good, but we needed to get closer.

We made our way down the rocky slope, silently weaving in and out of the thick cover, and finally arriving almost at the bottom, that was a tangled mass of tall, dense, thorny bush. We were close to the spot where we had last seen the kudu bulls, and we slowed down even more, exercising greater stealth. We crept closer, and then Patrick froze, and sunk to his knees. We silently did the same.

He motioned to Mike that he saw two kudu females in front of us, less than10 yards away, in the thick brush. They stood between us and where we last saw the bulls, and we had to wait them out, as they would bark an alarm, and all the kudu would run off.

We sat motionless and silent for a good half hour, waiting for the kudu females to pass. They finally moved away, and we decided to move back a little higher, hoping to see if the bulls were still in the area. We had moved probably only 25 yards, and Patrick froze again. We heard the sound of horns, softly hitting tree branches. The sound was roughly just 30 yards away, in the thick bush.  The kudu bulls had been very close to us for the entire time!

We were a little higher by then, and saw a small break in the cover at our level, looking down into an area with a little less cover, and saw movement. Mike put up the shooting sticks, and just then a kudu bull came into sight, 25 yards away. I slowly laid my rifle over the sticks, and Mike said to go ahead and take the shot, as it was the kudu we were after. This was a chest shot, head on, but the sticks offered a good solid rest, and the kudu was close, so I put the crosshairs on the kudu’s chest and fired. I worked the bolt. The kudu then vanished, but we heard some crashing through the bush, to our left.

I felt it had been a good shot and we circled around, while Patrick went into the bush, while we positioned ourselves to intercept the kudu, in case he was wounded and still on the move. We waited, and then Patrick called out that he had found the kudu, who was dead.

My feelings were mixed as I ran my hands over his beautiful curved horns. This was the animal I dreamed of and came to Africa for, and again, the animal was at the end of my dream. He was simply beautiful. His horns were deeply curved, and his white chevron and other markings perfect. His estimated weight was over 500 pounds and he was approximately 7 or 8 years old. What a beautiful animal!

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The trackers took care of the kudu, while I reflected on the events of the day.

Earlier, on our stalks, we had seen giraffe, eland, kudu, steenbuck, impala, zebra, a bushbuck, great herds of red hartebeest, two waterbuck, and warthog, and those up close, only 10 yards away!

What an amazing first day!!!!!

Pre-hunt: At The Rifle Range

Before hunting, a trip to the rifle range was necessary to check the zeroes on our rifles to make sure they were shooting straight after the long trip and maybe some bumps along the way.  After arriving at the lodge and cottages of Starr and Bodill African Safaris, all six of us loaded our rifles into the trucks so we could check our zeroes and sight in, if necessary.

Our three Professional Hunters, Dwaine, Louis and Mike accompanied us to the local rifle range and this was the welcoming committee!

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Their welcome was rather short when they spotted us unloading rifles from the vehicle, and felt something was afoot, but stayed around for a short while and graciously allowed some photographs. WOW – our first glimpse of an African animal!  We were excited and grinning from ear to ear!

Our rifles were shooting just fine, and we were now ready!!!!!

Here is a photo of my sister, Cindy, shooting from the bench.  She rocked!

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Then, leaving the range, down the road was a fantastic sight!  Wild giraffe were feeding near the road! Cindy and I scrambled out of the truck and snapped a few photos. Photo credits to Cindy for taking these unbelievable photos.

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Let the hunt begin!

We Have Arrived !!!

After a long journey, the six of us have arrived !!!!

After roughly 30 hours of travel, we arrived in Johannesburg at approximately 5:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, July7.  Along with several hundred other people who had to pass through check-in!  And at one point, only three agents were available to process all of the travelers.  We got through that first check point, then had to go to the South African Police office (in the airport), to retrieve our rifles.

A representative of the Afton Guest House (where we were to stay on Sunday night) met us and assisted with this process and was a BIG help, as he is familiar with the process, and must be familiar with the police officers in the SAPS office as well.  Our paperwork was in order, and after opening the rifle cases for verification, and examination of our documentation, we were officially IN!!!!!

I think we can take them!

We loaded everything up in a very large van with a trailer, and went to the Afton Guest House and enjoyed a traditional braai, or barbecue of excellent steak and sides, and spent the night in a very comfortable room for some much needed shut-eye!

Monday morning, we were then back to the airport for passenger check-in and check-in of our rifles that required another visual inspection of all of our paperwork and another visual inspection of the rifles, and finally with boarding passes in hand, we were at our gate, waiting for our bird.  Boarding of our plane was blissfully a bit delayed, which allowed our rifles and luggage to be placed on board, as the schedule that morning was tight, and the airport was very busy.

After a short flight to East London, RSA, we arrived, along with our luggage and our rifles!

Two of our Professional Hunters (PH’s), Dwaine Starr and Louis Bodill of Starr and Bodill African Safaris were at the airport to greet us and take us to the hunting lodge, approximately a two hour ride from East London.

We were all ready to hunt, and during the drive to the lodge, I know I was not alone in wondering what exciting and new adventures lay ahead!!!!!