I had been talking with Hans “Scruff” Vermaak for some time about a 60-inch kudu. This is akin to a 400-point elk, a 200-inch deer or an 11-foot brown bear—basically not much to ask? The Vermaaks
are the oldest and most respected outfitter in South Africa, and as Scruff is the president of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa, and I having 25 years in the booking business, waited for an answer which came forthwith as, “Bob, Bob, Bob…No promises, but I have a new area that will be open to hunting very soon!” I knew I was in good hands.
The area I hunted is a 235,000-acre game preserve within throwing distance of the Botswana border in the northwest part of South Africa. An eight-year project that entailed combining several cattle farms and a hunting ranch into an eco-system that allows animals to interact and grow as they have for centuries.
Our outfitter picked us up at the airport in Kimberly, followed by a five-hour drive, with one hour on a dirt road, and suddenly we entered the gateway into what we all dream African plains game hunting is about. Two ribbons in the grass meander into what seems to be a compound in the bush--large gates with an electric fence open to an oasis that brings the old to the new. Incredible that such a place could actually exist in the bush, I am a genius to bring my wife here--what a hero!
That night while sitting at the fire in the doma with the stars shining and the lions moaning in the background, a perfect setting to the beginning of an incredible adventure, my mind began wandering, already picturing the 60-inch kudu on the wall. This is going to be easy I thought. I have two Zulu trackers whose names are Patches and Sepo and a 12-year veteran PH, Rayno Egner, whose nickname is “Rhino,” for a guide. I better not get an itchy finger because who knows what is here.
Morning broke and we were out the gate greeted by two male lions, no less, that took up residence right outside the compound just in case someone decided to go for a morning run, be it antelope or human, a snack is a snack! One of the highlights of this eco-system is the variety of wildlife. Tina, my wife, with a love for animals, and an amateur at photography, was snapping pictures of lions, Cape buffalo, kudu and giraffe as we headed out to whatever awaited us.
With an area this huge, there is only one way to hunt and that is with a Land Cruiser and playing the numbers game. In other words, look at as many tholo (kudu) as possible in hopes of finding the King. The timing of this safari was to take advantage of the kudu rut. Africa, being a hemisphere away, experiences its fall season combined with the rut in late April to the middle of May. As elk and deer can be patterned in the States, kudu bulls chase the cows in the fall.
We found many bulls that were obviously in the rut with their necks very swollen. After a day of looking over 50- to 56-inch kudu, we were on our way back to the lodge in the fading light when out of nowhere materialized a huge kudu bull. I swear that bull was literally laughing at us as Rhino and I, along with the Zulu trackers, stared in utter amazement, watching him jog away as the light on the horizon began to disappear. My wife, the brains of the outfit, grabbed the Canon and hit video, getting proof of the encounter.
Our second day out was a cold and rainy day in the Kalahari. Two things kudu do not like are wind and rain. As a result, we didn’t encounter many kudu during the day, but the rain did not bother the Cape buffalo. We ran into one herd of about 50 and later in the day we came across an old Dugga Boy warming up in the sun because, as the day came to an end, the wind and clouds slowly disappeared, allowing the sun to peak out just before setting.
A little farther down the road in a bunch of bushes was our tholo, basking in the first and only sunshine of the day, looking straight at us. Stunned that we would encounter this monster two days in row, Rhino motioned the driver to continue driving a couple hundred yards up the road. As the Land Cruiser came to a stop, we jumped off and then quietly snuck down the road. All was calm; we were loaded and begin to make our stalk. The excitement was abated. This was the crucial moment. The wind was right and our tholo had no idea that we were there.
Rhino, Patches and I stopped behind a bush and peered over. He was 70 yards out in thick brush, chewing on leaves, giving us a perfect quartering away shot. Rhino looked at me, Patches gave me the thumbs up, and in a swift fluid motion the shooting sticks were up with my rifle following. The mind of a prankster called tholo gave us the punch line, looking up and disappearing into the bush just as my rifle met the stick: They don’t get that big by being dumb.
Taking a hartebeest was the farthest thing from my mind, but early in the morning the next day, Rhino’s eyes were as big as a full moon rising on the African plain when he spotting a monster bull. My wife, in her infinite wisdom, reminded me of my own words of advice given to my clients, “Listen to your PH.” Out in a flat in a group of trees was an old bull with heavy bases and high horns. After a better look with the Swarovskis, Rhino and I, as well as Patches, agreed that this would be a once-in-a-lifetime trophy.
With a spring in Rhino’s step and a gleam in his eye, we were off, crawling and scratching to a tree with proper cover. Hartebeest are known to be hard to kill but have a downfall in that they are very curious animals. With a head-on shot at 145 yards, we set-up sticks, an old friend met my shoulder and without thinking, past kills relayed an eye to finger response and an unbelievable 24-inch red hartebeest lay on the ground, kicking.
Jaco, our resident guide, along with Rhino, and our two Zulu trackers all congratulated each other. After pictures were taken, a skinning vehicle arrived, we loaded and the hartebeest was off to the salt.
The next day we decided to check out the southern part of the ranch, not an easy task as it was more than an hour drive to reach the tip of this area of land. This region is more open with dotted man-made watering holes that are a huge game draw. Sitting back on the road, we glassed a large group of eland, kudu and gemsbok. In this group, a large kudu bull walked up to the pool and took a drink. This old warrior had seen his day, his heavy horns that once were his pride making him the “King of the Tholo” now were a pain to carry and made it difficult to hold his head up while walking.
At first I passed on the shot as I wanted to find that big bull with the massive, wide horns that evaded us the first two days. This was not the kudu that I was looking for, but on the way back from the southern end of the ranch I told Rhino that if he was still there, I would make a stalk.
Glassing the trees where we had last seen him, we spotted him attempting to eat small portions of grass since his teeth were almost gone. We jumped out of the Land Cruiser and started the 500 yards that we needed to make up for a good shot. As we closed in, he was unaware that we were stalking him through the bush.
When my rifle hit stick, all those years of surviving and genetic instincts told the kudu to look and run, but a perfect quartering away shot took out his heart and he fell to the ground, never to move with pain again. This will be my finest and most memorable trophy as it defines why I hunt; a trophy is not only the animal but also the memory behind it.
The gemsbok is commonly referred to as “Desert Warrior” due to white lines across his eyes that give him an appearance of a warrior of the desert. Now the Holy Grail of gemsbok is a 40-inch with good bases. As noon approached on our fifth day, we did our usual stop on a watering pan for a pit barbeque, refreshments and a plan for the rest of the day. It was during that time we spotted an impressive looking gemsbok take off for the trees.
As the rest of the crew set up for lunch, Rhino, Patches and I took off to check out this spectacular looking bull. Deep in the brush we found him eating leaves from the trees. With the bush being so thick, we had a hard time making a judgment call on the bull. At this point, we had looked over hundreds of animals, but this animal was special. Luckily the wind was in our face, a disadvantage to this bull. The funny part was we could hear everyone at camp talking, pans rattling and the fire crackling, but this bull was in tune to eating his lunch and was happy right where he was.
After lunch, Rhino could not get this animal off his mind and Scruff, being a hunter from the word go, felt we needed to get this sorted out as to how big this old boy really was. We took to the bush looking for the bull; Scruff was the first to get a look and he immediately said there was 40 inches of horn or better. Now the stalk was on. The problem was to get a shot at the vitals and anchor him before he could live up to his reputation of being a tough-to-bring-down animal. Offering us one shot in the thick brush, the .300 Mag. hit perfectly and a follow-up shot later, we were admiring an unbelievable 42-inch bull gemsbok. What a way to end our safari!--Bob Jacobson