8 AM. I’m leaving today from gate L-9. Airport’s not too busy. Guns got checked in okay. TSA had a tough time closing my gun case and a few items came out. Of course they wouldn’t let me help put it back together. Altogether it went well for Chicago O’Hare.
Flew to Atlanta fine. Transferred to another flight and then on to Dakar, Senegal, a 9 hour flight across the Atlantic. Felt like it. At Dakar a bunch of security people came on and sprayed disinfectant and checked every chair and bag for contraband going to South Africa. This took a couple hours, then another 9 ½ hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.
Eventually landed in Johannesburg. Scarier than I remember it last time. I would last 5 minutes on the streets by myself. A 6 hour drive to the Northernmost part of South Africa to hunting camp in a pair of vans crowded with scraggly and anxious hunters with luggage and guns. This camp borders Zimbabwe. 35 hours total travel time. One road block with no incidents.
Finally slept. Can’t do it on a plane, never was able to. Saw a lion coming in. They roared until I fell unconscious . There’s a shower in my cabin with hot water and a toilet. Both were extremely appreciated.
Up early. Working on about 3 hours sleep for two days. I’m glad I brought an obnoxious alarm clock with. Some people had a tough time getting up. My neck and back are burning pretty good. Ibuprofen and coffee should fix it. No heat in the cabin, temperature in the 40s. Bird noises this morning were indescribable. Quick breakfast, then out to the range to check zero. I oiled my bore before I left, so threw a fouler first, and my next shot was on the X. I’m ready to hunt. Got to know some of the guys a bit. Several gun magazine editors and photographers. Lots of nice guns.
Several people commented on the nice wood on my Howa. This happens often, but too bad it’s not wood. Just an old synthetic Bell and Carlson with wood grain. Gun’s been a good honest friend on a lot of hunts. It’s never lied to me. Boring and wonderful old 1906 cartridge does everything I ask of it. My 1500 is wearing a Nikon Monarch 2.5-10×42 with a BDC reticle in Leupold 2 piece dual dovetails. Browning X-cellerator sling, one of my favorites for years. Easily adjustable for shooting and carrying. I also have with me my Stony Point Expedition bipod with the clamp and pivot kit and a third leg. Worth its trouble carrying around. Especially when someone else carries it for you. You simply cannot shoot sitting here, and there are no trees to rest against, just heavy, thorny brush.
We’re in a Toyota pickup outfitted for the bush. I sat in back in the bed on one of two bolted on padded chairs with the PH (Professional Hunter) Eddy driving and his tracker Elifas in back of me. A local tracker was beside him. Saw kudu, impalas, zebra, nyala, gemsbok, warthog, steenbok, and a zillion colorful and raucous birds and rodents. I had taken many of these animals on an earlier safari or didn’t want them. I really wanted a red hartebeest, ostrich, blue wildebeest, and warthog mainly on this trip.
Back from the evening hunt. Stalked some wildebeests but lost them. Very thick here. Unlikely to take a very long shot. I was asleep on my feet. Hard to stay awake, even in the hot seat holding a gun. At the main lodge I continued to get to know my hunting partners with a few drinks and war stories. I had been reading some of these guys for many years. We were all ready for dinner and bed. One of the guys shot a nice buffalo today.
Lions roared me to sleep and woke me this morning. Pretty surreal. I slept well. Jet lag not really an issue, and I feel recharged and ready. To the lodge for breakfast. We are on the Limpopo river, and on the opposite shore about 80 yards away I’m looking at 3 rhinos eating. There are several hippos in the water snorting not 40 yards away. Unreal. Crocodiles upstream. Eggs and bacon and coffee taste so much better here than at home. It’s still a bit dark and there’s a sliver of moon over the trees with baboons barking underneath it. We’re not in Kansas anymore.
Shot a big male baboon this morning out of a tree at about 150 yards. He fell at least 50 feet. Nice shot, but unfortunately the bullet entered his back and deflected and knocked a portion of a canine tooth off. I took him just after he was done mating. He didn’t even have time for a cigarette.
Stalked a nice impala, about 24”, a good trophy. I didn’t need another, but it was a fine example and they don’t cost a ton. We stopped the stalk when we saw a red hartebeest, an animal I really wanted. Put on several stalks with no success. My legs are telling me I’m an office worker.
These trackers and PHs don’t make noise when they walk. It’s an acquired skill you had better learn quickly. To spend hours on a stalk and blow it because you snapped a twig or kicked a rock is not acceptable.
Later we saw more hartebeests, worked a good stalk and I made a perfect shot in the chest of a large one facing me at about 125 yards. I had time to turn the scope up to 10x and shot him using the guide’s shoulder as a rest. He dropped cold. I hoped to recover the bullet but the skinners didn’t get it. Saving the skull. No room in the house or money for more shoulder mounts, even on a beautiful animal like this.
Noon. Sat hidden in a quickly assembled hide in comfortable folding chairs under some acacia trees about a hundred yards from a water hole waiting for warthogs. Had lunch with my PH, chewing on some dried sausage and a sandwich with some yellow meat. Didn’t care what it was, and didn’t ask. Probably better off. Acacia thorns are perfect toothpicks. Bottled water only when you travel. Or pop or beer. Bugs were driving me nuts, swarming my face and ears. At the hole at one time there were eland, giraffes, baboons, monkeys, impalas, guinea fowl, and later on, even a jackal, but the only warthogs we saw were small. Giraffes are my favorite creatures here. Gargantuan and magnificent. I even watched three of them spread their legs to drink, with several red billed ox pickers running up and down their necks snacking on ticks. What a sight. Having a blast. The trackers took the truck and left. Here we sit. No talking, no moving. A change of pace from walking and stalking and glassing.
One impala ram keeps chasing off several smaller ones, protecting his heard of females. They are so vocal. I think they are the noisiest animals here besides birds. I have a giraffe 20 yards to my left, 20 yards to my right, and 30 yards in back of me. They know something is here, but don’t know what we are, and don’t seem to be afraid of us. Guinea fowl all around us. I’d like to shoot the jackal, but I really want a warthog, so I’ll wait. I may have other chances for a dog. A herd of wildebeest thundered by on the run about 20 yards away. We must be on a highway.
Getting dark now and it cools off FAST. On the way back we’re going to an orange orchard and shine for warthogs. What a blast. Better be on your game and be able to shoot quickly. My Browning Tactical flashlights are the best value on the market and absolutely my favorites. I also use their Night Seeker PRO cap light constantly. Everyone needs one.
This country is like an old man’s face with scars. Rugged and harsh and used and only pretty in a tough way. June 21st is the first day of summer at home, but the first day of winter here. From 40s at night to 80s in the day so far. Bright, strong sun with no clouds. Gotta watch for sunburn. My wide rimmed hat and sunscreen are effective, as are long sleeves.
Drinks and dinner and war stories around the fire.
Up before dawn again. Clear and chilly, about 40F. Coffee and breakfast. I had to wear earplugs to sleep last night. The lodge was rocking pretty late. Interesting to see the conditions of different people in the morning. Hippos are blowing in the river. Today we look for wildebeest. My clothing and equipment is performing perfectly. Most of my pants and shirts are 5.11 and BLACKHAWK! and are made for this kind of environment.
I normally use Nikon Monarch binoculars, but this trip is about the new EDG binocular, and we all have prototypes to use. I have never used anything better. We are the first people to use them in the field besides in the earlier commercials I filmed. I’m using a 10×42 model here.
Hornbills, baobab trees, chacma baboons, fervet monkeys, all new to me. I saw an ostrich and wanted one for the leather, but no opportunities. Too bad, I already had myriad projects envisioned.
Lunch at an outdoor camp. Steaks and sausage and raw vegetables. Lots of protein around here. The animals normally siesta during the hottest parts of the day. Hunting stories all around and a couple of cold beers. There’s an outhouse nearby. Better to use it now with the spiders here than out in the bush. Baby wipes are not just for babies.
My thighs are burning. Damn mountains give a good perspective for glassing, but you have to climb them first. Small steps in granny gear. Breath in through the nose, out through the mouth. Repeat until you’re at the top. Watch your footing. Tough for a flatlander.
Back at camp. Made some stalks. Sunburned a bit. Tired. I’m used up and cut up and sore and feel great. Beer is good. Dinner is satisfying. Company is fun. Gonna get a good night’s sleep.
Sunday. Cold this morning. No heat here. No windows on the cabin, just screens. Windy. Hot coffee and breakfast will be devoured. It’s fun watching the PHs speak among themselves. They talk about their clients like all cliques do, but they speak Afrikaans, so we can’t understand them. Hippos in the water again. Lions are loud. Coffee tastes good.
10:30. Spotted a nice wildebeest through the brush. About 70 yards away. Scope was set at 2.5x. Shot him quickly. Called the shot a bit high. Found him about 25 yards away piled up. Nice animal. I recovered the Winchester Accubond. It lost the front but retained the back. Shot was perfect. Saving the skull and the beautiful brindle flatskin.
Drums in the bush all morning calling the Christian natives to worship. Lots of Moslems here also, and many folks that rely on strange practices (to us) and witch doctors.
Lunch at a chalet with lots of protein again. No luck in the evening. We all met at a mountaintop camp when finished with the day’s hunt. Classy tables and china and delicious South African wine in crystal stemware. What a treat this was. Gourmet food in the bush under the Southern Cross, with native dancers and music and way too much to drink. When in Rome…. Got to know some folks fairly well. More war stories. We all got a special engraved Benchmade knife with Nikon EDG Africa 2008 on it. Very nice.
My gun is so dirty and dusty I’ll have to clean it before I hunt tomorrow.
Hurting a bit, but first one up at the lodge. Lot of folks fairly green today. Funny. Builds character. Pony up.
Nothing this morning. Back at lodge for lunch, hunting locally. Cool today, maybe low 60s and humid and windy. A beer and a bit of reading and a short nap before we go back out.
3:30 PM. Shot a monkey at around 200 yards out of a tree at 10x. He must’ve fallen 75 feet. Gonna use his skull for a paperweight.
5:40PM. Shot a nice impala at around 100 yards at 10x. I was on him for the longest time, but his vitals were completely hidden by a tree. Had only a second to shoot when he moved. Dropped him in his tracks.
Saw lots of game today. Cleaned up and met at lodge for war stories. Hippos everywhere, some not even 30 yards away, blowing like steam engines. I brought some Spiderwire and topwater baits and hooks with me in case I had the opportunity to fish. I found a reel with some light line on it that worked and baited a hook with some fish from an appetizer and dropped it in the water. If I got a nibble I would respool with my good line, but not before. I set the drag light and left it. I would check it again in the morning with no luck.
Dropped a baboon at 175 yards at 10x. The trackers do not like touching these creatures, not only because a wounded one will easily kill you, but it’s also religious. They think of them as quite human. If you look at one skinned you would believe it also. Later we stalked zebra with no success. Lunch was some kind of meat pie. Yesterday some kind of lasagna. Rained a bit today, just a few drops. My clothing is excellent. Still overcast and windy. A big difference from the first few days of blistering sun and heat.
One of the PHs stepped down off a rock onto the head of a puff adder. Lucky he stepped on the snake’s head. Another guy saw a 10 foot python and freaked. I saw what was probably the biggest spider of my life in one of the editor’s rooms when we talked shop. A lizard dropped from the rafters on one of the guys taking a shower and scared the hell out of him. Funny. Just think what kind and how many creatures would be around in summer. We also found that lions and crocodiles love monkey carcasses.
Saw huge monitor lizards, a bushbuck, duiker, steenbok, springbok, klipspringer, mountain reedbuck. Yellow billed hornbills everywhere as normal. Stalked more zebra. No luck. I came across a few times on cliffs I could’ve used a slope meter on my Monarch Gold 1200 rangefinder.
Back at lodge. War stories. One of the guys shot a cape buffalo with a 500 S&W. The hard cast bullet penetrated 5 ½ feet. Several buffalo were taken altogether. A leopard. A record book warthog. I won’t name names for good or evil. Drinks were flowing. Guitar and drums and even singing “Southern Cross.” May not sound too butch, but I will never forget it. Some of the best music I have ever heard. I contributed by playing the Leatherman on an empty wine bottle.
A PH’s montra:
Kill them all,
Big and small,
Let them fall,
That is all.
Killed a lamp in my room last night. Oops! Jaku is my PH now, Eddy had to leave.
Zebra stalk. All bits of flavor were represented. We spotted him from the truck, a Mazda this time. We went after him. After a while I set up the sticks but had a bad angle and brush. Couldn’t shoot. My crosshairs were on him for minutes. Finally he moved and I could’ve shot, but another zebra was in back of him and I was concerned about a pass-through. They bolted after getting our scent. Then started about a two hour stalk with crawling, tracking, duckwalking, sweating, hard breathing, and getting poked and cut by everything. We finally saw them about 500 yards away, too far for me to shoot. We took our time and inched closer. They felt safe and came back our way. I fired off the sticks at 255 yards and he fell nicely. Good zebra. I will get amorous on his skin covering my guest bed. I saved some of his liver to use for fishing bait. Something broke the line a couple times later on, but I never saw what kind of fish it was.
After we dropped off the zebra at the skinners with instructions to save the bullet, we went to make a hide by a waterhole for warthogs. Jaku and his tracker Johannes built the blind in about 30 minutes. I’ve been building them for years for deer and couldn’t have done nearly as well in hours. What professionals. The trackers often just wear sandals but don’t seem to know it. Without my boots I would be helpless. We propped the sticks to comfortably position my rifle for a shot and settled in for another long wait. Ants crawling all over us made it uncomfortable as hell. Saw only one small warthog and a couple jackals. Should’ve shot a jackal, but really wanted a warthog. Didn’t get one last trip. Turns out no luck on the warthogs here either, but if I would’ve shot the jackal I wouldn’t have had a chance at all.
Back at camp. The gut pile on a zebra is HUGE! Tomorrow is the last full day of hunting. I’ll bring my 870 with for some birds.
Last full hunting day. Brought the shotgun for dove and grouse and guinea fowl. I’ve always been a bird hunter primarily and get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Ammo was provided, but an open choke with number fours is not optimum for dove. Still, a real kick in the pants and memorable shooting from the back of a moving pickup.
9 AM. Had a few seconds to turn up my scope and shoot a warthog at about 150 yards down a road. He went about 20 feet, but the brush was so thick we didn’t see him until we were right on him. The trackers treat these pigs with a ton of respect. The tusks will rip a person to shreds. Got lucky seeing this one in this area, it wasn’t expected.
10 AM. Riding through the bush we came upon two South African soldiers that stopped us. They were checking for smugglers. We were alongside the Zimbabwean border, and if you follow the news you have heard about the troubles in that country. The soldiers were friendly and spoke some English. I was looking at their rifles and they were looking at mine. Incredibly, one of the soldiers traded guns with me. The select-fire R4 rifle is similar in design to an FAL but in a 5.56 chamber. We shot each other’s guns and we both got a kick out of it. I told them I was old U.S. Navy and they wanted to know if I had any contacts. I didn’t know if they wanted me to call in an air strike or what. Turns out they wanted to join the U.S. military and go to Iraq where the pay is better and steadier than what they have. Meeting these guys was a pretty memorable slice of my trip. We spoke about politics, AIDS, landmines, etc. Some people in South Africa now believe that if you have AIDS and have sex with a virgin you are cured. Now babies under a year old are being raped. There is no death penalty.
Some of my clothing was on the bed of the truck along with my backpack. My warthog bled all over it and it soaked through everything. I was able to find water and wash most of it off. I’ll do a better job in my washing machine when I get home. They wash clothes here every other day for us, which saved some packing room in my luggage.
Back at lodge for lunch. Afterwards I went on a birdwatchers walk by myself. You’re supposed to go with a group and a guide, but I figured it wasn’t necessary. I got a few hundred yards into the bush with only a small path to follow and a tall canopy of trees when something fell from the branches on my left and my right about 10 yards away. It sounded like someone dropped two sacks of potatoes from a roof. It was two huge baboons and they were barking and shrieking bloody murder with constant eye contact. Scared the holy crap out of me. I would’ve felt a lot better with a pistol or howitzer or something. Tarzan I am not. They followed me for a while, all the time woofing at me. They maybe could sense that I shot a couple of them this week. They eventually got tired of playing scare the human and left.
There was a golf course next to the main entrance to the lodge, and I wanted to say I played in South Africa, so a companion and I went to play 9 holes with a PH and his tracker. We should’ve brought a rifle since it was okay to hunt while on the links. The tracker was downrange and actually spotted our balls for us every hole. If you lose a ball in the rough it’s gone forever. The acacia trees and wait-a-bits will rip you to shreds. The wait-a-bits are bushes with rose-like thorns that curve backwards and stop you in your tracks. I’m still picking out some pieces from my hands and knees. On the seventh hole you have to hit across a river filled with hippos and crocodiles and take a boat to the green. Craziest hole I’ve ever heard of.
When I got back we had a boat ride planned down the Limpopo. Lots of birds and hippos and crocks. Beautiful scenery. Inspiring.
Leaving today. In Benidorm, Spain in the navy I fell in love with a girl and stayed with her for a week until my ship got under way again. I was mournful and missed her badly for quite a while. I felt the same way about leaving the Limpopo river and Tshipisi Safaris at the Popallin Ranch. We shot some group photos with the hunters and the scores of animals taken this trip. My Nikon Coolpix camera worked superbly throughout every ordeal, and fit my pocket perfectly. Don’t ever leave without lithium batteries.
Typical of South Africa we had to grease a few palms at the airport to stumble our way less hazardously through customs and the police station. It took forever and we almost missed our plane although we were there three hours before flight time. Didn’t get a chance to buy any trinkets there, although we did stop on the way at a small place, so my Shirley and a couple folks got gifts upon my return. The total travel time home was 36 hours, and felt a lot longer than the travel time on the way there. I watched a total of 10 movies on the flights, countless mind-numbing sitcoms and documentaries, and read three books. Almost 18, 000 travel miles total.
Mercifully and finally I returned to my residence and my beloved wife Shirley and my boy Radical Lee von Dundee. Fast food and a proper toilet and shower were gratefully utilized to their fullest.
8 shots, 8 animals. Didn’t get hurt. My equipment and I performed well. I got to know a lot of people I’ve admired for years, and garnered friendships that I will cherish. I learned a lot, and every moment of it was delicious. I hope all of you get to experience something similar once in your life.
Steven K. Ledin