By Brooks Hansen
Just relax and breathe, be patient and don’t move a muscle. He will step out any minute and I will let you know if he is a shooter,” my guide whispered. I was trying to keep my heart from jumping out of my chest and I just kept telling myself to do as he said. Our target is a bull kudu, the magnificent animal that was top on my list as soon as I booked the trip to South Africa with Gers Safaris. Africa has always been a place I’ve dreamed to hunt in and when the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance.
My good friend, Scott Leysath, aka “The Sporting Chef” called me up and told me he had been invited to South Africa to do a little hunting and cooking. He then asked if my wife and I wanted to join him. When the reality of this trip kicked in, I couldn’t pack my bags fast enough. I spent the next five months trying to envision what hunting on the other side of the world would be like. I watched videos on YouTube and read any piece of material I could get my hands on. I spent hours researching all of the plains game. At Gers Safaris, just outside Kimberly, South Africa, there are over 30 different species of plains game to hunt. It is part of what makes Africa so intriguing. After a large bull kudu, my wish list was quickly followed up with a gemsbok, blue wildebeest and impala.
After a couple of days of travel, my wife and I found ourselves in the small airport of Kimberly, South Africa. We were met there by Madaline Gers. Immediately upon meeting her we knew this was going to be a great trip. Next our guns were checked with the local law enforcement and then we were on our way to the lodge. As we made our way, we were mesmerized by the beautiful drive and couldn’t believe we were in Africa. Listening to Madaline tell stories on the drive only increased my excitement and anticipation to get into the field.
Eventually, we pulled through the large gate and into the lodge. Quickly our bags were unloaded and we were shown to our room. I have always heard the term “southern hospitality”, but the treatment we received here was on a whole new level. Immediately the staff felt more like family.
We met the Leysath Family at the lodge. They arrived a bit earlier than us, after spending the previous week in Cape Town. Also joining us would be the American partners to Gers Safaris: Jeff and Monica Powell and Budd and Rene Ferre. My excitement level was at an all-time high. Julius Gers, the owner of the operation, met us in the dining room where we were stuffing our faces with some blue wildebeest lasagna — the first of many African wild game meats that I would fall in love with. Julius has a priority to make sure everyone feels at home and enjoys their time there no matter where they have travelled from. After he made a few sarcastic comments, the ice was broken and I knew this was the beginning of an awesome week. We then took a quick trip to the range, followed by a small sightseeing tour. In the morning, it would be time to hunt.
The first evening at dinner we were introduced to our PH for the week. In Africa, a hunting guide is called a PH, which stands for Professional Hunter. From my understanding, it requires a bit of schooling and a whole lot of talent. I would be spending most of my time with Theunis Smit. One thing that I realized quickly was that if you want to be a Professional Hunter in Africa, you had better be one tough son of a gun. Theunis stands about six feet tall, has broad shoulders and looks like he just stepped off of the rugby field. I noticed that he had on a pair of all-leather hiking boots that had to have had over a thousand miles on them. I found myself wondering about the things those boots had seen and what they would see as I followed him around the African savanna throughout the coming week.
Next, we were given a quick safety briefing and then instructed on the rules of the ranch. We also went over the different types of species we could run into and where the vitals are on each animal. One thing I found fascinating in South Africa was the abundance of game. When hunting in North America, you may see two or three different species of big game while hunting and often times, you only hold one tag for one animal. Each day we hunted in Africa we would come across dozens of different species and if it is in your budget, you can pursue it. I told Theunis that number one on my list was a kudu. He smiled and said, “You want to hunt the grey ghost, do you?” Kudu are often referred to as the grey ghost of Africa. They have very keen eye sight and hear better than a mule deer. Often times, you never see the same bull twice. He quickly asked what else was on the list – we could spend several days pursuing kudu and needed to be ready if we saw other animals we would like to take as well.
Thoughts of every hunt I had ever been on raced through my mind as we loaded up the Land Cruiser and climbed aboard to head out on my first safari. We would be hunting on roughly 80,000 acres. The terrain was thick with camphor bushes, tall marula trees, whistling thorn trees and plenty of wheat grass. The area didn’t allow for many high points to glass from, so we would start by driving the farm roads and glassing the open meadows.
After about an hour or so of drive, glass, repeat, we spotted a small herd of blue wildebeest off in the distant meadow. I guessed they were around 700-800 yards away. They had us pinned after about thirty seconds and all we saw was a cloud of dust. Theunis said there was a nice bull in the group and that they might be worth going after. He said wildebeest aren’t like zebra–if you spook a zebra it will run for days; if you spook a wildebeest they will run about two hundred yards and stop, once they feel safe. We put together a plan and off we went.
We had a series of several stalks trying to get the wind just right and soon found our targets in a small opening. There were nine bulls in the group. We carefully crawled to where we felt there was a shooting lane. I could have just stayed there and watched those massive creatures for hours. They could sense that something was not right and started getting restless, pawing at the ground and snorting, almost like they were accepting my challenge. I slowly got up to a knee and positioned the shooting sticks. Theunis gave me a quick range, saying, “They are 227 yards out. Shoot the big one on the far left.” I waited for about two seconds for him to turn broadside and as soon as he presented a shot, I sent 180 grains of lead toward my target.
“Good shot. You hit him good,” whispered Theunis. All I saw was a large dust cloud and the wildebeest disappeared into the trees. I was three hours into my adventure and I had my first plains game on the ground. As we approached the animal, I marveled at the beautiful hide and mane. They often refer to this animal as the poor man’s buffalo and I now see why, with their massive horns and thick hide. I was excited, but in the back of my mind, there was still the elusive kudu. We quickly took care of the animal and found ourselves back at it, looking for the said “grey ghost”.
We spent the rest of the day making several stalks on gemsbok, springbok and impala, but I was yet to see a kudu. Later that evening we put a great stalk on a beautiful gemsbok and by sunset of the first day, I had two African animals to bring home.
Day two would have us back in the same area looking for kudu. It was all I could think about. It reminded me of my very first big game hunt as a 14-year-old kid. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. The drive and passion that hunting brings out in an individual is special. The sense of setting a goal, making a plan to achieve the goal and then facing the adversity while trying to succeed – you hunters know what I mean. My goal now was the kudu. On this day we looked over hundreds of animals, but we just couldn’t turn up any kudu. This is when I realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought it would be and boy, was this elusive creature living up to his nickname.
On the morning of day three, Theunis put us in a spot where we could glass an open bluff about two miles away. At first light, we spotted our first kudu and it was a bull. We quickly gathered up our things and went on a walk-about. We would walk for three miles to get into position where we had last seen him. I was told to be ready because if we got a shot, it would have to happen fast. I was trying to envision how it could happen with the cover so thick and just like that, we jumped the old bull up and he was gone like a jack rabbit in the sage brush.
It was about 11am now and it was starting to get hot. The animal activity was slowing down and defeat was starting to sink in. This was the first time I thought to myself that I may go home empty handed in this case and I was fine with that, but I needed to stay positive. We slowly worked our way back to the Land Cruiser and while walking back, we jumped some cow kudu and several impala’s. We were about a mile from the truck when Theunis suggested we work our way back by one of the water holes to see if we could catch something quenching its thirst. I have hunted in North America my whole life and I thought he was crazy–what animal waters at noon? “I bet there is a bull kudu getting a drink,” I jokingly said.
We approached the water hole from the east side, with the wind in our face. The water hole was in an area that was rather open, with several scattered trees by the water. I knew that if this was going to happen, it would be a tough shot and would be close to three hundred yards. We reached a position to glass the area and to my surprise, there was a lot of activity around the water. First we saw several waterbuck, then a couple ewe impala. I was carefully scanning every tree and bush close to the water, occasionally looking at the waterbuck. Theunis whispered, “I found a bull kudu. Do not move!” It was like someone just shocked me with a defibrillator. My heart was about to beat out of my chest. It was the last thing I expected to hear at that moment. The old bull was standing between two trees and a water tank and all you could see was his right front leg and a little bit of his neck. He would put his head down to get a drink and you would see his mane, while the trees covered his horns and the rest of his body. Theunis could tell it was a mature bull by his mane and body size, but didn’t know if he was a shooter or not. The challenge was to get set up on him and be ready in case he presented a shot and truly was a shooter.
Every move had to be slow and meticulous. The last thing I wanted was the waterbuck to spook and scare the kudu. Carefully, we finished setting up and he hadn’t moved. I had the crosshairs on his vitals, but still didn’t know if he was a shooter. Now the waiting game started. “Just relax and breathe, be patient and don’t move a muscle. He will step out any minute and I will let you know if he is a shooter”, said Theunis.
What seemed like hours I know was really only ten or fifteen minutes. The kudu finally stepped into a clearing and immediately Theunis said to take him. I slowly squeezed off a shot from my trusty Savage 300 Win Mag. The bullet found its mark as the bull buckled, whipped around and tried to run for safety. The 289 yard walk to the bull was gratifying. I felt a sense of accomplishment and gratitude for the opportunity to be doing the things I love.
During the next three days, I was able to spend some time with my wife and photograph some amazing animals, eat some of the best wild game I have ever tasted (zebra is by far the best red meat I have ever had) and follow Jeff Powell and Budd Ferre around, helping them harvest some great animals. Jeff harvested a magnificent waterbuck and I was with Budd when he completed his springbok slam by harvesting a beautiful blue springbok. On the last morning, we went out for one more drive, looking for an impala and I was successful. My check list was now complete. I left Africa with a whole new appreciation for hospitality. Juluis Gers runs a top-notch operation (www.gerssafaris.com and firstname.lastname@example.org). You show up as strangers, but leave as family. Go ahead and book a trip – I dare you.