By Bob Solimena
It was a long November flight for my wife Tatyana and I from Sacramento, California, to Johannesburg, South Africa. Our Professional Hunter, FC, met us at the Tembo Airport, where we cleared my rifle and collected our baggage; then we continued our journey by vehicle to the Free State province to hunt the elusive black wildebeest, also known by the Dutch as the white-tailed gnu. We were on a 15-day safari with Bushman’s Quiver in Limpopo province.
Reaching our destination, host and hostess Jess and Jennifer, welcomed us to their beautiful lodge; a rustic and warm place. We were beat to say the least. After relaxing in our room, we met in the main dining room and bar. This lodge is situated on a spacious concession with plains that stretch across to the base of mountains of varying heights. Some even have ancient bushman’s caves with petroglyphs. My wife Tatyana and I took a short walk around the grounds to get familiar with the area. Immediately, we spotted various game off in the distance. I could make out herds of blesbok, springbok, cape buffalo, and black wildebeest. Closer in, I spotted some sable antelope; so majestic with their crescent shaped horns, shiny black hide, and white striped face. It all was a fantastic scene that reminded me how magical this land is and, for that matter, how all of Africa is. With its game animals and eco-diversification, Africa is like no other place on earth. I could not wait for the start of my hunt in the morning.
I had won this Safari in 2015 for 7-day plains game in a drawing at the annual sportsman’s show in my home town. I was happy to add another 8 days so my non-hunter wife, Tatyana, and I could see some sights and experience local places here on the dark continent. Only seven of those days would be dedicated to hunting game with my custom 30.06 Griffin and Howe M1903 Springfield. Months before, I had a new Stewart Edward White style English walnut stock fitted to it. I did the stock finishing work using thirty thin coats of Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil hand rubbed finish. A real nice classic weapon; one like that owned and used by Hemingway in his 1930s and 1950s trips to the dark continent. Back then, he used his Griffin & Howe 30.06 Springfield to harvest some of the big five, like rhino and cape buffalo as well as kudu.
The rest of our journey would be used for other activities like a trip to Kruger National Park, Interactive Elephant experience in Limpopo Province, shopping at curio outlets in Modimolle and fishing in the Indian Ocean at Sodwana Bay Beach on the east coast.
The next day, FC and my tracker, Punge (pronounced Poongee) headed out to an area where I could take a few practice shots to see that the rifle was still sighted in. At home, I only have access to a 100-yard public range, where I adjusted the Redfield Revolution 2-7×33 Accu-Range reticle scope to place the Remington 180 grain PSP CoreLokt bullet approximately 3 inches high. This made the bullet strike point blank at 225 yards. With this setup it is within the killing zone of most any plains game without having to worry about bullet drop. It worked nicely! My practice shots that day confirmed the rifle was still dead on.
I hopped onto FC’s Toyota pick-up with Punge driving. The bed of the truck had a custom rack with padded seats and a cab roof overhang. The overhang was sturdy, padded, and made for a very nice vantage point to shoot from if needed. As Punge steered us along I had such a great joy in being in South Africa again. The last time was 2012. The rolling hills, plains, and distant mountains were breathtaking. Tatyana stayed back at the lodge and was scheduled to visit some petroglyphs with Jess. I knew she would enjoy her day with the camera.
The weather was clear and sunny for this November day, and my expectations were high as I could see herds of game in the distance. We passed springbok, cape buffalo and a small pond where I could just make out the protruding snout of a hippo. We don’t get to see these images on hunts back home.
In time, we caught up to a herd of black wildebeest. When we got to within a few hundred yards, the lead bull spotted us and led his troupe running, jumping, and whisking their white tails in the air. Punge slowly and carefully followed the herd as they settled down to watch us and satisfy their curiosity. Again, as we got closer, they took off running, this time in a large circular pattern around our vehicle just out of range. At times some of them bucked and kicked their hooves high in the air while whipping their tales stretched out behind them. It was almost as if they knew we could not get a shot were making fun of the situation. I had to laugh.
We kept trying to get within range, but the wildebeest eluded us. This continued for most of the morning. We took a break and had some snacks. While glassing the plains, we spotted some springbok off in the distance about 300 yards away. Right behind them were two nice wildebeest running and circling our truck. One was a good bull. They passed us out of range. The larger bull ran up a slope that was directly in front of the vehicle and stopped broadside about 200 or 250 yards away, the smaller one right behind. FC said, “take him”. So, when Punge stopped the truck, I steadied on the padded overhang and squeezed off a shot. The bull flinched and kicked up his back hooves. I could see dust fly behind. Both bulls turned and went over the ridge. FC said it looked like a good hit. I wasn’t so sure.
We waited awhile, then FC signaled to Punge. He drove the truck slowly around the base of the hill and eased to the flat top above. We spotted the two bulls way out on the flat hundreds of yards away. The smaller bull was grazing but my bull was just standing there. We watched for a while to see if he would drop. Behind the two bulls were more wildebeests grazing and laying around. My bull just stood there not eating. FC and I thought that was strange and hoped he was going to go down any minute. That did not happen. Meanwhile FC sent Punge on foot to search for any blood back at the spot where he was standing when I took the shot. Nothing!
After about an hour or so my bull started moving and feeding with the smaller one. We glassed him for any sign of blood or injury. Nothing. FC and I decided it was a clean miss and that my shot was probably low. We returned to the lodge for lunch.
I explained to Jess who was back with my wife for lunch, that I tried to aim low for a heart shot as the bull was above us on top of the ridge. His feeling was in that case I shot just under the bull’s belly. He suggested that, next time, I aim for the heart/lung area which is about two to four inches above the point where the front leg meets the body, just like I would when hunting plains animals back home.
After lunch we went back to check on the bull once more, as FC wanted to be sure. We first went to the spot where he stood when I shot. Again, there was no blood anywhere. On the other side of the ridge where we last saw the pair, there was no sign of blood or of either wildebeest. They both must have joined the rest of the herd.
I felt disappointed but was glad he was not wounded. We continued our hunt attempting to get within range of a good mature bull. But, like earlier in the day, they kept playing tag with us. As the afternoon wore on, things were not looking good. We stopped to glass a new area and FC spotted a herd way off in the distance. He signaled to Punge to head in their direction. This game of cat and mouse continued. Punge inched up slowly as the herd crisscrossed ahead of the truck, always out of range. On our next approach, Punge decided to flank the herd on the right. This caused them to spread out in a straight line as we got closer and closer. Now, Punge slowed the vehicle to a crawl which allowed him to cut our distance in half. As we inched closer the herd flipped around and headed back where they came from, speeding by the left side of the truck.
Punge turned to follow. The lead bull stopped, and the herd calmed for a second. We were just over 200 yards away when FC pointed to the last bull and said, “take him”. He was broadside. I rested on the padded overhang, put the crosshairs right on the heart/lung triangle and squeezed off a shot. At the roar of the muzzle the herd took off running. My bull lunged forward a few steps and dropped. His tail waving. I was elated.
We walked over to him and I could see he was a large mature bull with heavy bosses. We admired this magnificent trophy; he was hard won. And, thanks to FC and Punge we got the job done. We took pictures, loaded the wildebeest into the Toyota and headed back to the lodge. The sun was now starting to set in the beautiful South African sky and I remember feeling how fortunate I was to be here again on the dark continent.
Just before reaching the lodge, FC and I got out to stretch our legs. We were about 200 yards from the road when we noticed a long line of blesboks strung out across the landscape only about 80 yards ahead. There were all kinds of phase colors and with the red evening sky in the background it was a gorgeous sight. How lucky we were to witness it.
We arrived back at the lodge by dark, helped Punge hang our trophy and went in for dinner. After a scrumptious meal we sat back at the bar and discussed the day’s events with my wife and our hosts. Tatyana enjoyed her trip to the bushmans caves nearby and saw many of the petroglyphs created by the ancient rock dwellers, known as bushmen, who inhabited this area before any white settlers, mainly Portuguese and Dutch, arrived on the shores at Cape of Good Hope.
By now we were tired and called it a night. With the events of the day still fresh in my head I fell into a happy slumber anticipating our trek in the morning to the next concession near Modimolle, where we would continue our quest for plains game. FC told me later the next day that there was only one day scheduled to hunting the black wildebeest. Knowing that beforehand would have caused me to put more psychological pressure on myself to perform. As it turned out, on that day, I was very relaxed thinking there was more than a day to harvest this sought-after trophy.
It was my “One Lucky Day Wildebeest Hunt”