After an extra year of waiting thanks to the pandemic, an extra set of RT tickets to South Africa thanks to a defunct South African Airways, and more than enough paperwork, questionnaires, testing, and airline/CBP escapades, the trip was finally executed. This was trip #5 to Cruiser’s for me and #2 for the whole family. My wife Lisa, and two daughters, Amanda & Sarah (now 22 & 19), had previously experienced Cruiser’s in 2013. We booked with Bob in May of 2019 for this trip and had been anticipating ever since. The girls had hunting packages and I was a “casual” observer. This year’s trip also included a very special person in Amanda’s world – Jack. This was a new experience for him. We arrived later in the day than normal, but Cruiser’s accommodated airport collection and transport. Pieter PH, did the honors. The ride from the airport to the camp was different this time. No lingering and only one pit stop. We were greeted by Tiny & Pieter late in the evening. All good and back home – literally for me! It was great to be back. Tiny had prepared some late-night snacks and had everything ready with our chalets. Jack was noticeably impressed by the accommodations we were to be subject to for the week ahead. The rest of us were familiar.
This trip, I brought a .30-06 and a 6.5x284 Norma (FYI – SAPS doesn’t recognize the caliber, so call it a 6.5mm if you bring one – long story at the SAPS office) for my daughters to use. After a short night’s sleep, I sighted the rifles in quickly in the am with Pieter L. and Pieter F. Then the girls and Jack lobbed a couple shots each into the target from the shooting sticks to gain the confidence of our hosts before setting out into the bush.
Day 1 - Amanda & Jack were guided by Pieter F. for this trip with Munsu driving and tracking. I went out with Sarah and Pieter Lamprecht on the first day of hunting. Johannes was our driver and tracker. This was my first experience hunting with Pieter. It was obvious he enjoyed PH duties. He was a master.
Not sure what we set out for initially. I believe gemsbok. But no matter. In our quest, we of course ran into many other potential objectives that piqued our interest and we obliged by stalking. All seemed to have had help from the wind and other species. After a couple hours of unsuccessful stalks, we came across a small herd of eland cows. I suggested that Sarah break the suspense with a female eland should we get the opportunity. We pursued only to have or mission busted by the swirling winds as Sarah had the rifle across the sticks waiting for a clear shot. No matter, we almost immediately came across a nice warthog who stayed in an opening for a couple seconds too long. One shot with the 6.5x284 and it was picture time and the ice had been broken. We loaded the pig onto the truck and Pieter had us continue on foot heading upwind. It wasn’t long before we had covertly (ducked and crawled) snuck up on a herd of impala. The dominant ram was preoccupied with running off the younger rams and pursuing the females. We watched from our vantage point for nearly 30 minutes before they settled down and a shot presented itself. Sarah was impatiently waiting on the sticks for some time but delivered a good shot when necessary.
Pieter F., Amanda, and Jack spent the day on another concession north of the camp. They had a game filled day as well. Much spotting, much stalking, and success. Amanda secured a nice impala. Can’t tell I wasn’t there based on the lack of story filler.
Day 2 - Rudolph now assumed the PH duties with Sarah. I tagged along as we headed to a familiar concession. This was the site of my first hunt in Africa back in 2011. Unfortunately, the day was unlike no other ever on the continent for me. Not sure where to start – reality check day. Before noon we had three flat tires on our truck. All the same location on the truck. Only one (the first flat) delayed our bush entry and that was less than 15 minutes thanks to Johanes & Munsu. The others were in locations that did not interrupt our hunting but did provide for some extra hiking time. We just headed into the thick on foot and on abundant fresh tracks. After about three miles of hoofing it and bumping numerous game block to block in the concession, we came across gemsbok. Access to a decent shot proved difficult. The wind was not helping – swirling and gusting. Several attempts were made with no success. Rudolph contacted Johanes and brought the truck (fully repaired) around. On our way to a new vantage point, we came across zebra blasting across the vehicle path followed by a familiar herd of gemsbok again. They were making pretty good ground. Johanes stopped the truck and we watched the parade of animals. The gemsbok came to a halt in the bush about 80-100 yards out to the right of the truck. We observed them for a couple minutes as they milled around. Rudolph assessed the animals and determined there was a couple good bulls, one with exceptionally thick bases. However – we could not move from the back of the truck and were relegated to waiting for a clear shot on the bull. They were unconcerned of our presence for about three minutes. Sarah got into a good position with the rifle almost immediately just in case. In an instant, the bull quartered toward us, Rudolph confirmed with Sarah the target, and she sent a shot into it. Looked like a good hit. We found decent blood in about 30-40 yards out from the point of impact but it wasn’t down. After an hour or so tracking, we decided to connect with the others (Pieter F., Amanda, & Jack) for lunch and continue our quest thereafter. Turns out, the other hunting party had spent much of the morning tracking a blue wildebeest hit by Jack. It was hit, but not lethal. They had no luck securing the animal. We had a very nice picnic barbeque in the bush next to a large natural pond. Pieter L had come out to join us and brought Lisa. After lunch, Munsu lead the tracking of Sarah’s gemsbok. His tracking skills were exceptional but after 3-4 hours of tracking, we ran out of daylight. We were to resume tomorrow. Unfortunately, the wildebeest hit by Jack was not to be found this afternoon either. They had found a location where the animal laid down likely long enough to coagulate the wound. Three flat tires and two lost animals.
Day 3 - My wife and daughters headed into Thabazimbi for a day of relaxation and spa treatments. Jack went out with Pieter F. to seek the previous day’s wildebeest, I ventured out with Rudolph and Munsu tracking Sarah’s wounded gemsbok again. We all went in the same truck today. We spent the better part of the morning on its track, even finding blood from several hours after the initial hit. Again, Munsu & Pieter F’s tracking ability was astounding. Unfortunately, we seemed to be chasing a pretty healthy animal with no apparent end in sight. Lunchtime we headed to a familiar spot to meet Pieter F and Jack. On our way in with the truck, we were being waved off by Johanes. We were quick to notice they had set up under a shady spot for lunch and a nice wildebeest bull was walking in their direction. What we were unaware of was their intent to secure said wildebeest bull. Needless to say, we blew their chances barreling into their location with the truck – guess they should have radioed us but things happen fast.
We had a nice lunch thanks to Tiny. During lunch, a couple warthogs made an appearance about 150 – 200 yards across the pond. Each time, Jack was quick to grab a rifle and eager. One was a good boar but only presented himself for about 10 seconds, the other was too young. We were to venture back on the trail in about an hour after lunch, but Jack was wandering around the location – likely enthusiastic to again pursue game. While he was wandering, we heard a familiar grunt several times behind us in the thick. Jack headed back to our picnic location to inquire what was making that sound. Pieter F had the shooting sticks in hand already and told him to grab the rifle. It was wildebeest. We sat patient as Pieter took Jack into the bush. About 15 -20 minutes after their departure, we heard a single rifle crack with a distinct report like it hit something solid. 15 minutes later, Jack and Pieter returned to report a single shot success on the wildebeest. He hit it square in the shoulder with the 6.5x284 at about 50 yards. The wildebeest bolted directly at them and collapsed about 20 yards in from of them. We all loaded into the safari trucks and headed to the animal. It was a nice bull. Jack was now addicted.
After pictures and wildebeest loading, we concentrated on getting me on an animal and checking a remote area of the concession for any sign of Sarah’s wounded gemsbok. We came across many animals with zebra being a good quarry for the afternoon. On the truck, off the truck, follow the zebra. They move, then move, then move some more. Finally, we got to a position on foot flanking the zebra and a potential shot. However, they were spooked by gemsbok coming out from one block across a vehicle path. With the zebra bolting away as they so often do, we started assessing the gemsbok. We set up the sticks using the bush as cover as they warily came into and crossed the opening. They were not aware of our presence. Three or four made it across the opening – all were good bulls. As the fourth stepped out, Rudolph identified it as Sarah’s wounded gemsbok. It stopped just short of safety across the path where I finished him off. We headed up to the point of impact. The others brought the truck up and we all headed in on foot. No immediate blood. We headed directly into the bush perpendicular to the path. Jack went in the bush about 10 yards above the point of impact and immediately found blood and the gemsbok 20 yards from the hit. My bullet hit from the left through the heart and lodged just under the skin on the right shoulder. There was a single entrance wound on the upper front quarter of the animal believed to be from Sarah. Good hit but nothing vital in the path apparently. We were all happy - especially Sarah.
Day 4 - With only a Kudu left in Sarah’s package, we headed across the Matlabas river to an adjacent concession. Amanda and Pieter F went out in search of her remaining animals with the focus on gemsbok. We spent the better part of the morning trying to spot Kudu. We came across a few isolated groups of cows and a few young bulls before spotting a worthy bull. Once we did, it was stalking time with a breezy swirling wind. We worked a small group of Kudu on and off for about 90 minutes on foot. The stalks included a couple long distance crab and belly crawls – Okay for my 19 year old daughter. Fun for me until I had to stand up again. In that time, we had 2 or 3 potential shot opportunities. Unfortunately, each time the bull positioned itself deep in the thick thorns where only a portrait of its face and horns were visible. The body was not to be seen from our vantage points. A few minutes on the sticks in the stare-down only lead to the inevitable – the Kudu bolting away. We hopped back on the truck for some additional spotting. We circled several blocks looking for fresh tracks crossing the vehicle path without any luck. Rudolph determined that the Kudu must have remained in a specific block so we determined the direction of the wind and headed in for peek. We bumped several other animals but no Kudu so we called to meet the truck. About 10 minutes on the back of the truck, we spotted the bull we were stalking earlier. Rudolph motioned to Johanes to stop the truck so we could get off but it was too late, the Kudu had us in a stare-down. Sarah set up with the rifle on the Kudu in hopes a shot would present itself. Once again, the bull was facing us directly with thick brush protecting its vitals. If it moved left or right a foot or so, a decent shot would be available but for a short period. Rudolph whispered this and other shot placement instructions to Sarah as we waited. The Kudu’s ear twitched and turned as if it was distracted. Rudolph told Sarah he may move soon so she was to be ready. The bull took one step to its left exposing the right front shoulder. Without hesitation, it was picture time.
The afternoon provided more success for Amanda and Jack. Amanda procured a nice Gemsbok and Jack was successful on a big eland. The eland was in the deep bush requiring a tractor for the extraction. This made their afternoon more eventful and exciting. Each animal was taken with the 6.5x284 Norma and a 156 gr. Oryx Bullet. So far, the caliber provided one shot kills on a warthog, impala, blue wildebeest, gemsbok, and eland. Nice range of animals for the caliber. Proper placement and good bullets are vital.
Day 5 – The morning was fruitful for Amanda. She was accompanied by Sarah & Jack. They were quickly successful with the assistance of Pieter in securing a nice warthog.
I spent the better part of the morning with Rudolph in search of something. I had designs on several potential quarry and shared that with Rudolph. I was going to be opportunistic and see what prevailed. We bumped several species including zebra, eland, wildebeest, waterbuck, and hartebeest. The eland caught our attention a few times. We stalked a small group of cows for a short time that included more belly crawls and other stealth positions that proved to require Motrin later. We stalked to about 30 yards from the cows. Nothing sizable though but it did provide for some close-up video. The cows had no idea of our presence and walked within 10-15 yards before they saw us. Closest I have ever been to an eland. Needless to say, they soon disappeared and ran for a while. Rudolph called the truck back to collect us and deliver us to a new location. Once in place, we started our stalk. Rudolph found 2- 3 hour old eland spoor and tracks. Soon after, we found a feeding location for the eland where they had ripped trees down to get to the leaves. Spoor was getting fresher and tracks were as well. After about an hour and a half into this stalk, Rudolph’s movements were noticeably changing. We were moving very slow and careful. We were in a really thick area of the concession. Navigation was arduous. We came upon a group of 4 eland bulls about 80-100 yards in front of us. Rudolph spotted the shape of one of the bull’s horns. It wasn’t until we had repositioned a couple times that we could determine there were 4. Too thick and no shot availability. After several minutes of glassing and assessing, we hit the ground and improved our position. Same problem – too thick and no clean shot. The bulls were still unaware of our presence. We stayed in our position for about 40 to 50 minutes carefully watching them in hopes they would start grazing. I positioned myself on the sticks at Rudolph’s request. Rudolph had conveyed which bull to focus on. It was facing directly away from me now. The others were buried with very limited visibility. If the bull stepped right, I would have a shot. Left would not be good. Another 10 minutes or so passed by and still nothing. We waited. One of the other bulls could be seen moving – starting to graze. This proved to be good as my bull stepped to the right exposing a good clean path for the bullet. I hit the bull solid. In a brief moment, we heard a thunderous crash and death bellow. The bull buried itself in some heavy thorns.
No standard vehicle was going to make it in here to retrieve the one ton bull so we radioed camp for the tractor. We were about a 700 yards from the nearest potential vehicle path. After the travel to the concession, clearing out brush, trees, and other potential tractor obstacles, we loaded the eland in the tractor. The extraction was most of the afternoon (about 3 hours) but well worth it.
While we were having our fun with the eland hunt, Amanda and Pieter were focused on securing a nice bull. Preoccupied by our quests, we had not heard any news. We finally made contact with Pieter F to determine how Amanda’s day had transpired and discovered that she had taken a big bull Kudu – so her package was now complete and further hunting pressure removed. Another one shot success for the 6.5x284 on a large animal!
After some brief quiet time around camp, we were assembled to the vehicles and transported just before sunset for an outdoor barbeque at the picnic braai along the river. It was lit up with many solar lights and two fires. The grilling hadn’t started yet but commenced soon after arrival. Tiny had made a host of hors d'oeuvres and side dishes. We congregated at the full bar for an adult beverage and settled into the peaceful surroundings. Pieter F and Rudolph did the honors at the grill with gemsbok loins and some wildebeest medallions to round out the entrée portion. Meal, company, and atmosphere were incomparable.
Day 6 - We slept in a little this AM with Rudolph and me slipping out shortly after 8:00AM for some brief stalking and looking to be opportunistic again. After some quick spotting, we entered into a relentless pursuit of a heard of zebra but the target stallion would not cooperate. Running out of time before a planned family adventure, we abandoned the chase. However, no disappointment as the stalk is by far the best part of the hunting here.
We returned to camp for an early lunch and departure for the Mokolo Dam boat ride.
We spent four hours cruising, taking in the scenery, taking pictures, fishing a little with some success, and relaxing with beverages. Highly recommended side trip! We saw Kudu, klipspringer, mountain reedbuck, common reedbuck, baboons, and a baby crocodile. We had a couple sun showers during our ride that made for some good photo opportunities as well.
Day 7 - Our last full day at Cruisers was another family day. Today, we went to Pilanesburg Nature Reserve for an enjoyable day of viewing numerous species – some up close. Immediately upon entering the Nature reserve, we encountered a herd of elephants. The most enjoyable event was being held up for nearly 20 minutes on the road by a mother white rhino and her two calves. She was very protective of her calves and stayed between the vehicle and them for some time as they grazed along the road. She was not amenable to letting us pass. We were very pleased with the trip as we had numerous rhino sightings, including black rhino, elephants, hippos, crocs, and every other plains animals. We had our own barbeque in the park in a secure area. Tiny had prepared marinated eland for us to grill in the protected BBQ area of the reserve. Pieter F. did the honors - Highly recommended.
Last morning in Camp – The sadness for me set in a couple days before this but it is inevitable. We had breakfast and were packed out by 8:30 AM. We had a stop in Pretoria to meet Pieter and Lizelle as they were there for a game auction that took place the night before. We met Pieter & Lizelle for the formal goodbyes and gratitude - More sadness. We had a quick lunch and headed to Highveld Taxidermy where we were met by Thomas Ochsenbein to process our trophy requests. After that – airport and final goodbye and thank you to Pieter F. See you all again in Early 2023!!!!
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