Posted by Eric on 3/24/2020 to South Africa
When I said in my previous post that I dressed to be ready to hunt as soon as I stepped off the plane in Port Elizabeth I meant it. So when we arrived at the extremely adequate accommodations of Coppermoon Hunting Safaris I was a little anxious to get out when I greeted my folks, met the camera crew that was joining us and the rest of the staff making things happen around Coppermoon. Dad (as always) was prompt to embark on stories to tell me how things were, their style etc rather than just letting me find out on my own. It's his way, not his fault.
The basis of our hunting style looks like this: the hardcore mid-size (Isuzu in this case) diesel bush pickup truck with high rack bench and side panels, cooler (cool box) on the back, 1-2 or 3 trackers on the back riding with a wary eye on the terrain, Denver driving, me in the front seat then Mom and Dad in the back. I promise I'm not rude, just blessed with the longest legs out of this bunch. Andy and Cannon, the film crew, journeyed behind us with their gear in a Toyota Land Cruiser. Due to the vastness of terrain as well as the multitude of hiding spots in vegetation mean the more eyeballs the better when looking for animals. Coppermoon is set on a 22,000 acre ranch that is the culmination of 7 former working farms. So the landscape varies from widespread grassland, rolling hills with mid sized trees and bushes to low lying THICK (see Marty's previous "hands and knee crawling" description) bush with heavily thorned acacia wood trees and whatever else random bushes mixed in. ALL of which have thorns. Also for those of you woodland hunters that are familiar with spider webs across your path, there were no shortage of them in Africa. In fact I actually had a spider crawl out of my laundry bag when I unpacked after returning home. No joke!
So we enjoyed an incredible lunch, one of many routinely delicious meals, then headed out looking for springbuck. I was under the impression that we were hunting for Mom at that point after some difficult failed stalks on Kudu, and the fact that I had just landed in country and was getting my bearings about me led me to believe I'd be 2nd up on the trigger. Let's be honest, my jaw was hanging pretty loose at the sight of all these animals I had never seen in my life. Some of them never even in pictures. But the springbuck, let me tell you. They are so sharp and fine and gorgeous they look like a painting. But man, are they spooky. Just running, all the time for no reason. That afternoon on my first ride we saw springbuck, blesbuck, black wildebeest, kudu cows, and nyala ewes just for a start. I was in heaven despite the 102 degree temperatures Fahrenheit.
We had only been out for an hour or so when I spotted a lone springbuck ram, pulled up my binos for a closer look and innocently/unknowingly said, "Is that a good one?" Denver answered by slamming on the brakes so that the truck was positioned behind a large acacia tree. The lone ram seemed content and unthreatened as we made a stalk in his direction with a few good trees in between. As I mentioned before, it was my impression that Mom would be taking the shot but she insisted on welcoming me to the African plain with a 240 yard shot at an absolutely incredible springbuck ram. Who was I to argue. Actually I've never been one to hesitate to pull the trigger on worthy prey so I didn't balk. Bog Pod up, the 6.5x284 Mutt locked and dialed in to 2.4 on the Leupold CDS optic and a simple pull of the trigger and he dropped like a sack of marbles. No guff. No warm up needed.
I humored a little as we collected the ram and walked back to the truck for good photos that it was the first time I had ever pulled the trigger on a live round on Dad's famed "Mutt" rifle. Incidentally, I helped build it, did the trigger work on it with a fair number of controlled dry fires, and even offered the name as it's the most morbidly ugly rifle we've ever built. But buddy can it shoot. It is boringly accurate and well balanced when it is topped with a suppressor and has a reputation previously on the Colorado plains, more recently on the African continent which it now calls home. Seriously, you can hunt with it in South Africa if you want. Go back and read Dad's recap on Day 10 for more info on that.
My attitude was teetering dangerously in the direction of "man is this whole hunt going to be this easy? I came here to WORK". Oh Eric, you lovable idiot. Dad describes in depth the efforts we went to in order to get a shot at a quality Kudu bull, so I won't re-create the wheel there. As he mentioned previously, outside of the rut, Kudu bulls and boar warthogs are especially cautious and scarce. It's just very difficult in general to even just find them and sneak up on them for a quality shot opportunity. I had never seen one in person, but have intensely wanted to take one on in Africa since I was probably 15 years old. In fact if I went on this trip and could only take home one animal, the cape Kudu would be the one.
After hearing that Paul, one of Denver's trackers had spotted a pair of bulls within healthy shooting range for mom we headed in his direction. Prior to this trip I was determined to be in the kind of physical shape that rivaled that of the the pro hunter and local trackers and going from mile high altitude every day to sea level-2k feet was definitely in my favor too. This mindset immediately paid off as we hustled hard to the ledge Paul was stationed on and it was obvious the bulls were already headed away from us. They were located on the opposite mountainside across a canyon, already 500 yards distance and moving away. Mom, still slated to be on the trigger and confident in her growing shooting ability but not too proud to deny limitations, quickly passed the shot to me. "No, I'm not going to take a shot that far. It's Eric's shot."
Knowing time was of the essence, Denver folded up the tripod, I grabbed the rifle, and film crew Andy followed as the three of us tumbled off down the rocky hillside to try and close the distance a little. By the time we closed another 50-60 linear yards (further than that down the mountain) the bulls had already moved 3x that distance away from us and the sun was setting quickly. We got the tripod set up in a seated position so that I could get solid against the hill behind me but was still shooting up at a a 15 degree angle or so when Denver fed me the distance: 597 yards. I dialed the Leupold CDS scope to 6.1 with consideration of the upslope, held 8-10 inches to the left of his shoulder to account for the brisk left to right wind at the distance and as soon my hunting partner threw out a whistle to stop the bull and he stopped in my scope, I squeezed the trigger.
It took a split second to recover my view in the scope following the light recoil of the rifle. But it happened just in time to see the bull's white belly as the shot landed in his front right shoulder with a SMACK and dropped him so that he tumbled to a stopping point a few feet below. And so it was... the first Kudu bull I ever saw in person was now laying on the mountain across from me. Instinctively and maybe even in a little undisciplined fashion I let out a howl and threw a pretty stiff jab into the ribs of my pro hunter. But man, what a feeling. What a time to celebrate! We had just dropped an African Cape Kudu at 600 yards with one shot from a rifle system that we preach and profess, and thanks to the CMG suppressor topping the gun, we were able to hear the shot impact the animal.
Remember what I said before about starting to think that it might be too easy and I was ready to work. Well, I got my wish, because this is where the real work began. When I asked Denver how we would be getting him out he chuckled a little and said to me, "One way in, one way out. STRAIGHT UP." So we dropped the tripod and began picking our way down the canyon in to the thicker-than-Texas-river-bottom brush, then back up the other side where we found the bull. When I go on a hunt, my attitude is this: I'm in it for the entire experience regardless of where it is. If I make a long shot on an animal, I'm making the long hike to help take him apart and carry him out. So even if I'm in Africa, and there's a pro hunter and trackers in place to do exactly that, I'm the one who pulled the trigger. Which means I'm the one hauling out that massive head and horns and cape on my shoulders. Not to be outdone Denver shouldered (literally shouldered) the entire back half of that massive bull and we painstakingly tumbled down the mountain together. I wish I could say I was kidding about tumbling down, but I'm pretty sure each of us fell no less than twice and I found myself scooting on my knees to get below the thorn trees more than once. Fortunately I found a great Gemsbok skull and horns on the way down and managed to drag that out too.
The best part? At the end of the several hour process of getting to the bull, caping him out, and hauling him down, there was Dad waiting for us at the truck. We were dehydrated, beat up, and it was tough to tell which blood all over me belonged to the Kudu and what was my own, but that's what it's all about: an incredible experience and gift that will stay with me for the rest of my life. And it's only the end of my first day hunting.