“The Bucket List Hunt”

bucketlist-huntAs I sat on the hindquarter of Josh`s bull eland my mind wandered back to one of my favorite movies, “The Bucket List”. I had never heard the term before but after seeing the movie and rapidly blowing through my mid 50`s I knew what was number one on my “Bucket List”, to hunt Africa with my son. In 2008, my last trip to the Mother Land, Josh had just welcomed his second son into the world and couldn`t make the trip. Now, in June 2011, I would get my hunt!

Planning began in early 2010. Our good friends and clients Mike Cox and Beaver Thigpin had booked a safari to Mozambique through us in 2009 and had fallen in love with Africa. We couldn`t think of anyone who would enjoy this trip any more than them. Having hunted South Africa several times I wanted to see another country and to hunt different animals. One very nice thing about Africa is the number and species of animals to hunt. The safari company I hunt with and book for, Game Hunters Africa have hunting concessions from South Africa to Cameroon and several countries in between. I have always been fascinated with the Bushman of the Kalahari, known for being the best trackers in the world. After talking to the rest of the group Botswana it is and on June 1st, 2011 the “Louisiana Invasion” began.

The group consisted of Mike and Beaver, Beaver`s son Mason and Beaver`s good friend Johnny Fontenot. Mason`s trip was his graduation gift from his Dad. Speaking of Mason, in the three weeks before we left he won a state baseball championship with St. Louis, was selected to the 1st team all-district, signed a college baseball scholarship, graduated from high school and now was headed to Africa on his first safari. Kinda cool, huh?

As usual the flight was brutal. We left Houston, flew to Atlanta, arrived in Johannesburg the next day. We spent the night in Joburg then caught an early flight out the next morning to Maun, Botswana. Except for the two and a half hour drive to camp the travel part was over. As we walked out of customs my friend and PH, professional hunter, Glen Heldane greeted us. It was great to see my old friend again and I couldn`t wait to spend the next two weeks with him. After a quick lunch we are off to camp, a good night`s sleep and the beginning of our much anticipated safari.

The drive flew by. As we turned off the main highway for the 45 minute ride to camp it became clear we were in the desert, the famous Kalahari. Sand and more sand, in fact the road is just ruts in the sand. So deep at times Glen takes his hands off the steering wheel and the sand holds the Land Cruiser as straight as an arrow. Animals spring from the bush everywhere. Giraffe, kudu, waterbuck, ostrich, rino; what a drive. Anticipation is boiling over now and we are all ready for the safari to begin. Finally we reach the camp. Everyone is assigned sleeping quarters and we all head off to get our home away from home squared away.

To describe the camp would take an article alone but believe me when I say it is awesome. Stone chalets for the hunters, excellent meals and service second to none are just the tip of the iceberg. The real killer is the camp is built on one of the only waterholes within some 50 miles that never dries up. A roaring fire every night and morning makes for some unreal viewing. Sitting by the fire at night enjoying an adult beverage, watching what is coming in to drink next made the nights as special as the hunting during the day.

Finally, June 2nd, the safari begins. All the PH`s have been assigned their hunters and know what each person is hunting. After breakfast we all head out. First things first and we all head to the shooting range to make sure the long flight had not harmed our scopes. Josh and mine are dead on and off we go!

With five hunters and lots of animals I could write forever about this safari. Our group took over forty animals. The stories around the fire grew and grew. Every night getting better and better, from Masons gold metal kudu with his bow to Mike chasing and finally getting his trophy gemsbok, Johnny`s magnificent zebra stallion and Beavers quest for anything with his bow. The evenings were so much fun it got to where we looked forward to them. All the stories told in great detail and emotion. One thing that every one of the guys talked about nearly every night was the tracking skills of their Bushman tracker. I must agree I have never seen anything like it. Hundreds of tracks and animals of all kinds and these guys can pick out one individual animal and stay on him for hours. Josh and I both agreed if we had Bushman in the states we would have no whitetail.

I would love to tell you about the old bull giraffe Josh harvested. The Bushman thought he was at least twenty years old and over 4000 pounds; he was a sight to behold, almost as much as the fourteen men working on him at one time. Bushman love Giraffe so all the meat went to the village. Again, another story within itself.

Josh`s eland is what will stay with me forever. We hunted eland, the largest antelope in the world, six times. In the Kalahari we hunted eland in a very traditional way. In such a way that I now understand why back in January Glen told me to be in good shape. On eland days we would leave camp early and head out and drive the sand roads looking for fresh tracks. Bessa, our Bushman tracker, would study the tracks in the sand, hundreds and hundreds of tracks. When he would see eland tracks he would alert Glen. Off the truck they would go and study the tracks up close and personal. Just by looking at a footprint in the sand Bessa can tell if it is a bull or a cow, how long it has been since the animal made the track and if it is a young bull or an old bull. After hunting with this small man for two weeks I`m sure there are many other things he knew that would have blown my mind even more. After it is determined to be a bull, Josh and I are off the truck and the walking begins.

ELAND hunt #1: Bessa and Glen find a single bull`s tracks in the sand and off we go. Twenty minutes into the walk Bessa drops suddenly to his knees and we all stop. Glen, flat on his stomach, picks up his binoculars and begins to study. I`m not the shooter so I`m in the back of the pack and I have no idea what they are looking at. I`m thinking, “this would be sweet, a twenty minute walk and we get our eland on day one.” After a few minutes Glen has Josh crawl up through the sand and get in shooting position. They study and study and suddenly the Thompson Center roars, animal go everywhere and Glen and Josh are high fiving. I could tell by the chatter it wasn`t an eland. Just by chance we had come across a herd of gemsbok and Josh had downed a beautiful old bull. That`s the thing about Africa, you never know what is going to step out or when.

ELAND hunt #2: Again we left camp early and drove the sand roads. It was long before we were on tracks and off we went. Walking behind a Bushman on tracks is no picnic. Bessa is walking a good steady pace, head moving from side to side reading the sand and vegetation like we read a magazine. Suddenly an hour and forty minutes into the walk and there are the eland. Two bulls just a little over fifty yards in front of us. Glen and Josh have their binoculars up and are studying the animals. I felt it coming, I knew it was coming and there was nothing I could do about it .I had to cough, struggle as I might to stop it, I coughed. Needless to say the eland left. Yes I was considered an outcast and yes the story was dramatized by Glen around the fire that night. They stayed on me for two days and I guess Josh finally felt sorry for me and told me neither bull was a shooter. I never left the truck again without a bottle of water.

ELAND hunt #3: Reading the sand and off the truck our walk for the morning starts, Bessa in front, Glen next, then Josh and me in the rear. An hour and forty five minutes into the walk and we find where the eland had laid down. Glen turns to me and whispers “We`ve been following last night`s tracks up until now, from here on, we`re on todays”. Mind boggling! Off we go again with Bessa, reading tracks and us following. Another hour and fifteen minutes and Bessa got very excited. We all see the animals at once. Four bulls, none of them shooters. We`ve walked over two hours, find the animals and just watch them as they disappear into the bush. Remember now, we have to walk back unless we`re lucky enough to have crossed a road and Glen can direct the truck close to us. Also the bush is brutal. The black-thorn bushes have thorns shaped like fish hooks and the camel thorns have pointed needles at least two inches long. Bleeding is not an option, it`s gonna happen.

ELAND Hunt #4: Same routine again only this time we have Bessa`s brother Camour with us. This morning we are looking for tracks from a single bull. It doesn`t take long and the two Bushman are studying tracks. Glen comes to the back of the truck and tells Josh and me we are going to do it different today. The two Bushman are much faster tracking without us in tow. Glen gives them a radio and off they go. The plan is they get on the eland, find him and radio back with their location. We will then make our way to them and with luck harvest the beast. Sounds like a good plan. We don`t hear from them again for seven and a half hours. These two men followed this bull until he joined up with a herd and they lost him. Seven and a half hours!!! About half way through the day Glen drove us to a small waterhole and we used the day as a photo day. Life coming to a waterhole during the dry season is something to behold. It was a fun day and gave our feet and legs a much needed break.

ELAND Hunt #5: Overnight Glen had worked with another landowner to try a different area. We pulled out of camp about 7:30 and by 8:30 we were on tracks. New area, same thorns and sand. Two and a half hours into the walk and suddenly three bulls just appear right in front of us. Glen, Bessa and Josh start making a big circle to get the wind in their favor .I stay put where I am. I`ve got a good clear view of the eland and by me staying put; it cuts down of the chances of us getting busted. Suddenly I hear a gunshot and eland go everywhere. As I run toward Josh I can tell something is wrong. Thirty yard shot and no blood and no eland. My son is a very good shot and I could tell he was quite upset. We looked and looked for even the smallest drop of blood. We even got back on the eland, found them, and was able to tell the bull wasn`t hit. Josh was sick!! We all walked back to where the whole thing started and Josh, needing an answer, walked back to where he had taken the shot. There, plain as day, you could see what had happened. When Glen placed the shooting sticks down he hadn`t seen a small bush between Josh and the eland bull. Through the scope all Josh saw was eland and pulled the trigger. The bullet hit a small limb and glanced yards over his targets back. Tough, tough luck.

We`ve been walking over 3 hours now and are about to start back to the truck. Walking in all this sand is hard and I notice that the ball of my right foot is starting to hurt and I know I`ve got a blister coming on. When we finally get back to the truck I`m limping pretty good but am glad the walking is done for the day.

ELAND Hunt #6: The whole ball of my foot is a blister. I`m pretty sure today is not going to be a fun day for me but it`s Africa and I`m not about to stay in camp. At 9:15 we start on tracks and as luck has it we find the bull just fifteen minutes into the stalk. Unfortunately he sees us and off he goes. We follow the tracks until 12:15. Glen decides we need to stop and let the eland settle down. They know we`re on their tail and are getting more and more nervous. We had crossed a small road a ways back and Glen radioed the truck. After a short stop for lunch and a quick nap we are back on the tracks .Bessa picks up right where he left off and the walk begins again. My foot is killing me and I`m trying to think how I`m going to tell Josh he may have to do it without me. Suddenly Glen and Bessa stop, Glen quickly sets the shooting sticks and Josh drops his rifle into place and pulls the trigger. I see Glen wrap Josh in a big hug and just beyond them I see the huge animal hit the ground. Finally, we have our eland. As we made our way to the beast I am elated that Josh has finally gotten his number one animal he came to Africa for. I am also excited to get off my foot. “Do you mind if I sit on your trophy?” I ask. The 1600 pound animal made a great place to rest. As we waited for truck to get to us, Josh and I started to relive the journey to finally get this big guy on the ground. We estimated we had walked around twenty to twenty five miles, most of it in loose sand. Thank God for my Nordic Track elliptical machine and the fact that I had listened to Glen back in January. This journey is something Josh and I will never forget. Six long, brutal days, blisters, blood, sore muscles, but in the end it was worth it. As I tell everyone about our adventures, “it`s not the kill so much as the journey to get there.”

Oh and my foot. As I got off the truck that night, a visiting PH was sitting at the fire. He saw me limping and I told him about the blister. He was ex- military and said he had lots of experience with blisters and could fix it. He had me go to our chalet and clean my foot. He showed up with a large syringe and a bottle of penicillin. With the needle he sucked all the fluid out of the blister and then replaced it with the penicillin. By morning the pain was gone, no limping and before 8:30 I had killed my 60 inch kudu. Only in Africa!!

I have now scratched off the number one item on my “Bucket List”. I know Josh and I will make many more hunts together and I am really glad to have shared Africa with my best friend. Now I`ve added a new number one to that very same list. Africa 2019 with the Grandboys!!! God I can`t wait!!!

By: Steve German