Welcome to the 2020 newsletter. This year marks our Silver Anniversary. For 25 years Cruiser Safaris has provided hundreds of hunters their “Dream of a Lifetime”. This longevity only proves what we feel and that is that Cruiser Safaris is one of the best destinations for a safari in South Africa. Year after year we have provided the ultimate in hunting, trophies, accommodations, cuisine and lifetime friendships.
In reaching this milestone we planned a yearlong celebration. And then it happened. The “day” the world stood still. Pandemic. Corona virus. Border closures, lockdowns, social distancing, masks, self-isolations, quarantines, plus the many other restrictions that occurred. On the positive side our animals used this time wisely to produce more offspring which is probably the only good thing that came out of this.
However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As of this writing a couple of vaccines have been approved. Vaccinations are happening and slowly some of the restrictions have been reduced. Although this is not going to happen overnight, we feel that it won’t be long until the “new” normal returns and the safari hunting that you have been dreaming about will begin again.
In this part of the newsletter, I add all of the hunters and their stories. There are no stories to include, however John Rigge (who had a safari planned for June 2020) sent us this story which I’m sure you will enjoy.
Hunt #5 at Cruisers for me was deemed “Pay it forward.” This year’s trip included returning with the whole family. My wife and two daughters (now 18 & 21) had previously experienced Cruiser’s in 2013. We booked with Bob in May of 2019 for this trip and have been anticipating ever since. We arranged for the girls to have hunting packages and my wife and I were guests of Pieter and Lizelle. In March 2020, soon after the “pandemic” ramped up, we received a notice from South African Airways that all international flights were postponed through midnight on May 31, 2020. We were to fly out on May 31, 2020 at 11:00AM. After some costly rescheduling and rerouting, we had amended our plans to get to SA by June 6, 2020.
After the grueling trip through airports, security, and numerous health checks, we were finally greeted by a member of Cruiser’s team smiling through his face mask (I think). We collected our belongings and made it through the obligatory SAPS office for the rifle permits. The ride from the airport to the camp was different this time. No lingering. We made brief pit-stops for fuel and the produce market in Hartbeespoort for Tiny. My kids could not wait for her cooking again. It had made a lasting impression on them seven years ago, especially the desserts! We soon made it to camp and were greeted by Tiny, Lizelle, & Pieter. It was great to be back. We were joined by Christiaan soon after we arrived. With more time than usual, we spent a couple hours talking and catching up before the rifle range.
This trip we brought a .30-06 and a 6.5x284 Norma. At the range, I took the first shot or two with each rifle to confirm accuracy. Most pre-safari practice at home for the girls was from atop sticks – much less recoil on them as they barely weigh more than 100 pounds each. With proper ammunition, each caliber was fine for our needs. Amanda stepped up first and put one about 1 1/2” above the bullseye. Pieter asked for another just to be confident. She really didn’t want to shoot from the bench again. She obliged and it was ½” above the bullseye. Pieter exclaimed “that is a dead Kudu.” Sarah stepped in with the 6.5-284 and sent one somewhere. She flinched. She tried again from the sticks (my suggestion) and put it right where it needed to be and asked Pieter, “We good?” With no other option, Pieter said “yep!” – He has two girls too.
This trip was “pay it forward” to my kids. They were to do most of the hunting this time with me taking turns joining them. In 2013, when they were 11 and 13, they each took an impala – one shot. Their first hunting experience in Africa was spent on a Cape Buffalo hunt with me. They remained in the land cruiser, of course, while Johan & I pursued on foot. Before they ventured out into the bush this trip, Pieter and their respective PHs for this adventure spoke to each of them for a while about where they would be going on day 1 of the hunt, what to expect, and that paying attention to their PH is most important. They said it sounded familiar as I might have provided them with some advice before we went.
Day 1 - Amanda & Frank headed out early to a mountain area concession in search of Kudu. Sarah & Munsu headed to a closer concession along the Matlabas where impala are plentiful as well as other game. I got up with each to have breakfast with them before they left and give them some last-minute advice and mostly to have two breakfasts. My wife & I spent the morning resting from the travel and walking around camp. It was a very cool morning here – about 40 degrees F. I was mostly preoccupied about the girls’ hunting and wondering how it was going. Not being in the bush with a rifle was killing me! Not being witness to their adventures to glean the events, and their reactions and emotions also hampered this log. About halfway through the day, we got word that Sarah had hit an impala and Munsu was tracking. Soon after, the cruiser rolled into camp with Munsu, Sarah, & a nice ram. After congratulating her and Munsu, it was reported that her shot was better than they thought. Munsu told her “if it bleeds, we will find it.” The trail apparently started out light but became more discernable after a few hundred yards. Sarah exclaimed “only one shot still” referencing our 2013 trip. Sarah reported that they found impala readily and tried to get near them two or three times but were busted on their attempts. Munsu reported that she needed to keep up and follow closer to him and in direct line with her PH as they approached them. I believe Munsu.
Soon after lunch, we received a report from Frank that they had spotted many animals including their objective – Kudu. The bulls were acceptable, but Frank held back on having Amanda try to take one in hopes of a better-quality trophy. They had seen other animals (waterbuck, zebra, wildebeest, and a Klipspringer) in the mountain area so Frank was also inquiring for permission for her to possibly take an additional trophy should the opportunity arise. Permission granted. What I did not know was that they had spotted a very nice Klipspringer on more than one occasion circumnavigating the higher rocky areas of the concession. Amanda was interested in a big Kudu. Frank realized the opportunity to harvest a high-quality Klipspringer. Amanda & Frank returned to camp just after dark with that Klipspringer. Evidently, no more Kudu sightings occurred in the afternoon and late into the day Frank spotted Klipspringer again. The front half Klipspringer quartering away from behind a rock. The front left side of the animal was exposed and it was unaware of Frank & Amanda. From a sitting position off of the sticks, Amanda hit the location on the Klipspringer described to her by Frank.
All in all, a good start to the trip, except I had not been in the bush with a rifle. As was expected, my wife and girls were just as excited for dinner and Tiny’s culinary delights. Roasted chicken, Eland sausage, potatoes, Brussel sprouts ……and dessert.
Day 2 - I accompanied Frank & Amanda to a concession across the Matlabas river that has pretty diverse terrain. Much heavy cover near the river and open areas as you move NE away from the riverbed. I recall many species in this concession from previous years. On the way into the area, we spotted waterbuck cows, impala, nyala, a steenbok, and many red hartebeest. Amanda was mostly interested in the ostriches racing alongside the land cruiser for a hundred yards or so. One nyala was a monster. I told her to focus on her package animals for a day or two! It wasn’t long before we spotted a few Kudu cows and a young bull. I have come to learn from the PHs that where there are cows and a young bull, it is not unusual to have a larger, more senior bull somewhere close – just not in sight. Our appearance on the scene spooked them away. Frank had the driver stop the vehicle so he could look around the areas they were grazing. We all got out of the truck. Amanda inquired as to what we were doing as it was obvious which way the Kudu bolted. I told her to just wait and listen to Frank. After some review of the area, Frank showed Amanda the cow tracks and the young bull tracks heading out in the direction we observed. He then took her over further downwind from that spot (about 20 – 30 yards) and showed her another sole set of tracks from a larger bull. It too heading in a similar direction flanking the group, but out of sight from us. Frank thought we should try to get eyes on this one as the track size was promising. With that, Frank sent the truck off in one direction and we set off on foot in another. Amanda noticed that we were not exactly following the tracks but heading off at angle from them. Knowingly, I told her to ask her PH. He explained that we were headed to a point where he thought we could get eyes and a shot on them as they approached us. He anticipated they would eventually turn and travel perpendicular to the wind. We just need to make a large enough trek to avoid alerting them and everything else out here in the bush. After about an hour of slow walking and careful observation, Frank’s hand went down signaling to stop. I stopped and said nothing. Amanda stopped and said “What?” rather loudly. Frank looked out and then back to Amanda, “Kudu running away.” He smiled and took it in stride.
Instead of pursuing again immediately, Frank radioed the truck and Frikkie came rolling up to our meeting point. We had an early lunch and headed further into the concession in more open areas just to see if there was anything else out there. Sure enough, we spotted a nice male warthog about 200 yards ahead. Frank directed the driver to slow so we could get off the back of the truck while it was moving. We slouched behind the truck and behind cover as it ventured off on a diagonal path away from the warthog. We had disembarked without notice. Using the natural cover, we closed to within about 80 yards of the warthog. Frank set up the sticks and knowingly pointed Amanda in a direction and we waited. Within five minutes, the warthog appeared in an opening for a clean shot. She hit a little back on the animal, but no matter it was ready for the back of the truck after traveling less than a hundred yards.
It was getting late in the afternoon, so we decided to take a slow ride back out of the concession and head back to camp. Exactly where we had spotted the Kudu cows and young bull in the morning, we had again come across them. We killed the truck and sat silently watching them move. The wind was in our favor and they were not spooked. Frank had Amanda on a rest with the rifle scoping them and the surroundings. The distance was longer than ideal but we had no choice. Sure enough, a more mature bull materialized behind them. Frank said it was a good bull and asked Amanda if she thought it was too far. She said “no – I’ll just turn up the power on the scope.” After a few moments of breathing and target acquisition, she pulled the trigger. It was a solid should hit. The Kudu hunched and bolted but made it only about 40 yards where it piled up in a thorn bush. It was a very good bull with markedly upright horns.
We arrived back to camp just after sunset. Amanda headed to the shower and I was focused on finding out how Sarah had done. No word from Munsu other than they had been skunked all morning. No idea what the afternoon had produced so I hit the showers too. Not long after I exited the shower, I heard a vehicle return. Sarah and Munsu had a wildebeest in the back of the vehicle. It was a monster. Sarah’s first comment was that it was larger than the one’s I had previously taken. It was very nice. I couldn’t help noticing that I couldn’t find where she hit the animal. So, I asked Munsu. He said “I think you call it a Texas heart shot. Only shot available!” Apparently, she needed a follow-up shot on the wildebeest which was heart-wrenching for her.
Day 3 – Family Day – Considering the circumstances, many leisure activities were not open or available. Fortunately, our plan to experience one of the best zip lines in the world, Zip 2000 at Sun City, was open. We arrived early and headed to the summit where we were soon strapped into the tandem slides. The girls went first. My wife and I followed soon after. The speed is rumored to approach 100 mph on the 1.2 mile “fly-over.” It was exhilarating needless to say so we repeated the experience one more time. The girls thought it was like Space Mountain at Disney and we should keep repeating. Activities at Sun City were limited so we made the best of it. We headed back to camp with some light left in the day. After some quiet time around camp, we were assembled to the vehicles and transported in the dark 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. Lizelle, Elizca, and Clarissa joined us with Christiaan coming in soon after on a four-wheeler. Pieter did the honors at the grill with Eland steaks, kudu kabobs, and some lamb chops to round out the entrée portion. Meal, company, and atmosphere were incomparable.
Day 4 – This morning I accompanied Sarah & Munsu to an expansive concession out across the main access road southwest of the lodge. Amanda and Frank headed down the road several kilometers to where impala are plentiful. Our quest today for Sarah was to primarily locate Gemsbok. However, the concession has a plentiful number of species and you have to pass through the area with buffalo on your way. We stopped for a brief moment to assess some buffs before we ventured further in to the designated concession. We toured up and down the blocks of the concession for some time. Numerous, blesbok, a few sable, a couple of waterbuck females, and many zebras were spotted. After careful review of the concession by truck for a long while, we loaded off the truck and set out on foot per Munsu orders. I asked what the plan was and he just said “I think this would be a good place to find them.” It was a déjà vu moment for me reminiscent of Hans and his PH tactics. Knowingly, I asked Munsu when he had seen their tracks from the vehicle. He gave a vague answer and said we needed to get moving. I told Sarah and she asked why. I just said do what he says. Apparently, he had spotted tracks crossing the vehicle path early in our hunt and again sometime later. So, we trekked off moving crosswind for about a mile or two before we slowed. Munsu now directed us to walk slow and quiet in his footsteps. We obliged and soon after, he motioned for us to stop. “Don’t move and don’t look up,” he whispered. There was a group of cagy zebras 80 – 90 yards in front of us that he saw – we did not. We were locked in our position for about 20 minutes until the wind inevitably swirled on us blowing our stalk. The zebra brayed and bolted away scaring everything including the gemsbok that they thwarted us from spotting. Tracks don’t lie. Our revised plan was now to retrieve the hunting truck and head to another strategic location in about an hour or so. If we continued to pursue, the zebra would have assisted the gemsbok in eluding us for as long as we continued. It was a little early, but Munsu radioed ahead to Tiny for lunch. She put out nice array of meat filled treats and vegetables. All were happy.
Soon after lunch, Munsu came and told us we should go now and get a gemsbok. Enough time had elapsed. More than likely, the zebra and gemsbok had gone their separate ways. We headed back to the concession to where we had left off. Then we drove several blocks from there to where there was some heavier natural cover. Munsu thought they may have headed to this area to bed down in a concealed terrain. Once off the vehicle, we were immediately in stealth mode. We were closer than we thought as Munsu quickly observed a tail twitch and the white of their “facemask” through the bush. After some further direction, Sarah & I were able to see what he had observed. We remained rigid until he could set up the sticks without being noticed. We waited patiently as Munsu assessed the gemsbok for a quality bull. He found one moving around and behind some females so Sarah got up on the sticks in the next moment of opportunity. Munsu stood right over her left ear giving instructions as to which animal she should target. Once he was sure she knew which one, they kept focus on it waiting for a clean, unobstructed shot. The gemsbok bull kept close to the others offering no clear broadside shot. Finally, the animal turned and offered a full-frontal target. Munsu told Sarah where to place the shot. Without hesitation, she pulled the trigger and the Gemsbok dropped where it stood. Bullet path was about as good as it gets. Sarah was happy. Munsu was impressed.
We loaded the animal on the truck and started to hop in. Frikkie was already in the truck and so was Sarah. She was draining a bottle of water while I was attending to the rifle, when Munsu signaled off to the distance at a nice male warthog. I started toward Sarah and he said “no time - you shoot.” With no argument, I put one back in the chamber and made quick work of the warthog. Sarah and Frikkie were caught a little off guard with the unannounced shot ringing out.
When we arrived back at camp, we ran into Amanda. She had taken a nice impala ram while eating lunch. Apparently, a small group of impalas strolled within sight during their outdoor lunch which was bittersweet considering they think they walked and stalked for several miles before lunch only to be busted a few times by the wind and all those eyes.
Day 5 – Wife and daughters headed into Thabazimbi for a day of relaxation and spa treatments. I was relegated to staying back and sneaking out into the bush with Pieter as my PH for the day. Our goal was to just go out and hunt whatever we came across as long as it was of very good quality. We departed shortly after the females left for town. Pieter told me we were headed over to neighbor Ben’s concession nearby. I had hunted there in 2011 and was successful. I had the pleasure of hunting with the big three PHs – Hans, Johann, & Craig on previous trips, but not Pieter. Hans, Johann, & Craig all had their own hunting style and methods. After a brief check-in with Ben’s staff, Pieter & I hopped onto the back of the cruiser and headed into the concession. We spotted numerous game animals from the vehicle and I was getting eager to get off the vehicle as this was my first hunting day. After perusing several blocks, we ran across a herd of golden wildebeest. They bolted away from the truck as we closed in. Naturally, Pieter asked if I were interested. I was, mostly because I wanted to get off the truck and stalk. Once we were in a position substantially downwind, we headed out on foot to pursue the herd. We moved at a snail’s pace for quite some time as the animals were restless from our initial contact from the vehicle. Soon, Pieter motioned for me to stop. We got into a sitting position as the trees and cover were quite thick. Pieter glassed the surroundings for a few minutes at just above knee level looking for any visible sign. He did find hartebeest, but not the wildebeest we sought. We stayed put for a few minutes longer as the hartebeest slowly moved off. We did not want to disturb them as that would start the domino of everything and anything nearby. Once they moved off, we were back to the stealth mode stalk. “Almost as if they disappeared. Maybe they never went too far from where we saw them,” he said. We continued back on foot to the initial siting spot. Watching the ground and everything else, Pieter soon picked up their tracks. They did not go far when we bumped them and then they circled back. We were soon again in the sitting position watching the herd of golden wildebeest meandering in and around each other. The cover bound us to a sitting or prone position to assess the herd. Lots of legs and tails to observe. Every once in a while, one or more would lower its head toward the ground and we would get a glimpse. They were suspicious and we were patient. Finally, Pieter spotted an exceptional bull and was attempting to keep tabs on where in the herd it moved. I got into a good sitting position with the rifle and began to scope the herd where he would direct. Shooting lanes were limited but available. After some direction, Pieter got me on the bull. He zig zagged for a few moments and moved across an acceptable lane. I sent one into his shoulder and Pieter exclaimed “You got him!” He was as excited as I was. We bolted up to where I had hit him and followed the blood trail for about 60 80 yards. He had come to rest at the edge of the vehicle path. Everybody is happy. Especially me. The Golden measures out at 30 ½”.
Day 6 – This morning, I was to join Sarah in the mountain area for some Kudu hunting. The plan was to leave at 5:30 AM. However, I was woken by Pieter much earlier who said we had a different plan for today. He told me to get ready and bring my .458 Lott as we would need it for our quarry. I was confused as I did not bring that rifle. He said, “sure you did, look in the room safe.” I obliged and sure enough, it was there along with a box of solids. Not to argue, I grabbed the rifle and cartridges and headed to the truck. To my surprise, we were being accompanied by Johannes, another PH, and our driver/tracker. We headed down the road and I asked what was up. It was never a thought or concern because when Pieter has a plan, you can bet its good! He indicated that we had a long ride this morning up towards Botswana. I noticed we had enough rifles for all and they were not your standard plains game rifles. They were all large bore. So, I jokingly asked if we were elephant hunting. He turned and asked how I knew. I did not know but my heart was racing now. He went on the illuminate me on the current situation. He had received special permits to harvest up to two elephants, one bull and one calf less cow up near a village at the border. There was a herd that had become a random nuisance and a danger to a village north of Pilane. The herd was back and our window of opportunity was short. We arrived around 9:00AM near the camp. You could see where the elephants had been and the damage left behind. We met a local from the village who was very pleased to see us. He informed us that the herd had been into the village again and had headed off to the north along the Botswana border. We hopped back in the truck for a short ride to locate the elephants. While in the truck, we received a call from Munsu. Sarah had taken a nice Kudu bull very early in the mountain area. I was happy for her and sorry I missed that but my excuse more than quelled that concern. Not too long into our ride, one of the trackers signaled elephant tracks and spoor. Pieter and Johannes assessed the situation and determined they were no more than 30 minutes ahead of us and moving slow. We hopped onto the back of the truck and headed to another location to set off on foot. Before we did, Pieter instructed me on shot placement based on the elephant’s position and most of all, only shoot if he or Johannes has given me the OK.
We headed into the thick terrain single file. Pieter and the tracker were leading the way with me right behind. Johannes was following a short distance behind us. Each of us were equipped with large bore rifles considering the potential. It wasn’t long before the tracker had spotted the elephants. Amazing how something so large can be 40 – 50 yards away and can’t be seen. He had perceived the flash of the tusk when it was caught by the sun on one of the bulls. After some explanation, I began to distinguish the dark bodies of two or three elephants through the thick vegetation. We froze and Pieter set me up on sticks. Johannes also slapped his rifle over the sticks off to my right. We strained to observe the elephant as they were content in their position for what seemed a very long time. Pieter was glassing the group, he felt that the remainder of the herd was probably just out of site below the two or three we had eyes on. Finally, some movement. The bull moved about 5 – 10 steps to our left to reach some branches with his trunk. As he did, he immediately became aware of us, turned to face us, and trumpeted. At 40 yards, the elephant seemed enormous. He then moved toward us to apparently assess us and was getting annoyed at our presence kicking up dirt and shaking his tusk. Pieter and Johannes wanted to get a look at the rest of the elephants. We were only going to watch this one if we could. Right now, the elephant is just showing his displeasure based on his actions.
He told me to just remain calm but be ready. The elephant sprang to the right as if to begin to leave but came full circle to face us again. This time he bolted forward another 5 yards or so to close the distance. His trunk was now curled inward and assuming the charge position. Pieter told me the take him… I took aim and pulled the trigger but nothing, rechambered another round and nothing. The elephant was now charging. Pieter, Johannes, and I were firing but no shots rang out as the elephant charged…………I awoke abruptly to my alarm going off and was disoriented for a short period. After realizing it was all a dream, I was disappointed.
The entire experience had been a dream… Our flights were still suspended. SAA was still trying to resurrect itself, SA was still in a phased lockdown due to the pandemic, and our trip is postponed for a year now. Crap! –
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