First Plains Game Safari
By Sammy Reese
Published In The GUNS Magazine 2012 Special Edition
When my phone rang I looked at the caller ID and saw Hornady — not sure who it was, but I always like getting calls from my friends. “Sammy, it’s Neil (Davies). What do you think about going to South Africa and hunting some plains game … Sammy you still there?” I could hear Neil, but my mouth couldn’t speak. My brain was screaming “Hell yes,” but I couldn’t form the words. “While you are catching your breath,” Neil continued, “this is the trip in a nut shell … fly to South Africa on August 26th, hunt plains game with Crusader Safaris till September 4th, and fly home on the 5th, which will put you home in California on the 6th. The objective is to prove the 6.5 Creedmoor is a valid cartridge for the brutally tough African Plains Game.” “I’m in,” I said in a shaky voice — now to only convince my wife this was actually work.
Being a big-game hunter, Africa has always kind of been the Mount Everest of hunts for me. At this point in my life, going there was only a dream — a slow burning fire often stoked by the stories of those who have had the privilege. I’ve had the honor of listening to the stories told by Mr. Dwight VanBrunt, Sam Fadala, Tim Wegner and so many others. I noticed while they told their tales of amazing hunts, there was a certain twinkle in their eye — one only seen when they speak of their time in the bush. I lived vicariously through their photos and tales. Now it was my turn.
My first call after hanging up with Neil was my boss Roy Huntington. I was talking so fast Roy’s laughing made me pause. “Dude, did you eat a whole box of cookies or what? You sound like a tweeker; take a breath and tell me what’s going on!” After I told him all the details I realized I was not sure I could be away from my magazine for so long. His response was, “Oh you are going and I’ll cover for you while your gone.” (I do have the coolest job and boss ever.) He ended with: “I’ll send you a list of things that will come in handy while you are a long way from home.” Roy is a veteran of two safaris and had a great list of things I would need and, just as importantly, things I wouldn’t need. My wife and kids were very excited for me. The reality of me being gone for more than 11 days hadn’t really sunk in for them, or for me.
Sammy and Dutch the wonder dog were both happy the Zebra only ran
about 80 yards after the shot.
Thanks to Jason Hornady for this trophy of a lifetime Gemsbok — the ultimate mulligan.
The invite, as I quickly found, was the easy part. Now I had to compile my gear from all the sponsors and fill out piles of forms to get my gun, ammo and gear into South Africa and hopefully back out. South Africa had forms, US Customs had forms and, not to be left out, the outfitter and travel agency had forms of their own. I was a scanning, PDF-making machine. I have to thank Greg Rodriguez from Global Adventure Outfitters — actually, I have to apologize to his wife for calling Greg so often with questions. The unknown factor of going halfway around the world to hunt brought up lots of questions. I would call Greg with a list of questions and take notes. I would re-read my notes and come up with more questions. Having Greg as a resource was a great help. After I had a small rainforest worth of paper scanned into my computer, I put them all on a small flash drive for that just in case factor. I also saved all the documents onto my yahoo account — never can be too careful.
T/C Icon topped with Bushnell’s Elite 6500 and loaded with Hornady 6.5 creedmoor
120-gr. GMX Superformance Ammunition made for a great plains game trio.
Most of the gear I used on this hunt is worthy of its own article and most of them will be seen at a later date. This piece is more on what worked for me and what didn’t, so others can learn from my successes and failures.
Thomson/Center supplied a field grade ICON with a walnut stock, chambered in the 6.5 Creedmoor. The gun arrived topped off with a Bushnell Elite 6500 2.5-16×42. At first look I thought this gun is way to pretty for me to hump all over South Africa. After making sure everything was tight, I headed to the range and confirmed it shot as well as it looked with the Hornady Superformance 120-gr. GMX Ammo. From the bench it shot sub-MOA at 100 and 200 yards. My range only went to 200 so I didn’t get to see how it did at greater distances.
When I started telling my friends what caliber rifle I was taking to Africa I was told “That’s way to small … plains game will laugh at that small caliber.” The previous season I had shot some hogs and coyotes with Hornady’s prototype 6.5 Creedmoor ammo topped with the GMX bullet. I was very impressed with how it performed on small game, but was just a tad bit nervous how it would work on plains game. When my first black Wildebeest fell at just over 200 yards with one well-placed shot, both my PH and I were now confident the 6.5 Creedmoor could get the job done.
On my safari, the ICON Rifle/Hornady Superformance 120-gr. GMX ammo combo helped me with numerous 1-shot stops: zebra, kudu, two gemsbok, two black wildebeest, impala springbok and a mountain reedbuck. Every hunter using the same rifle/ammo combo had the same results. Several hunters took eland, and waterbuck and warthog with similar results. My PH told me he and the other PHs were very impressed with the results from the 120-gr. GMX bullet.
Bushnell also sent me the Fusion 1600 ARC 10×42 range finding binoculars. Having the rangefinder in the binos made me the designated range guy for my hunting partners. My PH got very accustomed to whispering “Sammy range?” and I always had it. The ballistics program also allowed me to program the dope for my rife, so I automatically had dope corrections on the display if I needed them.
Primos (owned by Bushnell) sent me their Trigger Stick so I could practice shooting off of sticks. I have to say, I’m really glad I followed the advice about practicing shooting off of sticks, it made me very successful in the field.
The boys at Voodoo Tactical sent me their Level 3 MOLLE Assault Pack. Don’t let the high-speed name fool you into thinking this is a piece of kit only for military or SWAT guys. I needed a pack that wasn’t too small, but not so big it got in the way. When your PH stops the truck and you bail out on a stalk it could only be a few minutes, or in some cases, a really long time before you were back at the truck. The Voodoo pack held a couple bottles of water, chow, spare ammo, first aid stuff and even had an extra layer with room to spare. Better to have it and not need it then to need it, and be in deep … you get the picture.
Sammy getting ready to shoot off the Primos Trigger Stick.
Andrew Pringle and Christopher Broster own Crusader Safaris. To both of these gentlemen and their staff, I’m very much grateful for the outstanding accommodations and for providing me with the hunt of a lifetime. All our meals were prepared for us, including our sack lunch for the day. Eating the game we harvested cooked on the barbeque nightly is something else I miss. Nothing beats eland fillets with a Castle or Hansa beer.
Sammy’s home away from home.
The right size backpack is critical and the Voodoo Tactical bag fit the bill perfectly.
Bushnell Fusion 1600 ARC 10×42 range finding binoculars
made Sammy the designated range guy for his PH.
After spending many hours with my PH Murray in the truck, in the field and in camp, I learned as much as possible about being a successful hunter in South Africa. I picked his brain for what he thought were the most important things a hunter needs to know or be proficient at, before he arrives for a safari. Once you are in country the time for proper preparation is long gone. There isn’t a Cabela’s or Wal-Mart to go pick up the gear you forgot.
Use a rifle you can comfortably shoot and become very familiar with it. Most hunters try to use too much gun, Murray said. If they are afraid of recoil every time they shoot, they don’t shoot very well. They need to know how it operates without having to look at the rifle.
Always be ready. When the truck stops get out, get loaded and have everything you need. Be organized and ready to hunt … it’s what you went all that way for, so don’t blow it. This also applies to when its time to shoot. The PH isn’t a Professional Hunter by accident; it’s his business. If he says get on the stick and get ready, he means now, not in 10 seconds.
Practice shooting off the sticks and in awkward positions. Be able to do it out to 300 yards — with an elevated heart rate. The more proficient the hunter is at being able to make the shot, the more enjoyable the experience will be.
Get in shape and have proper boots broken in and ready to go. Too many safaris are terrible for hunters due to them being in terrible physical shape. They are too exhausted to enjoy the experience. Blisters on the feet from not having broken in their boots can be a real joy killer.
Use the best scope and binos you can afford. The scope doesn’t have to be a super-power type. More important is it is very rugged and very clear. Binos are very important for finding and identifying the right animal.
Know the animals. I thought I knew all the animals we would be hunting. What I wasn’t familiar with was hunting animals in a heard. They all look the same and it gets very confusing. The first wildebeest I shot was the wrong one. My PH said shoot the big boss, which was broadside. In my mind the boss was the big one standing broadside, not the one with the big boss on top of his horns. At the shot Murray said, great shot on a young bull. Luckily, they took him for meat and gave me a mulligan so I could shoot a big bull. Knowing what a boss was would have saved me from an embarrassing moment.
Just when I thought I had things figured out, I got confused and shot the wrong gemsbok — another great 1-shot stop at just less than 200 yards off the sticks. Murray told me he’s had four clients shoot the wrong animal and I’m two of them. He tried to make me feel better by saying I’m a great shot. It didn’t make me feel better.
Contact a reputable consignment specialist who will assist you in getting your trophies back in the US. I didn’t make the call until I was back home. I could have saved a large chunk of change had I properly prepared.
If you don’t follow any of the tips I have provided for you to this point, don’t skip this one. Go to your doctor before your trip and have him prescribe the best anti-diarrhea medication on the market. Over-the-counter Imodium just didn’t cut it for the stomach bug I had on the 18 plus hour flight home to California. If you really need more details you can drop me a line and I’ll fill you in.
For shooting the wrong bull Sammy was all smiles.
It was a long stalk, but worth it to finally get the big bull.
The Return Trip
Before I left on my adventure, I was told the entire trip back and every free moment thereafter would be spent trying to find a way back to Africa. I’m guilty of the same. While mule deer hunting this fall I found myself looking over a valley that reminded me of a similar valley in South Africa. In my minds eye there were kudu under the trees by the dry riverbank, a heard of black wildebeest running in circles on the far ridge and some zebra feeding on the valley floor. I tried to explain it to my friends who have never been and its like trying to describe what it feels like to jump out of an airplane — no matter how many books you read or videos you watch — you really have to experience it for yourself. If you really love to hunt and you haven’t been to Africa, start your Africa fund now. Put a few bucks away in an account every chance you get. Believe me, the experience will change you life.
Sammy’s number one pick for this safari. He wanted a kudu and got a dandy.
For more info:
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