SOUTH AFRICA: Hunt report – RANCE SAFARIS

I had been planning a hunt in conjunction with a business trip for the June 2015 timeframe, and it really did not come together completely until a month or so before I left the US. My final agenda ended up consisting of a hunt on a friends farm for a couple of days in Natal, then down to the Eastern Cape for one week at the Rance Game Farms, and then off for a few days of work activity before I headed back home. I would not bring my own rifle because my trip had too many stops. Took the good ol’ ATL – JoBurg flight.

RANCE SAFARIS:

My Rance Safaris experience started on a Friday evening when I headed out from Natal down to East London. Saturday was mostly relaxing with some travel and settling into the camp. I learned a lot about the history of the Rance family and their farms and the management strategy of their game.

I was put in contact with John Rance and Rance Safaris through a mutual friend not too long before I was finalizing travel plans. John and his sons John W and Craig and family have only recently opened their own outfitting and safari business to the public. Previously, they managed the farms for their own person hunting purposes and the occasional sale of game to local outfitters/PHs who needed a specific animal. (Can you imagine owning 20K acres in the US just for your own private hunting?) They are VERY particular with game management and the trophies allowed to be taken. Only over-mature and cull animals are allowed to be harvested. Thus, massive old bulls and young bulls with undesirable genetics are what you are looking for when glassing. Breeding age bulls with favorable genetics are a no-no to shoot…but the good part is that they all become the massive old bull at some point. The PHs and Trackers are trained very well at spotting the right game. And I must say that this place was loaded with game – a testament to their management strategy as I will speak to when I get to the Nyala hunt.

(As you can see below…I don’t have a good story about the long bumpy road traveled to get the lodge, but I did get a hell of a view of some Eastern Cape bushland!!!)

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Accommodations were at the Sweetlands Farm Lodge. A cozy establishment that was set up with the comforts of a family hunting lodge rather than a 5 star hotel. Exactly what I was looking for…comfortable bed, good food, and a fire pit outback for evening drinks.

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DAY  1:

At this point I was determined to bag a Nyala and the gameplan was to pack plenty of food and water and stay out all day until we found one. We parked the truck early in the morning and set off on our long day. Quietly creeping up and around a hill, we made our way to a large bolder where we perched and started glassing. I quickly learned that patience is certainly a virtue…my PH, John W Rance, is full of virtue when it comes to glassing! John insisted that if you sit long enough and wait on their farm that the animal you are looking for will come out eventually. We sat there for 45-60 minutes while I glassed at the odd aloe trees of which I eventually became very familiar. I gave my rangefinder a go a couple times and quickly realized my eye for distance across the valley to the other hill was extremely off (never did fully adjust)

Sure enough, a beautiful Nyala buck showed itself…only able to catch a few glimpses as he slowly weaved in and out of the bush. We started to make our way down to the valley and back up the other hill. As we were ascending to the buck we stopped and got a good look at him. I believe the phrase “holy shit” was the only thing that I could muster to say. I’m not an expert, but would have put him at 28-30″ based on a few I’ve seen up close He was maybe 150-200 meters at this point but there was no shot and he was moving quickly up the hill and through moderate bush. Given his pace and direction (wind was starting to pick up at this point), John knew he was heading for the far side of the hill where the bush was very thick and he was going to bed down for midday. We checked the wind and started quickly climbing the hill to come around on him on the crest as he would cross over. Sure as shit – when we get to the spot he was nowhere to be seen (as you read on you’ll find this was not the only disappearing Nyala). We were sure we were not spotted and the wind was in our favor…from the pace we’d seen him going up the hill, I think this old ghost just beat us to the pass to get out of the wind.

We hiked to another great location with another large bolder outcrop. Here we sat for probably ~3hrs. Seen another 3-4 Nyala bulls that were not quite the shooters we were looking for. Also seen numerous Nyala ewes and a beautiful ~50 inch Kudu. Finally a bush pig came right up under the ledge of the rocks we were on and I took a crack at him and missed. (6x power scope at 20m shooting at moving bush and the occasional tuft of hair – I’ll take whatever excuse I can). We decided to move on and eventually came across another shooter. I never seen this one – John spotted it we started stalking immediately because he said it was on the move. When we got to the spot and on the sticks the old ghost had struck again. Nowhere to be seen. Although John will not admit it, I did make a hell of a noise when I broke a stick during the final approach of the stalk which may have sealed the deal on this bull. John is a guru and very accomplished bow hunter; thus there was not fault in either stalk this day…it just wasn’t my day to bag an animal.

DAY 2:

John W. had to leave so I went out on day 2 with his father, John, and two other PH’s, Weila and Brandon. Weila had also accompanied me on day 1 with John W. We started the day again glassing for Nyala and quickly found a heard of Eland. As John and Brandon were glassing the herd they spotted an old one-horned Bull. John turned to me and asked if I wanted to take the Eland as a cull animal. (i.e. he asked a redneck if he wants to shoot a massive animal for free). I obliged and set off on a quick stalk with the young PH, Brandon. Our quick stalk turned in to about 20 min when we finally realized we should be right in the middle of them. Luckily, Brandon spotted them on a side ridge…they had significantly moved on us! We moved a bit and spotted the one-horned bull and ranged him right at 200yds. I looked at Brandon and asked him if he was sure he wanted me to shoot it way up the side of this hill (small mtn). Broadside…standing still…first shot ever from sticks…let’s do this! BOOM! Followed by the beautiful sound of a bullet hitting home. The herd goes everywhere and we start looking for the bull. Finally we see the ass-end of an animal not following the others. I keep the crosshairs on him, but he quickly starts the slow rocking back and forth of an animal with a nasty case of lead in the lungs…he drops shortly thereafter without the need for a follow-up round. I was later told that it took over two hours to get the bull off that hill and that the trackers/skinners gave the young PH quite a hard time for shooting a cull Eland in such a challenging place…live and learn.

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After the morning Eland we decided to look for warthog to keep us busy until we went back out for Nyala that evening. This one was cut and dry…quick walk to a waterhole and dropped the unsuspecting resident. This one was for the butchery (not a trophy) but turned out to be unique because it only had one eye.

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That evening we stuck with the truck and drove to a couple ridge tops to glass the valley below for Nyala. After we threw a few rounds at some frantic baboon we moved on to about our third stop where we spotted a nice Nyala buck. The stalk was doomed from the start; bush was very thick and the wind forced us to loop down and around in order to approach the animal. We never were able to pick the animal up again, but given the extreme slope and doghair thick bush it was really not feasible to perform a quiet approach. (Nyala 3 : Hunter 0)

At this point I realize the PHs can see that I am getting very annoyed. I believe they thought I was getting pissed off at them, when in reality I was pissed off at the Nyala. I need about 5-10 minutes of self-anger sometimes…then I can forget it like it never happened.

DAY 3:

Head out after Nyala again… Spot one again… Stalk and lose it again… I won’t bore you with the same details of failure (Nyala 4 : Hunter 0)

PH (Weila) thinks I need a healthy dose of confirmed kill, so after an early lunch we head out after some black wildebeest. Didn’t take us long to find a small herd and the stalk was on. The approach was taxing on the lungs but we finally made it up a long steep ravine. Herd was about 80yds out and were all females! PH (Brandon) looks at me and says one of them is a one-horned cow and I can take it as a cull if I want to. I say “what the hell” and plug it…ended up being a very old cow that probably wouldn’t have made it much longer anyway. We stalked two more herds after that unsuccessfully, but did manage to finally get in a position where he had a large bodied bull approaching us. As it got closer my PH looked at me with a peculiar look but failed to speak…he final said “this one only has one horn”. My reply was “WTF!!!”…am I a magnet for one-horned animals now? He asked if I wanted to take it and I said I did not really want it unless the outfitter wanted it gone as a cull animal. He shrugged his shoulders (which I took as an affirmative) and I just stepped out and plugged it at about 30yds.

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At this point it was becoming quite comical that I was the resident cull expert. For those keeping track, up this point I had shot a one-horned Eland, one-eye warthog, and 2 one-horned black wildebeest. I was certainly ready for some trophies!

By this time it was getting to be late afternoon and we decided to hunt for Nyala on the way back; stopping on ridge tops to glass the valley and far hillsides. We studied a nice Kudu bull for a while and some Nyala ewes at the first stop. It didn’t take long at the second stop for the tracker to spot a nice Nyala bull at about 400m on the far hill. It was a nice dark bull. I liked the approach and the bush wasn’t too thick…this one felt right. Didn’t take long to find a good spot to get on the sticks at 180m. I was ready but I was also nervous…hadn’t had buck fever the entire trip of which I had already shot 10+ animals if you include the farm I hunted before coming to Rances’. On top of having a slight case of the shakes I also felt a huge weight on my shoulders to not screw this up. We were already 0-4 on Nyala stalks…I really didn’t want to let down the PHs and trackers on this one. I lined up the buck and felt good when I took the shot. BOOM – but no friendly greeting back. The Nyala took off at half hearted jog. I looked at the PH and said “Did I really just miss that SOB”? He replied that I had shot over it! I cursed the gun, the Nyala, and most anything around me for a quick second, but luckily the silencer on the rifle helped not to startle the buck too much and after waiting another minute he stepped out again. BOOM! Dammit! How the hell did I miss him again!!!??? At this point I was not sure if I was more pissed off or embarrassed. I probably stood a better chance of hitting him with my skinning knife. I reloaded and he was walking at a good clip angled slightly away at ~225m; I aimed in front and down of his front shoulder by 3″ and pulled the trigger. FINALLY the hunting gods had mercy on me…lead in the lungs. I looked at the PH and said something to the effect of “I hit the mother#@%$@ that time”. I heard the labored breathing within 15 seconds of the shot. He only ran about 15m from point of impact and was done. What a relief! (The next day we went to the range and found the gun was shooting high by 5 inches…I typically aim back and up slightly from the shoulder blade to hit lungs and minimize meat damage. I’d like to blame the two misses purely on the gun, but admit that my buckfever certainly played a part as well.)

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DAY 4:

Woke up feeling like crap and hoping I wasn’t coming down with the flu that was going around. Took some meds and headed out that morning after some Impala. Wind was quite heavy that morning. Hoped we could use it in our favor but the females were just too quick and we couldn’t get in close enough to the male for a shot. After lunch we decided to head out and try our luck on some Blesbuck. Wind was strong enough at this point that noise was of no concern and as long as the wind was in your favor it was a vision game only. We jumped a nice male that seemed slightly annoyed that we bothered him and he took off, but nothing else seemed to be in the area. Weila thought we should try an area where the wind was not so strong so we headed that way. Only took about 10 minutes to come upon a small herd of animals. The wind had allowed us to come upon them within 60-80m totally undetected. Got on the sticks and weaved some lead between the branches…I did screw up and hit the heart instead of just the lungs. Dropped where it stood.

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DAY 5:

Woke up feeling like a double dose of crap. Took a lot more meds and went out after something…I believe the target for that day was a zebra. I managed to shoot a warthog that ended up having only one tusk (that makes 5 one-horned, eyed, or tusked animals). Went a bit further and knocked down a monkey, but at this point I was going down hill so quickly that I asked to go back to the Lodge. That evening we found the tell-tale mark of a tick bite and I was diagnosed by John as having Tick Bite Fever and given a round of antibiotics.

DAY 6 & 7:

I was down and out in a bad way these two days. I did manage to transfer from the Sweetlands to the Cloudlands Ranch as my departing travel was arranged to go out of the Cloudlands location. At this point I will say that I felt like I should have been in a hospital during this time period. I was compelled to tough it out, as most everyone around me said they had tick bite fever at one point or another in their life…like it was a common occurrence. From my side of things, I’d never been attacked by an illness like this before…the symptoms were brutal. I will add that after I got back to the US I was forced to go through another round of antibiotics and was actually diagnosed with the combination of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever AND Lyme Disease. I was bit numerous times before I headed over to Africa and one of those guys had given me Lyme disease and it combined with some form of Spotted Fever that a tick in Africa gave me (All spotted fevers show the same positive when tested). Again…brutal!!!…only way I can describe it.

DAY 8:

Last day of my hunt. I was feeling good enough to move around and with many doses of different kinds of pain meds (not a clue what they were) I could handle a truck ride…going very slow. Only drove around in late morning and headed back for lunch and another healthy dose of meds. After conferring with John and Weila, we agreed that I would give it a go on a Waterbuck. I had only one afternoon left and this was the animal I wanted to go after. This place was loaded with them. The trackers are rockstars here and they quickly glassed a nice Waterbuck within 30min of heading out. The stalk was somewhat on, as I could only go ~50 yds before I had to catch my breathe. Meds were fully kicked in but I just didn’t have the energy to sustain. Luckily it only took about 300m of stalking to put me within 200yds of the buck with was lying down. The trackers had spotted this buck lying down and I never even seen it until I was in position…their eyesight is amazing. I sat on the rocks for about 30 min before the buck decided to get up. It immediately turned directly away from me and was facing towards some thick bush…as opposed to any other direction that would allow me as shot. Weila tells me that it will come out in another clearing and to wait. I am so sore, achy, and agitated at sitting of these rocks for 30 minutes that I really want to send some lead right inside the lovely white circle on its ass. It turns its head right and moves the right leg just enough that I can just see a shoulder. BOOM! Weila looks at me like I’m crazy…or more like I’m a dumbass for taking the shot. The buck almost went down but pulled it together and trotted off into some bushes. We waited a while as the satellite bucks stood around and watched the bush. After 20 min Weila and a tracker went in to check things out while I stayed on the hill. I was surprised to see the Waterbuck come out of the bush and trot another 50m before he made the mistake of stopping and turning broadside. Another round in him and he dropped in his tracks.

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I’ve heard stories of how tough a Waterbuck can be. The spot where he stood after the first shot looked like a multiple homicide…I don’t know how he was still standing after that much blood loss. If you look at the first picture you can see a cut on his back leg. That was from my first shot …skimmed the back leg and went in the back of the stomach and out the front left of the neck; totally severing a pulmonary artery along the way.

I didn’t mention earlier but the Cloudland’s Villa was fantastic even though it served primarily as my recovery ward. It is an old Dutch Villa with a LOT of character and perfectly set up for hunting parties…I regret that I was not able to get photos. Staff there was also excellent and full of character. I cannot say enough about this outfit. The Rance farms are teaming with trophy class game and offer a very hospitable and family type experience. It also speaks a lot to their character that they cared for me as if I was one of their family when I was extremely ill. I’ll be returning here soon.

http://www.africahunting.com/threads/south-africa-hunt-report-rance-safaris.23510/

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  • sparky
    Reply

    Good reading and I am totally impressed with your description of the way you were treated. The quality of animals is a big plus. I will do more investigation
    Regards Sparky

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