Guillermo De Las Heras

We were starting our final approach to Kudu Lodge’s landing strip when George Potgieter, our pilot, Professional Hunter (PH), guide, friend, and owner and operator of Schoongezicht Rare Game Breeding and Hunting Safaris yelled “PIG.”  The nimble Cessna 206 Stationair banked sharply left as we buzzed a big and startled warthog boar enjoying a late morning breakfast, probably wondering why the giant bird took an interest in him.  Following the first wildlife sighting of our safari, barely an hour’s flight from Johannesburg and after a smooth landing, we were met by Eric, another PH, and Samuel the superb tracker who had led me and my wife to so many memorable trophies during previous safaris.  A short drive later we were in the familiar and luxurious surroundings of Kudu Lodge.  This was my fifth visit to Schoongezicht to hunt with George and his team.  George and his delightful wife Genie, also a licensed PH, own and operate Schoongezicht, a privately-owned family operation in a safe and Malaria-free area along the Botswana border in the Thabazimbi Bushveld.  The hunting grounds cover over 8000 hectares, including 3000 hectares of nearby concessions, with a variety of breathtaking landscapes ranging from typical open African savannah to dense bush, dry river beds, and hills and valleys.  There are more than sixteen different species of plains game in large numbers as well as cape buffalo.  George is an idealist as well as a realist who understood what was lacking and set out to create one of the largest hunting areas in the Limpopo region by acquiring numerous properties adjacent to his original farm and taking down all the fences except for the perimeter fence, allowing the game to roam free in several thousand hectares of natural and unspoilt African bush.  The result is akin to a return to old Africa.

The planning for this safari started where they all start, at the end of the last safari, almost exactly a year to the day.  This one required special coordination as I would be joined by another George, a colleague, friend, and hunter, who would be traveling many thousands of miles from the Far East to join me on our second African safari together.   We were met by George at Johannesburg International airport and, after a short cab ride we boarded his Cessna at the civair Grand Central airport for the one-hour flight to Kudu Lodge.

After a short rest and a delicious lunch prepared by Elize, Eric’s wife, world-class chef and co-hostess at the Kudu Lodge, we went to the range to test the rifles and were soon off to look for “targets of opportunity” before our first African sunset of this safari.  An amazing array of animals were on the move.  From large herds of constantly running wildebeest to warthog families hurrying to the safety of their nightly accommodations and majestic giraffes calmly nibbling on an early evening snack.  No worthy game was to be had but we were treated to one of those uniquely beautiful African sunsets I only dream about when I’m not on the Continent.  A spectacular dinner of impala tenderloins followed our cocktails by the welcoming fire at the lapa.  There was a lot of catching up, story trading, and planning for the morning hunt.  At dawn we set out to find a proper zebra stallion for my friend George.  Easier said than done as the zebra were elusive and skittish but, after a couple of hard yet unsuccessful stalks at two different herds, a third herd decided to cooperate.  George (the PH) knew the herd running alongside the road would cross in front of us and instructed George (the other one…) to get off the truck and follow as the herd crossed the road in front of us.  Predictably, the leading stallion stopped and turned to look at us while he waited for the heard to cross behind him.  His noble gesture cost him dearly.  My friend George, drawing from practice with quick shooting at the range the previous day, aimed and fired with lighting speed into the chest of the majestic stallion who dropped literally in his tracks like I’ve never seen an African animal drop.  George had his long-awaited zebra trophy.

We continued our hunt looking for trophy impala and a big warthog for George and a sable for me.  The two Georges went off on foot to an area known for its big impala rams, and Eric took me to another area in search of sable.  Somewhere along the way Eric appeared to literally smell a steenbok which materialized out of nowhere and was a huge one.  Our careful stalk only got us to over a hundred yards of a beautiful ram whose head barely cleared the tall grass.  My shot at where I guessed the body should have been passed high over him and he vanished in a second.  Regardless, it was a beautiful sight watching him leap high above the grass in the early morning sun of another gorgeous South African morning.  Close to high-noon we met up with the two Georges bringing in the back of the safari car a magnificent warthog and a beautiful impala ram.  Not a bad catch for one morning’s work!

Later in the afternoon George decided to check out another waterhole in an area known for solitary sable bulls.  We were dropped off a long way away and conducted our silent approach on foot, constantly checking the wind and seeking cover as we moved closer.  There, in the shade of a tall mopane tree, stood a jet-black solitary sable bull.  Crouching behind a thorn bush, George checked him again through his binoculars and confirmed he was a trophy bull.  As there was only open country between us and him, and he was looking in our direction, there was no way to get any closer.  Up came the shooting sticks, and Georges said: “take him.” From a hundred and thirty yards, the .375 H&H magnum bullet struck the bull in the center of his chest.  As it is typical with heart shots, the bull bolted and ran about sixty yards before collapsing, already dead the moment the bullet hit him.  It was an emotional moment when I bent over the body of one of Africa’s most iconic antelopes and stroked his thick and shiny black pelt.  Strikingly beautiful animal with thick, swept-back horns with a deep curve and showing all the signs and battle scars of an old bull.  Back in 1989 in the Okavango Delta at the onset of my very first African safari, I came across a hunter who has just taken a superb trophy sable.  From that day onwards, my dream was to someday hunt one of these magnificent beasts.  After countless African safaris, the dream had come through that sunny African afternoon at Schoongezicht.

After the customary photos and celebrations, as we headed back to camp just before sunset, a beautiful steenbok presented himself and was promptly added to my list of trophies for the day.  Another wonderful meal, and stories and drinks by the fire rounded up our second day.

The next few days were marked by endless hours of tracking silently in the scorching sun in search of an appropriate warthog (read old pig with huge tusks) and, perhaps a big impala.  Monster warthogs are elusive to say the least and many approaches resulted in discarding possible candidates who just failed to measure up.  In the meantime, George mentioned he had seen an old solitary roan, who was well past his procreative years and may not have much longer to live and asked if I would be interested in trying to find it.  I had always viewed the roan as a unique and rare trophy few hunters have a chance to take and I never thought I would have the opportunity to hunt one, yet there it was…  After some brief hesitation I agreed to give the roan a try – but only after we succeeded on taking a proper warthog.

On our way back to camp, as our fourth day’s light was fading, George spotted what turned out to be the much sought-after porcine.   We quickly jumped off the “bakkie” (South African for pick-up truck) and approached as close as George thought was prudent while he checked the tusks.  The shot rang out before George finished saying “that’s him!”  and the rewarding thud that followed indicated a solid hit.  This warthog was what I was looking for and more.  An old boar with enormous tusks just like George said he was.  Truly a memorable trophy.  As luck and hard work would have it, unbeknown to us in a different area of the farm, the other George had also taken an impressive old boar with phenomenal tusks.  The other George also collected several record-book trophies including a large impala ram, a beautiful old wildebeest, and a spectacular old sable bull.  We were reaching the end of another memorable safari, but we were not done just yet.

On our last day, as we continued to look for other game as part of Schoongezicht’s game management program, we also looked for the old roan bull.  Shortly before lunch, we made a pass by a waterhole we knew the old bull sometimes came to drink in the middle of the day.  After another long and careful approach on foot, minding the wind, and crouching behind thorn bushes, we were rewarded by the sight of the old roan bull.  Another long-range heart shot, a short sprint, and the old roan bull was down.  The second largest African antelope, brought back by South African conservationists and rare game breeding from near extinction a couple of decades ago, exists once again in large sustainable populations.  Schoongezicht has hugely successful roan breeding program with one of the largest herds of roan antelope in South Africa.  I’m sure this old bull was responsible for many offspring roaming the bush at Schoongezicht and other properties in the region.  This magnificent record-book old bull was clearly on the decline, with hipbones and ribs showing through his thinning frame.  I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to hunt him.

Early the next morning we took off in George’s Cessna for the short flight back to Johannesburg.  We left feeling proud of our accomplishments and humbled by the hard work, professionalism, and respect for the animals and the environment exhibited by George, Eric, and their families, as well as Samuel, trackers, skinners, and all Schoongezicht staff.  We had hunted some spectacular animals in the most pristine and beautiful habitat.   We did it ethically and with the outmost sportsmanship, and came out with a deeper understanding of conservation, game management, and sustainability.

As we reflected on this fantastic experience at the departure lounge at Johannesburg airport, we did what one must do at the end of a safari…  Plan the next one!

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