Satterlee on Safari: South Africa 2020
Two-thousand twenty provided Scott with an opportunity to travel to South Africa. A mix of rifle clinics and hunting is a great way to build friendships and see the country. Below Scott reviews his safari and takeaways from training with South Africans.
The plan to go to South Africa hatched during the 2018 Precision Rifle Series Finally. I was able to shoot with a few of the South African competitors, and that’s all it took to set the hook. In March it’s cold where I live and warm there. With an emerging group of competitors that are hungry to learn and a deep desire to explore Africa we started planning the trip.
The framework of the plan entailed flying into Johannesburg to deliver a shooting clinic , then proceed up to Bela Bela Limpopo to run another clinic, and finally take some time off to hunt. Once the hunting was over we would travel to Cape Town run a clinic, sight see, shoot a match and hunt springbok in the desert. It was a pretty bold plan. Eight days of work, four days of travel, and seven days of hunting. While, the Corona virus ultimately cut the trip short, the only thing we missed out on was the Steel Storm National PRS match.
On March 3rd Diana and I began our trip from Spokanne to Joburg with all of our paperwork set, or so I thought. I had Customs Form 4457 ready for my rifle and was set to embark on the trip. In Seattle we learned that our travel through Dubai on Emirates Airlines meant that I could not bring my rifle. It turns out both Dubai and Emirates have their own paperwork requirements of which I was unaware. In the future we will take the Delta non-stop from Atlanta. It is a longer flight, but 14 hours from Seattle to Dubai then 9 from Dubai to J-Burg was terrible twice. Thankfully, I was able to turf my rifle to relatives in Seattle and borrow a rifle in Africa.
On March 5th at 5 AM we touched down in J-Burg. Scooped up by our host Grant, we began preparations for the two day clinic which started the next day. The clinic location had changed a few times before settling on a range which had steel out to 1400 yards and plenty of wind. In the clinic I covered such topics as ballistic truing, modern shooting mechanics, and shooting positions. We had a great time, and the guys loved it.
With no time to spare we packed up our stuff and drove three hours north to Bela Bela for the second clinic at Niel Bekker’s place, Red Sands Safari. This range was a little less developed but had everything we needed. The clinic went down without a hitch, but the guys asked how my shooting mechanics would hold up with a .375 bore dangerous game rifle. Needless to say, my skills held up perfectly despite the significant increase in recoil compared to 6mm small bore rifles used in precision rifle shooting, and I was able to use holdovers out to 400 yards with the big bore.
Monday evening after the clinic we went hunting. I first hunted one of the four animals on the list provided with the package. The package included blue wildebeest, impala, blesbok, and warthog. The first concession of land we went to was huge. I think Niel said it was about 18,000 acres. We went through the gate of the high fence and didn’t see the fence again. There was a significant piece of high ground that we could overlook 270 degrees of ground for over 100 yards. We got up there and within minutes had spotted 19 different species out feeding. I’ve never really been interested in the wildebeest, and Diana was really interested in a zebra rug. From our excellent vantage point we spotted an amazing dry female Zebra, and the hunt was on.
We were at the end of the rainy season so the brush was up above waist high, and the trees had significant foliage. The shots were going to be fairly technical. Niel was in my last clinic so we had worked on our techniques. The technique was super simple but very effective. We used a tripod for elevation and a WieBad Fortune Cookie bag for support. Niel and I would pick the animal, then he would give me the tap on the shoulder.
The stalk up to the Zebra was interesting in that we could not get closer than 300 yards due to the sheer volume of skittish animals. We flushed impala, then warthog, then Guinea fowl. We eventually isolated the targeted female. I set up for the shot from the top of the tripod, over the grass, under the tree limbs, 300 yards with a .375 Ruger loaded with 300 gr Nosler AccubBonds and a 1-8 power scope. I got on target, held over 5 minutes, and sent it. With a solid thump she went down for a second then came up running. We heard her crash into a tree a few seconds later. I missed the magic spot by only a few inches which, with a .375, is still in the magic spot. Thus began my appreciation for the big bore.
The next day we went to a new spot that the family owned. It was another huge concession over 8000 acres, and this is where the big kudu and sable hang out. This spot was flatter and had a lot more vegetation. We hunted most of the morning and spotted a big 55” kudu within a bachelor herd that hung out close to a large cow herd. We knew that there was a big Kudu in the area. Kudu was not on the package list but it was the primary animal I wanted to hunt. I was willing to spend all of my time hunting Kudu and take the risk of going home empty handed versus fulfilling the rest of my package.
Kudu are much like elk in that once they are spooked it will be tough to find them again. So in the evening we went back to the other concession with the over watch. We walked about 7 miles that morning (reminding me of elk again). The wind and sun were perfect. We spotted a good sized herd of impala and started the stalk. Using the brush as concealment we moved into position.
It’s just tough when there are 900 eyes looking around for danger. We bounce the herd around a bit until they split up into smaller groups. We spotted a good impala. He wasn’t a record breaker but he had a really cool looking set of horns. So we set up on him, and again it was a technical shot, 175 yards through the brush with a bunch of other animals loitering about. I had to wait and make sure the ram was the only animal in the path of the bullet before and after; a .375 will keep going. The ram had nothing behind him but had a ewe in front of him covering his vitals. As soon as she took a step I sent it. The ram took a few steps and crashed.
With the Impala in the back of the truck and on our way back we spotted a really nice blesbok ram. We had to wait for the herd to stop running in a circle around us. Once they quieted it was super easy and quick to move the tripod and rifle into place and make the shot. Again the .375 went where it was pointed, and the ram ran for a few seconds then crashed. Within an hour we had two more animals on the ground. Three shots, three animals, and no tracking. Now we could concentrate on the grey ghost of Africa, the kudu.
That afternoon Pieter, Niel’s brother, came along bringing with him the luck we needed. We hadn’t stepped out of the truck for more than 50 yards when we saw a monster sable. I could tell it was good when both Niel and Pieter got excited. We used some scrub to get a little closer. I set the tripod up and waited for a good shot. The wind wasn’t good for us so the sable ended up seeing us and turned to face us. Niel asked if I was comfortable with the shot. When I said I was he turned me loose. The .375 dropped him right where he stood. It was the cleanest kill so far. I'd started to really like this rifle. It took all three of us to get him into the back of the truck.
After dropping the sable off we went back out to find the kudu. While we were driving to the far end of the property to get the wind and sun right, Pieter spotted the cow herd. We continued to drive to get the wind right. We got out of the truck and started to move. Within about 30 minute of slow moving thought the brush Pieter spotted horns. They were still bedded down under some thick trees, and the big bull was with them. We took another 20 minutes to move the next 50 yards, bouncing from cover to cover, staying below the grass line. We got about as close as we could get without spooking the animals which turned out to be about 150 yards. Now all we had to do was wait for a clean shot.
I was in position and waiting. The Kudu stood up. Pieter didn’t think it was the one, but Niel said it was; he had seen the horns. It was super thick, and I couldn’t see the animals with the naked eye at all. I tried to get a clean shot off the top of the tripod but it was too high. I would have clipped some limbs about 75 yards down range. I had a tripod hammock that I use to hold the laser range finder when out shooting. It turned out to be the perfect height to support the rifle for the shot. There was a bit of grass in front of me. I had a small window that led straight to a low front shoulder heart shot. We didn’t have much time left. Niel told me to get on it. I spotted the horns, moved back to the heart shot, and sent it. The bull went down then came up running, but crashed a few seconds later. Five shots, five animals!
The next morning we had a few hours to hunt before Diana and I had to leave for the Joburg airport. It was Friday morning, and we had to be in Cape Town to train guys the next day. We set out to the overlook to see if any warthogs were moving about. We didn’t see any but decided to head down to the water and see what was there. Within minutes a warthog ran up to the top of a mound next to a bunch of golden wildebeest. Something about this warthog looked off. Neil gave me the green light. Sixth shot, sixth animal. He never moved. Coming upon the warthog we observed that he had gone through a poacher's snare over a week earlier and probably only had a few days left to live.
Through this trip I gained a new respect for the .375 bore. At present I am at work with a few companies to produce a mid weight .375 cartridge to propel a new high BC 330 gr hunting bullet around 2700 fps. The concept is a rifle intended to be comfortable to shoot but which will carry down range and a true 30 yard buffalo gun and 600 yard large antelope gun.
The one rifle solution for Africa? I think an NX 8 2.5-20 with a red dot would be the perfect set up for optics. A 11-12 pound rifle that is comfortable to shoot in .375 would also be ideal, albeit maybe a little light for biggest of the big five. The beauty of this setup is that it would work really well anywhere in the world on just about everything.
So the big takeaways were:
The methods we teach work perfectly.
Take some time to work with your professional hunter before setting out.
Have the drill down so it takes stress off when the shot of a lifetime is presented.