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The Unkomaas Valley shrouded in thick fog
This was my second safari. I thought I would try something different than last time (Kaokoland in Namibia). Some earlier trip reports on the forum:
Tim Herald (2018), Mark Young (2015), Gbax (2013), Matt Graham (2011)
and a desire to hunt nyala led me to Crusader Safaris. At the DSC convention this January, I talked to Andrew Pringle, thinking I might go this year or next year. But when I wandered over to the auctions, I saw that they had donated an auction: 6 days of hunting including trophy fees for nyala, bushbuck and bushpig. The auction was closing in less than 10 minutes so I made a quick decision to bid and won the auction. Probably the easiest way for me to make the decision! My wife joined me and enjoyed it. I posted a few pictures midway through the safari – I took a nice warthog after that.
Trip report - Unkomaas Valley, KwaZulu Natal province, South Africa May-June 2019
Outfitter: Crusader Safaris <http://www.crusadersafaris.com/>
PH Guy Venter. Guy is an ex-Zimbabwean PH, a fine raconteur, and good company.
Tracker: “Tool bag” or “Tools"
Dates: May 31-June 9, 2019
Location: Unkomaas Valley. This is a densely vegetated hilly area – mostly acacia savannah, though there are a lot of prickly pear, euphorbia, aloe vera and agarvae plants. In some places, the surrounding hills rise a thousand feet above the river.
Species hunted: Nyala, Bushbuck, Bushpig, Impala, Blesbok, Blue Wildebeest, Warthog
Game species seen but not hunted: : kudu, zebra
Rifle: I used two camp rifles, both equipped with suppressors – a Winchester Model 70 in 338 Win Mag with a Swaraovski Z6 scope and a Sako(?) in 7 mm Remington Magnum with a Swarovski Z5 scope.
Travel arrangements: The safari was scheduled between meetings in Helsinki and The Hague. I flew American from Oklahoma to Helsinki, flew SAS to Stockholm and went to the Swedish Game Fair over the weekend, then flew KLM to Amsterdam where I met up with my wife. We spent a few days sightseeing. We then took British Airways from Amsterdam to London to Durban. BA has a direct flight LHR-Durban several days a week. (Actually, despite flying everyone’s least favorite airlines the travel was all pretty smooth with only minor delays.) The camp is about 2 hours from the Durban airport. At the end of the safari, we had an early morning departure from Durban airport, so we stayed at the Cowrie Cove Guest House . It's right on the ocean and I'd highly recommend it.
Accommodations: A permanent "tented" camp; the tents had canvas walls, thatched roofs, toilet, shower, and 24-hour electricity and hot water. The tents are equipped with an electric space heater and the beds have electric heating pads. The dining tent and bar area are similarly constructed – in cold weather, the canvas sides can be lowered and gas heaters turned on.
Hunting situation: The Unkomaas camp is situated on a ~7500 acre property. We hunted there and other surrounding farms, all of which had no more than low fences or remnants of low fences. The only farming that I saw on the main property consisted of some pecan tree groves planted on the river bottom flats. One is adjacent to camp and we usually saw quite a bit of game there, including impala, nyala, wildebeest, zebra, and warthogs. But for the most part, the other farms are mainly “wild” and brush-covered.
Nyala – Over the nine days of hunting, I saw many nice nyala bulls. On the first two days we stalked several that turned out to not be quite big enough. On the morning of the third day, we hunted on another farm and in addition to the PH and our tracker, we also had a “farm game scout”. We spotted a nyala bull and some cows from a distance of 650 yards across a valley. We crossed the valley in the truck and then executed a long slow stalk towards the last known location of the nyala. We spotted the cows and the four of us were headed towards them single file when our tracker, Tool Bag, stopped us. About 150 yards away, due right, the bull was standing looking at us. Guy put the sticks up quickly and told me to look through a fork in a dead tree. I found the bull and shot. He jumped at the shot and disappeared.
We had to cross a small stream and started searching. We couldn't find any sign of the bull, so Guy went back to where I took the shot, lined up on the forks in the tree and told us we were searching 100 meters to the left. Once we started searching, we found blood sign and then the nyala within 20 yards of the first blood sign.
Bushbuck – The bushbuck are rather secretive and elusive. A little too elusive for me as it turns out. The vegetation was thicker than usual at this time of year because of late rains and lack of frost. We did see a few – they were either running across the road or 600+ yards away. We attempted to stalk several that we had seen glassing, but they disappeared before we got close. Hunting bushbuck took the majority of the effort on the safari. We spent hours glassing and hiking, but to no effect. One day we planned out a hike into a valley. We descended 550 feet through scrub brush with poor footing and lots of thorns before intersecting an old overgrown road. We found the skeletal remains of a bushbuck and a sluggish rock python, but no live bushbuck.
(The easy part of the hike – the overgrown road.)
A long abandoned hut
Bushpig – Bushpig are nocturnal and we hunted over bait (corn). We had available a 308 with a Pulsar infrared scope. We used game cameras to try and pattern them. We did have some come into one bait site several evenings at widely varying times. As we were still hunting bushbuck, I didn’t have the desire to sit out all night waiting. At one site, a flock (herd…?) of vervet monkeys cleaned up the corn quite effectively; at another warthogs and porcupines spent a lot of time eating. Still, the warthogs coming into the bait site wasn’t all bad as…
Warthog – Since the bushpigs were coming in very irregularly, we decided just to sit in the blind starting at dusk and stay 3 hours or so. Guy knew that I was hoping to find a warthog and asked me if I thought I would want to shoot one before we found a bushpig, since that might disturb the bushpig. I thought for a second and said that a “Warthog in the hand is better than a bushpig in the bush.”
With that decision made in the late afternoon, at dusk, we sat down behind the makeshift blind and waited. We had barely been there 10 minutes when Guy whispers “There is a nyala bull down there. Stay very still.” “Don't move.”
Then, “There is another nyala bull. They are coming towards us. Don't move” A few minutes later … “There is a pig down there.” Then “OK...put the rifle up and look through the scope.” I couldn’t see much with my naked eyes, but with the scope, I saw a warthog boar (identified by the warts!) and the two nyala bulls feeding towards us, one on either side of the warthog. I looked for a few seconds, decided I had ample space between the two nyala bulls, and shot the warthog. He died on the spot. The bulls were a little (?) startled and fled the scene.
Impala, Blesbok, Blue Wildebeest
The impala, blesbok, and blue wildebeest were taken “incidentally” – we saw many, many impala, and had ample opportunities for blesbok and blue wildebeest.
Kudu kill – On the last morning we found a young kudu bull dead and partially eaten on a road near camp. The PH initially thought it might be a leopard kill due to the amount of flesh consumed. The carcass was moved off the road and a game camera set up, revealing a caracal returning (presumably) to eat some more.
Conclusion – Despite the lack of success on bushbuck and bushpig, both my wife and I had a great time. We were well taken care of. And, as been said here before, the most important thing to bring back from Africa is a reason to return!
Permethrin – we sprayed all our clothes with permethrin. I never sprayed with DEET. As far as I can tell, I never was bitten by a tick. I did pull a few sluggish ones off my trousers.
PMP ammo – I used PMP soft-point ammo, 170 grain bullets in 7mm Remington Magnum for all of the animals except the impala. It worked perfectly in all cases; the nyala was shot quartering away and the expanded bullet stopped at the skin on the far side. All the other shots were pass-throughs. No animal required a second shot; no animal went very far and all were recovered quickly without incident. Needless to say, the 338 Win Mag (Winchester ammunition with 200 gr Power-Point bullet) used with the impala was more than enough gun.
Travel arrangements – flying direct to Durban from London was very smooth; King Shaka International Airport seemed very well organized. But if you were flying to, say, Johannesburg, you could connect to Pieter Maritzberg airport which is only about a half hour from camp.
Kudu – we did see quite a few kudu. I realize I didn’t get any photos though.
Game cameras – As at home, we saw some interesting things on the game cameras – bushpigs, warthogs, monkeys, nyala, an aardvark, a genet, porcupines, and the caracal.
More flora and fauna -
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Great report. Awesome photography! The panoramic and flower especially. All of those animals are beautiful.
Thanks for posting.
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Wonderful. Great pictures. Thank you for sharing the experience
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Great opening photograph !
Glad you had a good hunt and thanks for sharing.
"Up the ladders and down the snakes!"
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Congrats! Thanks for posting.
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Thanks for sharing! Looks like a fun trip.
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I have spent many happy hours and days in that valley.
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Great report! Too bad about the bushbuck, they're my favorite.
"I don't know what there is about buffalo that frightens me so.....He looks like he hates you personally. He looks like you owe him money."
- Robert Ruark, Horn of the Hunter, 1953
NRA Life, SAF Life, CRPA Life, DRSS lite
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Thank you for the excellent report. I have also spent many wonderful days in the Umkomaas Valley. Tough hunting but very rewarding.
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