60 inches for 60 years

We had been glassing the thickly covered terrain all morning looking for a big kudu bull and had not spotted any yet, when my eye caught a glimpse of black in the shade of a large camel thorn tree. I pulled the binoculars back to the dark shape. When the animal turned its head in our direction, my breath sucked in sharply and my heart started to pound. I made a small ‘pssst’ sound to Gerrie Vorster, my professional hunter, and he quickly trained his own binoculars in the same direction. We both stared silently at the bull. After a short time, I heard him moving closer to me so we could talk.

“Chris, that’s a monster sable. I’ve never taken a larger one.”

I stared at him incredulously, he had been guiding for over ten years in Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. We were after a nice kudu bull but having hunted in Africa several times before, I learned to take advantage of rare opportunities whenever they come, regardless whether the animal was “on the menu.”

I nodded to Gerrie and he immediately glanced down at his foot as he kicked the soft dirt, looking for the wind’s direction.  “We must drop back and come around from the other side of this old bull or he will wind us and disappear,” he explained, shot me a quick grin and started off, moving very quietly through the bush.

After forty-five minutes of creeping through the dry leaves and thorny branches, I had no idea where I had first seen the sable sleeping under the tree but Gerrie certainly did. Twice, we had to stop and wait for curious sable cows to move on without scaring them. On the last stop, we had a Grey Lourie fly over and land on a tall tree nearby. The “Go Away” bird started in with his obnoxious ‘whaaaaa-whaaaa’ sound.   Luckily, none of the nearby animals started or ran as a result of the sentry bird’s loud calls. Still, the thought of shooting the bird with a .300 Winchester magnum discretely floated through my mind.

Gerrie stopped suddenly and pointed at the bull that was standing motionless and looking back at us. Without taking his eyes off the sable, he slowly put the sticks up. As I started to slide my rifle onto them, however, the bull moved off. We moved again through the branches and brush, trying desperately to get another chance at a shot.

Gerrie whispered to me, “Chris, you will not have much time to shoot. This old bull is cagy and won’t give you much of an opportunity. You must get on it quickly and shoot fast.”

We set up six or seven more times, but every time the bull would move, keeping around 150 yards of distance between us. He was also adept at moving out of our line of sight and eliminating a clear shooting lane. After almost a dozen stalks, he paused long enough for me to get on the sticks and put my crosshairs on his shoulder. Remembering Gerrie’s advice, I quickly squeezed without taking time to really focus on the point where I wanted to shoot.

This safari had started when Christo Gomes and his lovely wife, Stella, came over to our house for dinner before the 2018 SCI Convention in our hometown of Reno, Nevada. I had gotten to know them well on two previous hunts with Mabula Pro Safaris and really enjoyed their company. Their lodge and ranch were beautiful with first rate meals and magnificent animals. The minute Christo came inside our home he started looking around carefully at each trophy and guessing quite accurately at the various horn sizes. When he got to my kudu—the first African animal I’d ever shot—he commented, “Chris, you have a s****y kudu” and flashed a quick grin at me. I laughed, but his comment stuck with me.

After the Reno and Dallas shows were over, he called me and told me he would like my wife and me to come back and visit so we could fix “my kudu problem.” He offered me a deal I could not refuse, so I booked a ten-day trip to Mabula Pro Safaris once again and waited for August to come, looking forward to seeing old friends and another safari.

I will never get accustomed to the 15-hour flight from New York to Johannesburg, but like a woman in labor, all is forgotten when I land and find that my rifle has also safely arrived.  Gerrie Vorster, my spectacular P.H. from previous safaris, was waiting for us and took us for the two-hour drive to the town of Bela Bela.  Mabula Pro Safaris is about a half-hour drive from there, and I couldn’t wait to arrive so I could shower, shave and sight-in my gun. I had been daydreaming about huge kudu bulls for a long time, and the moment had finally come.

I was intent on taking a really nice kudu bull, but the wonderful sable opportunity unfolded on our first day. I had to pull the trigger on that big, black bull. Once the bullet left my gun, I felt all the pent-up emotion and adrenaline release and started to relax. “Do you think I hit him?”

“I saw the bull bunch up and jump at the shot before he disappeared into the bush,” he said without looking over at me, so we started slowly towards the animal’s original position, ready to shoot again at a moment’s notice. We covered 160 yards and found blood on the ground, so Gerrie let loose his Jagdterrier, an intense little German hunting dog named Bruno.

Inwardly, I breathed a sigh of relief. I have always dreaded the thought of missing in front of a professional hunter and was grateful that I had hit the big bull after having to shoot so quickly. We tracked slowly and finally heard Bruno bark. Gerrie and his tracker Simone went ahead of me and got to the animal before I did. When I arrived, both of them were staring down at the animal. The bull was enormous, and the horns seemed to arc over his back like scythes. Simone lifted the head up, and we all got a better look at what ended up being a 48 ½-inch bull. I was stunned. I had never been able to harvest such an awesome trophy before. All my daydreaming on past hunts had always been simply fantasies, but now I was actually living the dream. I reached out and ran a finger along the bumpy surface of the bull’s horn as if to make sure it was all real.

After the pictures were taken and the sable loaded into Gerrie’s Land Cruiser, my emotions started to overtake me and I became filled with gratitude for this opportunity. Much of the pressure I had been unwittingly carrying around with me lifted. Heck, it wouldn’t matter much if I didn’t find a good kudu bull now; I had killed a sable for the ages!

That evening at dinner, Christo caught me and told me we would still fix “my kudu problem.” If only he had known the spectacular manner in which it would be put right—fixed indeed! He mentioned that his trackers had spotted a very nice kudu bull on a neighboring ranch. He had contacted the owner of the property and been given permission to hunt on this ranch. He told me not to worry about missing out on a big kudu since we were going to leave in two days to hunt that bull his trackers had spotted.

Gerrie and I had a couple days to kill, so we started looking for a blesbok since I had never taken one on any previous safari. They hang together in fairly large groups and are not as tricky as kudu to hunt. We were able to sneak into several different herds without spooking them off and got ample opportunities to look all the bulls over. He finally selected one and spent quite a bit of time describing which one he wanted me to shoot since there were dozens of animals all standing very close to each other.

When I was confident that I had the crosshairs of my scope on the right shoulder, I slowly squeezed off the shot. The rifle recoiled and I lost visual contact for a brief moment. When I had jacked another round in and found my original aiming point, all I saw was dust and running animals. Gerrie slapped my shoulder and pointed to where the ram had piled up. We hiked over and I got the chance to see my first blesbok up-close. He was a very nice one that Gerrie said would quite easily make the SCI gold medal standard. I was thrilled.

Sunday finally came, which incidentally, was my 60th birthday. Christo came along with us to direct us to the neighbor’s ranch where the trackers had spotted the big kudu bull. During his previous visit, Christo’s trackers had shown him where a game trail had cut through the dense brush. There was a lot of spoor on the trail, so we set up in a small blind that Christo had made from hay bales. After an hour or so passed and I had started to fidget, several small kudu and sable bulls strolled out into the open. They were accompanied by a dozen warthogs and the usual guinea fowl that I like less than Grey Louries since they also serve as sentries for the larger game animals.

We watched the group intently. After several minutes, a huge kudu bull stepped into sight.

My heart, which has served me so faithfully for the last 60 years, felt like it had stopped. I have never seen such a large kudu except in pictures or SCI displays. When my heart decided to start up again, it was pounding like I had just finished a bunch of jumping jacks. The bull’s horns were so much taller than the other bulls and looped around in large, open curls.

I managed to get my rifle up on the bull, but the crosshairs were bouncing around like the pulse line on a heart monitor. Christo was whispering urgently for me to take him. This was the monster bull I had come for, but he was milling around in the crowd of smaller animals. I had to wait for a clear line on him.

Finally, he walked into an open area. I squeezed the trigger and saw the magnificent bull spring up, then leap into the thick brush on the game trail. A huge cloud of red dust boiled up as the crowd of animals scattered. Wart hogs squealed as they bolted with their little radio antenna tails sticking straight up.

Christo told us to stay still until the frenzy had died down. “Chris, I feel like that was a good shot. I saw it hit the left front shoulder at a good angle right into his heart and lungs.”  Gerrie nodded his assent. After several minutes, we started out towards him. The shot had been 152 yards and felt good to me, unlike the rushed shot I had to take with the sable.

We got to the place where the kudu had bounded into the bush, so we lowered our heads and followed him into the impenetrable overgrowth. It was slow going, and the spines from the camel thorn trees tore at my clothes.

Christo saw the bull first and came back to me smiling. He grabbed my hand and shook it hard. “We fixed that s****y kudu problem you had back home.”

My first impression was how heavy the animal’s horns seemed to be at the bases, and my eyes slowly traveled up the long spiraling horns. The deep looping curls reminded me of a very big bottle opener. It started to sink into me that I had taken not one, but two extreme trophies on the same safari. I was just absorbing this when Christo smiled at me; “I am very sure that this bull will go over 60 inches.  It is the bull of a lifetime.”  I certainly agreed with him as I thought about the first Kudu I had taken years ago. Not surprisingly, he was correct; the bull measured 62 ½inches, with bases being almost 13inches around.

In all my years of hunting, I have never been really lucky like the people I’ve read about in magazines. I have managed to take some wonderful trophies but nothing like what happened to me on this hunt. Now I have experienced some spectacular good fortune and ended up with a 60-inch kudu bull on my 60th birthday!–Chris Chimits

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