By Steve Price
In May 2013 my two close friends Chris Williams and Richard East made a trip with me to Eastern Cape, South Africa, for my first plains game hunt with Frans Bussiahn, owner of Mankazana Safaris. Frans is an avid hunter and wildlife conservationist who holds a master’s degree in zoology. He is a major landowner in the roughly 80,000 acre conservancy on which he hunts. Frans and his family live on this property near Adelaide where he operates a cattle and sheep farming operation. Many of the members of the resident farm workforce climb into a saddle to begin their day on horseback to work the livestock herds in the mountain meadows. The hunting is done in some of the same areas as where the livestock graze. With very few high fences, the wild animals in are free to roam the Mankazana Valley to the foothills of the Winterburg Mountains as they choose.
I can say without a doubt that my most memorable hunting adventures have been the ones which presented the greatest challenges. At Mankazana the hunting method is highly ethical, old-fashioned walk-and-stalk. Hunters must work hard for trophies, but Frans and his team believe that true appreciation and respect for one’s quarry can only come from dedication and effort. This is a “house rule” with no exceptions made even for individuals with physical handicaps. In these cases improvisations may become necessary.
Anyone who has visited the Eastern Cape knows that it has many of the natural characteristics of the foothills of our Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The altitude on the property reaches 4,500 ft. above sea level, and a very short drive to Frans’ father-in-law’s property could take hunters up to 7,700 ft. where snow is not uncommon. The scenery is magnificent, and accommodations for the hunt are in the beautiful recently-constucted Toppingvale Lodge, nestled deep into the property at end of the valley.
On the first trip, my primary quest was a good mature bull eland adorned with a long dewlap and thick “brush” on his forehead. An added challenge was that I took only my .257 Weatherby magnum, so shot placement would be of utmost importance. The eland was to be my hardest trophy to bag due to my expectation of the animal as well as the requirement for a close shot with the .257. My assigned PH for the hunt was Ed Everton, about whom I cannot say enough good things. A brief summary of Ed is “great hunter and fine gentleman who could handle any situation with ease and professionalism.” Ed had had been made aware before our arrival that the eland was my primary objective for the trip so he had been contemplating the scenario taking an 1,800 lb. plus animal with the slightly-larger than one-quarter-inch diameter round. He briefed me on how he thought we should approach the hunt the evening we arrived. Early the first morning, we set off to an area where Ed had last seen two lone bulls. He knew that either would meet my criteria, and one was exceptional. We left the truck just as light began to appear in the sky. Before midday we located the exceptional bull but could not manage to close the distance to less than 300 yards. The eland stayed in thick cover, and for the rest of the day we were unable to achieve a favorable position. As the sun began to set, Ed recommended that we start back to the truck and reconvene there in the morning. We spent the second day hiking all over those hills and valleys yet never saw an eland. The day was not uneventful considering a fly-by of a huge swarm of bees, a close encounter with a mongoose, and stalking within 30 yds. of a waterbuck without him ever noticing us.
Back at the lodge I decided that I needed a break from the eland, so we made a plan to hunt a particular old black wildebeest that had been pushed away from the main herd. Ed was relatively certain that he knew which high plateau to visit since he had spotted the wildebeest from a distance multiple times. At daylight we departed the truck for the long climb to the rim of the plateau. Just as Ed had predicted the bull was there, but wind dictated that we retreat and hike a 35-minute half circle to approach from the opposite direction. As it turned out, while we were moving, so was the bull. When we reached the new vantage point and crept up to look over the edge of the rim, the bull was within 30 yards! He saw us but could not smell us – it was now or never. I quickly shouldered my rifle and fired. Down he went. Why couldn’t the eland have cooperated like this?
On day four, Ed and I hunted in an entirely different section of property where we soon spotted a small group of eland, but the bull was not the one I wanted. Later that morning we spotted two lone bulls at a distance, approached them, and reached a good shooting distance within a matter of thirty minutes. One was a “taker.” As we were weighing our options, Ed spotted a very nice bull with thirteen cows at about 500 yards. They were moving away as if they had seen us. Ed looked at me and whispered, “I think you could take that bull there easily, but the bull you came to South Africa for just went over that far hill. What do you want to do?” I pointed toward the bigger quarry and away we went. In twenty minutes, we had a down-wind broadside view of the nicer bull within 100 yards. It seemed like ten minutes for me to make the shot trying to avoid hitting bone and get the lung area with the small round. The .257 projectile went completely through both lungs and exited the opposite side of the huge animal. He expired about 150 yards from that spot. Now I could relax and enjoy the rest of the trip knowing that the eland was mine.
During the remaining four days of the hunt, I bagged a good cape bushbuck and a blesbok. I passed up various “taker” animals including a 25-inch impala that later found a home in Chris’ trophy room and earned him the South Africa gold award last year at the banquet.
I had already decided to return to hunt at Mankazana in 2015 since I had persuaded my good friend Jim Anderson to bid on Frans’ donation to our annual fundraiser banquet for a hunt for two hunters. Frans and I sat down to review the calendar and almanac for 2015. The plan was to choose a time to hunt during the kudu rut. The best dates looked to be around the third week of April to hunt during the rut and the dark moon phase, so my next nine days were now booked. Only two years to wait!
Two years passed rapidly, and as we arrived at Toppingvale Lodge, my expectations were high. The friendly familiar faces of Andile (one of the trackers during hunting season and chief cowpoke the rest of the year) and Thelma (the chef) were there to greet us. This was Jim’s first trip to South Africa so he had no idea how enjoyable the trip would be, but my anticipation had been building for two years. My new main objective was to go up “on the mountain” for a vaal rhebok. I am not getting any younger, and I figured that the sooner I do it, the easier the hunt should be. Of course nature is not entirely predictable, but the logic seemed sound.
We decided to schedule the vallie hunt for a few days into the trip since I felt that I needed to recover from travel before attempting the mountain climb. Also, the days had been quite windy. Ed was again my PH, and I told him I would like to start my hunt with a stalk for nyala. Dark and early we departed the lodge to arrive at our parking spot by daylight. We stalked, looking into all the deep ravines that Ed knew the nyala to frequent in the early part of the day. We spotted a few young bulls and one “borderline” but none that suited me. We returned to the lodge for brunch and were back in the same area that afternoon. Late that evening for just a few seconds, I spotted a mature dark bull that was definitely impressive. He went out of sight never to be seen again. Our second day proceeded much like the first but with no sighting of the good bull. On the third day in search of nyala, we searched a different area. A slow rain began with the daylight and continued for six hours with fog drifting in and out. The only trophy animal seen that morning was a common duiker that would measure about 5 ½ inches. Hindsight tells me that I should have taken that animal. Finally the fog lifted and the rain stopped. After lunch we posted on a high vantage point to scan the area for activity. Late in the afternoon I had begun to doze when Ed startled me telling me to get my rifle and follow him. He said that he had spotted a good nyala bull “right over here.” As I followed Ed at a gallop across ankle-twisting rocks, I began to wonder exactly where “here” was. We had been moving at top speed for fifteen minutes and still had not reached “here” – which was half a mile from our starting point There was no nyala in sight, but after a few minutes of glassing, Ed spotted the nyala in thick bush. He told me this was about as good a trophy as I could expect. Good luck prevailed: The nyala was headed our way. We stood patiently as he continued in our direction, and when he reached a distance of about 50 yards, I squeezed the trigger.
The following day we had a successful hunt for springbok. Skipping the detail and getting straight to the interesting part, the common springbok that we had picked out to stalk left the bachelor herd and disappeared behind a hill. We had a plan to circle the hill and obtain a vantage point from above, but the springbok had his own notion. As we started up the hill, he was approaching us at twelve o’clock along the opposite side of a 4 ft. wire mesh fence that was parallel to his travel path. We had flattened ourselves on the ground, and the springbok continued to close the distance between us. I decided that it was another one of those “now or never” situations, so I put the muzzle of the rifle through the fence, pointed in the direction of the springbok, and squeezed the trigger when he was at about 50 feet away. He collapsed and we “high fived” each other. I told Ed that he didn’t need to work quite so hard since the 30 yard shots are close enough! To end a fabulous day, I also took a black springbok but had to make a somewhat longer shot.
As the hunt progressed, I bagged my vallie with much less physical difficulty than expected. The hunt that morning was completed before 11 AM. The most difficult aspect of the hunt was controlling my heart rate once the vallie had been sighted. All the planning and long distance shooting practice at the range did not prepare me for the excitement. My first shot at 409 yards was high, but I succeeded on a second opportunity. My final animal to hunt was a fallow stag. The fallow rut is at Easter in that part of the world, so we were approximately 3 weeks late. Hunting wild fallow in the mountains was challenging to say the least. On our second day of fallow hunting, one of the neighbors volunteered to take us to one of the other parts of the conservancy where he hunts the fallow deer with his friends. He explained that this was an annual traditional social event for the locals. We covered many steps that day, but did finally get a good position for a shot at a fallow that I am proud to bring to bag. Looking at the damage on my trophy, it is evident that these animals are aggressive.
In conclusion, I highly recommend the hunting, the accommodations, the wonderful table fare, evenings of fellowship, and the outstanding people at Mankazana. No matter where you have traveled in the past, I am certain that should you ever have the pleasure, Mankazana would be one of your favorite destinations.