We did. And knowing that Dad wanted to christen his .375, I told him to go get his bull.
The hillside was steep, but we slowly threaded our way to the top. When we reached the brush line along the summit, Pieter peered over the edge while Dad and I stayed tucked out of sight. The big bull was still there, but two gemsboks we had seen before—a young bull and another with a broken horn—had joined him.
“Craig, the bull you want is the one on the left,” Pieter instructed. “The grass is tall, so you will need to stand for the shot. When I put up the sticks, get on them and shoot quickly, as the other two are close and will likely see you.”
Dad crawled up to the edge and was on his feet as soon as Pieter raised the sticks. I remained down but erupted to my feet at the report of the shot. I immediately saw the lesser bulls running off, then noticed two long, spear-pointed horns protruding above the grass. Dad explained the bull had turned and was quartering away when he stood to shoot. He aimed for the last rib, driving the Barnes Triple Shock into the offside shoulder.
As we admired Dad’s gemsbok, we were treated to a sunset every bit as dramatic as the sunrise we witnessed that morning. Looking over the countryside, I was reminded of the many days growing up when Dad, never one to complain, had gone off to work in the steel mills of southwestern Pennsylvania to secure a living for our family. He had talked about going to Africa for as long as I can remember. There had to have been times when he secretly wondered if he’d ever get here. Now, he was back for a second time. Seeing the smile on his face as he soaked in the surroundings of his realized adventure meant more to me than any trophy we would collect on this trip.
“Is it everything you thought it would be?” he asked.
“And then some,” I replied, those being the only words I could muster, lost in the sudden realization that I would never be in this exact place and time again, and not wanting it to end.
One of the reasons we began our safari in the North West was to hunt black wildebeest, an animal indigenous only to the grasslands of South Africa. On our second day we both killed excellent black wildebeest bulls on a huge cattle ranch near the town of Ventersdorp. I also took a fine red hartebeest there at the end of a demanding stalk.
With the blesbok, springbok and black wildebeest we sought in the North West under our belts, we prepared to move on to Pieter’s main camp in South Africa’s Limpopo province. However, thanks to a stroke of good fortune, we remained in the North West an extra day to hunt greater kudu, the decided patriarch of Africa’s famed family of spiral-horned antelope.
Pieter had been offered the chance to take five kudu bulls off a property that had been closed to hunting for some years. After seeing trail-camera photos of some absolute monsters, he jumped at the opportunity. Dad and I were the first hunters to reap the fruit of that agreement.
There was just one catch: Two bulls, a 60-inch bruiser the landowner wanted to keep around and another with 60-inch potential, were off-limits. Everything else was fair game, and the landowner offered us the service of one of his farmhands who knew the two charmed bulls well.
That farmhand’s knowledge of the land, the kudu and their favorite haunts proved invaluable. We saw a lot of kudu, including one bull that would have been a shooter in any other situation, but the really big bulls seemed to be in hiding. It was as if they knew they were being hunted—and they were.
In late morning we came upon a mature bull and his harem of cows. They took off around the side of a hill, and the stalk was on. Instead of following, we went up and over the hill, hoping to intercept the herd on the other side. Pieter’s plan worked to perfection, as we could see the bull’s corkscrew-shaped horns moving through the thicket below.
Unable to weave a bullet through the brush, we were plotting our next move when the farmhand, having never hunted before and unable to understand why we weren’t trying to get closer, set off in the direction of the bull. The bull swapped ends and disappeared in the brush. Undaunted, we retraced our footsteps. When we passed the truck, however, Pieter’s tracking dog, an Australian cattle dog/Jack Russell mix named Ghani, jumped out and raced down the hill and into the brush, eliciting a sharp alarm bark from one of the kudu cows.
The hunt should have ended after this comedy of errors, but with Ghani secured and the farmhand reined in, we decided to loop back around and try to get ahead of the bull once more. Miraculously, Pieter soon spotted one of the cows tucked into the shade of a tree line across an open field, 200 yards distant. Then Dad spotted another. Glassing that tree line, Pieter located the bull under a tree, perfectly camouflaged in the shade. Fortunately, the bull was looking back to where we had been, not realizing we had gotten ahead of him again. Pieter set up the sticks, and I used his shoulder to brace my right elbow. At the shot, the bull jumped and bucked, then raced off into the bush.
We found him 75 yards from where he stood, and although he was not one of the bulls Pieter had seen in pictures, to say I was proud of him would be an understatement. His body and neck were huge, and his horns were deeply curled with classic ivory tips—a herd bull without question.
“This is what you came to Africa for, isn’t it?” Dad asked, peering through the curl of the kudu’s horn. It was big enough to drop a baseball through cleanly.
We broke camp the next day, but not before Dad killed a second springbok, a ram too good to pass up, a ram that green-scored 417/8 inches SCI, making it the largest killed in the history of Motsomi Safaris.
In the Limpopo, Dad connected on a blesbok of his own, and I added an impala and a cull blue wildebeest cow to my bag.
I decided then that after years of watching him put me first, I wanted the rest of the safari to be about Dad.
We set out the following afternoon in search of a steinbok, a tiny antelope found across much of southern and eastern Africa that stands less than 2 feet at the shoulders and wears arrow-straight, coal-black horns.
Steinbok are territorial creatures, and Pieter had a good idea where one could be located. We came across a big one, relatively speaking, and Dad, one of the best marksmen I know, made a fine shot. The recovery, however, was less than a thing of beauty after we failed to get a good bead on where the creature fell. We searched for close to 45 minutes, sure the ram was there, but were unable to find him in a field filled with anthills and hog burrows. Dad finally found him to end the suspense.
For the remainder of the trip we searched in vain for a trophy warthog for Dad, passing on many smaller tuskers along the way. In the very field where Dad shot his steinbok, our safari ended three days later.
Back at the lodge, in the glow of a final campfire, we reflected on eight of the greatest days we have lived. I am glad I got to spend them with the man who made me a hunter. I am glad I never have to look back someday and say, “I wish Dad and I had done that together.” We did.