The Hunt of a Lifetime in South Africa
It took me nearly 68 years to determine I could actually hunt in South Africa. And it didn’t require being a millionaire to make it happen. I took eight trophies and was treated like a king. All this for less than a guided Montana Elk Hunt a far lower percentage of taking just one trophy class bull.
Don’t get me wrong. I will never stop chasing the great Wapiti in my home state. I have 400+ bulls hanging on my wall; however, South Africa is the answer when it all comes down to the hunt of a lifetime.
Covid delayed our hunt by a year. My wife Wendy, my son Daniel, and my daughter-in-law Jodi accompanied me. We departed Billings, Montana, on March 29, 2021. Our flight took us to Denver; then, after 11 hours, to Frankfurt, Germany. Followed by a 13-hour layover, then on to Johannesburg for a 10+ hour flight, then a 4-hour layover in Joberg, then a short 1½ hour flight to Port, Elizabeth. Nick Bowker met at the airport himself, in his Land Cruiser. I need to own one someday.
Arrival in South Africa
Following a 90-minute drive to OliveFountain Farm, we were met by Ben, another PH. As well as Nick’s wife Elizabeth and their twin daughters. They were on holiday from school and were an absolute delight. I also hired a videographer company with Nick’s recommendation. Igala Productions was very cost-effective and assisted in spotting game that I had trouble locating even with binoculars. Igala provided their regular video expert plus a trainee for only $2,600.
That figure was exceptional. I can’t recommend Igala enough if you can request Nadeen to be your videographer, although Steven and Purin were fantastic. Nadeen was an excellent addition to our hunt and has “eagle eyes” to locate animals.
Accommodation Review – Nick Bowker Hunting
The facilities at OliveFountain can only be described as “simply the best.” Homesteaded in the early 1800s, the complex has been in Nick’s family for five generations and has significant updates. Hence, you experience all the modern amenities, including Wi-Fi, plenty of hot water, and private rooms with beds that will make you sleep like a baby.
Embarrassingly, our kids were up and checking out rifles only about 5 yards from my cabin on the first morning of our hunt. They were firing .300 WM rounds downrange, and I did not wake up. I might add my wife slept through my shooting as well. Suddenly, I awoke to find the sun shining in my window and the Land Cruiser leaving with Ben at the wheel and the kids loaded up. I quickly dressed, demonstrated I could at least hit a Barn Door off sticks, grabbed a coffee, and headed out for my first session of hunting.
Relaxed about my sleeping in, Nick just passed it off as jet lag. I made sure it didn’t happen again. We then loaded up with Nick, myself, and Nadeen, searching for whatever presented itself that day. Our 3 trackers plus “Bella” and “Black Jack” were in the back of the rig, anxiously awaiting what beast would present itself. Bella is a beagle with an incredible nose, and Black Jack is a Jack Russel Terrier that I have trouble describing. He is tough and fast, yet when HE decides to snuggle you, he is laying on your lap and expecting a good scratch.
In session 1, Nick suggested we go on a walk-about and look for a warthog since it was later in the morning. He spotted a great hog in the creek bottom before long that presented a broadside shot at a little over 200 yards. Here is where I learned my first lesson. I used Nick’s Saco .300 WM with a top-end Swaro range finder scope. I ranged the “tusker,” then promptly used the cross-hairs instead of the red ranged cross and shot a few inches under the hog. Rule number one…pay attention to Nick’s explanation. I did not make that mistake again.
Rule number two, if Nick or Ben says it is a “photogenic animal,” shoot it. You will not be disappointed. On the other hand, if they tell you it needs another year or two to grow, listen, then come back another year to take that trophy when it has grown up. I quickly learned that the eye-site of the PH, Videographer, and Trackers is better without binos than mine with them. At times I swear they pulled animals from underground for me to stalk.
Session 2: After a great brunch and a nap, we headed out for the afternoon and evening hunt. Although we saw hundreds of animals of all species literally, Nick kept informing me, “there are better ones to pursue. So, we headed back to the farm headquarters for an evening of getting better acquainted; having a glass of relaxing agent and a dinner that exceeds anything you could find in New York; although I think New York Sucks…
Food Review – Nick Bowker Hunting
At this point, I need to interject a message about Elizabeth, Nick’s better half, that spends hours in the kitchen with her assistants preparing side dishes and desserts that are nothing short of fabulous. She is a real “keeper.” Elizabeth also took Wendy and Jodi to Addo Elephant Park and Port Elizabeth to see elephants and for some shopping.
Session 3: I want you to know I was up in time for coffee and to catch my ride at 6:30 am. Nick promptly took me to a pasture with again hundreds of animals, and 2 Black Wildebeest appeared; junior and grandpa. By no means did Nick pressure me to shoot one, but he did say he would trade me out for other animals in my package since this beast was not on my list. So, how could I say no? I gave him the go-ahead, and he led my stalk into a reasonable distance for a shot.
Nick sent the trackers around the back of the beasts when “grampa” and “Junior” started in our direction. Placed on sticks, I punched a hole in the beast, of which he reared up in the air and sold out for distance regions. At about 160 yards, I gave him a heart attack and put my first animal in the books.
Gemsbok hunt review – Nick Bowker Hunting
Session 4: After a great brunch and rest, we were off again. This time, I had told Nick if a Gemsbok got in the way, I would certainly be interested, even though it was not on my package. So, I guess it was inevitable a herd of gemsbok appeared, and after a long stalk, Nick told me which one was a shooter. I dumped a beautiful Gemsbok off the sticks at 206 yards in its tracks. Score two…
Nyala hunt review – Nick Bowker Hunting
Session 5: In pursuit of a Kudu or Nyala, we got into a bachelor herd of Nyala Bulls, which Nick led me into a shooting position, and again I dropped the bull at 244 yards in his tracks. He had no idea we were even there. Ironically, following my shot, a nice Kudu Bull blew out no more than 10 yards to my right; however, I had no time to get a shot off. By now, I was feeling like a great hunter when it was the leadership of Nick, our trackers, and videographers.
Session 6: After Coffee, Toast, we headed out for another day. We had not traveled more than a couple of miles from camp before we found a herd of Impala. Somehow, I was brought back to earth after missing a 150-yard shot-off stick. When I pulled the trigger, I knew my bullet would land in another time zone. Why? I sucked…So Nick took me on a short stalk and located where the herd of Impala went. I didn’t mess up this time at 260 yards, and we had another animal for the bag.
Session 7: Out we went, and I had an excellent opportunity to take a Springbok. I don’t know how I missed it as I swear it was nearly sitting on the rifle’s barrel. Possibly, it had nine lives like a cat because I will never know how I missed it. I blamed Nick for a faulty loaded bullet, and he just agreed and said we needed to move on. His patience with me was beyond believable.
Session 8: Although we saw hundreds of animals, none of them met Nick’s standard., Again, his knowledge and expertise far exceeded anyone I have hunted with. He is ethical, safety-minded, and patient with guys like me.
Session 9: So many animals, but none meet Nick’s standards. Something I want to point out is that it is not about trophy class animals; it is about taking animals over the hill. Nick won’t shoot breeding animals with great genetics, he is only about taking out the old guys that likely would not make it through the winter, and yes, South Africa does have winter.
Session 10: Again, no trophy class animals. That wasn’t the case with my kids, as my son took an incredible Kudu and Sable. I’m jealous…
Session 11: we traveled north a bit and saw many good Kudu but not a great animal, according to Nick. He kept telling us there was a better trophy, so the other Land Cruiser brought us lunch; session 12 changed things completely.
We came upon a herd of 7 bulls, of which three broke off. The remainder 4 made my blood pressure sky-rocket. A white-horned bull was in front of the bull Nick told me to take. For the following 15 minutes, whenever the white=horned bull would move, the one I was supposed to shoot moved with him. Finally, I had a few seconds, and Nick said to drop the hammer. He went down like a ton, then up he came, and I had to finish the job after covering about 50 yards.
Fallow Deer hunt review – Nick Bowker Hunting
Session 12: we pursued a Fallow Deer Buck but didn’t find the big guy, although my interpretation and Nick’s differed. Fortunately, I had the sense to shut up and listen to Nick. We saw several good bucks, but my slow preparation to shoot exceeded the bucks’ willingness to stay put. Again, Nick was calm and put up with my screw-up.
Session 13: We sought a nice fallow deer, and I connected at 160 yards. I pulled the trigger. It is a beautiful animal and will make a great mount. I am proud of the beast and owe my success to everyone else.
Session 14: Understand that a short, fat English-Irishman nearly 68 years old is not an outfitters/guide’s ideal candidate for a hunt. That said, Nick and his crew did everything to make my (our) hunt exceptional. That describes me perfectly.
That afternoon, Nick spotted a trophy waterbuck above us along with several Kudu and waterbok Cows. He “nursed” me into position up a steep grade and at quite a distance. Yes, he kept telling me it was only another 100 yards when it was 600 yards, but I bought into it.
Finally, we arrived at a point where I would have a shot if and when the bull came out of the brush. After a long wait, Nick said, don’t move and be silent; a cow had moved down within 10 yards of us. I could not see her, but I followed Nick’s lead, and when the bull stepped out at 286 yards, I put one in the boiler room. He went down, then back up, and I put another round far back. He again went down, and I put another in his boiler room for good.
Session 15: Off to Grahamstown for a Covid Test. Although Nick never complained and worked it out, what a waste of a hunting session.
Session16: The last two animals we pursued were a warthog for me and a Fallow Deer for my son. My son dropped a monster Fallow Deer thanks to Ben in the late hours of his last session, and I dropped a Warthog at 4:00 pm of our previous session at 386 yards.
Everything else aside, it wasn’t about just getting our animals. It was about the experience of getting to know people halfway around the world. I can’t say enough about the excellent treatment we received and the friendships we gained. Before I cross over, I must go and spend time with our new friends…they are: “simply the best.”
Thank you, Nick, Ben, Elizabeth, Nadeen, Purin, Steven, and everyone else.
God’s best blessings to you and yours…