Hunting in the Eastern Cape

Joe Barton of ATN gets the chance to use the company’s state-of-the-art scopes on a safari trip to the Eastern Cape, courtesy of RWI.

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Working at ATN over the past few years has provided me with some life-changing opportunities. One of the best was a trip organised by Real World Hunting International to South Africa in April of this year, which I took with several of the ATN team: Terence Garlick, Christopher Melling, Marno Müller as well as Koen Herman of JVD, a long-standing customer of ATN.

After a 12-hour flight from Heathrow, I arrived at Port Elizabeth, where I was met by Graeme Donald. the owner of Olivewoods Game Farm. Olivewoods is located an hour north-east of Port Elizabeth and consists of 36,000 acres of stunning hills, plateaus and bush land with more than 20 species of quarry.

Graeme has a lot of contacts locally and has access to a further 80,000 acres of land to shoot on, with every species of quarry in the Eastern Cape available to shoot.

Heading over to the game farm, we met up with Marno, who had flown in earlier that morning from Johannesburg. Marno has been a member of ATN Europe’s pro staff for over four years and is someone who I am proud to call a friend. That night we relaxed around the fire pit and had a braai (this week’s meal table was going to be no place for vegetarians).

As Marno and I had flown in a day before Terence, Christopher and Koen, and as I had brought with me three ATN X-Sight 4K Pros and two Mars 4 384 4.5-18x scopes to use on the farm guns, the three of us decided to get up early the next morning to set them up and zero them in. Using a chronograph, we set up the rifles and zeroed them all out to 200 metres.

Once all the rifles were zeroed, thoughts turned to the hunts that would come over the following days. I had come here last year and I had an incredible time, taking three of the four species on my list.

The one that has evaded me was a warthog, so Graeme suggested we should spend the next couple of hours looking for one until the rest of the group arrived later in the day.

We picked up two of Graeme’s farm hands and took a short drive to Wiltonside, a neighbouring farm owned by Scott. After what can only be described as a difficult walk in the scorching South African sun, Marno spotted something in the distance through his binoculars.

It was a large group of around six warthog in a grass-covered clearing on the other side of the valley around 1,400 metres away. Marno and the others stayed back as Graeme and I walked in slowly for a better look, taking with us the .270 coupled with the X-Sight 4K Pro 5-20x.

We walked the kilometre to the edge of the clearing then crept slowly and quietly, being careful to stay upwind of the warthog. We spent the next 30-40 minutes working our way around the outside edge of the clearing, trying to get as close as possible to them, but every time we got close they moved further back towards the bush.

Just as I got that sinking feeling that they were all about to disappear into the bush, a good-sized male appeared over the ridge of the hill in front of us just to the left. Graeme gave the go-ahead, so as the boar walked on, I set the rifle on my quad sticks.

I ranged him at 154 metres using the ATN handheld laser rangefinder, which transmitted the distance to the scope via Bluetooth and adjusted the crosshairs. I then pressed the right keypad button on the scope to video record my shot, and once I was confident, I took it. He dropped, back legs first quickly followed by front legs.

I had waited several months for this moment and had to leave last year knowing that they had evaded me. The feeling this time was hard to describe – partly elation but also relief. Hearing the shot, the others quickly rejoined us bringing with them the Land Cruiser so we could load the warthog up.

Just as we were finishing up around 2.30pm, Scott came over the radio to say that he was 10 minutes away inbound from Port Elizabeth with the rest of the group. Finally the whole team was together.

After a quick bite to eat, we split up into two groups. Christopher and Koen would go with Scott, looking for kudu, and Marno, Terence and I would go with Graeme and Caan (another of the great PHs at Olivewoods) in search of the white nyala bull.

We had been walking in the afternoon sun for a couple of hours with no sign of the nyala. As the sun started to set, we decided to pack up and go back to the lodge.

We loaded back into the Land Cruiser, and no sooner had we set off than we turned a corner and there in front of us at the edge of the bush was a herd of female nyala and the white nyala bull we had spent the last couple of hours looking for. He stood just inside a break in the bush around 200 metres away.

Caan and I hung back by the truck as Terence and Graeme crept in closer. Setting up on the sticks at 98 metres, Terence paused and waited for the bull to fully emerge from the cover of the bush.

Once the bull was fully out in the clearing, Terence lined up on the shoulder and took the shot. It was a perfect heart shot; the bull jumped into the air with one single enormous leap and then went straight to the floor.

Best of all, Terence had pressed record on the X-Sight 4K Pro as he exited from the truck and so had captured the whole event on video. There was just enough light left in the day for photos of this magnificent animal and to measure the horns at 27.5in.

The following five days were full of ups and downs – in terrain and also emotions. On some days we got only a fleeting glimpse of our intended quarry before it disappeared into the dense bush; other days were just non stop action.

We ended the week on a total of 19 animals, with most of them going on to be shoulder-mounted and all the meat either used at the farm or sold at market. 

Whether we were shooting or not, we were all in awe at the stunning landscape that surrounded us, and the hospitality and food provided during our stay was second to none.

I cannot wait to return and can’t thank Graeme and his family enough for the amazing experience they provided.

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