A Dream Turned into Reality, Africa

Dan Braman

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  • Prostaff Member Dan Braman

On Christmas Day 2005 I learned that my life long dream of going to Africa was going to actually happen. Through a friend of a friend I was going to be able to spend 45 days on the Dark Continent. To make the day even more special, my terminally ill father handed me a Holland & Holland 500/465 double rifle as my Christmas present from him. It would not only save my life in Africa it proved to be the last present he ever gave me.

I boarded an airplane on August 24, 2006 for South Africa. The anticipation was beyond belief; I was so excited to be doing what I’d only read about. We flew into South Africa about mid-morning on the 25th and began the task of clearing customs. This went very smoothly contrary to what I had imagined and before I knew it were on a King Air in route to our hunting area. I was surprised to see just how closely South Africa's ranches looked like the big ranch homes in Texas. The house we stayed in was a huge brick home with a shingled roof. The grounds were manicured like a golf course within the yard fence. However, on the outside it was wild brush lands loaded with numbers of animals I cannot begin to describe.

Within two hours of my first trip around the vast ranch I had seen well over five hundred animals. That evening at dinner we had something that tasted horrible. I wrote in my journal,” I have a feeling by the time I get home, my pants will be too big.”

The following morning I awoke to cold temperatures and fog. Within and hour of daylight I had done something I rarely do. I missed! I missed a wildebeest at 300 yards. Things got a lot better after that miss because within the next four hours I had taken three animals. I killed a very nice gemsbok after a shot stalk. Literally when we were taking photos of the gemsbok my PH looked across the valley behind us and saw a huge Mountain Reedbok. We immediately left the gemsbok with the trackers and began the stalk. Down into the valley we walked using the wind to our favor. Once in the bottom we walked a little creek so the animal couldn't see us. After some glassing we found the reedbok and were taking photos in a few minutes.

Once getting the reedbok loaded into the truck, we headed in a circle back towards camp for lunch. Half way to the house we saw a bontebok standing on the side of hill about 400 yards away. Lunch was postponed and we were hiking up the hill to see if we could find the bontebok that had disappeared into a draw. Sitting under some trees on the top of the hill my PH spotted the bontebok about 350 yards away. I rested my rifle on some rocks and took the shot. This was the most beautiful animal I had ever seen. The bontebok's colors reminded me of ducks and turkey in that iridescent color comes from his hair when the light is just right. We finally made it to lunch at around 1:30PM. Lunch reminded me of dinner the night before in that I was going to lose weight for sure.
At 2:45 we were in the truck and gone for the evening hunt. The evening hunt was amazing; I saw perhaps five hundred animals and my friend killed a very nice Hartebeest. Dinner that evening was something else. I’m using my journal as an outline to write this and I take a quote from it,” We had some kind of meat stewed in red wine and right beside that laid a stuffed cow tongue.” After that I wrote,” There is no wonder why Africa suffers from such starvation.” The following morning the bad weather had blown out. I walked outside to find a beautiful morning. It was cool at 50 degrees and clear. We were traveling up a very thick draw in the vehicle when our tracker saw a Nyala move in the trees. The bush was so thick it made it next to impossible to see him. After nearly a half hour he walked into a clearing just big enough for me to see his shoulders and head.

One shot from a 338-06 and I had one of Africa's most beautiful trophies. The countryside is filled with animals in numbers unfathomable unless you’ve seen it. Two hours after I killed the Nyala, I got an ostrich. I was amazed at the size of these birds. My PH told me that the bird would weigh around 180 pounds. I know that there are not many birds that you can shoot with a 8mm mag. and have something left to mount. To my amazement lunch today was almost edible. Shortly after lunch we went out again where I shot a beautiful springbok at 500 yards. Another entry from my journal,” I’ve only been in Africa three days and I’m in awe of it.” I was only at this location for a week and I had already killed more animals then I ever thought possible. Likewise I had seen more animals in six days then I thought I would during the entire 45 days.

Leaving this area and moving west to an area where we would hunt caracal we must have seen 500 vervet monkeys along the highway. We arrived at another location, which was now my newest most favorite place on earth. More mountainous then the last location with huge trees and beautiful grain fields, this place was easy to love. Besides, we were here to run caracal with hounds, as a cat hunter in the states this was why I had come. I was eager to know how they did it, what kinds of dog they used, and how a caracal runs. I hadn't been at the new camp an hour when the landowner received a call from one of his employees about a kill. It seemed that this employee had found a bushbuck killed by a caracal and it looked fresh. Immediately we loaded the dogs. I was shocked to see hounds that looked like a cross between treeing walkers and English red ticks. Likewise they had some border collie looking dogs and two or three little mutts.

With the dogs numbering well over 20 we were headed down some rough and dusty roads. We arrived at the location to find a native guy standing there with a walkie-talkie and a long stick. The dogs were released and within one minute were trailing the cat down a mountain. I was pumped. Listening, as the cold trail turned into a race. The hounds had jumped him and they were headed over the mountain. To my surprise the native guy with the stick was running with the dogs. As we drove around the mountain he let our host know what was going by radio. When we arrived at where we thought the dogs would be and stepped out of the truck I could hear the familiar sound of hounds treeing. They sounded to be about a half mile away on the opposite side of a valley. I was beyond excited and ready to get to them. As we approached the tree my excitement slowly turned to skepticism. This tree was only about 30 feet tall and was dead. There were no leaves on any branch and even worse there was no cat. The hounds had false treed. It is one thing to false tree every once in a great while on a dark night with a high wind blowing, but to do it during daylight in a dead tree is another.

I feared this guy was like many hound men, meaning, he had no idea what he was doing. Africa is a long way to go and have to worry about that. We went back to camp listening to our host tell us that he had never had that happen. Of course I was wondering how many people he had said that to. The following morning we were up and waiting on the radio call. At around 7:00AM the landowner got a call of a cat feeding on the same kill as the one we found yesterday. Off again in five minutes as the hounds were already loaded. We did the same thing as the day before with the same results in finding the trail. The cat went exactly the same direction and I hoped the hounds would do a better job. We drove around the mountain and stopped to listen. Again, they were treed, only this time, on the other side of the mountain. I would walk through fire to get to my hounds but climbing two mountains to go to hounds that might not have anything wasn't too appealing. Nonetheless, we started down the mountain we were standing on and then up the other side. When we topped out we could tell the hounds were on the very top of the next mountain.

Down again and up another one we came to within 75 yards of the treeing hounds. I was happy because I could tell there were leaves in this tree. As we approached the tree I could see the fawn colored hair of a caracal. They had caught him and done a fine job of it. One shot from the 12ga and he was done. We had to climb the tree to get him out as he died in a fork in the limbs. I looked to my right and noticed that I was standing on a cliff with a 200-foot drop off. Down an almost 90 degree rock ledge the Indian Ocean was slamming against the rocks. I vividly remember taking my hat off and thanking the Almighty for the opportunity to be where I was. Simply put, it was breathtaking.

The next morning the friend I was with killed a caracal as well. The hounds were the real deal; they had just made a mistake. After my buddy got his caracal I used his shotgun to take a beautiful little steinbok. I couldn't get over how small these animals were. Within the next couple of days my buddy and I had taken zebra and eland. My buddy and the PH had chased a springbok all around a huge open area for hours; I got to watch from the top of a hill. I know the PH and my friend were tired that night, as they must have walked 20 miles. My buddy (Shelby) was able to take a nice kudu as well. Our time had come to a close in South Africa, we would now depart for yet another area and begin another adventure.

Arriving at this new place I was excited to see how the hunting would be done here. The land was much more flat then the last place and the brush was thick as could be. Our camp was beautiful with little huts made into sleeping cabins. The camp was perched on the highest hill around. From the porch of my hut I could see for miles and miles. Africa had entered another top ten most beautiful places into my memory. The first afternoon I killed a jackal. To everyone's surprise I wanted it skinned for a full body mount. After the reaction I received, I don't think many people do this. The following morning I saw my first giraffe. He was standing about 85 yards away eating from the top of a tree. The thought of taking him never crossed my mind when my friend asked if I’d like to kill him. I didn't know what to say but it didn't take much convincing and I was staring down the barrel of my double rifle at the huge animal. Within a minute or less, we were taking pictures. My first taste of the dangers Africa has to offer came while skinning this animal. Apparently a pride of lions had smelled the carcass and had come to feed. Luckily when they saw our vehicles they kept their distance but they didn't leave. While at this place I got a huge kudu and waterbuck. My buddy killed a giraffe and many more animals. We were there for four days and it was time for yet another flight.

The flight to Dar-es-Salaam took three hours. We arrived, cleared customs, and met our bush pilot that would be flying us by King air to our hunting area. I can't prove it but I would bet that our pilot was drunk when we took off. I had the not so pleasurable experience of sitting in the front seat with him for the flight. I looked out the window to see that the engine cover had blown off of the right engine. Of course I panicked and told him what I had just seen. He looked out and said,” Well, it obviously didn't hit the tail so we should be good.” I didn't want to hear that we should be good; I wanted to hear that we were going to be just fine. By the Good Lord's grace alone we landed on a grass airstrip and were met by our PH's.

We unloaded our gear and made the three-hour drive to camp. The full moon was rising over a huge lake in front of our camp and it might have been one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I couldn't wait to start out hunting. After all, we were in Tanzania this was wild Africa. Our first day hunting in the Selous was spent looking for tracks. During the day we saw a lot of lion, leopard, and elephant tracks. The landscape is for the most part very flat with thick bush. I managed to shoot two impala and a zebra, which we used for leopard bait. We hung three different leopard baits. We used the entire impala for bait and a hindquarter each from the zebra. BY the second morning we had leopard hitting one of the baits. Unfortunately the leopard hitting our bait looked to be a female so we continued on looking for tracks. While looking for tracks my PH spotted a huge eland. I made a great shot on him at about 350 yards. We only had to track him about a hundred yards where we found him still alive. It took three more shots with my double rifle to finish him. I was shocked at how tough this animal was.

After skinning this huge antelope we set up under the canopy of huge Eucalyptus trees for lunch. I watched in shock and disgust as the natives placed chunks of square eland fat on sticks and held it over a fire. As the fat popped and burned I thought to myself that there is no way they are going to eat that. Not only did they eat it, the PH ate it as well. They begged me to try it, but I just couldn't bring myself to eat burned eland fat. As the evening progressed I killed a beautiful impala, he was the biggest I had seen while I was there. On our way back to camp we checked the baits and it looked as if a male leopard had hit the bait.

The following day I watched as the trackers built the most amazing blind. They literally crafted a blind that looked exactly like the thickets that surrounded the area. Afterwards, my PH and I settled into the blind. The anticipation of leopard coming to our bait was exciting. Every bird that flew I convinced myself to be a leopard. Then when my PH motioned with his fingers that a leopard was walking right outside our blind, I really got excited. The leopard luckily was on the up wind side and literally so close you couldn't make out the whole cat. I could see a few spots and at one point his foot. Each of his steps could be heard as they crushed the dry leaves under them. Ever so slowly he walked towards the tree where the zebra hindquarter hung.

At the base of the tree he stopped walking and twitched the last ten inches of his tail from left to right. It was hot and he panted constantly with the tip of his curled pink tongue protruding out of his mouth. As I remember this I didn't hear a sound nor see anything but the cat. Then with a growl and effortless leap he was on the limb with the bait in under a second. He walked out on the limb and with one paw pulled the bait onto the limb with him. I very vividly recall thinking these animals strength is unreal. As he began to chew on the leg, I leveled the sights of the 500/465 on the cats shoulder. Easing the safety forward I moved to the crease behind the shoulder and about half way between his shoulder blades and brisket. As I waited on the “go” from my PH the big cat continued to feed. It seemed like an eternity but finally I heard,” Take him.”

As the recoil from the big double caused my vision to blur for a second the cat crumpled and fell onto the limb. My next sight was the cat falling upside down onto the dead leaves 15 feet below the zebra's leg. “Good”, I heard Paddy (PH) say. “ When a cat falls 15 feet with his back landing first they are usually dead. He was right the big cat never moved a muscle. This was the pinnacle of my entire hunting career. Since I was old enough to look at pictures I wanted a leopard and I had one. We took photographs for over an hour. The natives went crazy when they saw him, singing and dancing. Apparently it is a ritual to have a party when a big cat is killed.

They picked me up and carried me around for two or three minutes; all the while chanting something in Swahili. Without question this was the most wonderful moment in my hunting career and it may very well remain that until the end. A few days later I found myself in awe as the trackers tracked a buffalo through areas I couldn't see anything. Frankly, there were times when I really thought they were lying. But, at the end of their tracking job stood a nice bull. With two shots from the double rifle I had taken my first cape buffalo and was addicted to Cape buffalo hunting forever. What a rush! We used the hindquarters of my buffalo for lion bait. This was done in the same manner as leopard but not hung nearly as high. We hung the hindquarters just high enough that the hyenas couldn't get it.

The following day a lion had hit our bait. As I looked at the tracks of this lion I was amazed at its size. I had hunted mountain lion for 15 years but this track was different. It was more then twice the size and you could tell it was a heavy cat. Again our trackers built a blind and we climbed inside. Within thirty minutes there was a huge male lion standing at our bait. The thought to shoot him never crossed my mind, as he had no mane. However, my PH told me that in this area the brush is so thick and it is so hot they don't have much mane. After he said that I started to lower the double out of the blind. The bait was 75 yards away and I slammed a huge bullet into the lion's chest. He turned and started running right at our blind. I waited until he was 20 yards away and tucked another bullet into his left eye. I wasn't aiming at his left eye but I was aiming at his head. This ended the lion hunt and I was once again hoisted onto the shoulders of the natives and paraded around. I wrote in my journal,” I’ve got to be dreaming.”

During the next couple of days we hunted buffalo. We stalked some but due to wind change or lack of big bulls we never fired a shot. On one of those days as we were approaching a waterhole for lunch, we saw a huge hippo take off into the bush. By now, Paddy knew better then to ask me if I wanted to hunt it. Of course I did, if I could hunt anything I wanted to. Our head tracker took off with his eyes at the ground. We ended up in a creek with high banks about six to ten feet high on both sides. As we were rounding a bend the tracker stopped abruptly and started backing up. As my PH urged me forward the hippo was standing at about 30 steps facing us.

With a grunt he charged and there was nowhere to go. I leveled the sights of the double between the hippo's eyes and fired the right barrel. As my finger moved to the back trigger the hippo fell and never moved again. From my tracks in the sand to the tip of his nose were 11 steps. We all laughed at how close of a call it was, I was congratulated on my shooting and the ardent task of cleaning 3 tons of hippo began.

He had magnificent ivory and his charge had burned a memory in my brain forever. As the natives were skinning him, I have to admit that I walked away for a minute and shed a tear. My dying father had given me this rifle and with it I had saved my own life. I prayed that he would live long enough for me to tell him that story.

By the end of our safari my friend had been charged by a buffalo and an elephant. Likewise, a buffalo and a hippo had charged me. We had both killed leopard and lion and a host of plains game. I had seen trackers do things that I couldn't believe. I had seen beauty like nothing I can begin to describe. Africa will be at the very top of memories for as long as I am living. There are no words that I can write to adequately depict its wild beauty. Suffice it to say that it is a hunters dream. Finally to make it all even better, I did come home and place that rifle in my father's frail hands and say,” Dad, this gun saved my life, thank you.”

Posted by Dan Braman under Hunting on July 5, 10 09:34 PM | Permalink

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