The “Trout triangle” in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa lies between the towns of Belfast, Dullstroom and Machadodorp. This area is also known as the Highveld region due to its height above sea level and thus its colder climate. This makes the area the ideal home for Trout, as they prefer cold water environments. This is also why the area is so popular amongst fly fishermen as it offers many opportunities to target Trout on fly.
It is not common knowledge but the region also offers spectacular plains game hunting opportunities for those who enjoy the challenge of walk and stalk hunting in open terrain. Long distance shots of 200 meters and more is the norm, as in most instances the open terrain does not offer much in the form of vegetation for a hunter to use as cover, as the landscape is predominantly made up of grasslands.
This however, does make it even more rewarding when successfully hunting an animal in the open terrain as the sense of achievement is so much greater. Typically, the more flat shooting calibers are the norm for hunting in the Highveld and you will see a lot of faster 6mm, 6.5mm and 7mm rifles being used. However the bigger .308 calibers will be better suited to taking the larger Highveld species such as Zebra and Eland.
Our first hunt of the 2016 season was a special one, and one we have been looking forward to for quite a while. Emile and I left on a Friday afternoon for Fins Estate near Belfast, to meet up with our Professional Hunter and host for the weekend, Nick Van Noordwyk. We met Nick at Fins Estate and after settling into our cosy 4 star quality cottage, he suggested that we spend some time the afternoon practicing our long range shots on the shooting range, before we head out on our plains game the hunt the following morning. He said that the shots will average between 150 and 250 meters as it is still early in the season and the game won’t be that wary of hunters yet.
Steel gong targets were available to shoot on the shooting range from 100 to 1000 meters, and although we were not anticipating any 1000 meter shots on game the following day that did not stop us from taking a shot at the 1km gong… We were happy with our shooting capabilities and equipment, and we had just enough ammunition left for the following days hunt. Just before the sun went down, we took out our fly rods and made a few casts at the pond closest to our cottage. I caught a nice little Rainbow of about 800 grams on a #12 Olive Damselfly Nymph, which nicely rounded off our first day on Fins Estate.
A wooden fire and a fine single malt kept us warm that evening and with a chilly breeze moving across the night sky, one could feel that autumn has almost started to settle in.
The next morning we were up and ready at 06:30 am and our PH Nick gave us a safety and hunting briefing before we went out and into the veld. We drove into the concession where the day’s hunt would commence and after spotting a herd of Blesbuck in the distance, we stopped and started our hunt on foot. Slowly walking and glancing the landscape, we then spotted an old solitary Blackwildebeest bull standing about 300 meters from us. Fortunately there was a hill between us and the old bull and we could approach it from behind the cover offered by the rocky outcrop. The wind was not in our favour and we had to stalk the animal from its left hand side, being cautious not to make him aware of our presence.
With my .243 Winchester Howa in hand, I started my final approach with the animal at 163 meters from us. I spotted a rock which could accommodate my rifle’s bipod and so I went prone. Not wasting too much time, I adjusted my Aimpoint Monopod and planned the execution of my shot. The Blackwildebeest bull was looking in our direction but still unaware of our presence. As he turned his head, and looked away from us, my riflescope’s crosshair settled on his right ear and I gently squeezed the Howa’s trigger. The shot went off and the old bull fell in its tracks. Emile and I approached the bull whilst Nick went back to fetch the truck to load the animal. It was a magnificent old bull and his horns had a lot of character. We took some photos and then loaded the animal onto the back of the truck.
On our way to the cold room, we spotted a few Blesbuck on the opposite hill from where we found ourselves. We stopped the vehicle, got out and slowly started to stalk the Blesbuck. There were 3 big bodied rams with one being noticeably older than the other two. I focused my attention on the older ram as it was definitely past its breeding potential. I settled down in the dirt and adjusted my bipod until I was comfortable with my position. Nick ranged the animal at exactly 200 meters and just as I was about to take aim the Blesbuck ram went onto its knees and lied down, facing our direction. His head was dead still so I opted for a head shot. My 200 meter crosshair settled between his eyes and I squeezed the Howa’s trigger. I could see his head dropping after the shot went off and I was happy that the shot was executed as planned.
After taking some photos of the beautiful old Blesbuck ram we took the two carcasses to the cold room before heading back into the concession. We drove up a hill were we parked the truck and Nick offered us some coffee from his Stanley flask and some homemade rusks that his wife baked. This time it was Emile’s turn to hunt a Blackwildebeest and a Blesbuck. We left the truck after our coffee break, and walked for about 1km before we spotted a herd of Blackwildebeest. Suddenly I noticed that the soles from my Blundstone boots were literally disintegrating as we were stalking the herd, and I was basically walking bare foot with only my socks and a few shards of rubber sole offering protection for my feet against the rocky terrain.
None the less, we slowly approached the herd, ever so careful of not being seen or heard by the many eyes and ears not too far away. Suddenly the wind changed and the Blackwildebeest herd picked up our scent and steadily started moving away from us. Luckily, one of the bulls stayed behind and Emile decided to stalk the bull. It had a very prominent hump above its shoulders and one could see that it was also past its prime.
The old bull seemed aware of something but he stood his ground and just stared vaguely into our direction. Emile settled onto one of the many rocks on the hill where we found ourselves, and he positioned himself for the shot. Nick ranged the animal at 153 meters and shortly thereafter the shot went off from Emile’s Tikka T3 rifle in .308 Winchester. One could hear a promising “thud” as the 130gr Barnes TTSX bullet hit the animal. The bull could not make 12 meters before he went down. Emile gave the Blackwildebeest bull a perfect angled heart shot and the bullet penetrated the animal from its chest until its stomach. The recovered bullet’s weight retention was 129.1gr, which speaks volumes of its effectiveness and quality of material.
After a quick photo session it was time for Emile to find a Blesbuck, and it didn’t take long before we spotted a few Blesbuck standing and about 400 meters, downhill from us. As we didn’t have much of a backdrop for cover, Emile stalked the small herd on his own whilst Nick and I hung back to prevent the animals from spotting one of us. Emile didn’t take too long and he shot his Blesbuck at 168 meters. The 130gr Barnes TTSX bullet went right through the Blesbuck and the animal expired after another well placed vital shot by Emile.
As we were setting up the animal for a photo session, I spotted a lone Blesbuck ram coming over the ridge at about 250 meters from us and as we still had one more Blesbuck left on our quota, I decided to take him if an opportunity presents itself.
I positioned myself amongst the Highveld shrubs and as the animal came to a standstill at 158 meters, I placed my crosshair behind his ear and squeezed the trigger. It went down immediately and I was very happy with the shot.
After we took photos of both animals we headed to the cold room for the animals to be skinned and hung in the cold room.
We were very fortunate as it was one of those days where everything went according to plan. Our PH and host, Nick was one of the most pleasant people that I have ever met, and he has a wealth of hunting and shooting knowledge to share. He made us feel more like friends than clients and not once did he make us feel rushed to take a shot. We will definitely be back to visit him again in future and to enjoy all the splendour that the Highveld’s “Trout triangle” has to offer.
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