Jess & Cynthia De Klerk and their girls showed me, Jen & Norissa, (Hosts of “Universal Huntress” TV) and Kappie (our producer) to each of our rooms. The first thing I noticed about my room was the modern amenities and the close attention to detail, from the taxidermy mounts to the interior design. It was chic and modern, yet warm and traditional, all at the same time. I drew the curtains back and got an eye full of that little piece of heaven again, the African plains. I took a deep breath in and felt at peace with my surroundings and an intense excitement for our hunts in the days to come. Before you knew it, they had lit a bonfire at the bottom of the mountain and began a “Braai”. We country folk call that barbecuing, but I tell you what, it didn’t matter what it was called; the meat that we ate that night was slow roasted over hot coals to perfection. It was then we knew we were going to gain a few pounds on this trip. The cooking was too good to pass up. Everything they prepared for us was delicious. Afterwards, we all sat in the beautiful lodge and told hunting stories to each other until it was time to retire to bed.
When morning came, it was time to get the real fun started! We suited up and piled into the back of Jess’ truck. Jess was also serving as the “PH” (Professional Hunter) for our hunts, and with over 20 years of experience and a vast knowledge of the land and African animals, we knew we were in good hands. The first thing I noticed as we headed out was the different look of the land from other areas in Africa I had visited. The topography included rolling plains with very little bush which we immediately knew meant for a more challenging hunt due to of lack of cover. The second thing I noticed was the steep mountain range that pushed up to the plains. We hadn’t yet experienced walking and stalking through mountains in Africa. We also noticed the animals around this area traveled in large packs, grouped up with their own species and sometimes the groups interlaced with other species.
They were easy to spot from far away and beautiful to watch through our binoculars but difficult to sneak up on because there were always a large number of eyes to see us, noses to smell us, and ears to hear us coming. Instead of letting that worry us about our hunts to come, we looked at this like a challenge that we were definitely up for! The first hunt was Jen’s, and we weren’t exactly sure for what. We were going to see what we came across and what the land presented on our hunt. Up ahead was a small group of Ostriches, and Jen really wanted to hunt one of these because they are hard to hunt, taste great, and provide plenty of beautiful leather for making clothing and shoes. The first couple of times we came upon a group of Ostriches, we were spotted by them, and it wasn’t long before they were sprinting across the fields faster than I imagined they could go. But after hours of hunting, we finally were able to sneak up onto the top of a small ridge above them, belly crawl to the edge of the ridge. Jen was able to get in a prone position and make a clean shot on a fine male. He dropped immediately, and we had our first Free State harvest! Jen was ecstatic because the animal had been on her bucket list for a while and she was already planning what she was going to get made from the hide provided!
Next up in the hot seat was Norissa, who had a certain animal on her bucket list as well, the mighty Eland. Hunting the Eland made for a little more difficult hunt than we expected, it took us a few days before we actually got the opportunity to get much action on one. In the midst of those days, we were out in the field hunting and came upon a herd of blesboks. Norissa almost got a shot, but they were moving constantly and she was unable to get a clean one so she passed. She hadn’t yet given up on her hunt for the Eland and neither did Jess. They were determined to hunt and harvest a great bull. Their tenacity finally paid off the day before Norissa had to leave. We were watching a herd too far away to shoot when, out of nowhere, a massive eland bull presented himself along the ridge side. The eland spotted us so we didn’t have much time. Norissa managed to get comfortable on the shooting sticks, the animal stopped in his tracks and gave her a perfect broad- side shot. He ran just a little, which worried us because he was on a steep ridge, but then he finally dropped. He rolled into a wash out along the side of the mountain. He was massive and you could tell from his horns. They were starting to turn out the way an old bull ready to be harvested does. Norissa was so excited especially because she was pretty sure the bull she had just gotten was in fact bigger than the one her husband had harvested years prior on his own hunting adventure in Africa. Nothing wrong with a little friendly competition!
Jess had staff come and help us recover this bull from the mountain side, and it wasn’t long after we were eating Ostrich and Eland that night. Talk about field to fork! Both animals were very tasty, and I don’t know if it was Cynthia and her staff’s wonderful cooking or whether eland is just that delicious, but I can without a doubt say that eland is the best meat I have ever tasted in my life. We then decided to take a break from hunting the next day and film some promotional shots for the TV show we were filming, “Universal Huntress”. We also got some footage of me singing our theme song “Let’s Ride” featuring No.1 selling country music rapper, Colt Ford. With the scenery that beautiful, there was no way we were missing the opportunity to film as much as we could. We road those dirt roads driving up Witkop and I sang “We’re never lost on this journey that we’re on from coast to coast, the destination is the hunt, it ain’t about where you end in life, it’s all about how you live the ride so let’s ride”. Those words couldn’t ring any more true for us and this journey we have been on this past year. Continuing our journey, I was next up in the hot seat. I knew I wanted to harvest a “Free State Ferrari”, also known as a Black Wildebeest, and I also really wanted a red hartebeest. Our hunt started with us stalking a herd of males up a mountain. We couldn’t see where they had gone on the other side of the ridge, so we walked and crawled up to the top to get a good look at them.
Before we knew it, we were spotted and away the herd went. Those “Free State Ferraris” were living up to their name because before you knew it they were gone. We went back and hunted the plains and began to stalk a few more male Wildebeest. Jess informed me that the ones we were stalking weren’t old enough, and you could tell that by the “Bosses” on their heads. If the Bosses were close together and rigid at the bases, that indicated it was an older male. Even though stalking the Wildebeest was unsuccessful, closer to us were some red hartebeests. We took cover behind some rock and waited until we could find an impressive male in the pack. Jess found the largest male that looked a good age and gave me the best two words I could hear at that moment, “Take him.” I was able to get a perfect shot on him at about 112 yards and he dropped immediately. That’s the shot most hunters always strive for but never happens, so I was very happy with our success.
Then the following day, we went white water rafting which was a thrilling yet soothing experience. With Class 3 and 4 rapids, our adrenaline was certainly pumping, but you couldn’t help but be at peace with the view of the countryside as you floated along with the hundreds of weeping willows.
On went the hunt! Not long after, Jess told us that he felt that same herd had migrated to the other side of this ridge so we went to investigate. We found that same herd of impressive males in the distance so we decided to walk and stalk through the tall grass. Before you knew it, we were being stalked. Three curious Cape Buffalo had wanted to check out why we were being so sneaky, and they decided to investigate us by following us closely. I couldn’t help but be concerned given how dangerous an animal they are, but Jess assured me that they would leave us alone. Even though he eased my us fears a little, I was still trying to plan how to out run him with the TV show producer and cameraman, Kappie. My .308 would just have made them mad if we got attacked and I had to use it! Every man for himself! I am actually joking, but I was on edge at the time until they, in fact, did back away from us. By then, we had approached the herd of black wildebeest and Jess saw an older bull off to the left and at about 200 yards. He told me, “Take him.” We had good cover on the edge of the grass and I took the shot. The bull ran a little and then fell. They are extremely hard to take down given their massive size. I had just harvested my second animal of the trip! The bull was very old, we could tell from his Bosses and teeth, and probably would have died in the near future. I was very pleased with the outcome of our hunt and Jess’ knowledge of the best animal to harvest.
That afternoon we went out to hunt for the last time on our trip to the Free State of South Africa. I ended up harvesting a beautiful white blesbok. I made a shot at over 300 yards and didn’t drop him immediately. In flight, the bullet dropped a little lower then I had predicted. After following him, I took a second fatal shot straight through his heart. What an impressive male he was, and what a way to end our journey at Witkop with such a beautiful creature harvested.
This whole safari really challenged each and every one of us, but I think that’s the whole point of the experience. Even when at times we walked and stalked and crawled and lined our crosshairs up just right, it can feel like a letdown when you’re spotted or the animal is spooked and essentially it can feel like you lose the game. But at the end of the day, did you really? Even though we eventually each got the animals we set out to get, that isn’t the point. The destination wasn’t what made it, but the journey we had while searching for that harvest. That’s what makes it so gratifying once your animal is finally hunted completely and goes down. You know you have worked hard for that animal and take pride in posing with it, in eating it, and in knowing its meat will provide for people in need. The shots not taken, the friendships built, and all of the experiences involved in the whole adventure are what make the journey and define the hunt. As the sun set into the African plains, the sky was painted yellow, orange, and purple. It was time to say goodbye to Witkop Safaris, the little piece of heaven on Earth. We can’t wait to show you the experiences in color on the show, “Universal Huntress” on The Sportsman Channel at 8 PM PST. My new song release “Let’s Ride” featuring Colt Ford, inspired by our African adventures, is on iTunes now. Please visit www.iTunes.com/Morgan-Mills and download a copy!