It was well before daylight when we woke up the morning of the vaal rhebok hunt — the earliest morning of all of our hunts. It was also very cold. We had an hour+ drive to reach the 22,000-acre, low-fenced sheep farm that boasted some of the highest mountaintops in the Sneeuburg mountain range in the broader mountain area known as the Karoo. We drove an hour over roads that don’t really compare to anything we have in the states. The closest comparison I can think of is bump gate roads in West Texas. It felt like we were on private property, and some of the time we were, but they were public dirt roads.
We arrived at the sheep farm and my PH, Stix, went into the main home to let the owner know we were there. Our primary reason for stopping was to pick up Puie, the sheep farmer’s ranch hand who lived on the property with his family. Puie had spent his entire life on the ranch and knew it better than anyone. We left the homestead and flatlands to head up into the mountains. Stix had warned us that some of the switchbacks required three-point turns, and sure enough, he wasn’t joking. A standard truck purposefully backing down cliff-faced roads added a bit of adrenaline to the hunt!
Vaal rhebok hunting starts with glassing huge expanses of land, and fairly quickly, we spotted a group with about seven “vaalies.” I got set up and we thought the hunt would be quickly over. Unfortunately (but kind of fortunately) there was no ram in the group. We watched the group cross the face of a mountainside and then continued on.
This vaalie hunt was absolutely a team effort. We all spread out over the mountain to glass different areas. Stix spotted two females down near a canyon, but we couldn’t see very much of the land surrounding them so Stix took off on a “casual” run down the mountain to get a better angle. Not sure how far he ran, but the long steep incline was no walk in the park. This unnecessary but helpful and exhausting round trip stood out to us as just one of the many ways that John X Safaris team members went above and beyond for us during our time in South Africa. There was no ram in the canyon's proximity, but in the meantime, Puie had spotted a ram on the other side of the summit. Once Stix got back, we hightailed it to Puie's position, but by the time we got there, it was gone. Our group had been upwind from the ram, and we’re pretty confident he had winded us.
Fortunately, we had a big group that day and Stix's tracker, Olwethu, had spotted the same ram running down and around the mountain. SO … we packed up again and took off for the other quadrant of the hillside. We got to a rocky vantage point and spotted the ram at 510 yards. Stix was almost frantic at this point — for him, this hunt was personal. This same ram had been missed the year before by a different John X hunter and two weeks before by Stix’s client in 60 mph gusting winds. This area had been inaccessible for the previous couple of weeks because of rare snowfall. Stix was amped about this ram.
We set up so quickly that I ended up using my binoculars standing on end as the rear support on my rifle. I held .75 MOA of wind with my 6.5 Creedmoor and fired at 510 yards. The Hornady 143 gr. ELD-X ammo did the job; it was a perfect hit. I’ll never forget how emotional the next few minutes were. Stix said, “I was almost yelling at you because I was just frantic panicked because he’s such a big ram!” High fives were flying every which way – between me, Cherise, Stix, Ozzie our cameraman, Olwethu our tracker, and Puie the sheep farm ranch hand, we had the best and most excited team in the country.
We hiked down to see the vaal rhebok up close and discovered the unique qualities of this Tiny Ten species. Their hair is more akin to fur — he felt like a fuzzy jackrabbit. Their eyes are disproportionately big for their heads giving them excellent eyesight. My ram’s horns were 9” and 8.75”, which for a vaalie is about as good as it gets.
As we were celebrating and taking photos, we got another adrenaline shot when Puie spotted a jackal running across the hillside above us. In a “not sure what just happened” flash, Stix grabbed Derrick’s rifle, swung around, and dropped the jackal at 250 yards. Jackals are extremely destructive predators on sheep farms so Puie was thrilled, and we got to see a jackal up close for the first time.
Two of the funniest moments from this hunt include the making of Ozzie’s random smartphone video introducing his handmade Samuel the South African Snowman as well as Puie’s first ever experience with a drone. As Ozzie attempted to get beautiful, natural footage of the recovery, Puie was in awe of the drone and kept trying to look at it in the sky with his binoculars. Stix tried to explain to him in the Xhosa language that there was an eye inside the contraption that could see us and film us. Oh, what we take for granted these days.
The vaal rhebok hunt will go down as one of the most unique and memorable hunts I’ve ever been on. Standing at 7,000 feet altitude in South Africa with 100-mile views to the south, 50-mile views to the north, and wildlife I’d never seen before has a way of resetting perspective and embedding gratitude deep in our hearts.
South Africa is an epic place and my vaal rhebok will always be a special trophy.
Watch the video of Derrick's vaal rhebok hunt here. If you're interested in joining us in Africa in July 2018, sign up to join our Africa Hunt List to receive more information including Derrick's tips & tricks, an invitation to our Africa Info Night, and more.