Hunting and Tacos in South Africa

You were expecting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? Nah. Not my style.

Hot sauce though, that’s another story. I like a good hot sauce and I love tacos. Almost sa much as I love really amazing cheeseburgers. You have no idea how far I’ll go for a good taco or a great cheeseburger. South Africa is not helpful toward either of those habits. To start with, hot sauce of any sort of quality or flavor is hard to get in a lot of South Africa. It mostly consists of peri-peri which can be anything from entirely sweet to straight up napalm and there’s no telling what’s inside the bottle. So too is ready made taco seasoning almost impossible to find. I had to make both hot sauce and taco seasoning during my pair of taco crafting exercises but for one occasion I had a couple retail sauces to start with so only the taco seasoning was from scratch. For the other I had to do both the hot sauce and the taco seasoning from scratch.

For taco seasoning: Start with cumin seeds (they’re easy enough to find) and dried oregano and a little marjoram if it’s around then grind into a powder. Add some salt and pepper if you like. You’ll need a solid tablespoon of cumin per kilo of meat and you’ll probably want more than that, especially if you’re using minced sheep meat instead of minced beef (sheep is very popular in South Africa). Use .5 units of oregano to 1 unit of ground to powder cumin seeds with just a pinch of marjoram if you use it at all.

It’s easy enough to make taco shells with some corn flour (they call it pup and spell it pap and if you need to use it to make tortillas you’ll need to grind it into a flour in a coffee grinder before making tortillas with it). See below for a recipe however you can actually find them in a surprising number of stores, notably in extremely small towns. The odd thing is, in my experience, you’re not likely to find taco shells in the larger towns for some reason unless you go to one of the huge supermarkets, of which there are few and then it’s hit and miss. In the tiny towns there seems to be a curious tendency for there to be one or two boxes of Ortega shells.

To make my own hot sauce I used a saucepan with vinegar and dried chili flakes and boiled it down until it was suitably spicy. Then just mix that with some tomato sauce, finely chopped onion, lemon or lime juice and some granulated garlic and oregano. Mix that and let it sit a bit for the flavors to combine. For guacamole, add all that stuff to smushed avocado instead of tomato sauce. Now, how about some tales of the hunting?

My trip started with a journey to the Karoo to my friend Kudu van Klipspringer’s farm. We did some farm work and then some hunting and then I taught some folks about long range and PRS/NRL style shooting and external ballistics. Then some more farm work and a little wanton destruction of garbage scopes and then it was more or less time to leave to my next destination.

The wanton destruction is pictured below. We have a no-name 4x on the bottom that was not awesome which we punched with a 178gr ELD hand load from a suppressed Accuracy International .308win on the bottom. The scope took a solid 30m airborne journey upon impact but we didn’t get penetration through the ocular bell. Above that is a truly terrible BSA which we punched in the face with a 285gr ELD hand load out of a suppressed Accuracy International .338 Lapua. This also didn’t experience the bullet coming out of the back. Instead the bullet shattered every single lens except the farthest rearward ocular lens with fragments while the main body of the bullet popped out the rear side of the objective bell. The top one was a Primary Arms 4-14x SFP which wasn’t as terrible as the others but still deserved a whipping. We punched it in the face with a .50BMG chambered Accuracy International AX50 running Primetake Omega 800gr brass solids. The bullet punched through the objective and then left the objective bell and rode down the main tube exploding every single lens in the scope all the way to the back. My first hollow tube, even if the bullet did the work from the outside. The block of wood it’s on was so deeply imprinted with the turret housing and erector support screw that it sat totally flat on the wood and the main tube even impressed into the block a bit. A large man could hit that wood with a 16oz ball peen hammer and not make a dent that deep. What a magical day.

Friends don’t let friends buy shitty scopes.

As far as the hunting at KVK’s place, the neighbor wanted a particular black wildebeest (Connochaetes gnou) bull pulled out of his herd so that a massively better looking bull could take over the herd and he’d get the benefit of those improved genetics. After a couple half days of hunting we were able to find them and get a stalk on. Stalking wildebeest is hard as they’ve very wary and they love to run. As a matter of fact, I’ve been counseled only partially jokingly to not shoot wildebeest in the body as it just provides them more air to fuel them running. In my experience with black and blue wildebeest, that’s probably more true than joke.

We got to a little ditch which provided a bit of cover and I leveled the Accuracy International .308 stoked with 178gr ELD’s and put one in the wildebeest’s noggin. It dropped like its feet disappeared and we went forth to claim our prize. Because I was in a pretty awful position for shooting and the thing wasn’t totally still and there was a little wind that I didn’t hold for the bullet impacted just right of center and we ended up with a mostly dead wildebeest.

It was not conscious and it would never regain consciousness but the heart was still beating and we couldn’t have that, it messed with the whole vibe. A quick 9mm to the back of the brain stem ended that and we now had a completely dead wildebeest. Not a massive example but a good size one and a very nice and characteristic example of the species. It’ll get flat skinned and the head European mounted. As soon as I shot this guy the herd flat ran toward the other more impressive bull about a half mile away and so, 100% mission success!

Black Wildebeest and a happy hunter.

At the end of my long range course one of the students who I’ll refer to simply as “my host” mentioned that if I was going to be in the Free State province the next weekend that he had a blesbok (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi) with my name on it. Me not being one to look a gift horse or blesbok in the mouth, I quickly accepted and after moving a few things around and arranging a road trip it was on.

We did a proper roughing it style hunt, sleeping in tents in very chilly weather and cooking everything over open fire. We weren’t roving around in a bakkie (pronounced bucky and meaning a pickup truck) in a tightly fenced in enclosure. There was an abundance of open grassland with herds running around on it and we hunted it the way you hunt such places, by posting up in a propitious spot and waiting. There were herds of blesbok and gemsbok and eland till hell wouldn’t have it and we had a great time just observing them. My host and his brother and I posted up just below the top of a grass covered hill and waited our turn. The herd would come in as far as 300m but didn’t provide a shot until they’d backed off to 500m. I usually all 400m my limit for shooting at game but with the rifle I was running and the way the wind was and how steady my rest was, I was happy enough that I’d not fuck it up to take the shot.

The way blesbok seem to like to move around is they’ll stay in a tight pack and just run like they’re on fire. Then they suddenly stop and mill around in a tightly packed circle a bit like a mosh pit without the moshing or music. Occasionally one will pop out of the edge for a few seconds and that’s your window. I was looking for anything with bones on top but the biggest ram in the bunch decided it was his day and squirted out from the herd giving me just about 5 seconds to get dialed, get steady, figure out my wind hold, exhale slowly and squeeze the loud lever. The gun was a Winchester M70 CRF in .243AI running 105gr Nosler RDF’s that had been pointed and was well suppressed. I used a .243AI running 115’s for a few years in PRS so I knew how the thing would handle in the wind. I was initially a little dubious about the pointed RDF’s but after the bullet punched through the on-side shoulder it destroyed the big pipes coming from the heart and from there one pointing of the RDF’s was a moot issue. By the time the bullet hit the far side shoulder it was (judging by the hole size) already expanded to about .5″ and made a nice .75″ exit so it clearly expanded well if a bit on the late side and made a good amount of blood leakage so tracking would have been easy if we had to bother with that.

The buck meandered around for about 30 yards and then fell down rolling up the curtain and joining the choir invisible. The bases are quite large and between that and the horn height it looks like it’ll make Rowland Ward and SCI trophy grade. What a hunt. I would very much like to try again next year and see if I can’t get a ewe. It was an awesome weekend of real rough country camping and hunting and just enough other guys in camp to have a lot of great conversation without anybody managing to sort out anyone else.

As is my custom, this will get European mounted. One of these days I’ll also get the related bontebok (Damaliscus pygargus pygargus) which has a much more intricately wonderful pelt and I’ll have the pelt flat skinned. Blesbok are a Least Concern animal but Bontebok are on the CITES list but since they only really exist on farms. It’s ok to harvest bontebok from registered farms with the right paperwork and then to import the trophy to the USA. Although paperwork seems not to matter since nobody in the USA has ever asked about my trophies at all.

Blesbok down in the grass. Look at that shoulder hit. Perfection.

Once the blesbok hunt was in the books and a few flat tires later we finished making our way over to Bloemfontein to hand me off to another friend of mine who we’ll call Pox to spend a week at his farm doing farm work and a little hunting if the opportunity presented itself. A couple days in Pox decided to take me over to his honey hole and see what we could see. His farm is a cattle ranch, not a game farm so it doesn’t have high fences and game can come and go as it pleases. This means hunting is very much catch as catch can. We pulled up to the area and after dismounting the truck and popping around a cattle fence and up a cliff face a bit we were happy to see a beast of a warthog (Phacochoerus africanus) out munching and mulling about. We put a pause on shooting the pig for the moment and proceeded up to the optimal observation point and what do we see? A big eland (Taurotragus oryx) bull standing there at 230m just aching to lay down suddenly. Just off to the right and a little further out than the eland at around 260m was a short-horned but good sized waterbuck (Kobus ellipsiprymnus). To kick it all in the pants, the warthog was still there behind me about 200m. All three were at about a 10 degree down angle and didn’t seem to notice us peering at them.

After some brief discussion I took the eland with a quick head shot from a suppressed T/C Compass in .308win filled with 150gr Game Kings and it went right down. I immediately shucked in another shell and just as my buddy said, “Now the waterbuck.” I put the crosshairs on the buck’s bean and, BANG, breached bro’s brain. Boom! Bonus buck.

As soon as we heard the impact we saw the waterbuck hit the dirt just as I opened the bolt and pulled back on the handle. I then stood quickly, did an abrupt about face turn and started the 3 step jog back to a big rock that was behind me to get a shot at the hog. Just as Pox and I confirmed that we would make it a hat trick I settled the crosshair on the pig’s ear and without further ado punched a hole in its brain. The bullet entered the ear and exited the opposite eye with minimal carnage.

The whole thing took less than 30 seconds from stabilizing for the first shot to firing the last shot and included 2 positional changes with one of those changes including a change of location. I was rested on large rocks each time but the extremely light hunting weight rifle and Uncle Mikes sling swivels getting in the way of a solid rest didn’t really help with stability so I fell back on the skills picked up in competition shooting circles over the decades and created my own stability for each shot. For the first 2 shots I used the neoprene sling under the rifle to pad the rifle and the swivels and grabbed the top of the scope PRS barricade style. For the warthog I flattened out the swivels and went minimum biological input just resting the rifle in position till I could get a trigger pull with the crosshairs where they needed to be. With stability not really an issue anymore, I was able to focus on the reticle and on my wind call and just do the job I was there to do. Know your gear, trust it and know your limits and trust yourself and you can do pretty amazing stuff under time pressure in the real world. To get there, PRS/NRL is a good way to find your limits and improve on them.

Warthog, Waterbuck, Eland. I’m sitting on the waterbuck. It’s big bodied but small horned.

The eland made Rowland Ward and SCI by a nice enough margin to be pretty pleased with myself about. Even if trophies aren’t the goal, they’re still nice to get. The warthog would certainly qualify as well but you have to pull the tusks for official measurement and I want the European mount which means not taking an axe to the nasal bones to get the tusks out. The waterbuck was a meat source and way way smaller in the horns than would be even appropriate for hanging on the wall. Since I’m in it for the fun, challenge, camaraderie with my friends and the memories I don’t mind but I won’t taxidermy the waterbuck. The eland and warthog will be Euro mounted as will be the blue wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) I shot a couple days later.

We didn’t get pics of the blue wildebeest because we forgot. It was a smallish cow and was part of a hunt to get them off another farmers property where they’d invaded so he could use the dirt for cattle grazing. I’ll get a bull someday but I’m still having the cow European mounted because it’s not a bad little skull and is full of memories, if no longer brains. I took the blue after having just sat down under a tree and starting to wiggle my ass into the rock. As soon as I started getting comfy there comes the herd about 325m away on a small hill just the other side of a clear open grassy field. I radioed to Pox and the landowner that I’d found the herd and gave a heading and distance from me and my position and then I leveled the suppressed and chassis stocked .375 Ruger stoked with GS Custom bullets using a knees up sitting position and fired. The slap of the bullet and the jump of the animal told me I got it but it didn’t just go down.

A subsequent search for blood turned up none meaning it was probably a gut shot and we’d have to find it. Pox and one of my favorite long range students of all time (a 13 year old girl that has zero quit in her, a bubbly personality and turned out to be a fantastic student who I’ll call Minnie for now) who’d joined the hunt just for giggles managed to find it hiding under a tree after Minnie kept hearing twigs snap and insisting that they check it out. After getting me over there where I could just see its back I layed the .375 Ruger over Pox’s shoulder and put the finisher in. Then while Pox went to get the bakkie Minnie and I dragged my wildebeest to the trail. Minnie isn’t a big kid at all (she’d be lucky to weigh 70lbs soaking wet) but she’s as tough as a railroad spike and she really was as helpful as a grown man and totally necessary to me getting the blue dragged to the road. Kids are tough if you let them be. Girl kids are insanely tough if you let them be.

Backing up for a second: You might miss getting the idea of the size of the warthog by the picture above so here’s me snuggled up really close to it. My knees are touching it’s belly and I’m leaned forward a bit holding it up. The head is just absolutely massive along with the whole animal and the carcass, skinned/gutted/head off/feet off weighed in at a solid 50kg making the whole hog something over 200lbs standing. I’m having the lower jaw included in the European mount. The tusks are more impressive that way as you get better context as to why they’re sharp edged like a knife. A really large male doesn’t get much larger than this so I’m pretty stoked.

One 200lbs warthog. You can see the entry just under the ear. It actually pierced the ear.

Apart from the critters above I also managed a red meerkat which is also known as a yellow mongoose (Cynictis penicillata) and a nice size black backed jackal (Lupulella mesomelas). Neither of those were very photogenic afterward but I’m having the jackal flat skinned because the pelt was in really great shape and the colors were striking enough to be worth the expense.

To get back to the subject of food: I made tacos twice during the trip. Once at KVK’s place and again at Pox’s place. Both families really seemed to enjoy my transplanted Calexican cooking and most even enjoyed a little hot sauce (about Taco Bell mild sauce grade rather than my preferred weapons grade) with their tacos. This is a big deal since Boer cuisine is essentially completely devoid of chili peppers of any kind and pretty sparse on aromatics. Boere cuisine is heavy on mutton and potatoes with frequent infusions of game meat, cheese and tomato and a little bread.

My hosts all had their doubts but they also had open minds and empty stomachs and ended up eating their fill rather than just trying one. So, they must have enjoyed them at least a bit. They were all somewhat shocked when I told them that the hot sauce I prepared was extremely mild being no more than Taco Bell mild sauce and that young children in the USA generally have no issues eating much spicier stuff than I’d made. They refused to go with my assertion that they mustn’t be afraid of flavor and most refused to kick it up a notch, though a couple did with good results.

The most amazing things also happened to me on my way out of the country:

The first was a SAPS cop at a very small airport thinking my kudu horns were rhino horn (education there is not what it should be) and inviting me into a very small room to explain myself. When I produced my export documentation this seemed only to confuse him and his associates (a gate agent and a baggage handler) so, he called in a lady who works the ticket counter and is apparently much better educated, particularly in the country’s export laws and in zoology. She said a few things about how it was a kudu not a rhino skull and horns and that it’d been treated properly for being in my luggage and being exported which they didn’t respond to at all and then she said the magic words, “It’s fine.” and then it immediately was and I was allowed to get on the plane. Your best bet with SAPS is just to pay the bribe. Handing them paperwork which says you’re allowed to do what you’re doing only serves to confuse and annoy them.

The second amazing thing was being able to get an avocado cheeseburger which was quite good and not even classifiable as a war crime. There are no cheeseburgers in the whole country at takeaways that are anything less than a crime against humanity. As well as the rather tasty burger was a 500ml beer which actually contained closer to 650ml of a wonderful IPA at a fine dining restaurant INSIDE AN AIRPORT for a grand total of $18 US. When they brought the bill it just said “245.00” on the total line which included the tip and I, figuring they’d caught on to my accent, assumed it might just be in dollars but no, I asked and was told it was in Rand. The beer alone, and I have tested this, would be $18 at any major airport in the USA and the burger and appetizer would have cost similar amounts. I briefly considered trying to find a movie theater in the airport so I could see how much popcorn could be had for $10 but I quickly discarded that notion as I was afraid I would not be able to carry that much weight after the whole burger and beer experience.

At this point I’m looking to buy a small game farm of my own so I can have a place where I can say to my friends, “Hey, come out to my place in South Africa and hunt with me. I have my own game farm so it won’t cost anything but the ride, a few hundred bucks for the critter and a couple hundred for the taxidermy.” It’s kind of like saying, “Oh, Chad! You and Buffy just haaaave to come to my place in Aspen for some skiiing.” but it’s 100% less douchey & stuck up and it’s actually fun to do unlike being anywhere near Aspen.

Here’s how to make taco shells with mealie pap:

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup fine ground mealiepap
  • 1.5 cups cake flour
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup warm water

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients together with your wooden spoon and make sure all is combined.
  2. Make a long sausage type roll. Divide the roll into equal parts with a sharp knife.
  3. Make little balls, prepare a surface with flour and roll out the balls until round and flat like a pancake.
  4. Heat about 1 inch of oil in a heavy skillet over medium to medium-high heat to 365 degrees F (180 degrees C).
  5. Use tongs to place one tortilla at a time into the oil. It should start to sizzle right away. Cook for about 15 seconds, then flip over and fold the shell in half, holding in place with the tongs until crispy, about 15 seconds. You may need a little practice at first. Drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with salt while still hot. Use for tacos right away, or they may become chewy. Leftovers may be heated in the oven for crisping. Use an elevated cooling rack to hang the taco shells so they keep their shape and let the excess oil drain off.