By Hal Banasch


Our flight from Calgary via Amsterdam to Johannesburg arrived at OR Tambo Airport close to midnight, and we were transported to Afton Safari Lodge for our first-class overnight stay. With Richard Lendrum’s assistance we were able to book the 10-day safari in September 2023 with Eland Safaris. When I sent Alex Thomson our personal information, he said that we would be the oldest clients that they had ever had at their lodge, and they did a great job looking after all our needs and providing us with an adventurous trip.


I had started planning for this safari many months beforehand. In Canada it is very difficult to secure travel insurance for our age group, especially with pre-existing health issues.  Initially I couldn’t find anyone to accompany me, and finally thought of a couple of longtime friends that I hoped might be interested. To my surprise and relief, they both agreed to come, and were enthusiastic about going to Africa. They did not intend to hunt but wanted to experience the adventure of a sight-seeing safari.


My wife Lois and I had already experienced a wonderful hunting and sight-seeing safari in Namibia in 2016 with Etosha Heights Game Safaris where I took a Hartmann’s mountain zebra, a black-faced impala, a red hartebeest, a gemsbok and a magnificent kudu. We were within short driving distance of Etosha National Park, so we made a one-day trip to the park. It was well worthwhile seeing the world-famous Etosha salt pan which is larger than the Great Salt Flats in Utah. This 160,000-acre magnificent property is now an eco-tourist location filled with abundant wildlife that includes both the white and the black rhino.


The three of us on this trip have been for close to forty years. The oldest member of our group, Wayne (Cinch) Arthur was 86 years old, having had quintuple bypass heart surgery and carotid artery surgery. He was once a horse trainer, rodeo announcer, cowboy, a great public speaker, a singer (Richard had a guitar for him so that he could sing for us at the lodge), a songwriter and all-round raconteur.


Our youngest member, Darrel Riemer, a retired judge, was about two months short of his 79th birthday. He is one of the Canadian directors for Samaritan’s Purse Canada and the member of our group that gives us emotional stability as both Cinch and I have a tendency to become a bit excitable at times. I am 81 years old and, except for having had both of my hips replaced (about ten years ago), I am in reasonably good health with no mobility issues. I managed an insurance office, and my son and I own a wholesale flyfishing supply company. For many years we hunted Spring black bear on the Peace River in Northern Alberta, Canada and we called our hunting party “The Boys of the River” and, as time passed, we changed the name to, “The Old Men of the River.” We have also hunted in Southern Alberta (where I live) for deer, antelope, elk and upland birds (mostly pheasants). We love hunting pheasants with Kona, my German Wire-haired Pointer, and have hunted with many other dogs that I have owned over the years.

After a good night’s rest at Afton, we had a five-hour drive to Eland Safaris.  I always enjoy driving in Africa and seeing its diversity and beauty, and Eland was like an oasis with great amenities. The next day our PH Johnny Thomson (part owner) and our tracker Petrus showed us around the thousands of acres of bushveld, looking for sable and nyala, which were the two animals that I was hoping to shoot, and deciding on others as the opportunities arose. We were surprised at the variety and numbers of animals, and saw nyala, but we did not see any sable although they were there.


That evening Johnny had an email from the owner of the neighboring hunting property saying that he had a trail camera picture of a very good sable bull. We hunted that property the next day but did not find the sable. I was told that they are very smart. We did find a very large impala ram which Johnny said I should take if the opportunity presented itself. It was very cautious, and we had to wait quite a while until I finally got the chance to shoot. I was successful, and it was a beautiful animal.


We hunted every day without finding a sable bull. Then one day Johnny told us about a good one on a hunting property that consisted of thousands of acres of bushveld that was about one and a half hours from the lodge. We decided to leave early in the morning, and when we arrived, we picked up the tracker who was familiar with the property and had seen this sable bull before. We hunted hard the whole day and saw plenty of game, studied many tracks, but could not find the sable that we were after.


The following day we decided to take the day off from hunting so that the three of us could enjoy a sightseeing safari. Johnny told us about the Palala Lodge and game reserve a little over an hour from Eland. We went and had a great time seeing animals that you don’t normally see hunting because of time constraints and the elusiveness of the animals. We saw lions, sable, leopard, wild dogs, cheetahs, snakes, crocodiles, hippo, and various other antelope.


We spent three afternoons in a blind waiting for a warthog that we saw on a trail camera, but he never showed up – that is why it is called, “hunting not shooting.” One day we decided to concentrate on a nyala bull that we had previously seen. We got ourselves hidden away and waited until he appeared out of the bush. Johnny told me where I should place the shot, and then gave me the OK to shoot when it was broadside. I shot, and it ran off into the bush. We waited a bit and slowly followed the blood trail and found him lying down, and I was able to put in a final shot. When I got close, I could not get over the beauty of this animal. I was thrilled.


The following day Johnny suggested we go back to the property that we had previously hunted and see if we could find the sable bull that had eluded us previously. We again picked up the local tracker and hunted hard for many hours, spotting much game, checking tracks – but no sable. Our whole group was very quiet and subdued. After lunch as we were hunting, the tracker whispered to Johnny and asked us to back up slightly. We did, and he pointed to some heavy brush, and there, mostly obscured, stood a sable bull looking at us at about 100 yards. Johnny asked if I could see any part of his shoulder, and I whispered back that I had only had a very small window, but he encouraged me to take that shot as there were no other options.


I was quite nervous, but knew it was now or never. I had a very solid rest and held my breath as I slowly squeezed the trigger. We could hear that the shot was a hit, at which point the bull jerked and ran off and out of sight. Johnny said that we needed to wait about 15 minutes for him to die, otherwise we might pressure him, and we could lose him. I knew this was the right thing to do but I was nervous the whole time, and time moves very slowly in those situations. Finally, we walked in the direction that the sable had run, with the little Jack Russel dog in the lead. We were still walking when the dog barked, and Johnny said that it had found the sable! I was so overcome, I actually threw my arms up and thanked God! Such an amazing and beautiful animal, and even more beautiful up close. I had seen one in Namibia in 2016 and thought that they were one of the most beautiful and unique plains-game animals. We took some pictures, and I thanked Johnny and the trackers for their assistance – without them this would have never happened.


On our last hunting day Johnny encouraged me to try to take a blue wildebeest bull if we could find an old one. We hunted and saw a lot of hogs, and Cinch and I were looking for the warthog that had eluded us thus far. While we were looking at the hogs (but not my warthog) Johnny said, “There he is.” I could not see what he was looking at and finally Johnny said, “Look where my finger is pointing.” Then I saw a blue wildebeest bull standing facing us at about 100 yards. Because he was facing us Johnny told me to shoot him dead center at his chest. I do not like frontal shots as they often end up wounding the animal if you are not in the proper kill area. I had a good solid rest and I aimed, but my shot was a little off and hit him through the chest a little left toward the shoulder.

At the shot he was off on a dead run. Johnny, Petrus and I followed him, while Cinch stayed in the vehicle. I was carrying the gun, and as we were running Johnny told me to stay close to him as there were buffalo in the area. Now I had two things to worry about: the buffalo and the possibility of losing this wildebeest. I had read many articles about the tracking skills of the native trackers, and I saw this firsthand. I watched Petrus as he pointed out some small specks of blood that I had to practically get down on my hands and knees to see. The blood trail ended, and I don’t know how he was able to track this animal, but he did. Occasionally, we would get a glimpse of the wildebeest in heavy brush but moving along very quickly. After some time, Petrus and Johnny made a plan for Petrus to pressure the bull out of the heavy brush to cross a two-track. Johnny told me to put the gun on the trigger stick and watch the two-track, and if the bull ran across, I was to shoot. If it was going to happen, it would happen fast.


I waited. Then suddenly the bull, going at full speed, crossed the two-track. I shot, but I missed. I was dejected and thought that it was probably my last and only chance to get the bull. “Everybody misses, and those that say they don’t, are just liars,” said Johnny. He told me to follow him and Petrus, and by this time my arms were getting chewed up by the infamous African bushveld. It was a warm day, so I was perspiring and getting rid of some of my excess fat. Finally, Petrus found the bull again and I was able to shoot and put him down for good. This whole adventure took us about an hour, but what an adventure and memory. I thanked Johnny and Petrus again for their patience and helping me to get my last trophy on my African safari. I should mention the gun that I was using was supplied by Eland Safaris, a Tikka .308 with a Leupold 3 X 9 Scope. It was a beautiful gun that performed flawlessly.


On my return to Canada I decided that this experience in beautiful Africa was worthy of a repeat visit. We had a wonderful time, made more special for being able to share it with my great friends. My advice to those of you that are thinking about Africa and a safari, don’t let the ages discourage you for they are only numbers. If you have reasonable health, a few bucks, and some great friends (hunters or non-hunters) then go to Africa for a trip of a lifetime. Compared to what it costs in Alaska or in the Yukon in Canada for moose, elk, Cariboo or sheep, Africa is a bargain. The lodges will cater a hunt based upon your physical condition or any mobility issues you may have.


 I like to look out of the windshield and not spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror. For me personally, I would like to think that I can make one more African trip in my lifetime, but only the good Lord knows that, and I am at peace with that fact.


Remember, life is not a rehearsal.