By Matt Blymire
I am a 40-year-old from Pennsylvania who grew up hunting whitetail deer with my dad. I started hunting with him at the age of 12 which was the legal minimum age in Pennsylvania, and then continued hunting deer on my own. Now married, with nine-year-old twin boys, I get to hunt whitetail deer with my wife and sons who can now hunt on a Mentored Youth program in Pennsylvania. I have taken many trips to Ohio to spend a few days hunting whitetails with my father, reminiscing about the years I hunted with him growing up, and all that he’s taught me.
Over the past years my dad has taken many trips to Africa hunting with Dubula Safaris in the Eastern Cape. He has shared hunts there with his friends, past co-workers and made many friends on his safaris. Dad asked my every trip to go along but with hectic family life, finding the time was difficult. I remember saying “Maybe next time” or “When the boys get older” or “Hopefully in a few years.”
In the fall of 2022, my dad’s mom passed away unexpectedly, but I just got to her in time. Fast forward to March of 2023. I learned I was unsuccessful in drawing my Montana Deer Tag yet again, and I called my dad telling him as I was looking to plan a different hunting trip in the States. He suggested I came with him and my wife to Africa in September. This time the words felt different. Life at home was still hectic, nothing had changed, but what did change was learning in such a hard way just six months before how valuable life is with your family, and how quickly it can change and be taken away. I submitted my time off request at work that same day, and once approved booked our flight for my first African safari with my wife and parents.
I flew to Newark Airport to meet them, and we arrived in Johannesburg the next evening and were greeted by staff from the Afton Lodge, for a one-night stay before our flight into Port Elizabeth the next morning. The Afton was an extraordinary way to kick off the African safari experience. The lodge was beautiful, the food and drinks were amazing, and the staff was superb. Looking at all the taxidermy in the lodge and listening to the stories of hunters who were on their way home had me excited for my hunt to begin. I could barely sleep that night from excitement.
In Port Elizabeth we were picked up by Ryan from Dubula Safaris. On the way we stopped at Hunters & Collectors Taxidermy shop to look at some of the taxidermy work in progress from my dad’s previous safari. Seeing the extensive number of mounted animals in the shop had me even more excited. On the way to the lodge, we stopped at the Nanaga Farm Stall where I was introduced to some South African culture seeing the local foods, produce and drinks.
The evening that we arrived at the lodge I was amazed at the beauty of the landscape and the mountainous terrain. Even after seeing pictures and videos from my dad’s previous trips, it was beyond my expectation. I was greeted warmly by everyone at Dubula Safaris and met my PH Ricky. We discussed the animals on my list with kudu being my top animal, and a zebra because my wife and I wanted a zebra rug.
The first night in the lodge I was too excited to sleep. Morning came quickly and my dad and I went outside onto the porch and there were animals everywhere. The amount of game I could see with my binoculars was nothing I could have imagined. After breakfast we went to the rifle range and confirmed my dad’s .30-06 was shooting accurately and we planned the morning hunt. We soon spotted a group of zebras in an open area but stalked unsuccessfully. We came out of a dry creek and a beautiful blue wildebeest stood in front of us. Ricky said it was great male and if I wanted a blue, I should shoot this one. Only the night before Ricky had said they were tough animals and will rarely go straight down with one shot. We waited for the blue to turn and Ricky said, “On the shoulder halfway up.” I steadied on the sticks and squeezed the trigger. He went straight down! What a way to start the hunt. A few hours into the trip, one shot and one animal down.
As we hunted the next few days, we saw so many species of animals it was almost hard to comprehend. It brought a lot of clarity to the discussion Ricky and I had on my flexibility of huntable animals. I was successful on the second evening with the targeted zebra close to where we had seen them the first day. That evening the sunset and nightfall was gorgeous, like something you would see in a book or in a painting. The third day had us hunting around the lodge for plains game. I had seen in the first few days a white blesbok. I thought they were neat-looking animals. As the hunt continued, we saw a few white blesboks in a large herd, but they were winning the stalking game. Then a common blesbok stepped into an opening in the bush, and Ricky said it was a very good common, so I steadied on the sticks and took the shot.
While enjoying our midday break, I discussed with my dad a black springbok we had seen the first morning, but had not seen again, and I said that a black wildebeest was only a bit more pricewise. He agreed that it would be great to get a blue and a black on my first trip. When we met Ricky prior to the evening hunt, we said we would like a black wildebeest and he planned to target them in an area we might also see kudu. We spotted a small group of blacks and Ricky identified a shooter in that group. We made a long stalk and got into position. We had to wait for the shooter male among the other animals in the herd to give us a clean shot. As the sun began to fade behind the mountains he presented a shot, at which the small group turned out to be a thundering herd of over 30 animals.
Wednesday morning came and we made the trip to Kamala and began our hunt there. A few hours into the hunt we found a tsessebe, and my dad made a successful stalk and took his target animal. We saw so many animals on this property and I got to see animals I hadn’t yet seen including gemsbok, ostriches, golden gemsbok and more. We again saw a large black springbok but could not get the opportunity for a shot at it. On the way back for our lunch break we found a great impala ram and I was lucky to take it. After lunch we went to a cliff overlooking a dry creek as they had seen warthogs there. A warthog was on my list, but I said I only wanted to shoot one for a nice European mount. We saw warthogs but they were female and cull males. My mom, who hadn’t hunted before decided she would take a shot at the cull male. Ricky worked extraordinarily well with her and got her set up, and she made a perfect shot for her first ever animal. What a great experience for us all to share this.
As the afternoon went on Ricky spotted a big fallow deer, and I realized from his tone that it was a trophy and that if we saw it again, I’d like to hunt it. Later, we glassed a large eland but it wasn’t something I wanted, so we hunted on and as luck would have it spotted the fallow deer again. After a very short stalk we bumped the deer but were able to get on the sticks, and when he stopped and presented me with a shot, I took it. We followed the blood and found the deer. As we grabbed his antlers the ground shook under our feet as four warthogs bolted out from a wallow. While it was a cool experience, I was a bit startled as they ran out from underneath us.
As we had a few days left we continued to target kudu but couldn’t find a quality trophy and when we did the cards were stacked against us because of the wind, the number of animals between us, or the amount of daylight left. As we looked for kudu we spotted two warthogs and as they took off I could see their white tusks. We made a quick move and got set up on them and Ricky said to shoot the one on the left. I squeezed, and it went straight down. I was amazed at the size of this animal, and they said it was the largest warthog taken on the property both in body weight and tusk length.
That afternoon we came across some golden wildebeest, such beautiful animals. I told Ricky that if we saw a trophy golden, I would target that versus a kudu as we had two days left on the safari.
Rain was forecast the last day and half of the hunt, so we went early the last morning looking for kudu or a golden wildebeest. We again spotted many kudu but not of the trophy caliber wanted. We went to the area we had seen kudu before where goldens also could be. We walked a road along a clifftop and glassed below. Again, we saw kudu but not trophy class. The next glassing point showed a group of golden wildebeest and
Ricky quickly spotted a shooter male. I got set up on the sticks and made a successful shot. What a great way to end this hunting safari, getting all three wildebeests on the same hunt.
This trip exceeded any expectations I had. The staff at the lodge were superb, the food was amazing, with sights and memories I would never have imagined. As the sun set on my first African safari, I cannot wait to begin booking my next with Dubula Safaris. I am so grateful to my parents for making this trip possible and for sharing it with me.