Tell us about your background…
I was a 30-year-old cop when I went to Zimbabwe in 1998, leaving a wife, five year old daughter and a one year old son at home. I spent about half of my yearly cop salary on that 12-day buffalo/plains game hunt with the late great professional hunter. Mark Ellement. I was SO blown away. There were no African hunting shows back then, so besides the few books I’d read and Discovery Channel, I had little idea of what I was in for. I was hooked from day one! Mark walked my ass off from dark to dark. We hunted for seven days before I shot my first African animal, my buffalo. The trip wrapped up with kudu, huge impala, Egyptian geese and tigerfish on the Zambezi. My wife never wanted to hear the word Africa from me again, and I cried when I left camp because I really thought I’d never return. I tried to give Mark my rifle in addition to the tip I had budgeted for, because it didn’t seem like enough for the experience he’d given me. He refused because he said I’d be back!
What is it that you love about Africa?
Naturally, its diverse wildlife, beautiful sights like Victoria Falls and Table Mountain, the wonderful people I’ve encountered in Zimbabwe, many of whom I still keep in touch with. I love the wide open spaces. Hunting on a million acre concession in Zambia, bordered by another million acre concession, both bordered by a national park of four million acres gives one the feeling of freedom to go anywhere un-restricted.
What influenced your love of hunting?
Mostly natural drive. My dad exposed me to small game hunting as a child and as I got of high-school age I began seeking out my own hunting grounds. Ducks and deer were the only hunting I’d done prior to going to Africa.
What countries have you hunted and where?
Twice in of Sidinda camp in Hwange communal CAMPFIRE area of Zimbabwe. Once in the Makuti Safari Area in Zimbabwe. Once at Mr. Roger Whitall’s Humani Ranck in the Save Valley Conservancy in Zim, and once in Zambia in the Mulobezi Safari area of Chief Moomba.
What guns, scopes, and ammo are you using?
Still have the same Winchester Mod. 70 in .375 H&H from 1998 that my son used on his first buffalo in 2011. Also a Mod. 70 in 300 Win. Mag. which only shoots Federal ammo well for some reason. Haven’t had anyone explain that to me.
What is your favorite African animal to hunt and why?
Gotta be buffalo. First hunt in 1998 at camp Sidinda in Zimbabwe was the hardest hunting I’d ever done and thus the most rewarding. I went back with my son Asa in 2011 where I was the ‘observer’ on his buffalo hunt in Makuti Zimbabwe, and it was equally rewarding.
What is your greatest trophy?
Not due to inches but due to the hunt is my first African animal, a buffalo. I took my daughter Taylor to Zambia in 2009, where she killed a 49″ sable at 7am on the first day of a 12-day hunt! That’s definitely the most beautiful trophy of the family.
What was your closest brush with danger/death?
Must be hitting a canal bank then tree in a small fast aluminum boat with a tiller handle motor while duck hunting in my home state of Louisiana.
Any lessons learned that you’d like to share? What do you suggest a fellow hunter can do to prepare for his or her safari?
Read some books – old and new – about African safaris and familiarize yourself with some customs and history of the country you’ll be visiting. Don’t skimp on the trip of a lifetime. A ‘good deal’ is usually NOT a good deal. No matter what the cost, you will feel as though it was worth double.
Use a reputable booking agent, preferably referred to you by a friend. Go to the Safari Club shows and absorb all you can. The planning and anticipation is part of the trip. Seek out the advice of many others.
Try your best to go to a tribal concession as those wide open free-range areas will be the first to go. I’m not a ‘ranch hater’ because the Save Valley Conservancy is truly one of the most amazing places and a benchmark for conservation. However, I think the ‘wide open places’ will be the first places that hunting will disappear from. Hate to sound negative, but things/areas/politics change fast in Africa and it is my belief that the future of African hunting will be on private ranches. Not a bad thing, but take advantage of the truly wild areas while you can and hunt hard.
Also, hunt an area where you can hear lions roar. It’s the most amazing sound in the world and may not be around forever.
DO NOT miss Victoria Falls while you’re in the southern part of Africa! It’s a MUST SEE. Take your time and be a tourist for a few days before or after your safari. If you fly in or out of South Africa, try to fit in a couple of days in Cape Town. They have incredible vineyards with very affordable tasting tours. Table Mountain is also a very cool tourist thing to do.
If possible, hire a qualified videographer to tag along. Most of these guys are like having a second professional hunter along. They will take pictures of things you may overlook as well as provide you with a recording and pictures that will last a lifetime. I like keeping a detailed journal of each day, then elaborate on the notes and make a book of text and pictures once I return home. There are several sites like Snapfish, Shutterfly etc. that are very user friendly to do this. After all, this is an investment in memories.
My kids and I have used Zimbabwean taxidermists on six hunts. The taxidermy cost is less than in the U.S. but shipping mounted trophies is more expensive than just shipping horns and hides to a U.S. taxidermist. I’m NOT knocking state-of-the-art U.S. taxidermy, but it has been my choice to have my trophies done where they came from. So the people of your host country benefit fully from their wildlife. Usually (in a non-pandemic year) Zimbabwean taxidermists have a very quick turnaround. All of mine have been top quality. Mounts from 1998 are still up and looking new. Your American booking agent will lead you to American taxidermists and your professional hunter will likely try to sell you on one of their local taxidermists. Either way, their advice will be good. Don’t let a beginner do them at a budget price.
Any last words of wisdom?
No, but one good story. So while hunting with Mark Ellement on my first safari in 1998, we took an afternoon off after we got my buffalo and drove into Vic Falls where his home and family was. I did the touristy thing while he picked up supplies, then we picked up his wife, Karen, and his kids, Sian and Brian, who were toddlers. Mark and I stayed in touch and he’d offer me late season deals to return at minimal cost, but I was still a cop then and couldn’t even afford the airfare. Never got to hunt with him again although it was my goal as he quickly succumbed to cancer in 2014. Upon booking a leopard/plains game hunt for my son and myself in 2018, booking agent Michelle Buchanan told me of a leopard on quota at Sidinda camp. The camp I hunted with Mark Ellement on my first trip 20 years prior. Lo and behold, one of the available professional hunters was a young man named Brian Ellement! The son of Mark, whom I’d met when he was about 5 years old! I got a Whatsapp message from Brian with a picture of a copy of the journal I kept on my first hunt that I’d mailed to his father so long ago. He told his mum that he was lined up to hunt with one of his dad’s clients from 20 years ago. When Karen heard my name she remembered me and retrieved the copy of the journal that I kept every detail of. It gave me chills! Was a pretty cool ‘full-circle’ story.