From what I remember and that which has been told to me by my parents and grand parents, it is obvious to me that my love for nature, the wilderness and the outdoor life is based on being raised on what would be defined as a very remote farm. We had limited access or need to go to town as we were largely self-sufficient, so our livelihood and entertainment was from our farm, surrounding forests, lakes and rivers and the odd community get together.
Unsurprisingly, my chosen career path was forestry. I met my future wife, was married and entered forestry training at the provincial technology institute. My first job landed us in a remote (one road in and out) community where we quickly found our place camping, hunting, fishing and trapping as recreation. Our daughter was exposed from birth to the wilderness activities, and to this day lives in a rural community and enjoys fishing and hunting too. My wife is a nurse and now we are retired, each with over 40 years in our respective careers.
Growing up on a subsistence style of farming ones realises the realities of raising animals for food and supplementing that with wild game. We were taught respect and humane practices. As soon as I could carry a firearm, I was accompanying my dad or uncle on hunting excursions, pellet gun or .22 in hand. While success was limited, I could not get enough of the sneaking around, stalking and trekking through the woods.
As with most families, a job, mortgage, raising a kid and other distractions limited the hunting opportunities to that of my home province. We had 10 different big-game species to hunt, more than time allotted. Eventually I was able to book some hunts in the territories and also enjoy the fantastic fishing those areas provide. But my dream was to get to Africa.
I attended several outdoor and sportsman shows and soon focused on some of the African PHs that had displays there. I was very ignorant of the opportunities, species or processes of getting to and from Africa. After three years of chatting with one particular PH, I finally decided to get serious. Eldre from Lucca African Safaris, a likable young man, convinced me to take the leap. This would be a trip including a hunting safari and touring some of the highlights of South Africa as well as a few days in Livingstone (Victoria Falls), a month-long adventure for my wife and me. (By the way, my wife does not hunt!) While I was trying to decide over the safari package and stay within a budget, Eldre just asked for our flight itinerary! No deposit! Just get there, we can decide once we are there and work out the payments then, and he set up all the after-hunt tours as well.
With Eldre setting up the entire adventure, I wanted to keep it simple, so just rented his .375 H&H and 7X57. On the drive to the Limpopo area, I asked a lot of questions. In spite of google research, until you actually are there and drive and see, it is hard to grasp the reality of Africa. Eldre was entertaining and at one point he openly stated, “Kelly – I can see now you will be back!” We had a fantastic time with Eldre, Marley and the trackers and totally enjoyed the “overlanding tour” of Kruger, Blyde River Canyon, Pilgrim’s Rest and the guided tours in Pretoria. I’m a geology and history buff, and seeing the history and culture is what travelling is about.
And Eldre was true to his word. My second trip (a solo) with Eldre had me hunting in the mountains of the Eastern Cape, touring the Port Elizabeth, Addo Elephant Park and Jeffreys Bay areas. From there I flew to Windhoek, picked up my camp car, and spent 10 days touring Namibia. Trip 3 was again with my wife, hunting in the Kalahari region and again an extended camp car tour of Namibia.
As for firearms, I relate to a book I read years ago with the statement, “use enough gun!”. Hunt 2 and 3 were in terrain that dictated longer-range shooting, so I brought my own trusted .300 Win Mag – a Blazer R8. As for a favorite animal to hunt, well that is hard to determine. I like to walk and stalk, and my strongest memories of the hunt are of those animals for which we walked great distances; crawled through the thick; busted a leopard; cut my knees on sharp stones, and had thorns stuck in my legs and shoulders just to get into position or to retrieve an animal. All good!
On my last hunt I was after lion. Now that the price was within my budget and we can still import, I figured it was time – now or never! As we tracked a maned male and zigzagged through the bushveld with very limited visibility, my PH put a halt to our progress. “No! We are not going ahead, too thick, too close and he knows we are on him.” We backed up a bit, called for the tracker to bring in the bakkie. After a brief wait, we clambered into the back of the farm truck and leaned up against the cab, me in the center, my PH on my right and the tracker on my left. We drove ahead maybe 20 meters when we spotted the cat crouched under a bush right in front of us and tapped on the hood to stop. We did, but were screened by the bush, so my PH told the driver to back up. A jerk backwards and quick stop had all three of us on our butts on the floor of the bakkie. I sat up to see the lion starting to move, and quickly shouldered and fired. Well, the shot was good and the scope kiss left a mark. All good!
Whether you are a hard-core hunter or more relaxed, Africa has a lot to offer. Spend time talking to your PHs and if possible, meeting their families. A hunt means spending a lot of time with that person or family, and if you don’t click then it can make the trip difficult. We have been lucky, and for us it is more about the PH family, trackers, skinners and help. We have found them to be dedicated and easy to be with.
Setting a budget: Consider a long-term stay. Travelling that far is hard so set aside two days of travel each way. We go for at least a month so we can enjoy the hunt – transfers are easy – and see the country and culture in a more relaxed mode. Prior to the trip shoot your rifle a lot! Or, if you are going to rent/borrow, then shoot a lot at home to get used to recoil and handling. You do not want to make the trip only to miss shots or lose a wounded animal!
My wife tells me we can go back to Africa. This Covid thing needs to end! But she also said that I can’t hunt anymore because there is no more room for mounts. Hmmm. My eland is still on the floor. Guess she is right about the room! As for the trip, well, I will look after the arrangements! Ha ha!