South Africa: 2014
By Lavon Winkler
The Dark Continent – a mystical land for many, and especially for hunters, young and old. The simple word, “Africa” conjours the magic and mystery embodied in the great writings of Hemingway, Roosevelt, Chapman, and Capstick. This enchanting land has been the catalyst for a plethora of dreams formed and fueled in the hearts and minds of generations.
I recall watching movies set in Africa. There was the 1962 movie, Hatari! (Swahili for “Danger”) starring John Wayne, about a group of professional wildlife catchers. As a child I could hardly wait for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on Sunday evening television as Marlin Perkins took us to this land far away and taught us about these amazing animals. For me, this curiosity about Africa rarely waned, and followed me into adult life – Africa was seen as this unique and mysterious land which I desired to someday visit.
As time marched on I wondered if I would ever set foot on that vast continent. Whenever my thoughts strayed to Africa, they’d conclude with, “After all, safari hunting is only for the wealthy, well beyond my financial reach.”
Even so, it was still fun to dream.
Despite the yearning to one day fulfill the dream of Africa, I continued to follow my hunting and fishing passion in North America – the United States, Canada, and Mexico – which are rich with great hunting and fishing opportunities. I truly enjoy the annual pursuit of deer, ducks, geese, rabbits, squirrels, and upland game. But Africa remained neatly tucked away in my sub-conscious as a “maybe, someday” destination. And over the years, while talking with many hunters, I learned that I was not alone in this yearning.
But sometimes, there is that defining moment when an unexpected opportunity arrives and changes one’s life. For me, this happened in 2012 when I met Jim Rice of Cutting Edge Taxidermy in Macon, Missouri.
On opening day of the 2012 firearm season for whitetail deer in Missouri USA, I was fortunate to take a nice buck on my farm. I took the deer to Cutting Edge Taxidermy to see if they would be willing to do a shoulder mount. The shop was swarming with hunters dropping off whitetail deer and an occasional bobcat, but I was warmly greeted by Jim, and without delay he went to work, caping my deer.
As I looked around, I noticed something significantly different about this small community taxidermy studio – there were African mounts everywhere! Beautiful plains-game mounts and spiral horns. Once home, I emailed Jim about a slight change for the mounting instructions for my deer, and casually mentioned I dreamed of someday hunting in Africa. A few hours later I received his reply:
“I am taking three or four guys to Africa in 2014. Why don’t you go with us?”
“When you come to the fork in the road, take it,” Yogi Berra once said. I did just that!
This would be Jim’s sixth safari to Africa, having hunted in Namibia and South Africa. He knew the ropes, had the contacts, and takes great joy in being with hunters when they experience Africa for the first time. Lora, my wife and best friend, agreed to join me in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
This was the trigger point for an onslaught of emails to Jim asking every question possible about hunting in Africa: gun selection, shot placement, ammunition, field care of the hides and horns, the outfitter, the PH, what we would eat, what to wear, temperatures, weather conditions… He answered my questions in great detail. I thought he was taking me on a hunting trip – but Jim knew he was training a safari hunter. I am amazed Jim didn’t go crazy trying to keep up with my endless curiosity. However, because I have taken many first time fly-in anglers to the remote corners of Ontario, Canada, I appreciated and respected the time Jim invested in me and Eric Krichbaum, the third hunter in our group. Like me, Eric was a rookie safari hunter, and he too, had many questions about our upcoming adventure.
After over a year of planning, preparation, and revising my “hopeful” list of animals many times, in May 2014 we boarded the plane for South Africa.
“I will experience this hunt of a lifetime and my desire for Africa will be satisfied,” I had assured Lora. I had read the articles and books that talked about Africa always calling you to return, but I just thought this was simply folklore for selling books and magazines.
All of our hunting was on three concessions in Northern Limpopo very near the banks of the Limpopo River and Botswana. Our base was Ingala Lodge, and my PH was Manuel van Rooyen with Madala Safaris. There have been many articles written about the magic of a hunter’s first safari to Africa – and rightfully so. It’s an experience beyond description. To see all the animals in their natural habitat is both enlightening and inspiring, although with the population growth, loss of habitat, poaching, and the re-emergence of the safari industry post 1980, it is not the Africa of Hemingway. However, it is still Africa.
Our safari was for seven days, and I hunted with Manuel exclusively since I had a rather long wish list. Jim and Eric hunted together for most of the week, which worked well because they wanted different plains game. I soon learned this hunting approach was different from my other hunting experiences – using the vehicle to spot the animals followed by a spot and stalk approach on foot, instead of sitting in a blind.
On my first day I took a beautiful female Burchell’s zebra and a waterbuck. Around the lapa that evening, the reality of being in South Africa had yet to soak in. Each day was filled with adventure, expectation, exuberance, disappointment, frustration, and celebration – each day filled with awe for this amazing land and its great people.
The hospitality of the outfitter and staff was exceptional. I learned much from Jim and Manuel, and was very impressed with the skinners, while the ability of the native trackers to find, follow, and interpret spoor is something to behold.
After seven days of hunting, seven days of highs and lows, I ended my safari with new friendships, nine animals and a lifetime of memories. Among my animals taken was an eland and, on the last morning, a beautiful kudu. As we were preparing to leave Ingala for our drive to Johannesburg, I knew I had one large problem. Having experienced this magical place, Africa now had a powerful grip on my mind and heart.
I knew I wanted to go back again, and I didn’t know how I was going to break the news to Lora. On the flight, and once home, I still kept thinking, “Africa is calling, and I must return.” When I did tell Lora she smiled, unsurprised, and was completely supportive. I did go in 2015 and hunted a lioness and other plains game (see African Hunting Gazette 21.4 Spring 2016 edition).
To say that Africa has impacted on my life is an understatement. That simple email from Jim Rice and his kind act in inviting me to hunt with him not only fulfilled a lifelong dream – it opened the door for me to see this continent in a way I never dreamed possible. It’s not only the geography and the wide variety of animals to which I am drawn. Most importantly, it’s the people. It’s establishing connections with the outfitters, the PHs, and all of the people that make the safari experience possible. Africa is not just a place. It is not just an experience. It is also a collection of people where a multitude relies upon the hunting industry for its livelihood. As in other parts of this world, in Africa there are many folk who each day struggle to survive. Through subsequent travels with Lora to South Africa and Ethiopia, doors of opportunity have opened for us to join efforts with others who are focused on the plight of orphans in many countries in Africa.
I am planning my next trip to Africa, taking a small group on their first safari. There is something very uplifting about seeing a hunter’s first safari and it would be great to read about it in a future edition of the African Hunting Gazette.
Hunting in Africa is within the affordable reach of many hunters who have assumed otherwise. If you have ever dreamed of hunting in Africa, make a plan and GO! If you have wanted to get even a glimpse of Africa and its amazing geographical and animal diversity, do not wait.
Develop your plan and GO.
Don’t wait for “someday” or “one of these days.”
Go to Africa…now!
Listen closely…Africa is calling…
Lavon Winkler loves the outdoors and the challenges of hunting and fishing for a variety of species mostly in North America. Lavon started hunting at age 10 with his dad and brother. While most of his hunting has been for small game and whitetail deer in the Midwest, he has developed a passion for hunting the broad variety of animal species in South Africa. In two safaris, he achieved the SCI “African 15” Continental Award, and has 10 entries in the SCI Record Book including a Gold Level Sable.
Browning A-Bolt 30-06 – Excellent rating
Ammunition and bullet details and satisfaction rating: Hornady Superformance – GMX 165gr – Excellent Rating
Riflescope details and satisfaction rating: Leupold VX-2 4-12×40 – Excellent Rating
Taxidermist and satisfaction rating (only if you have received your trophies) – Jim Rice, Cutting Edge Taxidermy – Excellent Rating