Dispatches From Africa, the Story of a Three-Week Safari
Our shooting editor shares the highlights of his latest—and best—African safari from the pages of his hunting journal
MY LAST AFRICAN SAFARI was my best. It started on the banks of the Limpopo River, where I hunted bushbuck with an old Boer farmer on his cattle ranch. It then moved to the Northern Cape, where I hunted near the remains of a bastion from the Boer War at Fort Richmond. It ended outside of Cradock, in the Eastern Cape, at the legendary Ganna Hoek farm. I saw the Waterberg mountains, walked in the footsteps of English soldiers, and gazed at the Milky Way from the darkness of the Karoo.
During this safari, I wanted to hunt with the men responsible for my addiction to Africa and introduce my oldest daughter to the place and people that changed me as a human and as a hunter. We had ideas about what we wanted to do, but as I’ve learned from Geoffrey Wayland—the best PH I know—it’s best to “take what Africa gives you.” My journey covered more than 600 miles and has been the source of many stories to tell and memories to cherish. Here are some of the best, straight from my daily hunting journal.
March 8, 2023
I’m happy to be back in the Limpopo Province with PH Hennie Badenhorst. So far, we’ve been looking for bushbuck, hunting hard for five days on a cattle farm near Botswana, where a farmer had reported seeing a nice ram. But the thick vegetation of the South African summer has made things difficult.
Hennie was my first PH, on a trip in 2006, and I returned to go on safari with him in ’07 and ’08. Shortly after that, he was injured in a freak accident and had to quit hunting professionally for some time. He’s now teamed with Marulapi Safaris and is again doing what he does best.
This afternoon, we had a close encounter with a boomslang snake, whose venom is considered to be more deadly than that of a cobra or mamba. We did see a bushbuck, but it was a female. I also shot a jackal to help the farmer with predator control. In the evening, we struck out for bushbuck again and decided to head back to camp. The farmer, however, insisted we visit. He gave us whiskey and boerewors sausage and told us about the leopards and pythons that have ravaged his farm. Driving back, we saw one of the most magnificent moons I’ve ever seen. It was an exciting day, but with the boomslang in the tree and a python that zipped by us as we walked along the river, it was also a bit unnerving.
March 9, 2023
The temperature hit 100 degrees today, so we decided to sit in the shade near a grassy waterhole to watch for bushbuck. I’ve always liked hunting with Hennie because he uses game-recovery dogs. Nimrod, the first of his dogs I hunted with, is a legend throughout Limpopo for his escapades with wildebeest, baboons, and leopards. His current dog, Steyr, is a German-shorthair-Rhodesian-ridgeback cross that could almost be a twin to the Labrador-ridgeback cross I have at home.
About an hour into our sit, Steyr stopped panting and came to attention. Following the dog’s gaze to the grass around the waterhole, I caught movement and spotted a dark shape. When I looked through my binocular, the first thing I saw was a pair of tusks. I slid the rifle to my right and looked through my scope just as a large warthog boar stood up from wallowing in the mud. I placed the reticle on his shoulder. At the shot, the boar hit the mud, and Steyr was out of the hide and headed his way. But the dog didn’t need to do any tracking. The bullet anchored the boar where he was standing.
Some think the warthog is nothing but an ugly ground-grubbing pig, but some hunters have embraced their unattractiveness, and the oldest ones sport beautiful ivory tusks. In the farm country of the Northern Cape, they’re treated like feral hogs, and big tuskers are rare. I’ve taken many, but thanks to a skilled hunting dog, Africa gave me a big one today.
March 12, 2023
Yesterday evening we flew into Kimberley instead of making the 300-mile drive from Limpopo. From there it was two hours to Fort Richmond, which is situated in the Northern Cape, 18 miles east of the Orange River, near the Mokala National Park. There, I met up with my old friend, PH Geoffrey Wayland of Fort Richmond Safaris.
Before dark, we checked our rifles and went for a short drive. I shot an old kudu cow for meat for the staff, and we spent some time around the fire ring catching up before sharing an impala roast for dinner. In the morning Geoffrey and I went looking for another kudu, this time a cull bull, for camp meat. We spotted one bedded in the brush at about 400 yards. While planning our stalk, a ladybug crawled on Geoffrey’s hand, and he proclaimed it was good luck.
We closed to around 330 yards, but the wind was gusting hard, and I wanted to get closer. Using a single bush between us and the kudu for concealment, we cut the distance to 275 yards. I set up my tripod and mounted the rifle, and as soon as I stood, the bull did too, giving me a frontal shot. It was a struggle in the wind, and I pulled the shot low and right, but it was good enough. We had meat for the rest of our time at Fort Richmond.
March 16, 2023
Halfway through my stay in the Northern Cape, my oldest daughter, Montana, and her brother Sabastian (“Bat”) joined me. It’s Montana’s first time here, and she was immediately taken with the country.
When she was 11, we had a successful whitetail hunt together. But every year since, she’s seemed to incur all the bad luck a hunter can draw. Always wanting to emulate her big brother, who sort of grew up in Africa, she’s wanted to share a safari with us both. Now she’s 18, and this is her year.
On her third day, under Geoffrey’s guidance, we headed to the veld. We covered many miles, and after noon, a gemsbok bull presented Montana with a shot. She took her time and placed her riflescope’s red dot in the right spot and broke the shot. The bull was down almost instantly. After the shot, Montana was mostly wordless, though smiling.
Back at camp, we sat by the fire ring, which I think is the most special part of an African safari. It’s where hunters relive the adventures of the day. But it’s even more special when it includes a hunter who’s just taken their first animal in Africa. They’re prompted to tell and retell the story until everyone has emptied their glasses and shared their compliments. As I silently watched Montana recount her hunt, taking part in one of the oldest human rituals there is, I could see she was almost as proud of herself as I was of her.
March 18, 2023
Today we left the Northern Cape with Geoffrey and headed south for the Buffalo Bore Game Preserve, formerly known as the Ganna Hoek farm. After nearly 300 miles across the semi-desert region of the Karoo, we arrived in Cradock where we met Tim Sundles, owner of Buffalo Bore Ammunition. We followed him to a historic lodge situated in a natural amphitheater at the base of towering mountains.
The property looked like it slipped off the pages of an old copy of National Geographic. Established over 100 years ago, Ganna Hoek was owned by the same family until 2021, when Sundles purchased it. The main lodge remains mostly unchanged, and it served as a military hospital during the Boer War. During dinner, Tim learned that more than anything else, Montana wanted to hunt zebra. So, for the next day, he gave her the run of his massive property.
March 19, 2023
We started early, all of us pitching in to help Montana find a zebra. But we found blue wildebeest instead, and Montana decided to go for it. I hung back to eliminate the kind of pressure a dad can induce. Once in range, Montana made an excellent 250-yard shot. We found the wildebeest in his smooth, striped, battleship-gray coat piled up under an acacia tree about 80 yards from where he was hit.
Near sundown, Tim found a herd of zebra. It was another long shot, and it had to be taken quickly. Under Geoffrey’s guidance, Montana settled her rifle and launched a bullet at a stallion. It hit a bit back, but it did the job. About 200 yards from where it was hit, we found the stallion.
March 20, 2023
My friend Craig Boddington once told me, “You must be absolutely sure of your first shot on a buffalo.” Lying awake in bed the night before my next buffalo hunt, I’m mulling this over.
In the past, I’d always been sure before taking a shot, but “sure” and “absolutely sure” are not the same thing. My first two African buffalo hunts didn’t go as planned. I boogered the shot on my first buff and ended up having to sort out his unpleasantness in some high grass. I didn’t do any better on my second buffalo, and a running gun battle ensued.
If we do find a buffalo tomorrow, I hope that this time I’ve finally learned what “absolutely sure” really means.
March 21, 2023
The dangerous part of dangerous game hunting is often caused by bad decisions or bad shooting. But there was another danger today—the weather. We awoke to a blustery morning, and after lunch, rain and thunderstorms moved in. But we stuck with our plan to hunt buffalo because it was Montana and Bat’s last day in Africa.
Montana stayed in the truck while Bat, Geoffrey, Tim, and I moved across the mountainous terrain in search of buffalo. Meanwhile, the storm pelted us with rain and surrounded us with thunder and lightning. At around 3:00 pm, we crested a rise and spotted a bull feeding in a lush, brushy draw. The lightning struck close, and the thunder clapped, spiking my neck hairs while we glassed the bull. Like me, he had three friends with him. We watched the group of bulls for a moment while Tim and Geoffrey discussed which bull we should try for, and I concentrated on the good shot I needed to make.
Under the cover of the wind, a steady drizzle, and thunder and lightning, we managed to stalk within 76 yards. When the biggest bull offered a shot, I placed the glowing orange dot in my riflescope on his shoulder. At the shot, the bull bucked, spun, and dashed for cover. On the move, he didn’t offer much of a target, but I didn’t wait. I hit him again with another 235-grain solid-copper bullet. That’s when things got interesting.
As my bull went down, the three other bulls decided they were going to clear out—in our direction. They thundered uphill toward us. Tim, Geoffrey, and I formed a skirmish line, with my son, armed only with a camera, behind us. Geoffrey started yelling, and Tim and I joined in with our rifles at the ready.
The bulls kept coming. Over my rifle, I watched the massive buffalo approach, and over the thunder, I could hear and feel their hooves pummeling the earth. They never slowed, but just before they were on us—just before we would’ve had to shoot—they veered left, passing within spitting distance.
Almost on cue, the storm settled, and grey clouds opened to reveal a pastel-blue sky. We collected Montana from the truck and went to inspect the buffalo I shot. My first shot had killed him, going straight through his heart. But I shot him a third time to be “absolutely sure.” Ammo is cheap, and it’s the dead bulls that kill you.
March 24, 2023
Tim and I spent the last two days hunting a specific buffalo he’d had a close call with. I also took a wildebeest bull and a nice impala ram with my 375 H&H. That evening Patty Cawood, the former owner of Tim’s property, joined us for dinner to share the bone marrow from my buffalo. Patty’s family had owned the property since 1918, and she’s known in the safari world as “Out of Africa” Patty or the “Iron Lady.”
More than 30 years ago, after her husband passed, she broke into the male-dominated safari business in South Africa, eventually becoming a PH. She turned Ganna Hoek into one of the first, largest, and most successful hunting preserves in the Eastern Cape. She told us stories about hunting, tossing unruly guests from her property, and employing the legendary African big-game author Ron Thompson as a PH. I could have listened to her all night.
March 27, 2023
With the hunting over and the last campfire extinguished, I’m anxiously dreading the 17-hour flight back to West Virginia. I’ve been gone three weeks, but it seems like I arrived just yesterday. Safari time is different than time spent elsewhere, though. It slowly eases by, with hours melting into days. Then, strangely enough, your whole trip has gone by in an instant.
No matter if it’s your first or 20th, an African safari is like a slow drip of rushing emotions. Every safari is also a sort of test where you—because of your actions—might be trusted or shunned, and living up to the first can be just as hard as living with the latter. But no matter what, when it’s all over, you’ll begin—just like I have, and like my daughter is doing now—trying to figure out how to make it happen again.
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