“I want to thank my grandparents for bringing us on this trip. I love them so much,” our 14-year-old grandson, Parker Swan, said. He had just shot a beautiful blesbok at Lindenhof Ranch in Namibia and was thanking us for bringing him, his 10-year-old brother, Mason, and his mother and father, Bill III and DeAnn, to Africa with us for a family hunting trip. Jaco, our PH, was running the video camera while saying,
“I think I am going to cry!” Vicki, my wife, and I had tears in our eyes after hearing him say that. His comment made the trip for us.
Vicki and I had been planning this African trip for our family with Cedric and Karin Neiuwoudt at Cape to Cairo since the 2010 SCI Convention in Reno. We selected them because they were an SCI Corporate Sponsor the year prior, and because of that, we became close friends. Cedric and Karin provided a “hassle free” trip that included transfers, three different camps and an overnight at a country club. For our family, it was a trip of a lifetime and one we hoped to cherish forever. Only Vicki and I had ever been to the African Continent, and this would probably be our last trip to Africa since we had other places we wanted to experience.
My son and I have been hunting deer and turkeys with the grandkids since they were the “ripe old age” of six when each of them was able to harvest a whitetail buck. Later, we took them with us on hunting trips to many other places, including Canada, Ohio and Kentucky. Both Parker and Mason have since become avid hunters.
My fondest memory of hunting with Mason was on one very cold morning here in Tennessee when he was eight. Bill III dropped the two of us off at a shooting house overlooking a food plot. Mason climbed the stairs to the house and Bill III handed me Mason’s .243 (or at least he thought) in a zippered case. I grabbed my Kimber .300 WSM and followed Mason into the house. In less than an hour, a nice eight-point whitetail appeared 25 yards in front of the stand. I quickly unzipped the case and instead of Mason’s .243, pulled out my son’s (unloaded) muzzleloader that he mistakenly picked up that morning when leaving the house. I looked at Mason and he was shaking all over with his teeth chattering. “Mason, are you cold?” I asked. He just shook his head no and pointed at my Kimber. Needless to say, I was afraid the recoil might take him for an “unplanned ride.”
For our family, planning the trip and letting the kids pick out which animals to shoot added to the excitement. Parker’s number one animal was a kudu and Mason’s number one was, of all things, an eland since that was the largest plains game animal. For him, bigger is better. Parker had always wanted a kudu, so his choice was easy. I had not planned to hunt, but Cedric talked me into hunting sable, which is an animal Vicki and I had always wanted to adorn our log home. Bill III was hunting with his bow. Several hours were well spent with the kids prior to the trip, having them shoot off sticks to get the feel of what was in store for them. Vicki and DeAnn spent time honing their camera skills and we were ready. Vicki and DeAnn took more than 3,000 photos on the trip.
The day after our departure and being in airports and planes for more than 24 hours, we arrived very tired and very excited at the Windhok, Namibia, airport. There, Jaco and Janse, our PHs, grabbed our luggage and we were quickly on the way to the lodge. Parker, Mason, Bill III and DeAnn were like revolving doors trying to see all the sights and animals en route. After an early supper, we all became pumpkins and fell asleep, dreaming of what was to come.
Dawn came cool and crisp, and it was hard to tell who was looking forward to the first day the most. Parker was using my Kimber .325 WSM that I would be carrying on my lion hunt after they flew home, and Mason was shooting
his older brother’s Howa 7mm-08 with Hornady 139-grain bullets. With airlines so strict on luggage requirements and South Africa’s cumbersome gun clearance and everyone in sight wanting a tip to help, we decided that we could survive bringing two rifles. Our only concern was Mason shooting a 2,000-pound eland with such a small bullet.
We decided Vicki and I would hunt with Parker the first morning, and Bill III and DeAnn would go with Mason. Parker performed flawlessly, making a perfect 160-yard one-shot kill on a springbok while I filmed the action. The first thing he did before picking up his animal was to give Vicki and me a hug and thank us for this trip. Upon returning with Parker’s springbok, we found that Mason had made a “one shot” kill on a black wildebeest; however, he got confused and shot the wrong one. Jaco, being the gentleman and great PH that he is, called it a cull and let Mason take a second wildebeest.
On day two, Vicki and I went with Mason in hopes of finding a trophy eland. Two hours later, we spotted a small group of eland. We left the truck for an hour-long stalk that had Jaco and Mason crawling about 50 yards to get into position for a shot. (At 68 years old, crawling is not the same for me as when I was less than a year old. There were thorns everywhere and they gravitated to my knees, so I choose to find a close tree and began filming.) Watching though the viewfinder, I could easily see Jaco placing the shooting sticks in position while Mason rose slowly and placed his rifle in position for the 150-yard shot. At the sound of the shot, Jaco grabbed the sticks and walked about 10 feet to his right with Mason in tow. The rifle was on the rest for the next shot when Mason began giving Jaco high fives. For the next two minutes the young hunter danced around like a Mexican jumping bean doing what he called the “eland dance” that he had been practicing at home for this moment. I have little doubt he added a few new moves.
It was at that point when Vicki and I felt we had gotten more than our money’s worth from this trip, but it only got better. As we approached the giant eland, Jaco said, “Mason, do you realize what you have gotten?” Of course, he had no idea, as this was the first time he had seen one of these animals up-close. Jaco then proceeded to tell him that this was by far the largest eland ever taken off this ranch. We could not believe it! One shot with the tiny rifle had taken out both lungs and finished
it within 25 yards of where it was hit.
The next day, Bill III, hunting over a waterhole with Jaco, shot a very nice oryx with his bow, while Mason got an afternoon double of a warthog and red hartebeest. Parker got a really nice blue wildebeest. The next days went by way too fast. We wanted the trip to be enjoyed slowly like a fine wine, but life is not like that.
While hunting and filming with Parker, we spotted a kudu bull worthy of gracing the wall of his room. It was a two-hour game of cat and mouse, spotting and stalking through the thick brush. Parker would place my Kimber on the rest only to see the gray ghost of Africa appear and disappear. Finally, he was able to make a quick shot and the animal of his dreams was lying at his feet. What a magnificent animal a kudu is. And, what a great time we had going through the thorns and brush chasing the bull. That evening, Parker’s brother had taken a beautiful red hartebeest and warthog (before leaving home he said he did not want to hunt a warthog, but this is Africa).
Cedric made arrangements for us to take a Safari Care (SCIF) bag to a local school adjoining a “squatter’s town.” According to Parker, that was his favorite part of the trip. Both Parker and Mason got to give out the contents of the bag in each classroom. The teachers were very excited to get the six soccer balls that were in the bag since they had a soccer tournament coming up in two weeks. At each class, the kids would sing and dance. Cedric told us the words to the song were “thank you and welcome.” It was really sad to see the living conditions, but it was uplifting to see the children in class hoping for a better life.
That evening at dinner as we enjoyed the eland tenderloin cooked over an open fire (which we agreed is the best meat we have eaten), Jaco informed us that we had set a camp record of 17 animals in three days for three hunters. He did count my sable, but the trip was about family and not about an animal for me. With the exception of Mason’s second black wildebeest, every animal was taken with only one shot. That was not too bad shooting for a 10- and 14-year-old, especially since I needed two shots for the sable, and many animals I took on my first trip to Africa required more than one.
After Lindenhof Ranch, our next destination was Erindi Ranch in Northern Namibia for a photographic safari. We spent the three days there reliving our cherished time on the
family hunting trip and enjoying evening rides into the bush, taking pictures of the African game. We even had a little excitement when a bull elephant actually ran at us and bumped the back of our Land Rover.
It seemed as though we had just arrived when Vicki and I tearfully had to say goodbye to Bill III, DeAnn and the kids at the South Africa airport. They had a flight home, and we had a charter flight for my lion hunt. This was a trip we wish could have lasted forever because it was not just a trip — it was an experience for the family. We will never forget Parker saying, “I love my grandparents so much.” We were all “bitten by the safari bug” and cannot wait to return.–Bill Swan