Since almost the day they were born, I’ve had a burning desire to take my daughters on a safari in Africa. They were born one minute apart, twins — and identical twins at that — and Hunter Shae and Savanna Jae Morgan were going to experience a safari some day, no matter what I had to do to make that happen. When they were about 5 years old, I started presenting them with different opportunities to gain an interest in Africa. I also found myself obsessively lobbying their mother, my wife, Stacy, to book this dream trip. But year after year the answer was always, “No. They are too small to shoot and the flight would be too tough on them.” Reluctantly, I conceded, knowing she was right. Then in late 2011, out of the clear blue, my wife said, “Better sharpen up the girl’s shooting. We are going to Africa.”
My daughters and I got busy practicing our shooting in preparation for the big day. Using Stacy’s Remington 7mm-08, we started by shooting 3D targets to get used to proper bullet placement, but I soon realized that shooting a single shot, walking up to the target 100 yards away to see where the bullet penetrated over and over was a bit boring. I really believed that I was losing the girls’ interest and desire to practice. I quickly switched gears by dropping the gun size down to a .17-caliber varmint rifle and putting up a gallery of balloons filled anywhere from four to six inches in diameter and placing them on a back drop of hay bales. What a difference that made! Instead of being boring, the girls could shoot at 100 yards and get instant gratification by seeing the balloons pop, one after another.
Soon our consistency and our timing improved to the point we did not miss, even when we dropped the balloon size down to three inches. For me it was awesome to watch their progress; for them it was a great self-esteem builder. At the conclusion of each session, we would end with a couple of shots from the 7mm-08, which helped them realize that there was no difference from one gun to the next if you just did everything the same for each shot. Their shooting was right on, and my anxiety was building. Would they invariably like hunting or not? I was pretty sure they would; they have tagged along with me for years on a variety of hunts, but have never pulled the trigger on an animal themselves. I was confident, but being half way around the world, I would have regretted being wrong if I misjudged my girls.
I booked our safari with an old friend, Howard Knott of Greater Kuduland Safaris in South Africa. The areas are in the northern part of South Africa, bordering Zimbabwe and Botswana. I had hunted with Howard on my very first hunt in Africa more than twenty-five years ago and knew full well he would be an absolutely perfect fit for the family, not to mention his luxury camps and massive property holdings. After a few days’ stopover in London for an historical and cultural experience, we arrived in camp on June 22, only to then have my first shock. While in London, the customs representative accidently dropped our gun case from about four feet, and I discovered our perfectly sighted guns were off a mile when we tried them out on the range. My anxiety was building: How many bullets would it take to re-sight and could I even manage without better bench material? Wow, this was not the way I wanted to start the trip. Faith and a lot of luck got us back on target better than I expected, but I was still nervous. Time was to tell, so we were off to look for our first animal.
It was my intent to have Stacy take the first animal in Africa and show the girls that if mom can do it, so could they. When I ask Stacy if she wanted to shoot first, both my daughters said, “No, I want to.” Well you can’t beat that enthusiasm, so the girls elected that Savanna would be first up.
Herd after herd of wildebeest, kudu, giraffes and even a couple of rhinos gave the girls their first true look at the African bush. The girls were in awe, not to mention that I was on Cloud Nine just watching them enjoy themselves. We decided that an impala would be a good animal to start them with, so we began looking for a mature ram. Not long after, we spotted a small herd, so we got out of the truck and started our pursuit. No one wanted to miss out, so we had the four of us, Sam (Howard’s professional hunter), and Gavin, Howard’s younger son, all in a line tracking back and forth, looking for an opportunity. I swear the only reason the ram swung around and stopped is it could not believe what it was seeing. Nonetheless, he gave us the opportunity we were looking for. The first challenge was that the ram was looking straight on — not the shot I was looking for by any stretch of the imagination for Savanna’s first. Shooting sticks in place, she steadied off the ram just for experience while I told her to look but not to shoot. I did not need a wounded animal or a discouraging miss after all we had gone through to get there. She whispered, “No problem Dad, it’s just like aiming at the balloons,” as she released the trigger. My heart dropped for a split second only to start whooping and hollering about her dropping the animal stone cold. Tears of relief and joy rushed over my entire body. She did it! And equally important, she was as happy as I. One daughter with an animal down and another daughter to go, I was already worrying about tomorrow and what fortune, or lack thereof, would be in store for Hunter. I needed success for both if we were going to have smooth sailing for the rest of the safari.
With a bit of a chill in the air, we pulled out of camp at the crack of dawn the next morning in pursuit of Hunter’s impala. Shortly thereafter, we spotted a trio of rams in the distance and began our trek to catch up with them. It turned into a real cat and mouse game. Each time we tried to get the shooting sticks ready, the rams would bolt and away we would go again. Nearly an hour into the chase, the larger ram turned to face us at a little more than two hundred yards. Sticks in place, Hunter drew down on him, but I asked her to hold up as there was brush in the way and, once again, we are looking at a chest shot.
For whatever reason, we conceded to let her try. You should always follow your instincts because, unfortunately, she missed — just as I would have under the circumstances. She handled the miss remarkably well, but in the back of my mind I could not help but wonder what pressure she was bearing upon herself, considering how competitive she is with her sister.
As we were working our way back to camp for brunch, we ran across a great springbok ram. So off we went after it. Nothing this morning was easy. As we were getting close to the springbok, a small herd of impala bolted and took the ram with them. Luckily, his harem did not follow, so he soon returned to join them. Hunter quickly set up, and the ram presented himself at 170 yards. Small animal, long range, here we go again, I thought. The report of the rifle, a millisecond of suspense, left us all whooping and hollering for a second time. She stoned it. What a great shot! I still get choked up as I share the story with anyone.
Two young girls, their first two trophies, and an insatiable appetite to continue hunting for more trophy animals — it quite frankly just doesn’t get any better than that! All the anxiety and worries I had quickly dissipated as we settled in for the safari of a lifetime.
As the hunt proceeded, there were memorable moments that I will cherish forever. Stacy, by chance, took each of the girls, one at a time, by herself with Sam on a morning trek in pursuit of their next trophy. One by one, she came back to camp with a wildebeest for Savanna and a gemsbok for Hunter. Both, one shot kills. Now how cool is that? Mother and daughter solo in the bush! I could not have been more proud of all of them. While Stacy had one of the girls, I had the other at a water hole, trying our hand with a crossbow. Hunter and I were not successful, but Savanna, bless her heart, drilled a monster wart hog right behind the shoulder for a quick kill. I was starting to think this was just a dream — my girls taking trophy after trophy, even with a crossbow — it can’t be for real, can it?
After seven days of hunting, Savanna collected an impala, warthog, wildebeest and a kudu, while Hunter collected an impala, springbok, gemsbok and a beautiful red hartebeest. Not too bad for beginners! The girls really stepped up to the plate with great shooting magnified by a true sense of appreciation for the bush and all that goes into game management. Howard, Gavin and Sam helped make every moment special, as I knew they would. Credit really needs to go the Stacy, however, for holding off as long as we did in booking our trip so a dad’s dream could truly be a Father’s Dream come true!—Steve Morgan