Have you ever had a long-standing desire to turn dream into reality only you do not really know the path to get there? This is one member’s story.
I joined Safari Club International ten years ago, eventually becoming a Life member. I came to understand everything that SCI has to offer, and most importantly, how the organization supports our broad community and personal goal achievement.
Getting my priorities in order, family commitments, demands of the job, funding a safari budget, I finally attended my first SCI Convention in 2015, planning to bid on a donation hunt. The auctions are a victory for conservation causes, benefitting the club, hunt donors, auction winners, destination communities and wildlife. The Auction Guide arrived well in advance of the convention, providing ample preparation time so I could optimize my experience at the “Ultimate Hunters Market®.” I planned on meeting and questioning outfitters and professional hunters before bidding.
I was awe-struck upon entering the exhibit hall, asking myself, “Why did I put off attending the convention for so long?” There are rows and rows of exhibitors covering every aspect of our outdoor passions. I went to work right away, meeting exhibitors specializing in Cape buffalo hunts.
For two full days I met many exhibitors and African hunt donors. I prioritized my donation hunt choices, re-affirmed my budget and felt confident that on Day Three I would be a successful bidder.
In the Auction Hall, I selected seating up front, slightly stage right with an unobstructed view of the auctioneer, and near a bid assistant using a light wand to draw attention to bidders. Observing 15 to 20 auctions, I gained a sense of the process, noting that auctions were settling below donor value. Clearly, donation hunts offer great opportunities for that long-desired safari that might otherwise be unattainable.
Finally, my first choice donation came up for auction, a 15-day dangerous game and plains game hunt in Namibia donated by Omujeve Hunting Safaris. Bidding started low, was brisk for several thousand dollars, and then bidders started dropping out. Noting a slight pause in the action, the auctioneer was compelling, urging on the several bidders who remained. I placed my first bid, which was quickly met with a $1,000 increase. I immediately countered. A bid assistant was then standing by my side and every other bid was mine, the light wand waving overhead. As the bids increased between me and another equally enraptured hunter, the pace of counter-offers slowed and I hoped that this was a sign of imminent success. A few more bids brought me to my price-point, my budget. The auctioneer pressed that bidding was going to close and after pausing, my competitor bid another $1,000. I thought to myself, I do want this hunt, but I’m at my target price! Like the devil on my shoulder, or the angel, the bid assistant whispered, “you’re not going to lose this for $1,000, are you?” Reason surrendered to desire, convincing myself to one last bid. I said, “okay, go another $1,000!” Up went the wand. The auctioneer saw that there was no counter from other bidders, and in a matter of seconds, I heard, “sold!”
I entered that euphoric state that we reach only on life’s rare special occasions. The crowd in the hall was applauding, appreciating the robust bidding, but I barely heard it. I’m heading to Africa! The 15-day Cape buffalo and eight plains game hunt includes the hunter, an observer (my son Sean, an avid photographer and videographer), accommodations, meals, guide service, trophy fees and field prep, everything except airfare and gratuities.
With the bid happily paid, I headed to the exhibit hall to give Omujeve owner and dangerous game PH Corne Kruger the news. I chose 2016 for the safari. Next, I visited travel agencies with rifle permit services, taxidermists and firearms manufacturers. Over the next 18 months, all that was left was gaining big bore rifle proficiency, packing and heading to the airport.
Like an oasis in the diverse and dramatic landscape that is Namibia, I finally found myself at Omujeve. The Kruger family (and friends) are quintessential hosts with comfortable, well-organized camps. Main Camp, an hour from Windhoek, has all the comforts of home and a well-appointed lodge. Plains game and leopard are abundant in this semi-arid area. Another property, Ivory Camp, is located in the Caprivi Strip in the heart of game country near the Mashi and Mayuni Conservancies. Officially known as the Zambezi Region, it is a remote, vast area of free-ranging game; elephant, lion, leopard, Cape buffalo, hippo, crocodile and plains game are close by.
On the first day only minutes into Bwabwata National Park, a tree and shrub savannah bordered by floodplains in the northwestern Caprivi, we encountered a lone buffalo at 50 yards. Hard boss, big bodied, “37 inches, maybe a bit more,” my PH whispered, confidently adding, “we can do better.” It’s the first morning of a seven-day quest for Cape buffalo and I couldn’t agree more. Putting the bakkie in gear, he quipped, “Let’s hope that we’re not calling him Mr. Regret.”
Nearing late morning, we came across two groups of buffalo. The first was outside the park boundary and, cursing our bad luck, we moved on. Twenty minutes later, we found the second group, resting but alert, with bulls worthy of a closer look. We moved the bakkie several hundred yards downwind, unloaded and, in closing the distance, saw the buffalo hurrying off in the direction of the park border.
Day two was unseasonably warm and game sightings were scarce. Day three brought a thorough patrol of the park and late day we decided to intercept buffalo heading to water along the fairly dry Kwando River floodplain. As if on cue, a group of eight appeared with several good bulls, but upon seeing us they turned back into the bush and we decided that a pursuit approaching dusk might prove unwise. Late the next morning, we had an interesting turn of events. We learned that the buffalo permit was issued for the incorrect Park. Hunting came to a halt until outfitter and government agency sorted things out.
A Caprivi safari has been a personal objective for decades, and now, at last, I was there. Fortunately, the permit confusion was resolved quickly, but due to logistics, a day of buffalo hunting was lost. Corne reassured me that the correct park, Nkasa Rupara National Park, would not disappoint. Nkasa Rupara, in the southwest portion of east Caprivi separated from Botswana by the Kwando and Linyati rivers, consists largely of islands, reed beds and lagoons. The park holds the largest concentration of Cape buffalo in Namibia. I was elated and that evening, the recurring dream of Cape buffalo came back vividly. The passing of time, the saving and planning, the pre-occupation with “being there” now came down to a few remaining days.
Early on Day Six we headed out of Ivory Camp, planning on picking up a game ranger at the park’s ranger station shortly after sunrise. Once at the park, navigating our way was an adventure; narrow, guardrail-less bridges, forks in the sandy roads without signage and encounters with hunting concession holders made the drive interesting. At the station, we waited and within the hour the ranger, Bargray, arrived. He quietly inspected our party and introduced himself, announcing that he had an idea where the buffalo could be found. Bargray made his sentiment clear: he’d rather be on anti-poaching patrol than guiding hunters. I smiled, thinking that on this day, he was going to accomplish both.
In the light breeze of mid-morning the savanna is perfect, a sea of waving golden grass broken up by stands of broadleaf trees and woody vegetation. Occasional lagoons had hippo and crocodile resting on the banks. We crossed several of these waterholes and in cresting a small hill, spotted a large herd of buffalo grazing about a mile away. The terrain masked our approach as PH Jacobus Wasserfall guided the bakkie as close as we dared. Jacob, Bargray, Sean and I weaved our way through the taller vegetation for a look at the herd, now less than a half-mile away. Jacob focused on the windward edge of the herd and we headed back to the bakkie for a strategy session. Sean pointed out an elephant approaching in the direction we were traveling. Bargray assured us that park elephant would quietly avoid us, which it did. Following Jacob, our party of seven formed a tight single-file line, using dense brush for cover. Closing the distance to within 200 yards, we glassed the buffalo. Jacob decided on the route of the final stalk, leaving three of our party behind. At 120 yards, Jacob asked if I wanted to get on the sticks, indicating the buffalo farthest to the right of the group was exceptional. I surveyed the landscape, suggesting we get closer. Without hesitating, Jacob led us, hunched over, through waist-high grass, tree clusters and a convenient swale that placed us 68 yards from the feeding buffalo. I chose a bushy knoll. Jacob set the shooting sticks.
What happened next unfolded painstakingly slow. The grazing buffalo kept changing his presentation; broadside facing right became a prolonged backend view, then quartering away facing left. Leisurely, he took short re-positioning steps, eventually providing a broadside facing left shot. The grass was covering vitals and I waited to see the point of the shoulder. An eternity passed before I started easing off the safety.
I watched the buffalo through the Weaver 1-5×30 dangerous game scope as the safety was released. In an instant I discharge the shot, appearing to be on target. I chambered another Hornady 400-grain .416 Remington Magnum round in the Winchester Model 70 Safari Express. Returning to the sticks, I picked up the rapidly fleeing buffalo, which followed the herd thundering off from right to left. He was sharply quartering away beyond 100 yards and just as the crosshair passed in front of his left shoulder, I squeezed the trigger.
Dust filled the air as did the anxiety of a potentially dangerous situation. Jacob, Bargray and the rest of the team headed off in the direction of the second shot. Instinctively, I headed to where the buffalo stood at the first shot, expecting a blood trail. Moving from the first to the second shot location, I heard Jacob shouting, “He’s here, come!” Weaving through trees and brush, I found Jacob with the sticks up. The buffalo, hard-hit, but not finished, was hunkered down in a sparse thicket with just enough cover and shadow to hide. Regaining his footing, was he attempting an escape or a charge? I quickly ran a solid into him. Jacob did the same. The buffalo bellowed long and deep, and with disbelief I asked, “Is that the death bellow?” Maintaining focus, Jacob directed me to pay the insurance, which was answered with another, even longer, head-raised bellow. Then all was quiet and still. I admired him, humbled by his magnificence. There were congratulatory handshakes and back slapping, and I stepped aside privately, offering thanks for a safe, successful hunt. The buffalo was in his prime with symmetrical, deep curling horns, a 43-inch spread, and large, solid bosses.
There was meat for many who may have been without it for months, as Omujeve delivered the buffalo to Mashi Traditional Authority Chief Joseph Tembwe Mayuni for consumption at the annual Tulikonge cultural festival. This specific park hunting permit designated game to be taken with this sole objective.
The rest of my safari was top-notch. Blue wildebeest, warthog, waterbuck, gemsbok, eland, Hartman’s zebra, springbok, and numerous stalks of good-sized kudu, all these hunts deserve their own stories.
SCI facilitates resource access for the safari of a lifetime, scalable to personal preferences and finances. There is so much more purpose in membership than the hunt and campfire camaraderie. My new path is actively sustaining our hunting legacy. While away on safari, my out-of-office message summed it up best; “I am traveling in Africa, supporting conservation and humanitarian causes and have no access to email at this time.” A message decades in the making, deferred for too long, and one that needs repeating the sooner the better.–Ray Cox