It took me 47 years to hunt Tanzania, and even then, two and half of those were spent planning our month-long odyssey. Though my wife, Jessica, and I ended up with some of the most incredible hunting experiences of our lives, there were also some hard lessons learned. When running hunts and fishing trips (over 50 to date in 13 countries), I’ve always tried to abide by the old naval 6 P’s – Prior, Planning, Prevents, Piss-Poor Performance. However, sometimes quite a lot can be lost in translation or execution when it comes to Africa.
After speaking with a number of trusted SCI members, I settled on my professional hunter first: Kenyan and well-known African guide, Simon Evans. I planned to hunt with fellow SCI Member John Green and, after discussing with Simon the animals we were interested in hunting, picked Kilombero North Safaris (KNS) which operates five hunting concessions in Tanzania. An added complexity of this trip (and deeply discussed on the front end) was that both John and I were bringing members of our families: my entire family (three kids under 8, my wife, and her Mom) and in John’s case, his two young boys. By the time we had signed all necessary documents, we had added SCI President Paul Babaz, making our crew 10 people, which is larger than many camps can accommodate.
Both Jessica and I invested in plenty of rifle range time while preparing for the hunt with Dakota Martin at Prospect Hall Hunt Club in Kearneysville, West Virginia. Dakota is one of the top marksmen in the mid-Atlantic. He worked with both of us as we experimented with new bullets, different grains, and new scopes on the two rifles I chose to bring – a 1953 Winchester Model 70 in .375 H&H and my Christensen .280 Ackley Improved – as well as Jessica’s Demaray RifleWorks .375 Ruger.
After trying an assortment of rounds, I settled on John LaSalla’s Safari Arms custom loads with 300-grain softs for the .375 H&H and 150-grain softs for the .280 (hat tip to Alain Smith on that introduction). I also obtained Woodleigh 300-grain hards, “just in case,” as Simon suggested. We also upgraded the scopes on all three guns; mine to Carl Zeiss Victory V8s in 2.8-20×56 and 4.8-35×60, and Jessica to a Leica 2.8-16×42. Those longer range scopes proved invaluable as the shots on the trip ranged up to 360 yards.
After landing in Tanzania, our crew drove six tough hours to arrive at a concession called Kitwai. Kitwai, we came to learn, was a bit of an experiment for many involved. Simon had never been there, nor had John Ngalesoni, Paul’s PH. Lance Nesbit, the Greens’ exceptional PH, had been there and had solid luck, so we felt good going in. Though the camp itself was in good shape, the food excellent, and the staff outstanding, the game was skittish — think ducks or pronghorn on the last day of the season in the U.S.
Making the best of skittish game
Being stealthy is part of hunting, but with the state of the Kitwai concession, we learned to put a cartridge in the chamber and be ready to take a shot in record time. We did see lesser kudu on many times early in the mornings and afternoons, but they quickly disappeared. I stalked 10 to 12 lesser kudu, but never took a shot over those six days of hunting. Our conclusion was that the previous owner of the concession realized they were going to lose the block, so no longer managed the hunts nor suppressed the poaching. That said, there is enormous potential in the area. Over a six-day period, our group took six impala and one lesser kudu.
One of the crown jewels of the KNS concessions is Lake Natron, which is an eight-hour drive from Kitwai. A significant reason we chose Tanzania was the quantity and quality of spiral horn species. If you’re seeking a southern Grant’s gazelle, white bearded wildebeest, gerenuk, fringe eared oryx or Thompson’s gazelle, Lake Natron is the place.
Though the “roads” in the area were extremely poor and the dust from overgrazing was like nothing any of us had ever experienced, there was still a ton of game — zebra, giraffe, dik dik, impala, Grant’s and Thompson’s gazelle, gerenuk, hyena, giraffe, jackal, ostrich, etc. Within two days, I was able to harvest a beautiful Grant’s, a Thompson’s and a stunning zebra. Jessica took a massive gerenuk, a Grant’s and a Thompson’s gazelle. I had no appreciation for the strength and speed of those Tommys until this trip.
About three hours from camp was the Sand River area of the concession where the Greens and Paul harvested several animals including lesser kudu and zebra. We hunted Sand River on our fourth day in Natron, then drove another hour to the shore of Lake Natron where one can find white bearded wildebeest. The dust affected our visibility and breathing, but between wind gusts we glimpsed hundreds upon hundreds of zebra, as well as Masai, their livestock and, if you looked very carefully, wildebeest. After offering a young Masai boy some water, he led us directly to an old wildebeest bull wandering with a herd of zebra. I was able to take him using my .280 with a single shot and Masai spectators in every other direction.
We continued looking for other game most of the day, ultimately sending my family back to the main camp when the dust got to be too much for the kids. Little did I know how much more Lake Natron would offer us that afternoon. As our scout, Zach, glassed to the west, I noticed a light brown spot in the green shrubs about 500 yards away that was moving. I assumed it was an impala but upon further glassing, it was a large bohor reedbuck browsing. Simon, Zach and I stalked closer and I let one fly, knocking him down with a 150-grain bullet. This was a bonus animal we never expected to see, but was thankfully on my license.
“You’re Too White”
Following the stumbling upon the bohor reedbuck, we began the long trek back to the Lake Natron camp. For a final photo opportunity on the lake, Simon perched the Land Cruiser on the edge of a dirt cliff overlooking the south shore. In the far distance, Zach saw what looked to be a white bearded wildebeest near the edge of the water. His eyes, once again, had found us a great opportunity.
We hopped off the truck and made a plan to walk toward him like four Masai tending to our livestock, then Simon and I would drop to the ground for a shot around 350 yards while Zach and Ernest (the other lead game scout) kept walking. As we locked and loaded, Zach took one look at us and said in Swahili to me “you’re too white.” The entire group of us started howling and laughing. To solve the problem, Zach grabbed two red plaid Masai shawls and wrapped Simon and me up. And guess what? The entire plan worked like a charm. The old wildebeest jumped up when we made the split, but looked puzzled as I put the reticle on him and let another Safari Arms 150-grainer fly. He went straight down. A perfect conclusion to a perfect hunting day.
Small contributions to the local communities
In one of the more emotional parts of the trip, KNS made arrangements with their community liaison for us to donate Safari Club International Foundation blue bags and all of our hung meat to two local boarding schools. The whole group packed up everything we could with our young kids leading the charge carrying Legos, sneakers off their own feet, fleece jackets, crayons, school supplies, toy soldiers and Matchbox cars.
Through dust devils and rocky roads, we finally arrived at the schools three hours away. Classes are conducted outside under trees with ancient blackboards. The Tanzanian children were tidily uniformed and perfectly lined up awaiting our arrival. They sang the school song, the Tanzanian anthem and raised their flag. We met with the administrators/headmasters at each school and they explained the curriculum, the students’ backgrounds and the many needs of schools.
So far from Arusha and Dar Es Salaam, it is difficult to recruit teachers, so often locals are taught alongside the students until they can take over the classes as instructors. It was a sobering discussion, particularly for all our boys. Despite more than 700 students and less than 20 teachers, there was a sense of order, respect, discipline and academic rigor that was amazing to witness. Every structure, whether cinderblock or thatch, was covered in hand-painted scientific diagrams, maps or mathematic principles.
After the welcome ceremony, we presented the SCIF bags and school supplies to the headmasters, then distributed soccer balls, ball caps and toys to the top academic performers. Thankfully, we had enough candy to give a piece to each student. Our seven-year-old was in charge of distribution.
At the end of the ceremony, we invited the school administrators to look in the back of the Land Cruisers and see the all the meat we were donating. The headmaster explained through an interpreter that the protein provided by our two wildebeests and stallion zebra would feed the entire school for three or four days. It may have been one of the coolest experiences we have ever had as a family. Our boys still talk about it.
Over the following two days, Jessica took her ostrich with a solid single shot. It made great meat for the camp for the next three days and I was finally able to conquer my lesser kudu curse that had plagued us the entire trip. I also harvested a trophy fringe-eared oryx with a 190-yard shot across a valley. The lesser kudu stalk ended when I was able to put a round through the engine room of a solid old kudu who barely had any teeth. We were fairly convinced that he wouldn’t have made it through another season. The oryx hunt took us over multiple hills and climbs all based on seeing a single track. It was a super cool hunt I won’t soon forget; again, hat tip to Ernest, Zach and Simon.
What Lurks in the Mount Kitumbeine Crater?
Up to that point, all of our hunting had been on the “ground floor” of the concession. It was time to go up to the “fly camp” that had been built for the hunting season near the top of Kitumbeine Crater; a two hour drive up the mountain. As we ascended, the entire ecosystem changed from dusty, dry and brown to moist, wet and green. It was wild.
The routine at fly camp was to rise around 4:30 a.m. and have breakfast followed by a 40-minute walk to the top edge of the crater where we would glass for game and focus on stalking. The game inside the crater was what we had all envisioned Tanzania was going to be like when we first booked the trip. I ended up spending six nights at the fly camp, my family joined me for four of those.
The kids were incredible troopers, really loving the gravity shower and the 24-hour fire. Over those six days I was able to take two buffalo more than 40 inches, a bushbuck, painfully miss an 180-inch monster bushbuck at 120 yards due to not listening to Simon and take an awesome East African eland that had a mop of hair that looked like me in 11th grade. Jessica also got a gorgeous serval cat on the one afternoon she was able to hunt.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip in many ways, but the old African proverb also came true with a number of elements on this trip – “The further north you go in Africa, the more alligators are in the water.”–Jeffrey J. Kimbell