“Papa, I want to go hunting with you.” The request coming from my young granddaughter took me by surprise. She had never expressed such an interest during her visits before.
I carefully explained that my hunting required early morning rises and the shooting of game. Not to be deterred she informed me, “No, I want to do the hunting.”
Allie lives in a large city which is located six hours away from my home. She could only visit during the Thanksgiving holidays and so began our deer hunting together one week a year for the next three years.
Honestly, when my granddaughter’s request came, I had not allowed myself to believe that it would develop much beyond the initial words. I had pretty well resolved myself to the conclusion that none of my grandchildren would realize my dream of their embracing hunting as I had.
For me as a boy, the situation had been different as I had been surrounded by hunting relatives, beagles and birddogs. Now my grandchildren were embroiled in all kinds of school and extracurricular activities that left little time for sharing this old man’s dreams.
Granted, the younger of my two sons had caught the fever at a very young age and we would share many days hunting together. However, in this fast-paced age the grandchildren seemed unimpressed with the slower pace of the hunt. I had resigned myself to the thought that none of them would know as a hunter the exhilaration of a frosty fall morning’s sunlight filtering through the autumn canopy accented by the pungent aroma of the season. It is a cathedral-like experience, but then you really have to be there. Thus, the request from my granddaughter had rekindled a hope that just maybe, after all, the sun had not set on my dream for my grandchildren.
Each Thanksgiving I was pleasantly surprised to see Allie arrive from the big city with her camo and her can-do attitude.
While spending time together afield, I found opportunities to tell Allie of my hunting trips to Africa which began in 1986. Those conversations apparently sparked an interest in her as she eventually asked me to include her in a trip to Africa. I could not deny her and besides, it would be a nice high school graduation gift. She was not certain that she wanted to hunt in Africa herself until she could personally see the various animals in their habitat. Her reserve signaled to me that she was truly aware that hunting is more about the quest than the kill.
Years ago, Beth Jones representing her Trophy Hunters Safaris agency out of Miami had introduced me to Garry Kelly at an SCI convention. Beth is a friend of many years and has provided invaluable assistance on previous trips to Africa, so I take her recommendations to heart.
I had booked a hunt with Garry in 2018 and had been very impressed with the two large concessions that he hunted from his Mkuze Camp. Garry’s concessions encompassed thirty thousand acres and sixty thousand acres respectively with no internal fences. I had previously hunted in the CAR, Liberia and Botswana, but honestly had never expected to find such large tracts of rugged terrain with the diversity of huntable game animals including the Big Five in South Africa.
During my safari in 2018, I discussed the situation regarding my granddaughter with Garry and he suggested a photographic safari for us with an option to upgrade to hunting out of his Mkuze Tented Camp in June of 2019. The tented accommodations were something I especially wanted my granddaughter to experience.
On June 3, 2019 my wife, granddaughter and I flew from Atlanta to Johannesburg and then to Durban. Carmen Barnard, who anchors the Kelly operation out of the KwaZulu Natal office, met us at the King Shaka International Airport and safely delivered us to a very nice waterfront hotel just north of Durban. The overnight accommodations provided our group with an opportunity to dip our toes in the Indian Ocean and also enjoy a nice departure dinner.
Early the next morning Garry retrieved us from the hotel and drove us north for three hours to his camp. The ride to camp bore witness to the productivity of the people and the soil of the region as evidenced by verdant forest plantations, fruit orchards and sugar cane fields. I manage my own tree farm, so the extensive well managed pine and eucalyptus plantations were especially impressive to me.
Accommodations at the camp allowed my granddaughter to share a tent with her grandmother while I occupied another tent nearby. The very first night in camp, we were serenaded by lion roars along the Mkuze River just below our tents. The sounds of the African night will remain lifelong memories for us all.
It did not take long for my granddaughter to decide that the rolling terrain and dense bush were conditions that met her fair chase criteria, so she decided to hunt kudu, wildebeest and impala. The next day we made a stop at the range to see how my granddaughter would handle the .30-06 Model 70 that Garry loaned to her. While she proved her proficiency with the Model 70, we could hear a village singing as a community at the foot of a nearby mountain.
The Zulu harmonies that echoed from the mountain gave me the opportunity to share a little of the region’s history regarding Rorke’s Drift with my granddaughter. Drawing from my own military experience I tried to impress upon her that when it comes to soldiering, it is perhaps more about bravery than right or wrong causes. Bravery abounded on both sides during the battle at the station at Rorke’s Drift.
Highlights of the time at Mkuze were the sightings of lion, elephant, buffalo and rhino. One afternoon we turned the trail to happen upon two big lions fighting over a recent kill just yards from us. A lioness stood directly in front of us with a bloody muzzle and with several cubs in tow. The lions stood in the brush on each side of us and roared their displeasure while the other lions and cubs filed slowly by. That was an experience my granddaughter will never forget.
The days passed with everyone fully enjoying the mountain scenery, crisp weather and the animal sightings. One of my concerns when planning the trip was if my granddaughter would find the various game dishes to her liking. That turned out to be a baseless concern as she relished most any dish set before her throughout the week-long stay.
Allie would discover the joy of time around the fire pit and the conversations shared with others in the camp. The hunting of the impala, kudu and wildebeest would certainly be no slam-dunk affairs, but the focus was never really dominated by the accomplishment of those goals anyway.
The first animal came for Allie after hearing lion roars in the distance one morning in the same general area where she would stalk the impala. With video camera in hand, I followed along behind Allie and Garry as they slowly stalked up on a brushy berm to peek over at a ram one hundred and ten yards away. As I watched Allie settle in on the sticks with Garry’s coaching, I could not help but be concerned with her uneven footing and the denseness of the bush. This was not going to be an easy undertaking even for a seasoned hunter, much less a first timer in Africa. However, her first shot proved to be true with a slight angling shoulder hit. Garry explained that a quick retrieval was preferred since we knew the lions were somewhere in the vicinity and we wanted no contest with them over the kill. Allie quickly saw this was going to be different from retrieving a whitetail deer at home where only coyotes may beat you to the kill.
The kudu would be next, with a difficult 200-yard shot across a ravine as the animal stood in dense thorn bush. At the shot the tracker standing by me exclaimed, “She hit it!” When I asked where the kudu had gone after the shot, the tracker simply said, “Down.” What a relief to know that such a large animal had been taken so well by my granddaughter.
The last animal to be stalked by Allie would be a blue wildebeest. Half a dozen attempts over two days would be made until finally Allie was able to take a 130-yard shot at a wildebeest slightly quartering toward her. Her shot was perfect and the animal traveled only a short distance.
Once the animals were in the salt, a trip to the skinning shed was in order for my granddaughter. That was a visit that I was a little surprised to see her really enjoy. It also served as an opportunity for her to learn how the division and utilization of the game meat supported the continuation of the two concessions as hunting and photographic operations.
Following the week with Garry Kelly Safaris, Theo Potgieter with Matt Greeff Safaris joined us and drove us five hours north to spend a week in lodges around and within Kruger Park. Nights were spent at Gold Valley Lodge near Nelspruit, Excellence Big Five Lodge on the Olifant’s River near Hoedspruit, Satara Camp, Letaba Camp and Mopani Camp, with the last three camps located within the Kruger Park.
Theo proved to be a very knowledgeable guide and good cook. This side journey gave my granddaughter an ample opportunity to capture animals with her camera newly purchased for the trip. We were very fortunate to have two cheetah sightings and a leopard sighting in the park.
Allie was shaken from her daydreaming on three occasions when elephants rushed our open vehicle. Two bulls in musth took serious silent swipes at us and one cow elephant introduced my granddaughter to the wild screams of an elephant during a mock charge. Those memories will remain, I am sure.
A visit to the elephant museum at Satara Camp gave Allie a chance to view displays revealing the magnificence of the elephants of Kruger, past and present. It also gave me an opportunity to point out game ranger displays that tell the story of those who serve to protect the park. I serve as a Deputy Law Enforcement Officer with the Department of Natural Resources in my own state, so I have some awareness of the sacrifice and danger of such duties. I reinforced the fact that our own participation in the photo and hunting safaris contributed indirectly to supporting the efforts to protect the elephants and rhinos of South Africa.
The trip with our granddaughter proved not only a time for us to enjoy the beauty of the African bush together, but also an opportunity for my wife and I to share some of our values and perspectives with another generation of our family. Our two weeks passed too quickly, and we soon found ourselves departing for home from a journey initiated by that simple request three years earlier, “Papa, I want to go hunting with you.”