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Your First African Safari

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Craig Boddington moderates a blue-ribbon panel discussion that will assist you in planning that all-important first safari!  This is SCI’s longest-running seminar, now in its 23rd year, and attendees “shopping” for their first safari will find it invaluable!
Ludo Wurfbain will discuss books and videos that will help you prepare; Beverly Wunderlich will talk about paperwork and nuts and bolts and advantages to using an agent; Jack Atcheson, Jr. will cover trophy care and taxidermy; Johan Calitz will offer advice on what you should expect from your outfitter and PH…and what they should expect from you! Craig Boddington will discuss guns and loads, packing tips, and shooting tips.
If you’re looking for your first safari, don’t miss this one!  And if you’re a veteran looking for new hunting grounds, join in!

 

 

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My First African Adventure

Mozambique-Africa-2013-015On our first day of hunting we woke up early, got dressed and went to the dining room where we met with Neil, our PH. We ate breakfast and soon after left to go out hunting with Neil, Namo our tracker and Zaia our driver after we sighted in the guns. We were driving when Neil turned to the right and I saw a dog sitting down on a rock. That was neat.  Then I saw a lioness, so I asked Neil to stop. Then a huge male lion came out of the bush! Neil got us closer, but the lion came charging after us. Neil quickly got back on the road driving away from the lion but turned around so we could take pictures. That’s when the lion charged us again. The sound the lion made was awesome!

After all of that we went looking for a warthog to feed to a lioness that had been caught in a poacher’s gin trap. We drove to little riverbed that they used as a road. We stopped and got off to start walking while Zaia stayed in the cruiser. About ten minutes later we saw a group of warthogs. Neil told me to follow him thru some brush and that’s where we got setup. It wasn’t very easy setting up. It was a lot of stopping and being quiet, which was hard for me to do because I was so excited. Finally, we saw a warthog that was feeding. That is when Neil told me to take a shot, but I missed.

We started heading back to the road and about five steps later Namo saw some more warthogs, so we got closer and set-up to try to get a shot. After I hit it Neil took a shot and also hit it and Zaia came to help us look for the warthog. Namo found the blood trail and soon after we found the animal! I was so excited that I finally shot my first animal in Africa! Namo and Zaia dragged the pig back to the Cruiser. That is where Namo and Zaia gutted the warthog and where we were able to take pictures with my kill. Then after pictures we drove to where they set-up a trail camera to see the wounded lioness with her cubs. We got to where the lioness was, set-up the trail cam and put the food up. The rest of the day we saw nothing, but that night we were woken up by the roaring of lions. It was an awesome but scary experience, they sounded like they were so close. We found out the next morning that two lions had walked through camp.

Mozambique-Africa-2013-111The next two days we saw nothing, but on the fourth day we were in luck, Neil spotted a Lichtenstein hartebeest. My dad took a shot at the animal and a short time later, they came back to the cruiser so that Neil could drive to where the Lichtenstein hartebeest was. When we got there we all took pictures around it. Then again Namo and Zaia gutted the animal, loaded it up and we headed back to camp. We didn’t see anything else the rest of the day, but the next day we saw some impala. We hid in a tree and waited. Once the biggest impala passed and I was able to get a good shot, I went for it. I hit it! Right in the shoulder!

The impala ran into the thick bush, so we went looking for it. It was really hard to track. We found blood here and there when finally Namo found it. Neil and Namo dragged it near a tree so that we could take pictures of my second kill. After pictures, we loaded my impala into the Cruiser and headed back to camp. Instead of going back out hunting after having tea and lunch I decided I wanted to stay with Shayl and go swimming in the dam with Rachel and Daniel, Neil and Shayle’s kids. After swimming we climbed a mountain called “ Chumuyo” and stayed there to watch the sun set.

The next day was a hard one, we walked for three hours in a sandy riverbed and saw no animals, but we did see some huge tracks that belonged to a male lion. Then I got to drink water out of the big riverbed by digging a hole in the ground like the elephants do. On the seventh day, we set out hunting early in the morning and saw an oribi. We parked the Cruiser and set-up in the tall grass. Once Neil said it was ok for me to take a shot I took it. They drove the truck up to where the oribi was and we took pictures with my third kill. We took the oribi to the workshop where Neil’s dad would take it back to camp and went for a little walk around the area. After lunch I stayed with Shayle, Lee and Holly. Holly is going to be a teacher at the new eco camp they were building. I got to help out with painting the tents.  That was a lot of fun.

On the eighth day we spotted a kudu while walking. We quietly got closer to it and set-up slowly. That’s when I had my chance to take a shot but I missed. After the kudu my dad shot an oribi that they tied to a stick to help carry it. Once we got to the road we waited for the cruiser and went back to camp.

The next evening we saw a huge 60-inch kudu! At first we weren’t able to get close to it, but were able to get closer to it. I took two shots but missed both times. The next 30 minutes I was so mad at myself for missing and didn’t want to talk to anybody.

Mozambique-Africa-2013-067On our last day of hunting we saw no animals because we were at the camp half of the day because it was raining. By the afternoon it was still raining, but we decided to go out anyways and drive to the riverbed. That is when an elephant charged us at. I didn’t even know what was going on because I was inside the Cruiser staying dry while my dad and Namo were on the outside of the Cruiser getting wet by the rain. When we were driving back to camp we saw the 60-inch kudu again.

The next morning was a sad one it was time to leave this amazing place. We packed up our bags, ate breakfast, said “goodbye” to everyone and left for our four-hour drive to the airport. I was so sad I cried when we left, I didn’t want to leave Africa. I loved it there and wanted to stay. It’s like my dad says, “It’s time to go back to reality; we were living a fantasy.” This was the greatest experience I have ever had and I got to share it with my dad who I love so much! It wasn’t only a great experience, but I had many new experiences. I got to go to a place I only dreamed of going to, try new foods like tongue and heart learning what I had eaten after I ate it, got to see amazing animals in their natural habitat and got to meet a bunch of amazing people who I will never forget. This trip started off like just a normal trip, but ended up being the most amazing and awesome first African adventure ever and I will never forget it!– Kiara Foght

A Perfect First Safari

Our founder, C.J. McElroy, said that the only hunters he envied were those experiencing Africa for the first time. I don’t know how many times McElroy hunted Africa—I know that in a video in his later years he mentioned “more than 50 African hunts”—and that wasn’t his last safari. I can double that number, although with film work in recent years the total includes a lot of “hunting safaris” where I’m not doing much of the hunting. That doesn’t matter much, especially at a certain point. Africa is a wonderful place, and for people like us hunting is certainly part of the wonder…but while there are some African animals I never tire of pursuing, there are quite a few species that I have no reason to bother further.

But “Mr. Mac” had it exactly right: There is simply no thrill in the hunter’s world that can equal the first African safari. It’s not just the variety of game…it’s the sights, the sounds, the smell…the incredible perfection of an African hunting camp (especially the African camps most of us visit early in our safari experience). The problem is that, no matter how hard or how often we try, it is almost impossible to recapture the wonder and the adventure of that first safari. For many years now I’ve been part of the “First African Safari” panel seminar at our convention, always attended by a whole room full of people in some stage of planning a first safari. My own first safari is now 36 years in the past—and I envy every one of those folks.

Left to right: Videographer Matt Young; Brittany and Caroline Boddington; outfitter and PH Carl van Zyl; Craig and Donna Boddington. This is Caroline’s zebra, taken on her first African safari. The thrill of that first safari can never be replicated…but sharing a first safari is the next best thing!
Left to right: Videographer Matt Young; Brittany and Caroline Boddington; outfitter and PH Carl van Zyl; Craig and Donna Boddington. This is Caroline’s zebra, taken on her first African safari. The thrill of that first safari can never be replicated…but sharing a first safari is the next best thing!

No matter how many times we manage to return to Africa—concepts such as “enough” or “too much” don’t apply—we will always savor the experience, but the magic of that first safari is gone forever. Well, not quite. One of the best ways to come close is to share another hunter’s first safari, preferably someone you care about.

This past two weeks I was able to do exactly that with my daughter Caroline, joined by elder daughter Brittany and wife Donna (who I introduced to Africa some years back, of course understanding I was starting an addiction). There are almost innumerable options, but for most of us—and certainly for a youngster or any beginner with limited hunting experience—the logical starting place is plains game, and the two most likely options are Namibia and South Africa. Brittany’s first safari, her high school graduation present, was in Namibia with our friend Dirk de Bod, and it was marvelous and perfect.

Fast-forward a full decade and it was Caroline’s turn, also on the event of her high school graduation. We could have done exactly the same thing again, but these days it’s a lot harder to get a booking with Dirk than it was back then…and, since it’s all good and would all be new to Caroline, I thought it would be great to see some new country. So, almost as if it were my own first safari, we checked around and shopped around. Especially in southern Africa there are so many more great outfitters today than when I started African hunting; even with my experience and contacts it wasn’t an easy decision! I was struck by how difficult and daunting the task must be for a first-timer shopping for that all-important first African experience, a good lesson I’ll keep in mind both for future writing and seminars!

Ultimately, we let a friend make the decision for us. For several years now I’ve been hunting with Mark Haldane’s Zambeze Delta Safaris in Mozambique. Although a great country, area and operation, Mozambique wasn’t on the table for Caroline’s first safari…but I’d sort of forgotten that Mark’s home is South Africa and his original operation is Game Hunters Africa in Natal. He reminded Donna and me of this around a fire in Mozambique; already as confused as any first-time safari shoppers, we gratefully turned Caroline’s safari over to him!

Left to right, Donna, Craig, Caroline, and Brittany Boddington and videographer Matt Young. This is Matt’s first African animal, and his smile says it all!
Left to right, Donna, Craig, Caroline, and Brittany Boddington and videographer Matt Young. This is Matt’s first African animal, and his smile says it all!

The plan was simple and very good. We would spend a few days at his Baynesfield concession, a big piece of unfenced farming country in Natal. Primarily used for bird hunting, big game species are limited but what’s there (bushbuck, reedbuck, duiker) is plentiful and exceptional in quality. The theory: With limited species, we could avoid the “covey rise syndrome” and let Caroline get her feet wet concentrating on just a couple of good trophies. Then we’d move south to the Eastern Cape and spend a week with Haldane’s buddy Carl van Zyl of John X Safaris. The Eastern Cape is one of my favorite areas, also typically big country with varied terrain that offers an extensive game list. In addition to a number of “Eastern Cape rarities,” the area holds large populations of more typical African species such as impala, gemsbok, hartebeest, kudu, springbok, wildebeest and zebra. We wouldn’t try to hunt them all, but we’d see what came along and enjoy the country.

And that we did. Baynesfield proved an ideal starting point. Caroline made picture-perfect shots on a huge bushbuck and very good reedbuck…plus a humbling, sobering and most educational clean miss on a duiker. With Carl we hunted three distinct areas–his home country near the coast, and two huge areas over the mountains and into the Great Karoo. Caroline continued to shoot exceptionally well, taking gemsbok, black wildebeest and zebra—but we never managed to get her onto a shootable kudu, which is also a good lesson in African hunting: You don’t always get everything! Brittany did get the Eastern Cape kudu she had long coveted, Donna took a couple of nice animals and, on Fathers Day, the girls actually allowed me one shot, which I expended on a very good Cape hartebeest.

On the last day, back at Carl’s “home place” at Lalibela, we got two special bonuses. Lalibela is a private “big five reserve,” and on a sundown game drive we managed to see lions and elephants, a marvelous thrill for anyone’s first safari (and, after all these years, still a thrill for me!). The other bonus came earlier that day. Our friend and cameraman Matt Young was with us, recording the hunt. It wasn’t exactly his first African experience, but he’s a Montana deer and elk hunter who had never hunted in Africa. With all the rest of us satisfied, both our bag of animals and video, Carl gave Matt a turn and he made a wonderful shot on a fine old blesbok ram.

Like C.J. McElroy said, the only hunters worth envying are those on their first African safari…and like I say, the next best thing to that first African experience is sharing it with someone else. Behind the camera, Matt Young is pure business…but when he approached that downed blesbok his excitement at least rivaled Caroline’s throughout the safari. So I got an unexpected double dose of sharing the awe, excitement and wonder of a first African safari—and it made the years fall away to that marvelous adventure that was my own first safari, so many years ago.– Craig Boddington