At age 75 I thought my doctor’s suggestion for an angiogram didn’t make sense just because of a slight shortness of breath when walking briskly. However, the test results showed I was in immediate need for what turned out to be triple bypass surgery, and the next day I found myself a cardio bypass patient.
A lifelong dream of an African safari seemed remote and, as I lay in my hospital bed, my family and recovery were on my mind, not Africa. Heart surgery is a life changing experience, both physically and emotionally.
In a few weeks, I joined a group in a cardio rehab program at a local gym. One morning I overheard the words “African safari” and immediately introduced myself to a fellow rehab patient who was showing his photos of a safari he went on two years prior. One thing led to another and as I quizzed my new found friend, Doug Blood, I told him how I had wanted to hunt in Africa since I was a teen and didn’t see that a possibility now.
We discussed a trip during the next few weeks at the gym, over lunch, and dinner and Doug said he would go again if I would. Doug had taken a Cape buffalo and kudu and wanted to add a plains game hunt. Tino Erasmus, the PH and owner of TG Safaris in the Limpopo province of South Africa was to visit in March for his annual trip to the States, and we all agreed to meet and discuss a possible hunt. Doug’s previous safari was with TG Safaris and he was impressed and satisfied, so any other outfitter was not even considered. I liked Tino from the start, and felt comfortable talking with him and discussing my health issue and concerns.
After talking it over with my wife, JoEllen, she urged me to go. Her words were something like, “Look, you aren’t getting any younger, you survived heart surgery, and I think you should go.” A safari was no minor expense; however, we discussed that as well and agreed it was not an issue.
As for my heath concern, after talking it over with my cardiologist, he said: “Have a great time. I want to see the pictures.” I did, however, purchase a trip cancellation policy through SCI’s travel protection plan as well as a Global Rescue policy. Neither was necessary, but well worth the peace of mind they afforded. South Africa is a long way from home.
I finally made up my mind and said to Doug, “OK. Let’s go hunting.” Since he had been on safari, he knew the ropes and what was involved. That made it much easier, riding on Doug’s experience.
We booked the trip with TG Safaris for a seven-day hunt in July of this year. I wanted to take a greater kudu, gemsbok, impala, warthog and wildebeest. My daughter, Amy, asked that I get her a zebra rug, so that was added to the list.
As for the rifle, five years ago I purchased a custom Winchester Model 70 in .300 Winchester Magnum caliber with the hope of an eventual African hunt. I mated it with a Zeiss 3-9X scope, not knowing it would actually make it to the Dark Continent. I settled on 180-grain Nosler Partition Federal Premium ammo for the hunt, since it was highly recommended and consistently grouped well under an inch at 100 yards. Sighted in 1.6 inches high put it on the money at 200 yards. A ton of practice off the unfamiliar shooting sticks gave me the confidence I needed, as well as getting used to the stiff recoil of the magnum.
Our other daughter, Jenny, a critical care physician in Washington State, asked if she could join us because she wanted to see and experience Africa. Of course I was elated that she wanted to come, knowing deep down that her real purpose was to watch over her dad!
The long flight from Rochester, New York, to Washington/Dulles to Dakar to J’Berg was not nearly as bad as I feared. I suspect the thought of my long-anticipated safari had a lot to do with that. An overnight accommodation at a meet and greet guesthouse in J’Berg allowed us to get a good meal and restful night sleep. The next day, we boarded a short flight to Pietersburg where we were met and driven the final leg to the Sand River Hills ranch.
Upon arrival at the ranch and meeting Amanda, Tino’s wife, Arno, my PH, JJ, another PH, and the staff, we settled in, sighted-in the rifles and prepared for the next day’s hunt. After an excellent dinner that included gemsbok, we hit the sack for tomorrow’s hunt. It is hard to describe my feelings and thoughts as I lay in bed. There I was in Africa. Tomorrow we would hunt. After 60 years, a dream was being realized.
Our hunt was successful in all ways and Doug and I took the game we sought. The last shot I took was on a slow-moving warthog at 210 yards. The Model 70, Federal ammunition and practice combined for one-shot kills on all the game.
Dr. Jenny had a terrific time joining me on the hunts and enjoying camp life. Tino said it was nice having a doctor in camp and Jenny did tend to a serious infected tick bite Doug received.
That is how a dream was realized, and a 77-year-old cardio patient discovered that Africa was not out of the question. As I admired my first trophy, the zebra, I became overwhelmed for the moment seemed impossible two years ago. I can’t imagine the possibility of a few years from now wishing I had gone on safari and not having done it. Some dreams are meant to be realized.
Incidentally, I recently purchased a Mauser rifle in 9.3×64 caliber for the next trip in two years. The Africa experience is too wonderful to only experience once. I hear there is a dagga boy Cape buffalo waiting for me and I don’t intend to disappoint it.– Ron Martino