I got back from Africa about two weeks ago. Since then I have been struggling to find a way to compress the experience into words adequate to share it with you, and I have come to the conclusion that it really isn’t possible. What I will do is tell you about the trip…what happened, and try to tell you how it made me feel. As a caveat, I’ll warn you that I usually try to keep my posts here to about 500 words…that will not be possible here. Grab some popcorn and a beverage, and strap in…let’s go to Africa.

I decided to hunt Africa a little over four years ago. I have never been a huge big game hunter, but I was always enamored with the thought of visiting the Dark Continent. Then I was talking to a buddy on the phone one night, and he said something about going to hunt Africa. So I said, “so you’re thinking about going to Africa?” And he said, “I’m not thinking about it; I’m going.” That’s when I immediately blurted out, “can I come?” Being a good friend, he didn’t even flinch at my self-invitation, and said, “sure.”

We then threw ourselves into a plan to save the money and figure out a way to make it happen. We spent hours and hours online, researching safari companies, reading articles, magazines, and books to learn all we could about hunting Africa. We set up separate savings accounts to start putting money back to pay for the trip.

Which brings us to one of the things that most people don’t realize about hunting Africa: it is not as expensive as you think. You can easily pay upwards of $6000 to go on a 5-day guided elk hunt in Colorado or New Mexico…or more. And that’s just for the hunting, for one animal. In comparison, I spent 8 nights in a nice lodge in South Africa, and 7 days hunting four animals for $3750. And although it is true that airfare and taxidermy of any trophies is a separate (and not insignificant) expense, most African hunt fees include lodging, meals, laundry, pickup and drop off at your arrival airport…all included.

But I’m not a rich man, and I didn’t want to go into debt over this hunt, so I set out to save the cash in advance. And it is doable. Without severely impacting my lifestyle, I put a little money in my Africa savings account every month, and before too long, it was time to think about putting down a deposit and locking in some dates.

As a result of our research, my friend and I narrowed it down to three different safari companies we were interested in. I emailed each of them separately, and told them what kind of hunt we were interested in, what species we hoped to take, and the dates we were looking at. All three came back with great offers, and I’m sure any one of them would have been great. But in the end, we decided to book with KMG Hunting Safaris in South Africa, largely based on the numerous positive reviews we had read on an online forum called AfricaHunting.com.

Fast forward to late July 2017, and we are ready to go. Rather than take flights calculated by online travel websites or planned by travel agents, we figured it out and booked it ourselves. We were to fly Delta Air Lines from Cincinnati to Atlanta, and then take a non-stop fifteen and a half hour grinder direct from there to Johannesburg. This would get us into Johannesburg late the next afternoon. We then planned to spend the night at Afton Safari Lodge (formerly Afton Guest House), and then catch a South African Airways flight to our arrival airport of Port Elizabeth the next morning.

Afton Safari Lodge, Johannesburg

Upon arrival in Johannesburg, we were met by “Mr. X,” our greeter from Afton Safari Lodge, who grabbed our bags for us and hustled us over to the South African Police Service (SAPS) firearms import office. Unfortunately, that’s where we found that Chris’s rifle hadn’t made the trip, having been left behind in Atlanta. But Mr. X went to work, and got me expedited through the permitting process with my rifles, and then got busy helping to correct Chris’s problem. Before too long, I had my rifles and permit in hand, and Mr. X had taken steps to get Chris’s rifle to him in the next day or so.

We were then shuttled to the Afton Safari Lodge for our first night on the African continent. We were set up in a comfortable room, and treated to a nice dinner of grilled steak and all the fixings before hitting the sack. We woke to a cool African morning, and a hearty breakfast to fuel us for the next leg of the trip. The Afton shuttle took us back to the airport, and Mr. X led us through the process of checking my rifles again, and getting us checked in and through security for the flight to Port Elizabeth.

After a flight which was mercifully short compared to the Atlanta-Johannesburg leg, we arrived in Port Elizabeth, on the coast of South Africa’s East Cape province. There we were met by Martin, who was to be our Professional Hunter (PH) for the duration of our stay. We collected our bags and my rifles, and were on our way. We also met Ollie, our Xhosa tracker/skinner, and Rocky, Martin’s dog. We loaded up Martin’s Landcruiser with our gear, and were on our way to the lodge.

Mpunzi Lodge

I spent the next two hours gazing out the window at the magnificent country we were driving through. Before we knew it, we were rolling up to Mpunzi Lodge, our home for the next eight days. We dropped our bags in our room, and then Martin had us off to the range to check rifles. Once we were all comfortable with where the guns were shooting, it was back to the lodge for a cold beverage and the first of many delicious dinners.

I spent the next two hours gazing out the window at the magnificent country we were driving through. Before we knew it, we were rolling up to Mpunzi Lodge, our home for the next eight days. We dropped our bags in our room, and then Martin had us off to the range to check rifles. Once we were all comfortable with where the guns were shooting, it was back to the lodge for a cold beverage and the first of many delicious dinners.

One of many beautiful African sunrises

We woke the next morning to a beautiful African sunrise, a tasty breakfast at the lodge, and then we were off to start our hunt looking for springbok. With great eyesight and easily spooked, springbok are difficult to get close to, and we spent the day chasing them across rolling hills covered with loose rocks, cactus, and thorn. I’d liken it to walking across a field littered with billiard balls laced with concertina wire…and oh yeah, you need to be quiet. But Chris and I both eventually connected, and had our first African animals in the salt.

Springbok down.

On the way back to the lodge, Martin stopped the vehicle to glass an adjacent hillside, but I was looking straight ahead down the gravel farm road. “What’s that?,” I asked as I pointed it out to Martin. “Bushbuck!,” he hissed. “Get out, get out, get out!” Bushbuck was on my list, and there one stood about 90 yards away. It was quartering away hard, but I settled in on the sticks and fired. The ram bucked, hit, and disappeared into the bush alongside the road. As we were moving up to look for blood, he stepped back out onto the road. Martin set the sticks again, and I put another round into him before he ducked back into the cover.

We knew he was somewhere in the cover along the road, but we weren’t sure where, and bushbuck are notoriously dangerous when wounded. Martin decided to send Rocky in to find the ram, and let him off his leash. There was almost immediate thrashing and barking in the cover, and we knew Rocky was on the ram. We moved up, and I could see the ram broadside though a hole in the brush at about ten yards…but Rocky was still engaged and Martin told me to hold my fire. Martin called Rocky off of the ram and said, “Shoot!” I pressed the trigger one last time, and the bushbuck was down.

Rocky emerged from the brush covered in blood, and at first we weren’t sure if it was his or the bushbuck’s. Martin wiped him down and found a gaping wound in Rocky’s hip, where the bushbuck had gored him. After a shot of penicillin to stave off infection, we loaded up Rocky and the bushbuck and headed back to the lodge. An exciting hunt with a bittersweet ending…that’s Africa. (Spoiler alert: It was only a flesh wound, and Rocky is fine.)

 

Fighting bushbuck is tiring.

I could continue to detail every day’s hunt, but suffice it to say that the good times were far from over. We continued to hunt for four more days, experiencing the frustrations and joys that only African hunting can deliver. At each day’s end, we returned to Mpunzi Lodge to enjoy warm fires, drinks, and the fellowship of our lodge mates over delicious dinners. It was lodge life at its finest…wide open spaces, good friends, and good stories. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be.

By week’s end, Chris and I had both tagged out on all our targeted species, and seen an incredible amount of South African country and wildlife. As we packed for the journey home, we were both a little somber. Mpunzi Lodge had indeed begun to feel like home, and its occupants like family. I’d be lying if I denied being a little sad, and if I didn’t admit to being a little depressed now that I am waking up every morning and thinking, “crap, I’m not in Africa.”

I spent a lot of time before this trip reading a lot of the classic literature on Africa: Hemingway, Capstick, Roosevelt, Ruark, and others. But it was a passage towards the end of Robert Ruark’s Horn of the Hunter that stuck with me over all the rest:

“There was a part of me out there that would stay out there until I came back to ransom that part of me.  It would never live in a city again, that part of me, nor be content, the other part, to be in a city.  There are no tiny-gleaming campfires in a city.”

It is true, after all. Africa does get its hooks in you, and you are never the same afterwards. As Ruark wrote, I do not feel whole anymore, since I departed Africa. I left something behind, and I have to go back for it. But for now, I have memories. And they are good.

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