Making the African Hunt Worthwhile

By Leon Viljoen

In the October 2000 edition of the Missouri Shooter, Dr. Steve Spencer wrote an article on the African hunting experience. Knowing Steve for a number of years, I was thrilled to see that some of our hunts together had rubbed off and left him with memories to cherish.

In April 2001 I again received a request from Steve to arrange a hunt for him; this time the order was a bit different. Not only did he wish to go on a bow hunt, but we also had to blood his oldest son--this was to be his first hunting experience.

Easier said than done, but a few phone calls to Malawi and the odd e-mail here and there and we were set. Steve heads an educational program at the African Bible College and I served as Deputy Head of the South African High Commission in Malawi, hence our rather strange connection. I arranged for Steve to go to a game ranch close to the Marakele National Park in the Northern Province of South Africa. Our Professional Hunter, John-Henry Kayser, was well equipped to handle the request and we decided to give David, Steve's oldest, the first shot of the hunt.

Day One

We drove out to an area where John-Henry was following a sturdy Impala ram. Knowing his breeding herd well, he decided that some of the less competitive males could be taken in order to increase the genetic pool of the larger herds.

In the event, David had a relatively easy shot on a ram, and the combination of the Brno Mauser in 7x64 Brenneke (a cartridge similar to the .280 Remington) and a well-placed neck shot ensured that no tracking was needed. To say that the ram dropped like a ton of bricks would be an understatement.

Knowing the South African custom of the first kill, we ensured that David had a smattering of blood placed on the cheeks; we did relent on the second custom of preparing the testicles over an evening roast. The young man did himself proud, and I must say I thought he handled the occasion of his first hunt with respect.

Later in the afternoon David and I went looking for a warthog. Once again a relatively easy shot presented itself, but a slight draw on the shot only wounded the young warthog sow. We sat back and waited a few minutes before we started tracking the blood trail. We found her not far from where she had been shot. Again the stopping power of the 7mm in the African bushveld proved to be more than sufficient.

In the mean time, Steve sanctioned himself in the art of bow hunting. I must be honest and tell you that I am as skeptical as they come about the merits of bow hunting. I would rather shoot over a distance of 250 yards than sit as quietly as possible waiting for the quarry to wander within 50 yards. In any case, anyone wishing to get into the pros and cons of bow hunting is welcome to discuss the issue on the shooting range. We will start at 300 yards.

Day Two

I was in camp when a call came through the two-way radio that Steve had shot a warthog bear. Unfortunately he only nicked it, and according to him it went into deeper bush.

We rushed the hunting area and started sweeping the paths leading to the waterhole. We found a clearly marked blood trail, and from the pinkish froth of the blood it seemed that the shot was well placed and close to the lungs. Traveling in a circular sweep, the warthog was moving along the wait-a-bit bushes. This thorny little bush has two thorns facing in opposite directions, hence the name to wait a second to free yourself.

The guide became concerned that the blood trail was getting thin, and after a lengthy search our fears were confirmed. The warthog had darted under a fence and had most likely found shelter in one of the old warthog dens on the neighboring farm.

Steve was disappointed, and I am sure he questioned his ability to bow hunt. I have to be honest and let you in on a little secret; pound for pound the warthog is probably the toughest animal you will find in the bush. Mind you, if your life depended on your ability to evade lion and leopard you would eventually also become pretty tough.

We decided that Steve would try a different spot for the afternoon hunt. John-Henry indicated that he would accompany Steve to talk him through some of the finer nuances of the bushveld hunt.

Again the two-radio cackled in the late afternoon. Steve had shot a big Blue Wildebeest cow and we had to hit the trail to see where she went. I jumped in the Land Cruiser and brought along the Jack Russell dog to help with the search.

This little four-legged wonder ran a few ragged circles around the waterhole and in a proverbial flash went straight onto the scent. The dog eventually cornered the badly wounded Wildebeest, and after the coup de grace we had a look at what turned out to be a well-placed shot.

I can only recall Steve's sigh of relief and his comment that he should get one of those dogs. We loaded the Land Cruiser and returned to the camp. That evening we took a few photos of what had turned out to be a fine animal.

It was next to the campfire that we started our discussion about the pros and cons of hunting in South Africa. For the foreign visitor it must be frightening to read and hear all about the "dark" continent. For starters, relax, it is not about famine, land evasions, tin pot dictators etc. It is about adventure.

South Africa is a bit like Africa for beginners. Our roads are fine; we have more than 50 airlines servicing 8 local airports and 4 international airports. You can hire an Avis car and stop along the road at a McDonalds. You can buy Oreos in the store together with Red Man chewing tobacco. South Africa is also about knowing that a robot is the local description for a traffic light and that now-now means it will be done, but maybe not as quick as you thought.

The foreign hunter's major concerns should be whether you got a good deal on your airline ticket and whether your contact will meet you at the airport. Don't fall into the trap of being quoted in US dollars for everything. You are after all coming to a country that has its own monetary system, and at an exchange rate of 1 to 10 you should be hunting at bargain prices.

Another bugbear is that everyone promises trophies; a trophy when I last had a look was something spectacular and extra-ordinary. I have shot many a trophy in my life; well, according to my definition at least: i.e. a beautiful animal. Dear friends, don't be conned. We all know who the good guys in the industry are.

Day Three

We decided to give the impala herd another scare, so David and I went on a walk and stalk along the edges of the dry riverbed. At one stage we saw a young warthog walking straight into our path and despite what would have been an easy shot, we shouldered arms and waved it on. The nicety of the walk and stalk is that it teaches stealth and cunning, compared with the waiting game employed by the bow hunter.

Our stealth and cunning were not rewarded that morning, however, and eventually we returned to camp. Steve went back into the hide for a go at an impala ram. The amount of camo gear and all the high-tech equipment must have frightened the poor thing to such an extent that when I got there it was already dead. I sneaked a peek at the shot on the Camcorder and must confess it was a good shot. Smack in the guts and in the heart.

We left that evening with a full load of meat and a field dressed cape that we were to drop off at the taxidermist the next morning. We talked a lot about what makes the hunt on the road back. This despite problems that I had with a broken connecting rod and being towed to the garage, but that is a different story.

The hunt is about guys like Steve and John-Henry, it is about the first kill for David, it is about the African sunsets, and the cool morning sun. It is about hearing birds calling and wondering how they spotted you before anything else. It is about making it worthwhile so that when you go again, the memories will even be better than before.

If any readers have questions they wish to raise on hunting in South Africa, please feel free to contact me at: [email protected]

Back to Hunting Stories and Articles

Copyright 2002, 2013 by Leon Viljoen and/or All rights reserved.