African adventures

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A hunting trip to South Africa is the opportunity of a lifetime, so be sure to make the most of it, says Chris Dalton

I have been working with Guy Schwartz, a professional hunter (PH) and outfitter – Africa speak for hunting owner/stalker – in the Eastern Cape area of South Africa for around seven years now. Guy is a nice bloke and runs a very ethical hunting operation, providing a personal and individually tailored package, much along the lines of how we run things here. We hit it off from day one and a number of my clients have been over to him, some returning several times.

This is proper hunting, on foot out in the bush. While my clients mainly hunt t  he plains game, and traditional species such as springbok, bushbuck, wildebeest, and warthog and so on, he can organise anything. Next month I have Neil coming over for a Cape buffalo as his main quarry but he will stalk other species during the trip. This is probably not an animal to tackle on your first hunting trip to South Africa. I would have suggested at least one trip on something smaller to start with to get the feel of things and how the hunting differs here to back at home – and it does, markedly! With a buff, the hunter can quickly become the hunted if things go wrong. I may well cover this trip in a future article, but only if Neil makes it home on the plane and not in a box.

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As much as I would love to, I don’t come over with all the guys I organise these hunting excursions for. It had been around two years since I last set foot in Africa, however, so as May rolled around Tony and I, along with Steve and Graeme Thompson, decided to hop on a plane. This was a relaxed trip, a busman’s holiday, really. We have all been before and had some specific animals in mind – in particular, bushbuck, kudu, duiker and gemsbok (oryx). Alongside this we planned on fitting in some fishing, plus some night shooting on the farms for jackal – regarded by South African farmers in much the same way as foxes are back home, and every bit as cunning. I will reveal all about such hunts in later months, but for now it suffices to say that we had plenty of opportunities to travel around concessions and see the wonderful sights of the South Eastern Cape.

One thing I have learned from my years in the business is that a great many folks are interested in making such a trip, but never do.  The reasons for this are varied, but I think many people have the wrong idea about the potential cost, that it is difficult to organise, that you don’t really know what to expect, and that it is ‘canned hunting’ with the animals fenced in. Of course all of this can be true, as it can be anywhere. I have spoken to a lot of folk who have booked stalking in the UK and been very disappointed. Do your homework and ask around, as you should for any potential trip.

I have outlined our trip to perhaps give you an idea of what can be achieved at a very reasonable cost, certainly no more than a family holiday abroad. Clearly this will vary, not least on where you are going, the length of your stay, and most importantly on what you are hunting, but at least you will have an idea of what is available and how it all works.

You will usually be responsible for booking your own flights. In our case we flew with SA airlines overnight, leaving Heathrow at 7pm and arriving in Johannesburg at 7am local time (they are one hour ahead – British Summer Time). We took a connecting flight of just over an hour to East London where we were met by Guy, our host, and PH Clint. Flight cost was around £900. You can shop around and get cheaper, as with anything, and you will pay less if you are prepared to change, say via Doha or Amsterdam. For me, the flight is quite long enough without extending it! Also, be aware of connections. Allow yourself plenty of time, especially if you are taking your own rifles. Paperwork for this is relatively easy and your chosen outfitter will provide the necessary at a cost of around £85. Only certain airlines will carry firearms, however, so do check. In our case we use the estate rifles. This tends to be easier, although the downside is that they can sometimes be a bit rough.

You are hosted extremely well, and the cost of your trip will include all accommodation, meals, transport, and drink – yes, booze! You will normally have paid for a specific number of animals you want to stalk. If not, you must get a shopping list with prices – never go and hunt something if you don’t know what it’s going to cost, you could get a big shock. You won’t need much cash and really the only extras are tips. This is subjective, but as a guide, daily tips for the trackers and staff around the farm is around 50 rand, less than £4. Normal convention, much as here, is to tip your PH. This is entirely up to you, but in my experience these guys work damned hard for you and are worth rewarding accordingly.

Fair game: Hunting in Africa is a serious business, and for Guy this means ethical stalking on foot out in the bush

Fair game: Hunting in Africa is a serious business, and for Guy this means ethical stalking on foot out in the bush

Clothing-wise, we always seem to take too much. Check on the time of year and what to expect where you are going. I have been in February when it’s very hot during the day and our summer temperature at night, so light trousers and light summer boots, along with cotton shirts, is fine. Many hunters use camouflage, but really the khaki and greens are fine. This trip, early June, was quite cold as it is heading into winter. We were very glad of fleeces, and actually bought extra here along with a woolly hat, although we still had days where daytime temperature was around 20°C. For relaxing in the evening something lightweight and comfortable is required, nothing fancy. Laundry is done for you when you want – simply leave your kit out in the evening and you will normally have it back all laundered by next lunchtime, so you can travel fairly light. After hunting in the evening we got back, had a few beers, and then a very nice meal. It is often a bit of something you shot the day before, cooked on the braai (BBQ) and always very good helped down with a glass or two of excellent South African red. Another requirement of a PH is to cook to Michelin-star standards with what’s available to him in the bush.

A normal hunting day at this time of year will typically be light breakfast around 6am – usually juice and coffee with toast or cereal/fruit – and then out hunting for the morning, daylight here now breaking around 6.45am. We have been getting back for full breakfast about 11am and chatting over the events of the morning, with an hour or so relaxing before heading out again around 2pm. It’s dark about 6pm. Summer months vary very little, maybe light around 5.30am and dark around 8pm, but again this will depend on where you are.

Shooting-wise it’s very different, and while the stalking will be pretty much what you are used to with a slow stalk, or maybe an evening wait from a vantage point for movement as dusk approaches, the ranges will be much longer with generally heavier calibres. We have been using the .30 Winchester Magnums, .270 and a .375. With the open terrain and thorn bush typical of the area, I suppose the average range of shot has been around 200 yards out to as far as 350 yards. Tony and I were using Swarovski 10×42 rangefinders, to the envy of all the PHs, and the ability to accurately assess the precise range of these plains game at this sort of range was invaluable. These are big animals. Close approach is possible, although difficult, and with a herding animal you may be trying to get in to a couple of hundred pairs of eyes at once. It’s closer to stalking red deer on the open hill than the woodland deer we are used to. That said, I stalked into fairly thick stuff for a duiker yesterday and shot from 70 yards in identical fashion to our woodland roebucks at home.

Dealing with the selected animal you have shot is very different. None of our speedy gralloch, inspect, and get the beast to the larder sharpish after a quick picture. Oh no, what follows now will be more at home in the studio of David Bailey. The animal will be cleaned of blood, manicured, and carefully positioned, with you being instructed to sit with it in a variety of carefully selected poses for a photo shoot. Standing back and watching this last night reminded me of the professional photographer at a wedding I recently attended, where he was taking the usual shots of the bride, groom and family. I have to say though, the results are excellent and you will have a superb pictorial record of your trip. All PHs are excellent photographers and pride themselves in the art.

This is all very good, but I’m not sure how I would write it up for a DSC 2. It might be four hours before this lump of meat makes it anywhere near a larder and a knife, and in temperatures of 20°C plus! Next time I will relate some of the hunting and successes of our little jaunt – oh yes, and some of the failures.

For hunting experiences in South Africa with Guy and stalking in Scotland, Chris and Tony can be contacted on chris@ayrstalk.co.uk or 07710 871190

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