It’s that time of year again – international sport hunters will be finalising their 2018 safari season itineraries. If anyone is still in a quandary but considering a quality, budget friendly safari experience, think Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Trophy-wise you’re looking at a selection of about 31 species, and that’s not including dangerous game. Realistically, unless one has a large budget coupled with plenty of time, hunting all the species the Eastern Cape has to offer requires more than one safari. There’s been a saying in the safari field for a long time. It simply states: You can experience a country like Zimbabwe on one safari. To experience South Africa, you need do about three safaris.
In my experience as a PH/operator, most clientele I guided in the Eastern Cape (and a fair number were Brits) opted for short duration safaris varying from seven to ten days. Five-day packages were also popular. In this day and age, one’s biggest hurdle when it comes to safari planning is time – time costs money, and is not as freely available as it once was.
Given that the Eastern Cape has a lot more to offer than just hunting, it’s also worth looking at it as a holiday-and-hunt combination experience. Take the family, or a partner. You’ll be assured of a fun time. Scenically, it produces the goods, and then some. There are also major attractions within easy reach of most hunt venues. I’m talking about the renowned Addo Elephant National Park, excellent deep-sea fishing, inviting coastlines and beaches, modern shopping facilities, world-class golf courses, casinos, and more.
One of the most important marketing pluses of the Eastern Cape, compared to many other parts of Africa, is that it is bilharzia and malaria free. Even more reason to take the family along.
Getting there isn’t problematic, as most main carriers fly the SA route. South African Airways is an extremely hunter-friendly airline. On the domestic routes, SAA aside, one has the choice of a number of carriers including Comair, an alliance partner of British Airways. Cape Town or Johannesburg would be your port of entry, and once you’ve completed customs and immigration clearance (which includes firearms), Port Elizabeth or East London would be your next stop (where you’ll be met by your safari operator or PH). Both cities are a comfortable one-and-a-half-hour flight from Johannesburg or Cape Town.
Visiting sport hunters and particularly first timers on an Eastern Cape safari are often overawed about trophy choice – and for good reason. With such a varied species selection on offer, it’s not always easy to decide what to shoot. Obviously, budget aside, the limitation is normally one of safari duration. Will it be a five, seven, ten or fourteen-day hunt?
Because the Eastern Cape is blessed with such varied terrain and habitat, ranging from dense, succulent valley bushveld thickets to high mountains and open, undulating plains, it can support a wide variety of species. However, out on the plains proper and in the mountains, above-average marksmanship is required no matter what you’re hunting.
As a guideline, most PHs prefer to plan each day’s hunt around either four small to medium size species (two in the morning and two in the afternoon), or one large animal in the morning and perhaps one or two small ones in the afternoon (experienced PHs try to avoid hunting large animals late in the day, because if the trophy is inadvertently wounded, it has a full 12 hours of darkness to make good its escape). You can overhunt, of course, but nobody likes doing that – it smacks too much of unethical bloodlust.
Once the safari duration is known, perhaps the easiest way to pare down the trophy bucket list is to categorise the different species into groups (spiral-horned, plains dwellers, forest dwellers and so on). Only then should you look at what you’d consider your priority species.
After you’re finally in camp and settled, the first thing you’ll do is pay a quick visit to the range to check your rifle(s) for zero. At this time, your PH will no doubt be talking about the various species available. Obviously, this subject would have also been covered in depth during your pre-safari communications. Two excellent animals to kick-start a safari are impala and warthog. Normally, neither are very difficult to hunt – though they can be challenging in some situations. Hunting either or both of these species on the first day allows plenty of time for pre-hunt nerves to settle. During the course of the day you also get to familiarise yourself with the light, terrain, and habitat you will be hunting in.
An additional factor during this early phase of the safari is that the PH gets to see how you handle your rifle out in the field under hunting conditions, not from a bench. This is important to him before you move on to large, expensive trophies, and more so if you’re hunting dangerous game such as buffalo.
Having ticked the impala and warthog boxes, perhaps look at the spiral-horned choices. All of them make for a fine addition to any trophy room, irrespective of whether you opt for a European shield mount or a shoulder mount (the limitation usually being space).
Starting with the biggest of the spiral horns, there is the Cape eland, followed by the Eastern Cape kudu, and then the nyala and the Cape bushbuck (this latter an iconic species to the region). That’s four more trophies, three of which dwell in the densest of thickets. All call for challenging hunting and stalking. With true plains game in mind, we can add to the list a few of the plains-dwelling trophies. Black wildebeest make for an excellent trophy, and obtaining one under fair chase conditions is no walk in the park. Blue wildebeest are also available, though they invariably move between the thick stuff and the more open areas dependent on hunting pressure. Red hartebeest and that high plains speedster, blesbok, are also worthy additions to the bag. As décor for a trophy room, it might be a good idea to add a zebra – a flat skin or pedestal shoulder mount with its contrasting colours always sets off a trophy display.
Unless you specialise in collecting a particular category of species, for example Africa’s duiker, the small antelope are normally considered opportunistic safari ‘fillers’. These include the common bush duiker and the steenbok. Blue duiker, the most diminutive of South Africa’s antelope and well represented in the Eastern Cape, are considered a specialised trophy and most certainly aren’t a ‘filler’.
Springbok are another iconic South African species, and though they are available in the Eastern Cape, the quality isn’t what one can expect further south-west in their true arid habitat. Another two sought-after trophies that certainly need consideration are the gemsbok (oryx) and the common waterbuck. Common lechwe were introduced over a century ago, as were fallow deer, and both are available.
Accommodation on Eastern Cape hunting estates is superb, normally varying from refurbished 1820 historical British settler homes with all mod-cons to high-end safari camps. Cuisine is world-class, as is South Africa’s bespoke range of wines. The old hunting adage, ‘Any fool can be uncomfortable’, certainly doesn’t apply to an Eastern Cape safari experience.
When it comes to firearms, most operators have rifles for hire at a nominal fee. This does save time in our era of heightened security for air travel. Should one, however, prefer to use their own rifle(s), which is perfectly understandable, calibre requirements are simple. If you decide to only hunt species like warthog, springbok and antelope up to the size of an impala, a .243 Winchester with 100-grain bullets is adequate. For larger antelope species, the .270 Winchester through to a .300 Winchester Magnum would be ideal. Should you want to hunt buffalo, you would do well to remember that the minimum legal calibre for heavy-boned dangerous game in South Africa is the .375 H&H magnum.
Periodically one hears that hunting in South Africa isn’t true fair-chase safari because it’s ‘behind wire’. This concept arises from ignorance. A private game ranch of 20,000 acres (the average size) surrounded by a single perimeter boundary fence can hardly be called a postage stamp by way of landmass. Add to the mental image steep hills, dense valley thickets, rolling plains and sheer cliffs, and it’ll give one an idea of what they’ll be hunting across. If an animal is inadvertently wounded and a day-long follow-up develops across this mixed terrain, by the end of it a hunter soon realises the true meaning of fair chase.
Whether we like it or not, the future of African hunting lies behind wire. The days of wide open country teeming with game are virtually gone. Those few vast hunting blocks that remain in East Africa are normally prohibitively expensive to hunt, and in some, poaching is problematic. Even one-million acre landmasses like Zimbabwe’s Bubye Valley Conservancy and Save Conservancy are surrounded by a double electrified perimeter fence (on account of their containing dangerous game). Game fences equate to proactive wildlife conservation; modern era sport hunters need to accept this.
April to September. If a landowner has a CAE (Certificate of Adequate Enclosure), hunting is allowed throughout the year.
Fly to Johannesburg or Cape Town where you clear customs. Then fly domestic to Port Elizabeth or East London (your safari operator will advise).
You will require a SAPS 520 Temporary Firearm Import Application. Your outfitter should supply this, or you can download it from www.saps.gov.za Fill it in but DO NOT sign until at the SAPS firearm collection desk upon your arrival.