As my 50th birthday loomed in the future last year, my wonderful wife, Lorrie, gave me a tough decision to make in regard to a possible “special” gift to celebrate that milestone of my life. She offered me a choice between a Dall’s sheep hunt or my first African safari. I don’t have to mention that this was a no-lose proposition, but choosing the safari became easier when we realized that my non-hunting wife could accompany me on the hunt.
Plans were made and we boarded our flight in New York on June 30, 2007, arriving 17½ hours later in Johannesburg, South Africa. The flight was made easier by the excellent reservations and ground assistance arranged by Shawn at Gacy Travel in Texas, and by a good nights sleep. A short flight from Jo-berg to Port Elizabeth finished our travel for the day and when we landed in Port Elizabeth, we ere met by Chris Brooster of Crusader Safaris, his girlfriend Melinda and Harry, his blood-tracking, lovable and very spoiled jack russell terrier. Unfortunately for Harry, but very fortunate for me, his tracking skills would not be needed over the next 2 weeks.
We spent our first day in Africa as a day of rest at the Brooster family beach house on the Indian Ocean. A relaxed unwind, which included a massage at the spa for my wife, excellent South African wine and a tasty barbeque of wild game and lamb, prepared and cooked by Chris. This was a great way to transition into the African life that we would live for the rest of our trip.
Rested and excited, we drove 3 hours to Eildon. This was the first of many wonderful places we’d stay at and hunt from during the next 2 weeks. Chris and his partner, Andrew Pringle, run the kind of personal and intimate safari company that allows a hunter to individualize the details of their safari and any extra activities that they wish to participate in. Lorrie and I desired a nice mix of hunting and sightseeing, and we were blown away by the results! Chris and I decided to start our hunt by concentrating on finding a large kudu bull, as this majestic antelope is the embodiment of Africa to me. I came with no ‘shopping list’ of game for this hunt, but a kudu was what I had hoped most of all to shoot.
The first afternoon found us glassing a lush valley from a high vantage point. We saw a family of warthogs and two bushbuck, but no kudu. On the way back to Eildon, a giant aardvark crossed the road in front of the truck. Seeing this rare and secretive animal shuffle along its way let me know that I wasn’t in “Kansas” anymore. I was continually amazed by the variety of game that we saw everywhere we went. Eildon is a 30,000-acre working farm that’s been in the Pringle family for generations. The setting, accommodations, service and food there were outstanding and we absolutely felt like royalty.
The Kudu bulls continued to stay hidden the next morning. I did manage to drop a warthog in his tracks, and posing next to my first African animal was quite a thrill. I was shooting a Winchester model 70 in .300 Win. Mag., and the cartridge performed perfectly on every animal that I would eventually shoot during my safari. Bringing a firearm to South Africa is no problem as long as you have the proper paperwork, which Gacy travel will provide for you. The ease of travel without a gun, however, appealed to me and I opted to use Chris’s gun on my safari, which was a decision that I never regretted.
After the warthog, we then made a long and exciting stalk on an exceptionally large bushbuck, which I shot in his late-morning bed. It’s hard to describe the beauty of this smallest of the spiral-horned antelope, and I hadn’t known I wanted one until I saw him for the first time standing proud in the bush. That afternoon the women joined us for the hunt, and as we drove around Eildon’s magnificent property we saw several immature kudu bulls, as well as warthogs, baboons, monkeys, diker, lechwe, springbok, fallow deer, and much to my wife’s delight, zebra. We also came upon a rare aardwolf, which excited even the seasoned professional in the truck. Not all great hunting outings result in a kill, and this was one of the greatest.
The next morning we headed out in search of a kudu bull as a beautiful frosty morning with a cobalt blue sky dawned around us. Our tracker, Rusty, spotted several kudu cows up on a steep brush-covered hillside. I then glassed a large kudu bull partially screened by the brush below them, and at 360 yards, it was too far of a shot for me. After some maneuvering, however, we found ourselves 100 yards closer. The bull, sensing something was up, started to fidget. It was shoot now or never! He never took a step after my first shot but a second lung shot was good insurance on this huge antelope as he took his time to go down. My emotions ran wild and I know there was never a happier or more grateful hunter than me as the sun rose above the rim of the beautifully scenic red rock valley we were in.
We ate lunch in town that afternoon as Chris took possession of his brand new hunting Toyota Hilux—I think he was as happy with his truck as I was with my kudu. We watched the sun set in Addo elephant reserve after videoing herds of elephants, kudu, hartebeest, eland, warthogs, zebras and numerous other African animals. Addo is the fastest growing game park in South Africa, and all of the “Big Five” reside in this enormous park—even great white sharks swim along its Indian Ocean boarder to the east.
The next day, Lorrie and Melinda went to the Grahamstown Arts Festival, the second largest festival of its kind in the world. They shopped for handmade native jewelry and bead work and saw many examples of traditional African culture, song and dance. Chris and I spent a lazy day looking at impala and sharing many laughs. We never were able to get a shot at the large ram we saw, but a great time was had by all.
We next moved to the Brooster family farm located higher in the mountains and 2½ hours from Eildon. The altitude really let us know that it was winter as the temperature plunged to 10 degrees that night. That afternoon, prior to the deep freeze, I was able to take a blesbuck and a springbok as the sun sank colorfully on the horizon of the windy 7,000-foot high mesa we hunted upon. I expressed to Chris what a wonderful and successful afternoon it had been as he reminded me that there were still 8 minutes of shooting light left.
Seven minutes later, a mixed herd of wildebeest and zebra came charging by—what spooked them we’ll never know. Chris identified the last zebra in the herd as the largest with the best markings and a perfect heart shot gave my wife the new zebra rug she hoped would highlight our living room floor. We had a wonderful dinner of blesbuck with Chris’s parents, Cheryl and John, along with the four grouse hunters from Jo-berg John had guided the past 2 days. Much wine, stories and laughter led to a very “fuzzy” morning after. We were even treated to a strange ritual involving the eating of a raw egg, shell and all, followed by a shot of Jagermeister. This ritual apparently originates in the UK, or so we were told. Some experiences are best left untried. We spent the following day videoing herds of wildebeest, blesbuck, zebras and springbok along with dozens of very cute bat-eared fox. We then photographed ancient bushmen rock paintings of the animals they harvested to survive. Each animal was forever enshrined on the stone walls of their private trophy room—interesting works of art from a race of people long since gone from this planet. It was quite a day for Lorrie and me.
The next day we moved to a lovely bed-and-breakfast in the scenic little town of Graaff-Reinet in the Karoo desert. The women lunched and shopped while Chris and I hunted gemsbuck. Blown stalks through thorn thickets with sweat pouring off our brow best describes the afternoon. Then, as the sun was setting fast, I dropped a monster of a gemsbuck with 40-inch horns. The celebration continued late into the night in front of a blazing fireplace at a wonderful little restaurant. We then moved to another spectacular B&B in the wine country outside Capetown. Wine tastings, fine dining and a memorable trip to the top of Table Mountain rounded out our trip. The end came much too soon, but we will return soon.
For the record, I shot seven animals in Africa for much less money than a Dall’s sheep hunt would have cost. I also lived and ate like a king, a far cry from a damp sleeping bag in a dome tent tied to a rainy Alaska cliff side, heating meals on a tiny gas stove. By North American standards, the price of a South African safari is an incredible bargain. All of our hunting was done by spot-and-stalk on private ranches with no high fences.
Chris and Andrew are excellent judges of African game, allowing only the finest trophies to be harvested, and any North American hunter should consider the value and fun of this hunt. The variety of beautiful game adds a great touch to any North American trophy room collection.
To book a hunt with Chris or Andrew, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit crusadersafaris.com.