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A Marine Sniper’s Review of Africa Hunt Lodge October 6, 2017

Posted by Chris Mark in Uncategorized.
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AFHL

Kudu_resizeI had always wanted to hunt in Africa.  I had hunted deer and hog as a young man and was a Marine Scout/Sniper for quite a few years.  I had always had a dream of hunting in Africa and hunting plains game.  After my first photo safari in Timbivati, I was fixated on going back to Africa to hunt!

Personally, I don’t have an interest in hunting Lion, Leopard, or other animals but plains games were my passion.  Just not my thing…but…I wanted to hunt plains game.  I was fortunate to have found myself with an opportunity to go in August of 2017.

This blog post is a story of my experience.  If you are against hunting in Africa, I would ask that you read the following article, and this one, and this one, and this one, and finally…this one  before making a judgement.  At the end of the day, game management and controlled hunting is very beneficial to both game species as well as the economy in South Africa.  If you don’t like it..you don’t have to go.

Before I embarked on my hunt, I did research…A LOT of research.  I wanted to ensure that the hunts were fair and I wanted to understand more about how hunting impacted conservation.  Questions like: “What happens to the meat?”; “How are the animals hunted?”; “Are hunting trophies “guaranteed” (not a good thing, BTW)…?” were some of the questions I sought to answer.  Once I was fully satisfied that the journey would be fair, and that the meat would not be wasted, I then looked for an outfitter.

In Africa a hunter must hunt with the Professional Hunter (PH).  A Professional Hunter is a licensed professional hunter that has attended a full year (or more) of school and has passed a number of difficult exams.  The PH is responsible for (in no particular order) 1) hunter safety, 2) finding game 3) ensuring the game is legal, of proper size etc. 4) approving the animal and the shot and 5) saving your rear end if you screw up.  That part is important 😉  Read here for more information about the PH program.

My friend (SF Trained Medic and SARC DocSARC Doc) and I settled on the Africa Hunt Lodge.  Why?  We were able to head to Kerrville, Texas and talk with the folks at Texas Hunt Lodge (a sister company) and meet the team.  Aaron and team spent 2 hours with us answering every question we could ask and showing us their taxidermy shop, hunting lodge and explaining all aspects.  Cool guys…very patient with our badgering questions! 😉

The team was very professional, very polite, and they answered all of our questions.  Once we settled on Africa Hunt Lodge as our outfitter, we had to make arrangements for travel and hunting.  We singed up for a 7 day hunt (with 2 extra days) and a total of six animals each.  We made our flight arrangements about 9 months in advance and were ready for south Africa!.   One thing I want to remind everyone is that you are spending a lot of money hunting…get flights early and PRACTICE at the range…on sticks!…you don’t want to miss!

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Landing in O.R. Tambo International Airport, we made our way to the Police Station in the Airport to retrieve our Rifles.  You are allowed to bring 2 rifles into South Africa although many people simply rent the rifles at the lodge.  It took about 1 full hour to get our rifles through customs and we were met by our PH, Wikus.  We packed up and drove for 3-4 hours to the Limpopo district of South Africa.   We finally arrived at the Africa Hunt Lodge at 11pm or so after a 30 hour trip to South Africa…This is the real Bushveld!  It is thick bush with thorns on every tree, bush, plant, flower (joke) etc.  The tree I learned to watch out for is the Black Thorn Tree.  Yeah, you learn quick why it is named the Black Thorn Tree!  After arriving Wikus was accommodating and said we could ‘sleep in’ until 7am 😉  We loved it!  This is how hunting should be!  By 9am the next morning we were looking for game!

 

The next morning we met in the lodge to eat a great breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, orange juice and grits.  Then we packed up lunches and met our tracker “Joe”, jumped into the back of the Toyota Hilux (if you have ever been in the Middle East, Africa, or Europe you have seen a Hilux)…and off we went to our first ‘concession’.  In South Africa, all hunting takes place on hunting “Concessions”.  These are basically very, VERY large game farms.  These can range from 2,000 to over 25,000 Acres (from approximately 2 square miles to approximately 40 square miles).  We typically hunted from 4000 – 7000 concessions (6.25 – 11 sqm).

bushveld

The type of hunting is typically “Spot and Stalk”.  In short, you drive in the back of a truck trying to find an animal or heard and, if lucky, you can then jump down and ‘stalk’ the animal and, hopefully, get a shot at the animal.  For those who think this is ‘canned hunting’.  Let me assuage your concerns.  On our first day, we saw some animals but had no opportunity to shoot.  No big deal…This is why it is called “hunting” and not “shooting”.  Sometimes you are the bug…sometimes you are the windshield.

We tracked Zebra for 10 hours one day alone trying to find an opportunity to actually take a shot.  African plains game are very skittish as they are used to running from things like lions, hyena, leopard etc.  They see you?..BOOM!  They are gone…running full speed!  I learned quickly that you have approximately 3 seconds to set and get a shot off or the animals are gone!  This is not hunting Whitetail deer from a blind!

Another thing I learned quickly about African plains animals is that they are TOUGH!  If you take a bad shot, you are tracking that animal for hours until you find him!  This is the role of the tracker and PH.  Finding that single little drop of blood on a blade of grass so you can ensure the animal does not suffer is a role of the PH and tracker.  I still have no idea how they can track like that!  I am a former Marine Sniper and have spent some time in the weeds…these guys are amazing at tracking!  I was humbled by their skills in the bush.

My friend and I had some good success.  We also found ourselves tracking for many hours after we both wounded animals and had to ensure we did the ethical and compassionate thing to do.  A decent shot on a Blesbok ended up with a four hour tracking exercise with my friend finally taking the last shot from shooting sticks at nearly 200 yards.  For me, a very large, very tough old Gemsbok Cow took 4 hours of tracking through the bush and thorns before she was finally taken.  This is real hunting!  Joe the tracker was yelling at me: “Chris!  You must run faster!  We must keep up with her!”…my next trip…I am going to work out more! 😉

Hunting at a hunting lodge typically consists of getting up early (5:30-6 am).  You then meet in the lodge to eat a hearty breakfast.  You grab a prepacked lunch that is filled with sandwiches, drinks, snacks etc..plenty of food then you head out in the truck.  You find the concession on which you are hunting that day and you start “spot and stalk” hunting.  You normally (unless you are tracking or stalking an animal) stop for a bit to each lunch about noon-is then are hunting again until dark.  Once it is dark, you drive back to the lodge and sit around the fire talking about the day.  Dinner is served (Kudu steak, Springbok chops are not uncommon!) and then back before the fire until you are ready to collapse in bed!  This is not a ‘photo safari’ experience.  It is a true hunting lodge.  No TVs in the room, no swimming pool.  You are there to hunt.

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Hunting with a real PH is an amazing experience.  As a former Marine Sniper I consider myself a decent shot and OK in the bush compared to most.  Compared to an experienced PH in South Africa?  Yeah…I had nothing on Wikus’ skills!  That guy knew every tree, bush, animal, fish, bug, snake, etc. He knew their movements and their behavior.  I peppered him with questions and he knew it all.  Stalking animals?  Unbelievable how he moved in the bush.  He could spot a single horn in the bush from 100 yards because of the ‘shine’ on the horn.  He wore shorts every day and came out of the bush bleeding every day due to the thorns.  My hunting buddy tried shorts one day…ONE DAY 😉  I was truly humbled by Wikus’ expertise and field craft.  These guys know their business.  Military experience counts for little in that world.  These guys are real pros….

billwikus

As far as rifles, I brought a Tikka T3x in .30 – 06 and a Mossberg Patriot in .375 Ruger (which broke so was not used).  My friend brought a Sako in .270 Winchester and a Ruger M77 in .416 Ruger.  The .30 – 06 and .270 was perfect for almost all of the animals.  The only animal that we really needed the .416 was the Blue Wildebeest as those guys are very tough!  My friend also used the .416 on a Warthog but the .270 would have been fine.  A good .30 or .338 is probably good for most plains games.  I would recommend a 2 x 10 scope although in the Bushveld many seem to use too much magnification and it creates challenges finding the game quickly.  Remember…3 seconds and they are GONE!

Many believe that hunting in South Africa is cost prohibitive.  While it is not inexpensive, it is not prohibitively so.  It about the same price to fly to South Africa and hunt for 7 days and take 4 animals (including Kudu) as it is to head to Texas and shoot a single Gemsbok.  All in a hunter can get a 7 day hunt which includes 4 animals (Kudu, Impala, Warthog, and Zebra) and a flight for approximately $6,500.  While this does not include gratuities and shipping/mounting of trophies it does include all lodging and three great meals a day and all your drinks.  For a lifetime experience or bucket list it is not prohibitively expensive.

My review?  If you are looking for a hunting outfitter in South Africa I cannot recommend Africa Hunt Lodge highly enough.  Ewald Ras(the owner) and Wikus (the PH) are true pros. Ewald is a gracious host and manages a great camp. I personally like tough people, and I like tough countries..this picture exemplifies my own experience hunting in South Africa!..great, tough people! (for all the ladies looking at this pic…this is Wors Rall and not me ;))

WorsRall

If you are going are going to spend your money hunting, you want to ensure you get a great experience and great value.  I cannot speak to other outfitters but I can speak to Africa Hunt Lodge.  My own experience was top shelf!  When hunting you want to be put on the game!…Wikus was incredible!  He was super competitive and while he was not the hunter actually shooting…he was focused and got frustrated when he could not get us on game when he wanted….that is the type of PH you want!  You want someone who loves the game of hunting (hunting is finding, tracking and getting ready for the shot…not actually shooting)…He loves the hunt!.  Ewald and his team were awesome.  Great food every night and great company.  If you want to hunt “easy” they are OK with that…you want to really “HUNT”? they love that!…either way…they were great hosts and it was a bucket list experience. I give Africa Hunt Lodge 5+ stars for their service and their program!!!

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