As parents and grandparents, one of our collective responsibilities is to leave a legacy of passion for the outdoors, hunting and conservation. My wife Ann and I spent many hours thinking and planning about how best to achieve some of this legacy by organizing an African safari for the entire family. The challenging concept was to plan a hunting safari to push the hard-core hunters and yet provide sufficient non-hunting activities to keep the more casual hunters busy between hunts.
As we looked across the spectrum of hunting options available in Africa, we were faced with the typical dilemma we all deal with when deciding to include the spouse or not. Ann has been on eight or nine of my safaris and has taken many of the plains game and buffalo, but I've elected not to include her on most of the really remote safaris with limited creature comforts. The family would include 11 hunters: five grandkids and their moms and dads. The grandkids ranged in age from nine to 18, and all of them are experienced whitetail hunters. A few have also taken elk.
Since was the grandkids’ first safari, ample plains game had to be available, which meant South Africa, Namibia or Zimbabwe were prime choices, so I contacted several hunt operations and booking agents to see what was available. We had to schedule it for June after the kids were out of school and before soccer, lacrosse and field hockey camps began. As always, the SCI Convention provided the ideal opportunity to meet with operators and discuss particular requirements for the planned hunt. I also began to email outfitters to check accommodations and availability.
Eventually my search narrowed down to South Africa since it provided the right balance between great hunting and lots of additional tourist activities. We wanted to be close to Kruger Park since we planned to also include some photographic days after hunting. I've noticed that many South African operators accommodate their clients in the family farmhouse. While this is certainly adequate and comfortable, I wanted the group to experience the more traditional thatched roof rondavel/boma atmosphere, so that was also a camp requirement.
Our search eventually focused on the western side of Kruger in and around the Klaserie and Timbavati hunting concessions. Both of these areas share an unfenced common boundary with the four million acre Kruger park, and thus animals are free to migrate in and out of the park. The Klaserie concession is more than 148,000 acres and the Timbavati is about 131,000 acres.
Both areas are part of the Associated Private Nature Reserves and are strictly managed for sustainable use hunting with strict quotas in close accord with SAN Parks. It is one of the few remaining areas in Africa where the Big Five can still be hunted. Hunting there requires a special license, and all hunts must be accompanied with a Klaserie game manager.
With the diverse wishes of our group identified, I continued my search for operators who could meet our needs and eventually found Graham Sales, PH and proprietor of Graham Sales Safaris based in Nelspruit, the capital of Mpumalanga Province and close to the Kruger southwest border. Graham is a life-long South African hunter having hunted the area since he was a boy. He was keenly familiar with all the additional activities in and around the Kruger area and could tailor a safari to meet our diverse needs.
We were met in Johannesburg by representatives of Air 2000 who whisked us through passport control and gun clearance in a few minutes. The next morning, Graham and his staff picked us up in comfortable 13 passenger van for the five-hour drive to hunting camp. Our group filled the Moholoholo Ya Mati camp in Hoedspruit located on the Blyde River at the base of the towering Drakensburg Mountains. This proved ideal as each family unit occupied a separate thatched home up and down the beautiful river bank.
The first night at the campfire I arranged through Graham for Colin Patrick, the Moholoholo Game manager, to give the group a talk on the value of sustainable use hunting to game management in Africa. They've heard it from me, but Colin's excellent discussion helped everyone to better understand the facts.
The next morning hunting began in earnest. Graham had additional hunting support from two long-term PH associates, Willhem and Marius, and their staff, so we had three complete hunting vehicles for each days’ hunt. Hunting groups were established, and guns were sighted in at the Klaserie shooting range to the satisfaction of the game manager.
Buffalo, plains game, impala and wildebeest were our quarry as the three groups headed their separate ways. “Grampie” and “Grammie” alternated between the hunting groups to observe the fun.
The area is classified as "savannah bushveld," and has remained essentially free of any form of development since the Stone Age. It and is recognized as untouched as opposed to restored or re-stocked lands. Game is abundant throughout the areas, and it was typical to see 1,000 to 2,000 buffalo during a day hunt.
Rules state that only buffalo of 12+ years old can be taken and Graham proved to be expert at identifying the sway back, drooping belly and scarred face that characterize a 12-year-old. We used the standard safari method to drive the vast areas until a herd was spotted, the we would orient to be downwind of their direction of travel and make a stalk on foot.
I find it tremendously exciting to be within range of buffalo and these proved to be no exception. We had to be absolutely sure that we were selecting a 12+ year-old, and it was challenging to get within range and get a clear shot before spooking the entire herd.
We hunted three separate buffalo over the week swapping use of Ben's Blaser R-8 in .375 H&H shooting Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullets. Shots at dangerous game should never be very distant, and in each case we were able to stalk within 75 yards for a shot. To be that close to several hundred buffalo, to smell the herd and hear their constant low grunts is always exciting.
Grandsons Gage and Hawkins were anxious to get on with hunting so, after proving to the game manager their ability to shoot, we let them loose for a supervised impala hunt. This provided good opportunities for the boys to learn tracking and trailing from the first-rate trackers with us. Dozens of shot opportunities provided stalking, shooting from sticks and shot placement experiences for the boys and yielded impala meat each day that was graciously accepted by the local people.
Granddaughters, Haley, Arabella and Izzie were not to be outdone and also jumped into the hunting program each morning. As luck would have it, they found some of the largest impala and each took trophy rams. Warthogs, wildebeest and other plains game kept the grandkids occupied in addition to impala. After a day-long cross-country stalk, grandson Gage took a very large old male giraffe that provided an incredible amount of meat for the locals.
Meanwhile, the parents were also busy filling out their game check lists. They hunted in the nearby Bloubank and Moholoholo concessions that backed into the majestic Drakensburg mountains. Geoff wanted a big stallion zebra for his trophy room and closed the deal in the last minutes of daylight. This area is known for some of the largest nyala found anywhere and after a day of passing on smaller nyala bulls, Ben took a monster with a tricky shot. Later he was able to take one of the largest waterbuck bulls Graham has ever seen and a wonderful, old-52 inch kudu bull.
This area has many fine kudu bulls and the wives were on the hunt for bulls measuring 50 inches or better. The African “Grey Ghost" lived up to its name and provided challenging hunts for everyone. The big bulls only showed themselves in the early morning or last hour of daylight and the true trophy bulls were the most nervous.
Brittany elected to try sitting in a blind at a water hole and after a seven-hour wait was rewarded with a clear shot at a beautiful bull with horns scratching 53 inches. Grammie Ann spotted an old bull 20 minutes after sunrise one morning and dropped him with a fine 90-yard shot off the sticks. Not to be outdone, 10 minutes later Jen saw a carbon copy bull and took him at 75 yards shooting from a prone position. Notably all the girls pulled off clean one-shot kills, and all at kudu from 51 to 53 inches.
Since not everyone in the group wanted to hunt each day, we had to ensure we had sufficient back-up activities to keep everyone busy and the Kruger area provided that. The girls were able to volunteer to work at the near-by Moholoholo Animal Rehabilitation Center where orphaned and injured animals are cared for. From feeding baby hippos to walking lions and cleaning animal cages, it was a truly living memory.
The ladies took a day with our van driver for local curio shopping and a boat cruise on the Blyde River Canyon lake. Others took a day and drove the Panorama Route over the top spine of the Drakensburg Mountains visiting geologic wonders such as God's Window, the Three Rondavels and Bourke's Potholes.
On day six the entire group took a break from hunting to visit Elephant Whispers near Hazyview. It was an extremely educational experience for all and run by a staff who fully understand the good that sustainable use hunting does for elephant conservation and anti-poaching programs in Africa.
As the final hunting day wound down, we had a number of discussions with the PH hunting staff about the conservation value of well managed game herds and particularly the significant contributions our presence was making to the local communities both in the form of fiscal support and through the contributions of meat.
Our group then sealed the gun cases and traveled into Kruger Park for a few days as photo tourists. We first stayed at the Hoyo Hoyo camp, a colorful series of thatched rondavels arranged to resemble a Tsonga village. Elephants and plains game constantly visited a waterhole in front of camp making it a nice addition to the daily game drives.
We ended our stay in Kruger with a few days at Hamilton's Tented Camp, tastefully arranged and decorated to resemble an early 1900s safari camp. A leopard in camp and daily game drives afforded all sorts of opportunities to watch a lion kill, wild dog kill, elephant-lion conflict, rhino-lion conflict and much more, resulting in more than 1,500 photos documenting a world class trip for all. Most importantly, they all got to understand a lot more about hunting and conservation. Mission accomplished.--Dr. Alan W. Maki