You wouldn't think that Africa hunting safari and budget could even be in the same sentence, but for Emily and I....It exist.
2015 started off with Emily's parents extending an invite for us to join them on a 10 day African Safari they had purchased at a Safari Club International (SCI) fund-raising dinner. Knowing what I do about Africa, I immediately said to Emily that it wasn't good timing and that we would have to pass. Of course we would both continue to research the cost and logistics because we knew it was a trip we would want to do someday. Airfares, safaris, taxidermy, it all has to come into account when looking into booking a trip to the dark continent. After some more discussion between Emily and I we decided that this was as good as time as any and we booked our tickets.
The Flight- With a few bags in tow we breezed through security. We decided not to bring firearms and rent them with the outfitter to make baggage simpler. The route we took to get to South Africa was from Sacramento to New York, then direct to Johannesburg. The fight was brutal however the airlines keep you well occupied with meals, beverages and movies. I think I watched 5 movies on our 15 hour flight from JFK to Johannesburg. Our flight ran about $1500 The other route that was available for us was from San Francisco to Munich to Johannesburg for around $1000 however it would have included a long layover and two 10+ hour flights.
When we arrived in South Africa we were greeted by smiling faces from our hunting partners for the next week. John and Susie (Emily's parents) and there long time friend Harry. We quickly gathered our items, hoped in a rental car and headed for Ubathi Game and Hunt (http://www.ubathi.co.za).
This game ranch was around 25,000 acres of dry rocky thorn bush intermixed with low elevation grasslands. The place was teaming with all sorts of game. When we arrived at “camp” we were welcomed by our Professional Hunters (PHs) for the week and shown to our rooms. The stone huts with thatch roofs were simple but comfortable and offered all that we could hope for, a nice bed and hot shower. The outdoor fire-pit and bar were a warm welcome after a long day of flying. We all ate, drank and enjoyed our first South Africa sunset.
|At the Bar.
Our first morning we were welcomed with coffee, tea and a full breakfast. We would have been fine with some cereal but if breakfast is on the table, why not! After filling our stomachs our PH asked us what we wanted to hunt, what was our list? With blank stairs and shrugging shoulders we all came to the realization that we didn't know. Never in our hunting careers were we asked for a list of animals we wanted to hunt. I had done some research of animals available but I still had no idea without seeing the animals in person. We decided that the first day would be slated for sighting in the rifles and looking over the animals on the ranch.
That afternoon we spotted Kudu, Eland, Springbuk, Black Wildebeest, Impala, Blesbuck, Waterbuck, Sable and Giraffe! There were animals everywhere! They were all at great distances but it was still how I imagined seeing plains-game in Africa. That night we all made a list and prepared ourselves for the next morning. Emily had chose a Blue Wildebeest and an Ostrich, a Spingbuck and Gemsbuck for John and a Warthog and Red Hartebeest for me. Our safari package had included a $1,000 toward trophy fees for all four hunters, which greatly helped us with our limited budget for this trip. This credit allowed us to shoot two animals each at the price of a normal out of state big game tag.
The morning came quickly and we all were very excited to start our quest for our animals. Emily and I were hunting together with a PH targeting Red hartebeest and John, Susie and Harry were with another PH targeting Springbok.
We hunted all morning till around noon with no sightings of a Red Hartebeest. After a quick lunch we decided to check out a corner of the ranch that was blanketed with thornbush, which provided safety and shade for the animals. We parked the truck and began to walk the northern edge of the thicket into the wind. After about 200 yards I caught a glimpse of an silhouette under a tree. Upon further examination there were seven Red Harebeest bedded under a lone tree at about 300 yards. We used the wind and closed the distance 125 yards. The PH set up the shooting sticks, i took aim and we waited. This was the first time using sticks from a standing position and I have to admit they give a solid rest for shots within 150 yards.
After what seemed like eternity, two young bull Hartebeest got up and fed into the open. They were gorgeous. Their red coats and rigid horns glowed in the afternoon sun. It was at that moment that I realized I was hunting. Being in another country, seeing animals I had only ever seen in zoos and hunting with a guide, I didn't realized what I was doing. While we waited a female Gemsbuck fed her way near the Hartebeest and immediately spotted us. She let out a loud call and sent the entire group to their feet. I bared down on the rifle and calmed my nerves as they came to a stop at 140 yards. A large bull was centered in the middle of the group perfectly broadside. I took a deep breath, squeezed the trigger and watched my first African animal hit the dirt. When approaching the animal I was overcome with emotion. When a hunter walks up on a species of animal that he has never taken before the feeling is unexplainable. I felt the same feeling when I walked up on my first pronghorn the year prior. I was all smiles. After photo opts and loading the animal in the back of the Land cruiser we celebrated with beer and a campfire back at camp.
|My bull in the center
The next morning we targeted Blue Wildebeest and Springbuck. We hunted hard but only found two Blue Wildebeeset and they were both cows. John hid a stroke of luck and managed to take a massive Springbuck to start his African adventure.
That afternoon we all changed gears and decided to have a family hunt where we all accompanied Emily on her Ostrich hunt. We had to venture to another ranch that had more abundance of these giant birds. At first we all joined Emily and her PH on the stalk however sneaking with 6 people makes stealthiness impossible. After three blown stalks we all stayed behind and left Emily to work her magic. Some people may say that Ostrich are an easy target but most have no idea that these feathered dinosaurs stand taller than most big game species and have very keen eyesight. Emily made a great stalk to about 225 yards of a group of 15 ostriches and sent her first African game down with one well placed shot. What a giant bird! The rest of the day was filled with smiles and laughter as we recapped the many blown stalks and the overwhelming amazement over the giant bird and all its features. Drumsticks for the BBQ!
Day 3 of hunting had us traveling to another ranch about 45 minutes away that had been having some pig problems. Warthogs are similar to our pigs in the fact that they like thick bush are very elusive, however their main difference is that they can be seen throughout the day. I really wanted a trophy Warthog however I would not be picky. Trophy Warthogs are very hard to come by in this part of South Africa due to the hard dirt and lack of water. Since the ranch owner wanted to keep the populations down we were instructed to shoot any pigs we saw. The ranch had very thick vegetation but wasnn inundated with Warthog sign. We spotted a few Warthogs that morning however they were gone as quickly as we spotted them. After some time we managed to spot a lone boar paralleling the road. As he crossed I let the gun sing which was echoed by a familiar, Thwack! We immediately got on the hogs trail and I was able to seal the deal with a follow up shot. The Warthog was enormous! I was on cloud nine the rest of the trip since that was the only animal I knew for sure I wanted to hunt in Africa. Call me crazy but I think they're beautiful animals!
The next day we again targeting the elusive Bull Blue Wildebeest that we had still yet to encounter. We drove to a high point and started glassing. There they are! I said, a group of 7 with one nice Bull! We made a game plan to work the wind and come down on top of them...it was fool proof! Then again when you have 1 bull and a harem of cows, closing the distance is tricky enough but getting a clear shot becomes impossibly. We had 3 different stalks work perfectly except there was never a clear shot. The bull was either behind a cow or a bush.
|Emily's Bull in the back
After losing sight of them we decided to give the animals a rest and head back to camp. We were beat and sunburnt after the a 3-4 mile journey. We had lunch and rested for a while then headed back out and were pleasantly surprised to re-locate the herd less than 1/2 mile from camp. After a few more failed stalks we finally caught up to the group in an open field. They were only 100 yards from us and though a little agitated they were standing relatively still. The Bull was trotting around the cows pushing them together into a tight ball. Here was the chance we needed. Emily bared down and waited for the bull to stop. One well placed shot with the 375 H&H and the bull was on the salt. What a trophy! He was a mature bull with big bases and made the whole family cheer when Emily approached. Who said this was going to be easy!
The final portion of the trip was to get John's Gembuck. Emily and I stayed in Camp while John, Harry and Susie headed out. They were gone the entire day however when the reached home John had a grin on his face and a spent shell in hand. He had taken his Gembuck. A beautiful trophy that would make anyone happy.
We spent our last day at Ubathi taking a few hikes and enjoying the scenery. South Africa was good to us and we had no complaints. We were able to fill our list in the short allotted time we had in this great country. After we left Ubathi we traveled around the country enjoying some of its rich National Parks. The Golden Gate Highlands National Park had breathtaking views and a true untouched feel that I could only compare to remote parts of Alaska. Our final destination park was the Pilanesburg National Park which sat just 2 hours northwest of Johannesburg. This park was 700 square miles of rich terrain that is home to all of the Big 5 animals as well as a plethora of birds and reptiles.
Our trip was complete. We got to enjoy South Africa's sights and the bounty it provides. We not only got to eat some of the game we hunted while at Ubathi, but we were also able to take prime cuts of meat from each the species we had harvested with us to enjoy on our road trip. Let me tell you, Blue Wildebeest is at the top of the list of all time best game meat I have had.
|BBQ some Gemsbuck and Ostrich
So what started as a reluctant trip ended with a glance at each other and a smile both agreeing that we would definitely come back to this enjoyable county! There certainly isn't a shortage of species that we need to taste!
The Breakdown- The cost of Africa can vary greatly depending on which species and the total number of animals you are interested in hunting. My first recommendation is to research where in Africa you would like to hunt, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, etc. All of these location can vary in cost by proximity to major airport, species and lodges. What animals do you want? Obviously the big animals like Kudu and Cape Buffalo can run a pretty penny however there is a large list of plains game that run the same cost as an out of state deer tag. Second I would look closely at some of your local hunting fundraiser dinners which might have Safari packages available for auction. These packages are usually donated to the groups so you can get them at a great price and they usually include lodging, meals, and a credits for animals. Contact your local SCI or other hunting conservation organization chapter and see what they have at their upcoming fundraiser dinner so you can do some research beforehand.
Impulse Buy- It is so easy to get wrapped up in the moment when you see some of these beautiful animals that you could leave a 7 day Africa trip with 5 or more animals then you anticipated taking. This can be rewarding at the moment however can take a crushing blow to your bank account when it comes time to check out. Emily and I stuck to our guns and didn't take any more animals than we planned and we still came home satisfied. We did take over 1,000 pictures of the animals and all came home with us in our carry on luggage.
Taxidermy- This is something I have little information on since we haven't got our animals back. We are having all our animals skulls cleaned and the Ostrich and Gemsbuck hides tanned. Guess who's getting a Ostich leather wallet for Christmas! The skull cleaning ran $30-$40 each and the skins were around $150. John and Susie purchased Springbuck skins that were ready to go for about $50 each the advantage to this is you can easily pack them in your luggage and bring them directly home with you. I will updated this once I get the crating and shipping cost for the remainder of trophies.
More photos are available on our Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hunts-4-Two/823563117662747