A World Away From Alaska
The following appears in the August issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY PAUL D. ATKINS
Ihad barely sat down in the blind when the red hartebeest appeared out of nowhere. My wife Susie, who was perched in front of me and on her first safari, was in awe, especially at how quickly things were happening.
With my bow hanging nearby on its peg and my arrows snug in their quiver, I just stood there like a zombie watching an animal that had become a personal nemesis on three previous safaris. The hartebeest was working its way to water and as my PH opened the blind’s shooting window, I somehow came out of my trance and started getting ready. Welcome to an African hunt.
LIKE ALASKA, I LOVE hunting Africa as well. Ever since my first safari back in 2003, I have been so mesmerized by this faraway continent and what it delivers in terms of fun and adventure. There is really nothing like it. From the cool morning rides to the blind to the hot afternoons on foot looking for a particular beast, all are part of a greater experience.
I feel sorry for those who’ve never been to Africa or experienced the incredible wildlife and scenery it has to offer. The culture, too, is amazing, especially if you get a chance to experience something beyond the hunting camp. The people are kind, generous, excited to see you, and always willing to “show and tell” when you get there.
When I was a kid, I always dreamed of going to Africa, but figured that I could never afford it. Years passed, and while most childhood dreams die, this one did not. I read every book, flipped through every magazine and watched every video I could get my hands on about African hunting. I practically wore them out while I hoped someday to make getting there a reality.
Time is a funny thing, but years later, with college done, a family started and other pursuits on my plate, I landed a job that allowed me to save a little money and start an Africa hunting fund.
It took a few years, but finally I had enough to go. So in 2003, after some careful planning and searching, I booked with Dries Visser Safaris (driesvissersafaris.com) to hunt plains game with a good friend of mine.
I had wanted to hunt buffalo, but they were expensive in those days and on my budget, it just wasn’t possible. Still, I spent 10 incredible days in South Africa, with each day better than the previous one. It was wonderful, beginning with a predawn breakfast, then loading up in the Toyota for the drive to the blind; it was simply mesmerizing. I was extremely lucky on that first safari; I took seven animals, including a 56-inch kudu and a 26-inch impala, and even though I couldn’t shoot one, I did get to see and film a lot of big buffalo on that trip.
LIKE ALL GOOD THINGS, the experience never lasts long enough. Africa is like that; once you get home, you want to turn around and go back again. Six years later I returned to Dries on my second trip to Africa, but this time on my own. My wife didn’t like it much, and all my hunting friends were busy and just couldn’t go.
Nevertheless I still went, knowing a little more about what to do and what not to do when I got there. This trip included those species that I’d seen the first time I was there but had not taken. But again, buffalo were not on the menu.
It was another awesome 10 days. Memories from my first hunt mingled with the new, creating a mystical magic that few hunts can fulfill. Each day was something different – from spot and stalk for waterbuck to climbing a tree and hunting black wildebeest, it was never- ending fun!
I took eight animals in those 10 days and saw hundreds more, including the animal that I wanted more than ever – but still couldn’t hunt – the buffalo.
HUNTING, WHETHER IT’S IN Alaska or Africa, takes time and money, which can be tough to come by these days, but compared to some of the current prices here in North America, it’s still a pretty good deal.
So, after returning in 2009, I decided to cut back on travel and save for another trip across the Atlantic. It took time and many sacrifices, but I knew that in the meanwhile I could have my fill here in the Arctic hunting moose, caribou and bears. I know that I’m lucky to have that luxury, and many would consider that enough, but the dream of bowhunting mbogo, or Cape buffalo, still haunted me.
Eventually I bit the bullet and decided it was now or never. I began making preparations for third trip to Africa. I had done my research and with buffalo prices on the decline, I knew this was the time to go. More importantly, I had the resources and a friend who wanted to go with me.
Our plane ride over was smooth and the three-hour ride to camp, even though it was in the dark, went by quickly. Our PH, or professional hunter, met us at camp, where dinner was waiting for us. One thing is true about safari: The food and drink are
always good and plentiful. After dinner we discussed the next day’s events, and even though I had a bad case of jet lag, I fell asleep easily.
The next morning was what I was waiting for – a feeling that only an African bowhunting safari can produce. The early-morning walk to the truck and then the drive, where you know you’ll get to see some of the most magnificent animals the world has to offer; it’s pure excitement!
It’s also winter in Africa, a time when cool temperatures combined with long sleeves and jackets give the feel of fall in North America, which makes it even more enjoyable.
We had eight days to hunt and on the third day, I made the most expensive and critical shot of my hunting life. It was dead on. When I finally got to my bull, it felt more like a dream than anything else. He was everything I could have hoped for – a big Cape buffalo bull measuring 41 inches between the tips and with a hard boss. He was everything I had dreamed about.
The rest of our days were filled with excitement and more hunting. I was able to take two huge porcupines, and even though I wanted a red hartebeest, he eluded us. Still, I was able to arrow another impala and a decent waterbuck too – icing on the cake, which Africa is always gracious with.
LIKE THE ARCTIC TUNDRA, the African bush gets in your blood too. After three trips I thought I’d had my fill for a while, but I hadn’t, as I’d come to find out. At the SCI convention last year, I visited again with Dries Visser, whose place is located in the northern part of the Limpopo province in South Africa.
Dries suggested that I venture over again and hunt some plains game, but this time that I bring my 16-year-old son Eli. I suggested this to my wife and she said yes, but she informed me that she would be coming too. I had asked Susie before, but it was always no. Reasons varied from family obligations to the fact that she doesn’t hunt. And most of all, she cited the long flight. But when I told
her Eli would be going, plus my nephew Tyler, Susie wasn’t about to stay home.
As I sat in the middle of the plane, the flight over was long but comfortable, as only a 16-hour flight can be. We landed in Johannesburg that night and stayed over, arriving in camp the next day. Tired but excited, I watched as my family took in all the wonders that first-timers to Africa experience. It was incredible to watch, and I could tell from the instant we arrived that they too were in awe.
Dries’ place is amazing, to say the least. Well known for conducting the ultimate in bowhunting safaris, Dries’ incredible staff and immaculate facilities are second to none when it comes to meeting a hunter’s needs.
And Dries Visser Safaris’ stringent game management plan produces some of the best trophy-quality heads and hides in South Africa. It’s a combination that spells success and what brings me back time after time.
THE FIRST DAY OF hunting was more of a “get the feeling for the place” than
anything else. The boys, Eli and Tyler, were to share a PH, while I had my own. I asked Susie if she would like to go, observe and serve as my camera operator. She enthusiastically said yes!
It was a wonderful first day, and even though I didn’t get to see the boys until that evening back at the fire, I enjoyed hearing all about their day. With excitement in their voices, they talked nonstop about the day’s events. My wife was in amazement as well, finally realizing why I came to Africa. It was very gratifying.
The week went by fast and we had great times in the blind and swapping stories of close calls and almosts. The boys hit it off with their PH Wilhem, who did more teaching and instructing than anything else. They learned as they went, which I was so thankful for.
Being paired with a PH willing to do that is not as common as many might think. And as the week went by, I came to realize that the two boys who I’d brought with me had grown and become responsible young men. They were taking care of business and never shirking the task of getting it done when it counted. Each took their share of good shots and bad, but they took it as it came. It was real for them and incredible to witness.
As for me, the red hartebeest never had a chance; neither did my sable, nor the monster nyala that I took one early morning just after getting in the blind.
However, the greatest feeling came the last day when I took an old warthog way past his prime. He was broken- toothed and scarred from no telling how many fights. He just wouldn’t leave the waterhole. It was a fitting end to a hunt that gave me a sense of coming full circle.
Susie was also utterly amazed the entire trip. She shared in the joy of each hunt and the excitement that only comes after the shot. Like many, she cherished the evening meal the most, where the telling and retelling of the day’s events to what once were total strangers – now friends – was pure enjoyment for her. She now understands Africa a little more and is already talking about going back. It gets in your blood for sure, she now says; the pure essence of being on safari, venturing far from home and experiencing something new and different. It stirred my soul.
IT’S TRUE: AFRICA GRABS you and doesn’t let go. And even though the day came when we had to leave, I knew this trip was the best of them all. A safari is a great adventure no matter what, but having your family there and sharing in the experience makes it even more special.
I know that Africa isn’t for everyone, but if you do dream of hunting this faraway continent and want a family experience like no other, then go. Save; plan; do whatever it takes.
Remember that memories are all we have in the end, and believe me: it is all worth it. I promise. ASJ
Editor’s note: Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He’s had hundreds of articles published on big game hunting throughout North America and Africa, plus surviving in the Arctic. His new book Into the Arctic will be on bookshelves this summer and available online. Paul is a regular contributor to Alaska Sporting Journal.