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MUSINGS ON AFRICA   Leave a comment

My thoughts on Wednesday were on Africa.

I began the day with an email reporting that some friends who have lost two rhinos to poachers.  The bodies of the animals were discovered with their horns hacked off. In addition to this wanton waste of life, my friends will have to shell out about $80,000 to replace them on their reserve.

My friends are devastated by the loss but will work hard to reestablish the herd animals back to the balance with the land.

The second item that caught my interest was a seminar I attended at the annual meeting of the Southeastern Outdoor Writers Association in Johnson City, TN.

Ashley Lutto is an undergraduate student in Zoology at ColoradoStateUniversity who is pursuing a career in large carnivore conservation ecology.  She has been involved in projects to study wolves in Colorado and spent last summer in Zimbabwe studying wild dogs and leopards.

Lutto’s particular interest is in conserving any species by working with local people who interact with the animals on a daily basis.

Because leopards are such elusive and solitary animals, tracking them is difficult.  She and her advisors used trail cameras to view the nocturnal activities of the animals on Save Valley Conservancy.  They tried a variety of conservation techniques and she presented the pros and cons of each.

Ashley is positive about the future of wildlife in Africa if locals can benefit from its preservation.  When an animal reserve is established, usually the locals living on the land have to move to the outside of the reserve.  The result is too often that they see the reserve as a source of protein and money from poaching.

If they can find another way to receive income, the locals are likely to leave the wildlife alone.  Often they find jobs as guides, trackers, etc on the reserve.  But, those jobs are limited.

It appears to me that the indigenous people of Africa are struggling.  Some live in poverty and turn to crime.  Others move to big cities and do what they can with their limited education.  Some become domestics.  Others go on public assistance if it is available.

Perhaps the future of many Africans lies with the preservation of wildlife.  The consumptive (hunting) and non-consumptive (tourism) uses may be the future of the sub-Sahara countries.  My friends who lost the rhinos do employ a significant portion of the local population and still they were the victims of criminals in search of a quick buck.


When we think of Africa, it is the big game animals that come to mind.  But there are a number of small game animals, mostly varmints, which present challenging hunting. 

On the last day of my first African safari, I shot a great bushbuck in a cedar choked canyon.  While waiting for the tracker to get the truck down to us, the subject of small game hunting came up.   Africa has a number of small cats, dogs and other varmints. 

Edward Wilson’s (my PH on this hunt) cell phone went off.  It was a local predator hunter calling to see if Edward had a hunter interested in a nice caracal that his dogs were pursuing right now. 

 Taking a caracal was not on my wish list but the idea was intriguing.  My safari was almost over and I had a bum knee that I thought might make keeping up with the dogs impossible.  I was willing to give it a try. 

Earlier in the week we had met a jackal hunter who used red lights and a rifle equipped with a silencer to take his quarry.  These hunters are important to the ranchers of this area.  They are an effective control on an out-of-control jackal population. 

Jackals, caracals and other small predators take a heavy tool on the sheep, goats and cattle of the area.  Their predation of the young and new born is legendary.  They do not return to a kill for a second meal and thus must make a kill every day.  Since wild game ranching involves the raising of young antelope, the jackals are also a problem for those ranches.

 The most popular way to hunt small predators is with hounds.  The large packs of dogs consist of a variety of pure breeds and mixed breeds.  Most popular are the English foxhounds and the American Walker.  Greyhounds are used for speed and the little Jack Russell terriers for tracking and to get into tight places.  Just about any kind of dog will be used if it will run with a pack.

 Driving toward the hunt, Edward explained the dogs were in pursuit of the caracal that had been evading them for an hour.  It seems the dogs jumped the cat while jackal hunting.  It had been seen several times but managed to out run the dogs.  If we were to get a shot at the cat, it would be with a shotgun due to the need for a quick kill in the heavy cedar choked canyons of the area. 

As Edward drove, I poked through the vehicle in search of two shotgun shells he believed were somewhere under the seats.  I found one shell and we agreed that would have to make due. 

Turning on to a road that crossed a mountain ridge over looking Grahamstown we approached the pineapple ranch where the dogs were last seen.  The rancher stopped us to say that the cat had moved onto his neighbor’s ranch.  He jumped in the truck and we were off again. 

A brief stop at the ranch house to get hunting permission and then we drove off past wagons of freshly picked pineapples.  The ranch road was better than many we had been on this week.  In the distance we could hear the baying of the dogs.  After a wrong turn and a little back tracking we arrived near where the hounds appeared to have the cat treed.

 A houndsman came out of the brush to guide us to the tree where the cat was hissing and growling at his pursuers.  He handed me a double-barrel shotgun that had seen better days.  The action was loose and I was not sure it was safe to shoot.  Beggars can not be choosers.  I chambered my one shell and followed the others into the brush. 

The damp ground was slippery clay and intertwined tree limbs made passage a bit difficult.  About 20 yards into the brush Edward signaled me to be very quiet and to follow him.  He pointed into the tree top at a patch of chestnut fur.  “That’s his chest,” said Edward “Aim for it.”

 The shotgun roared and belched smoke that obscured my vision of the cat.  Edward shouted that the gun had done the job.  I had gotten my caracal.  It was then I saw the cat spin out of the tree and hit the ground.  A mad scramble of man and dogs followed.  Each was trying to get to the cat first.  Man won! 

The caracal turned out to be a rather large one and a fine trophy.  Luck and my knee had been with me and I had an excellent trophy.


“In the early 1800’s the British came to this land,” said the headman who greeted us.  We were standing at the entrance to a reenactment village on the grounds of Shamwari Game Reserve near Patterson, Eastern Cape, South Africa.  “They entered a valley just like this one,” he continues.  “Then, they were faced with the warriors of Shaka, the greatest chief of the Zulu nation.” 

Exploding from behind bushes on the hill above us, came dozens if armed Zulu warriors screaming and shouting.  In a moment, I gained a respect for the soldiers who must have been frightened out of their wits and for warriors who had so successfully entrapped them. 

In our group, some of the women and children scream in fright not knowing what to do or say.  Soon the excitement is over and the headman goes on to explain that they had this surprise greeting to give us an idea of what it must have been like on that day so long ago.

 Leaving hunting of big game for a day, I chose to visit Shamwari to view wildlife and in particular the Big 5.  The Zulu village is on the vast grounds of the reserve and makes an interesting side trip.  My stay also includes a lunch of traditional foods and a chance to photography a number of native game species. 

The reserve contains a multitude of plant, animal and bird life.  Trained game rangers ensure that visitors have a memorable visit. 

Located along Bushman’s River about halfway between Port Elizabeth and Grahmstown, the 18,000 hectare reserve contains history that dates back to the time when game roamed freely.  The name Shamwari means friend in the Shona language.  In the early days of the area lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant (The Big 5) roamed the land.  Early settlers drove them to the brink of extinction so that cattle, sheep and goats could live on the land.  Today the farming of big game animals is popular and Shamwari has brought back the Big 5. 

After lunch, we load up into Land Rovers and move out to find some elephants.  Although this is a trip to view wildlife, the ranger has a .475 rifle strapped across the dashboard of the largely open vehicle.  It is “just in case” he explains.  Just what “in case” might be is not discussed. 

About an hour into the tour, we are viewing wildlife and I am shooting a lot of photos of antelope, birds, and even a white rhino.  But we are not finding the elephants.  We also are not seeing any lions.  

The rangers are talking to each other and no one is seeing either the elephants or lions.  I do not under stand how something as large as an elephant can be so concealed let alone a whole herd of them.  Our ranger explained that they have not been able to locate the elephants for the past three days.  They are mystified as to where they are hiding.

 Driving along a gravel road, looking at an eland near a water hole, I am suddenly aware of a huge gray beast on the other side of the road.  Just as I pointed, I see a number of the animals.  It is the missing elephants.

 The ranger drives closer to the herd so we can take photos without disturbing the animals.  They are grazing on the brush and trees and demonstrate an amazing ability to destroy both.  The great beasts grow impatient with our presence and perform several mock charges before settling down again.  It is exciting to sit in the middle of a herd of some 40 elephants.  They range in age from a few months to several years. 

Females with young herd their inquisitive offspring away from our clicking cameras.  A couple of the bulls come to investigate and we move off from the herd for awhile.  The beasts continue to trash the vegetation as they continue to eat. 

Our focus on the elephants is interrupted by the crackling of the radio announcing that one of the other parties has found the lions.  Moving quietly away we head off to see the lions and other wildlife. 

I wonder if Shaka, the warrior chief may or may not have been proud of modern day South Africa.  His people and the hated white invaders have grown to live together and to be good stewards of the land.  Today an outdoor writer from Illinois has visited the land, hunted its game, enjoy the food, customs and people.  I am glad I did.


Africa is a masterful seductress. Her beauty, adventure and calming effect are second to none in the world. Today, she is a popular destination for world travelers seeking solace from the world’s problems and a good value for their money. South Africa has both.

My first view of the “dark continent” is from the window of a 747 gliding into Cape Town Airport. A picture-postcard view of Table Mountain and the harbor is resplendent in the early morning light. My mind is a bit foggy from the long night. It is dawn on the ground, but my biological clock is at midnight.

Even though I have never been here before, I am home. My first trip to South Africa will not be my last. I will be back 5 more times in the next three years. I will even celebrate my 60th birthday down here.

South Africa offers the traveler a chance to view historic colonial sites as well as the cosmopolitan atmosphere of cities like Cape Town. A few kilometers outside the city, one can travel back in time through the wine country and out in the open farm lands teeming with wild game.

It is estimated that the wildlife of the country is now at the same level as was the case when the first white settlers arrived.

In the 1960’s, people realized that game can be a source of income. Once a value is placed on wildlife, it becomes important to preserve it. The variety of species utilized the land in different ways. This allows several species to use the same area and not deplete the land. Cattle, sheep and goats deplete the land and result in some areas becoming useless.

Today wild game animals provide food for locals, and venison for the European, Asian and South Pacific markets. The tourist trade in the form of photographers and hunters compose a significant part the country’s Gross National Product. Guest houses (Bed and Breakfast) and resort provide first-class accommodations and game drives for those wishing to just view the animals.

Threatened species such as: white-tailed gnu, bontebok, rhino and elephant are making significant recoveries in this country. All have gone from endangered species status to appoint where limited hunting is possible. Revenue from the hunting is put back into breeding programs and habitat development for the species and the landowners who promote the programs. The country’s diversity makes people feel welcome regardless of their race, religion or language. There are 11 official languages with English being the most popular.

Americans find inexpensive, first-class hotels and restaurants, luxurious game reserves and the country’s warm welcome to strangers. In the early 1990’s, South Africa was the 52nd most popular destination. As I touch foot on the ground it is the 25th.

Taking pictures is a must for the traveler in this country of animals, history, mountains and wide sand beaches. It is possible to hire a car and driver though a tourism company and visit these places for a nominal sum.

The infrastructure is some of the best in the third world. Medical services are available in close proximity to most areas of the country. The world’s first heart transplant took place in this country. Most of the country is malaria-free. The only shot needed is a tetanus booster within the past seven years. Telephone service is readily available and cell phone service can be found in most areas. Bottled water and soft drinks are everywhere, but it is possible to drink the tap water in most areas.

The “rainbow country” of South Africa is beckoning.


The roar of a deer in the valley below us seems strange.  We are inSouth Africa, and there are not supposed to be deer in Africa.  Our tracker, Phinaile, tapped on the roof of the truck, and Professional Hunter Edward Wilson shuts off the motor. 

All eyes were on a small, brown spot on the side of a ridge two canyons over from our position.  The early morning sun glistened on his palmated antlers.  The Fallow Deer was just what we were seeking.

 My enjoyment of “The Roar,” known to North American hunters as the rut, in March is made possible by the introduction of Fallow Deer to South Africa in the late 1800’s.  Cecil John Rhodes, founder of DeBeers Mining, brought them from Europe.  In 1937, 15 animals were transported from Cape Town to Coldhouse in the Eastern Cape Province.  From there they were loaded on ox wagons and brought to BaviaansValley and the Brakfontein Ranch. 

Released into the wild, the deer have flourished and now roam freely in the mountainous areas of the province. 

We have been hunting big game elsewhere in South Africa when Edward mentioned the possibility of hunting deer.  The idea was intriguing.  We moved to the foothills of the Gona Gona Mountain on the William Prigles Farm.  The hunt reminds me of hunting mule deer in our western states.  The glass- spot-and-stalk techniques work well for both types of deer. 

Fallow Deer of South Africa, although descendants of European stock, do not attain the huge racks found in the record books.  They are respectable but not massive. 

Biologists tell us that the three factors essential to good antler growth are genetics, age and nutrition.  The South African herd has the genetics and age in their favor.  The larger racks must come from the nutrition found inEurope. 

In spite of this shortcoming, the hunting of these deer will match any other such hunts anywhere in the world. 

Gona Gona means Yawn Yawn.  It was so named because climbing it causes one to gasp for breath as we have found.  The steep mountain sides are a good match for many parts of out western states.  The area is sheep and goat country.  They are the only domestic animals that can survive in such harsh conditions.

 From where we are standing, the stag was about 800 yards away.  We closed to within 350 yards without incident.  Preparing to take the shot we decide to attempt a closer stalk.  Sneaking along a line of trees and brush, we are able to close to about 220 yards. 

Crouching in the brush, I rest the rifle against a tree and wait for the stag to present a shot.  It seems a long time before I am able to squeeze off a single shot.

 The stag does not move for a few seconds.  He turns and crumples to the ground.  We watch for a few minutes until convinced he is down for good.  I have my African deer.

 We admire the deer and take photos.  He is in full rut despite it is  March.  Here on the other side of the world, it is fall and the deer are acting accordingly. 

I admire the beautiful valley below us.  It is early morning and the sun casts a golden glow over the mountains in the distance.  Far off in the valley a stag roars as if to establish his dominance not that my stag is down.

Posted 01/14/2012 by Donald Gasaway in African Hunting Journal

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In 1871, the 19-year old Frederick Selous stepped from the deck of a ship onto the shore at Algoa Bay in South Africa.  In his pocket was 400 pounds sterling.  In his heart was a desire to be a great hunter.  Many years later Teddy Roosevelt would call him the “greatest of the world’s big game hunters.”  The literature of big game hunting and the history books of Africa are replete with the exploits of this larger-than-life man.

Last Friday in Dallas, I was reminded of Selolus as well at the time in 2001 when I traveled to the Eastern Cape of South Africa for my first Safari with John X Safaris.  I was attending the Dallas Safari Club convention at the Dallas Convention Center.  It is a gathering of big game hunters from all over the world.  The folks from John X were there and we renewed old acquaintances.

Carl van Zijl, owner of John X Safaris, was in school when I first visited their home base.  Now he is a married man and professional hunter guiding hunters in a variety of southern African countries.

In 2001, I landed on a ship of a different kind.  My jumbo jet flew over Algoa Bay to touch down inPort Elizabeth.  With a little more money in my pocket, and not quite the grand vision for my self.  I would be hunting in the tracks of Frederick C. Selous.

Port Elizabethis a major seaport and tourist destination set on the dazzling shores of Algoa Bay.  The city offers a diverse mix of scenic nature trails and magnificent wildlife, long golden beaches, and a rich historic heritage and unusual costal climate.

Professional Hunter (PH) Edward Wilson met me at the airport.  A quick stop for some supplies at a grocery and we were off along the costal highway.  The cloudy day hid some of the beauty of the Indian Ocean for another day.  The water was placid.

An hour later we arrived at Hillside Farm, my home for the next 10 days. Hillside has since been renamed Lalibela.  It is a game refuge for the Big 5 as well as many other species.

Nestled in a cluster of thatched roof huts was my cottage for the duration.  Working on 8 hours of jet lag, I was not really bright eyed.  My first hours in camp were spent unpacking and relaxing.  There would be time tomorrow to check the accuracy of my scope and find out the game plan for my hunt.

Cocktails before dinner and a huge feast made me even sleepier by bedtime.  I did manage to get acquainted with the staff of John X Safaris as well as the other hunters and spouses that would be sharing the facilities.

Early the next morning a quick trip to the shooting range checked the scope and then we were off to hunt for a Springbok.  But, no luck today as a herd of wildebeest spooked our planned quarry.

On the walk back to the vehicle, Phinaile, the tracker spotted a herd of zebra 500 yards to the left and across a canyon.  We took up a position to observe them as they were on my wish list for the hunt.

The herd moved into some brush to bed down.  We waited them out sitting behind an old stone fence that was about 24 inches high.  It made an ideal rest for my weapon and offered concealment as well.

After a lengthy wait, the herd decided to move out of the cover but the stallion was not with them.  We waited longer.  When he finally moved out the other side of the cover he was in the open.  The range was 150 yards.

The recoil of my .300 Winchester Mag. caused me to lose sight of the zebra.  I was not sure of the hit.  Both Edward and Phinaile confirmed the kill.  From their position up hill from me they could see it on the ground.

Edward sent Phinaile back to the lodge for more help.  Edward and I dropped down into the canyon and across a small creek bed.  Climbing the other side was difficult due to a lot of brush and an old sheep fence that someone had dumped into the canyon.

Trying to hold the fence out of the way for me to pass, Edward slipped on the wet slope.  He fell over backward.  His foot tangled in the fence and he was hanging upside down on the down hill side of the canyon.  I was able to reach him and helped to pull him upright.

We managed to make our way to the zebra and found a fine example for a rug that now enhances my trophy room.  I had my first African trophy.

Posted 01/08/2012 by Donald Gasaway in African Hunting Journal

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