We’ve had a lot of questions about my planned South African plains game hunt. Here’s why it didn’t happen.
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Best Laid Plans
This hunt was a decades-long dream for me. I’d booked it with my friend Mike Birch, owner of Hunt the Sun Safaris. Mike and I met years ago when he was in the United States promoting his company. Since that time, we’ve shot together, eaten together and enjoyed planning a hunt. This trip was supposed to start with a few days of watching and photographing wildlife in the Timbavati area of South Africa, near world-famous Kruger National Park. If the stars aligned, it would have been possible to see some or all of the “Big Five”— lion, leopard, cape buffalo, rhino and elephant. I thoroughly enjoy wildlife photography and was eager for the opportunity to seek out these animals.
After a few days, we’d move far west to hunt the North Cape near Namibia for what is loosely termed “plains game.” I was particularly interested in hunting gemsbok, and happily considering any of the other species found in the area. This included wildebeest, kudu, springbok, impala, warthog and eland, a huge antelope that can weigh over 2,000 pounds.
Many wonder what happens to meat from game harvested in Africa. It’s not possible to bring the meat back home to the USA, but it’s certainly not wasted. Some of the best cuts are served in camp, and all the remaining meat is used by locals. I dreamed of gemsbok backstrap steaks paired with a glass of South African red wine.
The Rifles and Loads
Gavin and I did several stories on the rifles I was taking to South Africa —my well proven Remington 700 CDL with a 6x Leupold and my 375 H&H Ruger Number One single shot. Truth be told, I could have done all the hunting with my 30-06, which we had threaded for a suppressor, but I really wanted to take the 375 to Africa! My Ruger Number One had been there before with another hunter and had seen Cape Buffalo, gemsbok and more.
I worked up an excellent .30-06 load using Hornady’s new 165 grain CX solid-copper alloy tipped bullet. It averaged 2863 fps. That bullet recently replaced the GMX in Hornady’s lineup and offers excellent penetration,— something I wanted for larger plains game.
I already had a great load for the 375 H&H built around Nosler’s 260 grain Accubond. I’d shot several black bears with this fine bullet over the years at varying ranges. Topped with a 1.5-5x Leupold scope, I was confident it would meet all my needs on my planned hunt as well.
Mike Birch told me he’d like me to use a suppressor while hunting and had one I could use. There was just one problem — my .30-06 wouldn’t accept one. Gavin did a great job of threading its sporter barrel and machining a thread protector. During our tests, I found the suppressed .30-06 experience incredibly enjoyable.
I’ve been shooting a long time and have competed in various types of rifle matches. Mike told me most of my shooting would likely be from standing, using a tripod for stability. In preparation, I began practicing with a Bog Pod, the same kind of tripod he uses. I learned to shoot quickly and well from the tripod. I didn’t neglect dry-fire training, and balanced it with live-fire training with both rifles from the standing and sitting positions, both supported and unsupported. Though Mike said we’d be unlikely to take a shot at much over 200 yards, I may need to thread the bullet through a hole in the brush to reach the game animal.
Why was the Trip Canceled?
Canceling my much-anticipated trip was a real gut-punch. I’ve had two careers — serving as a Marine and as a law enforcement officer. Both jobs came with their share of injuries. Now in my mid-60’s, some of those injuries have returned to haunt me.
The worst ghosts, and the one that torpedoed this trip, were blood clots. DVT or Deep Vein Thrombosis. Years ago, I was injured in a fight with a violent suspect. I developed blood clots in my left leg after surgery. I eventually recovered, but the circulation in the affected leg was seriously and permanently compromised. The clots later appeared in both legs. As active as I am, hiking frequently and working out nearly every day, I was surprised. Given my tendency to develop the clots, doctors advised me not to embark on the long plane ride to Africa. Just one leg of the trip was going to be 15 hours in the air. To avoid potential serious consequences, I canceled my dream hunt. Lucky for me, Gracey Travel was outstanding in both arranging my travel and in canceling my trip. Most of my travel cost was refunded.
Am I still hunting?
Although I had to cancel my South African trip, I’m not giving up on hunting. Here in the Northwest United States, I look forward to a long and diverse season. I most enjoy upland hunting with my dog. We’ll pursue grouse, quail, chukar and pheasant here in Washington, using a couple of different shotguns, and possibly my old recurve bow.
I also have Washington state tags for deer, elk, black bear and cougar. This should keep me busy, and hopefully fill the freezer.
It’s possible I’ll be making a trip to Montana for buffalo/bison as well. I’ve never done that, and don’t anticipate a ranch “hunt” to be much more than a shoot, but it seems an outstanding use for a 45-70 lever action rifle and a nice consolation for my canceled dream trip. It doesn’t hurt that buffalo/bison meat is amazingly good.
If you want to travel anywhere for a big hunt, I’d advise going while you’re young and healthy! Money is an issue for many, especially for young hunters, but honestly, hunting plains game in Africa can be affordable. Time is another concern, but most of us can swing 10 days or so for a big hunt once in a while with some planning. Time and money aren’t a problem for me anymore, but I can’t escape health issues. I may be able to plan the trip again with shorter legs of air travel, and am keeping that possibility in the back of my mind. It’s good to have hope.
Gavin and I would like to thank the many viewers who responded to the earlier stories with offers to help me explore South Africa while I was there. I am sorry that I’m not going to get a chance to meet any of you good folks, but am grateful for your interest and hospitality!
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