A few years ago—now actually more than a decade, I was able
to participate in one of the most magnificent experiences imaginable—three
weeks in the deepest, most remote part of
entertainment for those wanting a personalized taste of the ultimate hunting experience.
After a year of excitement, worry, planning and anticipation, the private
Lockheed Jet Star airplane landed at
Son Ken and wife Nancy Ann saw me off. Rosemary and Lee did the same for
The Lyons, Frank and Jane, were already on the plane. After suitable good-byes the pilot, Mike Santiago, taxied to the very end of the runway, gunned the engine to the maximum while holding the brakes and did what he referred to as a "Slingshot" start. It was thrilling as the G-forces glued us to our seats. I was soon delighted to be looking down at the duck blinds in Tuscumbia Bottom from the air. We were on our way!
By the time we reached the top of our ascend we began our descent into
Final destination for that day was
Morning came early. We were waiting on the van to take us to the airport at 4:45. Capt. Mike had wheels up at 5:25 a.m. on Sunday, July 30 and out great adventure began in earnest. We were all excited about getting off after a year of planning.
route Capt. Mike had picked took us over land as much as possible until we
had to cross the North Atlantic in order to head for
Just at dark we left for our final stop of the first day—
was just as I had it pictured—hot and poor and dirty. We slowly made our way
through customs in
It was still dark as the sleek plane lifted off the runway. None of us were disappointed to leave that country
behind. We slept most of the next leg,
which involved about 4 hours of flying. We landed in
Our last leg of our long journey lasted nearly five hours. We had to skirt
The Maun airport was about the size of Roscoe Turner but not nearly so
nice—the runway was paved but not much else. We were greeted by our Professional
Hunters with their hunting vehicles parked right on the runway.
What a spectacle! No problem with customs in
Tuesday morning arrived cool and clear, it was “wintertime” in
My guide, John Dugmore, is a very reserved British type, born in
We departed the Maun airport in two bush planes for the one hour flight
a flash we are in the back of trucks, 4-wheel drive Land Rovers and
Each of us hunters has his own tent with two beds. The tents are large, walk-around tents with double liners and complete with floors and porches. The surrounding ground is sandy, blackish and it’s swept absolutely bare, manicured with a leaf broom. There is a camp staff of 8-10 people who come out from Maun for the hunting season and live at the camp. Some live in tents, but others live in very small, 8’x8’ clay and straw houses. There are cooks and servers, complete with red serving coats and red turbans, young women that do the cleaning and washing and skinners that tend to the game.
camp has a large dining tent with a round table seating eight or more. The table is always immaculately set and complete
with table cloths, cloth napkins and china. Meals are elegantly served and
the food is excellent. Generally the
dinners start with a soup with the main course being the game that has been
taken most recently. Left-overs from
dinner go into lunch boxes for the hunters for the next day’s hunt and to
supplement the contents of the lunch box.
Lunch boxes are furnished with all kinds of canned goods similar to
what is available in the
All cooking is done over an open fire. Delicious fresh baked loaves of bread are cooked daily and used for breakfast toast, lunch boxes and dinner.
Most anything is available for breakfast, but I generally have toast and cereal. Contrary to what was told to me; fresh milk is always available, as is the normal selection of cereal.
We are awakened each morning by a young woman who comes into the tent, lights the lantern and brings coffee or tea. She also brings hot water for washing and leaves a big hand bowl outside. Soap and fresh towels are always available. After casually getting dressed and washing, we gather at the fire and turn in breakfast orders. We leave for hunting shortly after the morning radio check with Maun.
There are three Professional Hunters in camp, one for Claude, me and Sandy.
has a young hunter, Chris Collins, a 10 year veteran.
My “crew” and I normally set out for hunting about 8:15 in a
afternoon hunt on Tuesday, August 1 was interesting. We left camp after lunch and headed hunting.
The truck was forced to travel in water most all afternoon. We saw hundreds,
maybe thousands of game animals, highlighted by giraffe, elephants and a lioness.
We used Tuesday afternoon to get a fix for what was going on. I was awed by the scenery and inspired by the
vastness and the abundance of game. When
We were unsuccessful Tuesday on taking any game and arrived back in camp at dusk. A ring of chairs surrounds the burning fire and the custom is to have a drink before showers are called for. When I say "called for" that’s what actually happens. When you are ready, you call out “shower please" and within two minutes a young native woman has you a big bucket of hot water waiting for you. Each tent has a private, enclosed shower unit built close to it, complete with concrete floor, mirror, etc. If you are careful, you can shave, wash your hair and bathe before the water runs out. It begins to cool down as the sun sets and by the time showers are completed it’s actually cold. Teeth chatter when you are drying off and getting dressed. By bedtime it’s cold in the unheated tents and my bed has seven light blankets on it.
The weather here is fantastic and seems to be the same each day. Early in the morning it’s cool (cold if you are standing in the back of the truck) and one wears a jacket (maybe two). As the day progresses, you unlayer and end up with a short sleeve shirt and shorts on by 10: 30 or 11:00. It gets warm—maybe hot—in the sun but is always comfortable in the shade. The African winter sun is very bright but doesn't appear to burn you badly. My forehead burned yesterday (Thursday) but only because I faced the sun in the truck for about ten hours. There is no, zero, humidly. It's amazing - no dew, no fog or haze and no rain. Cuts heal fast and game hung up in the shade requires no refrigeration.
On Wednesday morning John and I left with a change of clothes and drove 70 miles to another camp called Matsebee. That camp is noted for having many impala and kudu and we wanted to hunt it before another group arrived. We got to camp about 1:30 p.m. (traveling 70 miles on the sandy ‘tracks’ takes a long time) and had lunch. It was a mirror image of our other camp, "Kweenie", with the same type tents, showers, staff, dining room, etc. It was difficult knowing you were in a different camp than "Kweenie". We hunted hard on Wednesday; saw lots of game, but everything seemed really skittish and always running—fast. We saw one herd of about 250 impala stampeding in single file and flying just past us. It was the following morning before John finally figured out why the game was so nervous. Interesting story, for sure!
It was Thursday morning and some five days since I'd run and I thought
it was time. John, my PA, didn’t seem to quite understand, but was fairly
cooperative. He suggested that I get a driver to carry me out two or three
miles, leave me, and let me run back. I
nixed that so then he suggested that "Boy" run with me. I nixed that.
Finally we agreed that I would run behind the truck as we departed
camp. So we began. A few problems emerged
quickly like dust and deep sand, but I hung in there. The truck moved on ahead
and, by the time I’d run a couple of miles, was completely out of sight. I began to get a little nervous as a running
As I continued my run past the pack, one decided to investigate and started following. A quick shout and the sight of the truck slowed him down and speeded me up. Needless to say, I caught the dickens around the campfire that night.
Things did begin to pick up that day with me taking my first game, a nice impala.
We had a good hunt, then continued to work our way back to Kweenie, arriving about sunset.
It's always interesting to try and guess about what we might have for dinner each evening. So far it's been tsessebe, guinea fowl, impala and buffalo. We always have a soup (delicious) made of game served before dinner and good wine (red or white South African wine) with our meal.
On Friday we made a long hunt in the morning and ended up by a large water hole for lunch. We concealed the truck and quietly had lunch and matched the game at the waterhole. Even at the hottest part of the day it was much fun watching the assortment of animals and fowl that came to the water hole. The dry part of the year has caused the water to recede and there were millions of animal tracks leading down to the pool of water.
Out of 10-12 licenses, I have at Friday noon; only collected one and we've driven lots of miles. I took out three more licenses when I arrived including a Cape buffalo. I had regretted not having done that earlier and was glad to be able to have a chance for one. They are extremely large and dangerous animals with mean dispositions.
Friday afternoon was more of the same, riding and looking. I do, now, respect the African sun more. I was wrong in my first assessment. My face is now burned, but my arms are hardly brown and my legs are really pale. The big problem is that I left my hat at the hotel in Maun and I’m having to improvise. Yes, it was a really classy hat and I’m sorry to loose it. Currently, I’m using a bandana to cover my forehead.
I decided that I would try to run again, so I took off everything but
my shorts and shoes and began following the truck again. Again, the dust was
bad and John decided to move ahead to where the dust wouldn't bother me. In a few minutes, I was nervous as the truck
was getting smaller and smaller in the distance; images of wild dogs kept
appearing in my mind! I would wave
for them to stop and the trackers would wave back.
I was all alone (they were out of sight) and I tripped over a root
and fell fairly hard. Good thing it was sandy or it could have hurt me. I
was up in a flash and I remember wondering if maybe a leopard had knocked
me down. I finally got them stopped and told John that I had to go in front. I finished out nearly three miles in the sand
and tall grass. I ended up scratched from the grass and bruised from the fall.
Maybe I'm not supposed to run in
Weekend is exactly the same as other days in camp. On Saturday John and I headed to Matsui to look for buffalo. On the way we were able to take a really nice lechwe. Its horns measured 28" (by Lionel) and we were all very happy. A lechwe is a member of the antelope family. It leaves in the water covered areas and eats the green shoots that grow in the water. Its hooves are very long so it can move through muddy and sandy water-covered land areas. Harvesting the lechwe required a long stalk and required a 100 yard shot, only one shot, I’d like to add! We spent the rest of the day riding and looking but to no avail. We did make a long stalk on a zebra but couldn't ever determine which one was the stallion and so we missed that opportunity.
arrived back at camp around sundown.
and Bob have been in
As much as I like communications, the twice per day radio checks are a
highlight for me. At 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
everyone stops and prepares for activating the radio system. This involves getting out a monstrous radio
and stringing up wire to get an antenna. How
much wire and how high it must be strung depend on how deep in the bush we
are. Communication is between the hunter’s
vehicles and the Safari South Headquarters in Maun. The distance from Headquarters is close to 100
miles, plus the distance between 2-4 vehicles might be 30 miles or more. Quite challenging. During the radio checks we get news from each
camp and any messages from Frank (in
All the Safari South people and the Professional Hunters speak beautiful English. It's fun to listen to them and I'm becoming quite good at speaking with an English accent. "Let's stop for a bit of bird" is a way of saying "let's eat the cold guinea fowl for lunch".
I think about home and the people and things there a lot. I'm not home-sick and I'm having the time of my life, but I really appreciate home. There is no communication other than the two radio checks daily. Other than the two radio checks there is no way to send for help or receive messages. It's kind of spooky and about as isolated as one can get in this day and time. (Editor’s note: things have obviously changed since this was written, but this was the situation at that time.)
Sunday morning finds Sandy and several of the trackers still sick. He slept from 7 p.m. (no supper) and was still asleep at 8 a.m. as we left. I'm concerned but I think (and he thinks) he must just wear it out. John and I are heading for Matsui, a camp about 40 miles from Kweenie. We plan to hunt in that area and spend the night there, then return on Monday night.
Our goal is to take two animals today and I just took care of my zebra. That was no great thrill, but the skin is beautiful and was one of the things I was looking forward to taking home. A zebra skin on a wall makes quite a statement! I'm thinking about getting another license so I can get two hides.
The trackers plus one skinner are making fast work of the zebra and the
vultures are filling the air and the surrounding trees--waiting.
Today, Sunday, turned out to be my most successful day so far. I bagged
a monstrous wart hog, the zebra and a reedbuck-all today. I'm checking them
off my list pretty fast now. I can see filling my house, office and Waukomis
with mounts. John and I are spending
the night at Matsui, another of the camps located on the West Side of the
Matsui is a beautiful camp, set up exactly like the other two I've been
to. The view is better. I can see at least a mile of magnificent
John and I are the only two in camp, except for the staff of six or so
and our two guys. Our spotter, Boy,
is sick with the same stomach problems everyone seems to have. At the 1 p.m. radio check it was reported that
John and I had a great talk after dinner (lechwe steaks, mashed potatoes,
fried onions, etc.) about professional hunting,
John is a really neat guy, with quite a lot of style. He's intelligent and he and I are hitting it off quite well.
We left Matsui around 8:15 A.M. We had to clear out of camp before Tommy Friedman, the owner of Safari South, arrived. Tommy and his family were heading into that particular camp. I never knew why the “client” had to leave for the owner to arrive. But I suspect that John and I really weren’t supposed to be there.
reports on the radio said that
An hour or so out of camp, I spotted a nice kudu. Yep, I saw him, not the tracker! I remember whispering forcefully, “There is a Kudu, a big one”. John slowed the truck and asked the spotter, “Is it a Kudu?” and the man said, A couple of shots later I can check that one off my list. His horns measured 50", more than 4 feet long, which was, as John says, "quite nice".
We then set off to the landing strip to catch Claude before he left for
I was able to run again today at the grass air field and it was nice.
Including my three miles yesterday noon at Matsui (with Sunga driving behind
me listening to my Walkman) that gives me eight miles for the week in
The sun is strange. My face is finally getting better from the wind and sun (and the shaving). The tops of my ears have been my worst problem lately.
This evening we stayed in camp. It was fun, restful and a nice change. Claude, as I said, left today and just Sandy and I are in camp.
I'm coming along great with my list of animals. Most of the rest except
for buffalo can be gotten in the
guess son Ken has left by now. That
leaves Nancy Ann with all her chickens gone, two out of the country and one
know Sara has mixed feelings about this particular time in her life. On one hand I know she is glad to be coming
home and starting her life as an adult. On
the other hand, sorry to leave her friends in
Sandy and I hunted together today. We mostly looked for kudu for him. One time we had a Cape Buffalo (turned out there were 2) hemmed up and were waiting for Sunga to drive him out of the bushes, we were on foot. A buffalo weighs 1800 pounds and is very dangerous. I was hoping he wouldn't get both Sandy and me. Nothing so adventurous happened and he slipped away unseen.
are forming that will take us from the fantastic weather here in the
Hope to receive a FAX tomorrow and hear from all the people at home as well as the businesses.
It's really an isolated feeling not knowing one thing that’s going on the outside.
There is still a good bit of sickness around. John, Lionel Palmer's tracker, and "Boy" are still sick. Hopefully, they will be better tomorrow.
am now sleeping better and for the most part, all night. It took about a week
to acclimate to the massive time difference.
When it's 10 o'clock at night here, it's 3 o'clock the previous afternoon
there, so it's hard to adjust. Animal
sounds penetrate the nighttime and add to the excitement. Maybe it’s the excited yelping of a pack of
hyenas at the conclusion of a kill. A
big black mane lion’s roar keeps your heart beating rapidly as it resonates
Martin should be arriving home later this week. Hope he's had a good trip. Then there will be the big homecoming of the others this weekend. My thoughts are often of home and I do miss everyone badly.
I ran a whooping half a mile around a water hole at noon today, but the flies and thick sand made it tough. The others were ready to pullout so I was glad to quit. There had been a massive herd of wildebeest stampede by and all that remained when they were gone was fine chalky dust and their pesky flies.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 9TH
We left camp and headed out early to look for buffalo. We had two nice stalks on foot but were unable to make serious contact and the buffalo gave us the slip. It's quite eerie on foot stalking buffalo. They are about the size of a small car and can move as fast for short distances. When surprised or wounded they are unpleasant, to say the least, and can be quite treacherous so it is a cause of concern to sneak up on a herd of 20 or so. Maybe tomorrow we will be successful.
We received a FAX from home this evening and I was really disturbed to learn of Fred Vann’s problem and will pray for him. I'm excited about all the kids getting home. I know Nancy Ann is also and is, at this moment, is preparing to get Martin. Hope his trip has been a great experience for him. I wish I could be there when Sara and Ken get home.
We take naps each day after lunch out in the bush. I spread out a tarp and I use my down coat for a pillow. Now, as soon as I finish lunch my eyes get droopy. The African game does the same and “lays up” during the hottest part of the day so we aren't loosing time from hunting when we nap. I could get use to noon naps
FRIDAY MORNING AUGUST 10, 1989
I just took my buffalo. We located two old bulls that had been run away from their herd and were traveling together. We spooked them out of a palmetto island and I was able to take one with two well placed shots. Boy and Sunga are busy skinning him now.
leave very little for the vultures except for the organs. We will have a difficult
time crossing all the water with 1200 pounds of buffalo meat on the truck.
John estimated that the bull weighed 1800 pounds. Both bulls were old, past
breeding age, and had been run off from the herd.
It makes me feel better knowing the circumstances.
The meat will be used by the natives and the head will occupy a very
large spot somewhere in
we were first locating the two buffalo, Sandy and his people passed in their
truck, visible, but perhaps a mile away. I've
tried in vain to hail them as we both probably could have gotten one of the
buffalos. It's a pity because
FRIDAY EVENING 10 P.M.
We got my buffalo butchered about 11:00 a.m., two hours after the kill, and were back at camp about 11:30. I went for a nice uneventful run of 3 1/2 miles at lunch then took it easy. I read awhile (I’m reading the 900 page book “Lonesome Dove”), napped and laid around until 3:00. Then we hunted to the air strip, about one hour away, and picked up supplies that had been left for us by a passing plane. When we rolled in at camp around 5:00 p.m., we got the word about Sandy and his crew being stuck.
Martin and Sissy should both be home now. Be glad to hear all about Martin's trip. I guess he will be starting football soon.
Nancy Ann would have had a few days in
FRIDAY, AUGUST 11, 1989
took Sandy and me today to try to get
we both fly to Maun (We tried hard to keep from flying together but it didn't
work out.) to join Lionel who is already there. From Maun, hopefully after
shopping at its two stores, we will drive to the
These Professional Hunters are a unique breed and are known worldwide among big game hunters. They are the elite and both John and Lionel are mentioned often in books about African hunting, especially Robert Roark’s popular books.
It turned out that the flight to Maun on the small bush plane was fine.
We were both nervous flying together, perhaps accentuated by viewing
the burned out skeleton of a crashed airplane that remained at the end of
the runway in Maun. We had an hour
or so at the Curio shop to look for tourist junk. There were no "deals" available except
ivory which can't be taken back to the
several stops, including one at the "Duck" for meat pies and Cokes,
we were off to the desert. The pavement ended within a mile after leaving
Maun. Then every time we passed a vehicle, especially
trucks, a terrific cloud of dust would ensue and we would have to slow down
or stop until it cleared. We got an
excellent picture of real life in
Rakobs is a very small camp equipped to hold only four people, with a staff of four men. However, all the services were available even though water had to be carried from five miles away.
On Sunday morning we set out to look for Springbok and were successful soon. Both Sandy and I took nice bucks with long shots. We began looking for gemsbok (pronounced himsbuck) but weren't successful. Late Sunday evening I took a large ostrich, but no gemsbuck.
morning first off, we took the ostrich (minus the skin) to a small tribe of
Bushmen living a few kilometers away. That
was quite an experience to see such a barren existence, but Bushmen are a
special people. Only 5,000 remain and
they live on protected land near Rakobs. They shoot bows and arrows and wear
skins for clothing. There is absolutely
no water here for them and it's amazing how they manage to get by.
We spent Monday the 14th hunting hard for gemsbok.
It was the toughest day we've had as we rode mile after mile over this
desolate land. The Kalahari just went through a six year drought and much
of the game perished. Lionel told of vast herds that had inhabited
the very land we now traveled but they weren't there now. Five kudu, which were too small for
We were glad to get back to camp on Monday to get showers and have a nice meal. We had springbok soup, chicken, potatoes, cabbage, green beans, onions and, of course, homemade bread. For dessert we had custard with caramel sauce and wine. The white table cloths and cloth napkins were shaped like birds. This was a typical meal and meal setting.
As we were finishing the meal, the server told Lionel that the Bushmen were there to put on a dance for us in exchange for the ostrich. It was, of course, an experience that few people ever get to experience. The whole tribe was there and they put on quite a show. The rhythms they produced by clapping was totally amazing. This tribe wore rags for clothes and they were absolutely filthy. It was very evident that they didn't have water enough for bathing. Lionel instructed the cook to get some beer and soft drinks. Instead, he only got out a case of beer. It was quickly consumed by everyone, from 7 to 70. One young boy bummed a cigarette from one of the trackers and passed it around to all the other kids. It was quite a show. We, indeed, saw a part of life that wasn’t available for many to see.
The desert was a fairly good place to run as there were not many signs
of dangerous animals. I ran four miles
at noon on Sunday and three miles late evening on Monday. No particular experiences but in the bush in
the deepest of
Tuesday morning at 8:00, Sandy and I flew out of the
the way in from the airstrip, John drove us down to a Photography Safari Camp,
This evening we had a pleasant hunt again looking for
On Wednesday morning, 16th, (Happy Birthday, Nancy Ann) we leave Lechwe on a morning hunt. Lionel and Sandy don't return to camp for lunch today but John and I do. A short nap after lunch is one of the things that he looks forward to daily. I've fallen into the same routine and absolutely fall asleep after lunch, regardless whether we are in camp, or as usual, out in the bush.
It's 10:30 p.m., late for me to still be up, but it's been a big day.
Sandy and Lionel didn't get in until 8:00 p.m. due to
John and I had a rather long day, "struggling", is how John phrased it. I have taken my share anyway. I ran three miles at noon at the airstrip with my rifle strapped to my back. That is, except when I came upon a herd of elephants. Then I carried the rifle in my hands!
Things are winding down fast as tomorrow will be our last day. I can truly say that this magnificent event we have experienced is one of the last remaining Great Adventures. Likely it will not be possible to experience like this after a few years. I'm really glad we have had the opportunity.
Sandy and I just left the camp fire with the elephants closing in on our camp. As we were still standing by the fire, one elephant came up within 40 yards of us, with five others right behind him. We could actually hear his stomach growl. They're completely wild and it can be pretty hairy when they come through camp.
It's ten minutes later and three of the elephants are right outside my tent. They are only 30 feet away. Make that 20 feet. I turned out my propane lamp and am writing by flashlight. It’s five minutes later and the big three have moved on through. Hopefully the others will follow shortly. Quite a feeling to be able to look out your tent window and watch the moonlight reflect off an elephant only a few steps away.
We hunted hard on Friday, the last Safari day. We drove over to "Splash" camp and seemed to run into everyone on the way. We had lunch at Splash with Frank and Jane and Joe. Unfortunately, my second zebra attempt was unsuccessful and there won't be a second African "skin" floating around.
We all arrived back at camp around dark. I got in a short run while waiting on Sandy and Lionel.
The final night and dinner are behind us and we are busily preparing for the Saturday morning bush flight back to Maun.
said good-bye to John, Sunga and Boy as well as all Lionel's trackers at the
airstrip. Lionel, Sandy and I flew into Maun with Johann,
the Swiss bush pilot with Northern Air. (Northern Air is a subsidiary of Safari
South). The crashed plane still remains
at the end of the runway, serving as a reminder to all that
We landed in Maun around 9 a.m., cleared out at Safari South Headquarters, and frantically bought souvenirs at the souvenir shop.
After much picture taking we departed Maun at 11:30 a.m. Near dark we landed at
This visit gives us stops in 8 countries outside the
Our arrival home ended one of the most extraordinary events of our lives. It would have been impossible to have made the event more wonderful, or more enjoyable or thrilling. It can not be replicated. It was the ultimate opportunity to see and do things that we would never have the opportunity to do again. We will always be indebted to those making the trip possible. Our expectations had been colossal, and even those expectations had been exceeded!