A South African Safari
By Dean Ozanne
Is Hunting South Africa Fair Chase Hunting
This brings up the first thing often debated about hunting South Africa. Is it really fair chase hunting. Virtually all the hunting land in South Africa is privately owned. You cannot hunt the reserves and parks and they represent about all of the crown land there is in South Africa. Many of the farms do have high fences, as much to keep Jackals and other predators out as to keep game in. A Kudu or Eland can clear a seven foot fence from a standing start, I watched an Eland do it. On top of the fences not holding most of the game in, the farms are generally large to huge. Some are pure wild game ranches, others are cattle and game.
The first one I hunted was 4,000 acres and the second one was 30,000 acres. Yes the game is allowed to breed and roam in order to produce trophy income for the rancher, and no one is allowed to hunt without paying a trophy or meat fee; but the game is wild, knows what hunters are and work hard to avoid them. These are not some pen raised animals released just before the hunt, these were born free roaming and have been their whole lives. Considering many North American hunters end up hunting on one or two quarters that they have heavily planted with food, simply another form of controlling game movement, I fail to see how one can be called fair chase and the other not. With respect to plains game, I am of the firm belief that if you are hunting with the right outfitter on the right ranches, then yes you are fair chase hunting and most of South Africa’s farms are large enough to qualify as free range animals.
I wrote this very long article to be both the story of our hunt, as well as a detailed primer of information for anyone interested in doing the same thing. Feel free to pick and choose the headings that are of interest to you. We took over 1500 pictures so the embedded ones are just a small sample. There is also a link HERE that will take you to 140 or so selected shots if you are interested. Both the content of this article and the photographs are protected by Copy Write law. Please contact the author for approval to publish all or part of this information.
Finding an Outfitter/PH and location
First order of business was to locate an outfitter/PH. Since I had been casually researching trips to South Africa for some time I had narrowed down the list quite a bit. A fellow AO member posted that he was looking for people to join him on a South African bird hunt, with plains game as an option. He had used the outfitter in the past and highly recommended him. I did a bunch of independent checking as well as talking to other past clients and to Stuart Pringle. All the recommendations were positive and the conversation with Stuart went well. I told him in March 2018, I was prepared to go whether the other bird shoot got arranged or not so we set dates, July 26 to Aug 8th, 2018 for me to shoot plains game.
He was fine with taking me as a single hunter. My brother ended up joining us as an observer later on but initially it was only going to be me hunting for 14 days. Stuart was also completely okay with doing a cull hunt. I am not a Trophy hunter and did not intend to bring home any of the skins or heads. All I wanted was a representative animal of the particular species for pictures and meat to try. Cull trophy fees typically run 50% of the regular fee for the animal, or about what the locals pay for meat hunting, so there is some margin in it for the PH but not a lot. The balance of the meat as well as the skins and heads are retained by the PH and sold. Meat sells anywhere from $1 a pound to $10 depending on species and time of year. The capes have considerable value when sold to taxidermist shops for use mounting game where the original cape was damaged or not removed properly. Skins like Zebra and some of the more colorful Antelope are also sold as throw rugs. A complete Zebra A grade throw rug goes for up to $1,500. After trophy cost, $700, and tanning, about $300, there is still a pretty good margin.
We agreed on an observer’s day rate of $200 Canadian, hunting rate of $400 Canadian per day for a single hunter, $350/ day if another hunter joined the group. Trophy fees of $250 for small antelope (Impala, Blesbock, Springbok, Warthog and Fallow Deer), $450 for medium antelope (Black/Blue Wildebeest, Red Hartebeest etc.), and $750 for large (Eland, Kudu and Waterbuck). Varmints like Jackal, Baboon etc were no charge. Gun rental was $40 a day, ammo included and Shotguns were $50 a day plus $15 per box for shells. These were very good rates and were only as low as this because I was going to be the last hunter of the season and was prepared to be flexible as Stuart had a lot of other irons in the fire.
Travel to South Africa and Safety Considerations
Next order of business was to locate flights. Since my brother had now decided to join me my original fight arrangements need to be changed so we could travel together. I ended up with a first class return ticket to Johannesburg on Air Canada/ Ethiopian Airlines that left Edmonton just after midnight on July 23rd, to Toronto via Air Canada, and then via Ethiopian Airlines from Toronto to Addis Abba and then on to Johannesburg arriving July 25th at 13:30. Since there is no date change total travel time is just over 30 hours. The ticket cost me 120,000 Aeroplan points and about $120 in cash for taxes, fuel surcharge etc. I had enough points to get my brother a one way ticket on the same flights and he bought a return ticket in economy on the same return fights as I had, for $1,183. We could have bought two return first class tickets for $4,800 each, at the time we started booking.
So let’s talk the good and the bad of flying on Air Canada’s Star Alliance Partner Ethiopian Air. First off the service on board was top notch, good selection of wine and alcohol but no Canadian Rye Whisky. Food was Airline average with a number of Ethiopian specialty dishes that neither I nor my brother thought were great. Edible, but not great. This is where the good stuff ends. Their phone help desk is past useless, their online application and website are spotty and their organization is not fantastic. Once you are on Ethiopian, Air Canada completely washes their hands of you, even though they are the originating carrier. I could not check in online with Ethiopian but online did work for the first leg on Air Canada. I got to the Air Canada ticket desk in Edmonton to get my Boarding passes for the rest of the trip and they could not print them out. They could check my baggage all the way through but no boarding passes. They told me I had to go to the gate attendant for Ethiopian in Toronto to get my boarding passes for TO to Addis and Addis to Joberg. It took some help from a very nice lady at the Air Canada Lounge counter but we did manage to get the passes sorted in Toronto.
Ethiopian’s Cloud Nine Service, First and Business Class along with their frequent flyers, also enjoy priority security clearance and priority boarding. You need to be pushy and assert your rights to take advantage of these priorities or lots of non-priority passengers will actively try to butt into your space and areas. Canadian politeness is NOT an advantage in this part of the world!
When you get to Addis it is quite an eye opener, the place is complete Chaos. You disembark using stairs, bus to Terminal one, take a medium long walk to Terminal two in high humidity, 80 degree heat and no air conditioning, for your next flight. You need to re-clear security to get back on your next leg as there is no security to the connecting areas. Washrooms in Addis are not something the average Canadian will find comfortable, definitely want to hoover to do your business, unless you go to the first class lounge. We didn’t have time on the way down but made time on the way back. For smokers, the airport has a smoking lounge that we happened to pass by: it is outright disgusting. Since it is outside security anyhow, you might as well pop outside if you need a smoke after 13.5 hours on the plane. Addis also has a big shortage of anyone who knows what is going on and you will often get conflicting info even from people in uniform. Once you have been through there once, second time is MUCH easier and maybe because you have been in South Africa for 2 weeks, had my brother’s carry-on bag ripped off right in the Joberg airport while we were at the ticket counter, it somehow didn’t seem near as bad.
The Joberg airport has the highest rate of theft from checked bags in the world. Get your bag wrapped, lock the zippers or at least zip-tie them both going into and going out of Joberg. Do not let your carry-on bags off your shoulder or out of your hands. The thieves are many, well practiced and very slick. Do not fall for the aggressive tactics of the Porters, even those in uniform and especially those not in a uniform. The uniformed ones want to push your cart for tips and then bitch the tip isn’t big enough. They can become quite aggressive, tell them to shove off but if aggressive verbal doesn’t work, push them physically if you have to. The non-uniformed ones are likely to make off with your bags completely. Do not take a cab that is not known to you, make sure it is a legitimate licensed cab, not one of the many gypsy cabs that try to grab you inside the terminals at arrivals, where the drivers AGRESSIVELY solicit passengers. If you are going somewhere from the airport, arrange a car service to meet you at arrivals with a specific driver. Uber is in many cases far safer than cabs but not as safe as the private car services. No matter how friendly or helpful people at the airport are - DO NOT TRUST ANYONE YOU DON’T KNOW.
The police are friendly but of no use except to file a case report so you can claim it on your insurance. There are well known blind spots on their CC TV and no efforts are made to patrol those areas, fix the blind spots etc. This type of theft is considered very minor stuff compared to the high rates of rape, violent robberies, assault and murder the police usually deal with. South Africa’s crime rate is extremely high and Caucasians at the airport are prime targets for robbery, car Jacking etc as tourists are known to generally not be carrying weapons when getting off or on airplanes. They are also known to have cameras, phones, IPads and other valuables that are well worth holding them up for. The Private car services are of great benefit because they are packing protection.
You can bring as much cash into South Africa as you want, but have to declare any amount over $10,000 U.S. If you stay over a day or two in Addis the limit for declaration is $3,000 U.S. You can only bring out amounts over $10,000 U.S. if you declared it going in, otherwise you will need Bank verification as to how you came by the cash. Practically however, there is no one checking you when you leave so I have no idea how they enforce this.
When it comes to exchanging CDN to Rand, do that in South Africa. You get a much better rate both buying Rand and selling it back and the best rates are for direct withdrawal from your account into Rand. Canadian currency into Rand suffers a bit of a discount but not huge. The best rate is obtained at a bank: FNB generally has the best rates and you can see their rates online at their website HERE as you can with many other SA banks. Next best is the ATM but you are paying quite a bit in fees so it only makes sense if you take larger amounts. DO NOT exchange funds on the street. Not only is it illegal, there is a lot of counterfeit being passed. When purchasing items, especially paying for cab fares etc, try to have as close as possible to the exact change or your risk getting counterfeit as the change. Learn what he currency looks and feels like and check the bills you get back for authenticity.
You are better off not carrying large amounts of cash and do not carry more than one credit card or debit card along with a photocopy of your passport. If you have larger amounts of cash on you, carry only a small amount in one front pocket for purchases, the rest in another front pocket, so you aren’t flashing a big roll. If possible leave surplus cash, passports and extra cards, in a secure vault at the hotel, B and B or wherever you are staying. If there is no safe place to leave your valuables consider a Safe Deposit box at a nearby bank. Remember that you can have no more than 4 numbers in a PIN or they won’t work. Also, have your card that you plan to carry with you limited to $100 for cash advances. That way if a mugger forces you to withdraw from an ATM you limit your downside. The cash withdrawal limit is separate from your purchase limit so it won’t interfere with buying things with the card. If you are mugged DO NOT resist. These people are desperate and while they generally don’t harm their victims they are often armed with knives or machetes and are not afraid to use them to avoid being caught.
Canadian dollars are nearly impossible to pass on the economy but U.S. dollars and Euros are easy to use. Just make sure you aren’t getting shaved on the exchange rate. Business should be easily willing to match or exceed what the bank is willing to give you as this is money they can ship offshore. Also, many places will waive the 15% VAT (Value Added Tax) if you pay in cash, Rand or other. Be aware that you can recover a lot of the VAT you pay for goods, but not services, by applying at the airport. You must do the airport process to ensure recovery. Link HERE.
My final thoughts on Air Travel to far away places. I am 62 years old, in very good health overall and overweight. I would not travel this far if I could not go Business Class and I have been of the same mind since I was about 40. The ability to stretch out completely and sleep on a 16 hour flight, or even on a series of 5 to 6 hour flights is a very big plus. Having the extra leg and shoulder room is great. The meal/liquor services and top notch service is a nice to have, could live without that, but the extra room and ability to sleep, to me is a got to have. If I was Thirty years old and as skinny as I used to be, maybe economy would work, but even then, Business class is a whole bunch better. It makes enough of a difference that my brother upgraded his economy return ticket from Joberg to Toronto, at a cost of $2,000 Canadian because he could not face the idea of 16.5 hours from Addis to Toronto in steerage, after 5 hours from Joberg to Addis. All in he could have paid cash for a Business Class round trip from Edmonton and have paid less but it was not a real large difference and well worth it for the added comfort. When saving and budgeting for a hunting trip to Africa I suggest you seriously consider the cost of Business class, at least for the long haul section, as part of that budget process.
If I went to South Africa again I would likely go through Frankfurt, Dulles or Heathrow but Addis does make for a good adventure if you have never been there and I wouldn’t be against going through it again if the price of the flights were right. Also, we weren’t flying with guns, so where you fly through makes a big difference if you are taking your own firearms.
Arrival In South Africa
The day before we left for South Africa I got a call from Stuart Pringle, Pringle’s Legendary Safaris -Outfitter and PH. He said that due to some personal obligations he was not going to be able to meet us at the airport but that he would send his partner Nathan Regal to meet us and that Stuart would meet up with us in a couple of days. Now I am not a big fan of last minute changes so this didn’t land very well, but given we were so close to take off, there wasn’t much for options.
We arrived in Joberg spot on time at 13:30 July 25. Got through baggage pickup and customs with no delays or issues and made it to arrivals. No PH with a sign saying Dean and Mark. Go to the information counter that was right there and ask them to page Nathan from Pringle’s Safaris; they don’t make announcements. Lovely!
Find a chair to look up some numbers and make some calls. In the meantime Mark heads outside for a smoke. On his way back, runs into Nathan who is just arriving. Apparently he got the days mixed up, thought we were arriving the next day, and drove like a bat out of hell to get there to pick us up. Now as we found out later, he was really moving, he drives 140 to 160 kph normally so it turns out he was doing near 200 to make it from his home in Welkom to Joberg, 1 hour 45 minute drive, in under an hour.
We had a pleasant drive to his Dad’s place, “Farm Thelma Odendaalrsus”, just outside the town of Welkom. The town was originally built by a large gold mining company as housing for its management workers but has since been sold off to private ownership after the mine changed hands. It is still quite a pretty little town but the parks, golf course, public areas and schools have gone downhill.
Joe’s home quarter was a truly lovely Oasis, with great guest rooms, great food, nice cozy bar and the best display of mounted African game I have ever seen. Joe started the farm in this location in 1952 and in addition to farming and guiding, has been a taxidermist since 1960. Nathan has followed in his footsteps.
A Surprise Tale of African Done Taxidermy
After getting settled into our rooms and having a beer at the bar, Joe and Nathan took us for a tour of the taxidermy shop and tannery that is on the property. It is a truly impressive operation, and employs over 15 people. They mount over 1400 head a year and process over 3500 capes/skins a year. A copy of their price sheet shows their prices are very reasonable, and the work is truly outstanding. (A few examples, full shoulder mount of a Wildebeest $380 CDN, Pedestal mount $400, full animal mount $1,500, tanning of cape $270. Kudu in the same order, $500, $550, $2200 and a Euro mount $200, tanning $280. Shipping boxes for pedestal mounts run $400 per plus the actual shipping costs. Even with boxing and shipping, this is considerably less than the cost to have the skulls and capes sent to Canada and mounted here as you will still have $180 to $500 in tanning costs on each cape, processing of the head and some shipping costs. It is easy to see from the above that the head mounts are not a lot more than the cost just to have the cape tanned.)
All mounts are done on fiberglass forms. Those that are custom or unusual they sculpt the new mount in clay, make a form and then pour a Fiberglass form for the mount. The realism of the mounts and their life like poses comes from having observed thousands of the animals in the wild. I was also greatly impressed by how long the mounts remain new looking. There were mounts in the Bar that were over 40 years old and they looked like they were done yesterday. I have seen quite a bit of African Taxidermy and none ever came close to this for quality. A lot of it was quite honestly pure crap.
The work I saw at Joe’s is right up there with the very best done anywhere. If you still want to have your own Taxidermist do your mounts, they will also handle the prepping of capes and heads for shipment to anywhere in the world they can legally be sent.
Joe Regal Taxidermy [email protected] +27 057 354 3166 Bus +27 082 701 0963 Cell
We spent July 26 hunting doves. Nice thing about doves is you don’t need to get up real early, as long as you are out there around 0800 you are good. The morning flight lasts about 3 hours, so for a couple of guys who had spent 30 hours on a plane this was a very agreeable schedule. Between the two of us we burnt through 250 rounds in the morning.
We took a few pictures, cleaned up the empties and headed back to home base, 10 minutes, for a nice hot Brunch and then a nap. Back out around 3 for the evening flight. Much busier, went through about 400 rounds in two hours. Mark had never shot so much 12 gauge in one day in his life, and it had been many years since I had. It was tremendous fun and I would definitely do it again on another trip. It makes the perfect first day out. Lots of action, relaxed and very little exertion. There must be a Dove and Pidgeon union because at 5:01 sharp almost all activity stopped. Back to base for a couple of cold ones and supper.
When we got back for supper there were four Dane’s in camp, planning to shoot Guinea fowl and doves the next day. They had just finished 11 days of hunting and had shot over 45 animals, all of which they were having mounted and sent back to Denmark. We heard they went through 1000 shotgun shells for 85 Doves, so they were obviously much better rifle shots than scatter gunners. We stayed up quite late visiting so that may have had an effect on their shooting!
We were up the next day at 0600 for breakfast at 0630 followed by loading up and moving to our first big game camp on the Caledon River 30 minutes South east of Smithfield . It was a lovely sunny day and a leisurely 3 hour drive had us eating a great steak lunch at Buckey’s restaurant in Smithfield. The owner and his wife did the in camp catering for us the rest of our stay.
Camp food is hearty and plentiful but because eating times for lunch and supper can be highly variable a lot of what they tend to make is stew type meals. I really dislike any kind of stew. We did get to try a number of different wild game meats, the most outstanding of which was Impala ribs BBQed and in a spicy sauce and Eland Steaks. The smaller fast game tended to be stringy, no matter how young or well aged. The Waterbuck and Eland that I took were both old and well past their prime but the meat was absolutely excellent; tender, with a great flavor, very mild and not as gamey as Impala.
The other thing to be aware of is many of the great rooms in the lodges have no heat beyond a fireplace. Since you are hunting in their winter time, the rooms tend to be quite chilly. Thus your plates are ice cold and so is everything else in the room, even with the fire at full crank. Do not be afraid to ask to have your plates heated, it makes the food much better. Next time I go I will also be a lot more specific in terms of the menu items I would like to see for breakfast, lunch and supper. We eventually got it sorted at each camp, but because we were in three different camps it would have been a lot smoother to organize that up front.
This camp was of recent and modern construction. The rooms had large showers, lots of hot water and electric in floor heat. The main lodge was a large open room with a kitchen in one end, the bar in the other and a wall mounted fireplace for heat and cooking.
We hunted this location for 5 days, talking an Impala, Blue Wildebeest, Black Wildebeest, 2 Springbock, a double by my brother and I using the same rifle at 300 yards in a pretty good wind and two Blesbock. We then traveled to Brulbock Farm about 3 hours east into the very hilly, more brushy and VERY rocky wild country. There we found a very nice Impala in a howling wind at 300 yards. It used all of 9 inches of wind hold to hit him right behind the shoulder and Impala are not a very big target. We also took a Waterbock and a nice representative Impala. Stuart’s 12 year old son managed to take a real nice Black Wildebeest with a fine shot at 200 yards.
We saw a lot of game and a wide variety over the days we hunted. We saw some truly great trophy animals as well as a large number well on their way to developing into great Trophies.
We talked a lot about how the areas and game are managed. This is clearly no short term process, most of the properties have been actively managed for quality and numbers for over 30 years and even the newest properties have been in process over ten years.
Hunting is worth over $750 million per year and employs over 100,000 people in South Africa. It produces a large amount of foreign currency and tourism. Total Tourism represents 3% of GDP but total foreign tourists are only 40% of the total and about 14% if you restrict the count to tourists from outside the African Continent. About 200,000 tourists, not from the African Continent, arrive in South Africa monthly and this number has been dropping. If the government goes ahead with its nationalization of land without compensation or the crime rate continues to get worse (Police are being regularly convicted for committing serious crimes using Police Vehicles and their uniforms) and scares off more foreign tourists, the effect on the South African economy would be dramatic.
The accommodation and great room at Brulbock were truly unique, the buildings having been constructed from local rock, high on a hill overlooking miles of uninhabited hills and valleys.
After 4 days at Brulbock we moved to Morgans Bay and spent a few days touring and relaxing by the ocean. This is a truly pretty spot with next to no crime, you are 1,400 kilometers from a major city, with lots to do and see. It even had a couple of really good restaurants so we could indulge all the cravings that were not satisfied at camp, Pizza, fried chicken and all that other really healthy stuff.
Stuart’s Mom, Sister and many other family members live in Morgan’s Bay and have had homes there since the 1650s. We enjoyed a couple of really nice BBQs with his family while we were there. It was also a pleasure touring around with Stuart, who knows the area like the back of his hand.
It takes a lot of trust to get on a plane, fly 30 hours and believe the guy you contracted with will deliver everything he promised, especially when one hears so many stories of how badly things have gone on guided hunts all over the world. In this case, you could not have asked for more. Stuart’s thirty years in the business, and his ongoing drive to improve his operation every year is clearly evident. If you are looking for a great first trip, or a great return trip to South Africa, I can highly recommend Pringle’s Legendary Safaris.
Written by Dean Ozanne:
I have been hunting since I was ten years old and have had the luxury of hunting all over the world. I am not a trophy hunter, the only mount I have is the last Whitetail my father took before he passed. I do however love hunting and the experience of hunting with different people in different parts of the world. Their customs and methods are so varied and interesting that it really changes the experience. There is a huge difference between hunting driven Boar in Germany with a group of Germans and hunting driven Pheasant in England with a bunch of traditional English gentleman hunters. The other part that is great fun is figuring out how to find the hunting and how to get there and back. I hope you enjoy the stories of some of these hunts.