In 2018, I met Gary Pleasants, the United States representative of Adansonia Safaris, who was manning a booth at the Nation’s Gun Show in Chantilly, Virginia. He explained that an African safari was less expensive than a hunting excursion to the western US for bear or elk. The cost of airfare is $2,000 for a round trip from Dulles, Virginia. Package deals for a seven to ten day hunt are in the $4,000 to $7,000 range and allow the hunter to take several exotic plains game animals, as a package or selected individually from a comprehensive list. Food, beer and spirits, lodging, laundry, ground transportation, and the services of a professional hunter, tracker and skinners are included in the cost. Big game hunting (elephant, rhinoceros, leopard, lion and Cape buffalo, known as the “Big Five”) costs are more substantial. I was hooked. Having taken a Cape Buffalo on my last hunting trip, I decided to try for a male lion on this one. I informed Gary of my choice and he immediately telephoned Mof Ventner, the owner, to book the trip. Gary then showed me a video taken by Mof’s daughter of a recent hunt in which a charging lion came within two yards of her and the hunter before it was dispatched by the professional hunter. When the film was finished, I provided that this was not in my opinion, a good sales technique. The plan was that I would take the lion, a golden wildebeest and a black impala during a six day hunt.
The day started with a quick breakfast and then sighting in the rifles at 100 yards. This process is described in my earlier article Safari in South Africa, the Ultimate Hunting Experience (Part One) on this site. It is done to ensure that the scope has not been shaken loose by aggressive baggage handlers and that the hunter is capable of hitting a target the size of a plains game animal’s heart. I was using a CZ 550 .375 H&H magnum with a hand loaded 300 grain Nozler Accubond bullet for the lion and wildebeest and a Savage 110 with a Nozler “Trophy Grade” 180 grain .30-06 Accubond for the impala. Both guns were mounted with scopes, a Trijicon AccuPoint 3x9x40 tritium/fiber optic on the CZ 550 and a Nikon ProStaff 3x9x40 on the Savage. The professional hunter (PH) who would guide me on the trip was 27 year-old Ivan Henner. Old enough to be his grandfather, I told him that he was the boss and that respecting his training and experience, I would follow his orders. We drove throughout the farm in the morning seeing impala, Cape Buffalo, blesbuck, and sable. Living up to my expectations, the young PH found a golden wildebeest in the afternoon, and we stalked to within 70 yards, but when I set up to shoot, he took off running. I could have hit him easily, though I was uncertain of proper shot placement. I held my fire, not wanting to have us chasing a wounded animal. Ivan had no problem with that as this was day one and we had plenty of time. We were unable to pick up his tracks as he dashed into very thick brush. After another hour of fruitless searching it was getting dark and we headed back to the lodge.
On the morning of day two we again took up the search for the golden wildebeest cruising the roads of the huge Andansonia farm. As we drove by, Ivan saw two of them in the brush approximately 50 yards from the road. We dismounted and began the stalk as they moved deeper into the bush. The wind was in our faces as we maneuvered closer and closer. At 40 yards there was enough of an opening to get a shot. Ivan set up the sticks and the wildebeest stood looking at me with only his head and shoulders visible. I put the green dot at the center of the cross hairs on his chest and the CZ 550 barked, sending a .375 H&H magnum round into his heart. The wildebeest leaped into the air and took off running. It was a good hit and he did not cover much ground before he went down next to the perimeter road. Weighing in at about 300 pounds, and far too heavy for the two of us to get into the truck, we returned to the lodge to enlist the aid of two skinners. When they helped lift the animal into the truck I was disappointed as the traditional photographs were not taken. On the way back to the skinning shed at the lodge, Ivan stopped the truck and got out. The skinners dumped the wildebeest onto the ground and set him up for the photographs. Customer service is the hallmark of Adansonia Safaris and Ivan and the skinners were demonstrative of this quality. They didn’t want the pictures to show the fence line in the background and had wrestled to get the wildebeest into the truck twice just so that I would have a better picture. Upon depositing the wildebeest at the skinning shed we took a lunch break as clouds darkened the sky. The very small amount of rain that we received was not normal for this part of the year as winter is considered a dry season. After a superb lunch consisting of spaghetti and blesbuck meat sauce prepared by Lalane, Adansonia Safaris’ chief, we went back out in search of a wart hog. The plan was to sit in a blind overlooking a watering hole located about 50 yards from a den. Warthogs live in boroughs that are dug into the soft earth. Ivan cut up some fruit and placed it on the side of the watering hole in front was basically an ambush. We waited until it got too dark to shoot. That was like two hours of watching paint dry. The warthog never showed up. The concept of the plan was a good one, but it failed upon execution. That is hunting.
The morning started with a drive to another farm that had several lions on the property. Adansonia Safaris has agreements in place with multiple other farms that dramatically increase the acreage and number of species that can be hunted. Driving along the sandy road the tracker identified fresh lion tracks and we dismounted to follow them. The hunting party consisted of Mof, the property owner, my PH Ivan, Manu the Spanish cameraman and the author. Of these only Mof, the farm owner and I were armed. A short walk took us to the place along the side of the road where the lion bedded down the previous night. When they wake, lions will circle around prior to leaving the area. Additional tracks were discovered traveling both ways along the road. Mof and the tracker retraced our path and the farm owner went forward. He waved to Mof and I to move to his position. The lion was 40 to 50 yards off the road into the thick brush. Not a considerable distance for an animal who can run 32 miles per hour. Only his head was visible through the brush. Manu signaled to Ivan by patting his chest that his heart was pounding. He did not want to have to chase a wounded lion in thick brush where it was at its most dangerous while he was armed with only a camera. Ivan nodded in agreement as he fingered his knife, the only weapon that he possessed. Mof maneuvered for me to get a better shot, but the lion moved with us with his body continuing to be obstructed by brush. I had noticed as we began the stalk that no one was carrying the sticks, a tripod used for support. Mof unexpected bent over and offered me his back to support my aim. I fired my with the lion facing me, the bullet hitting him in the neck and cracking his spine. He went down and Mof and I moved towards him to about 20 yards away. With the lion lying in thick brush that obscured the rest of his body, I took a head shot that finished him. After the obligatory handshakes and photographs the lion was loaded onto the truck and we drove back to the lodge. It had been a spectacular day. I took the afternoon off. I guess coming down from the adrenalin rush of shooting the lion got to me. I wrote a little bit for this article and took a nap.
Out the door at six, we were met with very cold temperatures in the high thirties. Gloves and warm jackets are a must when hunting in winter in South Africa from that back of moving vehicles. Driving to another farm in the predawn darkness we saw Africans walking to work, the reflective panels sewn into their pants the only thing that made them visible. Upon arrival at the farm, we picked up the owner and began to search for a black impala. Before long we came upon a small herd of a dozen or more animals. They became anxious at our presence and took off before I could get a shot from the truck. We dismounted and began a stalk, but quickly realized that they had moved too deep into the bush to continue the pursuit. We returned to the truck and drove on. The mixed herd of common and black impala crossed the road in front of us before I could get a bead on the black male. They moved into thick brush that was impossible to stalk through. The whole idea of hunting from the vehicle is not to do an LA gangster style drive by shooting, but to locate the game’s tracks crossing the road and begin a stalk. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way. We drove on until we saw another group of impala with a big male standing 50 yards away. The land owner pointed to him and I stood up in the truck and fired unsupported. While in most cases the PH puts up the sticks for shooting support, there are times that shooting quickly from unsupported positions are required. This was one of them. Luckily, I had practiced shooting “offhand” prior to the trip. The impala jerked to the left and was out of my scope in a second. The rest of the small herd of eight or so animals moved away to the right. One black impala stood behind a bush, but its outline could be seen clearly. Was this the impala that I just shot and wounded, or another one? I wasn’t sure. In a flash he exited the area as well. Uncertain, I held my fire. We approached the place where the impala stood when he was hit. I was looking for a blood trail that followed the herd to the right. Instead, the tracker called out and pointed to the left. The impala was lying dead less than 25 feet away. After driving the impala back to the lodge’s skinning shed we ate lunch consisting of a kudu burger topped with onions, tomato, lettuce and Lalane’s homemade sauce that would put McDonald’s to shame. French fries rounded out the meal. We went out after the warthog again in the afternoon. It was a repeat of the previous experience except at a different blind.
Having taken all of the animals on my list, I was left with the decision as to what to do today. I was still interested in hunting. The warthog would have been an animal that I have never taken before, but it was proving to be too elusive. Another session of watching paint dry would be unendurable. There was a beautiful white blesbuck on Mof’s farm that we had seen while hunting the golden wildebeest. A family of four, mom, dad and two very young sons were hunting the property during my stay. The mother, a medical doctor, had never been hunting before and was uncertain if she could kill an animal. She too had seen the white blesbuck and became enamored with it. I told her that the animal was doomed; if she did not take it another hunter would. This concept made her feel much better and she went on the hunt for the blesbuck. I told my PH Ivan that if she proved unable to complete the hunt that we would go after the white blesbuck ourselves. In the meantime, I wanted it to be hers. My goal for the day was a common blesbuck or impala. Figuring that this would take a good portion of, if not the entire day, I was pleased with my plan. At $500 US dollars, they were among the least expensive of the animals that I could take. Ivan and I headed off in the morning and after 20 minutes saw a blesbuck standing in the road about 120 yards in front of us. We bailed out of the truck and I grabbed my Savage rifle. The blesbuck turned, now standing broadside to us. As Ivan opened the sticks, he took off, running into the brush. Ivan gave a confident “Let’s get him.” and headed into the bush with me following closely. We closed the distance swiftly, and heard him moving in front of us. Ivan spotted him and set up the sticks. I got on them and peered through the scope. Ivan said that the blesbuck would cross from right to left in front of us. He did so, but at a speed that was quick enough that I could not get the crosshairs on him. Amazingly, after he passed out of sight, he turned around and came back. His mistake. At 50 yards, I fired a quartering shot that struck well behind the shoulder and exited in the front of his chest. The animal collapsed in a heap and did not move again. Upon inspection, Ivan discovered a deep infection in one of the blesbuck’s hind legs. The animal was old and had most certainly been in pain. I was glad that this was the one that we took. Upon returning to the lodge, we were greeted with the news that the doctor had taken the white blesbuck. I congratulated her and she thanked me for my advice, saying that it had made the difference in her being able to complete the hunt. My plan to occupy the entire day kaput, I told Ivan to take the rest of the day off. I settled back in my room to write.
We went out today for a female impala for me and an eland for Louie, Gary Pleasants brother-in-law. The hunt consisted mainly of driving around and launching a drone to look for them. Absolutely nothing. Mof, the owner of the farm, was flying the drone. He kept saying: “Where am I?” as he lost the orientation of the aircraft. I joked to him that obviously, he couldn’t find his own rear end with both hands and a drone. As Mof laughed, the big man’s frame bounced up and down like an overly muscular Saint Nicholas, his past as a semi-pro rugby player on display. He certainly didn’t find any animals that the group wanted to hunt, though he called off several others. We went out again after lunch. The drone batteries were recharged by then and a second flight previewed the hunting area. Once more we drove for hours looking for the animals or fresh tracks. Nada. Finally, as the sun was setting, Mof stopped the truck 200 yards from a large field and we got out to walk the area. This gives a lie to the critics claim that the animals are in a pen and have no chance to escape or evade the hunters. Since the farm contains dangerous animals such as Cape Buffalo and leopards, it is required by law to be surrounded by electrified fence in order to prevent them from migrating into populated areas and attacking people and livestock, but it is so huge that it makes for a fair hunt. We walked quietly through the tall grass, so much so that we came upon a nyala, a very large antelope, resting under a tree no more than 40 yards away. An easy shot, but I got one last year. By then the light had faded to the point that seeing the crosshairs through the scope was becoming problematic and we headed back to the lodge.
There we found the other hunters gathered around the fire pit eating snacks and drinking beer. Two were Australians, Andy and Nick. Both men lived up to the reputation of their countrymen of being friendly, approachable and good natured. Trading hunting stories, Nick spoke about his experiences on his farm in Australia. He asked about my rifles and knew of the CZ 550. He was not as familiar with the Savage 110. Andy immediately recognized it as an inexpensive version of a hunting arm. He demonstrated a wealth of firearms knowledge and I’m certain that he has forgotten more about guns and ammunition than I will ever know. The opportunity to enter into discussions with hunters from other countries is often present at Adansonia Safaris as they host hunters from around the world. I hope that you may be one of them.
The author is not employed or affiliated with Adansonia Safaris or compensated by any of the manufacturers of the products mentioned in this article. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may meet Gary Pleasants, who frequently sets up the Adansonia Safaris table at the Nations Gun Show in Chantilly, Virginia or at the Virginia Outdoor Sportsman’s Show in Richmond. Gary may be contacted at (434) 566-1444.