Greetings, I’m Kevin Clements. This week I want to use this web space to tell you about our July Africa trip. A little background, first, though. I had never been outside North America. That old cliché is true; travel does broaden the mind; in two weeks, I experienced decades worth of different cultures, and saw more of the planet than ever before. I’m still processing everything new that I encountered, and I’m sure my friends and family are tired of hearing me expound upon it. One thing’s for sure: this may have been my first such trip, but it won’t be my last.
When Jim invited me to split the “Safari for Two” that he bought at the Kittitas County Field and Stream auction last year, I agreed immediately, but really more on a whim than anything else. I had bid on it primarily because it was too good a deal to pass up. I wasn’t familiar with the game animals, and really had never even considered going on such a safari. Africa frankly wasn’t on my radar until this opportunity came up. I am mostly a bird hunter. There was mention in the brochure of birds being available, so I asked if we could add some wingshooting to the itinerary, and the answer was “yes.” Wingshooting in Africa was something that even Jim hadn’t tried before, so there would be something new for the old Africa hand as well.
“Plains Game” is the catch-all term for African game animals other than the famous Big Five. Plains game was first up, after we got to Mokopane and settled in. Jim was mostly looking to add to his collection of small, sneaky antelopes, and for a big warthog. Warthogs are everywhere, but finding a really impressive old boar is akin to finding a 30” mule deer in Washington. They exist, but be prepared to spend a lot of time and effort looking for one. In my ignorance, I had just picked some animals for my list that looked cool, or had interesting horns, or weren’t too expensive – or all three. Once we got out into the bushveldt, though, seeing the creatures and their habits and habitat, feeling the thorns and dirt of Africa, my entire list changed.
The bushbuck is a smallish spiral horned antelope that frequents the heavily treed and brushy riparian areas. They act a lot like muleys in river or creek side habitats. The females, known as “ewes,” stand out in the open, looking like they haven’t a care in the world. Meanwhile, the males, or rams, sneak off through the heaviest brush, with their heads and horns down. Philippus “Flippie” De Kock (our Professional Hunter) and Jimmy (our tracker and skinner) both highly recommended bushbuck, and Jim and I both eventually took very nice rams. I’m happy to report that mine was 1/8” bigger
Nyala are a larger spiral horned antelope, about the size of a really big white tail buck. They don’t use “buck” and “doe” for male and female in Africa; the small creatures are rams and ewes, the big ones are bulls and cows. A split occurs with nyala, where the females are small and called ewes, males are twice as big and called bulls. Like the bushbuck, they like heavier cover and are prone to giving you a quick peek and then creeping off through the bush. I took a nice nyala, the same day Jim took his bushbuck. The skinners had a very busy day that day.
All land in South Africa, outside of the National parks, is privately owned. There is no equivalent to our National Forests or State game lands. All game belongs to the landowner. This is very alien to an American, a westerner at that, who has hunted public lands all his life. The system, however, has resulted in a lot of farmers taking marginal land out of cattle production and letting the native plants and animals take it back over. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been converted back to bushveldt this way, and the game is incredibly abundant. The meat all goes to the store, and you can buy springbok jerky and impala steaks at any meat market. Weird, to an American, but it works.
Our several days of bird hunting for doves, pigeons and francolin partridge were fun and exciting chaos. No hunting dogs, so we either walked them up sort of blindly (crashing through the bush, sunflowers and standing corn) or hunted them “South African” style. This consists of chasing running birds (as fast as a wily old rooster pheasant) across thin cover they won’t hold up in, from the back of a Toyota truck. When the birds finally flush, you’re supposed to shoot them – from the back of the Toyota, at 30+ miles per hour. (When I told my retired game warden friend about this hunt, he turned all sorts of interesting colors. I think he was imagining the ticket he would have written us if we tried this in Washington.) It was great fun, safety and common sense notwithstanding.
On the last day of bird hunting, Jimmy the tracker and I spotted a very nice common reedbuck on the adjacent property. Jim had been looking for one for days. After contacting the landowner for permission, we put down the shotguns and went on one last antelope hunt. Jim passed on a smallish ram, and then we spotted just the horns and ears of a very large ram, bedded in some tall heavy grass where he thought we couldn’t see him. In truth, it was very hard to tell which way he was laying, and Jim had to wait and wait to see enough of him to take the shot. Eventually, though, he figured it out and took the ram right in his bed. It was a great end to a great hunt.
I am so grateful for the fine adventure Jim and I had, to Flippie and Jimmy for the laughter and joy of the chase, and to Richard and Ruth Lemmer, our Safari Afrika hosts, for everything.
You may recall that thoracic surgeon Dr. Jon Boyum, MD and Honorary Homey, invited his dad, Homey Bill Boyum, and me to join him in Alaska for a research project involving sockeye salmon on the Kenai River last summer. At first, I was under the impression that we were going to count sockeye salmon as they went up the Kenai, but when the word “salmon” was first mentioned I lost track of what might have actually been said. Bill and I called this a “bucket-list” adventure.
At any rate, we convened a year ago at Anchorage International Airport. We piled into Dr. Jon’s rental car and pointed it south toward the town of Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula, as he filled us in on what to expect.
We were headed to the he Kenai River – the most heavily-fished river in Alaska, for salmon of several different stripes. Over the last decade or so, the river gets an average of 275,000 angler-days (one person fishing for any part of one day is an angler-day) each year. John warned us to expect “combat fishing,” with crowds of fishers lining the river. We caught fewer fish than Jon had in previous years, but we caught nice fish and brought home a bit over 60 pounds of filets to bring home.
We did it again. Here we were a couple weeks ago, moving briskly southward toward Soldotna and our temporary home – a cozy cabin at the Red Fish Lodge. Gramma Marcia welcomed us on behalf of Steve and Lea Stuber, we piled our stuff into the cabin, grabbed our gear and headed to the river.
Somewhere in there, Bill reached out to John Wensley, an old friend from early DNR days, now retired from teaching and living over in the town of Kenai. Maybe we could all get together.
First, though, there was fishing. These sockeye do not grab a bait or lure in the traditional sense (Heaven only knows how we actually catch them), rather, we use a hook with a bit of brightly colored floss bounced for some short distance along the bottom near river’s edge. When it seems you have a snag, but the snag moves, you attempt to hook the fish. If by some chance a fish is hooked outside the jaw or behind the gills, it is foul-hooked and must be released. My vision of all this is that the fish snap at our floss as it tickles their noses or jaws. There is much to be said about these beautiful, shiny, and delicious six to 13-pound red salmon. Bill and I both have a preference for fishing for critters that actually take a bait and run, but once you find the groove, and present your flossy hook successfully, the whole experience is very seductive and habit-forming.
We found fewer fishers and fewer fish this year than last. Season total into the Kenai was 1,700,000 last year, with about 1,200,000 this year. Daily counts were at their highest just before and just after our days on the river. Those highs of about 52,000 were well below the 2015 highs of 75,000. During our five days, 17,000 to 35,000 fish entered the river daily. (Fewer fish coming in means fewer fishers on the river – those Alaskans have it figured out.) You will hear plenty of talk about the feds allowing more commercial netting at river’s mouth, and you’ll hear that 2016 is “just one of those off years.” Still, we fished hard and caught fish – bigger than last year – and we brought back enough for the moment.
So, what makes this trip a bucket-list type adventure?
Ask Homey Bill and he will tell you it’s the deep friendships among the three of us – probably bonded somewhere in our love of hunting and fishing and the out-of-doors. Somewhere in there is a shared commitment to an outdoors for our grandchildren’s grandchildren.
Honorary Homey Dr. Jon? Well, let me put it this way. Our last day of fishing had started very early and lasted into evening. Dinner was planned around the fresh sockeye filet Jon had walked to the cooler to collect. It would be accompanied by a fine, fresh salad and a baked potato smothered in butter and sour cream. As Bill and I waited, exhausted, cool malt beverage in hand, for the filet to return to our cabin at The Red Fish Resort, Bill’s old friend John Wensley called. He excitedly told Bill that he and buddy Dave Knudsen had arranged a last hurrah for us – we would boat up the Kenai to a very special and semi-secret gravel bar and fish until dark (just before Midnight). Bill thanked him profusely for the offer and suggested a raincheck until next year, but John would not be denied. Finally Bill sighed, “Okay, let me check with Jon, but you know we’re just about to throw a filet on the grill, so no promises.” Bill found Dr. Son Jon – aka Thinks Like A Sockeye – just picking up the filet and turning toward the trail to our cabin. Bill explained that we were exhausted and hungry, but he’d promised Friend John that he would check with Son Jon about going back out. Jon looked at his dad, handed the filet back to the processing folks and said, “Well, let’s go! We’re wasting daylight!”
We fished ‘til dark, caught a few beauties, were in bed before 1 a.m. and on our way to Anchorage International the next morning.
Another fine bucket-list adventure.
Each time a door closed in my face, The Old Man would remind me that this just meant that another was about to open. I’m not sure this Fish and Wildlife business is what he had in mind, but it sure popped into my mind this week.
You have by now, no doubt, learned that WDFW has closed access to the Fiorito Lakes until further notice thanks to a toxic algae bloom. This, of course, includes the very popular North Fiorito Lake (38 acres) and South Fiorito Lake (24 acres). The lakes lie between I-82 and the county’s No. 6 Road, and are mostly accessed from the Thrall Road Exit (3) off the interstate.
Our Kittitas County Public Health Department folks informed the Fish and Wildlife folks of reports they were getting from neighboring residents whose now-sick pets and livestock had been drinking from the lakes. Others reported seeing dead fish floating in the lakes. The closure – to protect those of us who like to play in these lakes – was almost immediate.
Algae are simply microscopic floating plants in water bodies and streams across the planet – essential, beneficial and harmless. When toxic algae blooms occur, there is a wide variety of causes, depending on the location and type of water involved. Almost always, warm temperatures are an underlying cause, and virtually always the problem occurs when rapid increases in photosynthesis cause the algae to overproduce chemicals – toxins – which can be harmful to other life forms (like people and fish). In addition, decomposition of dying algae masses removes oxygen from the water, creating “dead zones’ in which other water dwellers are suddenly unable to find the oxygen they need to survive.
There are surface scummy blooms, brown and multi-color blooms. While they are often supported by runoff of nitrogen or phosphorus from nearby fields, such a cause has not been identified here. The health department’s lab work has confirmed that the toxins in our Fiorito bloom developed from a surface bloom of blue-green algae.
Once the bloom has subsided, fish will be restocked (as needed) and the joy of playing in the Fioritos will once again be ours. The door will reopen. Standby…
In the meantime, you are aware that our Department of Fish and Wildlife has been for more than a year actively pursuing public interaction and comment on its Wild Future Initiative. This initiative has been a statewide attempt to get your input on what is, good, bad or missing from the work of the agency across the state.
Wednesday evening, a handful of us from the Kittitas County Field and Stream Club of Paradise drove to Selah to hear the story to date and pass along our own thoughts.
At this point, DFW has responded to early comments by: improving a number of access sites and developing partnerships for habitat restoration; simplifying fishing rules, developing mobile apps for fishers and hunters, and cleaning up its website; seeking funding to step up enforcement, education and management activities; and few dozen local initiatives to improve recreational opportunities, land management and outdoor user safety. Interestingly, there has been little interest in closing hatcheries. (Did you know that Washington has, arguably, one of the largest hatchery systems in the world?) Through all of this discussion and comment, of course, is a push to do whatever must be done today to ensure that we have hunting and fishing tomorrow.
And a door opens to the proposed fee increases you’ve been hearing about. Frankly, I don’t have a lot of heartburn about most of them, but these will all be part of the department’s Wild Future Initiative budget proposal to the governor and legislature. All fee increases will have to be approved by the legislature – and your /comments/concerns/support will be critical to that happening.
Allow me to share just a couple general proposals, here. Your hunting and fishing licenses may rise by 10% or more – but it varies widely. Eye-opener: in an effort to focus on users, rather than all fishers, catch record cards for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and Puget Sound halibut could go from free to $11.50 per species.
And – no – there is no proposal for a paid “license” for those who enjoy watching and photographing the wildlife and habitat which hunters and fishers have provided. That is another issue to be explored here one of these days. Please note, however, that there are statewide and national efforts to more actively enroll “non-consumptive” users of fish and wildlife in its future. Note also that some 20% of DFW’s budget comes from the General Fund to which everyone contributes tax dollars, so hunters and fishers are not alone on the hook.
You will find all the details – and hours of interesting reading – at wdfw.wa.gov/wildfuture/. Check it out and let your voice be heard. This is about tomorrow, and our children’s children.
Tuesday. It was an off-Reecer Creek meeting of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association (a.k.a. RCRGWD&OTTBA). On the floor were several items of outdoor and community interest, including, but not limited to, current eastern Washington fire danger and related camp use restrictions, the proposed – and likely upcoming – WDFW fishing and/or hunting license fee increases, the relatively quiet status of wolves across the state lately, proposed and pending road closures on the public ground around Paradise, and a question about how soon members would see Kevin Clements’ report on our recent trip to South Africa. Then there was New Guy and all his questions about what it would take to become a fully-vetted member of our little think tank.
We pretty quickly moved through the road access questions, encouraging members to spend some time with the online materials for both the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest road planning efforts and the Naneum Ridge to Columbia Recreation and Access Plan, and respond as needed. The license fee increases are being pretty widely discussed across the state, with our next public opportunity to hear about them coming next Wednesday (5:30 to 7:30) at the Selah Civic Center. Several members committed to attend. Somewhere in there, someone moved that RCRGWD&OTTBA publicly thank all involved in fire safety across the West, and acknowledge the kindness, courage and hard work of the hundreds of local and regional firefighters helping bring our wild land fires under control, and reach out in all ways possible to help those suffering from wildfires. In the middle of debate over wording, New Guy’s questions derailed that conversation.
Given that his questions were the same ones we get regularly get when the subject of our little think tank comes up, members all piled on with answers. Allow me to summarize members’ responses here.
Our name? Well, it reflects the geographic location of the inspiration that led to creation of our think tank. Our founders (we mostly agree there were three of us) sat on the east (or maybe west) bank of Reecer Creek, cooling down with iced malt beverages on a hot July evening late last century.
Our purpose? We organized around a commitment to solve most of the problems facing the World, America, Washington State and Paradise at that time. Our goals included: peace and understanding among all the world’s religions and ethnic groups by 2014 (now extended to 2020); ending world hunger by 2012 (reset to 2021); developing SUVs which last for twenty years, operate pollution-free for pennies a mile and will not allow themselves to be driven across a fragile environment (currently under development); increasing local hay production for export, while returning salmon and steelhead to full runs by 2015 (this is looking more and more like a climate-control issue); and lifting the quality of local outdoor discourse – at which we are having some success.
Habitat? We work for habitat so that our children’s great-grandchildren will know fish and wildlife. We recognize that all living creatures share this planet and this life together, and we want young people to see that they don’t own land as much as it owns them, so that future generations might have less to fight over. (Honestly, we still are not sure just what that means, but it was brought up and approved during an early meeting at the Tav, so…) We support the breeding of hunting dogs as loving and strong and smart as my Lab Freebe the WonderDog (but not as gassy in a duck blind or car).
- Meetings automatically call to order whenever two or more gather to talk about the outdoors or wildlife or hunting or fishing or whatever – it depends on attitude, time of day, and who’s paying. When you agree to support our purpose and goals you become a life member.
- We have standing subcommittees for kids’ education, publicity, accuracy in media, science education and poker. Ad hoc subcommittees may form at any moment to handle suddenly urgent issues. I am hesitant to name any of these (or the men and women serving on them), for a variety of reasons, but all members expect to serve on one or another.
- All members are required to obtain at least one free meal a month. Additionally, board members, to retain their positions, must score two free malt beverages per fortnight.
Funding? We don’t have a funding source or plan. Nobody in the state seems to have one. We do, occasionally, have a successful poker game or pass the hat if our checks haven’t arrived.
Agenda? We haven’t figured out who handles the agenda. Any member may handle it, and put any pet issue before any meeting he or she calls. Sometimes, someone takes notes.
We informed New Guy that he is now a member. “But next time,” we suggested, “please bring refreshments.”
We then finally returned to our motion – made and seconded – to acknowledge and thank firefighters and encourage outreach from all members. Motion carried on a unanimous vote.
After a brief explanation of Kevin’s determination to properly and accurately reflect our African adventure, members were prepared to wait for another week of so for his report.
Somewhere around three decades ago, I was the Education Director for the Denver Chapter of Safari Club International. That meant I had a fund for supporting kids’ outdoor camps and for workshops for public school teachers interested in using habitat and wildlife management modules in their classrooms. It also meant that I regularly met with ed directors from other chapters across North America to develop new approaches to outdoor and wildlife education.
One of the directors with whom I regularly crossed paths was a man (Bill, as I recall) from a Florida chapter. He owned a rather large construction company with somewhere around 1800 employees, but that is another story. What struck me about the man was that he traveled with his hunting rifle to every SCI education directors’ meeting – no matter what time of year or where in the country we were meeting. At one point, I asked him about the habit. Bill looked at me and smiled, “Well, you just never know when there might be something to hunt. Mostly, though, this rifle has been my trusted friend for 50 years. If you don’t respect and honor your friends – keep ‘em close – they might not be there when you need them.”
Bill popped into my mind a year or so ago, when Kevin Clements asked me if we ought to take our own firearms with us on our July, 2016, jaunt to South Africa. During my first couple trips to hunt with Safari Afrika and friends Richard and Ruth Lemmer, I had used Richard’s rifles.
Kevin wanted to hunt birds along with a couple antelope. Sounded like fun to me. On our two lists were critters like warthogs, bush pigs, impala, blue wildebeest, blesbok, mountain reedbuck and klipspringer. The birds on those lists included francolin partridge, guinea fowl, mourning doves, Eurasian ring-neck doves and rock pigeons. It just made sense to take our own firearms.
Funny thing, my 7mm Remington Magnum Savage (aka Boomer) has been my trusted friend for 52 years. My little Charles Daly over-under 20-gauge has been my favorite shotgun almost as long. How could I not take them with?
Kevin would bring his 7mm mag, as well, and a sweet little side-by-side 20-gauge double.
That settled, we began the process of chasing the paper needed these days to move firearms into another country – and to make certain they could come back home with us. I took these same two firearms to Spain in the mid-1980s, but we live in a very different world today.
We shopped our airline tickets carefully, making certain not to fly our firearms through certain cities or countries and not with airlines which make it difficult for one to carry personal sporting firearms. After calls and talks with friends, and poring over flight schedules and fares, we settled on Emirates Air.
The first “firearms” step was easy. I made an appointment with the customs officer at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake. At the appointed time, I carried Boomer and The Little 20 into the customs office, where the officer compared serial numbers, manufacturers, and calibers to the information I gave him. He typed out a couple copies of Customs and Border Protection Form 4457, signed them (as did I), stamped them with an official looking red stamp and handed them to me. I paid my few bucks and came back home. The 4457 is not kept by customs, it simply verifies my ownership.
Sometime in the couple months before leaving the US, Ruth and Safari Afrika sent us an Invitation Letter, inviting us to come hunt in South Africa with them. She also sent copies of South African Police Service Form 520 – Temporary Firearm Import Permit Application – which we were to fill out, but not sign until we checked with the police at the Johannesburg Airport.
At the proper time prior to our flight, we filled out the proper Emirates Group Security forms (firearms ID and ammo weight and number) and submitted them with passport copy, 4457 copy, and the invitation letter from Ruth to Emirates Air. We then received back from Emirates a copy of our Firearms, Weapons and Ammunition Declaration which we would sign and hand to the Emirates agent when we checked in for our flight.
After all that was carefully and properly handled, we checked in our baggage, and our firearms and rifle ammo (shotgun ammo awaited us in Africa) were weighed and tagged. We were quickly and pleasantly led to a secure examination area, paperwork was laid in with our firearms, and we re-locked our gun cases. We headed for security and our loading gate.
After a four-hour stop in Dubai and some 23 hours in the air, we disembarked at Johannesburg. Upon collecting our checked luggage and firearms, we headed to the police office for the next step. After signing the SAPS Form 520, and showing the sergeant all of the paperwork mentioned above, we waited for our Temporary Firearm Import Permits. Richard showed up somewhere in there, we got out permits and a very pleasant “Enjoy your stay!” and headed north to Safari Afrika, near Mokopane in Limpopo Province.
The hunting? I think Kevin wants to tell that story. I will say that it was great – and worth the effort – to have old friends Boomer and The Little 20 in Africa.