Kevin Clements Explains Africa with Jim

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.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized