Many months ago several clients were badgering me to organise a foreign excursion and for years I’ve had a hankering to visit the dark continent, I’d heard so many stories from clients and friends about the sights, sounds and atmosphere that I was desperate to get out there myself and after I was cruelly cheated out of a trip a couple of years ago I vowed that one day I would be packing my rifles and heading away on safari and with several clients eager to join me it seemed an ideal opportunity to lay old demons to rest.
For those who know me, I don’t do things by half and before I committed to a trip I decided that I wanted a new venture for the business and here was an ideal opportunity to add another string to the bow, it only remained to start putting my ideas to some outfitters to see if any of them liked my idea – thankfully, one did!
To say the hunting business in South Africa is big business is like saying London rush hour is quite busy, its monumentally huge and there were any number of outfitters to choose from, but who would be interested in a one man band from the UK looking to start in the safari game in South Africa, well thankfully James and Megan Williamson of Kubusi Williamson Safaris did and after a lot of emails and discussions it transpired that James was looking for a new agent in the UK, he liked the cut of my Jib so to speak, my ethics, my ethos and he thought we could work together and would give me whatever assistance and help he could to make it happen – a plan was taking shape!
For too long the Safari business in the UK has attracted big prices with so many people under the impression that a trip to Africa was beyond their reach and at best would be a once in a lifetime trip probably needing a lottery win or house sale to fund it – I discussed this with James and told him the ball park figures I had in mind and surprisingly he agreed with me. He was happy to supply packages to suit every pocket as his ethos is the same as mine, ethical hunting – meaning management hunting, not the trophy hunting so beloved by our cousins across the pond, although on our trip I wanted a little something for my clients to remember the trip by – not unreasonable considering the faith they were putting in me to organise what would hopefully be the trip of a lifetime and from the reaction I got from my clients I reckon I hit the nail on the head – five days hunting including five species and a small trophy (6 animals) plus accommodation, food and drink and airport transfers all for a very affordable sum, probably less than the cost of three or four average days driven shooting in this country. Obviously I don’t want to talk about costs here but we were all staggered at the value it represented, the only extras were airfares and tips for PH’s and trackers along with any taxidermy and shipping costs.
April the 20th 2013 came around surprisingly quickly, the preparations for the trip had been made from January onwards with rifle choice, bullet selection, practice off sticks all been well in hand with time to spare, we had decided to use PHASA (Professional Hunters Association of South Africa) to organise our hunting permits so it would be a relatively simple task of getting to Johannesburg airport and collecting permits with the firearms and ammunition instead of leaving anything to chance and whilst this attracted a small fee it was worth every penny as on arrival all we had to do was make our way to the firearms office where a lovely lady was waiting for us with our permits which we simply produced for the officials before claiming our waiting firearms. With firearms checked and collected it was merely a matter of checking them onto the connecting flight and killing time before the next leg of the journey some six hours later, originally we had been given a connecting flight two hours after the main flight landed but due to some late shuffling of departure times from Virgin Atlantic the two hours became less than 1 1/2 hours and there was just no way we were going to get through customs and check in to make that flight so a six hour wait it was, thankfully some airport lounge hospitality soothed our travelling blues and kept us relatively fresh for the next leg.
After what seemed an age we boarded the South African airlines jet to take us to East London airport where our PH’s for the week would be waiting for us, the luggage, guns and ammunition were on board and six eager hunters were buzzing with anticipation as the pilot welcomed us aboard and warned us of turbulence, I turned to Derek and said “we’re almost there mate, I’ve been waiting years for this!” Once we were in the air the stewardesses did their usual routine of dispensing terrible airline food with a smile, the seatbelt light remained lit due to the turbulence the pilot spoke of and with a sandwich consumed this weary hunter closed his eyes in anticipation of things to come. I was awoken to the sound of the pilots voice on the tannoy system, I assumed to announce the final descent, after gathering my senses I tuned in and literally caught the words ” Terrible weather, Thunder, Lightening, interests of safety and turning back!” I sat in disbelief not knowing whether to laugh or cry, almost in unison five clients turned and looked at me. There were murmurs of surprise and disbelief from passengers before concern set in, there were travellers of all kinds on board including several hunters now beginning to panic! On touch down we gathered ourselves and made our way to baggage reclamation where we picked up our hold luggage, one of the party was queueing to speak to South African airlines about the situation whilst we waited at the firearms desk for the guns and ammunition. Time went by and we learnt that we would be distributed around various hotels around Johannesburg for the night before being flown to East London the following morning – I rang James our outfitter to inform him, thankfully he already new as the earlier flight had tried to divert before being rerouted as well – we would have to wait till Monday for our first glimpse of Kubusi! Having picked up our hold luggage we were still missing some fairly important items – the guns and ammo – we were told to wait at firearms for them and we had done as we were told but clearly something wasn’t happening so a few exchanges were made, thankfully they finally turned up and handed back to us in a fairly casual manner, a far cry from the efficiency with which G4 handled them at Heathrow. With all the luggage stacked on trollies we made our way to the airport exit to see what was waiting for us only to be greeted by very little! The shuttles had left whilst we were waiting for the firearms! Now, considering the time and effort I’d gone to making sure that everything would go as smoothly as possible, the weather Gods had deemed it funny to test me to the limits, thankfully they didn’t realise I had a VJ! Right now seems a good time to introduce VJ – In November 2009 when the range was just a pile of spoil and a mobile field shelter, VJ was the first ever client to come and use the zeroing facilities before a trip to Scotland, he has been instrumental in the growth and development of the range throughout as well as being the catalyst in the safari business, pushing me to do it – he is one of only two life members at the range and once again he stepped in when he could see me beginning to panic! Straight across from Johannesburg airport is The Intercontinental, a hotel group VJ is familiar with from his extensive travels and to which he immediately directed us, 5 minutes later our bags were being whisked away to our rooms and although we bunked up everyone breathed a sigh of relief – once we were sorted we reconvened in the bar to reflect on the adventure thus far, thankfully we were able to laugh about it and put it down to an act of God – we would arrive at Kubusi half a day late at worst!
04.00 Monday saw us gathered outside the foyer ready to check in as early as possible and at our leisure rather than being dragged from all across Joburg, a leisurely walk to the airport and by 05.00 we were awaiting a flight specially laid on to replace the previous one, this time a twin prop plane meaning a slightly later arrival but flying lower than the jet meaning better views for us of the stunning terrain as well as another opportunity to catch a bit of rest. Thankfully the skies were clear blue and an uneventful flight ensued and we finally touched down around 11.00 at East London to be greeted by two of our PH’s, Dave and X, ready for the final leg of our journey back inland to Kubusi lodge. With trucks fully loaded we headed out of East London Northwards through the suburbs giving way to shanty towns in turn giving way to open farmland with metalled roads becoming dirt tracks as we drove deeper into the scrub. At around 13.00 we finally arrived at Kubusi Lodge where a very welcome lunch awaited us.
Once we’d settled in to our accommodation and with lunch devoured I spoke to the PH’s about the plan, although we were still tired from travelling I was hopeful we would at least get out that same afternoon and only lose the half day, everyone seemed keen, so with that decided we set about checking zero on the rifles. As I’d taken two, a Blaser R8 in 30-06 and a Mauser M03 in 300 Win Mag I offered to go first – the scopes had travelled in my hand luggage so I was stunned and delighted that when the gun was reassembled it shot exactly where it had done prior to leaving the country and been shipped half way around the world, the Mauser on the other hand, well. After the first shot I got the kind of familiar “which target are you aiming at?”, a comment I reserve for situations in jest at the range! After the second shot I wasn’t laughing, so after another few rounds and some scope adjustment and still being unable to shoot a group I was beginning to worry, added to which I was burning ammo at a healthy rate and starting to develop a flinch! Calling on a 100 Rand note it became clear that the barrel was resting tightly on the stock, it certainly wasn’t when it was zeroed two days prior to leaving and shot a sub one inch group with Norma ammunition effortlessly, the only conclusion that I could come to was that the wood had moved dramatically either in the hold or because of the temperature and humidity conditions, whatever the cause the Mauser 300 win mag was condemned for the remainder of the trip. Thankfully all the other rifles, Mauser M03’s and Blaser R93’s were synthetic stocks and required no adjustment whatsoever, testament to both the engineering and the synthetic stock!
With the rifles checked we loaded up and headed into the heart of the ranch for our first taste of things to come.
Part 2 to follow soon.