Note: We invited retiree John Dixon to recount highlights from his recent Africa adventure - a long-awaited dream come true.
It was a trip that my two friends and I had first discussed many years ago. An African Safari was definitely on our bucket list, but it would be put “on hold” for over two decades. I had not given it much thought for that long period until my friend Hoke told me he was planning to attend the Safari Club International Convention in Las Vegas in January 2011. Over the next 12 months, several safari groups operating in different countries were evaluated. South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana were considered, but it became apparent that the place to go was Namibia. Namibia had a stable government, malaria was not prevalent, no tsetse flies and no sleeping sickness. The hunting reserves in north-central Namibia had large populations of plains game plus elephant, rhino, hippo, leopard, cheetah and lion. In addition, the reserve we were considering in the Okonjati area was open range, allowing for “fair-chase” hunting, as opposed to South Africa where much of the hunting is within small fenced areas containing ranch-raised animals. Jan Oelofse Safaris was the obvious choice. We booked our hunt in March of 2012 for June 2014. It would be winter in Namibia, with temperatures ranging from the low 30s at night to a high of 70 during the day-- perfect weather for hunting.
Getting to Namibia would be the hard part. Our first choice was to fly American Airlines from Charlotte to Frankfurt, Germany, and then fly Air Namibia direct to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. We had to change to plan “B” when we received reports that German officials were making it difficult for U.S. citizens to check firearms through Frankfurt. Our new travel plans required us to fly to JFK airport in New York, then a 14- hour flight on South African Airlines to Johannesburg, South Africa, and finally two hours to Namibia. Rudie de Klerk, one of our hunting guides, met us at the airport to drive us to the lodge, a “brief” four-hour trip, the last 25 miles on dirt roads and trails. At dusk and about four miles from the lodge, we passed a water hole where four white rhinos were grazing... a great introduction to the Okonjati game reserve. We arrived at the hunting lodge at 6:00 p.m. Sunday June 8th, 32 hours after departure. The lodge was an oasis in the middle of 180,000 acres teaming with African wildlife. A feast of Blesbuck stroganoff and Springbuck tenderloin was waiting when we arrived. We ate our fill and then crashed!
Our hunt did not start until Tuesday so we got to sleep until 8 a.m. Monday. Steve Tors our other professional hunter (PH) joined us for breakfast. Steve was a larger than life character who grew up in Los Angeles. His father was the movie and television producer, Ivan Tors. Ivan was a friend of Jan Oelofse and shortly after high school in 1976, Steve moved to Namibia to work for Jan and become a professional hunter. As described on the Oelofse website “Steve was a true man of the African wild.” After breakfast we headed out to the shooting range to check our rifles. When a large trophy fee is on the line, you want your scope zeroed on target. The rest of the day we spent touring the area in our URI hunting vehicles-- custom-built open-cab “jeep-like” pick-ups designed for handling the rough trails. We saw plains game of every variety, from the common Springbuck and Impala to the rare Roan and Sable antelope, plus Blue Wildebeest, Black Wildebeest, Zebra, Giraffe, Blesbuck, Hartebeest, Nyala, Waterbuck, Eland, Baboon and the ever-present Warthog. We would not see Kudu (number one on our trophy list) until we hunted them later that week in the higher mountain areas where they range. Returning to the lodge at dusk we met in the bar for a “sundowner” and then a dinner of Eland steak.
For the next 10 days we would rise at 5:30 a.m. (4:30 a.m. when hunting Kudu) for breakfast and then head out for the daily hunt. Most days we would return to the lodge for lunch but sometimes we would lunch in the field. Lunch, like dinner, would include an entree’ of antelope with salad and delicious side dishes and always a special dessert... pretty nice eating in the wild. Returning to the lodge at dusk, after a 12-hour day in the field, we were ready for a sundowner or two before dinner.
Jan Oelofse Safaris can accommodate a maximum of six hunters per 10-day hunting period. When we arrived, there was only one hunter at the lodge with two days to complete his hunt. The next group of hunters would not arrive until the end of our hunt, so for the other eight days my two friends and I had the entire area to ourselves. At the end of the hunt, we each had taken the antelope on our “bucket list” and more. Each animal taken was above average, with some trophies exceptional, scoring enough to qualify for the Safari Club International Record Book.
The two weeks passed much too quickly and the day came for departure. We arose for an early breakfast at 5 a.m. (midnight EST) on Saturday, June 21. Forty hours later, which included a 19-hour flight from Johannesburg to Washington Dulles with a fuel stopover in Dakar Senegal, I would arrive home. One piece of advice–if you plan a trip to Africa, I would advise against a flight that had a stop in Dakar.
Some final thoughts on my safari: I am well aware that some people believe the hunting of wild animals is wrong, and hunters are contributing to the decline of animal populations around the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hunting reserves like Jan Oelofse are ensuring that populations of African wildlife are sustained through managed hunts and live capture and relocation. Trophy hunting was banned in Kenya in 1977, and animal populations in that country have dropped 70 percent. For the true story of Kenya and the impact of its hunting ban check out the article at www.rexano.org/ConservationPages/Kenya_Frame.htm. Another issue to be considered is the economic impact of trophy hunting on the local economy. In a country where a large percentage of the population is impoverished and with unemployment greater than 20 percent, the benefits cannot be overstated.
If you are interested in an African hunting safari check out www.janoelofsesafaris. com and for those non-hunter photographers check out www.mount-etjo.com. You will enjoy the experience of a lifetime.