Written by Conrad Miller
I was a 30-year-old cop when I first went to Zimbabwe in 1998 with a five-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son.
Once all was said and done, I spent about half of my yearly cop salary on that 12-day buffalo/plains-game hunt with the late, great Mark Ellement. I was so blown away. There were no African hunting shows back then, so besides the few books I’d read and watching Discovery channel, I had little idea of what I was in for. I was hooked from Day One. Ellement walked my ass off! I hunted seven days before I shot my first African animal, my buffalo, and then wrapped up with kudu, huge impala, Egyptian geese, and tigerfish on the Zambezi. My wife’s deal was that once I had been, she would never have to hear, “Africa” again. I cried when I left camp because I thought I could never return. I tried to give Ellement my rifle in addition to the tip I had budgeted for, but he refused because he said I’d be back!
What I love about Africa is, of course, its diverse wildlife, beautiful sights like the Vic Falls, and the nice people I’ve encountered in Zimbabwe – white and black. (Many of both races I still keep in touch with over the course of 20 years.) I love the wide, open spaces. Hunting on a million-acre concession in Zambia, bordered by another million-acre concession, both bordered by a national park of four million acres gives one the feeling of freedom to go anywhere unrestricted.
My love of hunting was mostly a natural drive. My dad exposed me to small-game hunting as a child, and as I got to high school age I began seeking out my own hunting grounds.
I have hunted Zimbabwe twice out of Sidinda camp in Hwange communal CAMPFIRE area, once in Makuti, once at Humani in the Save Conservancy, and once in Zambia in the Mulobezi safari area of Chief Moomba.
My weapons and ammo are the same 1998 Winchester Mod. 70 in .375 H&H and a Mod. 70 in .300 Win. Mag. Which, for some reason, only shoots Federal ammo well. I haven’t had anyone explain that to me.
My favorite African animal to hunt has got to be buffalo. My first hunt in ’98 at camp Sidinda in Zim was the hardest hunting I’d ever done and thus the most rewarding. I went back with my son in 2011 where I was the “observer” on his buffalo hunt in Makuti, Zim and it was equally rewarding.
My greatest trophy was not due to inches but due to the hunt, which, as I mentioned before, was my first African animal, a buffalo. I took my daughter to Zambia in 2009 where she killed a 49″ sable at 7a.m. of the first day of a 12-day hunt!
My closest brush with danger must be hitting a canal bank and then a tree in a small, fast aluminum boat with a tiller handle motor while duck hunting in my home state of Louisiana!
My main suggestion to a fellow hunter to prepare for his or her safari, is don’t skimp on the trip of a lifetime. A “good deal” is usually NOT a good deal. Use a reputable booking agent, preferably referred to you by a friend. Go to the Safari Club shows and absorb all you can. The planning and anticipation is part of the trip. Seek out the advice of many others. Try your best to book a hunt in a tribal concession, as those wide-open free-range areas will be the first to diappear.
I’m not a “ranch hater” because the Save Valley Conservancy is truly one of the most amazing places and a benchmark for conservation. However, I think the “wide open spaces” will be the first areas that hunting will disappear from. I hate to sound negative, but things/areas/politics change fast in Africa, and it is my belief that the future of African hunting will be on private ranches. Not a bad thing, but nevertheless take advantage of the truly wild areas while you still can. Also, hunt an area where you can hear lions roar. It’s the most amazing sound in the world and may not be around forever.
Do not miss Victoria Falls while you’re in the southern part of Africa! It’s a must-see. Take your time and be a tourist for a few days before or after your safari. Don’t skimp on the trip of a lifetime. Take an extra year to save if you have to. No matter what the cost, you will feel as though it was worth double the cost.
And how’s this for a good story: While hunting with Mark Ellement on my first safari in 1998 we took an afternoon off after we got my buffalo and drove into Vic Falls where his home and family was. I did the touristy thing while he picked up supplies, then we picked up his wife Karen, and his kids Sian and Brian who were toddlers. Mark and I stayed in touch, and he’d offer me late-season deals to return at minimal cost, but I was still a cop then and couldn’t even afford the airfare. I never got to hunt with him again, although it was my goal, as he quickly succumbed to cancer in 2014.
Upon booking a leopard/plains-game hunt for my son and me in 2018, the booking agent Ms Michelle Buchanan told me of a leopard on quota at Sidinda Camp – the camp I hunted with Mark Ellement on my first trip 20 years prior.
Lo and behold, one of the available professional hunters was a young man named Brian Ellement, the son of Mark whom I’d met when Brian was about five years old! I got a Whatsapp message from Brian with a picture of a copy of the journal I kept on my first hunt that I’d mailed to his father so long ago. He had told his mum that he was lined up to hunt with one of his dad’s clients from 20 years ago. When Karen heard my name she remembered me, and retrieved the copy of the journal in which I kept every detail. It gave me chills! For me, that’s a pretty cool “full-circle” story. I could go on and on…