Cloete Hepburn – A true man of the bush
PH Question & Answer:
African Hunting Gazette: When and where were you born?
Cloete Hepburn: I was born Johannes Marthunes Cloete 1971 in Heidelberg, RSA in the Transvaal Province (now Gauteng).
AHG: And tell us about your family.
CH: I am married to Stienie. We have two children, a daughter Felicia of 26 years old and a son Henry who is 21.
AHG: How did you become a PH? Tell us the interesting bits.
CH: We had a farm in the Transvaal in the Limpopo Province where my two brothers and I grew up in the bush. There were many hunting stories around the fire when the family came to visit from Namibia, and those stories inspired me to follow in the old legends’ footsteps in hunting and guiding. One of my father’s friends was an astonishing hunter and tracker, and I spent lots of my time with him here. He taught me the ways of tracking game, and the knowledge of nature – trees, grass and wildlife.
My father taught us from a young age how to handle a rifle, and by giving us one .22 bullet each to go and hunt with, we learnt that if you did not make a kill shot and the bullet was wasted, then the hunt was over for you that day. This sounded so harsh, but it had us shooting straight in no time, and I was driven to pursue my passion for hunting.
I became a PH in 2001, but only after working at the Department of Correctional Service could I pursue my dreams to become a professional hunter.
AHG: Which countries have you hunted, and where are you hunting these days?
CH: I started in the Limpopo Province as a freelance PH, and I have hunted in Zambia and Mozambique. All of these places brought me great pleasure and experience, and I would yet like to hunt in the Selous National Park in Tanzania. I am currently based in the Kalahari, and I represent Afri-Sun Safaris. We offer three of the Big Five, and a variety of plains game including roan, sable and springbok (common and copper).
AHG: If you could return to any time or place in Africa, where would it be?
CH: I would return to Zambia any day, to hunt the banks of the Luangwa River which was one of my greatest achievements ever. The wildlife and hunting is something else – almost magical
AHG: Which guns and ammo are you using to back-up on dangerous or wounded game?
CH: My back-up rifle is a .458 Lott bolt action with a .500 /.550-grain bullet. For a back-up situation you need a proper solid to get penetration on game running away from you. There are plenty of good bullets these days, with a good Swift A-Frame soft and Hornady DGX soft for all big-game animals on the first shot. Not one scenario is the same. I always say stand your ground, aim small, and shoot straight.
AHG: What guns and ammo for dangerous game and for plains game would you recommend for your clients?
CH: I would recommend the rifle that you are comfortable with, from a .375 upwards. There is plenty of good ammo: Barns X, Swift A-Frame, Hornady DGX and DGS.
The .375 H&H can be used on all plains game. It is a good all-rounder. A .375 solid can be used on the Tiny Ten and your taxidermist will be so happy.
AHG: What is your favorite animal to hunt and why?
CH: Buffalo is my favorite. There is nothing that excites me more than the sight of an old, broken-horn bull with torn ears and a body covered in mud, and that stares at you with a look on his face that says you must not come any closer. There’s their sense of smell, exceptional eyesight and hearing. There is the tracking after the shot, and then Black Death needing to be followed up in thick bush, with the expectation of a charge that can come from anywhere. Just the thought that this animal will kill you when he is on top of you – and will not stop until you are dead – will stay with you for days. The rage that is in him after he has been wounded – or even not wounded – just shows you that this is not a domestic cow, and they do not like to be tampered with.
AHG: Looking back, which was your greatest trophy and why? Tell us a bit about the hunt.
CH: I would say that it was a buffalo bull in Luangwa Valley, Zambia back in 2007. The client’s shot went too far to the front of the body and the buffalo decided to pick up speed and head straight back into the Park. After a long follow-up and with the permission of the Parks board we were given special access to enter and were then accompanied by one of the Parks officers to go with after the wounded bull. The follow-up began on the banks of the river where the animal had come out of the water and into the nearest jesse bush. It was so dark inside the bush that you could not make out the spoor and blood in the thick cover. I went in step by step, slowly watching every corner, anticipating where he would charge us from. After a few steps more the thicket got to a point where I had no choice but to pursue this bull on my knees.
There I was moving merely an inch at a time. I could see him lying down, a massive black body, and very angry, waiting patiently to ambush us. When I had seen the bull, make no mistake he had already seen us. The buffalo stood up two meters in front of me, and with so much rage he was thrashing the brush between us to make way to get to me. It was on, I said to myself. I was still on my knees and had fired my rifle from the hip in the hope off hitting the vital area in his chest. After the shot went off, I had just enough time to dive out of harm’s way. The buffalo came flying past me and went into the next nearest thicket. After getting to my feet I got everyone back together and we could pursue this bull again.
There was now a better blood spoor to follow, and on the edge of the thicket we stopped. I got all the shooters in line next to each other, and within seconds the buffalo made his second charge. I shouted to wait until the buffalo was in sight and open for us to make the shot. I could hear only two shots that went off at that time. The first shot came from the officer and the other shot from me, then another. At the time we did not realize two more rounds came simultaneously, with the buffalo at four meters. The buffalo came to rest as he slid past our feet. At that very moment, without warning we were attacked by a swarm of honey bees. We did not realize that we had disturbed their nest and we had to run for cover to get away from them. It took a while before we could recover the buffalo. Nonetheless that was an exciting and dangerous day, both with Africa’s Black Death and with the smallest of critters.
AHG: What was your closest brush with death? Looking back: Anything you should have done differently?
CH: I stepped over a crocodile while I was dragging a hippo out of the water, and the crocodile hit me with his head on my right leg and knocked me so hard that my feet went straight up in the air and I went head first into the mud. That is the only time that I felt that this was it. I had no control and that scared me. I would not say that I would have done anything differently, but I was really lucky that the croc rather wanted to get away from me than make a meal out of me.
AHG: How has the hunting industry changed over the years? And the hunting clients themselves?
CH: Communication has had a great influence in the hunting industries: Wi-Fi, Internet, WhatsApp, Videos, Magazines. The clients can communicate faster, and information can be found on any hunting company in the world. It makes a difference if you as hunter can read, see and hear all about an area where you want to hunt and about your outfitter for that special hunt that you were saving for for so long. Therefore a client has all the information without a hidden agenda and gets what he pays for. Communication is the bond between hunter and outfitter.
AHG: Which qualities go into making a successful PH and or a successful hunting company?
CH: We as PHs and outfitters must always have the policy that the client is the most important person for us. Without clients we cannot go on. Provide the best service you can, with good ethics and communication skills, prior planning and performance. And always stay honest and humble.
AHG: Which qualities go into making a good safari client?
CH: Trust the judgment of your PH/Outfitter – some of us have had many years of experience and knowledge, particularly when we make a decision that can improve the outcome of the hunt, and judgement regarding safety. Practice with the rifle you are going to use on the hunt and bring the right ammunition for whatever game might be taken on the safari. Find out what kind of terrain you are going to hunt in for you to be prepared. And enjoy every moment, even if it just to see the beauty of the place or the animals.
AHG: If you should suggest one thing to your hunting clients to improve their experience of their safari, what would it be?
CH: They must make a safari out of their time here in Africa, and not a killing spree. Walk and stalk the game with your PH and learn about the smaller things in the African bush.
Learn about the animal you are going to hunt and practice the shot placement from offhand and shooting sticks. Do not bring a rifle with a scope that has too big a magnification.
AHG: Based on your recent experience in the field, do you think that any species should be upgraded to Appendix I or downgraded to Appendix II or closed all together?
CH: I believe that elephant being Appendix 1 is not entirely necessary, as we all know that in some areas their population needs to be controlled for the sake of the habitat and the animals co-existing in those areas. We are always at the mercy of Mother Nature, and the increased poaching and illegal hunting activities throughout Africa jeopardize our main goals. Through strict conservation practices governed by CITES, among other wildlife entities, as well as the support from our local governments, we can achieve our goals and continue to let Africa thrive. I can say one thing, and that is you as hunter and us as PH/Outfitters must try and focus more on the older, past-their-prime animals, and leave the massive-sized younger ones still in their prime to grow and produce good genes. Don’t chase the measuring tape.
AHG: What can the hunting industry do to contribute to the long-term conservation of Africa’s wildlife?
CH: The hunting industry can focus more on the ethical and sustainable hunting of CBL lions to give those still in the wild and controlled areas of Africa a chance to get a sustainable growth in population. In doing so, it will ensure swift funding to our operational anti-poaching units. We cannot do it without the support of the governments and spokespersons of our countries. Hunters’ fees pay for conservation, and so we ensure the survival of various species soon to be non-existent. It is an ongoing battle to convince the anti-hunter of the necessity for controlled hunting. Without ethical hunting there would be no wildlife left for them to make a fuss over. Hunters are the stronghold of conservation and we must work together to uphold our wildlife’s wellbeing.
AHG: Would your wife do it all over again? What is her advice to future wives of PHs, and are either of your children following in your footsteps?
Stienie: Yes, I would do it. In the beginning of my husband’s hunting career he spent a lot of time away from home and from us, and it had its ups and downs. I will and always have stood by Cloete’s side, pursuing his passion. I am very grateful that now I can do all of this with him and see all the places we have seen, and to do everything together as husband and wife. All I want to say to the young professional hunters is that the life you choose must also be the life your wife would want with you. Our children are grown up and living their own lives, both as hunters and conservationists. Hunting and photography of wildlife is a big part of their lives. Felicia is doing marketing for hunting companies, and Henry is working for an anti-poaching company based in Mozambique.
AHG: Anyone you want to thank who has played a major role in your life?
CH: Most important is GOD in my life, and the lives of all my family. A very special thanks to my wife Stienie for standing by my side no matter how hard or challenging it sometimes might have been, and for being there for our two children. Without the creation we live in, none of this would have been possible to fulfil the dreams of so many, and to have accomplished what we have today. I truly am blessed to call the bush my office and to wake up to it every day.
AHG: Any Last Words of Wisdom?
CH: To all hunters, safari operators, outfitters in the world – keep up the good work. Without us, our world would be hell on earth without wildlife. Work hard to ensure that we can still enjoy what we love to do, stay humble, and look out for each other.