By Lavon Winkler
We only get one “first trip” and this was Scott’s. After five years of him listening to me talk for hours on end about Africa, he finally conceded and agreed to join me on my third adventure.
Every hunter knows that each time we trek through the bush or sit in the woods it will be different from previous hunts. For some, hunts are measured simply by the taking of the animal, or by the quality and size. For others, it’s the joy of sharing that time with someone close. Whether it’s with friends, family, or new acquaintances, memories are made in the hunt that we carry for a lifetime. We recall and share these adventures through stories, photos, and taxidermy. Because we explored a little corner of creation, life can take on new meaning. Now, five years after my first safari (AHG Vol 23, Issue 1, July/Aug/ Sept, 2017), I was traveling with my son Scott on my third safari to South Africa.
To say I love Africa is an understatement. Once you experience this amazing continent, you are forever changed. Your horizons are expanded and you have greater clarity about a land like no other. For me it’s not only its beauty or the incredible diversity of animals. I love meeting, interacting, and getting to know the people. Whether it is the outfitter, professional hunters, skinners, trackers, or others in the cities and villages, the experience is always enriching. The people of Africa have opened their hearts (and in some cases their homes) and invited me into their lives in a humbling way. I wanted Scott also to have these memories. And hunting with us would be Eric Krichbaum who had cut his African safari teeth when we hunted together in 2013. Scott and I met up with him in Atlanta, GA where we boarded our flight to Johannesburg.
In Johannesburg we stayed overnight at the Afton Guest House. This is a wonderful way to unwind after a long flight, enjoy outstanding food, and get a good night’s sleep. The next morning we were taken to the airport to catch a short flight to Polokwane in Northern Limpopo where we were met by our outfitter, African Trophy Pursuit. By early afternoon we had checked the zero on our rifles and were in the bush. We each had a “wish list” and a “maybe list” of animals we hoped to take. Scott’s definite list had four or five most wanted plains game, with three or four on his “maybe list,” but he would be thrilled to take just a few quality animals. I had told him that he would have a better overall experience if he were flexible and willing to take what Africa offered.
Already, at the close of our first day I could tell Africa was getting a firm grip on my son. Apart from taking a fine blue wildebeest, he had had a chance to glimpse the wonderful animal diversity that is Africa. My day ended with a beautiful white blesbok in the salt. At dinner we decided to begin the second day by searching for those animals at the top of our lists. The owner and outfitter, Freddie van Zyl livened up the conversation by offering an incentive to add to the jewel in the crown of the plains game – a sable! I had taken a sable on my second safari, so passed on it, but Scott and Eric couldn’t resist. Their lists suddenly grew. However, for Scott the kudu was clearly his most wanted, and Eric really wanted the blue wildebeest which had eluded him in 2013. The top of my list was the majestic roan antelope.
On the second day, the three of us, each with our PH, headed in different directions looking for the animal that had lingered in our thoughts and dreams. In Limpopo, hunting the roan is difficult as there are fewer concessions where they can be found. Consequently, we had a long drive that started at 4:00 a.m. though it didn’t matter to me as I had hardly slept the night before with the expectation of another African adventure.
Scott went off searching for a big kudu, though somewhat distracted by the thought of a sable, while Eric hunted a separate concession for wildebeest. I hunted in heavy bush that demanded quick and rather short shots. Around mid-day, after seeing a few small roan, we suddenly came upon a mature bull. The sight of this spectacular animal made my heart quicken. I looked at Freddie and he quickly gave me the nod to take the shot. Using my Browning A-Bolt 30-06 with Hornady Superformance GMX 165gr. and Leupold VX-2 4-12×40 scope, I took aim and the roan was mine. After years of dreaming of the magnificent roan, the dream had come true.
True to Africa, Scott’s kudu was not to be found. However, he wounded a sable but was successful with a follow-up shot the following morning. Now he could concentrate on continuing his search for what was becoming an elusive kudu. Regardless, each day he was having the time of his life. Returning to the lodge each evening, he would be smiling, having added one or two animals to the salt. Many times he took animals that were not on his list. Each one had a special story and set of circumstances that lead him to decide he should seize the moment and take what Africa offered. Each evening after an excellent dinner there would be a long litany of anecdotes of successful hunts, of animals that got away, and of some that ended in the salt. These evening stories around the lapa are among my favorite times. It was another amazing day in an enchanting land. Oh, how I love Africa!
On our third day Eric ended by tracking a wounded sable, but he and the trackers found it the next morning. Unfortunately, hyena and jackal had found it first, which sometimes happens in a land where predators are abundant.
Finally, on the last day, Scott’s PH, Johan Botha and Freddie were determined Scott was to get his kudu. Freddie and I decided to go to a high point on the concession where we could see the bushveld below. After a couple of hours glassing, we spotted two nice kudu bulls in the thick bush and radioed Johan to move there to have a look. It was both exciting and nerve-racking to watch the situation unfold as Johan and Scott slowly moved through the bush hoping for a glimpse of what appeared to be very nice kudu. I was literally on the edge of a rock with the binoculars welded to my face so as not to miss a single moment. Just then, we saw a third kudu! It was an old bull, all by himself, and definitely the largest of the three. There was one slight problem. We could not warn the hunters for fear the radio would spook the kudu. Freddie and I glanced at each other and shook our heads in disbelief. This was a situation where hunting skill combined with a little luck would determine the outcome.
Scott and Johan spooked the two bulls which quickly moved to an area very close to the third larger kudu. As the hunters continued their stalk, they saw the three animals, and Scott quickly took a shot. His Browning, X-bolt Medallion, 300 WSM, with Barnes TTSX 165gr and Leupold VX3 4-14 scope echoed, and the kudu all moved further away. I wondered if his bullet had made contact or if the quick shot had resulted in a miss. A very tense situation seemed to worsen. I felt utterly helpless watching the drama from high above. We had no choice but to stay put and let the scene play out. As the hunters pursued the kudu they again spied the bulls and Scott took a second shot.
“He got him!” Freddie turned to me with a big smile.
“Which one?” I asked.
“The big one.” As Scott was striding in the direction of his prize, I couldn’t get down fast enough from my high position. How thrilling! On his last day, after many hopeful long and tiring hunts, Scott finally got his kudu, the “Grey Ghost” of Africa.
Scott and Johan were beaming as both had worked so hard to make it all came together. After sharing stories and making sure we had plenty of photos, Scott’s kudu was loaded into the truck for its journey to the skinning shed. Scott ended his safari by taking ten animals, several of which qualified for the SCI Record Book, including his kudu. Eric Krichbaum also had a tremendous week and took eight animals including his long-awaited blue wildebeest, a zebra, nyala, and of course his sable.
I enjoyed being with Scott on his first safari, and sharing the splendor of Africa with him. For the first-time hunter in Africa, it is an entirely different experience – almost like a dream, yet living it firsthand. Many times I have reflected on my first safari and how I was certain I would only visit Africa once. But my list had grown, and I had finally taken my kudu on the morning of the last day. And Scott, like me, thought he was only going to hunt Africa that one time. Well, we are already planning our next trip to the Dark Continent. Scott has been forever changed by the magic of Africa.
It is hard to explain how my life has been altered by experiencing such a wonderful place. Each trip is different, with memories formed around the ups and downs, the highs and lows that are so common to the sportsman. There are several great sources of reliable references – the African Hunting Gazette is a valuable resource with the Visited and Verified service, and Craig Boddington has his Endorsed Outfitters program. There are many wonderful outfitters ready to make your safari truly one of a lifetime. And one of the best sources of reliable information is the experience of fellow hunters. Also, I also encourage you to join Safari Club International and get involved with a local chapter. They comprise everyone from squirrel hunters to those who chase elephants. I have found them to be great people who are so willing to help you get connected with an outfitter you can afford and trust.
“When will you start planning your next safari to Africa?” I was asked recently.
“I started on the return flight from my last safari,” I said.
So, what’s next? Cape buffalo! And to think, I was only going to Africa once. Little did I know how it would forever change my life. Save your money, make your plans, and go visit this amazing continent.
Lavon Winkler loves the outdoors and the challenges of hunting and fishing for a variety of species in North America, Africa, and the South Pacific. He started hunting at age 10 with his dad and brother for small game and whitetail deer in the mid-west, and later developed a passion for hunting different animal in South Africa. In three safaris, he achieved the SCI African 15 Continental Award, and has numerous entries in the SCI Record Book.
Year of the hunt: May 26 – June 2, 2018
Country: South Africa
Hunting area: Northern Limpopo
Outfitter and satisfaction rating: African Trophy Pursuit – Very good rating
Professional hunter and satisfaction rating: Freddie van Zyl – Excellent rating
Rifle and cartridge details: Browning A-Bolt 30-06 – Excellent rating
Ammunition: Hornady Superformance – GMX 165gr – Excellent rating
Riflescope details and satisfaction rating: Leupold VX-2 4-12×40 – Excellent rating
Taxidermist (have received trophies): Jim Rice, Cutting Edge Taxidermy – Excellent
Hunting Contact Information Sheet
Name: Lavon Winkler
Address: 123 Tucker Road West Brookfield, Massachusetts 01585 United States
Telephone: 816-914-2124 (cell)