On Safari in Africa with… Russ Lovemore

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Q: When and where were you born?

A: I was born in Port Elizabeth in 1967. Grew up on a farm in the nearby Paterson area.

Q: How did you get into hunting – what was it that influenced you?

A: My father was not a hunter, however both my grandfathers were and their stories started my interest in hunting. Although I shot my first buck at six years old, I never had much opportunity as a kid for anything besides real small game like birds, rabbits and duiker. At boarding school I met friends who enjoyed hunting and had game farms and this is where it really started. I was already married and dairy farming when one of my buddies suggested we do the PH course for fun, and so we did. To keep our licenses we had to do a hunt per year and it grew from there.

Q: With whom did you train, apprentice and learn from? 

A: I did my PH course with Belmont Hunting Academy in 1996; at the same time I started doing an on/off apprenticeship with a local PH. I was lucky enough to travel and hunt with him in SA, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Mozambique. I also encountered many other PHs during my career and if you are open to it you can learn something from everyone. Not always good, but bad lessons and “what not to do” can be as valuable as the good and “what to do” lessons.

Q: The early years of professional hunting – where were they?

A: Mostly in the Eastern Cape with occasional trips to Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

Q: What were some of the more embarrassing, fun and interesting experiences?

A: Well, if you do this for any length of time you are bound to make mistakes, and they will usually come just as you start getting confident or over-confident. I think they are there to keep one humble. I remember the one occasion the client and I were laying in the grass watching a Hartebeest bull walking toward us. He disappeared into a very small ravine, actually just a small depression, I put my binos down and told him that when it comes out our side he should go ahead and shoot it. Well of course no client ever misses these shots, so when “it” appeared he shot it and it dropped in its tracks. We were celebrating while walking over only to find when we got there that it was a female. Lesson learned, always, always look again.

Q: Anything you leant about what not to do?

A: Do not ever become too blasé especially when hunting dangerous game. Also never think that you know it all, everyone has something they can teach you.

Q: Which countries/areas have you hunted since then?

A: Mostly Mozambique and other than a few hunts in SA each year, almost exclusively there now. I have also hunted Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Cameroon.

Q: What were some of the interesting things that happened there?

A: I must say that something interesting happens almost daily in our camp in Mozambique, from chasing lions and elephants out of the local villages to rescuing our livestock from pythons.

Q: Where do you currently hunt and what makes your area and your hunts special?

A: I currently hunt most often in Mozambique, known for some really good crocodiles. I think that most of the true wilderness areas that are left in Africa are special and should be cherished and experienced before they all disappear.

Q: Client hunts, experiences and memories – was there a most annoying, funny, etc., experience?

A: I and another PH once hunted with a client who wanted a buffalo. We would get him up and moving every morning way before sunrise so that we could be where we wanted to be before the sun came up. He complained bitterly about it and kept telling us that we should only be hunting from around nine. We told him that the buffalo would be long gone by then. Well we just were not having much luck and the client had all but given up and wanted to just rest and take it easy on his last day. We however told him that we would be there ready and waiting for him if and when he decided to hunt. So around 08:30 he comes out and says we should try. Well, what do you know, we walked straight into the buffalo and he killed a very good bull and proceeded to tell us’ “I told you so”.

Q: Interesting trophies – run through hunts of various trophies, where they took place, how the hunt went. Mistakes along the way. SNAFUs

A: In my opinion although there will always be some that stand out more than others, all hunts and all trophies are special and memorable. One must remember that the animal is giving up its life for us and that alone is memorable.

It’s been a long journey and there have been many mistakes along the way, both from my side and from the client’s, but this is how we learn.

I must say though that hunting elephant and following wounded buffalo in the thick jesse bush or the thick reed beds of the Zambezi and Luangwa rivers is always very interesting.

A pretty funny story, we were hunting buffalo in coastal Mozambique and coming home one afternoon on the Argo (amphibious vehicle) the client says to me, “I have something in my pants”, I asked him, “something like what?” A snake or lizard was his reply. I looked down and there was about 6 inches of green tail stilling out the bottom of his pants and he had hold of part if it near his knee, so I figured it was a snake. It was bright green so we figured it was either a grass snake or a green mamba. I told him that I would take the tail and on the count of three he should let it go and I will pull it free. Well, there was a timing issue and it slipped out of my hand and went higher up his pants. He now had hold of it very, very close to the groin area. I rolled his pants back and tried to convince him to try that process again. He was not interested in that idea so we cut his pants off around the snake and just as we were about to fling it into the grass it slipped away again and disappeared into the Argo. We pulled out the seats and floor boards looking for the damn snake but could not find it, so we put it all back and carried on toward home. About an hour later the snake pops its head up between the legs of one of the trackers. Well he did not hesitate but flung himself off the vehicle into the swamp and the snake calmly disappeared over the side and into the grass.

Q: Which is your favorite trophy animal to hunt? And why?

A: I really do love hunting buffalo as well as elephant. There is constant stimulation and a constant challenge while tracking and trying to outsmart them. With a lot of other animals there is a lot of downtime in blinds or travelling hours and hours to check baits.

Q: What is the best trophy animal one of your clients ever took?

A: I am certainly not one that rates the success of a hunt or the value of a trophy by were inches. It is about the whole experience, so it is about impossible to say which is the BEST trophy a client ever took.

Q: Tell us about two of your most memorable hunts – without naming names.

A: I accompanied a good client (friend) on a DIY hunt in the Cameroon. It was mostly a walk-in portered type hunt, where you carry all your gear and just hunt as you go. Although we did not get the eland, our main objective, I had a great time. Would do it again in a heartbeat.

One of the others that stands out in my mind is the first one that I did in the swamps of Mozambique, without any amphibious vehicles. It was very physically challenging but also very rewarding at the same time. My client on this hunt was very determined and in great shape. We walked into the swamps three days in a row to find his buffalo as he wanted a really good bull. On the way out we were all relaxed and making quite some noise. All the trackers were talking as they carried the meat out. We stumbled on two old Dagga Boys lying in the saw grass. Very often if it is just one they will charge first and ask questions later, luckily though there were two and it was almost as if time stood still while one was waiting for the other to decide. In the meantime we all took a step back, falling over in the knee-deep water full of elephant holes as we frantically tried to load our rifles. Lucky for us they decided to run off.

I have always been of the opinion that the harder your hunts are the more you treasure them. These are invariably the stories that you will tell the most often.

Q: Tell us about a disaster(s) of a client and what you had to deal with/endure.

A: Firstly, in this job it is imperative to be able to get along with people of all types, kind of like a social chameleon. Secondly, it’s all about managing expectations and that if they have been properly prepared you will find that there really are not that many “disaster” clients.

Having said all of that, we all still get the few that we just seem NOT to be able to please, no matter what we try. I had a client one time that started off the safari by telling me that I must remember that it is all about him and that he does not tip well. I’ll leave it up to your imagination how that safari went.

Q: What are your recommendations on guns, ammo, or equipment for hunting in your current camp(s)?

A: For dangerous game I would recommend that clients use the biggest calibre that they shoot WELL. This in my opinion usually means a .375 with a good scope of somewhere between 1 – 9 magnification. We hunt a lot of crocodiles and although shot placement needs to be precise, I do not like to shoot them in the brain as this destroys a big part of the trophy. I prefer a neck shot and the neck is heavy bone with a lot of blubber around it. I prefer a .375 on this shot too.

Q: Which guns and ammo are you using to back-up on dangerous or wounded game and tell us why?

A: I have carried a variety over the years, a .416 Rigby for a long time but for the past few years I have been using a Heym .500NE and I love it.

Q: What was your closest brush with death? If more than one – go for it and explain!

A: I’m not sure which was closer, a cow elephant charge or a hippo bull. Actually there have been a couple of brushes with hippo. However the one hippo stands out as it is pretty funny. My client (friend) had shot a hippo bull in shallow water but did not kill it, the bull moved off into some deeper water and was surfacing from time to time. We were on a boat and trying to get closer to finish it off. The client was shooting with a double 450/400 and could just not get a good steady shot with the movement of the boat. The bull turned to look at us and then disappeared under the water. I just got this feeling that I should do something, so I began unzipping my rifle bag and took my rifle, a .375 H&H, out. I had barely got it out and was still working the bolt over the side of the boat (sitting down, driving) when the bull surfaced at my right arm with his huge mouth open. I just stuck the rifle barrel into his mouth and pulled the trigger. Luckily it hit his spine and he was done.

Q: If you should suggest one thing to your hunting clients to improve their safari experience, with you, or with anyone else for that matter – what would it be?

A: Learn to roll with the punches that Africa dishes out, do not sweat the small stuff, it’s all part of the experience that is an African Safari.

Q: What would be your dream safari if you have one last safari to go on? (Asked as if you were hunting yourself)

A: Obviously it would all depend on how long the safari could be and how much cash I had, but a Lord Derby Eland is very high up on my list.