On safari with… Axel Engman

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Q: Tell us how you came to be in Africa.

A: I am the first generation of the Engman clan to have settled in South Africa – and I arrived on an airplane.

Q: So where were you born?

A: I was born in Sweden in a little village named Dalstorp in 1969, and moved to the next door village Ljungsarp a year later, and I stayed there for the following 18 years.

Q: How did you get into hunting?

A: I pretty much grow up with hunting! Being raised in the countryside, we often had hare, deer and moose in the garden, and me being allowed to roam freely with a pellet gun from an early age, I not only kept the local bird population under control, but also honed hunting skills. My father grew up hunting as had his father before him, and so on… At the age of eight, with a 12-bore I shot my first animal, which was a hare.

Q: What made you come to South Africa?

A: As a youngster I did a lot of hunting in Sweden. Then it was put on a backburner for an extended period of time while I travelled the world as a scuba instructor. I met my wife-to-be in the Maldives in 1997, and we ended up in South Africa in 2004 because we were about to become three. We had decided to leave our watersport center in Zanzibar due to the prevalence of malaria, and instead I could actively pursue hunting again. (I had hunted in every visit to SA since 1998.)

Q: Tell how you started as a PH.

A: I did my PH course with the late Ian Goss in 2007, and did freelance hunting wherever and whenever opportunity presented. I hunted for Zululand Hunters and Shikra Safaris, where I learned through Kotie Herholdt a lot about fauna and flora.

Q: Where did you do most of your hunting?

A: From the start, most of the hunting has been split between the Mpumalanga Highveld and the Natal bushveld in South Africa. I early on realized that a range finder is a most useful tool on the Highveld – but you run the risk of spoiling the hunters only to have them ask distance as a norm, even in the bushveld, when it is obvious the animal is well within 100 meters. Once binos with integrated rangefinders became available, that problem got sorted.

Q: Where do you mostly hunt now?

A: My hunting is still primarily focused on South Africa and I hunt most of the provinces – I am slowly building on my network and plan to offer other African destinations for those who so wish. I am venturing into other African destinations, basically as a direct result of the dynamic of the clientele. To elaborate, I am a firm believer that every hunter should be able to hunt Africa.   For a Scandinavian – or most other nationalities – to experience the different terrain and the multitude of species available normally ends up being a mind-boggling experience, and as a result the African bug gets firmly imbedded, and new repeat clients add their names to the list! And that is obviously great news! But eventually the need for new areas and species arrives – and we always aim to please.

Q: How do you plan your hunts?

A:  When hunting with clients on their first visit, I usually do a combination hunt that starts on the Mpumalanga Highveld – open grass plains – and then move to the Natal bushveld, so that the hunter can experience vastly different terrains and different wildlife. A very common comment after the Highveld part of the hunt is, “I have seen more animals in one day of hunting in Africa than one does during a whole hunting life in my home country”, and for me that is thrilling. Add to that the variation of flora and fauna, and there are endless topics for discussion during driving and around the campfire after the actual hunt been discussed.

Q: Do you have clients wanting specific hunts?

A: I am fortunate enough to have a high level of repeat clients. Therefore I tend to hunt through “stages” with the clients, starting with the more common species and they normally last a few safaris. Thereafter comes the time for more specific target groups, either small predators, grand slams, Tiny Tens, Big Five or any other grouping that appeals to the client.

Q: What is your opinion on the game numbers in South Africa now?

A: The age-old question of then versus now! It would have been great to have experienced wild Africa before the rinderpest and all the “civilized” inventions such as roads, power lines and commercial agriculture and forestry. But one also has to acknowledge that the people of that era lacked much of the comforts we take for granted these days.

Q: What is your favorite animal to hunt?

A: I enjoy hunting as many different species as possible. I also feel a great sense of satisfaction hunting the most common species with someone hunting Africa for the first time, or to have the privilege of guiding a youngster on their very first hunt. Each animal poses its own set of challenges and they are all worth pursuing.

Q: What is the greatest satisfaction a client can get?

A: I think for all the clients, the animal that was successfully hunted at the end of several long and hard days hunting will as a memory that ranks higher than inches. And sometimes, something exceptional comes along! We once hunted a brown hyena that was then one of the top three in the world, and there are other animals that have measured well, such as blesbok, scimitar-horned oryx, nyala, and black wildebeest. As a norm all trophies are being measured for the PHASA medal program (based on SCI system), and we are normally on 80%+ qualifying for medals per annum.

Q: Any special client trophy experience?

A: There are many to choose from, each holding a memory of its own. Once I had a client successfully achieving a Springbok Grand Slam – and at the end of the day it was less than ½” difference between the four sets of horns – all qualifying for Gold. Another memorable hunt was the quest for a kudu. We had a limited period of time in the area we hunted (very good kudu country), and as we set out in the morning of the final day there was a bit apprehension noticeable in the hunter. It didn’t get better as the day progressed since I kept on passing on the bulls we spotted – even the trackers started getting a bit annoyed! We eventually found something I was happy with, and the client managed to take a magnificent old 54” inch bull, that as a parting gift departed down a steep donga! In the end we had to cut and carry the animal out – a hunt the client will never forget!

Q: How do you rate yourself as a PH?

A: I tend to get along with most walks of life, and as a general mindset have the attitude that if there is a problem with the client, it is because I have not been completely clear in communications – there are sometimes unforeseen situations that has not been cleared ahead of time, i.e. dietary, medicinal and so forth. But as a rule we part ways as friends, and normally with a plan in place for the next adventure.

I’m a jack of all trades and normally manage all challenges from medicinal to mechanical, and everything in between.

Q: What weapons do you recommend for your clients?

A: From a convenience perspective – use one of my guns! Less paperwork, less expenses, and quicker out of the airport. If you want to bring your own gun, I will be more than happy to assist with the legalities. Bring something you are comfortable with shooting – absolutely no need to buy and bring a “canon” that you are afraid of shooting.

Q: What is your weapon of choice?

A: I am currently awaiting my .416 Rigby license. I have been managing with a .375H&H up until now! I prefer heavy bullets, and with a 450-grain bullet in the .416 I still have a reasonable range.  I am never the person shooting the first shot. Most of the time it is about getting a breaker in on a departing animal, hence the choice of caliber. On a charge it pretty much comes down to shot placement – unless you go really big.

Q: Any close brush with death?

A: I have pretty much managed to keep myself scratch-free up until this point in time. There have been a few charges and hair-raising experiences, but nothing worth writing about – and to be completely honest, I rank that higher than a spectacular fireside story.

Q: What do you think constitutes a good PH?

A: As previously stated, I firmly believe everybody should have the possibility to hunt Africa – there is such a variety that there will be something within everybody’s budget. Having said that, the hunt should be free and fair (and I believe that can be the fact, even in fenced areas, providing the area is big enough and there should be a good number of the specific species in the area). I firmly believe the PH’s job is to find the best trophy he can for the client and I do not prescribe to the measurement guarantees or color variations unless it is for naturally occurring species such as the various springboks and the white blesbok among others. Much of the hype, guarantees and bag sizes only result in the industry getting a bad name. We all have to make a living – but preferably not at the expense of ethics.

Q: What advice would you give a first-time hunter?

A: Be informed, and take an active part in the safari – ask questions about the country, history, flora and fauna, rather than just tag along and wait to be told when to shoot! There is so much more to the experience. Most of the time it is your – as the client – dream come true!

Q: How can hunting benefit the country?

A: There needs to be consistency and co-operation with land owners, game breeders, Government and local communities. It needs to be a value-chain for all involved to succeed.

Q: If you could choose to be any other time or place, where would it be?

A: For me, it’s anywhere where I can sit around a campfire in the evening with tired legs and look at the stars and listen to the night sounds of the African bush after another day of adventure.

*You can follow Axel on Instagram. His handle is axelengmansafaris.