I was born in 1968 in the small farming community of Bedford in the Eastern Cape where my grandparents farmed apricots and peaches on our family farm, so I was privileged to have been exposed to, and to get to love, the great outdoors from a very young age. Other than shooting the odd porcupine that caused damage in the pumpkin fields, my Dad was not much of a hunter, so I would not describe myself as growing up in a family of hunters, but Dad’s cousin was a very prominent farmer, commercial pilot and businessman in the area. He owns a lot of land with plenty of game, and he still is very much a hunter.
My interest in hunting was sparked when I accompanied Dad and Uncle Chris one day on a drive on his farm outside Bedford. I was probably six or seven years of age at the time and felt especially important sitting between them in the Land Cruiser as we bumped over the rocky terrain of the Little Karoo. We crested a little ridge and spotted a herd of springbok down below. Uncle Chris turned to me and asked: “In the mood for some venison pie tonight?” Upon my confirmation, he got his rifle (I believe it was a .243) from behind the seat and said: “Stay behind me and stay quiet.” We started with a quick stalk to a nearby anthill. The crack of the shot and the sight of the springbok dropping in its tracks was enough to get me hooked on guns, and I just had to have my own rifle! I had to wait a few more years for this to happen…
Chris Troskie owns Chris Troskie Safaris
It was a Gecado Model 27 that my Dad owned. That little pellet gun accounted for many successful (and unsuccessful) hunts for pigeons and doves over the years It still works and has an honorary spot in my rifle safe. One rule was made abundantly clear when I got that rifle: “You must be prepared to eat whatever you shoot,” or the rifle was to be returned. The only exception to this “eating what you shoot” rule was, of course rats and mice, so fortunately I never had to eat those, but many pigeons and doves were consumed after being braaied over a fire out in the bush.
At the time it never occurred to me that a career could be made from hunting. This did not stop me from fantasizing about hunting bigger game than pigeons and doves. After school I had “real jobs”, first as Forensic Crime Scene Investigator in the SA Police and later also in the corporate world.
My brother owned an air charter company and chartered for McDonald Safaris. I was once invited to accompany him on such a charter to Mozambique, and in the process, I got to spend time with Sandy McDonald. This was my first real exposure to professional hunting. At the time I was senior Manager in charge of the Fraud Division of a major South African Bank, and my hunting excursions were limited to as many hunts as time (and my budget) would allow in hunting season, so I was fascinated by the prospect of being able to do what I loved doing for a living – hunting.
I subsequently enrolled myself for a Professional Hunter’s course with the South African National Professional Hunting School – owned by the late Melville du Plessis, obtained my Professional Hunters Diploma, and registered as a Professional Hunter with a restricted permit (plains game only) in Limpopo Province.
I soon realized that being in possession of a PH permit does not guarantee work in the field of professional hunting. On the contrary, experienced dangerous-game PHs can find it hard to get employment and for novices such as me, it was even harder. As breadwinner of my family there were only two options: (1) get more experience and better qualified and (2) start up my own business. On my PH course I had become acquainted with Les Brett (Ipiti Safaris) who conducted game ranger courses and Big 5 Walking Safaris in Greater Kruger, and I volunteered to work for him for free in return for dangerous-game experience. A lot was learned in the process – notably how to deal with dangerous wild animals and their behavior – but importantly also how not to do things. My exposure to dangerous game during my time with Ipiti Safaris in a non-hunting environment, in addition to the hunting I managed to do during this time as Professional Hunter made it possible for me to apply for (obtain) my unrestricted permit as Professional Hunter (allowing me to guide clients on dangerous-game hunts) and also obtain an Outfitter’s Permit.
In those years, the vast majority of hunting outfitters got their business from marketing themselves at hunting expositions overseas, and I realized that for me as a newcomer to gain a foothold in the business would be as expensive as it would be difficult, so I also had to look at finding business elsewhere. Research showed that surprisingly few outfitters were actively marketing themselves on the Internet. While most had a website of some sorts, they were mostly relying on their annual excursions overseas and return clientele for business. I exhibited at a hunting expo in Salt Lake City full of hope to come back home with a fully booked year, but returned disappointed that first year as there were so many outfitters who were far more experienced and better known than I was, so I started working more intensely on promoting myself on the Internet.
My first real break as new outfitter came when a gentleman from the UK wrote an article about his hunt with me with his lever action rifle. He posted the article on a popular online hunting “chat” forum and got many favorable replies. I contacted the administrator of the forum and offered him a good deal on a hunt if he could get a group of hunters from his forum together for an African hunt. The response from forum members was incredibly positive, and before we knew it, six lever action enthusiasts had signed up for their “African Levergun Safari”. That safari turned out to be remarkably successful, so much so that the next year I had twelve guests from the same fraternity in camp! And the levergunners continued coming back in groups of varying sizes over the next years. This was a nice steppingstone for me into the industry.
Ironically, when I put the offer for the levergunners together, I did not price it “cheaply” – I priced it at market-related rates so the appeal of this hunt was not the price – it was the opportunity to hunt Africa with fellow lever-action enthusiasts.
I wish that more “new outfitters” would follow this example and use the uniqueness of the experiences they have on offer as a selling tool instead of price. Back in the day the playing field was pretty much level when it came to costs, and clients were booking with outfitters for many other reasons than just because one guy was cheaper than the other.
Sadly, a trend has developed in more recent years for some outfitters to sell their safaris as cheaply as possible to sell more hunts – especially those who are new in the business. It is impossible to continue running a successful safari company if you are not charging for what your services are worth. At some point it will come back to bite you and it is here where clients who had booked with you are going to receive the shorter end of the stick.
It is my opinion that good referrals is the single most important aspect of building a name in the safari industry, and it is therefore important to treat every client in such a manner that (a) he/she would want to come back to you and (b) convince others to hunt with no one other than you. Many of my clients have returned after their first hunt with me, and I have clients who have come back every year since their first hunt. But to have clients return takes more than simply good service and good trophies. One needs to be able to offer a greater variety of hunting experiences to keep the interest going, and for that reason I have expanded my operation to not only operate in Limpopo Province but also include other Provinces (and even other countries) as hunting destinations.
Needless to say, operating in different areas implies that I sometimes need to rely on services provided by third parties, and an especially important lesson I learned over the years is to always structure a hunt in a way that I, as operator, can always be in complete control of the safari and that clients will experience the same level of service (accommodations, food and otherwise) that I provide in my own camp. For this reason every camp, hunting area or facility I use is first inspected by me personally, and I take my own personal chef (who happens to be my wife) with me to cook for my clients wherever I go. In fact, my wife has her own “mobile kitchen” that is towed along when we travel to other areas to hunt. This way I ensure that my clients are fed well and are always looking forward to the next meal.
In addition to South Africa I have hunted with clients in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia. I have enjoyed hunting in all these countries as each of them offers some unique experiences, but in my heart, I will always be proudly South African.
I once arranged a hunt in Zimbabwe with a German client, but shortly before our departure from South Africa “Mad Bob” Mugabe introduced a ban on import of all meat and dairy products into a country that was already starving. We had stocked up on a range of German delicacies prior to the hunt to ensure that our client would have good food to feast on during his time with us, but all these were confiscated upon arrival in Bulawayo. However, as we approached the hunting area air strip in our Cessna, we saw two impala rams on the side of the runway. When we had taxied to a halt, I got my rifle out of the belly pod. The client wanted to know what was going on, and my wife said: “We need meat for the week.” He laughed and thought she was kidding, but soon realized she was dead serious, as impala was served for dinner until we could arrange for some extra supplies to be smuggled in a few days later.
I currently mostly hunt from our own ranch – Sabrisa – which is located outside Lephalale (Ellisras) in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. It was love at first sight when we first saw this property some fourteen years ago, and we have since developed it into a private and exclusive hunting lodge with luxurious accommodations with a real Africa feel. We have also since acquired Grootvley Lodge where we can host groups of up to twelve guests at a time. It is, however, our choice to focus on exclusivity rather than volume, and therefore our groups are typically smaller than that. I believe that the more private atmosphere that is created in our lodges provides a far more exclusive experience than that provided in the large lodges that some of my competitors must fill at all cost. We only host one group in camp at a time – even if it is a single hunter – so our clients are never surrounded by strangers in camp. From my perspective it is simply impossible to give the personal attention that every client deserves on safari if an outfitter must bounce around from camp to camp to spend time with his different clients.
As a staunch opponent of so-called “put and take” hunting and given the numbers of animals that are hunted by my clients every year, one cannot restrict oneself to hunting only one property over and over again, so through the years I have acquired exclusive access to several additional properties encompassing more than 60,000 acres in immediate vicinity of my camps. There is a great advantage to having exclusive hunting rights on land here in South Africa. The huge properties I hunt are meticulously managed and teem with a great variety of high-quality game, from duiker to buffalo. As it is only my clients who hunt these lands there is never an issue with availability of hunting areas and my clients will never accidentally come across another hunting party in any of my areas.
I still enjoy hunting with clients after 23 years in the business so for the most part I personally guide my clients. At times I must rely on other PHs to get things done, and I am proud to say that over the years I have formed working relationships with some of the best in the business – folks who share my passion for the bush and excellence – so my clients still get the best hunting experience available in South Africa. And as I am in camp with my clients every night, I get to share the experiences of my clients around the campfire.
Since choosing a career in Professional Hunting, it is a fact that I have never woken in the morning with that “I do not want to go to work today” feeling. Every single day brings new challenges and creates new memories. I LOVE IT!
Thinking back over the last 23 years there are lots of memories and experiences that come to mind but a few that stand out more than others.
I remember the very first hunt that I outfitted for myself with a gentleman from North Carolina and I must admit, I was quite nervous about getting everything perfectly right. I arrived at OR Tambo Airport an hour before his scheduled arrival time and parked my pickup in the underground parking (P3). Before I got out of my vehicle, I double-checked all my documentation, making sure that my “welcome sign” was printed and on top of my client file. I then got out and walked up to the International Arrivals Hall, getting a coffee along the way, and impatiently waiting for Delta 200 to arrive. When the plane finally landed, I realised I had forgotten my file with the “welcome sign” in my pickup! So, I rushed back down to the parking garage to get this, but my pickup was nowhere to be found! After frantically walking up and down the parking garage for what seemed like an hour and with thoughts of my pickup having been stolen rushing through my mind, I finally realised that I was on the wrong parking level (P2 instead of P3). Well, I did find my pickup when I got to the right parking level, got the file and was back in the Arrivals Hall in time to meet my client.
Another time that comes to mind was when John from AB Canada and his daughter Alex were hunting with me for common reedbuck and Vaal rhebok in KZN. John is an expert long-range shooter who feels perfectly comfortable shooting at 500 yards + (which was one of the reasons why I suggested that he hunted a Vaalie with me). Alex was here for the first time with her dad and it was agreed that she would hunt for common reedbuck. I have a hot spot for the latter in oat fields outside Nottingham Road, and one afternoon we drove out to a specific lookout point to see if we could connect with one. As we rounded a bend, with the oat field below us, we spotted at only about 120 yards from us a group of Vaalies with a huge ram among them! As Alex was supposed to be the hunter that day, only her rifle was out and loaded. John’s .338 Lapua was still in its hard case on the back of the pickup. He got his rifle out, loaded, and lay prone, by which time the Vaalies had left. I walked around the hill that the Vaalies had crested and there they were again! John shot a beautiful 10” Vaalie that day at less than 200 yards!
It can sometimes be annoying when hunters get obsessed with trophy size. Personally, I always hunt for the best trophy that I can get with my clients, but when I tell a client to shoot, it can get irritating to hear the question: “Is it a good one?” or “How big is he?” at a stage when timing is of the essence.
On a lighter note – a rather funny (and I should say embarrassing) experience was when I hunted for bushbuck with Uncle Joe from New York State. I had been seeing a bushbuck many times in the same general place on the riverside of our ranch for weeks before Uncle Joe arrived, and we decided to pursue him. As we rounded a bend in the track I saw the bushbuck under a tree – exactly where I thought I’d find him and I told Uncle Joe to take the shot – which he did without hesitation, but the bushbuck didn’t move. Uncle Joe rechambered and fired another round with the same result – the bushbuck remained standing… When Uncle Joe fired the third round, my tracker dryly remarked: “I think you are shooting at a stick.” Upon closer inspection it turned out that my tracker was right. The tree stump that Uncle Joe had been shooting at had three holes in it – beautiful grouping! The shadows caused by the sun shining through the leaves on a tree stump at that time of day and with a prominent branch that had the distinct shape of a bushbuck horn had the exact appearance of the bushbuck we were looking for. We laughed all the way back to camp…
“Interesting” trophies has different meanings to different people. While many clients seek only perfectly symmetrical horns, there are also those who prefer “unusual” trophies. For me, the ideal trophy is an old animal, way past its prime and beyond breeding age, but this is of course not always possible. A couple of years ago we were hunting for Vaal rhebok in the Eastern Cape. We found a ram of which the one horn was estimated to be longer than 8” but the other horn was broken off halfway. The client decided to shoot that ram and ended up with a 9.5” Vaal rhebok – which got him into Rowland Ward’s record book but, more importantly, he shot an exceptional, old, and unique specimen.
The same “John from Alberta” I was referring to earlier wanted to hunt a Cape bushbuck while we were in the Midlands of KZN. I got word of a dairy farm in the area that had changed ownership a year or so before that hadn’t been hunted for quite a while and that supposedly had some decent bushbuck on it, so we took a drive out to have a look. We walked into a pasture and I saw something moving right at the end of the open field. When I looked through my binoculars, I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw a white bushbuck grazing at the edge of the field. A short stalk later and John connected with an incredibly unique trophy that measured just shy of 15”. I had seen albino bushbuck once before in Limpopo Province, but this was not an albino. Its eyes were not pink and its fur was dark where it exited the skin, only turning greyish / white at the ends. John’s full mounted white bushbuck is now proudly displayed in his home in Fort McMurray.
My personal favorite animal to hunt is Cape buffalo, and plains game is a tie between kudu in the mountains of Sabrisa Ranch or Kudu Canyon, and Vaal rhebok in the Midlands of KZN or the Eastern Cape.
Hunting buffalo is exciting, and I have had a few close brushes with death, spending many miles on foot chasing Black Death. It gets my adrenaline flowing.
Kudu are extremely wary and can be hard to judge. Finding that perfect, mature, bull can take days, but when you do finally find him it is extremely gratifying.
Vaal rhebok have incredible eyesight and occur in open mountainous habitat. This makes approaching them to within shooting distance particularly challenging, and one needs both experience and skill to do this.
I have had some good luck guiding clients to exceptional trophies, and several stand out in my memory. During the first hunt I outfitted for myself, my client from North Carolina shot a 27” impala ram on his first hunting day. Later that evening, on our way back to camp, we saw what we first thought was a rhino in the bush next to us, but upon closer inspection it turned out to be a massive blue eland bull. That bull only measured 28” or so, but he was gigantic with enormous bases, a pitch-black ruff on his forehead, and simply beautiful! The first 60” kudu bull I hunted with a client from Missouri, and later another 62.5” kudu we got in the same area with a Canadian client here in Limpopo. There was a 10” Vaal rhebuck I hunted in the Midlands of KZN. But it is not only record-book trophies that I remember. During each hunt new memories are made, and that is what I treasure most.
One of my more memorable hunts was a road trip hunt I did with a client from Georgia. He had hunted with me before, and on his wish list were, among others, Vaal rhebok, Cape bushbuck and red lechwe. So I put a hunt together that would give him an opportunity to hunt all the animals on his list in their natural habitat which meant we hunted in three Provinces – the Northern Cape for steenbok, the Springbok Slam, Barbary sheep, eland and red hartebeest, then on to the Western Cape for Vaal rhebok and finally the Eastern Cape for fallow deer and Cape bushbuck. We got every animal on his list with a couple of days to spare and this gave us time to give my tracker – Sammy – the opportunity to see and swim in the ocean for the first time in his 40 years here on Earth.
Another memorable hunt took place near the Battlefields of KZN with a group of hunters from Canada. It was a 2X1 hunt for four clients, so my tracker, Sammy, and I hunted with two clients and I contracted a very experienced resident PH and his tracker to hunt with the other two.
The hunting gods were with me and Sammy, and by the end of the first day, my clients had taken two springbok, a mountain reedbuck, and an impala, while the clients who hunted with the resident PH had not had any luck. The second day my two hunters returned to camp with three animals in the salt and the other hunters had one zebra. This trend continued over the next couple of days – for every animal the resident PH managed to guide his hunters to, we got three or four. One evening the resident PH approached me and asked me if we were shooting from the truck as he could not believe that our success rate was so much higher than his. When I replied that all the animals we had hunted thus far was shot fair chase and on foot he said: “I think it’s time for me to concede to the A-Team, would you mind helping out and hunting with my clients tomorrow?” I was hesitant as I knew that their failure to connect with animals had nothing to do with the hunting skills of the PH and I certainly did not want to embarrass him. But I also knew that time was running out and I did not want to send clients home without at least getting shooting opportunities at the animals on their lists, so I agreed to this change. Well, the “A-Team” did not disappoint, and the next day the tables were turned. A total of 32 animals ended up in the salt by the end of the hunt with the A-Team and its hunters being responsible for 25 of them.
I have not had any “disaster” hunts, but I have had some interesting experiences. One such experience that comes to mind was when a client and I had to fly by charter to Zimbabwe for a hunt. Upon arriving at the aerodrome, the pilot (who is a good friend of mine and was the owner of the Zimbabwean concession) was already busy loading cargo into the plane. A huge pile of cargo comprising solar water pumps, panels and pipes was heaped up outside the little 206, and I assumed he had just started loading but to my surprise I saw that the plane was already packed to the hilt and our luggage still had to fit in as well! My reservations about take-off weight were waved aside with a: “This is a 206, if it fits in it will fly…” comment and miraculously everything did fit in and we did manage to take off. But shortly after take-off I heard the pilot saying: “Oh f@*k”. My client was not English speaking but everyone in the world knows what that short phrase means…
“The weather not good?” I asked – looking at the storm clouds gathering ahead of us. “Nope, the auto pilot is not working,” came the reply. “We can fly without it, but I would rather not”. So we returned to the airfield and my client gave a huge sigh of relief when he stepped out of the plane. “I’ve always wanted to drive to Zimbabwe, can’t we rather do that?” he asked… We ended up doing exactly that, and the rest of the hunt went according to plan…
I think one of the mistakes some clients make when they decide to hunt Africa is to go and buy a large caliber rifle. This is unnecessary as pretty much any rifle that is good enough to hunt similar sized game elsewhere is good enough to hunt Africa with. If a client feels comfortable with hunting Moose with a .300WinMag in North America, and can shoot his rifle well, there is no reason why he should buy a .375 for his eland hunt in Africa. I had a client who brought his brand-new .378 Weatherby for his first African hunt. He ended up wounding several animals during his hunt. because he was so uncomfortable with shooting a rifle with so much recoil that he had a built-in flinch. Fortunately we managed to track down all the wounded animals, but I can think of few things worse than paying for an animal on your first African hunt and not being able to hang it in your trophy room because you wounded it and was irrecoverable.
Some clients also arrive with a host of paraphernalia including range finders, spotting scopes and wind meters. Many of these are nice to haves, but not necessary at all for most African hunting.
A good pair of light-weight hunting boots and comfortable clothing in neutral colours is much more important than a $3K pair of binoculars with built-in rangefinder. Similarly, having a scope with a 20X magnification is unnecessary in the bushveld. Depending on where a hunt is planned with a client, I will make recommendations on what equipment would be needed for that specific area and hunting circumstances.
I use my .458 Lott with handloaded 500gr Barness or 550gr Rhino solid ammo as backup on dangerous game hunts, and it has served me well under a host of different circumstances, from charging buffalo and elephant to fleeing wounded game of similar species. I have considered getting a double rifle in .470 but my .458 has never disappointed me and has all the stopping power necessary on charging game, plus it has the “legs” for longer shots at fleeing game.
When backing up on plains game I usually have my 6.5 Creedmoor or .30-06 behind the back seat of the Cruiser. I use Barness TSX or Hornady ELDX bullets in both these rifles. A lot has been said about the 6.5 Creedmoor – some people love this caliber and others say it is just a fad. I fall in the first category and have used it extensively for both culling and backup on plains game up to the size of eland. It is remarkably accurate, and in the right hands can certainly reach out there.
One of my closest brushes with death was hunting buffalo with a client from Denmark. He missed the vitals with his first shot early in the morning which resulted in a tracking exercise for the wounded buffalo, with precious little blood to follow, that lasted for the better part of the day. We finally caught up with the buffalo around 4 p.m. that afternoon when it stood up in the tall grass about 40 yards in front of us. It immediately started running and I gave the client the first opportunity to shoot. He did hit the buffalo, but it continued running. The client fired a second round at the running animal, and this time it turned for a full-on charge at the client. When I fired my .458 Lott, the buffalo changed direction and was now coming at me. I fired at the charging animal from about 20 yards or so, hitting it squarely in the chest. It was dead on its feet, but it continued to come, and brushed past me as I sidestepped the beast in a move that would have made my high school rugby coach proud. This move got me entwined in a Wag ‘n Bietjie tree, but fortunately I managed to stay on my feet and get another round chambered as the buffalo came to a stop a couple of feet from me, dropping his right horn to hook me. There was no time to shoulder my rifle. I lifted it and squeezed off the trigger with the end of the barrel literally inches from the buffalo’s neck. The buffalo dropped, which was a huge relief.
The post-mortem showed that my second-last shot at the charging buffalo had travelled all the way lengthwise through it and exited through its buttocks. This gave me huge respect for Barness solid bullets (and of course my .458 Lott).
Another close brush with death was when a client had an accidental discharge from his .378 Weatherby while running behind me after a wounded waterbuck. I could feel the air move as the bullet whistled past my right ear. Fortunately, at that time I was more focused on getting to the wounded waterbuck than a bullet flying past me, or I might have needed some fresh underpants.
When you book your hunt, be totally honest with your outfitter about your previous hunting experience and personal / physical abilities as this will enable him to tailor your hunt accordingly. I’ve had a client who told me he had plenty of experience handling firearms and hunting Whitetail Deer – to find out later that he doesn’t own a firearm and his hunting experience was limited to watching his son shoot a Whitetail from a blind. That same hunter ended up wounding two expensive animals during his hunt with me… Do not get me wrong; I have no problem hosting or guiding inexperienced hunters, but it is makes it so much easier to prepare oneself for a hunt if you know what you are likely to be up against.
Clients should listen to advice on matters such as shot placement and hunting techniques and believe that when advice is given it will always be to their benefit. What works in your home country does not necessarily work in Africa so rely on the experience of your PH when you are hunting with him.
If I had a dream safari… Oh, I have dreamed about hunting “wild, untamed Africa” like Selous and Bell did for sure. But for me a “dream safari” would be hunting for any animal that I have not hunted for myself before, or get better trophies than the ones I already have – even if that meant doing so in South Africa. I have a beat-up old 1980 Land Rover Series 3 that I use for recovering game out of the mountains as it goes everywhere. A dream for me would be to pack a tent, sleeping bag and some supplies in “Brandy” (as my Land Rover was nicknamed) and go with her on safari. Maybe start off at one of my favourite concessions called Kudu Canyon, hunt for a 60” kudu bull and once that is done, travel onwards to the Midlands of KZN and hunt for a 10” Vaal rhebok or a massive free-range eland in the Kamberg. From there, down to the coast for blue and red duiker, and a 32+” nyala in Zululand, and then to the Eastern Cape for Cape grysbok and Cape bushbuck! One could even work a trip to the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve next to Kruger for a free-range hunt for an old Dagga Boy… The only problem I envisage with such a trip is that I might spend more time stranded next to the road with a broken-down vehicle than in the hunting field as, due to her age, Brandy is not particularly reliable anymore.