[box] This article was written by DSC Member Austin Cowan. Here, Austin describes what it was like traveling on his recent buffalo hunt in South Africa and offers great tips for newcomers and pros alike. [/box]
Like everyone else who has struggled with the effects of the COVID Pandemic and the global shutdown, I had been counting the days until I could get back to what I love to do—hunting Africa.
I am very happy to say that Africa has finally reopened to American hunters. After our great experience, I want to let hunters know that it’s safe to go to there and hunt. COVID creates many concerns, but my wife and I felt completely safe in our travel to and from South Africa and during the hunt. The South Africans take all the necessary precautions for your safety.
I just returned from a great hunt with White Lion Safaris in the Northern Cape bushveld of South Africa. I’ve hunted with Ricus deVilliers, my PH and owner of White Lions Safaris, several times in the past and all have been fantastic, but this buffalo hunt was even better.
It felt great to get out and hunt in support of our outfitters. The border closures due to COVID have been devastating to their industry. Many have not had income for a year, which trickles down to all related industries as well. Some outfitters have lost their hunting ranches. We must support them by returning to Africa to hunt because some of them won’t survive another year without any income.
Traveling during Covid and other tips
There are a few challenges when traveling from America to South Africa but nothing too difficult. I wanted to pass on a few tips that might make it easier for others that are hesitant about traveling to Africa. American Airlines has a Sherpa site that clarifies COVID travel restrictions and requirements for any destination found at https://apply.joinsherpa.com.
- COVID Testing: We flew on Qatar Airways through Doha and not through Europe. We were required to provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test and a completed COVID Test Passenger Consent Form upon check-in. Your airlines will require the same and you can find the form on your airline’s website. The negative COVID test must be a PCR test and within 72 hours of departure time. This process is repeated when returning to the U.S. I suggest you take extra copies of the form to complete for the return trip, so they are ready when you check-in. Our PH arranged for the COVID test in South Africa before departure. South Africa requires that you complete an exit screening form upon arrival and departure. The screening form can be found on the Sherpa site when selecting travel to South Africa.
- Masks: Your airline will require passengers to wear a mask while on the plane and in the airport and lounges. The exception is while you are eating and drinking. We suggest taking your own face masks that are comfortable. We took extra face masks and hand sanitizer in our carry-on bags.
- Social Distancing: My outfitter picked us up at the airport in Johannesburg after we cleared customs and took us directly to the hunting concession. We were able to avoid any other exposure and only stopped to get gas on the way to the lodge. Your outfitter takes every precaution to keep you safe.
General Long-Distance Flight/Travel Tips
Those of you who have flown to Africa before will know these, but if it’s your first time, here are a few other tips.
- Noise-canceling headphones are a must. It really helps to eliminate noise, enhances the movie experience and aids in sleeping. Also, remember to download your own movies or entertainment to your IPAD or laptop because the selection is limited.
- Airport Lounge Program: I would also suggest joining the Priority Pass, airport lounge program. Their lounges are in all major airports worldwide and make traveling much more comfortable. Anyone can join their club for an annual membership fee plus a small fee to access the lounge. The lounges have comfortable seating, a good selection of snacks, meals and beverages, private showers and restrooms all covered in the entry fee. It’s been really nice to be able to relax in the lounge while waiting to board flights. You can get more information about Priority Plus at their website https://www.prioritypass.com.
- Rifle Permit: Another thing we have learned is to use an agent to pre-arrange your South African rifle permit. This expedites the process greatly and ensures there are no problems with your rifle on entry. It’s well worth the fee. They also meet you at the airport and assist you with the process to retrieve your rifle.
As mentioned above, I hunted with White Lion Safaris in South Africa. Ricus deVilliers is the owner and served as my PH on this trip. I have hunted with him before and have always had great hunts. This time I was successful in taking a 42-inch Cape buffalo, a roan and wildebeest.
We arrived at camp mid-day, ate lunch and still had time to go out and scout the concession. The next morning, we checked the rifle to make sure it was still sighted in properly after the flight. Then, we started hunting for buffalo.
The buffalo were holding up in thick trees for shade as it was still a little hot. We came across three solitary bulls in the thick trees. One old bull, a young bull and a very young bull were together. We spooked them and never saw that group again. I think they joined a larger herd of 40 or 50 animals the next day.
It took us three more days to find the herd, and then we checked to see if there was a big bull among them. You could see there were three old, mud clad Daggaboys with them.
While looking for the buffalo, we saw a herd of wildebeest out in the high grass savannas. Among them was an old bull that was larger than any we had ever seen. I decided to forgo a sable that I had been planning to hunt and put my time in hunting the wildebeest instead. Unfortunately, I only had one rifle, my .375 H&H for buffalo, so getting close was really difficult on the open savanna grass. Eventually, the wind picked up, and the herd started moving around. I was fortunate enough to get within 150 yards and make the shot.
The next day we started out again looking for buffalo and found the roan. He was with a group of respectable roan bulls, but you could tell he was the oldest one. We played cat and mouse with him in the trees and high grass. Finally, I got within about 140 yards, and I made the shot. Ricus and I were ecstatic when we saw how much mass and length he actually had.
The next day we finally found the buffalo in the thick trees. It was a group of nine solitary bulls bedded up under the shade of the trees. Ricus, the tracker and I crawled through the high grass using the trees as cover to get between them and a watering hole. The wind was in our face and all we had to do was wait for them to get up and move toward the water. They finally got up late in the afternoon, and of course, my bull was the last one to head toward the water.
This hunt was truly an old-style buffalo hunt. Ricus is a pleasure to hunt with because of his knowledge and willingness to give you information to make you a better buffalo hunter. You feel like a hunter with him instead of just a shooter. During the hunt, Ricus shared the history of the Boer Wars fought in that area with me. We came across trenches from the war on top of hills while looking for the buffalo in the plains and trees below. I found that fascinating and enjoyed the history lessons.
Meals: One of the joys of hunting in Africa is that the meals at night are prepared from the animals you hunted. We had backstraps from the buffalo and tenderloin steaks from the wildebeest and roan. They were cooked over an open wood fire and were delicious.
Campfire: One of the pleasures of hunting in South Africa is the campfires at night. It is truly relaxing to be able to sit around the campfire and sip on your favorite beverage while sharing in great conversation with your companions after a day’s hunt.
Lodging: The lodge at Magersfontein could not have been better. We had a private room and bath with a great view, very nice décor and all the amenities and laundry service.
Shipping your trophies: Ricus will connect you with a local taxidermist who will prepare your trophies for shipping. You always get your trophies, not another hunter’s.