Disclaimer: This is a journal of my experience in South Africa for a safari and hunting adventure. Harvests were for consumption and herd sustainability.
Prepare to laugh, and cry in this transparent reflection.
Seventeen hours of flights from Atlanta to Johannesburg seemed like 36. The food was consistent to say the least, sub mediocre from start to finish. Ya know, the kind of thing that you eat in your Kindergarten prison within city limits. I was paranoid… what the Hell would I do with myself if I brought two of my best friends to the other side of the planet and something terrible happened, or we were abandoned at the airport? I hadn’t heard from Dempsey in hours… but I was confident he would be there. I did my research, compared companies, and felt it was right. I loved Bayly Sippel’s personalities and appreciated their youthfulness and desire to include the minority populations — women, disabled, kids. This is the group I wanted to be a part of.
Kylee is a dear friend. I have known her for years, but sadly I don’t get to see her as much as I would like to. From the moment I met her, I knew she was someone special. She was on my first hunt post amputation; my bison in Texas. That bison hunt was when I decided if I would let my injuries define me or not. I struggled through terrain that I never imagined I would go through, tore my pant legs on barb wire, and drug my body through brush and mud. It was perfect. I was introduced to a new life and a new pain and suffering. It was the awakening — a defining moment in my life.
Now, Kylee and I are here in South Africa — built on a trust of strong women, unafraid to do what’s unpopular, but willing to hold strong in our faith. It’s a friendship and love for the outdoors built on loyalty and the willingness to do what’s unapologetically ourselves.
We made it in to camp pretty late, but there was no hesitation when it came to meeting everyone. We gathered around the fire, drinks in hand and met Mark, the professional hunter that would be helping Dempsey, a co-owner of Bayly Sippel and professional hunter as well. We also met Big John who we had heard so much about. Needless to say, the name is quite fitting. While not too tall, he is wide and built like a brick house.
It didn’t take much at all for me to fall asleep last night. A bit of scotch definitely helped put my mind at ease after a long flight in. The cold air and sounds of bugs chirping rocked me to sleep like a sweet, sweet lullaby. I am sure my iPhone alarm was the last thing everyone wanted to be woken up by, but I am determined to at least maintain part of my routine by meditating. I laid in bed and reflected on what’s taken place, probably still surprised that I am actually in South Africa. Breakfast was meant to kick off at 7 AM, but Kylee and I moseyed on out at 7:06 AM.
We were all a bit slow to load up in the truck, but before we knew it, we were off. It didn’t take long for the sun to warm my skin beneath my long sleeve shirt. Everything from Giraffe to Waterbuck, to Zebra, and everything in between roamed right in front of us. I have done a ton of hunting to provide for my family, but nothing quite like this. The banter kept us all awake and engaged. I barely knew Dempsey and Mark, but already felt like they were little brothers. It was definitely going to be a trip full of trash talking. It’s a good thing we all have thick skin.
Right around 10 AM, we set up a stalk on a herd of Gemsbok far off across a field, along a tree line. They are a bizarre animal to describe, but they’ve been one of my favorites for quite some time. Their bodies are the size of an elk, but gray, black, and white cover the animal, instead of brown. Long straight spears for horns protrude from the tops of their heads. I imagined what it feels like to be punctured by one of their horns. We came a long way in through the brush to chase down the herd… dipping, dodging, and me nearly falling the entire way. The thick brush tangled itself in every bit and bob my prosthetic has. We nestled ourselves beneath an overgrown tree with low hanging limbs. It was actually quite the set up with 360 views and great cover. After determining that it was a Gemsbok nursery herd, Kylee decided she would set up on a Zebra stallion instead. I watched from afar, stoked to be on a hunt with someone I admire, and really just feeding off of the energy.
In the end, she decided she would pass and find something more mature. I’m sure she’s like me — finding the oldest, with a long life and the most stories to tell is the priority. I was excited on the commotion thus far though. It was warming up quickly — the kind of heat that makes you miserable enough to count the beads of sweat dancing down your back and drenching your belt loops. On our way back to camp, Dempsey and Mark made the call to stop 400 yards shy of a few blinds. I was fully prepared to walk in to a herd of Sable and watch Kylee have a meltdown. The Sable is her dream animal. Instead, Dempsey turned back to look at us and said, “Who wants to shoot a big pig?” Kylee and I went back and forth for a moment, then I found myself behind the rifle and setting up on the sticks.
A smaller pig stood in front of the one I was meant to shoot. Dempsey leaned over to whisper, “Take your shot when you’re comfortable.” No sooner than he said that, the smaller pig took a step out and my weapon was on fire. I squeezed the trigger and rocked back, then picked up my head to find my impact. He ran for a few seconds and laid down. I gave Dempsey a high five and turned to find Kylee — who was already in a full sprint towards me. We gave each other a massive hug to celebrate our first African animal down. He was an old, heavy boar. Scarred up from fighting with massive tusks and cutters. Unlike the hogs I am used to hunting back home, the Warthogs have no shields and their skin is incredibly thin. Strange how animals can be from the same family, but be so different.
Back at camp, it was rapidly heating up and feeling much like nap time. Kylee and I made ourselves comfortable before… and after lunch. Dempsey approached the group looking ecstatic and asked who wanted to shoot the biggest nuisance they have, a baboon. Cody, never having a shot a rifle in his life, loaded up in the truck while the girls stayed back to nap.
After sweating my ass off and fighting my brain to sleep, I got up around 320 PM to find a baboon propped up against the tree outside of our tent. I ran (as fast as I could anyway) to the main tent and yelled, “Where are you at, you freaking baboon killer!?” The boys informed me that Cody shot off of Dempsey’s shoulder at a baboon treed 150 yards away and smoked him – the baboon wouldn’t have felt a thing. I was excited to share this experience with Cody, who quickly gained an appreciation and respect for what hunting is, and why we do it.
Kylee and I finally decided to rally and get it together to go out for our afternoon round. Animals crawled all over the plains. We stopped to let Kylee out onto a herd of Kudu and creeped forward a couple hundred yards, only to find a Sable. I yelled to Big John, Dempsey, and Cody, “Don’t you dare tell Kylee!” We waited to hear a shot, or a phone vibrate with an update. Shortly after, we were turning around to go scoop her and Mark up. We warned her for what we were about to pass, and as soon as we did, I could see it pulling at her heart strings. Dempsey made the executive decision to find a herd of them so she could see more Sable.
We were losing daylight quickly and approached a field with Gemsbok all over it. Again, we jumped out and set out on quite the stalk. It was hot and I could feel my leg sweating and sliding off with every step. I didn’t feel super confident with my physical setup, so I was relieved when they scattered, and we moved back towards the road. We decided to check out the Zebra who had been lingering around instead. Kylee again jumped out with Mark and Cody to attempt a position. Without fail, several hundred yards ahead, Gemsbok were taunting Dempsey and me. We made the call to set up our move once the Zebra that the others were on spooked. Fair is fair though, and our Gemsbok spooked too. Back in the truck… I have never climbed in and out of a truck this much in my life.
To get one last jab in at us, Gemsbok stood off the side of the road on our way in to camp. With the pink sun quickly going down, I set up on the largest of the bulls but didn’t feel comfortable with the shot. My biggest fear is wounding an animal. Without the right conditions, I won’t shoot. So, with a sigh, I took the rifle off of the sticks. Content with the day and the smiles everyone still wore, I sat in the back of the truck, cracked a cold one and daydreamed about what the next morning would hold.
Sleep didn’t come easy for Kylee or me. I tossed and turned unable to get my amputated side comfortable while sounds of bones breaking and hyenas screaming tormented Kylee. I woke up only to find my meditation app not working, so instead, I took my first hot shower and washed my hair. Afterwards, I laid back with my wet hair and listened to one of my random audio books to semi compensate for my normal morning routine (don’t mind me ignoring the part of my routine that includes stretching, core work, and resistance band training, it’s vacation after all).
Gathered around the breakfast table, I was glad that I wasn’t the only one taking a bit to wake up. Moving slowly, I finished my coffee and Kylee and I repacked our kit to load up. We climbed in the back of the truck as it slightly mumbled to wake up, too. Fifteen minutes in to our ride, Dempsey and Mark yell at me to hop out. To be honest, I wasn’t even quite sure what I was looking for. We creeped in and found a spot behind some trees to set up. Dempsey asked me several times if I was set up on the Wildebeest bull that he was looking at. Unsure, I described what I saw, while he repositioned my sticks.
Typically, I hate when I see the animal’s eyes. Eyes are, very much so, the windows of our souls and one of the things I have struggled with since dealing with bodies on deployments. I didn’t want the bull to look at me, at all. He looked away and stepped forward giving me a better shot. He was still centered between timber and his shoulder was scattered by the golden brush. He looked at me again and I watched him through the scope for a moment more and decided to take my shot. Slow, steady squeeze and then I saw black hooves and dust in the air. Dempsey bumped me and yelled, “He’s down!” as he took off running.
Once Cody and I received the thumbs up, we started making our way to the Wildebeest. Dempsey’s joy made me beam with pride. I was more emotional than I guessed I would be walking up to the Wildebeest. They are big, tough, thick machines that are terrifying to watch run and fight. But his old scars told stories on his skin and his enormous (according to Dempsey and Mark) bases that were chewed up from life in South Africa made me proud that I was taking home a stud.
We were lucky enough to be able to get the truck to the Wildebeest and load him up with the wench. I am not much help in these situations as I can be unsteady on my feet, but it gave me the moment to watch the amazing people around me; those who came together to make this happen. I can feel Kylee’s excitement, sense Mark, Dempsey, and Big John’s pride, and Cody’s bewilderment for this new way of life. I am a blessed woman. Not only for the hunt, but the people I consider new friends, and the friends that are family.
We loaded back up in to the truck. Thirty minutes went past. Dempsey with a look of shock on his face tells me to jump in the back. After Kylee, Cody, and I look at each other confused, I listened. I will be the first person to tell you when I don’t know something, but I promise, I am a good listener and student. I jumped out of the truck — more like a clumsy ass flop on to the tail gate and wiggle on to the ground. But we ventured off in to the brush. Admittedly, I didn’t know what I was looking for initially. Then, I saw the stunning white and black face, with untouched beams for horns look up and look at us along the tops of the grass. It was perfect.
The day before I felt like I hopped in and out of the truck a half a dozen times and spent a couple of hours looking at Gemsbok, and today it all happened so quickly. We set up to shoot, only to move a few seconds later. On the sticks and shaking, I waited for the Gemsbok to quarter towards me just a bit more, then pulled the trigger. Again, I saw hooves and dust as the animal dropped, but I was confident that I hit it high since my body rocked back with the recoil. The animal moved again, and Dempsey put a second round in to it to avoid any pain and suffering. I waited for Kylee to get up to me as I knew this would be a special moment for us both. I have wanted to harvest this animal so badly for years, and Kylee knowing that, wanted me to get him just as badly. I had the opportunity to hunt this species in Texas, but it just didn’t feel right.
We walked up on her together and my heart swelled. She was hit high, but I was reassured that she didn’t feel any pain. I cried for the bloodshed, the animal itself and all it would provide, and its beauty. I was going to be taking home one of my dream animal, and better yet, it is some of the best meat I have ever tasted.
That’s it. I was done and excited for Kylee to get on a Zebra or a Sable. We went back to camp to grab lunch and a nap. I was pleasantly surprised by one of the best burgers I have ever had and proceeded to sweat my ass off laying in my tent for a couple of hours. Before Kylee and I knew it, we were waking up in pools of sweat and matted hair for our afternoon hunt. At 330 PM, we made it in to the truck and were off.
It was a lovely evening with a ton of animals and even more of Kylee jumping out of the back of the truck. She set up on Zebras, a Kudu bull, and a stout Impala, but never had a good shot. She later questioned me if I would have taken a frontal shot of the Zebra and I reassured her that she did the right thing by not taking it. I was heartbroken that she didn’t harvest today, but I reminded myself that she had several days left and she was going to go home with her dream animal too.
On the way home, we saw a giraffe that recently passed away. It gave me another sense of appreciation for everything that the Wild West of South Africa holds. The sun set yet again, and set the skyline ablaze with shades of pink, oranges, and yellow. I was washed over by a calmness of another day ending. It also helped that I was starving and in need of ice for a gin and tonic. Another day well spent doing what I love with people that I love.
My alarm rang at 545 AM and for the first time since being here, I didn’t want to roll out of bed. I pulled the blankets back up around my neck and debated if I could stay in bed a bit longer. I think I slept well, but my night was full of bizarre dreams with people I have only met a couple of times. I rolled out of bed and began the routine of getting dressed and cleaned up, then stepped out to breakfast still in a morning daze.
We hopped in the truck and I was excited for the focus to be on Kylee and harvesting the animals she had her heart set on. We made the joke that we would tally how many times she hopped out of the truck on Zebra. It was funny until we were at seven times in the blink of an eye. The winds were screaming, and the Zebras felt the pressure of us being on them the last few days. No sooner than she would jump out, they would be gone. At times, she could start the stalk, but there were so many animal eyes on them that another species would spook and send the zebras off in to a stampede.
It was hard not to laugh, but it was also so painful to watch everyone’s frustration. We all wanted her to harvest one so badly. Driving along the perimeter of the property, we saw a herd of black animals congregating on the burnt orange dirt path. Dempsey scoped them out and determined that they were Sable. Everyone, but Big John and I jumped out to set out on a stalk to figure out if one was old enough to take. I sat back with fingers crossed and watched them disappear in to the trees. Thirty minutes later, Big John’s phone was ringing with Dempsey telling us to come fetch them. None were worth taking a shot at; they were just too young.
Every time the jokes start, or it seems to get light hearted, someone starts snapping their fingers to let Big John know to stop as we’ve spotted something. Laying down in one of the side paths, there was a large black mound basking in the sun. Sure enough, it was a sable and Kylee’s eyes lit up. By the way he was acting alone, it was easy to tell he was a mature bull. The boys sized him up to make sure he wasn’t a dinosaur, but to also make sure it was a bull that Kylee could retire her Sable hunting career with forever. Shortly after, Big John and I were watching the other four creep off in to the tree line. We watched the Sable stand and slowly move off to the left, in front of the patch of trees Kylee and the boys were behind.
Big John and I lost sight of them and started to chat about what the afternoon would look like. Then we heard a single, “BOOM.” I ran to the back of the truck, grabbed my binoculars, and watched the group. I could see Dempsey squeeze Kylee, so I took off in a weird paced hobble “run” as Big John yelled to me to not be silly and to hop in the back of the truck. Makes sense.
Getting up to Kylee I jumped out and hugged her as tight as I could. I was so excited for her. Her dream hunt with a perfect set up on a stud of a Sable at 70 yards. She is a good shot, so I was confident. We jumped up and down and went back and forth telling our stories of what we saw of her hunt, purely fueled by adrenaline. We gave the Sable a moment to expire in peace, then turned Ricky, the wire haired Jack Russell terrier, loose as we all set out to track and find the Sable.
It didn’t take long as he only ran 200 meters and laid down with his horns wrapped around a tree. What a beast. The biggest reward of all of it was the smile Kylee wore as she wore her emotions on her sleeve. I love hunting, but seeing someone I care about fulfill a goal is worth far more to me. Everyone was absolutely elated. After Kylee and the Sable had a photo shoot, Big John drove the truck to the Sable and we used the wench to get him in to the back. There was such a positive energy floating around and everyone was abuzz. Faces were hurting from our perma-smiles.
We dropped the Sable off to the slaughter house and Kylee debated the kind of mount she wanted. We watched monkeys swing from tree to tree in Heindrich’s yard and drove back to the property to start the hunt again. We set out to get on some Zebras for Kylee. In and out of the truck she went, God love her. The Zebras are smart. I am not sure how they even see her above the grass; she’s so short that most of the time she can’t even see them.
On their last stalk, Kylee and the boys managed to get within 30 yards of a small Kudu bull and 18 football field lengths from any Zebra. Big John’s phone rang, and before I knew it, we were moving to go pick them up. We made it 100 yards until Kylee and Mark were screaming, “Eland!” Sure enough, there they were, and the boys and I were tumbling out of the back to start a stalk. Hands down it was one of the best stalks I have ever done in my life. It was painful on the distal end of my femur and I tangled my sticks and leg up in any branch and the long weeds and grass. We made it in to 203 meters (according to Marks untrustworthy binoculars anyway) and I still couldn’t see what the boys were seeing — the description was just a large grey mass between trees.
There was no way I was going to feel comfortable taking a shot when I wasn’t sure if it were the right animal or which direction it was facing. We moved in another 40 meters as the animals started to move a bit. Then the chaos started again, fumble fucking my way through positioning the sticks and stabilizing the rifle, I then struggled with my stance and feeling unbalanced. I asked Mark to lean in to me as Dempsey described to me the shot placement for a front facing animal. I never once saw the head of the animal, just the dulap and chest. Placing the cross hairs where Dempsey told me, I pulled the trigger. I was 100% confident on my left and right, but reloaded quickly.
My legs were shaking so badly that I couldn’t walk and my arms went numb. I was so nervous and overcome by anxiety that I felt like I lost my motor functions. We all started to move to start tracking, but never saw any sign of a wounded animal. For another hour we looked for blood or distressed tracks, but never found anything before the sun quickly went down. We made the call to go back to the truck, and that we would come back in the morning to do another sweep to satisfy all of our nerves and concerns for a wounded animal.
En route to camp, Dempsey let us know, in a very heartfelt tone, that he forgot to take the chicken out for dinner. Kylee and I knew that meant nap time. We made it to camp, I took a shower, and quickly got in bed to rest. At dinner, we had a guest — the owner of the property, Poon. He was a lovely man with plenty of stories. It actually made me feel bad that I was dreading getting out of bed for dinner. Needless to say, it was a quick meal as Kylee and I scattered off to bed again (after convincing everyone that we needed a late start the following morning of course).
The mornings don’t seem to vary much. Kylee and I laid in bed until 740 AM, then got ready to see if Big John had breakfast ready. Dempsey, Mark, and Cody went to go search the field again to make sure that the Eland went down and was not wounded. I absolutely love how much compassion the boys have for their game here. There are so many sides of hunting that get overlooked — and just the negative perceptions manage to stick.
Big John’s phone rang and the boys let us know that we were running late. We were meant to be meeting them at the blind so that we could hunt with the crossbow. Big John ran around camp to make sandwiches for lunch and off we went in the truck. Blind sitting is clearly not our favorite. About three hours in to sitting, Mark and I were getting in trouble for laughing too loudly. Then Kylee joined in and we decided it was time to shoot, so that we could get the Hell out of the blind.
A massive old boar of a Warthog stepped out and positioned himself perfectly at the water hole. Kylee got behind the crossbow and the strings rung out. The Warthog was hit solidly and spewed blood. High fives were sent around as Kylee and I jumped up and down. It was safe to say that Kylee is now a crossbow addict. We gave the animal time to expire and waited for Ricky and Big John to show up so we could get on the blood trail and start tracking. I was surprised at how far the Warthog moved through the thick trees when he was hit so well. Kylee even managed to cut out a piece of the liver with the expandable bolt.
I find myself having just as much fun being a part of someone else’s hunt as I do when I am the one behind the scope. Watching Kylee interact with her Warthog and appreciate even the ugly parts of the animal made me wear a huge smile. After loading up the Warthog, we were on the move again. Fifteen minutes in, Impala ram were spotted and Cody and Dempsey tumbled out of the back to start a stalk. They weren’t out too long before they were calling for us to come grab them.
Another fifteen minutes passed, when Mark enthusiastically yelled, “Impala ram.” We idled behind a bush to let Cody and Dempsey out and continued driving to distract the Impala. Mark told Kylee to continue talking like normal. Any change in our behavior or sounds would let the Impala know we were up to something. We drove to the end of the road and sat in silence waiting for a shot to ring out. “BOOM.” Kylee, Mark, and I all said, “Hit.” While Big John said, “Miss.” I instantly got nervous. I wasn’t sure how Cody would handle it if he wounded an animal or missed.
We watched Cody and Dempsey through the binoculars and saw Dempsey shake Cody’s hand. Big John threw the truck in reverse and back we went. When we pulled up to them, both stood silent and stoic, just to mess with us. We all raced to get out of the back of the truck to hug Cody. Dempsey was certain it dropped, but we set out to track it. Right where he stood when he was shot, the Impala laid. Cody caressed the horns and inquired about the life of the animal.
Cody’s Impala was an old ram. He hard bases and great length that was being worn down. It was an impressive ram and I was so excited to be a part of Cody’s first hunting experience. Sure, he had a baboon already, but this was his first horned animal on a spot and stalk. Most importantly, he fireman carried the Impala out and in to the truck and was adamant about trying the meat.
We took a leisurely drive over to the air strip and parked for the sunset. A perfect ending to an amazing and emotional day. It was a change of pace, and everything that we needed to wrap up our day. Tropical house music coming through the speakers, cold beers, and plenty of laughter.
After a very confusing debate the night before, no one was on the same page as to what the game plan was — with the exception of breakfast at 7. Turned out, we were sitting in the blind again with the crossbow. I had my hopes up that it would be a pretty quick morning. Mainly because I really couldn’t fathom sitting in the blind again for hours on end.
We packed up our bags to better prepare ourselves to kill time. Dempsey and Mark loaded up books, I grabbed my iPad with the intention to write, Cody his cross stitch, and Kylee her headphones for an audiobook she’s been trying to finish for a year. We settled in to the blind and braced ourselves for a hot, and potentially slow morning. A couple of hours went by, with the last thirty minutes being tormented by a herd of Impala rams, none old enough to shoot.
Dempsey did a quick scan and nudged me, “Big ram!” We set up the sticks and positioned the crossbow. Everything happened so quickly. The Impala was cruising straight in to range. Dempsey waited for the right body position and language that would imply he was relaxed so he wouldn’t jump when he heard the strings of the crossbow release. As soon as Dempsey said, “Shoot as soon as you have a shot,” I pulled the trigger and drilled the Impala.
The Impala jumped to run, and gushed blood. We were all confident in the shot placement and gave it time to pass. We all embraced, and Dempsey called Big John to get Ricky more experience with tracking. Swapping stories of the angles we had, Dempsey shushed us as he spotted two Kudu bull walking in to the far left, the opposite of where the Impala came in. I settled myself again on the crossbow when the Kudu spooked. The boys got on the phone quickly and told Big John to stop driving and stay still. We swapped the crossbow out for a rifle and repositioned ourselves outside of the blind. Dempsey whispered one last time, “Put it in his armpit.”
I pulled the trigger and the Kudu managed to go another 10 yards from where he was standing and passed. Every person radiated with excitement. I don’t even think I fully believed it at first. Two stunning, horned animals down fifteen minutes apart. My five tags were filled and now we had an entire day wide open. We slowly wandered up to find the Kudu since we knew it didn’t go far and we waited for Ricky to show up.
As soon as we got up to the Kudu, my heart swelled. He was an old, unhealthy bull that wouldn’t have made it through the season. While one of his horns would tape well, the other was quite destroyed from fighting. Ironically, it was his left side that was busted up — it was meant to be. My first goal when it comes to hunting is harvesting an animal that lived a full life; and this kudu absolutely did. Symmetrical horns mean nothing to me when there are bulls like this out there.
After Kudu photos, we set out to find the Impala. We were all shocked as we tracked the blood trail. The animal had lost a ton of blood, but managed to make it far back in to the thick trees. Seeing the animal for the first time was surprising. He had a large wound that was wonderfully placed and was covered in blood. He must have been running on pure adrenaline.
The boys carried him out in to a clearing and eventually to a water hole to clean him off before pictures. To see the love for the animal and how it is to be presented reminds me that we are doing this the right way. After pictures, we decided it was going to be a pool day. Big John loaded up the body and got it ready to bring to the slaughterhouse.
We came back to camp and quickly swapped out our hunting attire for swim suits and repacked our bags with towels, sunscreen, and snacks. We drove over to the owner’s lodge blasting music and already celebrating our early afternoon. When we showed up, it was the first time the pool was even being uncovered so we were told to brace ourselves before jumping in the water. We enjoyed finger foods and cold drinks while the sun tanned our skins.
For hours, we swapped stories from our pasts and current ones from this trip. It was exactly the kind of relaxing day that I needed. After a couple of gin and tonics and liquid courage being a dear friend this afternoon, I decided I would create an obstacle course to put Dempsey through the most creative “shoot the boot” challenge yet. I rearranged side tables and chairs to create hurdles, found pool toys for a moment of sharp shooting, utilized Cody’s signature dog mask for added dimension, then tossed my leg in to the pool for him to retrieve. While wearing only the most appropriate celebratory blue jean one-piece swimsuit, I very poorly poured two cans of beer into the leg. Dempsey downed the beers, and mid-way screamed, “There’s so much foam!”
Needless to say, Dempsey is the newest “shoot the boot” title champion.
Considering I slept for damn near twelve hours last night, I woke up feeling fresh and unaffected by yesterday’s adult beverage consumption. Today was going to be a nice change of pace. We planned to have a spa day at Madikwe Hills roughly an hour from our camp. The goal was to leave by 9 AM, for a 10 AM arrival time. The girls would have a lovely lunch, massages, and facials, followed by a luxury safari to spot the animals we haven’t been able to at the property we were hunting.
On our way to the game reserve, and in the middle of no man’s land, there was a shift in the truck position. Dempsey hollered back to Mark to check the back tire. Sure enough, surrounded by hundreds of beady eyes from onlooker baboons, we had a flat tire. The boys maneuvered around the truck as quick as possible to swap out the tires. A couple of cars raced past us without batting an eye. Then a little white truck, loaded with four men, with neon yellow and blue police markings stopped to check in on us.
Dempsey explained the situation and what we were off to do while gesturing to Kylee and I. “The ladies are off to have a spa day,” Dempsey said. The police officer driving the vehicle asked with a smirk, “Your ladies?” Everyone got a good laugh as they drove off and we reloaded in to the truck. The gate guard put us through the ringer to let us through. Fifteen minutes later, we pulled up to the lodge and were greeted by three lovely women and a gentleman. All of the staff were more than willing to help at every beck and call.
The therapist who would be working on Kylee and I showed us to the dining area that overlooked a waterhole. For an hour we would relax in the sun and watch at least five species come in, to include a herd of elephant with tiny babies. At 11 AM, the therapist came and scooped me up and proceeded to give me a solid massage and the best facial I have ever received. Coming out insanely relaxed and amused by our conversation, we relocated to a table closer to the pool for lunch. The staff served us mint & melon soup, Impala fillet, a fresh side salad, fresh potato chips, and a rich, delicious chocolate dessert.
At 130 PM, the therapist came and grabbed Kylee for her hour-long massage. After she finished, we went on a bit of a shop and picked up some gifts for friends and loved ones. We also managed to take so long in the shop and paying that the staff, Charlie and Trevor, ended up waiting on us for a solid ten minutes. We took off and turned out that Charlie and Trevor walking encyclopedias in the shape of a guide and tracker.
Right off the bat, we came across a white Rhino mother and her two-year-old. Impala were a dime a dozen, as were wildebeest. Shortly after, Trevor was whipping the twelve person Toyota Land Cruiser around to a spot where they had been tracking a 9-year-old male Lion. We managed to get five feet from a massive napping Lion, unreal. Admittedly, every time he batted an eye, twitched his lip dreaming, or shifted his head to a more comfortable spot, I jumped inside. The size of his teeth and his paws alone were reason to be afraid of him standing up. We watched him for what felt like ages.
Towards the tail end of the safari, we happened upon a herd of Elephant — a couple of large females and their babies. One of the moms had no fear and continued coming straight towards us. Their presence is absolutely monstrous. They have such a powerful energy when they are close by. Makes you realize how small your problems really are. I found myself wondering how heavy all of the animals were and what they felt like. In moments like this, I know that hunters have a love for the game they harvest and the life of the animal. All of these animals are truly magnificent, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to enjoy them.
After the safari, Charlie and Trevor drove us back to the main gate where we met Dempsey and Mark. Another long, bumpy drive back to the camp full of swapping stories of what our days held. I am glad we broke up our days a bit some and got to experience the animals in a totally different way.
We finished the night off with a dinner party and invited Clare and Poon over. Surprisingly, Kylee and I stayed awake until nearly 10 PM, then wandered off to bed for another full night’s sleep.
My alarm buzzed from across the room at 6 AM. It was honestly a brutal sound as I didn’t want it to go off when it did. I snoozed it until 630 then forced myself to go rinse off. Kylee took her turn and told me to let the boys know that it would be fine if she showed up a little bit late. It was probably my slowest moving morning yet even though I felt like I had the best nights rest.
It was a pretty standard morning of riding around. Kylee hopped out several times to get on Zebra, only to no avail. The morning livened up quickly though when we set out on a stalk on what started out as a Zebra. As Kylee, Mark, and Cody hopped out the back, the rest of us pulled off in the truck a short distance. Then Dempsey abruptly told me to get out too because there were Eland. We crept towards the rest of the group and joined forces. While I do agree that there are strength in numbers, I can say that a large group always ends up being a sight for sore eyes… and boy, I am sure we are quite the sight to the animals.
We played follow the leader through the brush and fallen trees. Kylee set up to shoot a stallion in an open field that was surrounded by Gemsbok, but never got a clear shot. Dempsey and Kylee went ahead for a while in order to distract the Zebras. Hopefully, they would pay attention to the three staying back so Kylee could get a clear shot. Then Mark’s phone rang, it was Dempsey telling us to move up as they were on the herd of Eland that had MY bull in it.
Making my way through any terrain is everything, but quiet. There was a bit of confusion between Mark and Dempsey as hand gestures were misinterpreted — Dempsey was trying to say hurry the heck up, and Mark thought it was stop. It wouldn’t have made much of a difference in the end though considering I don’t walk quickly. We stalked for a bit, but the Eland spooked and off they went. With their long strides, they aren’t easy to catch up to by any means. We loaded up and debated whether or not to try and stalk their tracks. With so much unknown, it didn’t make much sense to try in the heat if my leg wasn’t going to stay on.
We drove a ways and spotted them off in the distance. Again, we unloaded while Kylee stayed back. We stalked for another twenty minutes before the Eland made it off in to the thick, heavy trees. Sure, we didn’t get to harvest, but the thrill is in the stalk. Honestly, I am glad that Kylee and I have both had to work for our animals. The blood, sweat, and in my case tears that go in to hunting makes you appreciate the experience that much more.
The girls were on the verge of being hangry, so we headed back towards camp. It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t mention the phenomenal meal that we had for lunch. The boys out did themselves, even if they were rushing so they could go to the border post to get a new tire before our three-and-a-half-hour drive to the airport tomorrow. Kylee and I watched a movie before our routine nap time — and were out until the boys came back tempting us with ice cream. It was enough reason to get out of bed on a hot day, I suppose.
I made the call to stay back for the last evening hunt on the trip. Not because I didn’t want to be a part of another hunt, but to stay back and sit with my thoughts without distraction. In the commotion and chaos of everything unfolding during a hunt, mixed with plenty of socialization, it is easy to get lost in the moment, and lose your thoughts.
So, now as I sit here with a glass of wine, watching the sunset, Mom Violet (the most amazing groundskeeper) walk down from her home away from home, and the waterbuck surrounding the waterhole, I catch myself with a tear in my eye. I am sure some will never agree with my hunts, or take the time to understand it, but there are so many dimensions to it. It’s not about death or killing, it’s about bringing people together to share a way of life. It’s about an appreciation for what life is, and a respect for its cycle. It’s about harvesting in order to create more life in the outdoors, and a means to maintain the lives we currently live
We all have our boundaries with what we think is too far.
However, I will never throw stones should harvesting be ethical and sustainable. It’s simple — respect the animal, and the herd. Take your shot with the best of intentions for a clean, painless kill, and don’t take the last one. Set the herd up to thrive, so we can too.