My African Safari
When a herd of zebras loomed up in the sweep of our headlights, I began to believe I was in Africa.
As we’d landed at Johannesburg Airport after dark and loaded up for the two-hour drive to our lodge at Kroonstad, those zebra were my first sight of the wild Africa I’d come for.
The next morning I saw much more. As we motored to our first game-bird shooting area, plains antelope gathered behind farm fences along the road. Ostriches roamed at will.
Chumming around Podickery and Hackett’s continues to produce some good-sized rockfish, though the presence of cownosed rays attracted to the chum can put a damper on the bite. Medium-sized stripers are biting on soft crabs drifted in close around the Bay Bridge pilings. Live-lining-sized spot are in abundance (as well as for sale in some sport stores) and can lure nice stripers. Croaker are showing up in good sizes in the Eastern Bay along with some larger spot. White perch are holding in nice schools lower in most rivers in 15 to 20 feet of water and in the main stem at 20 to 30 feet. They are starting to show up in the shallows around structure but not yet in force. Lovely spotted sea trout are being caught (and mostly released) in the lower Bay around Crisfield and Tangier Sound; some are over 10 pounds. The vaunted redfish bite that was to occur in the Bay this year is developing: Fish shallow-water structure with peeler crab or small gold spoons or spinner baits if you want to find some of these delicious fish. They are a slot fish: legal size 18 to 27 inches only.
This wild, African adventure started this spring with a phone call from old sporting friend Mike Kelly. Mike and I have been hunting together for over 35 years, arranging at least once or twice annually to meet and hunt upland birds or waterfowl. Our rendezvous continued even after he moved to London.
There he had become friends with another Londoner, Kiri Kythreotis, who organizes South African hunting expeditions — bird hunting rather than big game safaris.
Mike easily talked me into joining him in June, the start of the African winter and hunting season. Mike and I were joined by another group of seven U.S. sportsmen organized and accompanied by Vic Venters, a senior editor of Shooting Sportsman Magazine (www.shootingsportsman.com).
Kroonstad is located in a province of The Free State known as the granary of South Africa. It produces enormous crops of corn, sorghum, millet, sunflowers and wheat. A high plains province, it is reminiscent of our own state of South Dakota though a bit larger (81,000 square miles) and with higher elevation. There the similarities end.
Because of these crops and large amounts of uncultivated grassland providing cover, these plains teem with countless African guinea fowl, francolin grouse, rock pigeons, ring-neck doves, red-eye doves, laughing doves, Egyptian geese, spur-winged geese, European snipe and African quail, plus various species of ducks.
We found it a wing shooter’s paradise, sampling in six days the many game birds and waterfowl that populate the nearby farms where we had permission to shoot. Many of the 14 species we hunted proved delicious, and we held a number of excellent game bird dinners at camp.
The most exciting moment ended one of our more successful days. Heading back to the lodge tired, we traveled a road next to the Boskopie Lion Reserve. Its fences were about eight feet high, with the last few feet electrified. But they did not look particularly substantial in respect to the animals they were holding. Despite misgivings, we got out of our vehicles to photograph two large lions, an adult male and female. From the ministrations and attentions of the male, it was obvious that the female was in estrus.
As we approached, the pair moved about 50 feet away from the fence with the male guarding the female and uttering a low growl. It was then that my good buddy Mike suggested that a much more interesting photograph could be taken if I put my camera through the fence.
Naively, I agreed, moved in closer and leaned down to take the shot. With a roar, the male lion wheeled and charged me. Though I do not recall my feet touching the ground in making my escape, I clearly remember thinking, If that fence does not hold, I am toast.
The charge turned out to be a bluff. The lion slid to a stop just short of the wire. My companions, of course, thought the event hilarious and congratulated me on the alacrity of my exit.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the operation that managed my trip, which also offers surprisingly affordable customized photo and sightseeing safaris.