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Hunting Safari South Africa: Managing the Dark Continent – Ian Harford

27th January 2017

Hunting Safari South AfricaHunting Safari South Africa – Ian Harford joins Professional Hunter Clint Mattheus and client Roger Ellis as they experience the less glamorous, but equally exhilarating side of African hunting at Nduna Hunting Safaris in South Africa’s East Cape.

It doesn’t matter where you hunt in the world, or how many trophies you’ve shot, the process that yields the magnificent specimens that adorn the covers of hunting magazines the world over is invariably the same. There are basically two sure-fire routes to building strong bloodlines and healthy herds.

Either create a game utopia where resources are endless and let nature take its natural course, or manage the populations of the herd so that it’s in tune with its surroundings and can prosper in much the same way, albeit in a controlled environment. You will find examples of both, although the latter is more likely to be the norm.

Our species has systematically divided the world into smaller privately owned parcels of land and channelled its natural resources to suit our own needs.

Although our appetite for resources is voracious, we still recognise the need to protect and nurture the things that are important to us, be it our natural surroundings or the game that it supports. As masters of our natural habitat, we must also become the custodians of that which we control, and are ultimately responsible for.

Africa is a great example of this. When we think of the Dark Continent, we think of millions of square miles of virgin wilderness, of vast plains where the elephants roam and impenetrable jungles where the lion is still King.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I wish that this romantic notion of Africa still survives somewhere, but the modern world is a very different place.

The political as well as the physical landscape has changed immeasurably in the past 50 years since African nations began to wrest power back from their colonial masters. Africa holds a significant proportion of the world’s mineral reserves, and has also recognised the value of its other natural commodities, including game.

But as countries such as Kenya have found to their cost, the ‘game utopia’ route can only work if resources are truly limitless – which is certainly not the case.

Industrialisation and the inexorable encroachment of intensive farms required to feed the ever-growing human population have led to the unavoidable problems caused by over-population – starvation, disease and a general weakening of the gene pool.

Many African nations have used commercial hunting to generate the revenues required to create the very institutions that not only support the proliferation of game, but also protect their other most precious and vulnerable species of wildlife. The benchmark for this type of modern game management is South Africa.

South Africa has emerged from its darker days to become the most progressive African nation and unashamedly aspires to build a ‘western style’ society. Not only does South Africa understand what western hunters want, but their game estates know exactly what it takes to allow its game to thrive.

I have been very fortunate to join one such company for a recent trophy hunt, Nduna African Hunting Safaris, based in Alexandria in the Eastern Cape. As most good things in life, it all came about by chance.

I met David Watt, Nduna’s International Representative at the 2010 Kelmarsh Game and Country Fair, which incidentally led to a thoroughly pleasant afternoon and an equally unpleasant hangover!

In David I immediately found a kindred spirit, not only in relation to our passion for hunting, but also in our personal values and standards. These principles I have found flow through the entire Nduna family.

David is charismatic and a well-travelled hunter. It’s easy to see why Nduna chose him to represent them for their international clients. After a few drams, and trading more than a few hunting stories, David invited me to join him and a few of his friends on a short hunting safari to see why he believed Nduna was so very different to other African hunting outfitters.

I didn’t feel like I was being sold to, simply invited to join friends on an adventure. From someone with such a wealth of international hunting experience this certainly caught my attention.

Nduna offers 24 different species of African game on its own 1000-acre hunting estate, plus access to every other game species imaginable through their close working relationships with other concessions across the region.

It’s at one of these concessions that I saw first hand just how sophisticated the management of game species has become, and how important it is to their future. As with most other hunters venturing out on safari, Kudu was towards the top of my list. They’re a hauntingly beautiful animal – and notoriously difficult to hunt.

Nduna has several concessions offering great Kudu hunting; including their own Estate, but owner Gavin Ingram wanted me to hunt with his good friend Clint Mattheus. His ‘Welgedacht’ estate is in the Sunday’s River Valley region of the Eastern Cape, some 140km northwest of Nduna.

The Estate covers some 4000 acres of stunningly beautiful, acacia covered mountainous landscape, and is home to a breeding herd of rare black impala. These are not to be confused with black-faced impala, which have a very similar body colour to the common variety. Black impala are just that – a striking charcoal colour, and one of the most sought after plains game trophies.

Whilst on the way to Welgedacht, Gavin took time to explain to me how the game industry works in South Africa. “Every square mile is privately owned, and needs to be fenced.

“If your land isn’t fully secured with 8ft high game fencing, your hunting season for indigenous species is limited to 3 months of the year, which includes animals such as kudu, duiker, bushbuck and steenbuck to name but a few” says Gavin.

“All of our land is fenced, but this causes problems of a different kind, as you need to continually introduce new blood into the breeding to keep the gene pool fresh. In addition to this, the population needs to be controlled to both maintain the ratio of bulls and cows in addition to taking out the old and infirm.”

This makes perfect sense, and in some ways this draws parallels with managing deer herds in enclosed parks here in the UK, particularly in relation to the black impala herd at Welgedacht.

“When common and black impala breed, they produce hybrids” explain Clint. “It takes a minimum of three generations to return them to their pure black colour, so when common impala get into the enclosure, the rams need to be taken out before they cover the ewes and we have to start the process all over again.”

“Most hunters from the UK are happy to shoot cull animals in addition to any trophies they book as part of their hunting safaris, in fact, the vast majority of hunting packages booked in South Africa by UK hunters are management or ‘representative’ packages.”

Clint continues. “They’re effectively the same animals, and the same hunting conditions, but without the same size horns – although we may have to shoot them from the truck from time to time as the situation requires.”

One such hunter with our group was Roger Ellis from South Yorkshire. Although his visit to Nduna was to hunt zebra, he took Clint up on his offer to help out with a few young impala rams that had joined his precious herd of black impala before they reached breeding age.

We headed out into the mountains that frame the estate, and spotted the herd within 15 minutes, and stalk some 150 yards into the bush. However a shot doesn’t present itself, and the herd disappears into the thick acacia brush.

We decide to split up to give us a better chance of spotting the elusive antelope. Roger remained with Clint, and I carried on to an elevated position with tracker Johanus.

It took us around 20 minutes to reach the crest of the hill which offered a vantage point of the whole valley. I spotted the herd pretty quickly on an exposed plateau, but by the time I’d leaned over to point them out to Johanus, a shot rang out across the valley as the 165gn Remington Corelokt .30-06 bullet from Rogers Swarovski Z6i 2-12×50 topped Blaser R8 found its target.

Roger’s first shot was taken off sticks at 155 yards, and was a lung shot perfect. It was soon followed up by another from the truck at 230 yards. The young rams were efficiently skinned and dressed before finding their way to the larder.

I wasn’t to be left out, and on the way back to the lodge Clint notice a young red lechwe bull with a ‘switch’ horn lagging towards the back of the herd, which had crossed about 80 yards in front of us.

As with deer in the UK, this is not unusual, and is often caused by genetic abnormalities or damage to the horn when young. The safest thing to do thing is take them out. It stopped around 50 yards away and looked round. I shouldered my Sauer 202, and the young bull soon found it’s way into the larder to join the two impala.

It’s funny really, but most of the trophies I bring back from my hunting adventures aren’t record book entries, in fact many aren’t that impressive at all. However each represents a great memory, and they’re all totally unique.

I feel privileged to have been given a greater insight into the hunting industry in South Africa, and appreciate even more the work involved. I’m also looking forward to seeing if any of my trophy hunting friends can identify my unusual bull!

Check out my blog for photos of the stunning Hunting Safari South Africa – Nduna Lodge, and other trophies from my recent trip to Nduna Hunting Safaris.

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