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WILTZ: A slice of Africa before we head across the Atlantic

I received a great letter from a Platte reader. In my column of March 5, I speculated that with hamburger at $4 a pound, some folks might be thinking differently about deer burger. She wrote, “Me thinks you could buy a lot of beef for the price of a trip to Africa.” She certainly got that right!

Speaking of Africa, I’ll be headed there for a third time in August accompanied by my longtime partner, Doug, and Jim, a Mitchell hunter who has joined our troupe. Periodically, I’ll give you a little background in order to prepare you for our coming hunt.

Past African hunts took us to South Africa and Namibia, countries that border each other on the southern end of the continent. These countries are politically stable, relatively safe and hold an abundance of game. Hunting wise, the countries differ in that most South African hunting is done on large 100,000-acre ranches within high fences.

In South Africa, the landowner owns the game. He is a landlord who employs many native families who maintain the fence, tend to the farming, operate the game processing locker facility, act as skinners and tracker for the hunters and serve as cooks, housekeepers and gardeners. Some years ago, the South African farmer learned that raising indigenous wild game was more profitable than raising domestic sheep and cattle.

Based on my observation, the families often live on old homesteads. In exchange for their labor, they receive lodging, meat, a modest salary and education for their children. It is a comparatively good life for them.

While much of what I said above is true of Namibian ranches, there are few high fences. The game is free-ranging, and the fences are very similar to those found on our South Dakota farms and ranches. In both countries, the land resembles Western South Dakota or Wyoming. The resemblance ends with dry river beds during the winter and completely different insects, birds and wildlife. The trees and plants are also different.

In 2002, the late Don Kaberna and I hunted in South Africa. Our wives accompanied us and had a fine time. We hunted the Dorfling ranch, a property that has been in their family since 1882. The ranch was 75 miles northwest of Port Elizabeth. If you’re looking at a map, Port Elizabeth is on the Indian Ocean east of the Cape of Good Hope. We saw good numbers of kudu, impala, springbok and red hartebeest. There were also gemsbok, zebra and bushbuck.

Midway through our hunt, my professional hunter, Dirk, decided I should hunt eland because they are a much larger target. This related to my tremor. When we didn’t find any trophy eland on Dirk’s property after a day’s hunting, we loaded up before dawn the following day and headed north toward Jansenville for a ranch that supposedly held sizeable eland. Dirk, BaBa and Bennie, our trackers, the ranch owner, six of his employees and I were soon hunting eland. I did not like hunting with this large a crowd, but I must say the overall mood was festive to say the least.

We hunted until noon without finding an eland and adjourned to the ranch house for lunch. When the lady of the house learned I had been a professional educator during my working life, she told me that we had to talk when my hunt was over. I wondered about her urgency.

After dinner, we drove the Toyota Land Cruisers to a broad plain covered with sisal cactus. The base of a mountain range was perhaps five miles distant. As we drove around in the tall cactus, we would stop on occasion, so the trackers could climb trees and look for eland. Eventually, some eland were spotted in the foothills of the mountain range. They were perhaps a mile or two away. The stalk was on with BaBa leading the way. Dirk and I followed BaBa with the rest of the delegation in tow.

At 300 yards, we could get no closer without being seen by the eland. Dirk told me there was an exceptional bull on the right edge of the herd. He set up the tripod shooting sticks and made certain I would be shooting at the right animal. I aimed at the bull’s right shoulder and squeezed the trigger of my Ruger Model 77 in .300 Winchester Magnum caliber. The 1,600-pound bull folded. Wild cheering, dancing and back-slapping followed. Dirk, BaBa and I climbed the modest grade to the eland. He had been hit squarely in the neck. I told no one where I was aiming.

With moving boulders and chopping brush and cactus, it took two hours for the crew to get a Land Cruiser to us and the eland. In the meantime, we whiled the time away with eland photography. It took the entire delegation to get the eland into the rear of the Toyota. The land owner thanked me. He said he would be paid twice — a trophy fee paid by me through Dirk, and again by the meat packer who paid for the carcass.

Back at the house, I met with our host rancher’s wife. Her oldest child would be reaching school age. Should she send him to the private academy in Port Elizabeth where he would live in a dorm during the week and be brought home on weekends, or should he attend the local school house where he would reside at home and attend classes? She wanted me to answer her question.

I told her I would not make her decision for her. I did tell her that I would send my child to the local school. First, I want my wife and me to help form my child’s personality — not some dorm guardians I don’t know. Second, I want my child to be familiar with people of all races. I went on to say that I would spend time tutoring my own children after school, and I’d have my child’s classmates at the kitchen table with them.

She was grateful, not angry, for my advice. I saw Dirk, my guide, at the recent Safari Club International show in Las Vegas. Twelve years had passed. “Dirk, where did the Jansenville couple send their children to school?” “Port Elizabeth” was Dirk’s answer.

To be fair, I had no idea whatsoever what stigmas were attached to white African people who associate with black Africans. Africa is not the United States.

Even though much of today’s column was about South Africa, Doug, Jim and I will hunt in Namibia.

See you next week.