By: Craig Boddington
Our founder, C.J. McElroy, said that the only people he envied were hunters on their first African safari. There is simply no way to recapture the wonder and amazement of that life-changing event. The landscape, the diverse wildlife, the gracious people, the African sunsets and night skies, it’s like no other place on Earth.
In my experience, the only way to come close to that magical first African experience is to share a safari with people who are there for the first time. I had such an opportunity just now, thanks to an SCI auction hunt, purchased at our most recent Convention in Nashville.
Auction hunts always take at least two to tango. From an outfitter’s perspective, hunting days are “inventory,” with only so many available to sell. So, the first requirement for an auction hunt is a generous outfitter who is willing to donate part of that inventory to support SCI. The obvious second requirement is a generous hunter, willing to bid on it, because it’s something they want to do and they also want to support SCI.
It also takes at least two horses to make a race. On the auction block, both the donor and SCI hope at least two generous hunters find the auction item desirable enough to bid on. For many years, I’ve agreed to join at least one auction hunt at every SCI Convention. Whether my presence adds or detracts from the value of an auction hunt is open for discussion. Certainly, I wouldn’t pay hard-earned dollars to hunt with me.
My reservations aside, these hunts do sell. At our 2023 Convention in Nashville, I was part of an excellent package donated by my friend Barry Burchell and his family, owners of Frontier Safaris in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. I’ve hunted there numerous times, and I know their country is big and beautiful, with widely varying habitat and excellent species diversity. Of course, I had no clue who the winning bidder might be.
For me, this is like a box of chocolates. It will be good, but I won’t know who I’ll be in camp with until the auctioneer’s gavel drops. This time I got a wonderful surprise. The winning bidders were friends John and Jennifer Boseman. I’d met them in Dave Leonard’s caribou camp in 2018, and Jennifer attended one of my daughter Brittany’s “She Hunts” camps. They were great folks to hunt with in Alaska and Texas, and they would be great in Africa.
Then the surprise got better: Although both are experienced hunters, this would be their first African hunt. It’s been a long time since my first safari, but I’ve been fortunate to share camp with quite a few first-timers. Donna, my daughters, friends, perfect strangers. Doesn’t matter, it brings it all back. You see the magic of Africa in their eyes. The country, the variety of game, the African sky. Then, you see it anew through your own eyes.
The Bosemans don’t live that far from us, so we planned to fly together from San Jose. This safari got off to a slow start when Delta canceled our flight from San Jose to Atlanta. The sad reality is post-Covid air travel isn’t as reliable as it once was. Peak season, full flights, they lost two full days before they could get to Johannesburg. I wasn’t too concerned because I knew the people and the place. For them, this was a major downer on a first safari, but I knew things would come out just fine. Stuff happens. You have no choice but to roll with the punches, and we did.
Better late than never, the Bosemans finally arrived at the Burchells’ Masada Camp, native stone chalets marching along a cliff, circular boma up above on the crest. PH Jason Wicks, competent and experienced, took charge, and we repaired to the range to check zero. By now it was late afternoon of what should have been Day 3. I’m sure Jason had the same thought as me: We need to hit it hard and make up for lost time. However, even in Africa animals don’t always present themselves on command. We spent that afternoon above a canyon glassing for kudu, and saw several, but no good bulls. The next morning, a group of black wildebeest gave us the runaround. So it wasn’t until midday that John Boseman took his first African animal. A fine blesbok, taken far up on a windy mountain with a perfect shot.
That first full day we probably saw a dozen different species of plains game. For me, it was a relatively slow day, but I wasn’t seeing Africa for the first time. For John and Jennifer, everything was fresh and new. They thought the variety was amazing. And it was. That’s a big part of the magic of Africa. July is winter in Southern Africa. The days are usually balmy, and the nights are chilly. Frontier’s boma is perfect for relaxing by the fire and reliving the day’s events.
After our delayed start, things came together one day at a time. Impala, wildebeest, a gorgeous nyala and a big warthog for Jennifer. A beautiful, unscarred zebra stallion, taken after a ridiculously long stalk. John wanted the color phases of springbok, so Jason took them out into the Karoo for a couple of days. There, black, copper, white and South African springbok were plentiful, and Jennifer took a big bushpig in a rare midday encounter.
Eastern Cape kudu are common at Frontier but, like most places where they occur, a mature kudu bull is the most difficult animal. So, no matter what you’re specifically hunting, you’re always on the lookout for kudu. There is no telling when you might see a good bull, but you probably will. John’s kudu didn’t quite go to the wire. On our next-to-last day, he took a fine old bull.
As folks do on their first safari, they took animals they hadn’t thought about. And there were desired animals that weren’t taken. John wanted a waterbuck, but never saw one that quite met Jason’s standards. That, too, is Africa. Almost nobody has a chance at every species present. As we split up and headed for separate departures, they were already talking about a return trip. Africa has a way of drawing you back.