BOTSWANA: Trip Report #2 Botswana Koch Safaris August 2021

M McDindi

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This is a follow-up to the:

Been back a little over a month. Sorry it’s taken a few weeks to get posted. I’ve been a bit OBE (Overtaken By Events) since getting home.

This was initially a full (4 person +me) small group trip. Unfortunately, due to Covid issues, two in the group decided it was not in the cards for this year. Thankfully, they were not infected with Covid but one was planning to reopen his business that had been closed due to Covid for the past 18-months. The other was planning to spend time in RSA before joining us in Jberg and coming in but, the new lockdowns RSA imposed a few weeks before we left were a bit too much and he decided not to travel. The 4th member, had an opportunity to do a cull hunt in RSA Eastern Cape with a place he’d been before. The open dates overlapped with our Saaspost trip so he decided to go there first and then come to Saaspost after.

On the other hand, I had the pleasure of assisting another gentleman (from this site) make his travel and hunt plans to another PH/Outfitter in Botswana, who operated in an area on the south end of the Tuli, for a leopard with hounds hunt that turned out very well for him. HUGE leopard and some good cull game as well.

To our trip:

Rifle and ammo for me was still my same HVA 30-06 and Speer 180gr. Grand Slams as the June trip. Weather was still unseasonably cold/cool at night but days were comfortable in the low 70's.

Travel:

I was to meet Kevin in Chicago and then fly to Gaborone from there, on Qatar Air (QR). This was the first time I’d flow into/thru O’Hare and not knowing the terminals or terminal transfer situation I had a 5hr layover, Kevin only 3hrs. I was a bit worried it would be kind of tight for him. Partly, due to my unfamiliarity of the terminals combined with flying with firearms and my first experience checking in with Qatar Air in Boston on the June trip, where it took them just a little over 2hs – and we were the first ones in the queue.

TECHNICALLY, we were both flying on QR code share airlines, we could have checked our luggage and firearms all the way from our point of origin, Tampa for me and Detroit for Kevin but, I just don’t trust them to know the proper paperwork/documentation required for boarding the follow-on QR flights or the transit permits and notification requirements thru Doha etc. So….

I arrived in Chicago on time. I went to baggage claim I asked a person at Baggage Services where the rifle case(s) would come out. She asked for my claim ticket (NOTE: ALWAYS BE SURE TO WRITE ON EACH CLAIM TICKET WHICH ONE IS THE RIFLE CASE AND WHICH ONE HAS THE AMMO BOX IN IT!), I gave it to her and she told me to wait by the carousel where my checked piece with the ammo box inside would come out. Just as I grabbed my piece of checked luggage, she pitches up with the rifle case and points me to the escalator. Up one level to catch the tram/bus to Terminal 5. I have to say, that I was pretty impressed. About 40 min from wheels touching down, taxi to Terminal 3, to standing at the QR check-in desk in terminal 5! Kevin should have no problems.

I waited, and as soon as a QR agent opened, a little less than 3 hrs. before departure, I checked my stuff. Crazy fast!!! The agent scanned my passport, I showed her all the pre-typed in QR forms, she signed the ones she had to sign, I signed the ones I had to sign in front of her, she went back and made copies, checked my RT-PCR test and handed me my boarding pass – 15 MINUTES!!! So…now, back to Terminal 3 to meet Kevin and to see how long it will take to get from Term 5 to Term 3 because I have only a 2hr connection on the way home. I was CERTAIN I wouldn’t make it so I had already purchased a one-way back on Southwest that gave me a 5hr layover on the way home - $85 with two free bags was cheap insurance. Kevin pitches up on time, collect up his case and bag and back to terminal 5. There was a bit of a line in the QR queue this time but, it moved relatively quickly and once at the agent’s desk, it was the same thing – 15min and boarding pass in hand. Cleared security and plenty of time at the gate. QR did re-check our Covid Tests and passports again at the gate.

The flight was surprisingly empty and everyone had an entire row of seats to themselves. A couple of G&T’s, dinner, a move, earplugs in, seat arms up and slept most of the flt over. Both on this trip and the June trip the QR cabin staff was pretty lenient on wearing the nose diapers all the time. We had a little over 3hr layover in Doha. Just wandered about a bit before going to the gate. Same drill – passport and Covid test check and confirmed bags/guns were on the manifests – no issues. This flt was pretty empty too and most everyone had a row to themselves.

Arrived Jberg around 4am and had to wait in the transit area for a couple of hours before the SA Airlink rep arrived. Again, confirmed bags/rifles were on the manifest and boarding passes in-hand. In June SA Airlink charged $35/rifle case handling charge but, not this time. The terminal was still a ghost town but a few shops started to open by 8-8:30 am. The terminal’s normal 60-minutes of free WIFI was down so we couldn’t confirm with Gerhard that we were still on track/on time. While waiting at the gate and on the ride on the little shuttle out to the flight line, we were chatting with a couple of guys that were contractors from the US. They said they were based out of Atlanta and had come in the previous afternoon on the inaugural Delta flt. Said there were maybe a couple of dozen PAX total! SA Airlink flt was normal/uneventful, on time and FULL.

One small snag was that a couple of weeks before we arrived, the Botswana govt had closed/suspended all bars, shebeans and bottle shops (no liquor sales nationwide). We knew this before we got there and tried to purchase a couple of bottles of 18yo Cape Mountain Whisky in Duty Free but, were told only wine could go to Bots. Damn, I was looking forward to trying that Cape Mountain 18yo. Next year.

Landing in Gaborone was on time, 10am, and they were still doing the mandatory Rapid PCR tests on all arrivals. Same, free and added about 30min to collecting bags/rifles. Since the June trip, they had a new little health form to fill out that had to be turned into a person sitting next to the passport control desk. No biggie. By the time Kevin and I got thru, and looked over at the baggage carousel…NO BAGS OR RIFLE CASES!! As we walked over to the baggage claim area to confirm, two young guys pitch up and said they had collected out stuff and pointed to two baggage trolleys just off to the side of the Customs/Security checks and it was all there! Took us up to the Customs/Security check and I left Kevin and our stuff and went to the double doors and met Gerhard and he handed me our rifle permits and back to security. I just showed them the forms and they said, OK without opening the cases and we’re on our way.

This is a near life size statue of an elephant in the main hall of the Gabs terminal.
IMG-20210813-225033-3.jpg

It's made from the tusks of government confiscated ivory. In Bots, legally hunted tusks MUST be a minimum of 25 pounds. If not, the government takes it along with poached tusks and from those that do die from natural causes.

Getting to the main Saaspost gate is almost like coming home to me now. I did notice on the 15k drive from the gate to camp, things had changed a bit since June. The grasses had been eaten down a good bit, a lot of the leaves on the bushes and trees had fallen and opened up the shooting a good bit too. We got to “camp” before 2pm, had some lunch, a quick unpack and then to the range to check rifles and still time for a “magic hour” orientation drive for Kevin.

There isn’t really much to tell about my part of the hunt. All I was interested in was culling management impala and blue w/b. As such I don't take photos of them. It's not that it's not permitted, it's just my personal choice. Kevin said he is planning to do a hunt report as well as soon as he gets caught up too and took LOTS of pictures. Don’t want to steal his thunder so I will say this…..he got some really, really terrific trophies – one will likely be the #1 taken in Bots this year. Took more than on his original wish list and a good number of cull/management head as well.

Kevin and I both hunted 1x1. Kevin went with Gerhard every day and I spend my mornings doing true walking and stalking with one of his trackers, Sinto. Sinto, is 56yo and grew up on the property. He speaks his native, Tswana, Afrikaans and understands and speaks a little English but talks VERY little at all. I can speak and understand a little Afrikaans so we got along well enough. We also speak the universal hand signals all hunters seem to naturally understand. The most important one is, he sets the sticks, points and I pull the trigger!!!! LOL I will say he was VERY surprised went this old, white guy would get to an animal and do the field dressing. I initially, wasn’t quite as fast as he is, but after a few head I was able to keep up. At one point I had four impala on the ground within 3 minutes and all within 10m of each other, he did two and I did two and we finished about the same time.

Gerhard would drop Sinto and I off in an area and then we would hunt our way to a pick-up point for a noon or so pick-up. The game we’d kill would just be quickly field dressed and drug under a thorn bush thicket and set up like they were sleeping to keep the vultures away. We'd mark the bush with a short streamer of t/p. 10min later, we’d be back on the hunt. When we’d get to the pick up point, we’d go back with the bakkie and collect up the carcasses. The weather was cool enough that once field dressed and set in the shade of a thicket the meat was just fine. After lunch and the normal nap, I’d just go with Gerhard and Kevin as an extra set of eyes for the afternoon. My total head count for 8 half days of hunting was 28 impala and 4 blue w/b.

Kevin had filled his list by the eighth day – one day he took two trophies in the morning and then two more that afternoon!!! Trophies: 1x impala, 1x kudu, 2x zebra, 1x gemsbok, 1x blue w/b, 1x SERIOUS waterbuck, 3x warthog and 1x SERIOUS eland. Cull/management: 8x impala, 1 blue w/b, 2x giraffe. I've asked Kevin to join this site so, I’ll leave the details of his hunt for him to share.

The last three days, were just “fun days”. One day we went over to Wim’s place to see the farm, his fathers dam that I had mentioned in the June trip report.
IMG-20210810-084700-5.jpg


And the one remaining old pumps he'd used at that dam for crop irrigation.
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and see a number of archaeological sites on the property and an listen to incredibly interesting archaeological history of the region – yes, SERIOUSLY interesting when you can actually pickup and see bones and artifacts firsthand!!! I kidded Wim that he ruined me because after hunting with him in June for several days and showing us all the “stuff”, I started spending too much time with my eyes down on the ground looking for AND FINDING artifacts going back 50,000 yrs and beyond!! Kevin took one of his impala and one of his zebra there. The zebra was a huge bodied mare with as clean and pristine skin I think I’ve ever seen.

The second to last day, there was one of the contract cullers on the property. One of the species on his cull/meat list was for 5 giraffe. He offered 2 of them to us. I let Kevin take them both. The hunt for those was fairly quick and both were on the ground before lunch - both head shots. The recovery took a good bit of time because the other guy had his 3 down around the same time in a different area and the crews were BUSY!. The afternoon hunt was mostly just a game drive to see if we could find a bigger blue w/b and bigger warthog for Kevin.

The last day was just a short morning hunt as we had to have an early lunch and then drive about 2hrs to the nearest town to get our return RT-PCR tests. If we got there by 2pm, we’d have the results emailed that evening before 8pm. We did some shopping and then back to Saaspost for dinner and packing as we had to leave Sasspost before 3am to get to Gabs and our 7:30am flt on Air Bots home…so we thought.
Next morning we’re on the road to Gabs at 3am and at the airport about 5:30. NOT A SOUL THERE other then two security guards at the front door……not a good sign. Get our stuff to the Air Botswana check-in counter and look at the departure board and the next flt out isn’t until 12:30pm – WTF.

I find a few airport employees and they say our flt had been cancelled – WTF again. The Air Bots office in the terminal doesn’t open until 8:30am. There are several free access wifi points available in the terminal but time limited. Fire up the phone and email my booking agent and try calling my booking agent. Trouble is, it’s Sat morning in Bots and their located in California – 10 hrs behind. Gerhard’s calling on his phone and just keeps getting stalled in the “music queue” on hold. Kevin and I had booked with separate reservations and NEITHER of us had received flt change/cancellation notice from the booking agency or QR which was REALLY odd since they had both been spot on in the past with changes.

Air Bots office finally opens and the person there told me the flt had been cancelled 4-days earlier and they had tried calling and email “me”, the ticket purchaser. I told her I didn’t purchase the ticket. It was purchased by a travel agent directly via QR, YOUR contracted code share partner. She insisted and showed me the email addresses and phone numbers they called and again they weren’t ME. To prove it to her I gave her the specific dates and times I sent two emails to Air Bots, 30-day prior, notifying them of travel with firearms. At that point, I realized Kevin and I were pretty much on our own. I asked the Air Bots rep if she could dial the QR number and I’d try to sort it out as there was still time to catch the noonish flt on either Air Bots or SA Airlink to Jberg and then take the evening flt instead of the afternoon flt to Doha and home.

I do like QR, for the most part. However, their call center SUCKS GIANT ELEPHANT DIX!! Hold times, even in the states are OUTRAGEOUSLY LONG and so are the email response times. I spent the next SIX HOURS calling QR Customer Service, be on hold for 45-50 minutes, FINALLY talk to someone and explain the situation and they’d start working on it and the CALL WOULD DROP and I’d have to start the entire cycle all over again. Don’t just think that going thru a travel agent will be any better if you take into account the time zone changes etc.
Not going to bore you with all the details. It turns out Air Bots screwed the pooch. They cancelled the flt (not enough PAX) four days prior and DID NOT NOTIFY QR OR MY BOOKING AGENT. Took me most of the day to sort out flights for the next day. Got rooms for the night at the Town Lodge hotel just a few minutes from the airport. And in the end, we did get home, a day late and a few hundred dollars each extra out of pocket.

Just for future info and planning, I’m setting up another small group hunt to Saaspost for 23 Aug to 1 Sep 2022 with travel days to and from added to each end.
 
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Nice “meeting” you Rick. I made my first trip to S. Africa this year through Kuche Safaris. We had an incredible time. What outfitter do you use? Neal
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