Any other advice that you would not mind providing me outside of your post is appreciated!
RJ, I think you will probably end up shooting more than your 5 animals during your safari. It will probably be hot in March (mid 90s with high humidity is possible), but the animals will still be there. Temp and rainfall are impossible to predict a year out, so be prepared for both.
Some Additional Observations:
· SEASON: Hunting is harder during March and April than in the dry months. The bush is overgrown and it is very hard to even see animals, much less find a shot through the cover. The April grass was 3 feet tall in most open areas, which is high enough to cover the vitals on many antelope and completely hide shorter game like warthogs and steenbok. All of the guides and the owner of the lodge told me that they have not seen the bush so thick in decades. They had a brutal 5-year drought, then suddenly this year all the rain they could handle came at once and the plant life just came alive. Even so, I had fantastic success because of the hard work of my PH. When the bush thins out later this season, animals will be easier to spot and shoot. Your PH will adjust hunting tactics to conditions; they are very good at what they do.
· OPTICS: A good variable power scope is ideal for plains game hunting in the bushveld. I kept my scopes at 3 power while stalking and shot half of my animals at that setting. On my gemsbok and kudu, it was nice to be able to crank it up to 10-12 power to make precision shots through windows in vegetation. Versatility is the key.
· GUNS: I got to pick the brains of lots of PHs on this trip. My own PH, Hans, saw how I shot my 375 at the range when I arrived and insisted that I use it on the bigger species. Nothing brings a smile to a PH’s face like a client who shows up with a 375 and puts his shots in the bullseye. Hans shoots 30-06 and 375 for everything. The other PHs I spoke with basically had the same philosophy; shoot the biggest caliber (within reason) that you can accurately shoot and comfortably carry. There really is no wrong answer as long as you don’t set yourself up for failure. Just remember that you buy what you shoot, regardless of whether you recover the animal or not. One night at the lounge, I overheard a conversation among the PH’s about their dislike of muzzle brakes – so that may be something to consider. The preferred guide guns I saw were CZs and M70s. Rebecca and I both killed animals with the 375 H&H and the 30-06 with no issues. I highly recommend both calibers. If I did it all over again, I would have only brought the 375 H&H as I am now convinced that this caliber can do anything.
· BULLETS: I killed 8 animals with the Barnes TTSX. NO bullets were recovered; every shot was a pass-through and internal damage was extensive. All of the guides at the lodge recommend Barnes bullets. Dean killed his cape buff with a TSX. Every hunter at the lodge was loading Barnes, so I really had nothing to judge them against. Use a high quality bullet and you will do fine. Again, you buy what you shoot, whether you recover it or not. Don’t go cheap on ammo.
· ANIMALS: Kudu are elk-sized animals that can be shot like an elk. Impala, blesbok, warthog, and similar sized creatures are no tougher than a deer. Zebra need perfect shot placement no matter what you use. Wildebeest have a lot of mass around the vitals, huge bones, and a propensity to keep running forever, so the bigger the better. Gemsbok are another story entirely; those suckers can take a beating and keep going, even with a seemingly well-placed shot. I saw 4 gemsbok shot while at was at the lodge and all of them needed tracking and one was lost for good. One gentleman put a bullet through the lungs and had nice bright blood to follow, but it still made them chase it through the bush. When my gemsbok was being butchered in the skinning shed, I was shocked to see how small the vitals are for an animal of this size – the heart is very tiny and the lungs are almost totally vertical in orientation. Wait for a perfect shot when hunting gemsbok and put the bullet right through the middle of the shoulder, trust me on that one. I don’t know how PH’s judge those gemsbok; through the scope, they all look the same to me, lol.
· HUNTING AREAS: Pieter owns many properties, some small and some so large that you will not see a fence in a day’s stalking. He has mountain properties, plains properties, and everything in between. Cruiser also hunts on other owner’s properties, depending on the type of hunt you request. Your PH will pick a hunting location based on availability and the type of hunt you request. You will not see another hunter while out hunting on any given piece of land – it is yours for that day.
· EXPECTATIONS: Make sure you decide what kind of hunting you want to do in advance and let your PH know. Many Americans that go on these hunts only care about horn scores and can care less about fair-chase or exerting themselves physically. You can tailor your hunt to sit your fat ass in a chair and shoot animals over a waterhole and food (picking out the best ones), or you can walk-n-stalk hunt for days simply hoping for a good shot on a mature animal. The PHs at Cruiser Safaris will NOT intentionally let you shoot a young animal, that is part of the local game management plan. You will see many nice scoring animals that are just too young to shoot, but be patient and let your PH a find a good shooter for you. I wasn’t hunting for record books, I just wanted to enjoy being out in nature and the thrill of the hunt. My expectations were met.
· FOOD: Fill out the questionnaire that Bob sends you before the trip. They will tailor meals to your taste. You will be eating lots of quality cuts of wild game. DelMarie loves to put curry in everything, and luckily we specified that we do not like it. Many dishes were cooked with “curry” and “no curry” versions. I also specified that we do not like animal organs. The food was excellent during my visit and we were never hungry. Also, fill out the questionnaire section about drink preferences. Every item I put on there was stocked at the lodge when I arrived. If you desire additional snack items, have your driver stop so you can purchase them at a store on the way to the lodge. Carling is a good beer, both the light and the black label, and is what the lodge usually stocks. South Africans are very proud of their wines, and this lodge has an excellent selection. When you eat at restaurants in the towns, take comfort in knowing that “monkey gland sauce” doesn’t actually contain “monkey glands”.
· MONEY: After your safari, you should tip your PH and Cook in US dollars, as well pay Pieter any remaining balances in US dollars. The staff gets tipped in Rands, and Rands are useful for shopping outside the lodge. Get some Rands in the airport when you arrive so you can avoid the bank ATMs in town. Credit cards are accepted at almost all restaurants, stores, and parks in South Africa. Make sure you notify your credit card company in advance that you will be using it in South Africa, otherwise they may freeze your account for suspicious activity.
· SAFETY: It is no lie; South Africa has crime (especially in the urban areas). The government is corrupt from the top down (we experience it) and many people have the mentality that they are entitled to what other people own. Do not flash cash, wear expensive looking jewelry, or openly give out tips. Stay away from ATM machines in the cities if you can. The Cruiser Safari lodge is very remote and far away from danger, so the only thing you need to worry about is theft from room service employees. Every room has a safe in it. Put your cash, passports, and other valuables in this safe and you will have no problems. The lodge has a culture of great customer service, so don’t expect any conflict or problems while in their care. You will be dealing with guns daily; they will be carried by you all day, held by you in a vehicle while driving, and leaning next to your bed in your room while you sleep. PLEASE make sure everyone in your group is squared-away with firearms safety. Always wear a seatbelt while on the main roads. The roads are the most dangerous place in Africa.
· WATER: The tap water on the lodge is surprisingly crystal clear and odorless. I brushed my teeth with it every day and never got sick. In fact, nobody got sick. The lodge provides purified bottled water for you to drink throughout your stay. The locals will drink water out of anything; I watched our PH drink from a well, a man drink from a stagnant animal water trough, and the owner of the lodge squat down and drink directly from the river. These folks must be immune to Giardia.
· WI-FI: The lodge advertises WI-FI on their website, but don’t count on it to be reliable. On my trip, it was only usable between the hours of 2am-5am. The lodge has tried 3 different internet companies, and all of them are crappy in their remote location. Don’t expect to do work on the internet or chat on Facebook all day at this lodge.
· BUGS: I expected an epic mosquito infestation for the time of year I was going and the recent rains, but there were actually very few. I treated my cloths with permethrin and brought some DEET for the arms and legs and never got a mosquito bite. On the other hand, ticks were out in the bush at full force. I pulled numerous ticks off of me and even received one bite. Rebecca got bit by two ticks. During Deans last 2 trips to this lodge (all in April), he went home with tick-bite fever. We have no symptoms so far. The tick threat greatly diminishes as winter approaches, and I am told that they are gone by July. Get used to spiders (big ones), they are everywhere. I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me. The red romans are pretty scary though.
· PLANT LIFE: Everything has thorns, and often HUGE ones! Ironically, I found it harder to maneuver through the thorny bush with pants and a jacket on; it seemed like they were constantly snagging on everything. When I hunted in shorts and a shirt, it seemed like I just slid through the bushes without getting hung up. Of course, I did get scratch up a little, but shorts seemed to make hunting easier and more comfortable in the 90-degree heat. The grass seeds in the tall grass here are BRUTAL! They are not like the “foxtails” we have here in the States. They will dig right through Gortex boot uppers, wool socks, and nylon. After the first day, I wore gaiters. The grass seeds will not be much of a problem in the dry months.
· GEAR THAT WAS USEFUL: My lens pens got used multiple times every day on our cameras and rifle scopes. My belt-mounted ammo carrier was in constant use on every hunt; It carried 6 extra rounds and that was more than enough. Our DLSR cameras got used constantly to take pictures and video of everything. Our cameras were the most used piece of equipment on this trip. My range finder was needed in a few instances, and mounted in a pouch on my belt, provided easy access. Sunscreen and insect repellant got used every day of this trip. Gallon zip-lock bags got used and re-used. My Surefire flashlight got used multiple times when finishing a hunt late or walking to the skinning shed at night. South African plug adaptors with a built-in USB port were perfect for all of our charging needs. Rebecca’s dual-voltage hair dryer and straightener got used multiple times with the plug adaptors. Gaiters were used extensively, and were absolutely necessary when wearing shorts.
· GEAR THAT WAS OF LITTLE USE: I never used any of the knives I brought. Bring a small folding pocket knife or a multi-tool and leave all of the expensive “hunting” knives at home. I brought a cleaning kit, but in retrospect would have been fine with a simple bore snake. Surprisingly, I only wore my binoculars for one day while hunting. The brush was so thick that they really were not needed to look at animals, and were a major hindrance in the thorns and the heat. I bought an expensive voltage converter that never left the box; the cheap south African plug adaptors were all that we used to charge our phones, tablets, and cameras, as these items were good for dual voltage charging from the factory. Laundry service was done every day, so I didn’t use half the clothes I brought.
· THE PEOPLE: Often not talked about, South Africa is a powder keg of racial tension. Many of the whites long for a return to apartheid-like politics, or at least some type of similar system that will protect their property and bring order to a country spiraling out of control. Many of the black population have deep resentment for South African whites and a strong sense of entitlement. Neither race is politically correct about their beliefs. South Africans do not sugar coat their opinions; they will tell you how they feel about anything with no filter between their brain and mouth. So, don’t be shocked when you hear things you would not normally hear in a coffee shop in Seattle. But, all South Africans seem to really like Americans in general. Every local I chatted with had something to say about Donald Trump; they seem to follow our politics closer than we do. Refrain from questioning local politics as much as you can, and enjoy your hunt.
· LANGUAGE: Almost all South Africans speak English well, but speak among themselves in Afrikaans. It is a very interesting language, and hard to adjust to. You will pick out bits and pieces like “foking” and “Fok” and know what they mean. Some of the black population have an accent that is very hard to understand, so be patient when they are trying to communicate with you. Several of the employees at local business would initiate conversation with me in Afrikaans, then switch to English after I responded. I guess we have a distinctive American accent that gives us away every time.
· OVERALL EXPERIENCE: I think this was the perfect outfitter for my first trip to Africa. They walked me through everything and made the experience seamless and easy. I got a chance to experience the hunting culture of Africa, and to learn the ins and outs of getting to the continent safely and getting firearms through all of the red tape. On my next trip to Africa, I would like to try for a free roaming buffalo (no high fences) and experience other countries. This trip prepared me immensely for future trips. If you are bringing the wife, this lodge has all the comforts of home, is decorated beautifully, and the grounds are gorgeous. Our room had a queen sized canopy bed and a Jacuzzi tub. If you are bringing children, Cruiser Safaris is a great safe environment for them to experience an African hunt.