Fifteen minutes later Chris found a single red drop
on a blade of grass. After a long slow stalk along the river he
spotted the ram lying down, and anchored it with a shot to the neck.
It wasn’t a huge ram, but it was nice, and would make a pretty
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already
know that the number of women hunters has increased dramatically in
the last fifteen years. We’re finally getting some younger women
into the field as well, as many of the outdoorsy 20-somethings have
discovered the sense of accomplishment that goes with taking an
animal from the field to the table.
That enthusiasm for the hunt includes taking trips
to exotic locations to hunt. Until the last few years only a few
women went to Africa to hunt; today, if a male hunter is planning a
trip and his significant has anything to say, it’s likely to be "I
want to go too!"
Fifteen years ago I had the privilege of
accompanying two women on their first African hunt. Both of these
women were adventurous and not afraid to try something different,
and both were from hunting families who supported their desire to
take a trip to Africa.
The hunt came about because of a conversation I had
with Rocco Gioia, owner of Caskett’s Ranch, near Hoedspruit, South
Africa. After a successful hunt with him, I had asked him how he’d
feel about me coming back and bringing a hunting party of women to
the ranch. Though he seemed a bit skeptical, he agreed to give a
women’s hunt a try, and even offered a special rate for that first
The first person to commit to the hunt was Debbie
Holland, a schoolteacher from Levi, Utah. She confided that when her
husband heard of the opportunity, he said that she must go. He was
so insistent, in fact, that he was willing for them to take out a
small loan to finance her trip.
For a while, I thought Debbie would be the only
hunter who went. Then I received a letter from Becky Johnston, whose
husband Terry had seen mention of the hunt in a letter to the editor
of an outdoor magazine. She wrote that she worked at K-Mart, and
figured she probably couldn’t afford to go, but she wanted to know
all the details.
I called Becky and told her as much as I could about
the hunt, including Rocco’s special rate. Then I asked if she’d like
She had only one question. "When do we leave?"
I had my second hunter.
One of the first questions both Debbie and Becky
asked was "Do I have to shoot a big gun?" Debbie wanted to shoot her
.270 with a 150-grain Barnes X-bullet in a factory load from PMC/El
Dorado; the largest animal she would try for would be a kudu. That
would give her 2150 foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards, or 1897 at
200 yards, which was farther than either she or Becky was likely to
preferred to shoot a 180-grain Winchester Silvertip in her .30-06;
her largest quarry would be a gemsbok. That would generate 2436
foot-pounds of energy at 100 yards; at 200, it would still be 2023.
Although neither of those calibers is suitable for
large or dangerous game, these women were on the forefront of a
trend that is becoming move common today, as an increasing number of
hunters are using smaller calibers for plains game. I checked with
Rocco, and he felt comfortable about their choices. I decided to
take both my .25-’06 and my .375 H&H Magnum. With the .25-06 I’d be
shooting the 100-grain hand loaded Nosler Ballistic Tips I’d been
using for southern whitetails, which generated 2055 foot-pounds of
energy at 100 yards and 1740 at 200 yards. If I stuck to deer-sized
and smaller animals with the .25-’06 I should be all right; I’d use
the .375 for anything larger.
Caskett’s Ranch, where we would be hunting, was at
the edge of Kruger Park in the Eastern Transvaal region of South
Africa. Much of that area consists of dryland thornveldt, but the
Klaserie River runs through it, and provides a river swamp with
plenty of habitat for bushbuck. Debbie and Becky would do some
riding around and spotting game, but most of their hunting would be
on foot or sitting at waterholes.
I reached Caskett’s Ranch several days before Debbie
and Becky arrived in South Africa. I wanted to hunt a really big
warthog, and a couple of the small things, preferably duikers. I
also wanted a blesbok, but since the leopards ate all the blesbok at
Caskett’s, I’d have to go elsewhere for that before Becky and Debbie
Rocco sent me down to J. "Shorty" Durand’s ranch in
the Free State with Professional Hunter Andrew Hogg. The hunting at
Shorty’s was considerably different from that at Caskett’s Ranch. Up
at Caskett’s the bush is fairly dense, which provides both the
hunter and the hunted with cover. A long stalk on foot usually is
the norm. But in the Free State the habitat is more grassy and open;
consequently both people and animals can see much farther, and the
game is wild and wary as a result. Almost all shooting is done from
a vehicle, because that’s the only way a hunter can get close enough
for a shot. Even at that, it’s a challenge. We’re talking long shots
here; a 300-yard shot wasn’t uncommon.
As we drove around, I saw a lot of game. Many of the
animals were common species: lots of blesbok and springbok, and a
huge herd of gemsbok, but few impala. I saw some oddities, too, such
as white blesbok and black springbok.
A huge mixed herd of animals milled about together,
blesbok, gemsbok, red hartebeest and zebra. We stirred them around a
little with the vehicle and the blesbok separated from the rest.
Twice they stopped less than 200 yards away and I got in position on
a nice ram. But the first time another animal was standing behind
the one I wanted, and the second time a branch hung right in front
of his shoulder.
They started off again and we followed. Most of the
herd crossed the road in front of us and the driver went hard after
them, driving right through the herd. For a long moment I though the
last few animals were going to leap into and over us in their
determination to stay with the herd. Then the last five turned away
from the road; we had successfully separated them from the rest.
From that point on the hunt was fairly
straightforward. We followed the five animals—three red blesbok and
two white—around until we got them in an open place about 85 yards
away. I choose the biggest red ram, centered the crosshairs on his
shoulder and squeezed the trigger. He dropped in his tracks.
When I got a good look at him I could see that the
bullet had broken his spine mid-way of his back. Though it was a
good shot, it was not the one I had chosen. Since I had had a steady
rest, and I’m normally an accurate shot, I suspected the riflescope
had gotten bumped. A subsequent trip to the range at Caskett’s
proved my suspicion. Though I had checked the rifle when I first
arrived in Africa, all the riding around on the veldt had caused the
zero to shift high and to the left.
A few days later, Debbie and Becky arrived. Before
they ever got into the field at Caskett’s, I had a feeling that
hunting with them would be interesting. The first night at dinner
Debbie told us that when they got to the airport in Johannesburg,
Becky’s luggage didn’t appear. After they had waited almost an hour,
baggage handlers finally found her suitcase and gun case at the very
back of the baggage compartment.
Then at Customs, Debbie couldn’t get her gun case
open. After struggling with it, she turned to Becky and said, "If
there were three of us, we’d be the Three Stooges." Becky replied,
"Just wait a while. Maybe there will be." All of us at the table
nearly fell out of our chairs laughing. I couldn’t tell if I was
Larry, Moe or Curly.
The next afternoon, Rocco took Debbie out for a
ride, to get her acquainted with the ranch and maybe to stalk an
animal. When they came back a couple of hours later, Debbie was
rattled. She said that while they were driving Rocco saw an animal,
stopped the bakkie, and said, "Get out and shoot that."
"What is it? It’s not on my list of animals," she
"I don’t care. I want you to have it. Shoot it!" he
told her. So she did.
Both she and her .270 performed flawlessly, and she
dropped a lovely bushbuck ram right where he stood. Even before I
saw him, I was envious. A bushbuck is a notoriously hard animal to
get; they’re cautious and wary and hide in the densest river swamps
they can find. To get one on your first trip is remarkable; to get
one on your very first afternoon of hunting is unheard of. To make
things even better, Debbie’s ram was absolutely perfect. It didn’t
have so much as a nick in either one of its ears from fighting.
For the next two days Debbie walked around saying,
"But it wasn’t on my list. I wasn’t supposed to shoot it." Only
after close to a dozen people had said, "You shot what? On your
first afternoon hunting??!" did she realize what incredibly good
fortune she had had.
after that, both Debbie’s and Becky’s luck seemed to run out. Rocco
and Debbie couldn’t get on a kudu, and Becky couldn’t get even an
impala. Professional Hunter Chris Steyn took Becky on long walks for
three consecutive days without her getting a single animal.
On the fourth day, Chris and Becky and I walked up
her impala. Then when we got back to the lodge with Becky’s ram, we
found that Debbie also had gotten an impala while hunting with
Rocco. We thought their luck had changed.
But the next two days were just frustration. Neither
Rocco nor Chris could get Debbie on a kudu, or Becky on anything.
Becky had decided against trying to take a gemsbok, since that would
mean a trip down to Shorty’s; she was going to try for a waterbuck
On the last day of the hunt, Rocco sent Becky and
Debbie to a neighboring ranch with a different Professional Hunter
to see if they could get at least a kudu for Debbie there. Chris
took me to yet another ranch for a day of bowhunting, where I sat
and worried about Becky and Debbie all day.
I need not have been concerned. When I got back to
the ranch at the end of the day and called out to the two of them,
they greeted me with shrieks of excitement. Not only had Debbie
taken her kudu, she had gotten a huge warthog and a big waterbuck as
Becky was equally ecstatic. She had killed a very
nice waterbuck, one even bigger than Debbie’s.
That night I raised a glass of wine in a toast to
both of them, and to Rocco. The three of them had proven my point:
women can go to Africa on safari, and don’t have to spend a fortune
or shoot a big-bore rifle to do it.
After Debbie and Becky left, I spent a few more days
in Africa, at Songimvelo Game Reserve with some friends of mine.
Though Songimvelo allowed hunting, the philosophy there was quite
different than on a commercial ranch.
Since the Swazi people who lived around the Reserve
gave up part of their land to create it, when they needed meat for
the pot they received animals hunters killed.
While I was there, they needed meat. That meant I
got a chance to hunt another blesbok. Hannes Marais, an
anti-poaching officer and a good friend of mine, took me out. We
drove into a little valley where we could see seven animals spread
out below us, some standing, some lying down.
He picked out a nice big ewe, old enough, he said,
to be past reproductive age. I made a short stalk to within perhaps
125 yards, sat down, took a good rest, and shot.
It should have been simple. She should have gone
down in just a few yards. I knew I had hit her well in the
heart/lung area; I’d chosen that instead of a shoulder shot to keep
from ruining meat. All seven of the blesbok ran, and the ewe showed
no sign of having been hit. But she ran behind the others, sort of
The ewe went up the hill opposite us and we
followed, so we were in the valley.
"Shoot it again," Hannes said. Then, "Wait. It feels
bad," as she lay down.
We started toward her. She got up and walked over
the crest of the hill. I couldn’t quite get on her to take another
Hannes sent the game scout who was with us over the
hill far to our left. In theory, the ewe should have seen him and
popped back over to our side. But nothing happened.
Finally we walked over ourselves. The game scout was
way down in the next valley, and he motioned to us that the blesbok
was just a little down from us.
We started down and almost walked over her. She
jumped up and trotted into the thorn trees. But she was moving
toward the game scout, and I wasn’t about to risk a shot under those
conditions. Then Hannes pointed him out to me; he had moved up the
hill so he was more or less behind us, well out of any danger from
my shot. I took a quick, mid-body shot on the ewe at about 75 yards.
She walked a little farther and lay down. Though she was still and
made no more attempts to get up, she continued to breathe for
several more minutes.
When we examined her, we could see that my first
shot had been perfectly placed. It went right through the lungs,
just a little above the heart. It was a shot that would have
flattened a whitetail. But on the blesbok, the bullet had gone
through the ribcage and lodged just under the skin without putting
The other animals I was to take were quite a bit
larger than the blesbok, so I switched to the .375. After fairly
routine stalks—if anything in Africa ever can be called routine!—I
took a zebra stallion and a nice waterbuck. Subsequent measurements
confirmed that my waterbuck--which I took on my last day in
Africa--was the largest one taken at Songimvelo until that time. It
was a small fact which pleased Hannes greatly.
Anita Boyles has been to Africa four times and has been
writing about hunting and fishing since 1981. She
currently lives in Tampa, Florida with her son, Chris,
and two golden retrievers.
Looking back from a distance of 15 years, I recall that hunt as
the best one I ever had in Africa. Watching Becky and Debbie live
out a dream they never thought they would get to experience reminded
me that the difference between a dream and reality is, simply, a
plan. And as more and more women make that plan to experience
Africa, ranches and Professional Hunters who cater to women are
going to see their clientele continue to increase in the years to