Hunter faces mixed emotions before first African safari

The Dark Continent has loomed as a dream for decades. Within 24 hours, I’ll be wheels up to South Africa on safari. It doesn’t seem real. Quite surprisingly, I feel unsettled about this journey. Being on the opposite side of the world, amidst dangerous game, multiple days of travel away from my loved ones and responsibilities at home has my stomach in knots. I usually live with a bag packed, ready to hit the road at a moment’s notice, but now facing the grandest adventure of my life, I’m nervous. 

I can’t put my finger on why I’m experiencing these feelings of trepidation. I’m sure it has a lot to do with facing the unknown. I’m drawing upon the words of Theodore Roosevelt, Ernst Hemingway, Robert Ruark, Peter Capstick and E. Donnall Thomas. These heroes of mine penned accounts of their adventures in Africa, all of which include tales of woe and desperate trials of physical and mental exertion. They highlight the beauty and vastness of the continent but also sell the realty of being in a land where you are not the top of the food chain.  

Back in 2020, as part of my MBA program at the University of Missouri, our international experience was supposed to be a trip to South Africa. We already had our tickets, and everything was booked. We were flying into Johannesburg and then we were working across the country to Cape Town. I was going to extend the trip by a week so I could rent a car and drive the Garden Route, which runs along the southern tip of Africa.

I was to end up in Port Elizabeth where I had a short, three-day safari. Then Covid happened. Instead of a trip to South Africa, we spent our residency on Zoom. Now I have the chance to make the trip happen at a grander scale. I should be thrilled. I’m starting to wonder just how much the lockdown changed me, when I never really thought it did. If I explore these feelings, I think they’re rooted in a newfound sense of comfort close to home. A couple of other major life changes have played into this for sure, but at the end of the day, I don’t like to venture far from home or my loved ones, like I used to. 

Still, the show must go on. I’m headed to Africa. The company would be hard to beat. Derek Butler, my cousin and hunting partner since we were boys, is coming along. This is our trip of a lifetime to date. I am so excited to experience this adventure with him. One because of our deep bond as family and friends, but also because he’s about the most resourceful person I know. It’s like bringing MacGyver with you. If something goes wrong, Derek will save us with a paper clip and gum wrapper. 

Josh Lane is the man who made the trip happen. Loyal listeners to the Driftwood Outdoors Podcast may recognize Josh as the father of Walker and Texas Ranger. Our ongoing inside joke about his boys who he won’t let cook their steaks long enough. Josh bought this Africa hunting trip for three at a Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation banquet. I’m grateful he asked me to go and had room for my cousin. Deep down, I know it is going to far exceed our expectations. 

As far as hunting is concerned, I have identified seven animals I would like to pursue. All plains game. An impala, kudu, gemsbuck, wildebeest, warthog, springbok and blesbok. I don’t know how many will give me a shot, but my heart isn’t set on this list. It’s just tentative. I plan to listen to the advice of those great who’ve traveled this road before me and accept what the bush offers. 

After all the reading and YouTube watching, I still don’t have a complete picture of what we’re getting into. I don’t know what the air smells like in the morning, or the dirt feels like under foot. I’m going into with an open mind. Most property over there is fenced, and I don’t like that. But the fenced areas are hundreds of thousands of acres. In my conservation work, I’ve questioned operations like this a thousand times in the United States. These African properties aren’t 250-acre fenced facilities, though. There is no guarantee of any kill. I admit what I’m doing and won’t pretend there’s not a fence 20 miles or so away.

Another question rattling around from folks is what happens to the meat? It’s my understanding every scrap of every animal is used by the local villagers. They eat the meat, even the parts you might not think to eat, and they use the skins, bones, and all other parts of the animals. It’s supposedly much like the way native Americans used the entire animal as a resource. I’ve been told there is a sense of pride in providing the animals to the locals. I hope that’s true, because for me, this could be the best part.

There will be plenty more to come about this adventure. More writing and several podcasts. I have so many questions and hope my nervousness is quickly dispelled by the beauty and majesty of this land. This uneasy feeling has popped up before, but only a few times. And usually, it preceded a life changing event. I hope that’s the case this time, too. 

See you down the trail…

Brandon Butler
Pic: A kudu is one of the animals the author plans to hunt in South Africa. 

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