Al Ward: Group of friends celebrate pair of 50th anniversaries with South African safari

What could be better than a double 50th wedding anniversary celebration?

 

Well, maybe celebrating by going on a hunting trip to South Africa? I think it beats punch, cake and gifts.

Ray and Cindy Schroeder chose the African trip and shared their experience with me.

Ray and Cindy, of Topeka, and Norval and Linda Spielman, of Manhattan, were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversaries and invited close friends Bob and Cheryl Saathoff and Rick and Elaine Toland, of Topeka, and Tom and Marlene Simpson, of Sarasota, Fla.; Mike and Linda Peterson, of Surprise, Ariz. — all Kansas State fans — and Daryl and Pam Veatch, of Lee’s Summit, Mo. — Missouri fans — joined in to enjoy the big celebration.

They met in Atlanta for a 15-hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. They stayed at the Elephant Lodge the first night and then drove through the Black Mountains to the Schwartzberg Lodge to stay three days.

They met their outfitter, Drom, of Somerby Outfitters. The whole group thought the outfitter was top-notch in every way. All of the hunting parties had a P.H. — professional hunter — they are not called guides, as we do in the states.

The hunt started in the Black Mountains in the Western Cape area, which was lush and pretty. The rifles (.30-06) were furnished by the outfitter, which cut down on the paperwork for the hunters.

The first kill of the trip was by Bob Saathoff in the steep mountain area with dangerous dropoffs along a narrow road. They were riding in a customized pickup truck with elevated seats and Bob spotted a kudu in the brush. It was facing him and not presenting a shot. It turned quickly and started away, and at 40 yards, it turned sideways and Bob only had a quick shot and dropped the kudu.

Later, Bob and Ray were walking the underbrush and came across a pair of gemsboks (also known as gemsbucks). Ray had the first shot at 200 yards — he hit and dropped it. They were sharing the .30-06 equipped with a supressor, so Ray passed the rifle and shooting stick to Bob. The gemsbuck had moved away, but Bob made the hit at 250 yards.

Both hunters had a good hunting trip. Bob also shot a nyala and a blue wildebeest. Ray shot a black wildebeest and a red hartebeest, as well.

Pam Veach is not a hunter, but wanted to try to harvest an animal. She and the P.H. spotted a gemsbuck at about 100 yards. The P.H. laid down a bag to rest the rifle for support. Pam’s left eye will not close, so she had to cover it with her hand and aim the rifle one-handed to make a perfect shot. She is going to have it mounted.

Not to be outdone, Pam’s husband, Daryl, shot a red hartebeest.

Norval shot a kudu, while Rick took an impala, a blesbok (or blesbuck) and was the only hunter to shoot a warthog. Tom took a gemsbuck, kudu and blue wildebeest. Mike shot an impala and blesbuck.

When a kill was made, the P.H. would call for the skinners to come and take care of the animals. The meat was harvested and nothing was wasted.

All the animals are being processed by Universal Trophy Service in South Africa. All the shoulder mounts will be done by Bell Wildlife Specialties. It will be more than a year before they see their mounts. They have to be sent to Chicago for inspection before being released.

While the men were hunting, the ladies enjoyed side trips, including visiting an ostrich farm where they were able to sit on an ostrich. Pam Veatch even rode one and thought it was great fun. She had to hold on tight in order to stay put, as the ostrich ran around the pen. They also took a day trip to Mossel Bay along the Indian Ocean on a photo safari in the Black Mountain basin and took great photos.

Everyone I talked to said it was the adventure of a lifetime. They took more than 6,000 photos.

They couldn’t speak more highly of Somerby Outfitters. The food, staff and professional hunters were top notch. There was always a female staff person and a driver with the women to take them on their side trips.

The only downside was the long airplane trip each way, but that is a small price for their big celebration.

Ray will go back — for his third time — and invited me to go, too.

Who knows?

NFL Pick'Em

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HIGHLIGHTS OF THE TRIP

When the group traveled, they took two vans, so each person had a window seat.

On one trip, the first van crossed a bridge and then a large elephant came out of the ditch and blocked the roadway. The elephant started eating the grass and leaves alongside the bridge. The van had to turn around and take another road to where they were going.

One night, some of the group were riding on the safari truck with spotlights, looking for animals. A giraffe came running straight at the truck. The professional hunter had them turn off the lights as the giraffe was blinded by the bright lights. Then, the giraffe saw the truck and got off the road. They realized there was a lion chasing the giraffe, which caused it to run at them.

While at the elephant sanctuary in the Limpopo region, the women were asked to take off a shoe. The worker chose one that belonged to Cheryl and let the elephant smell it, and then he gave it back to Cheryl. They were told the elephant never forgets, and if Cheryl came back to the sanctuary, it would know her and could pick her out of a group. The women also enjoyed a spa.

They went to a lion and cheetah sanctuary, where they were able to interact with and pet the lion cubs and cheetahs.

Two of the couples enjoyed a wine-tasting trip.

The last three days were spent at Kruger National Park on a photo safari. They saw tens of thousands of animals, including huge numbers of elephants, cape buffaloes, giraffes, zebras, hippos and crocodiles. They saw 52 varieties of animals. Tom is a birder and identified more than 80 species of birds.

 

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