"Safari Gone Wrong"- by Cal

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African Hunter Magazine



text and photos by Cal Pappas


Disappointed with the trophy quality of your last safari? Perhaps you were overcharged? Maybe the camp was not the condition you were shown in the photos. Cheer up! After reading the author’s experiences with ten overseas hunts your experience will seem like a ray of sunshine.


Hunt 1. My first trip to Africa and was I excited! Booked in 1993 and scheduled to depart in June of 1994 I was set to go with one of the top professionals in Zimbabwe for buffalo, sable, kudu, and eland (I had to drop lion and leopard due to a divorce). Upon landing in Harare I was greeted by a 20-year old  who introduced himself as my PH. “Your regular PH was overbooked and I was hired to replace him.” I learned several things from my young and talkative PH--the better animals were to be saved for clients on more expensive safaris, how much of a tip was expected, of his disdain for the black race, and that he was unfamiliar with the area and it would take several days to acquaint himself with the geography to locate water holes and find the buffalo. As the days progressed and trophy buffalo were nowhere to be found I also learned that the owner of the company would make more money if I did not shoot a buff as the buff could be resold with another daily rate. I named my PH the “really must guide” as he would say, “You must really have one of these” every time we would see wildlife. I was a bit out of shape on this hunt and when we would come to a hill I would be challenged to run. “I love to run up steep grades” he would say. After eight days of basically nothing, my PH greeted me in the morning with, “Cal, I’m sorry. I don’t know where the buffalo are. Where do you want to go?” “Back to Harare” was my reply.


     A few months later I met with the owner of the company in Anchorage and he apologized  for the behavior of the PH and offered me a leopard and plains game hunt at the observer rate. Since I was soured on Africa I wanted to think about it for a while. When I later agreed, the owner backed down and said he would no longer make me the offer. I was done with Africa--or so I thought.


Hunt 2. After a year of Africa pulling, I decided to book a plains game hunt with another of Zimbabwe’s best. I was assured by an acquaintance in Alaska that this PH was a skookum individual and I would hunt with his son who was also a top notch hunter and very ethical. Off I went and the hunt was fine except for a couple of disappointments. Kudu was my most desired animal but I agreed to hunt eland first if I could bag a real trophy. We saw and stalked and then I shot a bull that my guide said would be 33-34 inches. Turned out he was 27. I later learned that the eland was prepaid on the ranch we were hunting on and if I didn’t shoot one the PH would be out the money. I guess that was the incentive to shoot a small bull. Half way through he hunt I went over the cost sheet of my hunt to make sure I didn’t over spend. My PH agreed with the list of charges his father quoted me upon booking. At the end of the hunt I noticed an additional $500 airport pick up fee. I questioned this and was assured all clients paid the fee, that it was in the brochures, and was an oversight on his dad’s part. I later discovered the $500 was not in any brochures, and when I called other hunters who were in camp upon my return to the states none of them paid the fee. I checked the SCI hunt reports, and called those who hunted that year, and not one of them paid the fee. I would not have gone to the trouble to tip my PH a few hundred dollars of archery equipment had I foreseen the padded bill. (Worse than the extra money was the outright lie told by a young man who came so highly recommended). Last of all, after waiting a year for my trophies (the bill was paid long before) I called the taxidermy company in Zimbabwe. They had been sent months ago. Where could they be? More months passed and I received a call to confirm my address for delivery of the shipment. When I stated my address, the caller said, “No, I need your address in Amsterdam--that’s where I’m calling from and that is where your box is.” It took some time to convince the voice on the other end of the line I did not have a residence in Europe. No problem, the box would be forwarded to me in Alaska upon receipt of additional shipping charges. It took a lengthy negotiation but the box was finally delivered without having to pay for someone else’s error.

Hunt 3. I booked again the next year to the ranch where I hunted the year prior but went directly to the owner. This time I knew I had found a ethical and honest individual. We hunted 15 days but  I took only three animals. No one’s fault, we hunted hard, I just could not connect. My first kudu was shot in the thick bush and had a broken horn at 15 inches. “No charge, let’s get another” the owner quickly said. We later took a nice bull in the mid-50s and a huge blue wildebeest over 31 inches. I vowed to return next year. The taxidermist in Zimbabwe quoted me what seemed to be a high dollar figure for freight to New York. (I would be vacationing there to pick up the crate in person and drive it to Alaska). Research showed the figure was 2-3 times the standard rate  so I asked the owner of the ranch to ship it for me. The same box, same dimensions and weight, same shipper, and the same route was 1/3 of the quoted cost. I guess some taxidermists get a cut of the shipping, too. When the trophies arrived, one of the kudu’s horns was four inches shorter than the other. They were the same length in the photos!


Hunt 4. I returned again to hunt on the same ranch. This time for leopard and sable. South African Air lost my baggage and gun case and we waited three days in Bulawayo for them to arrive. My bags were found in Harare so we drove there through the night, collected  them, and continued on to the ranch. Three days of lost hunting. As luck would have it, I missed the sable and developed a dry cough during my stay there. Later I would find the new medicine my MD put me on to control my diabetes caused a dry throat--not the best thing for sitting in a leopard blind. The “ah-hem” every few minutes told spots we were there. Towards the end of the hunt, I became quite ill with tick bite fever and was down for the last four days of the hunt with the chills, sweats, and general weakness.  So, my 15 day hunt was actually 8 days of hunting. I did take several bait animals and enjoyed my stay immensely. I would come back next year. An official at SAA gave me a reimbursement form to complete and he would personally see to it I had financial satisfaction. He never replied to my correspondence. It took several months, with the help of my travel agent, to get a refund check for the hotels and lost daily rate.


Hunt 5. My planned hunt Zimbabwe was canceled in 2000 due to Mugabe’s land takeover. I was to hunt as well as bring my mother and her two cousins on an Africa vacation. A travel agent at the SCI convention gave me great rates and I paid for the four tickets on my VISA card. The tickets never arrived. After two months of the promise, “They will be in the mail tomorrow” I canceled the tickets. After documentation I was given a 100% refund on my VISA. The travel agent’s response was that she mailed the tickets to me but had no record of mailing. A call to SCI headquarters in Arizona to have them look into the situation brought the reply that the agent was not listed as one of the vendors. She was there doing business without anyone’s knowledge. After all this was behind me and I began looking into new reservations, the hunt was terminated by the ranch owner due to the political instability of the country and the ranch slowly fell into the hands of the “war vets”.


Hunt 6. I decided to go to Australia instead. I called the PH whom I met at SCI and told him my Africa plans fell through and could I hunt with him this year rather than the next year as we discussed at the convention. The hunt was booked and a deposit paid. I called the airline to book a ticket to Darwin--a long but direct flight--until I said I wanted to use my mileage for a free ticket. Then the travel itinerary changed. Anchorage-Seattle--LA and an 11-hour wait, Auckland, Sidney, Brisbane, Carnes, Darwin. The same route home! It didn’t cost anything, but what a long flight. My PHs partner failed to show up at the airport and I spent two days in a hotel until he arrived. The hunt went well but was one day shorter than booked and paid.


Hunt 7.  A PH from South Africa contacted me and asked if I could assist him in writing and publishing a book on his 35 years of African hunting. After some correspondence on his story, we began talking about a hunt in South Africa. I booked a 10-day hunt for several species of plains game. On my first shot at a hartebeest the muzzle blast hit the surrounding trees just right and echoed into my left ear with painful results and a permanent loss of 50% of the hearing in that ear. The hunt continued and I took seven animals. My main desire was for a warthog as I had not even seen one in all my previous trips. On the last  hunting day I finally found a warthog. He was nearly dead in a snare and I shot him to put him out of his misery. The joke was (and remains to this day) I can only shoot a warthog that is tied up. After loading the warthog in the vehicle we went out in the same field to shoot some birds. I had gone less than fifteen yards when I stepped in an ant bear hole. My heal went down, my toe went up, and my Achilles tendon was torn in two. I was put in a cast and managed to keep my scheduled flight back to the states. SAA did a seat change to accommodate my leg needing elevation but at the airport the SAA personnel there did not know of any change so my foot was down under the seat ahead of me. Lots of pain meds took care of the throbbing. My MD in Alaska stitched me up and I spent the summer in a full-leg plaster. I missed all of Alaska hunting that year including a permit for sheep in the best area of the state. That is not the end of the story. The nurse who removed the stitches two weeks after surgery (I think her name was Ratchet) left one stitch sticking out of the skin. It festered in the new cast for six weeks (did it itch!) and when the cast was removed and oxygen flowed to area a lower leg infection set in resulting a week-long stay in the hospital on IV antibiotics (better safe than sorry for a diabetic). The South African taxidermist  did an expedient job of mounting my seven animals and they were ready to ship four months after my hunt. A two month delay in Johannesburg and they were in Alaska. Turns out, my friend and PH wants to be 100% successful on his hunts so he shoots the first animal visible. My animals were all little--including a cow hartebeest. While I had a good time on the hunt and made a lifelong friend with my PH and his wife, my critters were the smallest of anyone I know who has hunted plains game in South Africa.


Hunt 8. I returned to South Africa for another plains game hunt with the PH of the year prior. And  on the giraffe hunt, I again shot a smaller animal. We were tracking a herd with four bulls in it. One bull stood 1 1/2 to 2 feet taller than the rest and I wanted him as I was to have a full skin rug made. After a long lesson is stalking giraffe I dropped the bull with two quick shots from my .450 no2 double. Later the video showed he was not the large bull I wanted, but the first bull who stopped and turned to look at us. The quoted price of the rug was nearly doubled upon completion. “Just a misquote. Sorry, Cal” was the friendly reply of the taxidermist.


Hunt 9. This time to hunt buffalo in Zimbabwe. I asked my SA friend and PH to arrange for a buffalo hunt and he did so by contacting a well-known PH in SA who has connections in several southern African countries. We arrived in Vic Falls to meet the Zimbabwe PH who was to conduct the hunt. He was not there. He did send a friend to tell us of a last minute change in plans and we were to fly on to Harare, via Bulawayo, and we would drive to Kariba. I purchased the tickets and did so. I was after buffalo and hippo on a seven-day hunt. On the drive from Harare to Kariba, the Zimbabwe PH’s car quit a dozen times due clogged fuel injectors. He was able to clean them by flashlight and we arrived in camp in the early morning hours. In camp, I discovered that, without consulting me, the hunt was scheduled for six days (I paid for seven).  We saw a nice bull behind some brush and my SA PH told me to shoot through the brush as not to chance losing him. I should have known better but I shot anyway and lost him.  Luck was with me on the third day as I bagged a nice old bull. Not the “near 40” I was told but closer to 37. On to the hippo hunt. One problem--the Zimbabwe PH told his staff the hunt was over (he was not aware I wanted a hippo) and gave them some money and time off to party in Kariba. He sent word for them to return and they had an accident with the vehicle.  1.5 of days hunting lost. We searched for the hippo and saw many but did not have time to search out a big older bull I wanted for the skull. Oh yes, after the accident, we had to push start the Land Cruiser. The story is not over yet. The Zimbabwe PH did not pay the trophy fee to Parks and Wildlife so they would not release the trophy to the taxidermist.  It took almost a year and lots of strongly worded letters from the two PHs in South Africa but the trophy was finally paid for and then released. When the buff was packed and ready to ship to the taxidermist in South Africa, the holder of the paperwork was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident. Another six months and the bull made its way to SA with the importing company charging me for the crate the Zimbabwe taxidermist constructed and charged me for. The price to import the bull from Harare to Pietersburg SA was more than the cost to ship the bull to Alaska! Then, the taxidermist bill was 50% higher than quoted. Again, “Sorry,Cal”. I decided to have the buff and other South African trophies combined in the same shipment for route to Alaska. FED EX in South Africa would not accept the box for shipment even though the FED EX folks in the states assured me the size and weight were fine. So, after a few months, I found a new shipper and received my trophies.


Hunt 10. Another trip to South Africa for  nyala, water buck, and a trophy warthog. I didn’t see any water buck but came out with a super nyala and a good warthog (finally!) and the two were to be added to my box of trophies that were still in South Africa. I wanted to have the warthog’s skull but my PH thought  a shoulder mount would be better and had the skull cut down for the taxidermist (forgetting my desire for the skull). The last few days of the hunt I became afflicted with an intestinal bacteria that knocked me down and out. The MD I saw in SA told me, “Thank goodness you got sick here and not in Zimbabwe--the witch doctors there would butcher you.” (I was to go on to Zimbabwe for elephant, hippo, buffalo, leopard, and sable). He prescribed some antibiotics that would kill the bacteria and I could be on with the hunt.


Hunt 11. I made the flight to Harare, barely. I was too sick to hunt and lost 23 pounds in two weeks. A doctor in Bulawayo (I was transferred there for medical attention after three days in camp) told me I was on the wrong medicine and he put me on the right stuff. The PH and I decided to get on with the hunt to the best of my ability as I was recovering. One hour later the transmission in the hunting vehicle broke and the required spare vehicle was not in camp. The hunt was over with and I had a long discussion with the PH. He wanted me to fly back to Zim in the fall and complete the hunt. After some consideration, I told him of my decade of bad luck and vowed this was my last trip to Africa. Nothing against him, I just had such a poor return for my hard-earned dollars over the years I didn’t want to do this again. Being and honest and ethical man,  he gave me a refund on the unused portion of my daily rate and did not charge me for other items such as transportation and a ten-day stay at his home in Bulawayo. He also took me to a ranch in southern Zim where I shot a nice sable bull for only the trophy fee. And, he battled for me with the owner of the concession who wanted an additional $2000 USD for the special order of diet Coke he had to bring into the camp. Zimbabwe’s winters are hot compared to the temperature in Alaska, but I don’t drink that much!


Is this the end of the story? Did my vow in July 2005 hold true not to return to Africa again? Well as this is written in December ‘05, I learned my Zim PH of this year is moving his operations to Tanzania for the 2006 hunting season. I just booked an August  ‘06 hunt in Tanzania for elephant, lion, leopard, two buffalo, hippo, and croc. Some guys never learn! And that’s fine, for the story has a good ending.


After a week on Kilimanjaro, I flew into Gary Hopkins’ L-1 concession bordering on the Lumbelho and Kilombero Rivers in Tanzania’s Selous. Gary’s ethics of the previous year were instrumental in my agreeing to another African hunt. It was a good hunt. No, it was a great hunt! But the Pappas luck was still with me as the elephant we saw had ivory that was too small to be taken and, for some unexplained reason, we didn’t see any buffalo--not one in 18 days!. All of Gary’s other hunters shot buff, but it was not to be for I. In addition,  my luck with with me upon entry in to Tanzania. The police tried to shake me down for a $200USD business visa (tourist visas are $50) and the man who issued the permit for my rifles could not match the serial number with my pre-approved form. Both wanted a bribe but Gary’s man in Tanzania, Robert Nyiti, took care of matters.


On day two, Gary suggested a strategy for hippo hunting. We needed lion bait more that I needed to shoot a dry land hippo with my .450 no2 double Lang. I agreed and brained a bull with one shot from my .450-400 Harrison and Hussey on the bank of the river. The lion bait worked as on day six I shot a good male. Not much mane but a full-grown 6 year old male. He dropped to one shot with my .450-400 and the 400-grain Stewart soft point tore off the top of his heart. I shot him again for insurance and reloaded quickly (ejectors are nice!). The lion started to crawl away so two more shots through his back and down into his chest cavity ended the battle. The day before we saw this lion quickly as he ran off and his four girl friends came out of the long grass to look at us! Exciting.


At last light on the eighth day I took a leopard also with the .450-400. He was an average male that should have weighted 130 pounds. However, he had been shot by a client two months prior in the leg and the cat was sick. His internal organs were green with peritonitis and he was starving. His coat was beautiful but it was just hanging on over emaciated muscle. It was good to put him out of his misery. One shot did it, but as he crawled into the grass, Gary and I both shot him again for our safety.


Gary, tracker Max, and I then went on to look for buffalo, elephant, and croc. On the river bank, I slipped and fell. The stock of the .450-400 broke at the wrist--a complete separation. Croc hunting was done and I would concentrate of buffalo with the .450. A few days later, we saw a 13-foot croc on the bank of the river. Having a buffalo a few years before, Gary and I made a new plan for the croc. Using several 1x4 inch pieces cut from a Coke can, electrical tape, and green sable hide, I bound the stock of the .400 tight and set it in the sun to dry. We looked for buff without any luck and spent four afternoons looking for the croc. For four days he would slip into the water upon winding us. This was frustrating as was the ribbing I took from an Austrian PH who was in camp with us. He would say, in an Arnold accent, “You will never take a croc with a double rifle, it is a waste of time, it is a stupid thing to do, it’s never done that way,” etc...


The day before the last day, luck was with me as I brained the croc at 60 yards. He didn’t move an inch! Gary, myself and the trackers loaded him into the truck and arrived in camp before my Austrian friend. We put the croc at the entrance of his tent and shut off all the camp lights at nightfall. When he arrived, I explained there was a generator short so we were without light until it was repaired. As he made his way to his tent in the dark he told me to take a scope sighted .375 bolt action to get my croc. When a loud scream echoed throughout the camp, everyone erupted into laughter.


What a great way to end the hunt of my life. Two days after this is being written, I’m off to Zimbabwe for a December vacation with Gary Hopkins and family in Bulawayo. And, of course, we’ll talk of yearly hunts together until we get too old!