The following is a list of things to do and opinions on why to do them before you go on a trip of a lifetime.
This trip wasn’t on the bucket list for a couple of reasons--perceptions of extreme cost as well as not really thinking it was a trip that my better half would enjoy. Both perceptions were proved incorrect over the past 5 months.
The message came from a friend, the same young man that connected us with our Canada Caribou trip in 2016, in early November 2019. Ryan Kadavy from Top Shelf Adventures went to Africa summer of 2019, and we had been in communication about his trip and had agreed to meet for dinner to talk about his adventure. Busy happened for both of us and it didn’t get done. Bottom line, Ryan had met Denver Gowar and had a couple of days to hunt at Coppermoon Hunting Safaris in South Africa. Not sure how or why but Ryan had recommended Ruth and I for a promotional hunt whereby we would be the featured hunters for the initial promotional video for Coppermoon with video crew and the whole works. My Dad had always taught me that if it sounds too good to be true then it usually is, BUT in this case, the experience turned out to be better than anything I could have dreamed of.
Ryan put us in contact with Denver using the WhatsApp international texting system. A couple of live video chats to ask questions, and we were on our way.
We were responsible for our air travel and firearms so we reached out to a couple of our customers that we knew had been on these trips for their first hand experience. This proved invaluable in the decision-making process for just about every part of the planning. Although they didn’t agree on every element, they at least lended their perspective so we weren’t operating blind.
Ruth is the best at making reservations and the technical aspects of travel, and she was all over this project. The prospect of a warm weather hunt and pure outside the box adventure were right up her alley.
First, use Delta Airlines and fly through Atlanta then nonstop to Johannesburg, SA. Avoid New York if possible, connecting in “Joburg” to South Africa Airlines because they allowed for the transport of firearms where others did not. The “Comfort Plus” seating costs a little more but 14-16 hours in the air is a long time and totally worth it. Be careful though because SAA is on the verge of going out of business or so it seems and frequently cancel flights without notification so stay on top of it. This actually happened to us twice and we had to reschedule because they had rebooked us on a flight that did not allow firearms. DUH! That seemed really stupid, but it was blamed on the computer system. Second, on Eric’s incoming flight, his Joburg to Port Elizabeth leg was cancelled while he was in the air to Joburg, but quick thinking on his part still got him there, and since we had the firearms, he had more flexibility.
Next, what about the horror stories of traveling with firearms and ammo internationally? Well those stories are probably true and concerns merited, but because of some advice from our friends, it was recommended we connect with a “concierge service” and this was THE BEST ADVICE EVER. Our selection was recommended by Denver to use Africa Sky in Joburg. Basically, they meet you at baggage claim and escort you through customs and the South African Police Dept. Gilbert met us, cleared the hurtles, collected our gear and drove us to their fabulous guest house where we were fed a gourmet dinner, great accommodations, breakfast the next morning, then a return trip to the airport. Again, navigating the process till we were successfully on the plane to Port Elizabeth. The peace of mind this gives is worth by far more than the few hundred dollars it cost. We were so impressed that we then added their services to our return trip home instead of a 12 hour layover with all our gear at the airport. Again, it was worth every penny. Well done.
Here is another invaluable service that was included, Leoni, our contact at Africa Sky also provided all documents to navigate through the South African Police. We were required to provide the serial numbers of all firearms (3 per person max) and 50 rounds ammo per gun each with proper headstamps, too. It is very important to note that this permit must be obtained at least 40 days prior to your travel dates so DON’T procrastinate. Before that application can be submitted we also had to take those cased up firearms to our local Homeland Security Customs office to obtain a declaration stamped and signed by them so that we could then return to the US with those firearms without any hassle or duty owed. We included our optics as well. Next step was to have copies of our passports and that declaration notarized before it was submitted to Leoni. Note—not all banks do this service but our local UPS store did it as well as laminating those declarations. I know it sounds like a lot, but if you plan and start early, it really is just a few organized steps.
Denver met us at the Port Elizabeth Airport, helped us collect our gear and firearms and we were on our way quickly for the 2 hour drive to Coppermoon.
Ruth and I have never traveled across the Atlantic and were concerned about jet lag so we opted to, with the recommendation of Denver, spend our first two days in country at Kuzuko, a resort adjacent to Coppermoon. With a 5 star rated restaurant and nice amenties, it was the perfect start to the trip. This can even be an option for spouse or family members to stay while you are hunting. They even have a range program for the kids.
Denver also coordinated some extra activities like zip lining and visits to Addo Game Preserve as well as a tour of the Scotia Game Preserve. We highly recommend the Scotia Preserve, a real chance to get up and personal with ALL the typical African animals, including the “Big Five.” Keep something in mind though, not everyone believes in hunting, guns or shooting and we had an interesting experience at Addo. Denver’s truck is marked for the Coppermoon Hunting Safari business as you’d expect, and Addo is a self-driving tour. We took a brief tour and went to the restaurant for lunch. When we returned to the truck, two Rangers were there to meet us, and we were asked to leave as we had been reported by “greenies’ as they are called there and a complaint was filed. You can’t make this stuff up. It certainly was a learning experience. We have a tendency to think only we face this in the states, but it’s actually a global thing.
The zip line activity was fun, and as we did it, we accused Denver of giving this as a test to see if we could actually climb a long steep hill twice to get to the zip line tower and were we crazy enough to actually jump off a perfectly good tower. It was fun nonetheless. I preferred the “superman” method of flying.
We had the opportunity to visit the Coppermoon practice range to verify our firearms accuracy after transport so we would be ready for Monday morning. I can’t emphasize enough the need for practice with your firearms and knowing the ballistics of your calibers. I prepared a business card sized cheat sheet showing each caliber and drops at different ranges. Also, practice with an app called “bullet drop” allowed me to consult it offline to verify or calculate wind drift. The motto for our single shot firearms is “One Good Shot,” and we demonstrated that with our performance. Look at it like this, in your lifetime you may get one clear shot at a Kudu, perhaps the most elusive of African trophy animals. All the preparation will be worth it when you make that shot. A lifetime of regret could happen if you take any shortcuts so be ready.