Africa On A Budget
By Mel Toponce, Correspondent
In these times of severe economic uncertainty, many hunters are putting their planned Africa hunts on the "back burner," hoping in the meantime that safari prices will come down to a point that will enable them to justify going on that long-awaited African adventure. But there may be a solution out there. If their main interest is plains game, and not the expensive "Big 5" or the various (and also expensive) glamour species, they might want to look into the offerings of Namibia's Westfalen Hunting Safaris, represented by US booking agent Jeff C. Neal (www.jeffcnealinc.com).
It seems that for many years Westfalen Hunting Safaris, owned and operated by John and Juliana van der Westhuizen, has been quietly producing quality hunts at bargain-basement prices. I first learned about Westfalen Hunting Safaris during a conversation with Greg Brownlee, who works for Jeff C. Neal, at the 2012 SCI Convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. Brownlee highly recommended the operation and told me he truly believed it was the best safari value in all of Africa. Following are the 2013 offerings, in US dollars, Brownlee told me about.
|1 hunter per 1 Professional Hunter ||$350 per day|
|2 hunters per 1 Professional Hunter ||$280 per hunter per day |
|Non-hunters ||$200 per person per day |
|Sightseeing/guide ||$600 per vehicle per day |
|Round-trip airport transfer ||$600 per vehicle|
|Red Hartebeest ||$700.00|
|Dik-Dik ||$1200.00 (on quota)|
|Klipspringer ||$1200.00 (on quota)|
|Mountain Zebra ||$900.00|
Daily rates include services of a licensed Professional Hunter, hunting permit, hunting vehicle, initial preparation of trophies, full camp staff, deluxe accommodations, meals, daily laundry and soft drinks.
Daily rates exclude trophy fees to be paid on all animals killed or wounded and lost, all packing and shipping of trophies, dipping of trophies ($70 per animal), Namibian government 15 percent VAT (on daily rate), alcoholic beverages, any hotel stays before or after safari, gratuities if warranted, and all airfare.
After reviewing the above information, two hunter friends and I decided to book an eight-day safari. Since there were three of us in our party, John hired a second PH, the amiable and extremely proficient Anton Esterhuizen, to guide one of my friends, who had booked a 1x1 hunt. My remaining companion and I opted for a 2x1 hunt, with John van der Westhuizen as our PH.
In May of 2012 we flew from San Francisco to Windhoek, Namibia via Frankfurt, Germany. The initial leg of our journey was on United Airlines and the final leg was on Air Namibia. Both flights were comfortable and the service good. Due to recent changes in policy, United was unable to check our luggage and my friend's rifle and shotgun and my longbow all the way through to Windhoek. (Interestingly, Air Namibia was able to check all our luggage and weapons through to San Francisco on our return trip!) United's policy change caused a considerable problem, as when we went to claim our luggage at the UAL carousel in Frankfurt, we discovered that the firearms and my longbow had been left behind in San Francisco.
Since United and Air Namibia have no ticketing agreement (Delta Airlines does), we of necessity had purchased separate tickets for the United and Air Namibia legs. We were concerned that our lost items might never make it to Africa. But luck was on our side. When we arrived at the Windhoek Airport, we rented a sturdy Nissan 4-door pickup truck with camper shell on back from Thrifty and drove to Katima Mulilo in the Caprivi Strip for two days of fishing for tigerfish on the Zambezi River. We then moved on to visit for a few more days both a game park near Begani and the Etosha National Park. When we eventually arrived at Westfalen, our lost items were there waiting for us, courtesy of UAL and Air Namibia. They had been delivered only hours before our arrival. If we had not planned the touring portion of our trip to take place prior to our hunt, we would not have had the use of our weapons. Actually, I had carried a take-down bow in my suitcase for just this kind of contingency. My other companion did not bring a firearm, choosing instead to rent one of Westfalen's rifles for a total fee of $200, including ammunition.
We were housed at the Westfalen "Elephant Camp," which we found to be quite deluxe. It consisted of very nice rondavels with en-suite bathrooms, an open-air covered dining area and the associated support buildings.
The food was nothing short of extraordinary, with John's ever-pleasant wife Juliana overseeing the kitchen. The cuisine placed heavy emphasis on game meat. Many of the other foods, though delicious, were a bit sugary for my dietary needs, so I selected accordingly from the various dishes offered each evening. Desserts were imaginative and irresistible.
One of the things to remember about Westfalen's hunts is that, although they are "ranch hunts", they take place on approximately 150,000 acres of largely unfenced property. None of the property we hunted is under high fence. However, since the Westfalen property straddles the Kamanjab-Outjo highway, your hunting vehicle tracker may open and close up to a dozen or more gates on some days. On others, you will neither see nor open any gates at all. Out from Elephant Camp, with the exception of the bush roads and some man-made water dams and concrete water holes, the land is totally wild. All game is strictly free-ranging on both sides of the highway.
I elected to hunt with a longbow, which is my normal weapon of choice. In this case, however, it was a serious mistake. Although Westfalen has some very nice pit blinds of brick, concrete and steel placed at man-made watering troughs, the distance between the blinds and the water was much too far for my traditional bow and I went home empty-handed. John tried placing Lucerne (alfalfa) pellets near the blind to entice the game in closer, but to no avail. Many young and female warthogs accepted these offerings, but no male adults of any species came within range. John tried very hard to make it all happen, but it was just not to be. I must add here that had I been shooting a compound bow, as many bow hunters do these days, I very likely would have collected several trophies. During my long hours in the pit blinds, I had very nice specimens of gemsbok, warthog, and red hartebeest standing within compound bow range at various times. On two occasions, I also could have shot damara dik-dik while we were driving the bush roads.
My two companions, hunting with firearms, had an enjoyable and successful hunt, collectively shooting kudu, gemsbok, Hartmann's mountain zebra and warthog. One companion brought his own Model 70 Winchester rifle in .338 Winchester Magnum and the other, as mentioned previously, elected to rent a .30-06 Browning A-Bolt from the outfitter. A .375 H&H Magnum was also available for hire, but my friend felt more comfortable with the .30-06, shooting 200-grain factory loads from South Africa. I might add here for those who desire to bring their own rifles, firearm importation is a no-hassle, swift and cost-free process at the airport in Windhoek, providing the arriving hunter is in possession of the required Letter of Invitation from the outfitter. This letter contains the vital firearms information.
John van der Westhuizen proved to be a tireless and very ethical hunter, who prefers to hunt on foot rather than sit in ambush. He usually did not allow rifle shooting around the waterholes.
One thing worthy of note is that the Westfalen property is part of the Loxodonta Africana Conservancy. This means it is subject to the rules of the Conservancy. One of these rules is that if elephants were to wander onto the Westfalen lands and pose a threat to fencing and other personal property, they may be pursued and herded by Conservancy personnel without prior notice to the landowner. The pursuit may involve the use of land vehicles and/or helicopters, a situation that could seriously impact a safari taking place on the property at the same time. This is exactly what happened to me, and because I was sitting in pit blinds in the exact locale where the helicopters were at work, I lost a couple of hunting days. The van de Westhuizens explained that such a thing had not occurred for two years and readily agreed to compensate me for the loss.
Game was reasonably plentiful during our stay. Gemsbok, in particular, were abundant. Zebra numbers were adequate. Kudu were on the way back to recovery from an epidemic of rabies a few years earlier. Springbuck, though normally present in large numbers according to our PH's, were surprisingly absent. I saw only eight during our hunt, and these were alongside the road near the Westfalen Ranch house, across the highway from Elephant Camp. John and the trackers believed the absence of springbuck could be attributed to the presence of a cheetah in the area. We were told that klipspringer were available for those physically fit enough to walk and climb the rocky hills, known locally as koppies.
In conclusion, if Hunting Report subscribers are looking for a hunt for free-ranging African plains game, with reputable, hard-working, down-to-earth people, and that won't break the bank, I suggest they give serious consideration to Westfalen Hunting Safaris.