African Adventure: Local hunters have success on African hunting safari

Local hunting buddies Todd Johnson and Eric Arkema experienced the hunting trip of a lifetime June 19-30. The two traveled all the way to the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, staying at Kubusi Safaris Lodge, about 45 minutes from the south coast of Africa. Their goal? To hunt game on a fair-chase African hunting safari.

“I have always enjoyed watching the African animals on TV, as a toddler myself and now watching the nature shows and ‘Planet Earth’ with my children,” Johnson said. “Eric and I were walking around at the Iowa Whitetail Deer Classic in March of 2022, and one of the many African safari booths caught our attention, and it was all downhill from there.”

The two made plans to go on the hunting safari from June 22-28. Arkema, of Galesburg, and Johnson, of rural Kilduff, each brought their 300 Win Mag rifles on the trip.

Eric Arkema poses with a blue wildebeest.

“With the correct paperwork, it was relatively easy to take a rifle halfway across the globe,” Johnson said.

The Iowans were hunting or driving to and from different hunting properties from sunrise to sunset each day of the safari. They ate kudu, gemsbuck, ostrich, and bushbuck meat prepared by the camp staff.  “It was surprisingly good, no ‘gamey’ taste at all,” Johnson said, “Except the ostrich meat, I didn’t care for that.”

When it was all said and done, Arkema had shot a kudu (250 yards), impala (250 yards), blesbuck (200 yards), gemsbuck (330 yards), and blue wildebeest (220 yards). Johnson had shot a zebra (186 yards), blesbuck (200 yards), kudu (311 yards), and blue wildebeest (230 yards). All the shots were standing up, off shooting sticks.

The kudu hunts were the highlight of the trip for Arkema. He also enjoyed seeing all the different species of animals roaming around. South Africa is home to 45 different huntable species.

Johnson said his favorite part of the trip was the zebra hunt as it was his most physically challenging hunt. He shot it on day two, which started with riding around the property in a buggy and seeing a white spot on the green mountainside.

“We got out and began hiking across the side of a mountain to get down wind and a better vantage point of the zebra,” Johnson said. “After the 20-minute hike, we spotted a group of three zebras, but they never stopped to get a good shot off. We hiked down the mountain (30 minutes of zigging and zagging through the thick bush) and came up on four giraffes. They didn’t run away until we got less than 50 yards from them. We regrouped with our tracker and spotted two more zebras right away across a valley. The wind was right, and we were in thick bush, so they couldn’t see, hear, or smell us.  At 186 yards, I shot, and the zebra ran about 30 yards and folded up.”

On site at Kubusi Safaris is a taxidermist. Johnson and Arkema were able to meet the man in charge and tour the building, where they saw a full mount of a lion in progress. The Iowans will get all their animals back. Johnson chose to get shoulder mounts of his zebra and blue wildebeest and European mounts of the kudu and blesbuck. Arkema decided to get shoulder mounts of his kudu and gemsbuck and European mounts of the impala, blue wildebeest, and blesbuck.

Once the taxidermist is done in approximately eight months, the animals will get shipped to Chicago in a crate. The meat from the animals stayed with the landowner on whose property they hunted. They will either use the meat for themselves, or it will be used to fulfill meat orders for other people. A large portion of the landowners’ income comes from hunting and meat orders.

Prior to the Africa trip, the biggest hunting trips the Iowans had done were black bear hunting in Ontario, Canada, for Johnson and in Wyoming for Arkema.

While they probably won’t be able to top the adventure of the African safari, the two have set their sights on another possible outdoor experience — the return of their annual fly-in fishing camp trip to Ontario, Canada. COVID canceled their 2020 trip, and they haven’t been back since.

Whether they have rifles or fishing rods in hand, the two are sure to enjoy their next adventure in the great outdoors.

Todd Johnson poses with the zebra he shot from 186 yards out. The zebra hunt was Johnson’s favorite and most memorable hunt of the trip.

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