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Kariba houseboat, dry land hippo and tuskless in Charara with Buzz Charlton
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The “just right” safari-Houseboat, tuskless and dry land hippo, Charlton McCallum Safaris 2016

Dates- August 17-31 2016 (plus travel days)
PH Buzz Charlton
Videographer Justin Drainer
Trackers and Driver- Criton, Nyati, Eddie
Photojournalist Melanie Wenger

Every safari is different. Each trip takes on a life and flow of its own. Personalities, weather, game density, topography, and just plain luck all play roles.
This year, the stars and planets all lined up to produce a safe, smooth, productive, and above all fun time for everyone involved.
The idea for this safari began percolating over dinner at Buzz and Stephie’s house after our 2014 hunt. Steph’s sister, Jackie, lives in Zambia and has an agency booking Lake Kariba houseboat trips. Sue and I love time on a tropical river, fishing and watching the world go about its business. I’ve always wanted to take a dry land hippo, and I hadn’t shot an elephant in two years. We booked a week aboard the “What a Pleasure” and visited several locations to approach hippo, fish, walk and take it all in. We “moved camp” three times, for which my part involved eating breakfast and smoking a cigar.
We then occupied a comfortable temporary camp in the Charara Safari area to chase tuskless and enjoy a more terrestrial safari existence.
Buzz had been contacted some months ago by a free-lance photo journalist with an interest in anti-poaching. She had spent time with a squad in Cameroon last year, and was to spend time with DAPU this season. She wanted to accompany a real hunt for perspective. Compare and contrast, if you will. Of course, we had second thoughts, given recent media hack jobs, but I felt I was in a good position to go for it. I’m mostly retired, own no businesses, and have pretty thick skin. Still, another reason to be glad that everything went “just right.” I knew that hunting with Buzz, everything would be above board and by the rules, and it would be a real hunt. , Buzz knows me well enough to figure that I probably wouldn’t get drunk and hit on the photographer. Melanie joined our team for the land based portion of the safari, and it didn’t take long for friendships to be made with the new team member.

We drove out of our home in South Dakota on Saturday, August 13 for Minneapolis. With a little commuter airport like Aberdeen I won’t trust that a flight won’t get cancelled, unraveling all our connections, hence the six hour drive. Overnight in Minneapolis, then on to the airport for 0900 departure. After checking about my bags with SAA to see whether they had all made it over from Delta, we discovered one was at large. Sent to the carousel by mistake. Got that sorted, but cripe! We connected to SAA for the overnight flight to JoBerg, and on to Harare. Enough time to get some Cubanos at the duty free, and everything arrived at Harare. Paperwork was a breeze, as usual. Buzz met us, and we went to spend the night at the Charlton Arms. We hadn’t seen Zoe and Jessie in two years, they have grown so much. They have turned into delightful kids.

The next morning after breakfast, we loaded our gear aboard Buzz’s Cruiser and a spare car of Steph’s, and drove with Buzz and Justin to Kariba, to the Marineland Marina.

For those of you not members of the AR cognoscenti, Justin is the videographer, friend and bon vivant who makes our times with CMS even more fun than they would have been. Don’t leave home without him!

Here is Justin, with his new baby. In Shona, he is “Babba Drone.”

The first day out we met Captain Goodson, mate Moses, cook Jimmie and game scout Innocent. before cruising three hours to Charara Bay. Here is a photo of Goodson, in his wheelhouse.

Jimmie, in his galley.

We arrived Charara bay right at dark, unpacked, and all was in order. The next morning we got underway at first light, and cruised to the Gache Gache River, which forms the western border of the safari area.
We saw some aquaculture. These are floating enclosure, raising captive bream.

Sue, Buzz, Justin, Innocent and I took the speedboat and landed for our first walk. We walked through some pretty thick jess near the lake, and all the backwaters were full of water hyacinth, hippo, and more big crocs than I have ever seen in one place. I’ve seen high croc numbers, but never so many in the 12-15 foot range. They were everywhere, and in large groups. Real “Jurassic Park” stuff.

Buzz looked down, and spotted the bottom of a pot on the ground. He spent a bit of time excavating it out. Probably an old Batonga artifact from before the lake was flooded. Some of the African guys wouldn’t touch it, some kind of bad spiritual implications it would seem.

Buzz and I spotted a bull with a pod, and he seemed, well, grumpy. The rest of the pod moved off, and we decided to try to approach him. If he decided to challenge us and defend his territory, we would try and take him. He postured a bit, then thought better of it and moved off. It was pretty exciting, but no Mark Sullivan style shooting today!

We went back to the speedboat, and Sue caught a little tiger. The tiger fishing kind of sucked all week, but the vundu…..
More about that later, we still have a hippo to kill.
The next morning, Buzz, Innocent and I walked off the houseboat at first light. There were hippo trails quite literally everywhere, and we saw many hippo, but all in the water. After breakfast, Sue joined us, and we walked to join the Cruiser. On the way to join the vehicle, we spotted a pod of hippo with the bull out of the water. We snuck around, came up behind a crest, and had the drop on them. The bull had moved off into the water, so we passed. We joined the Cruiser with the rest of our CMS family aboard. It was a joy to renew friendships, and hunt behind Criton and Nyati again. I had missed Eddie’s smile more than I realized.

Buzz had seen a big old hippo bull leading a bachelor life in a pan while doing a pre-bait in July. We drove the Cruiser near the pan. We walked in, and he wasn’t at home. The pan was beginning to dry up, but it was clearly still his home. The trackers got busy, and inside of a few minutes figured which of thousands of tracks he would still be standing in and started to follow. This was getting really cool, really fast. We were about a mile from Lake Kariba, tracking a hippo bull in the jess! The bull had a distinctive track, with two square marks in one foot. After about an hour, Nyati spotted him. Buzz was glassing and pointing. I could see something dark in the jess, perhaps 40 yards in front of us. Buzz put up the sticks, and asked if I could see his eye. I could, and Buzz directed me to shoot him in that eye, if I had a shot. Done, and done! A 416 caliber 400gr TSX sent him straight down. I’m glad I was using a scoped rifle! The bullet entered above the left eye, and exited through the right ear. Just right.

Hippo skin is pretty thick!

The meat was divided between Parks, and the camp staff. It was gratefully received. I’ll take the skin and the teeth.

His tusks were long, old, and stained nearly black. Just right!

It took about an hour to cut a recovery road , perhaps 250 yards long to get the Cruiser to the hippo. Three guys from Parks came to help with the recovery, as did Muno with another Cruiser. The hippo was shot at about 1030, and after photos were taken and a good start made on the recovery, we went back to the houseboat to move camp again.
Our next destination was the gorge of the Sanyati river.

We had to check in at the ranger station and pay a small park fee. It was $35 for the houseboat, all aboard, and fishing licenses.

We parked the houseboat on a small beach about halfway up the gorge at “the Waterfall” We spent the afternoon relaxing and fishing from the little beach. We caught nothing spectacular, but landed small bream and tiger, a baby vundu, and some squeakers.

We were visited by this giant kingfisher.

Morning glories seem to grow as perennial bushes here.

Than night, Justin set a couple of vundu lines from the back of the upper houseboat deck. I missed the excitement, due to jet lag and an ambien, but Justin was able to wake Sue with his excited shouting. She battled a gigantic vundu, losing it when the wire leader snapped with Justin’s fingers an inch from its lip. It may have been record class, by comparing its size with other large vundu we caught. Sure wish there was a picture, other than Justin’s hanging head! Justin said its mouth was as wide as his chest.
The morning of the next day we took the speed boat out after a light breakfast, and drove to the top of the Sanyati gorge. It is a very rugged place. We saw this young ele bull, minus about the distal third of his trunk from an old snare injury.

I had conspired with Goodson and the rest of the crew to call Sue “M’Buya” instead of “Madam.” She figured it out pretty quickly.

The next day, we moved camp again. We beached at Palm Bay, good for tiger and vundu. The tigers were not cooperating, but the vundu surely were. We were baiting with fried pork fat, and my new most exotic bait, fried hippopotamus heart.

Justin caught this trophy terrapin!

There were more hippo and giant crocs at Palm Bay, which has a lot of backwater and flood plain at this low water time of year.

Justin spent time photographing (harassing) croc and hippo with his drone. Fantastic footage, which I will try to post.

We fished for bait, and bream.

Using a porcupine quill for a bobber.

This is Justin pupating.

After two nights at Palm Bay, we motored to Fothergill Island, and stopped at Spur Wing lodge to buy a bit of ice and some worms, for one more day of fishing. Buzz and Justin went for a dip in the middle of the lake. You would not try this anywhere near shore!

We caught a lot of squeakers, but sat photographing elephant with cold drinks in our hands the whole time.

This elephant stayed near the houseboat for hours. He was uprooting clumps of grass, and thrashing them in the water to wash off the sand before eating them.

That evening near the houseboat, Sue hooked into another presumed big vundu. She couldn’t even slow it down, and her reel was stripped.
That night, we could see the lights of literally hundreds of kapenta rigs. These pontoon affairs motor out, shine bright lights, and net kapenta. These are roughly the equivalent of sardines, and provide a lot of cheap protein. Unfortunately, they are being vastly overfished. The tiny size of the kapenta we were served as a snack one evening illustrates.

A few Kariba sunsets-

The next morning, we motored back to Kariba for the terrestrial part of the safari. The crew met us.

We met Melanie.

As mentioned, she wanted to chronicle an elephant hunt, and has now witnessed what it is that pays for the anti-poaching efforts she has been passionate about. She has photographed anti-poaching in Cameroon, and Zimbabwe, as well as having spent time in post-Kaddafi Libya. Gutsy.
I know that many of you have reservations about having the press along, but I do not need to fear commercial consequences, and I am proud of what we do and see no reason to hide my face. I am through making excuses to the antis.
The fly camp was about an hour from Kariba. Traditional safari tents, and quite comfortable.

There was just one little issue. It was very dry. There was apparently a nearby honey bee hive. Bees need water. This was the loo when we arrived.

Fortunately bees are not nocturnal, and by keeping the toilet covered when we weren’t in camp, we had no further problems. This was plan “B.”

The first afternoon we went drove to a ruined camp called “Wasango” overlooking the flood plain. In addition to the usual croc and hippo, we saw about 40 elephant and eight dagga boys.
The second day out we spent walking, as usual. We were following a herd, and I felt we were starting to close with them. Suddenly, Nyati, Criton, and Innocent the game scout bolted. Without thinking, I bolted after them. Then I saw what the commotion was about-they were chasing two poachers! Fortunately, the poachers were unarmed. The scout fired a shot into the air, but the poachers did not stop and got away. They dropped a big pile of snares.
We figured the shot would have chased the herd we were following off, but in fact we caught them in only about a half hour. There was a tuskless, but she had a dependent calf.

Day three found us following a herd again. We walked for several hours and caught them, but the jess was very thick and the wind dicey. We saw two tuskless, only one with a calf. A large tusked cow stepped out and faced us from about 25 yards. She trumpeted and took a step forward. Buzz shouted at her and told me to put one over her head if directed to. He shouted again and she backed off.
There were a lot of elephant there and it was very thick. Discretion became the better part of valor and we decided to back off. I was very happy with that decision, and I know Melanie was! It was plenty exciting for me, and this wasn’t my first rodeo. I asked Melanie if she thought we were lunatics, and she didn’t exactly say “no.”
I didn’t need another charge like last time.

That afternoon after lunch we took about a kilometer walk up a hill to a proper hot spring. At the source, you couldn’t put your hand in, too hot! I had no idea there was geothermal activity in the Zambezi Valley.

We walked up the dry Sundi River. I foolishly took a crack at a running bushbuck with my double, and fortunately missed him cleanly. We walked through a fabulous albida forest.
Day four, we started on tracks early. We followed for hours. We heard elephant, so left the tracks. We found no elephant. In general, it is probably a mistake to leave tracks. In this case, since we were hunting tuskless, we weren’t following any elephant in particular and it was an OK thing to do. Just not productive. That afternoon, we again walked the Sundi River. We had seen such fantastic bushbuck the day before, I carried my scoped 416 Rigby. It was the right decision. Criton spotted a very nice ram, in the shade of a big tree perhaps 150 yards away. How those guys can see what they see is beyond me. Buzz asked me if I wanted him, we glassed him and it was a done deal. It was the same one I had missed the day before. Just right!

On the way back to camp, we drove by a buffalo herd with a good bull. Since it wouldn’t have been much of a hunt, we passed. Nice to see.

(Yes, I know, that’s not a bull.)

Day five was going to be showtime. Somehow, everyone felt it that morning leaving camp. I brought my sharpest knife, and wore a CM shirt for photos.
We left camp before dawn, as usual. We saw a herd cross the road perhaps a half mile ahead of us. We got out, put on sunscreen, loaded guns, and took off on foot. We began tracking from where we had seen them crossing. I whispered to Melanie something like “It’s never that easy.” We caught the herd perhaps a half hour later. We saw perhaps a dozen animals. There were two tuskless, neither of which seemed to have a calf. There was a tusked cow in front of me obscuring a tuskless. I waited for the tusked cow to clear, which she did, but Buzz and I decided to pass, as she was the smaller by far of the two tuskless seen. They smelt us, and we were busted. They did not panic, and moved off just a bit. We paralleled the herd through some very thick jess, not the kind of place you want to approach a herd. After about an hour of this, we came to a small clear area. There was again a tusked cow obscuring a tuskless. The wind was good. Buzz and I started to slowly walk up. The tusked cow moved off, and we continued to approach the tuskless, peacefully feeding. As we continued to approach, she became aware of something and went from side on to full on. She was about 25 yards in front of us. Buzz said “frontal” and I fired the 470. The 500 grain North Fork solid struck her forehead, and she collapsed straight down. She stayed upright on her knees, and the rest of the herd ran off. I walked forward a bit and put in an insurance round. We did not pose the “final bite” in the elephant’s mouth. It’s how she died. Sue and Eddy were back at the truck, and said about a dozen more elephant had followed us in.
They counted 17 running out after the shot.

Everything was “just right” again. Enough time chasing elephant to not feel cheated. Seeing loads of elephant almost every time out. Shooting one early enough to not feel pressured. All the hunting was done in the classical fashion, with our legs. This not only fulfilled my wishes,, but illustrated to a young first timer what this elephant hunting thing is all about. The coolest thing about having our hunt accompanied by Melanie was that it offered me the opportunity to see elephant hunting through new eyes.
The next three days were spent chasing buffalo. We caught them, but either the bulls were marginal, or too spooky with bad wind. I’m good with that. We got what we came for, had a whee of a good time, and hopefully made a favorable impression.
The elephant meat was divided between Parks and the camp staff. The staff traded some of the meat for fish at a nearby banana farm.

Charara has not been hunted for three years. Unfortunately, it has been heavily poached. Over the week in camp we picked up 80 snares. The fact that there is as much game as there is shows the area’s potential. Year ‘round water. If aggressive anti-poaching was done, it would be stellar, indeed.
We saw a lot of elephant nearly every day. We saw a fair number of buffalo, but almost no calves.

We drove back to Harare and spent the next day relaxing with our friends, visiting Patrick Mavros’ studio, and having a wonderful meal capped with good cigars with friends, old and new.


I’d recommend combining a Kariba houseboat trip on a safari without reservation! Retrospectively, it’s one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. It was way more fun for Sue than two weeks as an observer, and I’ve been informed that future safaris WILL incorporate this. Who am I to argue?
This has been pretty long winded, but in my defense, it really was two trips. I’ll post some pictures I just like.

Time to go home!

Here is a link I hope will work to a short compilation of video snippets that Justin sent me.

I’ll wrap up with a few photos I like but aren’t part of the narrative-

Muno won the shooting contest-
Three pounds of Jolly Ranchers and CMS shirt.

Posts: 1774 | Location: South Dakota | Registered: 22 August 2004Reply With Quote
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A fine trip indeed! Congrats!
Posts: 221 | Location: Alabama  | Registered: 30 November 2009Reply With Quote
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Nice Job. Now I need to go back and hunt with Justin and Buzz again just to be able to get drone footage in my video. That is really cool and adds a ton to the normal videos we are use to.


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Fantastic! Safari is so much more than just shooting animals. Obviously you and your wife get that. Congrats!


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Outstanding! tu2
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Excellent report, Marty.

Sounds like a helluva lot of fun.

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What an amazing adventure.
Posts: 1803 | Location: Alberta, Canada | Registered: 27 February 2008Reply With Quote
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Cool trip.

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Posts: 6563 | Location: Victoria, Texas | Registered: 30 March 2003Reply With Quote
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What a trip! Seems like great fun and Im glad you and your wife had a great time. Congratulations and thanks for sharing!

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Posts: 487 | Location: Hermosillo, Sonora | Registered: 06 May 2013Reply With Quote
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Well done Marty, your report and pics are very nice.

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Posts: 6312 | Location: Tennessee | Registered: 18 December 2006Reply With Quote
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Amazing safari with a fantastic report. Congratulations!

The only easy day is yesterday!
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fantastic report and pictures!!
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What a great adventure!!!!


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Posts: 7880 | Location: Cocoa Beach, Florida | Registered: 22 July 2010Reply With Quote
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Congrats on a great trip - very cool!

That's quite the photojournalist. Buzz was wise to put her with a gentleman. After a few pops, I would have been the world's largest mopane bee. You know, harmless but annoying.
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Lots and lots of fine photos and what a unique boating safari. Great narrative Marty.

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Congrats Marty! Very well done. Buzz always does it up right.
Posts: 1213 | Location: Sinton, Texas | Registered: 08 November 2006Reply With Quote
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Great trip, nicely done!

Buzz is a true Conservationist through mainly Elephant hunting so Melanie had a perfect "tutor".

As far as the boys taking a swim in the middle of the Lake "because the crocs live along the shores" - ask the pilots that regularly fly over Kariba and they'll tell you otherwise!
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Wonder trip and a unique experience. Congrats Marty. tu2


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Great post Marty. I was wondering what the running and shooting in the air was about in your video.


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Congratulations great report
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Super trip. Great photos and report.
Posts: 655 | Location: Idaho/Wyoming/South Dakota | Registered: 08 February 2006Reply With Quote
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I enjoyed the pics. Thanks for posting.

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Posts: 1955 | Location: East Wenatchee | Registered: 18 August 2008Reply With Quote
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Great photos and a well written report. I think you have the right idea about not hiding from the media what hunting really is. You pretty well demonstrated that it's not the hero shots over a lot of dead animals, it's the whole adventure that counts - well done!

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If its recoil does not bother you, do as Mac did and buy a .300 Weatherby. Ammo might be hard to find in many places, but you should be able to plan ahead and take enough for where you're going. It's certainly enough gun for anything that walks in this world, including an elephant in a pinch if you have solid bullets and you can convince the local game guard that it's a legal caliber.
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Posts: 1609 | Location: Washington (wetside) | Registered: 08 February 2005Reply With Quote
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Congratulations Marty.Nice shooting with the Searcy.Kariba is a place I would like to visit again.

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Lovely adventure. Thank you very much
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We live at Malibizi and saw many a croc in deep water.
From what I hear nowdays the "Flatdog" population has increased dramatically.
Posts: 15 | Location: South Africa | Registered: 10 May 2013Reply With Quote
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Such a fine report Marty. Narrative and pictures.
Sue & you had a true adventure. Very enjoyable to witness through your report and the drone clips.

I beg your pardon, but is that beard you are sporting not a new addition? Suits you by the way. I also notice the handsome Mavros bracelet on your wrist. Love it.

Kind regards to you both.
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I just watched the video. Wow!!!!


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Posts: 11118 | Location: LAS VEGAS, NV USA | Registered: 04 August 2002Reply With Quote
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Nicely planned and brilliantly executed! Great job all around, thanks for posting this and the video, very enjoyable!
Posts: 3118 | Location: PA | Registered: 02 August 2002Reply With Quote
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Excellent. Kariba is incredible. I will always remember time spent on Kariba in the Omay!

Making America greater than ever! Great days ahead for the U.S.A.!!!
Posts: 31589 | Location: Crosby and Barksdale, Texas | Registered: 18 September 2006Reply With Quote
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Great narrative and pics. Love the drone footage. Adds a lot to the experience... Bruce
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Wow!! Certainly might consider doing that someday. Thanks Marty.


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Posts: 6727 | Location: Alaska | Registered: 05 February 2008Reply With Quote
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Marty! Thanks for the report! We have just shot a great buff here in hammond so have had time to read it! It is always such a pleasure to hunt with you and Sue again- you have both become good friends over the years!

It was indeed a great hunt and I look forward to more Charara hunts for monster crocs and hippos. As you said great game considering the poaching which for my sins I think we will start to try tackle!

As for Melanie Tygersman- what can I say!!!!
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Best pics and report ever on AR.


Cal Pappas, Willow, Alaska
1994 Zimbabwe
1997 Zimbabwe
1998 Zimbabwe
1999 Zimbabwe
1999 Namibia, Botswana, Zambia--vacation
2000 Australia
2002 South Africa
2003 South Africa
2003 Zimbabwe
2005 South Africa
2005 Zimbabwe
2006 Tanzania
2006 Zimbabwe--vacation
2007 Zimbabwe--vacation
2008 Zimbabwe
2012 Australia
2013 South Africa
2013 Zimbabwe
2013 Australia
2016 Zimbabwe
2017 Zimbabwe
2018 South Africa
2018 Zimbabwe--vacation

Posts: 5323 | Location: Willow, Alaska | Registered: 29 June 2009Reply With Quote
one of us
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Sounds like a fun hunt/fishing trip. Glad you had a great time Marty.

Thanks for the report.
Posts: 531 | Location: Oklahoma | Registered: 05 March 2013Reply With Quote
one of us
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Thanks for a great report, my hunt is lest than a year away, reports like yours keep the juices flowing.
let us know when Melanie publishes her thoughts on your hunt.
Posts: 1334 | Location: Vermont | Registered: 27 March 2006Reply With Quote
one of us
Picture of subsailor74
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Great photos and trophies - thanks for sharing your report - it looked to be a superb safari
Posts: 1417 | Location: Virginia | Registered: 29 September 2011Reply With Quote
new member
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Wow! Great report, thanks for sharing!
Posts: 12 | Registered: 06 October 2016Reply With Quote
one of us
Picture of Slider
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Excellent Report!!!

Golf is for people that don't know how to Hunt and Fish.
The Al-Bino Vest
Posts: 1955 | Location: East Wenatchee | Registered: 18 August 2008Reply With Quote
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