NRA President Ron Schmeits, an accomplished wingshooter and big game hunter, grew up hunting pheasants and quail on his family’s ranch in northeast Nebraska. He’s hunted upland game and waterfowl throughout the upper Midwest and Canada, as well as numerous big game species across North America, including his adopted home state of New Mexico. He’s also a veteran of three African safaris, including a trip to the Dark Continent in August.
We had a chance to talk with the NRA President about his most recent safari, a trip in which he took two of Africa’s Big Five game species.
Q: Where in Africa were you hunting?
RS: I hunted in northern Mozambique. As someone in Africa told me, it’s the deepest, darkest, wildest part of Africa. When you look at the species in Mozambique, there are leopards in the area, and I ended up obtaining a leopard. There were numerous lions in the area we hunted, too, but we weren’t able to get one. We did see a lot of tracks where they’d been feeding.
The other thing about that part of Africa is the river that runs through northern Mozambique, the Lugenda River. A lot of the local people fish that river, and they lose 100-120 people a year to the crocodiles. If you’re along the river you have to be cautious because crocodiles could be along the shoreline. That’s what happens to the locals—they walk up to the river, they bathe in the river, wash their dishes in the river, and all of a sudden a crocodile is on top of them and they’re gone.
Q: Was this your first time hunting in Mozambique?
RS: This was my first time in Mozambique, although this was my third time hunting in Africa. All of the times have been good, but this area in Mozambique was the most primitive area in Africa that I’ve been in. Even though it was primitive, all of the people there were friendly. I didn’t feel threatened at any time. They went about their business and we went about ours.
Q: When did the hunt take place?
RS: We were there the last two weeks of August 2009. The weather was quite nice then. They have a rainy season in the first part of the year, and then in November and December they have 120- and 130-degree heat.
Q: Did anyone else accompany you on the hunt?
RS: My wife Ann accompanied me, as she has on all of my trips to Africa. Ann has done some hunting, but on all of our African trips she hasn’t hunted, except she does hunt with a camera. She’s a great photographer and takes a lot of pictures.
When you’re after a certain species of animal, you have what I would consider tunnel vision. You’re looking at the animal, and you’re trying to get up on it. That’s all you’re concentrating on. You’re not paying as much attention to the things around you. When I’m over there and I get back and look at her pictures, I get to see the trip through her eyes. She takes pictures of the people, the terrain, the vegetation, and she kind of preserves those memories for us.
Ann is a real trooper when it comes to our safaris because it doesn’t make any difference what time the vehicle is ready to leave, or what time it comes back, or whether we eat lunch in the field or we come back and eat lunch in camp. Ann is always ready to go with a big smile on her face. She has as much or more fun as anyone there.
Q: Who was the outfitter?
RS: The outfitter I used was Johan Calitz. (www.johancalitzsafaris.co.za/ZmozmenuNew.html)
Q: How were your accommodations?
RS: Our accommodations were great. We left the United States and flew to Johannesburg. We ended up staying in a hotel in Johannesburg that had a shopping center attached to it. The accommodations there were good. We got up the next morning and left by small plane. Our camp was about a 4 ½ hour flight north of Johannesburg, and we landed on a dirt runway. The vehicles picked us up there, and it was a 20-30 minute drive to camp. The camp was built right along the Lugenda River. Our lodging was kind of a combination between a tent and bamboo hut. The bamboo hut was the bathroom area, with a sink and shower. This was all on a concrete slab. In front of that, connected to it, was a tent, and it kept the bugs and the weather off of us.
Q: What was the travel like to and from the hunt?
RS: I flew from Denver to Washington-Dulles, and then we caught a direct flight from Dulles to Johannesburg. That’s probably the hardest part of the trip. You’re spending 18 hours cramped up in an airplane. You try to get a little sleep. You can’t stretch. The excitement of going over helps a lot. Coming back, as my wife would say, it was 9 o’clock, it was 9 o’clock, it was 9 o’clock. The clock never seemed to move for about 18 hours because it was always 9 o’clock as you go through the time zones. Coming back is the hardest part of the trip because you’ve had all your fun. Of course, you’re reminiscing about what you did. In our case, we had a great time and a super hunt. We were very pleased. But it is a long trip. When you really look at it with your layovers, it’s a 40-hour trip to get over and back.
Q: What species did you hunt?
RS: I harvested a leopard, a Cape buffalo, a crocodile, and, what I feel was perhaps the biggest prize of all, a sable. The sable is one of the most beautiful animals there is. Between that and the leopard, I think I did extremely well, and I had a fantastic hunt.
Q: What type of rifle did you use?
RS: I used a Kimber .375 H&H.
Q: Of the four animals you harvested, which hunt was the most memorable?
RS: The hunt that I probably enjoyed the most was the Cape buffalo hunt. You go out in the truck and you drive and you try to spot animals, or you try to spot tracks. Our trackers spotted where a few animals had come across the road, probably a day earlier. Anytime you have a track that is a day or less old they like to track them, so we got off and started tracking the buffaloes. Then we lost the tracks. The brush is heavy, the grass is heavy, and sometimes you just don’t see it. I think even if a blade of grass was turned the wrong way our trackers noticed it. Their tracking ability and their eyes are just so magnificent. But we tracked this group of animals for probably five hours without seeing them. We were up and down and in and out of ravines, through bamboo areas, through heavy grass and heavy brush areas.
We went across a few open meadows, too, and finally at about the five-hour mark we were going across an open meadow and there were some droppings off to the side. I remember asking my PH how far ahead those animals were based on how dry the droppings were. He said, ‘Well, it looks like maybe two or three hours ahead of us.’ We didn’t walk more than 10 minutes after that—we were in this high grassy area—and the trackers all of a sudden started pointing and told us to get down. They were pointing ahead, but I couldn’t see anything. About 400 or 500 yards ahead of us, if you got your binoculars out and looked, you could see the points of the horns of the Cape buffalo. They were bedded in a grassy area on a little bit of a side hill under some trees. So we watched them for a while through the binoculars, and they were kind of just laying down, getting up, moving around a little bit, and laying back down again.
The PH and the trackers were glassing, and they said there were quite a number of bulls in this herd and a lot of cows, but there were two really, really nice bulls. We slowly made our way to within about 150 yards of them. We set up our shooting sticks and waited for the herd to get up and move so that we could possibly have a shot at one of the big bulls. At that point my PH said, ‘You’ve been at this now for six hours, we should be able to harvest one if they don’t just get up and run away.’ The two bulls finally stood up. One was sideways, and the other one was looking right at us. He was 138 yards away looking just straight at us. We were not moving at all. His eyes were staring at us, and I’m sure in his mind he probably knew there was something wrong out there, but the wind was in our favor, and their eyesight is not that great.
We were extremely still and didn’t move, and finally my PH said, ‘Well, aren’t you going to shoot him?’ When you hunt in Africa, you do some things on your own, but when it comes to shooting you don’t really shoot until the PH tells you this is the animal you should take. And he says, ‘Well, shoot it.’
It was looking straight at me so I shot. I thought it was an easy shot. I was shooting straight on at it, so I aimed at the front part of the chest just below the nose so that the bullet would penetrate into the heart and lung area. I shot and, of course, all of the animals got up and ran. The one I shot at did, too. My PH said, ‘You missed him.’ I said, ‘I couldn’t have. It was a perfect shot. I couldn’t have missed him.’ So he said, ‘Let’s go look.’
We went up to where the animal was standing and there was no blood at all. I thought maybe he was right, but I was just sure that I had a perfect shot. When you’re looking for tracks or you’re looking for blood, the PHs and trackers kind of do a half moon out in the direction of where the animal went. We were doing the half moon, and about 75 yards out from where he was standing we started picking up little spots of blood. Then the blood got heavier and heavier. At about 250 yards out, we spotted him and he was laying on his side, not moving at all. I went up there and looked, and it looked like he had been running and everything just gave out. He fell on his left side, and it looked like he just skidded to a halt. It was a perfect killing shot.
Then, of course, we needed the vehicle, so we sent two people to go retrieve it. It took them about three hours to get to the vehicle and get back to us. It was quite a ways away because we had traveled a lot of miles on foot. When they came back they brought about 10 young men who had their machetes. They ended up helping us skin and quarter the animal and we loaded it. We ended up giving them about a third of the animal, and they were just tickled to death because that’s probably the first red meat that they’ve had in months. They were smiling from ear to ear and patting our hands. Then we headed back to camp. But that was probably the most memorable of the hunts. It was almost like a textbook hunt for Cape buffalo.
Q: Do you have any other hunts planned in the near future?
RS: I like to do bird hunting, and I was able to do a pheasant hunt in Nebraska and one in South Dakota. I’m hoping that before the Iowa season closes I can do a pheasant hunt there. I also like to do dove hunting. I may try to put together a trip to South America and do some dove hunting down there sometime next spring. It kind of depends on my responsibilities with the NRA and if I can carve out some time in there and make arrangements. Part of it is that I like to go with particular people because it’s really enjoyable if you’re able to share a good hunt with people that make good company. You get to have some dinners with them afterward and talk about the shoot and how much fun you had.
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