US hunting guest review: Michael Bouton, North Carolina who visited Buffalo Kloof in June 2018:
Gold standard hunting in the land of the sun
It’s a mighty long way from America’s North Carolina to the heart of Settler Country in South Africa’s Eastern Cape region…Some 10 000 miles to be precise, not to mention worlds apart in every other respect. This is after all the Southern-most tip of Africa and – if the press are to be believed – unpredictable at times, to say the least. These were my initial thoughts – and those of my family – when I first considered visiting.
As a seasoned hunter and veteran of many hunting trips from the US to Mexico and British Columbia, I was certainly ‘game’ for the challenge. Jason Berger – a respected US hunting and fishing consultant at Worldwide Trophy Adventures (preferred partner of the well-known American outdoor and hunting outfitters Cabela’s) – had given me the ‘heads up’ and recommendation about Buffalo Kloof Wildlife Safaris, from the connection made with them at Safari Club International shows; and Buffalo Kloof’s steadily growing reputation as a hunting destination of choice on the African continent. However, excitement about the upcoming trip and hunt was tempered to some extent by trepidation about this – my very first trip to Africa! Convinced, however, by Jason’s positive recommendation and my own desire to achieve the ultimate hunting African trophy – the iconic Cape buffalo – I put any doubts aside and booked my trip for end May / beginning of June, in the US summer.
Arriving in the metropolis of Johannesburg, the economic hub of South Africa and – surprisingly to me – far more of a first world city than I had ever realised, I started to feel as if I was in for many more surprises to follow! After a good first night’s dinner and overnight accommodation, it was time to head for the airport and my flight to Buffalo Kloof.
Safe gun transit
Fellow hunters know the sometimes frustrating and even worrying logistics of getting their guns quickly and safely through foreign airports. You can imagine my relief when I was met by the tall and commanding figure of Warne Rippon, founder and co-owner of Buffalo Kloof at the airport in Johannesburg, who very quickly and efficiently liaised with airport authorities with practised ease and good humour.
Before I knew it we were winging our way to Port Elizabeth, the regional harbour city of the Eastern Cape. It is also the gateway to the historic settler country of the Grahamstown district, and the neighbouring 40 000 acre gem which is Buffalo Kloof.
A short hour and a half later our flight was over, and soon we were driving to our destination, and I was to see the flat plains and coastal geography quickly giving way to rolling hills and the trademark ‘bushveld’ common to that part of the countryside. Warne and his wife Wendy grew up in the district, and her ancestors came to Africa with original 1820 Settlers – so centuries of rich history complement an equally rich hunting experience at every turn in this incredible place.
‘Eden’ of the Eastern Cape
Nestled in a fold of hills within the Malaria-free Eastern Cape region of South Africa, which is famous for its robust game breeding and the genetic strength and diversity of its wildlife – including the iconic Cape Buffalo – is the vast 40 000 acre reserve that is Buffalo Kloof, closely resembling a latter-day Eden. With its historic old farmhouse, offices and beautifully restored main hunting lodge situated on the site of the original settler farm, this amazing game ranch seems to go on forever, and features every type of biosphere: from golden savannah to thick riverine bush and rocky hills. It is home to 4 of the so-called ‘Big 5’ (elephant, white rhino, leopard, Cape buffalo); and many other wildlife species besides, including kudu, eland, sable, bushbuck, reedbuck, impala, warthog and of course, the emblematic South African springbok. I really felt as if I had just woken up in the middle of a technicolour movie like The Lion King!
Professional hunting – and so much more
What followed was quite simply the best hunting safari I could ever have been fortunate enough to go on! Senior professional hunter and Warne’s partner in the hunting business, Ralph Koster was my personal PH and guide for the duration, and I couldn’t have asked for anyone more professional or attentive. Nothing was too much trouble – from anticipating where I wanted to hunt or what I might like to drink around the fire in the evenings, to the delicious food prepared and served by Ralph’s wife Diana and their charming helpers.
Everyone at Buffalo Kloof – from the most senior to the most junior staff member – are endlessly hospitable, charming and helpful, with ready laughter and the sweetest of smiles – in an entirely unaffected and natural way, which I have now realised is typically African. I have also seldom met a PH more enthusiastic or instinctively in touch with the bush and the animals he tracks and hunts. Ralph’s knowledge of game and their habitats is vast, and yet you’d never meet a humbler more ‘salt of the earth’ guy.
Every thought was given to my comfort, from the percale linen and super-comfy beds in the lodge (and even the rustic family bush camp we spent two nights staying at), to the restaurant quality local cuisine freshly prepared daily. Enjoyment of the entertainment variety was also not in short supply, with starlit nights in the ‘boma’ (camp fire area) watching rhino grazing just metres away from where we sat, or listening to traditional sing-alongs around the fire at the bush camp, resounding with camaraderie and lots of good-natured kidding around and laughter.
Gold standard trophies
Ethical, fair chase, free roam hunting, from which one can bring home SCI gold standard trophies are every hunter’s dream. I’m proud to say that my time at Buffalo Kloof offered me the opportunity to achieve this! Over a challenging array of different terrains – and what felt on some days like hundreds of miles in that vast ranch – I hunted a variety of game with excellent horn measurements, including: buffalo (44 inch), sable, nyala, impala and a kudu bull.
African hunting home
It certainly occurred to me more than once during my stay what a great time I was having as a guest hunter – and that everyone else seemed to be having a great time too – although the sheer amount of logistical preparation must’ve been enormous! And yet – from Ralph’s incredibly talented PH skills to Diana and her team’s hospitality – I simply felt the warmth of welcome and the camaraderie of friends…Just how a hunting trip – which is after all also a vacation – should feel, but let’s be honest, sometimes does not.
In closing, let me share a secret with you. I often cut my hunting trips short to return home, as I miss my home and family a lot when I’m away. Although I certainly still missed them this time, it wasn’t long before I was entranced by the magic of Buffalo Kloof: the call of the birds at dawn, the magnificent animals we hunted, the wide open spaces, firelight and starlight. Most of all, I was charmed by the sweetness and genuine warmth of Buffalo Kloof’s people. And that’s when I knew that this was one trip which I would definitely be seeing through to the end…to return again soon to this place, which really feels like my African hunting home.
Buffalo Kloof Wildlife Safaris is an appointed and registered outfitter with Rowland Ward Fair Chase Outfitters