Friday, September 4, 2015

Hunting Down Under

We just got back from an incredible hunt with Simon Kyle-Little of Australian Big Game Safaris. Our trip began in Calgary, Alberta and five airplanes later and over-night in Darwin and we were at Simon's Walker River Camp. This is a fly-in camp in the north-eastern part of Arnhem Land and it is about as wild as it gets. Simon has access to over 2 million acres here and unlike much of Arnhem Land, the region has never had a buffalo cull and according to the Aborigines, it never will. With the Australian government stepping up its buffalo eradication program, we figured hunts would never be better nor cheaper so that was our real motivation to go this year.

Simon is famous for his "death marches" and we covered many miles the first day and saw a lot of really good buffalo but either they were on the wrong side of waterways or they spooked before we could get into position. Vanessa was hunting a management bull and I was looking for a trophy bull. Very late in the afternoon on the first day, while driving back to camp we came across an absolute monster of a bull that Simon figured would go 106 or better but I was enjoying the hunt too much to simply take one at the side of the road.

The following afternoon we got on a good old bull for Vanessa. It was on the wrong side of a river but Simon figured we could drive around to him and if not, we could build a raft to retrieve him. The bull was nearly up to his back in the water so Simon and Vanessa got into position and then waited for the bull to walk up onto the shore. Vanessa hit him perfectly in the heart on the first shot and a second round anchored him right on the spot. It took us an hour to find a spot to cross the river with the truck but we finally got it within a kilometre of the downed bull. We took a few quick photos and then got down to the task of field dressing the bull. With blood pouring into the croc filled river, none of us wanted to spend too long at the river's edge.

The following day we put many more miles on and passed on several good bulls but couldn't find one we wanted so on day four Simon suggested we go look for an ox. We headed about two hours from camp to a rocky ridge and got extremely lucky when we found an ancient bull after only an hour or so of walking. I hit him in the shoulder with the first round from the .375 and a follow up in the neck dropped him where he stood. While I really had no intention of hunting ox, when I saw just how wild they were and what an incredible trophy they were, I decided the grand old bull would make a fine addition to the trophy room.

On day five we headed for the coast where one of the Aborigines had seen several good bulls. It was just after noon when we spotted a worthy candidate in a bilabong right along the edge of the ocean. He was with two cows and a calf. We had to do a wide circle to get the wind right for an approach and just as we were easing into range, one of the cows busted us and started heading for the thick jungle. The bull was last in line and with the crosshair settled firmly on the leading edge of his shoulder, I touched off a round. I could tell he was hit hard but pounded another into his shoulder for insurance and he crashed to the ground.

We spent the next couple days fishing and hunting boar and just sightseeing. Simon runs a first-class outfit and puts a lot of emphasis on providing a high quality experience. You definitely earn your trophies with him. Camp was very comfortable with hot showers and meals around the fire every night were delicious, with a feed of mud crabs and barramundi being the highlight. On the hunt we saw hundreds of buffalo, ox, wild pigs, dingoes, walaby, wallaroo, crocs and more species of birds than one could count. Simon also offers some great fishing for barramundi and off-shore as well. For more information check out

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Wildside Hunting Safaris, New Zealand

Vanessa and I hunted the South Island in 2011 and really wanted to go back and experience the North Island and some of the unique deer species it offers. After much checking around, the name Gerald Fluerty at Wildside Hunting Safaris kept coming up so we decided to book with him. He runs primarily a bow-hunting operation but as we'd be coming well after his regular hunting season, he agreed to take us as rifle hunters.

We flew Calgary to Vancouver to Auckland to Taupo where Gerald picked us up and drove us the two hours back to his main ranch. The plan was to hunt stag and fallow buck there then move to three other properties for the other deer species. We were assigned a very comfortable cabin right on the property and we ate our meals at the main house which were prepared by Gerald's wife Brenda. The food was excellent!

The drive to the 4,000 acre hunting area was only a few minutes and the property was spectacular. It's a working dairy/sheep farm comprised of rolling hills with the perfect blend of grass opening and heavy stands of vegetation. The red deer and the fallow deer populations are totally self-sustaining and all run together on the entire farm.

Gerald had one stag on the place that had injured itself as a yearling and one antler grew at a funny angle out of its head. Several bow hunters had tried to harvest it throughout the season but had been unsuccessful so he asked Vanessa if she was interested. She definitely was so the hunt was on. It was late morning on Day one when our paths crossed with a huge fallow buck. We'd actually decided to head back to the truck and go for lunch and were just walking along when we caught a flash of antler behind a small hill. After finally getting a better look at the buck we were shocked at his size and Vanessa wasted no time putting him down. It was one of the best fallow bucks that Gerald had ever taken. That afternoon we got a brief glimpse of the big stag we were after but he offered no time for a shot.

We spent the entire next day pussy footing around the property and despite seeing many great stags and fallow bucks our path never crossed with the "funky" stag. The next day we elected to take a break from red deer hunting and drove to a nearby property to hunt sika deer. We saw numerous bucks first thing in the morning including one that looked magnificent to me but not long after sunrise they'd all melted back into the heavy stand of manuka and we never saw another. On a bit of a sad note, we did find two magnificent red stags in different locations that had become entangled in the vines and couldn't escape. Both were dead.

Early that afternoon, it was raining quite heavy so we thought the sika deer might be out early and they were. We saw many hinds and a few smaller stags and then as the afternoon wore on, we came across a very tall stag with great weight and deep forks. While impressive I liked the width on the one we'd seen in the morning better. I'm sure Gerald was questioning my sanity but on we pressed, hoping we'd made the right decision. An hour or so later we spotted a lone stag on the edge of the manuka and one look through the binos confirmed it was our boy. After a lengthy stalk, I put him down at 154 yards with the 270.

The following day was spent back in search of the red stag and despite walking in excess of 12 miles we couldn't find him. Gerald suggested we give it one more day on him and then go hunt sambar to give the big stag a rest. We were greeted with a heavy snowfall the next day and the conditions were perfect for sneaking silently through the rolling hills. It was near dark and we had just about given up when Gerald spotted him on a distant ridge. We carefully closed the gap to about 150 yards. Time was running out and several other stags in the vicinity were getting nervous so Vanessa was faced with taking a tough quartering away shot. At the report of the rifle the stag was obviously hit but he took off at a trot into the heavy cover.

Blood was sparse but in the fresh snow trailing the stag was relatively easy. Just before dark, we spotted a bedded stag in a heavy stand of trees but we couldn't tell if it was him or not. Gerald snuck in for a look and it was our boy but he was up and running and offered no opportunity for a follow up shot. It was a long night staring out the window at the heavily falling snow. We walked in circles for several hours the next morning and somehow managed to find a tiny speck of blood. It took several hours to unravel the trail but at the end of it, we found Vanessa's magnificent trophy. He was everything she dreamed of and more.

Highway closures due to the snow delayed our departure the following day so it was very late in the afternoon when we got to the area we were to hunt sambar in. This was a free-range hunt and just at dark we watched a nice stag and two hinds come out of the heavy kanuka about 400 yards below us. We had a plan for the following. The real trick in the morning was going to be getting by the paradise ducks without them putting the entire valley on alarm.

We tried to sneak in under cover of darkness but the ducks were on to us and flew noisily up and down the valley announcing our presence. We spent the entire morning glassing the deep valleys and spotted two hinds and a young stag but there was no sign of the big guy. It was early afternoon when the rain stopped and the sun came out and shortly afterward we noticed several hinds and a small stag on a ridge directly across from us. They came out to lounge in the warm sun. Finally we caught a glimpse of the big stag but he was bedded behind a tree and offered no shot. It was an hour later that one of the hinds caught a bit of our scent on the afternoon breeze and became extremely alarmed. The stag came to his feet and moved into the open. At 274 yards I placed the bullet perfectly in his shoulder but he never even flinched. I launched a second one that caught him a bit far back and down he went. It took well over an hour to reach him but I couldn't have been more pleased.

While packing the sambar out, we spotted a huge old goat that we'd seen the evening before and I decided I'd take him if the opportunity presented itself. A couple hours later we were right above him and I took him right in the spine. I really didn't want to have to chase him down into the bottom of the valley.

We ran out of time to hunt rusa so we elected to head back to the main ranch and try for a huge old arapowa ram we'd seen earlier in the week but we never did find him. It will be a great excuse to go back one day.

After having hunted both the North and South Islands now, I'd say you have to do both to do New Zealand justice. The topography and vegetation are so different and each Island offers its own unique species. I was amazed at the number of turkeys and peacocks we saw during the hunt. I'd love to go back and hunt them....and those noisy paradise ducks of course! Seeing the amount of animals we did was incredible. We figured we walked between 50-60 miles for Vanessa's stag and many more for the other animals. It was definitely an enjoyable style of hunting and the snow just made us Canadians feel right at home.

Wildside Hunting Safaris
Guide/Owner: Gerald Fluerty
Equipment: Rocky Mountain Rifle 270WSM, Zeiss Conquest 4.5-14x44 Rapid Z800, 140 grain Hornady SST handloads

Monday, May 25, 2015

Please Send a Letter!


We were so close to having pack dogs legalized in the new Wildlife Regulation but unfortunately the early election call may have derailed that momentum. I know I’ve asked this many times before but I’m asking again; please send a letter to the new ESRD minister expressing your support for regulation change to permit pack dogs. Below is a sample letter but feel free to express in your own words....just please send a letter. I’ve also included a list of email addresses to send it to. You should also send to your own MLA. Their contact info can be found at:


Please send to:;;;;;;;

Dear Honourable Ms. Phillips:

I am writing to congratulate you on your new position as ESRD minister and to express my desire for you to continue on with the push to legalize pack/companion dogs in the new Wildlife Regulation. This initiative will do much to ensure the safety of both Albertans and grizzly bears in the backcountry and I would hate to see all the hard work that has gone into making this regulation change fall apart because of the early election call.

Yours truly,
Phone Number

Pack Dog Letters Again

Time to fire up the pack dog discussion with the new minister. I'll post email addys below:

Dear Honourable Ms. Phillips:
Congratulations on your appointment as ESRD Minister. This is a ministry that that often receives very little attention but it is one that is critical to the long-term conservation of Alberta's fish, wildlife and wild places. As I'm certain you are aware, the current Wildlife Regulation is set to expire at the end of June and I understand previous to the election, your staff was working diligently to make a number of changes, including the possibility of allowing hunters to be accompanied by companion dogs in the 400WMUs. The term "companion" dog is a bit of a misnomer as the push behind this regulation change was to permit the use of working pack dogs, not to have the family pet along for a stroll while hunting but I understand the use of term by your staff was to simplify the rule change. The push for this change has been nearly five years in the making and despite the promises of three previous ESRD Ministers to make the change, it still has yet to come to fruition.

On April 15, 2013, previous minister, the honourable Diana McQueen, responded to a question from Ms. Blakeman in the legislature regarding the legalization of pack dogs and her response was "Yeah. I was actually surprised, hon. member. For those that don’t know about it, with regard to the pack dogs that actually just wasn’t allowed. So what I’ve directed the April 15, 2013 Resource Stewardship RS-299 department is: this is something that’s just common sense and that should be allowed, and let’s get moving on this. I was surprised that that didn’t happen already. It’s something I certainly wasn’t aware of. When those that were advocating for it brought it to my attention and to the ministry’s attention – in my mind it’s a nobrainer, and let’s just move on it."
It is a no-brainer and I understand that the wheels of bureaucracy move slowly. Pack dog owners in the province were encouraged to see this moving forward and I would urge you to please ensure it is included in the new Wildlife Regulation.

To give you a bit of background on the subject, at the 2011 Alberta Fish and Game Association convention, a resolution was passed by the membership and passed along to ESRD to allow the use of pack dogs in Alberta. While I won't go into too much detail in this letter regarding pack dogs, basically they are used as a beast of burden much as a horse is and aid primarily mountain hunters in packing their gear in and game out. They are in no way used to chase, pursue or track game. Their only purpose is to be a pack animal. There is considerable evidence from BC, Yukon Territory and NWT that their presence in remote hunting camps also greatly reduces human/grizzly conflict, saving both the lives of humans and bears. Currently, Alberta is the only mountain jurisdiction in North America that does not permit their use. According to your own department, the current wording in the Wildlife Act is not intended to prohibit the use of pack dogs, yet it does. There has been historical use and continues to be use of pack dogs by First Nation hunters in the province but unintended wording in the 1906 Wildlife Act prevents Non-First Nation hunters from using them.

Everyone seems to agree that pack dogs should be permitted in Alberta and we are on the cusp of making this happen and it would seem a shame for it to be excluded now for no other reason than an early election call by the former Government. A legitimate user group is being excluded from Alberta's backcountry and Albertans' safety is being put at risk just because of some poor wording in 1906. I have included some background information on pack dogs for you and will forward you some support material under separate cover. I have written several award-winning articles and columns on the use of pack dogs in North America and I'd like to write one final one on how Alberta's new Government saw it fit to finally make good on a string of broken promises and help ensure the safety of Alberta's backcountry users and our precious grizzly bears.

I look forward to receiving your thoughts on this subject.

Yours truly,
T.J. Schwanky
Send to plus your own MLA;;;;;;;

Friday, May 22, 2015

Hunting Giraffe in Namibia

Heat waves danced in binocular as I looked out across the expansive plain. It was the dead of winter but when you are hunting just south of the equator, winter definitely isn't like it is in Alberta. The thermometer hovered near the 30-degree mark and I wiped the sweat from my forehead as we continued to glass. It was the third day of our Namibian safari with Leopard Legend Hunting Safaris and we were on the massive Sesfontein Conservancy. This was definitely real Africa. We had over 650,000 acres of free-range territory to hunt and the list of species was as varied as the terrain. We were in the heart of the Namib desert but the terrain was not what one would imagine. The vast plains gave way to rugged mountains that rose several thousand feet out of the desert floor. It was a harsh landscape and a handful of springs scattered throughout area were its lifeblood. But, despite that, wildlife flourished and Vanessa and I had already taken two of the biggest springbok we had ever seen in our lives and I'd taken a beautiful Hartman's zebra stallion that had recently been mauled by a lion; likely a member of the pride we'd seen a day earlier.

But, on this particular morning we were in search of giraffe. And, not just any giraffe but a huge, dark bull we had seen the previous evening. Giraffe is typically pretty low on the list for most hunters heading to Africa and on our first Namibian trip I'd felt the same. That was until we'd seen literally hundreds of them roaming the expansive plains. With animals like giraffe that most of us have only ever seen in zoos, it easy to believe that they are big dumb creatures that would provide no experience to the hunter. It's also easy to believe that these huge creatures don't require management like deer, elk and moose do here in North America but both could not be further from the truth. These are wild animals, very wild in fact, that do need to be managed and after our first trip, I vowed to return to hunt them in a natural, free-range setting.

We had our regular tracker and game guard with us but we also had a truck full of young camp help. A big bull giraffe can weigh in excess of 4,000 pounds and once on the ground, it takes a lot of help to deal with them. L'wyk, our Professional Hunter (PH), and his tracker studied some huge prints in the dry riverbed. Even I recognized them as giraffe. They had spent quite a bit of time feeding in the area and it wasn't obvious which direction they had headed. I glassed up the riverbed and through a small opening in a mopane tree I caught a glimpse of some giraffe several miles away. We got back on the truck and headed up the river.

Not only is vegetation sparse in this region, it's short, well, shorter than a giraffe anyhow and even though we were still a couple miles from the three females and the big bull, they spotted us and took off across the plain. L'wyk shook his head and mumbled something about this being as bad as it could get. We continued to drive up the riverbed, somewhat paralleling the running giraffes. We weren't gaining any ground but we weren't losing any either. The cover increased in density as we drove and the giraffes seemed to lose interest in us and stopped running, albeit in the wide open.

L'wyk said, "From here we walk."

I grabbed the 375 H&H and L'wyk and I headed toward the giraffes, utilizing what cover was available. The giraffes definitely knew something was up but they seemed content to remain where they were. I was shocked when over the course of the next hour we got to within a couple hundred yards. L'wyk slowly slid the shooting sticks up in front of me. The ideal shot was right where the head joins the neck but it was a small target at 200 yards and the big bull was slightly quartering making the target even that much smaller. The crosshairs seemed steady on the sweet spot and as my index finger tightened on the trigger, I felt confident the next thing I'd see was the huge animal crashing to the ground. "You missed, " L'wyk barked.

Indeed I had. We took off on a run chasing the fleeing giraffes. It seemed pointless as each of their effortless strides equated to a dozen of ours but as they climbed a steep ridge, the big bull paused. "Two hundred and eighty yards," L'wyk said matter-of-factly.

"Seriously?" was all that I could respond.

Not only did the big bull look much closer, I'd just missed a shot at nearly a hundred yards less. I found the sweet spot on the neck but after the hard run my breathing was laboured and the crosshairs would not settle. I quickly lowered the crosshairs and found what I figured to be the base of the neck. I knew I'd get some substantial bullet drop at this range and everything between where the crosshairs sat and the bottom of the brisket was a kill zone. It was the best possible scenario at this range. I'd been warned about body shots on giraffes but everything seemed perfect. I squeezed the trigger.

You could tell by his reaction that the big bull was hit hard and an audible "thwack" of the 250-grain bullet was confirmation of a solid hit. I worked the bolt on the rifle and found the big bull in the scope again. He was running hard from left to right but I could tell he was running dead. He covered about 20 yards before cascading to the ground. I had my giraffe!

With the help of the Land Cruiser and several very strong men, we managed to get the huge beast set up for photographs and then the monumental task of field dressing began. Up until this point, all of the animals that we took had been transported back to camp whole and processed there but that obviously wasn't possible with the giraffe. But, four hours later, we had it cut into manageable-sized pieces and were on our way to town with the first load of meat. When hunting these Conservancies in Namibia, the meat from the hunt goes to local villages, in addition to some much needed money from hunting licences and trophy fees. We dropped the first load of meat off at a school in the village and all of the kids came out and sang for us in gratitude for the much needed protein. The conservancy truck followed us back out and the remainder of the giraffe, including intestines, legs and meat were loaded on it and taken back to the village to be distributed among the residents. It always baffles me that many North American hunters automatically assume the meat is often wasted in Africa and nothing could be further from the truth. Every ounce of protein is utilized in a much more efficient manner than we ever see in North America.

The remainder of the hunt was incredible and in total we took three springbok, two gemsbok, three zebra, a giraffe, klipspringer, brown hyena, spotted hyena and two ostriches. This was our third trip to Africa and without question it was the most incredible landscape we have experienced. The sheer beauty of this desert region defies description and its unique inhabitants offer and incredible challenge for the hunter. In addition to the animals we hunted, we saw a rare pride of desert lions, elephants and while we never saw any rhinos, we saw tracks several times. Namibia is a shining example in Africa of how beneficial hunting is to both wildlife and residents.

For those in search of an African destination to get their feet wet on their first safari, Namibia definitely fits the bill. It's the safest country on the continent and it offers the real African experience at a bargain price when compared to countries like Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Leopard Legend runs their Conservancy hunts out of well-appointed tent camps. Evening meals are cooked over an open fire and consist of a variety of local game taken on the hunt. While there we tried meat from all of the antelope species we took as well as the ostrich, zebra and giraffe. You will never taste meat as fine as that cooked over a mopane fire under a blanket of a million stars in the southern hemisphere. If you are looking for that real African experience, a hunt with Leopard Legend in Namibia definitely satisfies.

For more information, contact L'wyk and Julene Jansen van Vuuren at or check them out online at or contact their Canadian representatives, Mark and Cindy Zimmermann at