There’s more to South Africa than ducks, geese and guineafowl. Way more. Way bigger. Following an action-packed wingshooting spree in South Africa, Ramsey joins long-time friends and associates to scratch off a few non-feathered bucket-list biggies that have stalked his dreams during the years he first met the husband-wife team. Great conversation about the stuff most folks associate with South Africa.
Africa in Your Blood
That woman had never pulled the trigger on an animal, we practiced before she came here, she shot 3 critters and she smiled outside her face the whole time went and got her a dang hat, a certain safari hat to wear out there on the high rack.
Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere, I am sitting by a roaring fire watching the South African sunset, we’ve had an amazing time. You all know I duck hunt, oh, boy, I do, I duck hunt. I’ve been down here a long time duck hunting, but the funny thing happened the first time I came to Africa, I woke up midweek, we staring at the ceiling and I go, I am in Africa, I ought to shoot a critter, I ought to shoot a critter while I’m here and I went out and shot one shot a black Wildebeest and it changed, it did something because I used to be a big game hunter, it did something and years later, I ran across today’s guest online and my wife Anita suggested that, well, why don’t we do that for your 50th birthday? You’d love it, she loved it too, we had a great time and we came down here and we shot a few critters, but there’s something about Africa that just gets in your blood. It’s like the bucket list in reverse, the more critters you knock off from all your bucket list, the more you add to it, the list just keeps getting longer. I just finished a Cape Buffalo hunt with my buddy and longtime friend and associate Werner van der Walt.
Werner van der Walt: Ramsey, thank you for having me on your podcast. And yeah, we had a great hunting week behind us. I think we shot some beautiful trophies.
Ramsey Russell: I’m glad I bumped into you last year because I’ll tell you the story and I feel like I’m cheating on my spouse or something saying this. But Anita and I came down here years ago and we figured out on the drive over, it was what, 2016?
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, 2016.
Ramsey Russell: Had an amazing time. That woman had never pulled the trigger on an animal, we practiced before she came here, she shot 3 critters and she smiled outside her face the whole time went and got her a dang hat, a certain safari hat to wear out there on the high rack.
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, she really enjoyed it.
Ramsey Russell: And we came back, we had such a great time, we came back Werner and I let a former associate talk me into going on another hunt and it was so disappointing that about 3 nights into it, my wife’s, like it’s okay, the kids are having fun, don’t say nothing, I said, I do this for a living, I know better, this sucks. It sucked. And I said, we should have gone back with Werner and Carmen. And then after I’m checking out a gun room from bird hunting and there you are and you told me, you said, hey, call me next year, I got a great deal going on Cape Buffalo and Sable and I said, well, that’s just what I want and here I am. It’s been an amazing time, you and Carmen do such a great job and Richard joined me, he had a great time this time and it was just – so here we are, it was awesome.
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, it’s always sad when it comes to an end, sitting here at the sunset looking at a beautiful fire and we had such a great time, even back years ago, 2016 with you and Anita, it was just such a wonderful experience to see Anita shooting those first animals and how she enjoyed it and now a few years later here we are shooting at Cape Buffalo and a beautiful Sable and then there was also to add on the waterbuck.
Ramsey Russell: Well, Richard and I talk about that, your list just gets longer. And the bad thing is, I’ve already told you, I’m coming back next year and I got more critters, I’m just going to take one or two at a time.
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, that’s Africa’s addiction.
Ramsey Russell: You bring up a good point that I didn’t think about, how many of your clients bring spouses? Because unlike a lot of hunts we do, the South Africa hunting experience lends itself to non-hunting spouses and girlfriends. Because whether they hunt or not they get the high racket like going through animal kingdom, there’s critters you only see on television and a lot you’ve never heard of, plus the birds, plus the food and the sundowns and how many people do you think bring their spouses?
Werner van der Walt: We’ve seen it over the last years that it is becoming more and more that guys will bring their spouses. First, they’ll come maybe by themselves and then they’ll show them photos of the lodges and what they are doing and then the wives are like, what do you want to come with? Because it looks like this is going to be fun and they don’t have to be hunting, but they enjoy the drive on the truck looking at the animals, it’s the whole experience that we see that husbands are bringing their spouses and their kids more on their hunting trips now.
Ramsey Russell: The number one advice I’ve got for anybody that comes to South Africa beyond the hunting gear and the rifles and the species, number one thing I tell everybody, bring your wife, but she don’t hunt, bring your wife, she is going to freaking love this. Anita is really not a hunter, she loves South Africa.
Werner van der Walt: And I think that’s true too, especially South Africa, it is a few countries like you said, there’s a few countries you can’t take your spouses with. But I think South Africa is one of those countries that really is spouse friendly, kids friendly and there’s so many other things for the spouses to do, which Carmen sometimes takes them on other occasions or things to do. But mainly they all just like driving with their husbands on the back of the truck and enjoying the scenery, enjoying being outside.
Ramsey Russell: Yeah. Plus the wine, plus the hospitality, yada, yada. We always stay at a little guest house when we come in because the flight arrives 6 o’clock, you clear customs around 07:00, whatever like that and it’s late, you’re hungry, you need to stretch out flat after the long trips, we go to a guest house and I love going there because number one, you can talk to anybody and all you got to do is say, what are you hunting? Because everybody’s hunting something. But it’s unbelievable how many families, fathers and sons, moms and dads and kids, unbelievable how many come to South Africa to experience this.
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, it is. It is unbelievable. Like I said, this is a family friendly destination and we had a client in that brought his 7 year old and his 12 year old son and it was the second time and they enjoyed it so much they just want to come back every year with their dad and their dad said, can’t do every year, maybe every second year because their list is also becoming more expensive now. So, but yeah, it’s a really a kid friendly environment in South Africa and spouse friendly.
Growing Up in the Hunting Industry
We grew up hunting for meat for the house, we never ever hunted for trophies.
Ramsey Russell: Werner, what is your origins? Where did you grow up? And what was it like growing up there?
Werner van der Walt: Yeah. So I grew up in a small town in a free state called Belfair, we had a hunting farm just outside about 50 kilometers away in a little smaller town called Slavitz and that’s where my love for nature started. And then during the 1995 election, there were so many other stories about what’s going to happen to Africa and my dad decided to sell it. And then about 2001, we started a breeding facility where we breed lions and tigers and cheetahs and that’s also where the name comes from, Cheetah and the cheetau and then the tau means lion. And then in 2007, I did my PhD and have been hunting ever since. But growing up, I grew up in the hunting industry and loved every second and every moment of it.
Ramsey Russell: Did you actually hunt growing up? When you were a little boy, when you were 7, 8, 9, 10, did you actually hunt?
Werner van der Walt: I shot my first animal, a blesbok, when I was just almost 7, it was for my 7th birthday and it was my first animal I ever killed was a blesbok. And after that shot a few of the plains game over the year and I shot most of the animals on our farm and in my dad’s friend’s farm in old days in Limpopo Province.
Ramsey Russell: I know, there’s a difference. What’s the difference in a South African hunter, you and your dad going hunting versus a North American hunter coming to South Africa?
Werner van der Walt: So, our hunt is basically for meat. We didn’t hunt for any trophies and if we by luck shot a big Kudu or a big blesbok or something, we would mount it, but we never went out for trophies. We grew up hunting for meat for the house, we never ever hunted for trophies. I only started hunting for trophies for myself when I started hunting in 2007, so all the animals that I shot growing up were not the biggest, but my dad mounted each and every one for me. So I’ve got all those animals but they are way not the biggest, they are really just there for me to have them on the wall and look at them and that’s my first ever animal that I ever shot.
Ramsey Russell: I see that because we’ve been to a few taxidermy shops here in South Africa throughout South Africa and when you go into like the neighborhood taxidermy shop that just services the local population, it’s just animals. It may be a female or it may be a small, but that’s what it is. It’s a lot of first animals or first species or something like that, it’s not Boon and Crocket or no Safari Club or SCI, it’s just animals.
Werner van der Walt: It’s just animals. If you start hunting as a beginner in South Africa, you basically just shoot a nice animal of that species, might not be the biggest, but most of the dads will always mount their kids first animals for them, it doesn’t matter if it’s a female or a male, dad’s going to get mounted.
Ramsey Russell: How important is the hunting tradition to a South African father and son?
Werner van der Walt: In the hunting environment in South Africa, that’s a very, it’s such an important thing for South Africans to still hunt and we’ve seen over the years that the hunting locally has grown and even nowadays, the trophy hunting has grown between South Africans. There’s a lot of guys now that will hunt meat, but they will shoot trophy animals for their trophy collection. So we’ve seen that, but I think most of the South Africans still just hunt for the meat.
Ramsey Russell: Not everybody because I walk past a 60inch Kudu, I’m like, where the heck did that come from? And Carmen said, the guy just shot it for meat and didn’t want the horn, I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me.
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, that’s something that we as outfitters cry about because I almost started crying when I saw and I said, what did this guy know, he just shot it for the meat and he didn’t even want to saw it off horns. I haven’t even showed a 61 inch, so just a lucky guy at a lucky place.
Ramsey Russell: What was it like growing up with a lot of lions and cheetahs in your backyard?
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, everybody who thought every day, yes, this is so nice growing up, but that was a lot of work. We had a lot of lions fighting and breaking fences and it was constantly work, it might have looked nice, but it was a lot of work keeping those cats. Firstly, you have to keep them fed, you have to keep them safe, not fighting, not killing each other, but it was something that I would always treasure close to my heart to have been privileged to have lions running in our backyard, leopards, all kinds of cat species and that time of my life, I will never forget it and I’m very grateful that I had experienced that part of life. But it was odd, it wasn’t easy.
Ramsey Russell: It reminds me of when Anita and I came down here and hunted with you all, it was a long trip, 8 days and I think on day 8, we took the morning off and we went to a local park and rode elephants and they were orphaned elephants.
Werner van der Walt: Yes, that’s correct.
Ramsey Russell: That was the most amazing thing. And what I remember is the oldest one was like 20 years old and there must have been 20 or 30 people getting the dog and pony show about elephants and elephant conservation and they pointed to me, called me out of a crowd and 5 or 6 others and I took my shoe off and he said, say your name and that elephant touched my croc as I was talking, I said my name three times, the guy took it through it behind him, he did that with everybody and then when he called the individual’s name, that elephant turned around and with his trunk, grabbed that person’s shoe, turn around and hand it to you. And later at dinner that ranch owner had some rhinos poached and he knew his trackers told him we can’t find these guys, they’re very clever, but we know they’re still on this massive property and the best trackers in the world can’t find you called in reinforcements and he asked me which elephant did you all ride? And I can’t remember his name, but I told him he said, that’s the elephant and they brought that elephant to the property and turned it loose on the kill site where that Rhino would have been poached and that elephant tracked down those poachers and found them, that’s the most amazing story I’ve ever heard.
Elephant & Rhino Sanctuaries
The black market is never going to stop.
Werner van der Walt: Even the first time we went to that elephant sanctuary, it’s mind blowing the sense that those animals got and they reckon, if you even go back now, they don’t even have to smell that croc again, they can just say your name and it will pick your croc out of that crowd. It’s amazing to see those animals and to get the knowledge of how clever they are and the senses and it was a very amazing experience.
Ramsey Russell: Rhino poaching is kind of a big deal down here.
Werner van der Walt: Yeah. Rhino poaching is becoming a huge problem, it is already a huge problem and I believe in my heart, there’s something that the world can do and it can really decrease the number of poaching and it’s just legalize the trade of rhino horn like it’s diamonds or anything because at the end of the day, the market that wants the horns are never going to stop, we’re never going to change their beliefs.
Ramsey Russell: Illegal market or the black market.
Werner van der Walt: The black market is never going to stop. So South Africa, all worldwide or Africa wide, we’ve got such amount of stockpiles of rhino horns that we can basically flood the market almost. But they just don’t want, scientists don’t believe in it. So we’re trying to fight it and we’ve got our own rhino in the freezer and it’s a stressful situation having those animals and don’t know if they’re ever going to be safe and you have constantly have to go and check them, their security that checks them, it’s a constant battle that rhino battle and I really don’t know, they’ve tried everything and we as South Africans feel it’s time to legalize the horn trade.
Ramsey Russell: What’s keeping it the situation like it is?
Werner van der Walt: I believe that CITES because CITES is the organization that is in charge of all the trade of endangered animals worldwide, they sitting in their palaces wherever they are in Europe, they don’t know the battles that we have every day, every year with rhino horns and the most amazing thing about it, you can de horn that rhino and it will regrow, there is no harm, nothing to the animals. So why can’t we just like harvest them, farm them? The numbers will go up, the poachers, there will be no need for poaching anymore because there’s going to be a market, if you want 10lbs of rhino horn, you can buy it on a free market. And that’s my personal beliefs and I think there’s a lot of people that –
Ramsey Russell: They can be farmed like dairy cows.
Werner van der Walt: They can. They can basically be farm and my personal opinion, the only one that’s going to lose out is probably the hunters because now they’re going to be farming these horns, so a hunter will only be able to shoot an old rhino that’s got almost no more horn left. So, the whole world think, we as hunters are the problem but we are not the problem. It’s the black market, that’s the problem.
Losing Livestock to Leopards
They work in national parks and with the high fence areas being so in abundance in South Africa, now the leopards don’t have to travel that far anymore for food.
Ramsey Russell: What about leopards? Because you were telling me a pretty interesting story on the drive over the other day about how -there’s a lot of leopards down here, but some of the same political forces are trying to protect leopards like –
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, South Africa has been going through this, then we get 10 tags for the whole of South Africa, then this year, they canceled it again. But we sitting in a situation in the waterbuck area in Limpopo where there is an abundance of leopards. And the problem is with the leopards now, the local farmer, he can’t afford for a leopard to catch 2 or 3 cattle calves, so now we believe there’s poisoning going on, maybe the farmer shoots the leopards. And again, we come back to – if there was a hunt value, if there was tax towards these leopards, there’s a hunt value, then any farmer can maybe sacrifice 2 or 3 calves a year because he’s going to get money from letting an outfitter or anybody come on his property and shoot the leopard for money, but they don’t understand. And then they believe that there’s not a lot of leopards in the Limpopo area. Now, I know for a fact there’s a lot of them, we see tracks constantly, but it’s easy for a non-hunting organization to go put up trail cameras, I can put up 10,000 trail cameras in Limpopo and never get a single leopard on camera.
Ramsey Russell: Why? Because they’re just so secretive.
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, if you put it on the wrong areas, you’ll never see a leopard, but if you go to the farmers and ask them, listen here, do you think you’ve got leopards on your farm? Can we come and put cameras up at your farm? But they just choose their own destinations, their own locations where they want to put up. And I think it’s time for the government and the farmers to start working together with this leopard because it’s an issue because a lot of these local tribes, they lose a lot of animals with leopards catching the calves.
Ramsey Russell: It’s been my experience with anti-hunters, they don’t care, they’re not going to pay for it. It’s like, over in the Netherlands it’s okay that the farmers are getting eaten out of house and home by the geese, but the anti-hunters aren’t going to go out of pocket to soften those losses.
Werner van der Walt: No, I don’t believe that they would do that. They think we are the worst there is.
Ramsey Russell: Are there a lot of leopards in South Africa?
Werner van der Walt: There is. There is a lot of leopards. I think the numbers that they come up with is not even half of the population. There is a lot and that’s why I say they need to get the farmers on board to really get the correct numbers because they don’t have a clue. They work in national parks and with the high fence areas being so in abundance in South Africa, now the leopards don’t have to travel that far anymore for food.
Ramsey Russell: They can hop over the fence and the creators ain’t got nowhere to go.
Werner van der Walt: They can just go underneath the fence, catch an impala or catch a blesbok and slid it underneath the fence back they don’t really have to move so far. So that’s the sad part that now we’re losing a lot of leopards maybe to legal shooting of them or poisoning, but you can’t blame the farmers, they can’t afford to lose their livestock.
Ramsey Russell: But if there were hunting tag, if there were commodity value, they’d be willing to give up a few knowing that there’s money involved, there’s an asset value in that resource.
Werner van der Walt: 100%. If there was a price on that leopard for them and they know they can sell two or three tags a year to outfitter or hunting organization, they can sacrifice two or free cattle a year. But now there’s no tax, no money, so that’s been the farmers taking things into their own hands.
Ramsey Russell: You know, this part of South Africa reminds me of South Texas, the soil, the habitat, the cover, looking out over these woods right now, it just looks dog hair thick, but you get up in the air like we did today in a helicopter to take a look around, you can see right down and see everything, but there’s a lot of high fence too. You just talked about the game farms, a lot of this territory, maybe all of it being under fence, what do you say to somebody that said I don’t want to shoot nothing inside a fence. I mean, first off, I tell them, well, some of these landholders are 30,000 to 50,000 to 100,000 acres big, I mean, these are big properties under fence and a Kudu can hide behind that chair right there, let alone 50,000 acres, it’s unbelievable.
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, I think the problem is a lot of people see the high fences in South Africa or as the high fence in Texas. Now, I’ve also hunted the Texas high fences, it’s a little bit different than the South Africans. Our animals as not as, I don’t want the word to use, the right word, not as tame as the ones maybe in Texas, which is not the right word, but I believe our animals do have the opportunity to evade you. It’s a hunt, it’s a real hunt. We walk and stalk, we drive, we look for them, so it’s not like you’re going into a barrel, like shooting fish in a barrel, it is like you say, there is small ranches, there’s large ranches, it’s just difficult to explain to those people sometimes, but I will say book a hunt to South Africa and experience the high fences. And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to come back, but it is worth the trip because it is totally different.
Managing a Wild Resource
And if it wasn’t for the game farmer and a game rancher, those genetics would have been dead.
Ramsey Russell: The fence has become prevalent throughout the white tail industry back home, not just for farm deer, but the thing about the advantage of a fence is that it’s kind of a herd management, it’s an animal management. I can manage the mouths to feed, I can manage the genetics, on one hand, it is a little bit like ranching, but it is a wild resource. These animals here are born and raised and managed here on the site, but it’s a big property and that’s what I think – when I hear people say, well, I just don’t want to shoot behind a fence, I’m like, this ain’t like your back yard, man.
Werner van der Walt: No, it’s not. If it wasn’t for the high fence in South Africa, there would have been no more animals left because if it wasn’t for the game farmer that stepped up, if you can just look at the genetics that’s going on now, when I started this business in 2008, if we shot a 38inch sable, that was like a world record, we were like, just mind blown. Now, we shoot 46, 47, 48, you can shoot 50 inch and that’s because of the breeding of the genetics, getting the genetics up there. And if it wasn’t for the game farmer and a game rancher, those genetics would have been dead. And so, yes, people don’t like it, but I think it’s a good thing for genetics and that is my personal opinion and I really believe that if it wasn’t for these management areas where we can – that’s what we do, we bring in new blood every second year or every year and we’ll put a tag on that animal’s ear so that we know we’re not going to hunt that animal this following two or three years because we need those genetics in our pool to keep our pool growing. And that’s the only way we can manage it is that’s behind a high fence unfortunately.
Ramsey Russell: I used to think of hunting in South Africa is being extremely expensive and it wasn’t until I met you and your wife and I realized, wait a minute, I’m by no means a wealthy person, I sell duck hunt for a living, I’m middle class, but I can save my money and come here and hunt. And what I see is and I’ve talked to other people too, Warner is, it places, it gives that resource, those kudus and those gemsbok and buffaloes and sable, it gives them a commodity value similar to cattle. And now, there’s this entire economy built up around it. Hunting is huge in South Africa, beyond just the local hunters, it’s a big destination and there’s probably more animals than have ever existed in South Africa.
Werner van der Walt: No, definitely. I think, definitely it is more animals now, it’s been multiplying yearly now. And it is like you were saying in the beginning, it is not as expensive as people think it is, it can become very expensive, yes, it can. But for the average man, he can save one or two years and he can come and enjoy a great safari in South Africa. Shoot a few animals and I think that is just that people need to remember that it is affordable and it is as expensive as you want to make it.
Most Popular Species to Hunt in South Africa
I’ll think the top three animals and the number one animal is a Kudu, everybody wants to shoot a Kudu, that is the number one. And then I think after that it becomes the like the plains game, it will be an impala or a blue wildebeest.
And they don’t call him the great ghost for nothing, they can disappear like mist before the sun.
Ramsey Russell: That’s right. What are the most popular species of your clients for Americans that come here? Because like, I know what was on my bucket list the first time I met you, it kind of everything. But then, I became more and more focused on things, I didn’t have to end up here with the Cape Buffalo. But what would you say some of the most popular species are?
Werner van der Walt: I’ll think the top three animals and the number one animal is a Kudu, everybody wants to shoot a Kudu, that is the number one. And then I think after that it becomes the like the plains game, it will be an impala or a blue wildebeest. And then also very high desirable animal and it’s becoming to hunt more and more of them are disabled, which is probably the most beautiful animal in Africa. So that is also becoming more popular, but I think the number one animal for every hunter is a Kudu. South African hunter want to go hunt in North America is to hunt a big elk and I think the Kudu is the elk of Africa.
Ramsey Russell: I think they are too. They remind me of elk, their gate and their height and their looks, they remind me of a big elk size deer. But boy, them big old sexy horns.
Werner van der Walt: And they don’t call him the great ghost for nothing, they can disappear like mist before the sun.
Ramsey Russell: What amazed me is, the first time I ever hunted him and now I’ve started to look for him is, where you see three or more cows, there’s a bull somewhere, it’s funny how the cows kind of stand out, but he’s sitting right in the middle of them invisible to me.
Werner van der Walt: He’s just hiding away in a thick brush and he will stand dead still and will not move. And that’s why we always say those big bulls don’t get big for being dumb, they are clever.
Ramsey Russell: They are smart animals. I want to talk about Cape Buffalo because it’s very difficult as a North American hunter, my scope of white tailed deer and wild hog, primarily in the big game world. But judging these animals and when it came to Cape Buffalo, I found myself, I mean, obviously, well, that thing’s huge but it really wasn’t. Like, we managed to get up on the ones, I took a bull from them, they all look good to me, you know what I’m saying? I mean, at a glance, I mean, which one? Eeny meeny miny moe, he’s like, no, you trust me, you want this one. And what are some of the elements that go into judging a Cape Buffalo?
Werner van der Walt: I think the most important thing, the first thing you look for it, is it a hard boss is the boss’ hard. And by meaning that is, it needs to have the riffles on top. A lot of people say, yeah, the buffalo needs to be closed, but with the genetics of buffalo, there’s some of these gene pools that will never have closed buffalo bull bosses. So you want that hard boss, no more white, no more light color in the bosses, you want that hard boss. And after that, you go for the size, the whiff of the horns, that’s the two main things we look of. And the third thing is, does it have a nice drop? Is it a flat buffalo or is it a nice drop? Because for me in my head, if I shoot Buffalo for myself, I look for bosses, perfect bosses and a nice drop. I don’t really give a lot of focus to the size, I’m looking for beautiful bosses and a nice drop and then that’s a perfect Buffalo to me. But that is the first thing you have to look for is the boss’s heart.
Ramsey Russell: I got to where I could really point out or see the younger ones because they got fur, they got hair all up in there. The horn itself is just a modified hair and I can see the hair just kind of sprouting up on the crown and it’s not like the older they got, the harder it got less hair it was. But boy, when it came down to really seeing the depth and extent of the – it’s like that those bosses get just busted up gnarly, like sun bleach wood, just very rough and coarse and that’s what adds a character to it, isn’t it?
Werner van der Walt: That’s the character fact. That’s what everybody wants is that old character buffalo?
Ramsey Russell: How dangerous are buffalo?
Werner van der Walt: Buffalo can be very dangerous. It’s still considered one of the most dangerous animals because with buffalo, it’s very difficult to sum them up. They are not like the lions, when the lion warns you, there’s the tail, where a buffalo doesn’t give you really warning. If it’s mad or it’s hurt, it will come on to a charge and if it’s wounded even worse, that is when danger becomes reality very quickly.
Ramsey Russell: Have you ever been charged?
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, I’ve been charged multiple times last year, almost got killed by a buffalo that was wounded where the situation was just non declined and pay attention really to what we were saying and it was a very close call. And yeah, it’s just one of those hunts that you will always look back and you learn from because that was such a close school and the problem is we have to just not consider our lives, but it’s the client’s life, but we’ve got trackers and they’ve got families to look after. So we’ve got a lot of responsibility and that’s when, if the clients don’t listen, that’s when it becomes a hairy situation.
Ramsey Russell: I mean, do you just react or did you get – I mean, I’m just sitting here trying to think, how much of it is being brave and how much of it is just sheer day self-preservation reaction?
Werner van der Walt: In a charge, it just comes down to experience and reaction, what to do in that situation. Because every charge is a different situation, no two charges are ever the same. Sometimes you get a lot more opportunity to create that safe shot, sometimes you just don’t get that opportunity and it’s just shooting out of pure experience. And that is something that every – and it’s funny that a lot of people would like charges on animals and that’s the one thing is, I always tell the people, it is not a thing that you want because at the end of the day, it can go wrong so quickly because at the end of the day, we’re all just human, we can miss a brain shot and then that’s when it starts becoming a little bit hairy.
Ramsey Russell: Hunting these big animals, we were shooting the 375, it’s the first time I had ever shot one and it surprised me that it didn’t kick, it was a nice gun, it pushed, zeroed in at 50 yards, but it seemed to me to be just hold it dead on from 0 to 250, that’s a very flat calibre, tremendous amount of energy.
Werner van der Walt: That specific, that’s a flat shooting gun, especially the one that you shot, we’ve shot at 200, 220 yards with that gun and that gun likes the bullets, it’s shooting and like today on an auto I’m at 185 yards, you had a frontal shot and you shot it straight through the heart with a 375. And we’ve got multiple 375 and I just love the 375 round, you can shoot from the smallest animal to the biggest animal in Africa.
Ramsey Russell: These are big, tough animals over here, they don’t die easy.
Werner van der Walt: No, they don’t die easy.
Ramsey Russell: But I noticed, when you all are stalking, when we’re stalking buffaloes on foot or when you’re walking up to a shot buffalo, you don’t carry a 375, what do you carrying?
Werner van der Walt: No, I carry a little bit bigger gun, I carry a 470 Nitro Express. So it’s a little bit more power, it shoots a 500 grain bullet versus the 300 grain bullet for a 375 and the only reason we carry those big guns are we want to stop in power, if that thing comes, the bigger the lead, the better opportunity we have or chance we have.
Ramsey Russell: I’ve really love this lodge you all got right here. Man, I love the open floor plan out here in the kitchen, I love waking up, I’ve always got this fire going out here, what a great thing, but I’ll tell you something else I like, there’s a saying back home, what is it? Baseball Mom and Apple pie and I don’t know who wrote that, but it should be Baseball Mom and Grilled Meat.
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, for sure.
Ramsey Russell: And every night we’ve been here you shovel out these coals and get it on the grill and start cooking over live fire. And I said something the other day and Carmen said, no, the cook doesn’t cook the meat, Werner does.
Werner van der Walt: I just love cooking meat. I just love cooking meat and that’s just my thing. Every night I’ll cook the meat, the chef prepares everything else but cooking the meat, I just love it.
Ramsey Russell: And you keep it super simple.
Werner van der Walt: Very simple, there’s no big fuss.
Ramsey Russell: Depending on who you ask, there’s a lot of different ways to properly cook meat on the grill. Low and slow, smoking it, heck no, buddy, you throw it on hot son, hot and fast.
Werner van der Walt: Hot and fast.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about your cooking method. I think tonight we’re eating buffalo, last night we ate sable, can’t remember what we had the first night, it was a good steak.
Werner van der Walt: Yeah, we had pork chops and then tonight will be dinner sable and tomorrow night we have the cape buffalo. So I’ve just got this method, put it in a little bit of olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and then I put a big bed of curls down and depending on the cut, how thick the cut is, it’s either three minutes aside or six minutes. But I put it on flaming hot and sometimes with the buffalo, which is a little bit of a thicker cut, I will maybe go to eight minutes aside. But I’ve tried it that way and it works for me and there’s not a lot of funny thing, we just put a little bit of spices when it’s on the fire, but that’s how we believe, keep it simple and taste the meat.
Favorite South African Meats To Cook
The favorite for me, probably sable, then buffalo and then one that probably nobody believes, I believe it’s the best meat that is zebra.
Ramsey Russell: What are some of your favorite meats to cook? I’m of the opinion that if back home, if white tailed deer tasted as good as anything out here on these farms, they’d be extinct, everything I’ve had, it is absolutely delicious, a lot of it tastes like lean beef. What are some of your favorite animals?
Werner van der Walt: The favorite for me, probably sable, then buffalo and then one that probably nobody believes, I believe it’s the best meat that is zebra. I believe that is – my wife got me, actually Carmen, got me into eating zebra for many years, I didn’t eat zebra and she’s like, why not? Why don’t we just try this? It can’t be that bad. And after that night, I was hooked on zebra that is the best inside tenderloins in Africa and that’s just my personal opinion.
Hunting for Everyone: The South Africa Hunt
So there’s no really limitations to what you can hunt and how mobile you have to be, just as long as you can enjoy a nice whiskey or an ice cold beer in the evening.
Ramsey Russell: One thing I’ve noticed, we talked about this earlier today, South Africa lends itself to anybody. You’ve got a lot of older clients like I do and some older clients have limited mobility, is there any limitation to hunting down here in South Africa?
Werner van der Walt: No, we’ve had a few older gentlemen that’s really battling to walk, but we cater for their needs. We will put up 10 pop up blinds or we really try to accommodate them as good as possible. So there’s no really limitations to what you can hunt and how mobile you have to be, just as long as you can enjoy a nice whiskey or an ice cold beer in the evening.
Ramsey Russell: Werner, how important is hunting to South Africa and to the locals? We talk about the animals, we talked a little bit about the economy. But I watch your staff down here, when they load up the animals, when they skin the animals, when they salt the animals, ‘In the Salt Baby’ name of this episode. But how does Americans and Europeans coming to Africa to hunt? How does it affect, not just your life but the lives of the local people here?
Werner van der Walt: I think that’s a very good question and people don’t understand how the hunting industry affects so many lives and not just, like you were saying, we’ve got a big staff that we need to – and if it wasn’t for the hunting industry and the clients that we have and our privilege to have here every year, hunting with us, I don’t know what will happen in George, our main skinner and tracker, that’s his main, he’s so good at what he does and that is what he’s been doing his entire life. So, if you take away this industry, what’s going to happen to them and there’s a lot of Georges out there. Same with Peter and all these other guys that work for us. We’ve got our chef Eddie, that’s their livelihood, hunting is their life. So hunting is a big importance to the South African economy and just to the local people cause it’s just not, that they get the meat from the hunts. The spectrum of what the hunting industry does, money wise to the country is huge and without that, that’s a huge chunk of capital that comes into South Africa every year. And just there’s so many locals that depend on the hunting and I think that’s what the anti-hunters don’t understand, there’s so many people in the background that depends on hunting.
Ramsey Russell: Beyond the outfitters, beyond the staff, I mean, it affects the local grocers, it affects the lodge owners, it affects the land owners, it affects the wildlife itself, it affects the local schools, it’s like you drop a rock in the water and those ripples just spreading out in the horizon.
Werner van der Walt: It’s a huge ripple effect. And I think that’s what a lot of these anti-hunters don’t understand because that is a huge, like you were saying, it’s schools, it’s the lodge, if the lodges can’t operate, the supermarket and then it’s money that goes to the schools and it is a huge ripple effect in the hunting industry and people don’t realize that.
Ramsey Russell: Last question I got is, you’re a lucky man just like myself because you married your business partner and how important is Carmen to your business? I can tell you this right now, if my wife ain’t involved with Getducks, I’m done.
Werner van der Walt: And Ramsey, I’m on –
Ramsey Russell: I’m going to be selling groceries at Walmart or something.
Werner van der Walt: I’m on that same. But if it wasn’t for Carmen, she is my better off, without this business will not run. And I’ve got a lot of clients that tell me straight forward, if Carman is not here anymore, we will not hunt with you, we come here to hunt with Carmen.
Ramsey Russell: Well, that’s the thing I ask you when I met you, where the hell’s Carmen at, I didn’t come to hug you.
Werner van der Walt: So she’s a very important without that – this company is Carmen and myself and if it wasn’t for the two of us. And we work together 24/7, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and we love it, we love every moment of it. And I think that’s what make this business work is just because we love what we do.
Ramsey Russell: You seem to like people too.
Werner van der Walt: I do, I do love meeting people. I’m just a people’s person and I just like meeting new people every year and listening to their stories and to their different views of life, it’s just amazes me.
Ramsey Russell: But it’s like I told Carmen, she takes care of the paperwork just like Anita does. And I said, boy, Werner and I are both lucky, we marry the brains and we just get to be the good look.
Werner van der Walt: Exactly.
Ramsey Russell: I’m going to talk to Carmen a little bit, I want to talk to you other half, but thank you very much for the great week.
Werner van der Walt: Thank you very much Ramsey and have a safe travel back.
Ramsey Russell: Carmen Van der Walt, I’ve enjoyed the week. Thank you.
Carmen Van der Walt: So did we, I really enjoyed seeing you again.
The Backbone of the Business
What is your favorite part of running a hunting operation here in South Africa?
Ramsey Russell: No, I really did. But I want to ask you this, you’re not just in the backbone of this business, you are right here, you are 50% part of the business. I think you bring a very good 50% to it, same as my wife does for my business. But I learned this week that you’ve got hunting origins, you grew up in free state, you grew up hunting with your dad.
Carmen Van der Walt: Yeah, we grew up hunting, back then it was only the boys that was allowed to hunt, we just go with and do all that stuff. But I never really got to hunt myself as a kid because it was a boys thing and then when I met Werner, I really got to do the hunting as well.
Ramsey Russell: How long ago was that, that’s been a while.
Carmen Van der Walt: Yeah, it’s been a while.
Ramsey Russell: Well, what did you think you wanted to be when you grew up? Now, you’re a hunting outfitter in South Africa, what did a little girl growing up in free state want to be when she grew up?
Carmen Van der Walt: I wanted to be a graphic designer. I used to paint and stuff like that and when the kids came along, I just never got time to do it again. And then I met Werner and I went into the hunting business with him.
Ramsey Russell: What do you like about doing this? What is your favorite part of running a hunting operation here in South Africa?
Carmen Van der Walt: I think it’s meeting new people every time entertaining people, taking care of them, I like taking care of people and making them feel relaxed and like they’re on holiday.
Ramsey Russell: You do, you don’t even let me make my own coffee in the morning.
Carmen Van der Walt: But you’re on holiday, you don’t need to make your own coffee.
Ramsey Russell: Well, it’s a lot of fun. And Anita, she’s dying to get back over here and hunt with you all too because she had a blast. Do you all have many wives show up?
Carmen Van der Walt: We do. And some of them hunts and some of them just ride along, others want to stay at camp, maybe read a book and they don’t go along every single time, maybe sleep in a little and go in the afternoon or they want to maybe go to the spa or do elephant rides and –
Ramsey Russell: Talk about some of the things besides hunting and sightseeing, like animal watching, what are some of the things we could do around here?
Carmen Van der Walt: Well, there’s a lot of spas. I would say where we’re at now, it’s an hour and a half drive, but there’s spas and like the elephant rides that you and Anita did, that’s also an hour and a half from here. And these game drives that you can go to see the big five stuff like that.
Ramsey Russell: Is very far from here?
Carmen Van der Walt: Hour and a half drive. We are very central to all the stuff around us.
Ramsey Russell: After breakfast, the guys go hunting and you all take off –
Carmen Van der Walt: And then we’ll take off, yeah, entertain them.
Ramsey Russell: You are the brains of the operation and I kid –
Carmen Van der Walt: Ramsey, I’m the nick, not the brain. I turn the head.
Ramsey Russell: Well, Anita’s the brain, I’m the good look and I think Werner would agree on his side, but really and truly, how are you active in the business? It’s very easy for a client to come in and see the lodge and see the presentation and see the stuff, but talk about all the details that come into making a client feel at home because I know you’re very busy with paperwork and everything. It’s like staying at a fancy hotel, I walk back in my room, my bed’s made up, my clothes are clean daily, there’s a lot of moving pieces here.
Carmen Van der Walt: I think it starts with the communication before their hunt, the emails and the correspondence. I think, if you have a good relationship with a client before the time, get all the questions cleared up and all the questions answered, then it’s already a win. When they get here, we like to go and fetch our clients ourselves, so stranger doesn’t bring them to the lodge, we like to do it ourselves.
Ramsey Russell: Very personal. You all keep it very personal. Richard described today at lunch that, it’s like hunting with family or friends and that’s exactly how Anita and I felt hunting with you all. We didn’t feel like guest, we felt like, we just found long lost family.
Carmen Van der Walt: Yeah, but that we don’t like – you always start as a client but you always leave as family and that, I mean, I talked to our – well, I’m going to call them clients now so that you understand, I talk to them on WhatsApp and just check in now and again and see how they are and how the family is because you get to learn a lot about your clients when they – we have kids, clients have kids and you realize you have so much in common actually.
Ramsey Russell: We talked about everything around the campfire here from, Tiger King to American politics to hunting conservation, to some of the crazy things. Have you ever had a lodge catch on fire?
Carmen Van der Walt: No, I hope that never happens while I’m here.
Ramsey Russell: Talk about because you brought the subject up, how would you describe a properly prepared client? You communicate with them on what to bring, but just describe the guy that shows up properly prepared for South Africa.
How to Prepare for a South African Hunting Trip
It’s a very easy trip, I mean, it truly is.
Carmen Van der Walt: Well, we send out a checklist, a packing list and stuff that’s in there. We do washing every day, so you don’t need more than two sets of clothes.
Ramsey Russell: You just need a change of clothes.
Carmen Van der Walt: Yes, change of clothes and then obviously something warm. Some people, when we explain to them it gets cold, they think, oh, what do you know? You’re in South Africa, it never gets cold there but it does. And especially the free State concession where we do half in Limpopo, half in the free state, it gets really nippy and it does go below freezing, so it does get cold. So I would say, bring a nice warm jacket and bring some –
Ramsey Russell: Bring long johns.
Carmen Van der Walt: Yeah. Especially June, July, August, that’s the cold –
Ramsey Russell: Yeah, bring the long Johns and then you take them off mid-morning around lunch when the sun comes up, it starts to warm.
Carmen Van der Walt: And we come in for lunch, it’s not like we stay out the whole day. People think you go out and you stay out the whole day, no, we come back for lunch and then some people don’t like to take a nap, others do and we take a nap and just relax because people have to remember they on holiday, it’s not a rush, there’s no set time or if you feel like you only – if I say, some of the clients, especially the older people we say, is 7 okay for breakfast, some say maybe today can we have it at 8? They want to sleep in and just relax. Other things, a well prepared client that’s just about the clothes. You bring your own toiletries and stuff like that, we do supply body wash but everybody is different with their shampoos and their different soaps, some people are allergic to stuff, personal effects. So we do supply, the plugs, the adapter, the US adapters, so you don’t even need to bring one of those.
Ramsey Russell: It’s a very easy trip, I mean, it truly is.
Carmen Van der Walt: But I can understand that some people get nervous.
Ramsey Russell: I tell everybody bring the layers you need for 35 to 80° in a single day and bring some hiking boots, some comfortable footwear for around the house and that’s it because like, especially here I’m on vacation, this is my vacation week here in South Africa this week. And it’s like, I come in, my clean clothes are waiting on the bed folded and ready to go, I take a shower, put them on and put my dirty clothes in the hamper and just swap them out every day. It doesn’t get any more convenient than that. Talk about making your own luck?
Carmen Van der Walt: Because I told you, you make your own luck.
Ramsey Russell: I think everybody does, that’s why I brought it up.
Carmen Van der Walt: It’s all about your mindset, I think.
Ramsey Russell: That’s it. I think that falls on the properly prepared client.
Carmen Van der Walt: I have a thing and that’s the way I brought up the boys. If you can start every day by making your own bed, that’s already a positive and you already feel good about yourself. It’s the way you get up in the morning, you decide if you’re going to be unhappy or happy or be miserable the whole day, you make your own good day and you make your own luck.
Ramsey Russell: See, I brought that subject up, because that’s exactly the way I think. I deal with a lot of clients and you’ve got to go into especially, whether you’re big game hunting or especially wild bird hunting. There’s so many controllable, the food, the lodging, the packing list, the communication, the transfers, there’s so many manageable, but we can’t control nature, you’ve got to have the mindset. And Richard and I were talking recently, because you come over here and it’s one thing if you’re looking for a certain cape buffalo or a certain threshold or something, but then you go off – in the duck hunting world, you expect them to decoy and do everything, but then when you start going after some of these little species, Carmen like a pygmy goose, it’s just like that, you have to really dig deep. And Richard who is a great hunter, we walk from here to freaking Johannesburg it seemed like down the riverbank looking for a black duck and he couldn’t close the deal, it wasn’t meant to be, but he got the mindset of the worst consolation is coming back for that species. It’s okay. So you can make your own luck you think?
Carmen Van der Walt: I think so.
Ramsey Russell: I’m going to ask you something, I know you don’t like talking about this, but I’m going to ask you this. Tell me, you spend and it goes back to your creativity, you want to be a graphic artist growing up, you spend a lot of time and sweet little nice hospitable Carmen turned into a drill sergeant when it’s time for a picture.
Carmen Van der Walt: You better listen.
Ramsey Russell: But the truth of the matter is –
Carmen Van der Walt: I don’t mean to be –
Ramsey Russell: But you take it very good. I mean, well, you’re not being ugly but the staff, get it moved like this, get the head tilted, get this, get that, clean the grass, get this, get that, get the sun right, get this, client sit, old man don’t stand up, sit down longer. But really and truly, you spend a lot of time taking really great photos because you’re here now is the time.
Carmen Van der Walt: And that’s all you got till you get your trophies back –
Ramsey Russell: You can leave with a bad photo or a great photo, but that photo is going to last forever.
Carmen Van der Walt: It’s a memory, yes.
Ramsey Russell: Give me some photo tips. What are some of the things you look for? For example and I’ll say this, for example, you don’t film a buffalo like you would a kudu. His head position just looks totally different when you look at it wrong. Talk about that a little bit.
Carmen Van der Walt: If I could talk about your waterbuck that you shot, well, obviously I’m sure everybody knows this, but sun from behind and there’s some different stuff you look at like little things that you wouldn’t think of, the tail always bring it to the front, let it lie on by the leg, don’t let it just flatter there at the back, you must let it. And a waterbuck specifically and you can even with the impala after you’ve taken your side shots and your frontal shots always take a side shot where the head is flat, so you can see the scoop and the different angles from like the waterbuck that’s got that bucket. Buffalo is not the same buffalo, you want the drop, you want to see the drop, you can’t take it from the top or –
Ramsey Russell: They look real funny from the top.
Carmen Van der Walt: They do. You need to get low like on your stomach low, lie down and see that there’s no grass and that there’s no shadows on the body and all of that. Yeah, it’s difficult to explain it once you do it and you do it so many times you just get a feel for it.
Ramsey Russell: But you take a lot of photos also just throughout the whole, besides the animal, like the other day at lunch, it was like a slot machine, my phone started dinging and a lot of these photos of Richard and I hunting together or walking, talking to the outfitter, I mean, just a lot of cool stuff that –
Carmen Van der Walt: It’s nice and especially if it’s family hunting and stuff, I get to take the photos, the stuff they don’t see but stuff I see like them father and son hugging each other or just putting while we’re driving, the father’s got his hand on the back of his son’s back or around his neck and stuff like that. I just like taking stuff like that just so you can –
Ramsey Russell: You’ve been doing this at least a decade.
Carmen Van der Walt: Yeah, not even a decade. I started with Werner, the kids were still small so I never got to do it with him then, I started with him in 2015.
Ramsey Russell: The year before Anita and I came.
Carmen Van der Walt: That’s when I started full on with him.
Ramsey Russell: And you were a driver that year.
Prepared for Anything
Carmen Van der Walt: I was a driver for him for many years until I became a PH in 2018.
Ramsey Russell: And we were hunting Plains game not buffalo, there was an area there was a lot of buffalo and I had my camera out and I gave what I thought was the universal signal for stop tap on the ceiling. And then I hang on for dear life, I’m watching Warner flipping bounce around, hanging on for dear life because you floored it and you were like a Bo Duke driving General Lee over hills.
Carmen Van der Walt: Your signals and Werner’s signals are not the same. But I’m glad you told me this time, you warned me if you tap, then it means stop.
Ramsey Russell: When I bang, it means go, because there’s a buffalo coming. But you all had been charged by buffalo, truck had been hit by a buffalo at some point, how crazy is that?
Carmen Van der Walt: That’s insane, it’s scary, but we all survived it, so we left to tell the tale.
Ramsey Russell: Last question, what are some of the funniest things that have happened in camp? Because you’re a happy person, you’ve got an attitude as it is and it’s very contagious. But what are just some of the funniest things that have happened?
Carmen Van der Walt: I have a recent funny story and I’m not going to name names at all, we had a client who had a very bad upset stomach. So in the bush, I’m always prepared, I’ve got your wet wipes, I’ve got the toilet paper, I’ve got everything you need, we don’t need to come back and except if it’s like a real case of emergency and this client, he really needed to go to the bathroom. So, we stopped for him, I gave him the wet wipes and everything and we waited for him and then all of a sudden he starts screaming, Werner and we’re like, yes and he says, please come and help. So, what happened, he got stuck in a thorn bush. And he fell over to the front, into the thorn bush in his face, that was very bad. But we laughed about it afterwards. But that was the funniest moment, I think that’s one of the funniest moments we had and he was all scratched up and bleeding, but we could laugh about it, he laughed about it.
Ramsey Russell: In that situation, you can’t do anything but laugh. Carmen Van der Walt: No, you can’t. You try and I’m sorry, but I mean it is what it is, we laughed about it.
Ramsey Russell: I do have one more question. Tell what are some of the elements that go into hospitality one more time. Because I think, we come on this hunt, Richard’s a prime example. I got lucky bam, bam, I was done at lunchtime first day I slept like a baby, because I’m on vacation, I enjoyed my nap every day. We had to go the bare wire for Richard and the thing I think about the hospitality and we talked about this a little bit when we were selling up, there’s a lot of people in this operation, I never saw, I never saw the lady that did my laundry or made my bed, I never met the guy that took care of the yard, whoever built the fire every morning, a lot of little details. But hospitality is one of those controllable things. If a client misses, if a client don’t see the animal he’s looking for over a period of a week, I mean, still he gets to come back here and eat a good meal and have a good time and socialize around the fire.
Carmen Van der Walt: And you need to make him feel comfortable, I think and if he’s down, get his spirits back up, that’s important. Don’t let him be sad and just try and get him positive again and give him good food and alcohol or if he doesn’t drink non-alcohol beverages and make his coffee and see that he’s okay.
Ramsey Russell: Well, I sure had a great time, Carmen, a lot of our clients want to shoot game animals, you’re going to come this far to shoot waterfowl.
Carmen Van der Walt: It might as well.
Ramsey Russell: It was here right here in Africa and I told one of this to start with, I came over here on a bird hunt and I’m like, I saw all these critters and I’m like, I am in Africa, ought to shoot one and my bucket list just keeps getting longer and longer, I already want to come back and shoot another buffalo one day, got to save my money, but I want to come back and shoot another buffalo, now I want to shoot a roan. And when I get done with that, it’ll be something else.
Carmen Van der Walt: And it’s amazing with clients that get here, I don’t know if they think, I think they have a different idea of how it is. I know you and Werner talked about high fence, but I think they think it’s in a pin but it’s not, it’s open and I mean, sure it’s high fence, but I mean, you can drive without seeing high fins, the properties are big enough and the animals are wild, it’s not tame animals, you need to work for it.
Ramsey Russell: We’ve been hunting here three or four days and this morning, I would have bet my truck there weren’t as many buffalo as we saw this morning after four days, driving around looking for them, walking for them and tracking them and today it was just Grand Central Station, we just happened to look into them but we got there very early when they were still kind of moving around. But anyway, Carmen, thank you for your hospitality.
Carmen Van der Walt: It’s been a pleasure, it’s been so nice to have you and I can’t wait for Anita to come back.
Ramsey Russell: Oh, she’s coming back. I know she’s listening to it, yeah, I’m coming back. And folks, thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere, I know it was a big game but it’s Africa. Check it out on getducks.com, see you next time.