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Is an African safari on your bucket list? It's probably more doable than you imagine

Duluth's Mike Schrage wanted to go to Africa for the hunt of a lifetime. He's been back four times.

African elephant
An elephant photographed by Mike Schrage, of Duluth, while he was on safari in Africa. Schrage took a side trip to Namibia's Nudumu National Park to photograph animals he did not hunt.
Contributed / Mike Schrage

DULUTH — When Mike Schrage first dreamed about taking an African safari, he assumed it would be a once-in-a-lifetime hunt, something he could afford only once and then fondly remember when he hit the rocking chair in old age.

“I recall in about 2006, when I first started researching a hunting trip in Africa, another Minnesotan who had hunted over there told me it wasn't going to be the trip of a lifetime ‘because you're going to go again,'’’ Schrage said. “He was right.”

Schrage’s first safari was in 2007. He’s been back to Africa four times since, hunting in South Africa, Botswana and Namibia three times.
They have all been trips of a lifetime, Schrage said. But he hopes to go back again, as long as his wife and his bank account keep agreeing.

“I’ve always had a fascination with Africa, with African wildlife,” said Schrage, 55. “Now I've fallen in love with Africa.”

African cape buffalo
Duluth's Mike Schrage, second from left, shot this cape buffalo while on safari in Namibia, Africa. Also photographed are native tribal guides and professional hunter Ruan Botha, who operates Sesembo. The native tribal community received the entire animal, including the meat to feed the village.
Contirbuted / Mike Schrage

Schrage, of Duluth, is a wildlife biologist by trade, working for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa since he came to Minnesota in 1995. He specializes in moose, wolves and other keystone species here at home and likes to hunt grouse and white-tailed deer in the Northland and mule deer out west.


But Africa’s vast array of wildlife has put a tight hold on Schrage.

The plan is to move northwestern elk to Carlton and southern St. Louis counties.

'Jaw-dropping' abundance of wildlife

There’s a common misconception that African wildlife has somehow been depleted or is mostly endangered. In fact, while some species are struggling, such as black rhinoceros, many southern African wildlife species are doing fine.

giraffes in Africa
Three giraffes grazing on the Sesembo ranch in Namibia, Africa, where Duluth's Mike Schrage was on safari in October 2021.
Contributed / Mike Schrage

There’s an abundance of birds, antelope and even big cats across most of the continent, especially Namibia, although poaching along with declining habitat and the burgeoning human population are squeezing some species out to make room for crops, livestock and development.

Wild animals are sometimes seen as a nuisance or competition by many Africans. But when wild animals have monetary value, Schrage noted, such as for hunting or photo safari tourism, then they are accepted and appreciated by local people and protected from wanton poaching for meat and horns.

That’s led to stronger wildlife populations in recent years on private lands in Africa where animals are hunted, not just in national parks where they are protected.

“Hunting in Africa is a big part of their conservation system,” Schrage noted.

But it’s not just the game he shoots that draws Schrage to Africa — it's the sheer number of wild animals and birds he sees on each trip, including many species he would never hunt.


Mike Schrage and kudu
Mike Schrage with a kudu he shot in Namibia, Africa. Schrage has also hunted in South Africa and Botswana.
Contributed / Mike Schrage

“The diversity and abundance of wildlife there is jaw-dropping,” Schrage said. “I’m guessing we haven’t seen wildlife like that in North America since probably the early 1800s. Maybe on the Great Plains back then, but not any more. ... Africa still has its Eden.”

Schrage used his trusty .30-06 rifle for most of the game he shot, but used a borrowed .416 to kill his cape buffalo. All of the meat taken and even entire animals of some species must remain in Africa.

“The cape buffalo and plains zebra were meat hunts for the local villages, hunted on communal conservancy properties,” Schrage said. “The other animals were hunted on private ranch lands. I can keep the head, hides and horns. Everything else belongs to the landowner.”

For the buffalo, “I keep pictures and memories, the local villages keep everything else,” Schrage said. For all other species, “U.S. laws prevent me from bringing any meat home.”

Meet the professional hunter

In Africa, the outfitter/guide is called a professional hunter, and all are experienced and licensed.

Schrage has become friends with Ruan Botha, owner and professional hunter who calls his operation Sesembo , named after a small tree unique to that area of Namibia.

Ruan Botha and Mike Schrage with springbok
Professional hunter Ruan Botha and Mike Schrage with a springbok Schrage shot while on safari at Botha's Sesembo ranch in Namibia, Africa, in October 2021.
Contributed / Mike Schrage

Schrage had at first booked with another professional hunter for his first trip to Namibia, but that person became ill and Botha filled in. Since then, Schrage has hunted with Botha again and plans to go back to Sesembo.

“Ruan and I just hit it off. We seem to mesh,” Schrage said.


Botha has been a professional hunter for 10 years, but only after an elaborate process to get there. The first step is to become an apprentice guide, then, through testing and actual hunting experience, you become a guide, then a master guide and then, after about five years and multiple exams, a professional hunter licensed by the Namibian government.

“It's a very long process that involves both written tests, on laws and rules, and practical tests like skinning and how well you know the animals,” Botha told the News Tribune.

Mike Schrage and eland
Duluth's Mike Schrage with an eland he shot while on safari in Namibia, Africa.
Contributed / Mike Schrage

Sesembo sprawls over 33,000 acres, but Botha also has exclusive access to another 40,000 acres for hunting. If customers want to pursue bigger or dangerous game, such as cape buffalo, he will bring them to a big game guide in other areas.

Botha only handles about 10 groups per year to keep his wildlife numbers high on the ranch, which also supports 1,000 head of cattle.

“It’s a working ranch. But we have so much wildlife because of how we manage it,” Botha said. “I limit how many groups we have, and how many animals are taken, so we’ll maintain the high level of animals. ... It’s all wild animals, open range. We have only short fencing for the cattle.”

Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

Botha is in the midst of a two-month tour of North American winter hunting and “boat” shows where he’s booking customers, including the Duluth Sport Show this week. It will be his fifth visit to Duluth.

“It’s not red hot, but I do get business from Duluth,” he noted.

The Namibian hunting season generally runs February through November and Sesembo is nearly booked for 2023.


“It’s much too hot to hunt in our summer, which is your winter,” Botha noted. “I may have an opening or two at the end of this season, but I’m mostly booking for next year now.”

Expensive, like an elk or caribou hunt

The cost of a safari may seem overwhelming at first glance. But, even with round-trip airfare, Schrage said Africa is very comparable to guided, outfitted hunts for elk in remote areas of Montana or caribou in Alaska.

“The last trip I did in 2021 was more extensive because it cost more to hunt dangerous game,” like the cape buffalo, Schrage noted. “But for a typical 10-day trip to Africa, it’s comparable (in cost) to the caribou hunt I took to Alaska.”

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That would now be about $10,000 and up, including licenses, tags, guided hunt, accommodations, air transportation and more. But Schrage says Africa offers more variety and more bang for your buck.

“On a western (U.S.) trip you might get one chance to take an elk, or maybe no chance at all. ... In Africa, I can hunt multiple species on every trip. And, unless you’re a really bad shot, it’s almost impossible not to be successful,” Schrage said. “Plus, I’m getting old, and I’d rather be in warm places.”

A recent online search found a round-trip ticket from Minneapolis to Cape Town, South Africa, was about $3,500 for an April trip. You also have to pay for the shuttle to your outfitter. Botha charges both by the day — for food, lodging and other expenses — and also by the animal hunted. Daily rates are around $400 and hunting fees for various species run from $100 for a jackal, to $675 for a springbok, to $8,000 for a roan antelope. Dangerous game species are generally more expensive.

southern carmine bee-eaters
A flock of ground-nesting southern carmine bee-eaters, one of the many unusual bird species Mike Schrage saw while on safari in Namibia.
Contributed / Mike Schrage

Schrage’s October 2021 trip to Namibia was far more extensive and expensive, however. It was three weeks and included five countries and three hunting camps, plus two days of fishing on the Zambezi River and a sightseeing trip to Victoria Falls. Total price tag: $34,158.54.

“That includes everything from plane tickets, to COVID tests, to delivery of finished taxidermy to my doorstep,” Schrage said, noting Sesembo’s accommodations are “first rate. You aren’t sleeping on the ground.”


Be prepared for some complicated travel, but Schrage said a good travel agent can help.

“I flew Duluth, Minneapolis, Atlanta, to Johannesburg, South Africa, on Delta, then changed to South African Airlink to fly to Windhoek” the capital of Namibia, Schrage said, where his professional hunter picked him up for the 4 1/2-hour drive north to the ranch.

Most plains hunting is done on cattle ranches in western Africa, Schrage noted. The game is wild — free ranging, not fenced in — but the land is private. The terrain was rolling and scruffy, with scrub brush and mostly short trees and hunts consisting of long stalks to get within range.

Ruan Botha scanning for game in Namibia
Professional hunter Ruan Botha scans the horizon for game on his ranch, called Sesembo, in Namibia, Africa. African outfitters and guides are called professional hunters.
Contributed / Mike Schrage

“One of the other things I particularly like about the hunting I've done in Africa is most of it is either tracking or spot and stalk,” Schrage said. “I really enjoy that kind of hunting. Very similar to the mule deer hunting I've done in Montana.”

When Schrage isn’t hunting, he will often take side trips for photography safaris, including to national parks to see birds and protected species. But Schrage said the act of hunting, the taking of an animal, is still important to him.

“You can go there to take photographs. I do that too, on side trips on every trip over there. But it’s not the same. It doesn’t measure up to the intensity you feel when you are hunting,” Schrage said. “Most photo safaris, you are usually in a vehicle, on a road, and you are watching the animal from a distance. ... To be hunting, you are out there in the animal’s environment, on their terms. ... That's the essence of hunting.”

Schrage describes cape buffalo hunt

“We had gotten a tip that morning from a local villager that five buffalo bulls had bedded down for the day in some brush nearby.” Schrage said. "We went over to see if we could find them and managed to spot them a ways off as we drove down a dirt track. We drove on another half-mile until we were well down wind of them and then stalked quietly back towards where we had seen them.

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“The last 200 yards or so was creeping very slowly, often on hands and knees, and glassing ahead with binoculars trying to pick out black buffalo resting in the shadows,” he said. "We eventually spotted one of them bedded down in some thick brush, but had to readjust our position to get a clear shot. More crawling on hands and knees. I remember the sand was really hot. Finally at about 70 yards the PH (professional hunter), Byron Hart, set me up on the shooting sticks.


Mike Schrage and cape buffalo
Mike Schrage posed with the cape buffalo he shot while on African safari in October 2021.
Contributed / Mike Schrage

“The whispered conversation went something like this:

'You see his horn and ear?'


'You see the patch of sun on his hide below the horn?'


'You see the second patch of sun on his hide to the left?'


'OK, shoot him in the second patch of sun ... but first, you have to stop shaking!'

"Couple of deep breaths later and I shot him in the second patch of sunlight," Schrage said. "He jumped up at the shot and disappeared. The other four bulls busted out nearby and took off running. It felt like a good shot, but at this point we didn't know if my buffalo was dead or wounded.

"Wounded buffalo have a reputation for waiting for their pursuers and charging from ambush at close quarters," Schrage said. "So after a short wait, we spread out in a line with rifles up and rounds chambered and started walking very slowly and carefully forward. One of the trackers spotted him a minute or two later. He had gone two or three jumps and fallen over dead.”

Sesembo at the Duluth Sport Show

tigerfish caught in the Zambezi River, Africa
Outfitter and professional hunter Ruan Botha holding a tigerfish caught in the Zambezi River in Africa, a side trip during Mike Schrage's safari in October 2021.
Contributed / Mike Schrage

Ruan Botha, owner and professional hunter at Sesembo, the Namibian hunting ranch where Duluth’s Mike Schrage has taken two African safaris, will be at the Duluth Sport Show Feb. 16-19 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

Botha will be in a booth in the Northland Outdoors Deer Classic area and available to answer questions about Africa safaris and his operation. Schrage also expects to spend time at the Sesembo booth during the show.

It runs Feb. 16-19 at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

In addition to game hunting, Sesembo also offers photo safaris and both river and ocean fishing trips.

For more information on Sesembo, go to sesembo.com .

For more information on the Duluth Sport Show, go to duluthsportshow.com.

John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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