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The author and his wife look across the sweeping expanse of African savannah. (Jaclyn Heward)

Africa. The very utterance of the distant continent’s name sparks feelings of adventure and excitement within me. As a hunter, I grew up reading the accounts of Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway’s African safaris and dreamed of one day being able to experience Africa for myself.

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A lion on the African safari. (Jaclyn Heward)

Nearly 7 years ago, as I expressed my dreams of traveling to Africa and experiencing it for myself to my wife, her response was “let’s do it.” After almost 7 years of planning, saving and dreaming, we did it. We just returned home after spending 18 days in South Africa, and it truly is difficult to accurately put into words our African experience.

Put simply, this trip has changed my outlook on life, as well as provided me memories that will last a lifetime.

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Close shot of a baby zebra. (Jaclyn Heward)

From time to time, we experience things or events that alter our view of reality. Experiencing Africa was one of those experiences for me. You can’t help but feel alive as you watch a pride of lions undisturbed in their natural habitat or stare in awe as a mother elephant tends to her newborn calf. The world that we live in is so sheltered from the raw emotions of the outside world that once you experience them, you will never be the same.

Traveling to Africa also brought an intense feeling of gratitude over me for all of the little things that we take for granted each and every day. From food on the table, to running water and electricity, to the opportunity to make something of ourselves. Whether it is going on a hunt of a lifetime, providing humanitarian aid to rural communities or going on a picture safari, experiencing Africa is a life changing event for all that experience it.

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The author with the horns of a kudu. (Jaclyn Heward)

Unfortunately, I do recognize that some hunters are unethical in their practice, and end up giving many hunters a bad reputation.

Those that are unethical in their practices are not hunters. A true, ethical hunter has nothing but respect for the quarry we hunt as well as a drive to conserve our natural environments.

How can hunters possibly be conservationists? Doesn’t hunting completely contradict the idea of preserving and protecting wildlife? This could not be further from the truth. The logical explanation behind why I hunt is deeply rooted in conservation. I believe that ethical hunters are first and foremost conservationists and stewards of the land.

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An elephant shepherds its child across the desert. (Jaclyn Heward)

Late President Theodore Roosevelt said, “In reality, the genuine sportsmen is by all odds the most important factor in keeping the larger and more valuable wild creatures from total extermination.”

The numbers show the truth of Roosevelt’s statement. In 1977 Kenya caved to political pressure and banned hunting in the country. Most recent numbers estimate that the wildlife numbers in Kenya have plummeted over 70 percent since the imposed ban.

The main reason for this dramatic drop in wildlife numbers in Kenya has to do with the fact that wildlife no longer has value in the country. Farmers and ranchers have zero incentive to conserve wildlife, so they illegally kill them off to make room for more agricultural profit. Coupled with ever-prevalent poaching rings, it has resulted in a living nightmare for the wildlife in Kenya since the imposed ban.

South Africa is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum from Kenya. In 2015, Wouter van Hoven, a professor at the University of Pretoria, conducted research and found that there were an estimated 20.5 million head of game in South Africa. Rewind back to the early 1960’s and you will find that the number of animals in South Africa was at an all-time low, numbering roughly 575,000 mammals.

Even more interesting is that of the now 20.5 million mammals found in South Africa, approximately 16 million of them reside on private land where they are privately managed for hunting and profit. The remaining 4.5 million mammals are found on the national parks throughout the country.

As hunters have made the wildlife valuable, the people of South Africa have taken a very active role in not only conserving, but bolstering the wildlife. Many animals such as the mountain zebra, bontebok, black wildebeest and sable have been brought back to thriving numbers from near extinction in the 1960s.

It is also important to point out that these animals are not just being conserved to be hunted. Only roughly 40 thousand animals are hunted and harvested in South Africa each year, which accounts for less than .002 percent of the total animal population. South Africa is a true conservation success story and is a prime example of the positive conservation effects that hunting can have.

The emotional explanation as to why I hunt is a little more difficult to explain because it is often hard to put into words. Hunting is a big part of who I am. It’s the way I was raised. It’s the way my father, grandfather, great-grandfather and many more generations back were raised.

Hunting provides an almost spiritual connection for me to the outdoors and the vast world in which we live. It has also provided me with some of my most cherished memories and relationships with family and friends. Not to mention, hunting also provides my family with the leanest, healthiest protein that I am responsible for providing.

Before we traveled to Africa, my wife collected school supplies to take to a local village school while we were there. We were able to take over a hundred pounds of school supplies to a rural school in the Umkomaas Valley of South Africa, and they were extremely grateful.

As hunters, we also had the opportunity to take them several hundred pounds of meat from animals that we had harvested. When the headmaster of the school saw the meat we had brought them, he pulled us into a room and showed us what the government provides for the kids to eat. Several 50 pound bags of rice and what looked like canned sardines were stashed in a corner of a dirt-floored office.

The opportunity to provide those children with a good meal is just one of many reasons I am proud to call myself a hunter.

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Schoolchildren taking in the bags of meat that we brought in from the hunt. (Jaclyn Heward)
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A close shot of a two-horned rhinoceros. (Jaclyn Heward)
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Close shot of a baby elephant. (Jaclyn Heward)
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The author and his wife pose with the schoolchildren they brought supplies for. (Jaclyn Heward)
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