When good friend and longtime hunting buddy Lance Fitzgerald asked me if I wanted to join him on a 10-day hunting trip in South Africa with the world-class outfitter Dries Visser Safaris, my first thoughts were – ‘Yeah right, like I could ever afford to do something like that.”
But, as fate would have it, Lance had an ace up his sleeve. He told me he had won a hunt at an SCI auction for four hunters and offered me one of the heavily discounted spots for the trip. Me? Hunt in Africa? It seemed too good to be true.
An adventure like this doesn’t come along every day for the average Joe like me, so I didn’t hesitate to tell him yes (of course). I’d love to tag along for the journey. Am I glad I did? Hell yeah, I am. It was one of my life’s most memorable hunting experiences, enabling me to cross off one gigantic item on my bucket list.
I created this blog post to candidly review my experience with Dries Visser Safaris and give you a heads-up on what you can expect if you decide to go with this outfitter for your dream African hunt.
From dedicated PHs and support staff to world-class lodging and accommodations, Dries Visser exceeded all my expectations and left me with an insatiable desire to return for more hunting in the future.
Stick around and find out why!
Dries Visser Safaris has been a family-owned and operated hunting business in Southern Africa for over 30 years. Their mission has been to create a fair chase environment for international hunters to fulfill their goals of ethical big-game hunting.
Head to Dries’ About page to learn more about the Visser family and their operation.
I was so giddy about going on this hunt that I may have spent too much time getting ready for it. That’s right; I was over-prepared for this trip. It wasn’t my fault; I didn’t know what to expect, and coming from a DIY Rocky Mountain hunter, all I can say is this trip was cush and easy compared to what I’m used to.
Some Valuable Tips I Learned:
- Plan Ahead – Book your hunt 1-2 years in advance, if possible. Not only do slots fill up with Dries, but you’ll do much less cramming and stressing the further out you book. Lisa from Dries was good at telling us what we needed to do and when, but I’m sure the longer out they have to plan for you, the less scrambling they have to do.
- Set A Budget Early On – Ask for Dries’ price list early. Not only will they need to know what animals you plan on hunting so that they can match you with the right property and area, but you’ll need to get an idea of what you can afford and which animals are a priority for you to target on your hunt. Their package deals provide the best value, and then you can add animals from their price list at your discretion.
*Some animals may require permits beforehand. Ensure you have those on your list so Dries can finish all your permits before arrival.
- Don’t Over Pack – Dries Visser will send a list of all the items you’ll need to bring for the hunt. Leave all the extra gear at home. I realized I didn’t need much for daily hunting, and my super camouflage elk kit was overkill. Since most of your hunting will be from a ground blind, you don’t need camo clothing; dark-colored solids will work just fine. Below is a list of gear I recommend for this trip.
- Buy Your Plane Tickets In Advance – I wanted to wait 30 days before the trip to book my flight—big mistake. I ended up paying about 30% more than I would have if I’d bought the tickets several months earlier. Set a price alert on flights.google.com 6-8 months out, and strike when the irons are hot.
- Shoot Your Bow – Your PH and tracker will do everything they can to recover the wounded game but know in advance that if you wound an animal, you have to pay for it, plus an additional VAT tax for non-recovery. Spend time before your hunt shooting and dialing your bow in. Having plenty of time to practice before your trip would be best, so don’t wait until the last minute.
- Prepare For The Long Flight – Prepare for the longest flight you’ve ever experienced if you’ve never been to South Africa. Our from Atlanta to Johannesburg was just under 16 hours. You may want to download a couple of seasons of a binge-worthy TV show beforehand to help the time pass quickly.
Another good pal of mine came along for the trip (Caleb), and we arrived in Johannesburg (Or Jo-Berg, as the locals call it) two days early to do a little sightseeing before heading into the bush.
We got hung up upon arrival and had to wait a few hours to locate our luggage, so be prepared for a somewhat unorganized and chaotic experience at the airport. Our driver was there to greet us and was patient and helpful when trying to find our bags.
Dries will likely recommend you stay at the Africa Sky Boutique Hotel while in Jo-Berg. I recommend going with them because their compound is safe, and Johannesburg can be dangerous if you stay in the wrong place.
Africa Sky is a bit more pricey than other options, but stick with them if you’re after peace of mind. The meals were terrific during our stay, and the staff was friendly. We were taken into Johannesburg for sightseeing by one of their drivers for a small fee, and they helped steer us away from the bad parts of town.
On the day we traveled to Thambazimbi, where Dries Visser’s property is located, we all piled into comfortable and air-conditioned vans for the three-and-a-half-hour drive into the bush. Much to the dismay of the others in my group, I snored the entire way there.
On the way, we were treated to a tour of the local taxidermist (Hiveld Taxidermy.) While they were taking us there so we would eventually use them for our trophies, it didn’t feel like a sales pitch, and some of their work was simply stunning.
When you arrive in Thambazimbi, you’ll be greeted by Dries staff, and immediately, your guide will introduce themselves and take you in their vehicle for the remaining half-hour drive to the property.
I found this process seamless and smooth. Frank, our PH, gave us a warm welcome that immediately dissolved any lingering anxiety about our trip. After all, we were far from home, and this whole experience was still very new.
Upon arrival at the lodge, we were greeted with cold drinks and were escorted to our rooms to drop bags. We then went out immediately for an animal sightseeing trip around the property aboard new Toyota Hilux trucks to get a feel for the area and to get our eyes on some animals.
I could barely contain my excitement; animals surrounded me that I’d only ever seen in zoos, like giraffes, zebras, and cape buffalo, and some I had never seen in my life, like kudu, gemsbuck, and hartebeest.
The evening drive was a great way to get me amped up for the next ten days.
I guide elk, mule deer, and bear hunts in the backwoods of Colorado. At our outfit, we provide our hunters with small cabins that are old, and to say they need updating is the understatement of the century. Our lodging offers an austere, charming, yet very…umm…redneck-ish feel.
Not to say there isn’t a time and place for ‘roughing it’ when hunting, but my experience in South Africa was worlds apart from what most outfitting facilities in the Western United States offer. The base camp that Dries provides is simply world-class.
Beautiful thatched roof buildings surrounded by perfectly groomed landscaping give off a heavy 5-star resort vibe. The main lodge is clean and wall-to-wall covered in taxidermy, representing the local game on the property.
I had a 2-person room all to myself. The room contained two full beds and was modest, plain, comfortable, and inviting. Others in my group had more luxurious rooms with vaulted ceilings, king-size beds, and en-suite bathrooms.
Dries’s property features a clean and well-maintained swimming pool, but we were there during the winter (June), and it was frigid. (It would be the perfect temperature if you’re into the trendy ice bath craze.)
Near the rooms, there is a 40+ yard archery range for you to get your bow dialed in. Make sure to take advantage of it daily. The targets were new, making it an excellent place to shoot the sh*t while practicing our shot.
My favorite part of the compound was the fireplace/dining area. It’s an outdoor dining area with a large fire and chairs. It provides an excellent atmosphere for your group to sit around, let your hair down, and have a few cocktails while watching the cook prepare your food over a grill.
Attached to this area is an indoor bar and parlor with a pool table. Several nights on our trip, they ended in this bar after we all had one too many black-label lagers and whiskeys. But, for me, that’s what hunting trips with the boys are all about: the camaraderie around a campfire.
Caleb and I decided to go with a 2×1 hunt, which means we both hunted together with the same guide. We reasoned that we didn’t plan on adding too many animals to our three animal packages that we already had, and hunting together would help fill in the ten days we had to hunt.
For the most part, the hunt was an absolute blast. We saw big game animals daily, and our guide, Frank, had no issues locating our targeted species. Caleb and I harvested the “big” animal from our package on the first day.
I shot a beautiful zebra stallion, and Caleb arrowed a good-looking gemsbuck on the first morning of our hunt. I couldn’t help but think that Frank had us shoot these big-ticket animals on day one so that we would be more inclined to shoot others later in the hunt. If that was his plan, it worked. We were both so stoked after the first day.
Of course, there were some high-pressure sales tactics for us to shoot animals. Frank’s favorite saying was – “You see, you like, you shoot.”
He continued, “And in tiny letters, you pay.”
Frank always had a good laugh trying to pressure us into shooting a $10,000+ cape buffalo or a trophy-class kudu, but he was never overbearing. He did his best to spread the hunt over the ten days without being pushy to blow our budgets. After all, it’s his job to upsell us a little, so I didn’t take it personally. You shouldn’t either!
We didn’t need all that much coaxing, as the animals are plentiful in Thambazimbi. The thought of taking home just one more trophy is always very tempting. I took a shot at nine animals, one of which I never recovered: a cool-looking warthog. Losing animals is always a big bummer.
I missed the vitals on my warthog by about 2-3 inches, and my arrow sunk into his knee bone. Although my PH and tracker made a valiant attempt at finding him, we never did—shame.
In the ten days I was with Dries Visser, I was able to shoot and recover a zebra, a blue wildebeest, a baboon, an impala, two blesbucks: one male and one female, a porcupine, and a springhare.
Others in my group were able to harvest some more high-ticket animals like a sable, kudu, waterbuck, and roan. Although some of these animals were out of my budget, I want to return and try my luck with them when I can afford them.
One thing that took getting adjusted to was that it was effortless, for the most part, to find and shoot the animals. For one, the game is plentiful thanks to conservation efforts by Dries Visser, and the PHs are a little too good at their jobs.
As an archery hunter, the most significant value of this trip was boosting my self-confidence as a bow hunter. You can go all season chasing elk in the mountains, and if you’re lucky, you may draw back on one animal a year. You’ll get many chances to draw back and shoot at animals at Dries.
The lessons I learned in just ten days of bowhunting at Dries Visser Safaris helped me grow as an archery hunter, and the skills I gained will transfer to future hunts.
Some Valuable Tips I learned:
- Animal Vitals – The African Plains game’s vitals are located much further forward in the chest cavities than in the North American game. Spend a significant amount of time learning where the vitals are in the animals you plan to target. A good resource is Umlilo Safaris’s guide to shot placement.
- Communicate Your Intentions With Your PH – It should go without saying that your PH will try to lightly coax you into shooting more than you put on your list. Thats okay. Come up with a plan, and communicate it early with your PH.
Tell them your budget and what your priorities are. Everyone at Dries Visser was a complete professional in this regard. Not coming in with a plan and not communicating correctly can cause you to make bad financial decisions.
- Other Considerations – Let your PH know what you’re comfortable with regarding how you want to harvest your animals. My friend seemed uncomfortable pulling the truck over and shooting a warthog feeding from a trough in front of a farmhouse.
I don’t want to speak for him, but I think he felt like he was suddenly pressured to shoot an animal and didn’t feel very “sporting” the way it went down. Don’t hesitate to communicate with your PH anything you are uncomfortable with, and never feel pressured to take a shot.
- Hunt At Night – If your budget permits, request a night hunt where you spotlight animals and hunt them from the back of a truck. This was quickly the highlight of my trip, and we had a blast searching for animals at night. Jackals, porcupines, genet cats, and steenbucks are plentiful and make for an enjoyable time.
All the PHs at Dries Visser Safaris are thoroughly vetted professionals who know their stuff. I recommend listening to what they say and trusting that they know the animals and the terrain much better than you do.
My PH Frank was not only good at his job (almost too good), but he was also entertaining to be around. When you are sitting for hours in a blind with someone, it helps that they are not bland and boring. Frank was anything plain.
Frank had Caleb and me in stitches half the time and kept us more than entertained with stories of poachers, bandits, and tales of hunting in the area. He was also a great local historian who grew up in the area.
Although everyone in our group seemed happy with their guides, I feel pretty lucky we were assigned to Frank. It was a great fit.
One thing that blew my mind was our tracker Max’s ability to track animals we shot. The watering holes you hunt over have tons of different animals at them each day (and I mean tons) of tracks.
Somehow, Max could always pick up the trail of our animals, no matter how little blood there was on the ground. He could pick out the animal we shot from hundreds of other tracks and follow them directly to our kill–simply exceptional skills he had.
Chocky was one of the highlights of our trip. Still a pup in training, she provided much-needed levity during our time at Dries Visser. Our entire group loved to spoil her with pets.
Regarding tracking, let’s say I’m glad we had Max as our human tracker because Chocky is still trying to figure everything out. Lol.
One of the highlights of each evening was getting to sample all the local game meats. The spectacular cook had some new exotic meat whipped up for us for dinner. My favorite meat to try was, surprisingly, the Zebra. It had a distinct sweet taste, and everyone devoured what the chef had made.
Frank’s diesel Toyota Hilux made me super jealous. Why can’t we get these in the United States? His clean and new truck was perfect for the bumpy roads of the bushveld. The back of the truck has standard seating for four and makes for a great platform to watch animals from.
Frank took special care to communicate with us about what we wanted done with our trophies. Tell your PH daily what you want done with your skull, capes, and backskins. When your animals get the skinning facility, they’ll know how to prepare your trophies for the taxidermist.
Regarding how you get your trophies, you have a few options:
- Swift Dip and Ship – This is the most economical option for getting your trophies home. They dip your capes and skulls and ship them to your taxidermist of choice back home. Protip: Set up a local taxidermist beforehand to deal with your import.
- If you get your taxidermy done in S. Africa, note that while you’ll save a decent amount of money getting it done with a local shop, you’ll pay a pretty penny to have it all shipped back home. I went with Highveld Taxidermy, which Dries recommends, and I’m excited to get my trophies home in the next eight months or so.
In a nutshell, joining Lance on that epic South African hunting escapade with Dries Visser Safaris was like winning the lottery – only better because it was, well… real!
When Lance dropped the bombshell about the discounted hunt spot he snagged at an SCI auction, I thought he was pulling my leg. But guess what? He wasn’t.
Most things worth doing take a leap of faith. I know I’ll never regret making this unforgettable trip happen. If you’re on the fence about visiting Africa, I hope my Dries Visser Safaris review helped give you the little nudge you need to make it happen.
This adventure didn’t just check off a box on my bucket list; it blew that list to smithereens! I feel humbled reviewing the top-notch crew at Dries Visser Safaris, their luxurious digs, and the unforgettable moments out in the wild. I’m convinced this trip sprinkled some magic African dust on me.
So, if you’re even remotely considering your African hunting odyssey, go with Dries Visser Safaris. They’ll make your wildest hunting dreams come true, and you’ll catch yourself daydreaming about your next African escapade before you even leave. It’s like an addiction you won’t want to kick!
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Last Updated on December 31, 2023
Josh Riley lives in Colorado with his wife, Mary, and their three wild and crazy children. He’s an avid hunter, fisherman, backpacker, elk meat connoisseur, and international traveler.