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Addison man stalks prey on the African plains

Addison resident Marc Mikula poses with a cape buffalo he bagged in Africa. Most of the game he’s taken on the Dark Continent (with the exception of the buffalo) has been with the Safari Grade 300 Win. Mag. rifle he’s holding. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
December 08, 2010 - For most who enjoy the ancient and noble tradition of hunting, the once-in-a-lifetime dream is to journey to Africa seeking large, exotic game, much the way Teddy Roosevelt did 100 years ago.

Addison resident Marc Mikula is fortunate enough to have stalked and killed prey on the vast Dark Continent, not once, but twice.

"I was only going to go once, but once isn't enough," he said. "You'll get hooked. Even if you don't go there to hunt, Africa is such a beautiful continent to see. I would go back just to go sight-seeing."

On his first trip in August 2008, Mikula bagged 10 trophy animals. His second trip in May 2010 yielded eight trophies.

"I cut back a little," he joked.

Mikula's African kill list includes zebra, blue and black wildebeest, oryx, steinbock, cape buffalo, impala, kudu, springbok, waterbok, warthog and blesbok.

Most were taken with his Safari Grade 300 Win. Mag rifle.

The most challenging to hunt was the cape buffalo, which he bagged on the first trip using a .375 Holland & Holland Magnum, a very powerful rifle round.

Marc Mikula poses with some of his African trophies. (click for larger version)
"They're dangerous to hunt," said Mikula, who will turn 64 in a couple weeks. "They'll charge you. They're a very protective and very large species."

Even after shooting 18 exotic animals, any one of which an average hunter would consider the trophy of a lifetime, Mikula still gets geeked when he gets one in his sights.

"The excitement never stops. If the excitement quits, you might as well just hang your gun up," said Mikula, who began hunting small game with friends at the age of 17.

Mikula is truly amazed by the vast herds of animals that roam the savannas (or plains regions) where he was hunting in the South African provinces of Limpopo and Free State.

"It takes your breath away just to see them," he said. "You can see what it must have been like here when there were millions of buffalo."

In comparison to the western states of Wyoming, Montana and Colorado, where Mikula's hunted at least 20 times, Africa has 10 to 20 times the number of animals.

"It's just so vast," he said.

Mikula praised South Africa's conservation program as "one of the best."

"You can't just indiscriminately shoot everything that you want," he said. "It depends on the size of the herd and where you're hunting."

Unlike hunting in Michigan, stalking Africa's big game requires the services of an outfitter to provide accommodations, obtain all the permits, serve as guide, find the prey and deal with it after the much-anticipated kill is made.

For both his trips into the African bush, Mikula relied on the services of Matwetwe Safaris, a hunting outfitter owned by Hendrik Botha and located about two hours from Johannesburg. Matwetwe means "marksman."

"They're super hosts and the food is great," he said.

While animal rights activists and environmentalists decry African big game hunting as murder and exploitation, Mikula explained that it actually benefits the native peoples.

"The people are very poor and the hunters that go there create a lot of jobs," he said. "Each outfitter, depending on the size of his camp, has to have a couple trackers, skinners, maintenance people, girls that clean the rooms, cooks. They employ quite a few people."

Providing these jobs actually helps preserve wildlife.

"It cuts down on the poaching when the hunters are there because all the people in that area have jobs. Otherwise, they'd be out there with their snares poaching animals," Mikula said. "A snare is indiscriminate. You don't know what you're going to get. It could be an elephant, could be a rhino. The big animals get away, but usually they die because they're all cut up."

Mikula noted there are basically two Africas – one modern, the other primitive.

"When you get into their cities, it's like being in any city here. But when you go back off into the bush, into the savanna, it's still pretty primitive and the people are very poor."

Unfortunately, due to laws designed to prevent the spread of disease, Mikula never gets to bring any of his exotic meat home.

But he does get to dine on his quarry while he's there. He's sampled kudu, waterbok, wildebeest and cape buffalo.

"It's like eating beef," he said. "They're all plains animals, so most of them eat grass."

"It's a step above deer. I love venison, but their game there is really good," Mikula noted.

Any meat that isn't consumed by the hunting party, which can amount to hundreds and hundreds of pounds, is either eaten by the locals or sold. "None of the meat goes to waste," Mikula said.

One would think after enjoying the hunting adventure of a lifetime – twice – that Mikula would be bored with hunting in Michigan. But that's clearly not the case.

In fact, he enjoys hunting whitetail deer more than any other animal he's stalked in the wild.

"There's still nothing better than whitetail hunting," he said. "Whitetail, to me, is one of the smartest animals around. They're very elusive.

"When you think you've got them figured out, they have you figured out and they take off. You've got to really outsmart them."

Unlike an expensive hunting trip in Africa, "there's no guarantee you're going to shoot a trophy every year," Mikula explained.

"That's not what whitetail hunting is about," he said. "Whitetail hunting is about going out with your friends, relaxing and having fun. Fibbing a little bit about how many deer you've seen. Stuff like that. Camaraderie."

Mikula noted, "I miss some of that because a lot of my friends that I used to hunt with have passed on. Everybody gets old."

Fortunately, his African trips have given him a "new circle of hunting buddies."

"You meet a lot of interesting people from all walks of life."

He's already talking with them about heading to the Patagonia region in Argentina to hunt red stag.

He'd also like to someday bring down an elk right here in the United States, which despite his best efforts just hasn't happened.

"I've never been lucky enough to get an elk yet," he said.

Hard to believe for a man who has a cape buffalo head mounted in his trophy room.

The best advice Mikula can give young or new hunters is to be patient – "that's the key to any kind of hunting" – and find somebody to teach you.

"What I would tell any young hunter is try to find a mentor, somebody a little bit older that will take you under their wing and take you out," Mikula said. Reading about hunting is good, but "there's nothing better than hands-on experience."

All the hunting Mikula's done over the years has given him two things. The first is the opportunity to "see things that a lot of people never see" in terms of animals interacting in the wild. The second is an entire room full of trophies that translate into a lifetime's worth of good memories.

"I could tell you stories about every animal in here," he said as he looked around his trophy room. "You can't put a price on memories."

Overall, Mikula's very grateful that he's healthy enough and has the financial means to able to enjoy such great adventures.

He's also grateful that his wife, Renee, doesn't hunt because she would probably show him up.

"It's a good thing she's not a hunter because when she does go out with me, she's got eagle eyes," Mikula said. "She can spot an animal in the bush three-quarters of a mile away. Before anybody else sees it, she's already got the drop on it.

"If she was a hunter, we wouldn't have a chance."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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