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Traveling With Firearms: How Buffalo Meat Got My Guns Back
I know some serious hunters who have never gone to Africa because they fear an infernal web of rules and regulations that will get their firearms confiscated and them thrown in jail where they will be beaten twice a day until they die. In the past 28 years, I’ve been to 6 African countries and can tell you that traveling with guns there is much easier than traveling with guns here.
Two years ago, while in the process of departing from Johannesburg Airport for the U.S., a friend of mine showed up at the first security checkpoint with a full box of ammunition in his carry-on bag. If that had happened at, say, JFK International in New York, he would have been shot dead at the most, or detained for questioning for several days at the least.
As it was, the young lady who was doing the checking said: “This is a very serious matter, sir. You could go to prison for this."
“Gee,” said my friend, “can’t we do something else?”
“Well, you can throw it in the trash can.”
And that was the end of the matter.
(Just a few moments prior to that, a security agent had pulled me out of line and sent me on to the next station. “No one as old as you is going to make any trouble,” he said.)
But I digress.
In 1981 I went to Zambia for the first time and landed at Lusaka airport, blissfully unaware that I needed an import permit for my two rifles and ammo, and that it had to be filled out in advance of my arrival. The safari company had screwed up.
If I had tried to enter the U.S. in 1981 with two illegal guns and ammo, I would have been arrested. (Today I would mysteriously disappear.) But the airport official who was in charge of guns said, “We’ll lock them up until you can get a permit.”
“Apoplectic” hardly begins to describe my state of mind. I was foaming at the mouth.
Ranting and raving, I went to see David Ommanney, the legendary PH who was in charge of this company’s operations, and he told me to calm down, that tomorrow we’d go and see the head of Zambian state police, and I would get my permit.
And we did. The Main Cop was a Colonel M., and David explained that through no fault of mine my guns had been impounded at the airport and that I would be unable to make this safari, on which I had spent my life savings.
“What will you be hunting?” asked Colonel M.
“Buffalo,” said I.
“There is a great deal of meat on a buffalo,” said Colonel M.
“More than we can possibly use,” said David Ommanney. “Would you like some?”
Colonel M. smiled. David Ommanney smiled. I smiled.
I got my import permit in 2 minutes and 31 seconds, and Colonel M. eventually got two 50-pound sacks of dried buffalo meat, or biltong, which at the time was worth more in Zambia than kwatcha or ngwee, which is Zambian currency.
I had a great safari, tsetse flies notwithstanding, and left Zambia filled with good feelings toward its people and Colonel M. in particular. When I returned in 1987, I had my import papers all filled out before I set foot off the plane.