The Free State is where hunters go

Granted, the Free State does not have majestic mountains and cascading waterfalls to attract tourists to the province.

Granted, the Free State does not have majestic mountains and cascading waterfalls to attract tourists to the province.

But those responsible for promoting the province make up for what they do not have by adding lots of spin to what they do have.

I witnessed this when I visited the Sandveld Nature Reserve near Bloemhof last week.

The communications people in the office of MEC for tourism, environmental and economic affairs, Neo Masithela, had informed journalists that the reserve offered fun, a wonderful bird species, speed boat rides and game hunting.

I know I am likely to incur the wrath of animal lovers but I must confess I love hunting.

I am not a regular but when the opportunity arises, I grab it with both hands.

Hunting is also done for the benefit of the animals themselves. If culling is not done it could lead to an overpopulation of certain species to the detriment of the grazing and other animals.

Masithela and the head of his department, Thabo Khunyeli, had arranged this outing to be some kind of social responsibility exercise.

The meat from the animals we shot would be donated to needy communities in nearby Hoopstad.

Some of the meat was also given to the lions and cheetahs at the Soetdoring Game Reserve near Bloemfontein.

To warm up to the hunting I first went on a speed boat ride in the vast Bloemhof Dam - a surefire Sandveld attraction.

Water from the Vaal and Vet rivers contributes to the near-full capacity of the dam.

I had an opportunity to take in the breath-taking surroundings and also do a bit of nature studying on the side.

Situated along the R34, just 10km from Bloemhof on the way to Hoopstad, Sandveld lies about 200km northwest of Bloemfontein.

It is also about the same distance southwest of Johannesburg.

Including the dam, the reserve covers 37700ha of the Kalahari thorn veld biome.

I was told by manager Flip Crouse that large numbers of egrets, cormorants, ibis, ducks, geese and flamingoes gather on the dam and along its edges at different times of the year.

The dam is said to be a fishing paradise.

When the clock struck 5pm I was ready for the real business. It was blue or red wildebeest we were after.

We needed practice, so Crouse gave Masithela and me a crash course in target shooting.

I did not do badly. One miss, one on target, and we set off for the bush.

The first wildebeest we spotted gave us the run-around but we followed patiently. When the animal stopped Masithela took aim - and missed.

I also missed at my first attempt but we got a good opportunity when we ran into a herd of about 15 animals watching us nervously. We went close, took aim and it was over for the day.

Altogether four wildebeest were successfully culled.

Just to crown our marvellous tour of the province, we travelled more 170km to the Soetdoring Nature Reserve to feed the lions and cheetahs.

We had fun feeding them a wildebeest carcass.