Great White Hunter
DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS "Nothing goes to waste ... it helps to feed the poor," says Dot Eberts.
To local residents, Dorothy 'Dot' Eberts is the caring, friendly, maternal clerk who handles duties at a small post office along Route 895 in the village of Andreas.
But in the rolling savannah grasslands of the Limpopo province of South Africa, she's the Great White Hunter - the woman from America with the eye of an eagle.
In fact, Eberts may have rightfully earned the title of 'Annie Oakley of Schuylkill County' after bagging five trophy game during a recent solo hunt safari she describes as "the thrill of a lifetime."
Eberts brought down a zebra, warthog, impala, kudu and gemsbok.
In a sense, the hunt safari served a dual purpose as edible meat from the animals is being used to feed impoverished children in an area of severe economic depression in the Republic of South Africa.
"There's no work there," said Eberts, mother of three grown children, Tracy, Sherry and Thomas.
The safari business is a much-needed boost to the South African economy, a location where wildlife is in abundance. But food for young children can be scarce.
So how did an Andreas grandmother decide to journey by herself to the African wilderness?
It was the allure of the hunt. And Eberts said she always had an interest in hunting, going back to her early childhood.
The daughter of Charles and Pearl Eberts, she grew up in Andreas with two sisters and a brother.
"I used to walk the woods all the time. I loved nature. If I didn't have to cook and clean, I'd be outdoors all the time."
Eberts didn't actually grow up on a farm, but during childhood, she spent a great deal of time helping her uncle Willard and others on the nearby Eberts family farm, her grandparents' home.
"I was raised with hunting. We skinned animals," she said, recalling how members of the family would get involved in harvesting chickens, plucking feathers and typical farm chores.
Today, some of those tasks would seem unpleasant to those who rely exclusively on getting their chicken and others meats from the meat department of the local supermarket. But back on the farm, hunting was essential to putting food on the table. However, hunting was typically an all-male bastion, something which didn't include Eberts.
"They'd go hunting, but they'd never think of asking a woman," she says. Eberts finally got her first taste of hunting after she married an avid sportsman. Today, 40 years later, she's a woman with considerable experience in the field and has even gutted a deer, although it's not necessarily her favorite experience.
"I probably wouldn't even be good at it today."
Eberts is now divorced, but hunting is still high on her list of activities, as all members of the family understand. One day, she made a promise to a family member.
"About five years ago, I said to my grandson, 'I'm going to hunt in Africa.'"
True to her word, she did just that.
The trip was arranged by Nhoro Safaris with help from Alan Richardson, her future son-in-law, and his friend, a professional hunter. The plan picked up steam early last year when Richardson spent time at an outdoor expo with friends.
"They were at the Pennsylvania Farm Show and brought a guide to my door," says the sixty-four-year-old Eberts. The guide happened to be associated with Nhoro Safaris.
Nhoro Safaris is an organization offering African hunting safaris in various concession areas in Limpopo and North West Province as well as Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique.
To prepare for the experience, Eberts purchased shells, a new gun case, and spent time practicing a new technique with her 380 Ruger. That's because hunting the plains of Africa requires quick reactions and learning how to adapt to new terrain.
"They hunt with cross-sticks. There are no trees to rest your gun against," she explains.
Eberts jumped on a plane at JFK Airport in October and flew 17 hours to Johannesburg International Airport. From there, she boarded a second plane for a one-hour trip to another airport, then a two-hour drive to a 55,000-acre ranch near the border of Botswana. There, she bunked down in a canvas tent to rest up for her six-day adventure. The tent was her new home.
A few things made the trip special, not just for Eberts, but for the ranch, as well.
The ten-year-old ranch measures 15 miles by 10 miles, large enough to accommodate 800 hunters. But Eberts was there by herself, something unusual. On top of that, she also was the first woman to hunt at that ranch, a fact that had the owners taking photos of Eberts.
Eberts said the tent was comfortable and the staff extremely hospitable, despite intense and unseasonable heat. In fact, the first few days brought 105-degree temperatures.
"We only hunted in the morning or afternoon because of the heat," she says. The feeling of solitude was peaceful, a welcome break from the busy post office. The surroundings lacked modern conveniences, but Eberts didn't mind a bit, even if she had to adjust to a new, temporary reality.
"There was no phone, no computer, and no television. And I had to place my shoes upside down at night because there were scorpions and snakes there."
(Nothing gets a person awake faster in the morning than the sting of scorpion, although most people prefer alarm clocks.)
During her stay, she saw giraffes, leopards, rhinos and all kinds of exotic animals. Some of the vegetation, too, was unusual, she says, including a purple flower with striking color, a flower that seems to thrive in that climate.
The actual hunt was not done by vehicle, but afoot. She was accompanied by two trackers and a professional hunter. Everyone worked together in order to make the hunt was a success, she says. It's all about teamwork.
"When you stalk, you only have seconds. The guide made sure I had a good shot every time."
It took only a few days for Eberts to achieve her harvest goal, bagging five trophy game. Some of the ranch's 17 workers took the meat to assist children of the area. Many families and youngsters in that locale continue to struggle, especially nowadays with work being scarce. For that reason, the safari business can be a blessing.
"It helps to feed the poor," she says.
Two of the animals brought down by Eberts were a warthog and zebra, which are inedible by humans. But in that case, the meat provided sustenance for other animals. Also, the hides are being processed into rugs and similar items.
"Nothing goes to waste," says Eberts. And that philosophy, along with the idea of a hunt to provide food for children who need it, just seems to jive with Eberts' common-sense background - or maybe it's the local Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.
"It's part of who I am."
Eberts is especially fond of many friendships made along the journey.
If possible, she wouldn't mind returning to Africa for a second hunt safari sometime down the road, perhaps taking along a grandchild or two.
But for now, she intends to take time to bask in the afterglow of the trip of a lifetime, a big game hunting experience in the wilds of Africa.
And the realization of a dream fulfilled.