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Will Elliott: Lancaster man gets close-up view

For years, Mike Carvelli has hunted deer around home in Lancaster when not patrolling its roadways as a police officer in the township. All the while he pondered distant big-game hunts in places such as Africa and Alaska.

Like the three retired anglers who connected with an Alaskan guide at the WNY Outdoors Expo in Hamburg, Carvelli met up with Butch Meilinger at North America and International Fair Chase ( at the Expo. Since his retirement three years ago, he has not only been on fair-chase African hunts, his outings have sometimes resulted in scare-chase encounters.

As a licensed firearms dealer and avid ammo reloader, he has put together rounds that travel with amazing accuracy. On his most recent trip with wife Nadine, Carvelli headed to the Eastern Cape for a plains game hunt and took a caracal, bush buck, black springbuck and copper springbuck all at distances of more than 300 yards. All these trophy animals were taken with his own loads of 180-grain, Barnes bullets. While on that plains game hunt he also took a lechwe (antelope) at 45 yards with his Mathews Creed bow.

But it has been Africa’s big/dangerous game that has Carvelli sharing boundless stories of close encounters of the termination type. Close they are.

His first trip to Africa in July of 2011 was strictly a bow hunt with guide Andre Nel, 28, a professional hunter with Somerby African Hunting Safaris. That outing resulted in 10 plains game animals brought in with a Hoyt bow.

“My trophy status with Somerby is remarkable. Among the 31 kills I’ve posted during the past three trips, 23 received gold class ratings with Safari Club International,” Carvelli said. SCI rates all Africa game animals from the smallest plains game to the biggest dangerous beasts.

For example, on his second trip he took a Cape buffalo with a horn spread of 46 inches and a weight of 2,235 pounds. That monster scored 129 points; the minimum SCI gold score is 112.

But it was the proximity of his game and often arduous outings that have made these hunts a quality experience for Carvelli.

“The Buffalo was a close shot. We were on a herd and knew they were ahead of us, but we couldn’t see them beyond a ridge ahead of us. When we got to the rise we came upon a herd of buffalo and I got a quartering shot at the biggest one,” he said of one of Africa’s most dangerous animals. After the shot, they measured the distance between gun and buffalo – 11 yards.

He used a .416 Ruger with a 400-grain Hornady bullet. That trophy is featured in the 2013 Hornady catalog on page 18.

That was close, but a lion hunt that same year in the Kalahari cut the shooting distance to less than half for Carvelli, a physically fit and mentally awake hunter.

Readers might recall Ernest Hemingway’s novella (long short story) “the Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” in which Macomber showed cowardice when confronting his first lion and backed away rather than take a shot.

Carvelli did not have the option of backing away on his first lion hunt. “We had been walking around for about three or four hours,” he said of an outing with a Kalahari guide through country with signs but no sightings of lions.

“All of a sudden the guide said ‘A lion on your left.’ I turned, saw it coming at us and shot,” he said of a female lion that Carvelli shot at from the hip with his .416 Ruger. The animal dropped five feet from their feet. Another of the guides stood behind the hunters and was able to take a video of the entire, albeit brief, encounter.

The third trip with wife Nadine on Aug. 7-25 this year proved even more rewarding. “I couldn’t believe 2013 could top 2012, but it did,” Carvelli said of a combined tourism trip through South Africa, Free State, Pretoria, a plains game hunt and three days at Kruger Park.

On the Eastern Cape plains, he took five game animals, four rifle kills all at shots of more than 300 yards, and one bow trophy, a red lechwe at 45 yards. The plains game harvests included a caracal, bushbuck, black springbuck and copper springbuck taken with a .325 Win Short Mag.

But it was a failed attempt to draw a leopard tag that brought him back to Kalahari country for another lion hunt as an alternative to the lost leopard option.

After some time of circling and coursing through likely territory, he spotted a bedded lion and they began a stalk with the wind in their face and everything looking ideal. “But the wind shifted and blew our scent directly at him,” Carvelli said of a monster male rising prone in an attack position; it rose just enough for him to get off a quick shot.

It took two more shots at distances of 45 yards and then eight yards to finally down a 10-foot, 5-inch male that weighed in at 642 pounds. That trophy will come home as a full mount sometime soon.

Carvelli still would like to take a leopard as his next African trophy, but he concluded his summation of post-retirement hunts noting, “Next September, I’m headed to Alaska for a moose and Brown Bear.” Close friends hope he takes trophy animals there, but they also hope he can keep his distance on this Alaskan venture.