Plains Game Hunting Safari in Namibia
Paul’s Namibia Hunting Safari Memoir 25/08/08 to 31/08/08 with Van Heerden Safaris in Namibia.
Monday 25/8/08 -
We arrived at Brandberg White Lady Lodge around 12pm after a spectacularly scenic drive from Outjo (via Khorixas for a fuel stop). The unsealed road was quite corrugated in places and very dusty but the landscapes more than made up for any minor discomfort.
Approaching Mt Brandberg, Namibia
Brandberg White Lady Lodge signpost
Brandberg White Lady Lodge, Sorris Sorris, Namibia
The main dining lodge was comfortable and inviting although my wife, Joanna and my three daughters were a little taken aback by the spartan nature of the “luxury chalets.” They were more like one room stone cabins, by European standards. The shower was powered by a wood burning stove and the electricity for lighting came from old truck batteries, which were prone to running flat at times. But my womenfolk quickly forgot the basic facilities, because the welcome we got from Aubrey de Jager and his staff, more than made up for the lack of modern conveniences.
Brandberg White Lady Lodge Chalets
Hentie Van Heerden, (the professional hunter guide I had hired for the week) arrived around 3pm and after sorting out a small misunderstanding over firearms, he arranged for me to borrow Aubrey de Jager’s (the manager) .308 rifle, so that I had a weapon to hunt the following day with. We set off around 4pm to drive a short distance from camp to zero the rifle at a distance of about 120m. The .308 was quite a heavy gun but as I found out later had very little kick, due to its stock absorbing much of the recoil. A day later I also test fired .270 and .375 caliber rifles but noticed a lot more recoil on these lighter rifles and opted to stay with Aubrey’s .308 even though it was a heavier gun to lug about.
Van Heerden Safaris
holds the hunting rights to two communal concession areas in Damaraland, the Huab and Sorris Sorris conservancies. These two conservancies are situated 50 miles apart and have a total area of 320,000 hectares. The territory closest to the White Lady lodge on which we were hunting is the Sorris Sorris conservancy owned by local Damaraland people, some of whom work at the White Lady lodge and live in the surrounding countryside.
Sorris Sorris conservancy sign, Namibia
Tuesday 26/8/08 – Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra
Hentie picked me up from my chalet at 5-30am and we stopped off at the main lodge for a good breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs and black coffee before setting off for our 1st days hunting towards the foothills of Mount Brandberg. We passed several groups of springbok, mainly young bucks and females, but saw nothing of trophy standard, worth shooting.
Mt Brandberg Foothills, Sorris Sorris Conservancy, Namibia
Hentie knew I wanted a Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, an Oryx, a Kudu bull and a decent springbok trophy, so I think he planned to find a zebra stallion to get me started. The terrain we drove over varied from flattish grasslands to quite stony hill country with very little ground cover other than the odd desert bush. After driving for an hour or more we stopped at a likely spot and scanned ahead with binoculars. As luck would have it the trackers and Hentie spied a small group of mountain zebra way up ahead, on a slope just below the skyline. They were stationary but very hard to see, even with binoculars. It looked like the stallion was dozing on the slope above the herd.
Hentie and I left the Toyota Landcruiser 4WD and set off on foot. We had a difficult stalk ahead of us, as the day was warming up and with very little tree cover, we had to approach the herd by sneaking up gullies using the terrain for cover. As luck would have it, the wind was in our favour, otherwise we would not have stood a chance. After about three quarters of an hour we managed to get to a ridge about 150m from the stallion, from which we could have taken a shot. But the zebra was facing downhill away from us so it was a difficult angle for a fatal shot. The last thing we wanted to do was wound it, as these animals will run and run. Given that it was my first attempt and I was a bit of an unknown quantity as far as Hentie was concerned, we opted to try and get me a bit closer by creeping around and up the gully behind the stallion, who was still blissfully unaware of our presence, and obviously still off in the land of nod.
After a difficult hands and knees approach on stony ground, Hentie gestured that he would set up the shooting sticks for me to take a shot from about 80m. The adrenaline was kicking in and with heart pumping I engaged the bolt and positioned the rifle on the makeshift tripod. Just as I spotted the stallion through the scope, he turned his head to look at us. I realised that I had very little time to shoot before he bolted, so as soon as I had the cross hairs on his front shoulder I fired. He dropped like a stone so I had obviously hit him, thank God! But he was kicking about and looked like he might get up. The group of about four mares and their offspring galloped off to a distance of about 50m before stopping and looking back at us. Hentie and I approached the stallion, which was writhing about obviously paralysed and unable to get to his feet. Hentie told me to load another round before getting me in position to dispatch the animal. He indicated a position at the base of the neck on the front chest. I obviously hit the jugular or heart, as a fountain of blood spurted from its chest and it very quickly bleed to death.
The feeling of euphoria was amazing and it is difficult to explain to the non hunter the thrill of the kill. I was really buzzing and Hentie was as pleased for me. It is no wonder men bond so much from shared battles, which is one of the reasons why sport is so important to the male psyche.
We could not hear the truck approaching, so Hentie headed off to find the trackers Arnold and Abraham. I took a few photos of the zebra and marveled at the scenery, all the while still on a high, from the thrill of the hunt.
After taking the customary photos of hunter and trophy we loaded the zebra onto the back of the truck, after gutting it. We then headed back to camp with our prize, which will make for a magnificent floor skin, when tanned.
Hartmann's Mountain Zebra Stallion, Sorris Sorris, Namibia
Weds 27th August - Rare White springbok
Wednesday, like most days in Damaraland, started of cool and dry but quickly warmed up once the sun rose. After breakfast we headed off at sunrise across the undulating grasslands bordering the dunes which stretch away from Mt Brandberg. We spotted various groups of springbok and scoped them in search of a decent trophy head. Hentie spotted a likely prospect but as they had all seen us, we drove on for a while, before stalking back, once we had hidden the truck from view behind a kopje (boulder strewn hill).
We ran up the side of the kopje trying to spot our target, only to find that the group had moved on past our position, far off to the left. We felt like a right pair of idiots, but as we descended, Hentie spotted our target, which turned out to be a rare and unusually light coloured springbok male. He was in a smaller group, at a distance of about 200m. Hentie setup the sticks for me to shoot but I remember looking through the sights and thinking that it was a bit of a long shot, which not surprisingly, I missed.
It was then that Hentie noticed that my scope was set on a magnification of three. He quickly adjusted it on a magnification of nine and told me to have another look. I immediately realised my mistake, because the animals appeared much closer. We scoped the groups of springbok and noticed that our target had split off to the left from the main group with a couple of others at a distance of about 400m. We decided to have another go, as my first shot did not appear to have bothered them too much. They continued to walk on ahead, rather than bolt for hills.
We crouched low and ran in single file, stopping at intervals to check our bearing. The knee height grass and brush gave us a little cover but as we got closer, we had to get down on hands and knees, to avoid being seen. As we crawled within range, Hentie set up the sticks and indicated the target animal. This time I nailed it, right behind the shoulder and it dropped to the ground. We ran up and sure enough, it was as dead as a dodo. Probably my best shot of the whole week as it turned out. But what was even more thrilling was Hentie’s reaction when he saw the buck and pointed out how rare and beautiful it was. He told me that they actually breed completely white springbok in South Africa, but that it was very unusual to find naturally light coloured animals like this one in the wild. As the pictures show it is an absolutely beautiful trophy, which I’m sure Hentie will remember for years to come.
Rare Natural White Springbok, Sorris Sorris, Namibia
After lunch we headed off again in search of an Oryx. Hentie suggested we leave the vehicle and set off into the hills on foot. Perhaps he thought it was time to see just how fit this crazy kiwi was. We ended up doing a 4hr trek searching for an Oryx, which mattered not, as the scenery was truly awe inspiring. The endless hills stretch out from the Brandberg mountains as far as the eye can see. We saw plenty of sign of game, but no actual animals for the rest of the day. However, we were pleased to discover a small spring, which was an important find in such a dry region, as Hentie thought there had to be water somewhere in these barren hills.
PH, Hentie Van Heerden, Sorris Sorris Conservancy, Namibia
Thurs 28th Aug – 2nd Springbok and Oryx
After breakfast we headed off into some open country in search of springbok and Oryx. We sighted various springbok but the one likely lone male decided not to stick around for long once he got wind of us and after a 30 minute chase we abandoned the search.
We eventually found another group of springbok with several males, one of which was an exceptionally big buck with a good trophy head. They were moving off fast so we had to be quick to get into a position to shoot. After locating the target I fired off what I thought was a good shot. It turned out I hit him a bit low on the shoulder and he made off wounded. We chased and just as he was cresting the next ridge Hentie urged me to hit him again. In my haste, I missed completely much to my annoyance.
After he disappeared from view we gave chase and then as we crested the next ridge we could see him staggering away to my left. I fired off a quick shot in an effort to stop him and managed to drop him with a gut shot which went through to the vitals. My first shot had broken his left front leg just below the shoulder but he had still managed to run another couple of hundred metres on three legs. We took the photos and then went back for the truck. Unfortunately in our absence, his ear must have come into contact with hot stones and the hair had started to slip, (being as it was getting near midday), ruining what would otherwise have been a good shoulder mount.
I was not unduly concerned and opted to go for a European mount (skull on shield) and keep the skin instead. We gutted the springbok and carried it back to the truck.
Paul With 2nd Springbok Trophy
As we were a long way out, we decided to continue hunting after a light fruit lunch. We gutted and wet the springbok down and deposited the carcass in the shade under a tree to keep it cool and then pressed on with our search for an Oryx bull.
Sorris Sorris Foothills Near Mt Brandberg, Namibia
We drove on for several miles up a twisting rocky riverbed before the trackers suddenly spotted an Oryx bull heading off at a fast trot from tree cover to our left. Hentie and I leapt from the truck and gave chase on foot. He told me to load a round and be ready for the Oryx to stop and look back.
Just as he predicted, when it reached the base of the hills, it stopped and turned to look back at us from a distance of about 80m. Hentie set up the sticks and I lined him up in my sights. I was fairly sure I hit him, but was amazed when he ran off up the gully into the hills, as if I’d completely missed. Hentie reckoned I’d hit him but the Oryx didn’t look to be suffering in anyway to me. We gave chase over the difficult rocky riverbed and were just about to round the corner when Hentie pulled up sharply. The Oryx had been lying down and immediately got to its feet about 20m away, when it saw us.
I loaded another round and Hentie told me to hit him anywhere to slow him down. I had no choice but to aim for his back end. Luckily he then turned up hill to the left and gave me a broadside. But before I could reload he stopped and turned to face us leaving me no choice but a front chest shot. I hit him in the vitals but at first it did not seem to bother him much. Hentie urged me to reload, but much to my horror, I then discovered that I had no bullets left. We then stood watched him for a minute before his front legs buckled under him and he lay down to die.
Hentie With The Oryx Bull Felled On Rocky Ridge
Hentie told me to stay put and he headed back to the truck for the tracker and more bullets. After about five minutes I realised that the Oryx was finished and went up to check he was dead. It was a bit off a shock to see how big the bull was up close. The way he stood his ground, left me somewhat in awe of his bravery. The long sabre like horns were slightly uneven but this did not bother me in the slightest. Hentie remarked that often bulls will dig or scrape one horn more than the other, resulting in more wear to one horn.
The only downside was that he had fallen on a high rocky ridge and it was impossible to get the truck any closer than 100m away. Nothing for it but to gut the beast and cut it in half, so that we could man handle it back to the truck.
Not an easy task in that heat, even for three grown men. We were somewhat perplexed as to why the Oryx had stopped to lie down. But the post mortem showed that my first shot may have clipped the base of one horn, which may have concussed him slightly and luckily slowed him down enough for us to catch up.
Paul With Oryx Bull Trophy, Sorris Sorris Conservancy, Namibia
Fri 29th August - Chacma Baboon
Now that we had three of the four trophies in the bag, Friday was to be Kudu day. We drove off along the Ugab river bed running along beneath the foothills of Mt Brandberg. The river is mostly dry with water running beneath the riverbed which comes to the surface in various places. The river is lined with large acacias and has much more green foliage than the surrounding countryside. This is a good place to look for kudu as they tend to come down from the hills to drink at night and then return to the relative safety of the mountains during the day. We saw no sign of kudu but noticed a troop of Chacma baboon crossing the riverbed up ahead, so Hentie asked if I wanted to shoot a baboon.
Driving Along River Bed Near Camp ,Sorris Sorris Conservancy
After our nasty experience at Waterberg plateau (when my family was raided by a thieving troop) I was keen for some payback, and jumped at the chance to even the score. We used the tree lined cover to sneak up on the troop, most of whom had moved off up into the cliffs above the river. We singled out what we thought was a big male following up the rear and I lined him up in my sights from about 50m. He was dead before he hit the ground with a good, clean hit on the shoulder. Turned out he was a young male and not as big as he first appeared. Later on we came upon a 2nd troop with some big males who did not appear to be in any great hurry to move on. We lined up a big male and I slotted him. Once again a clean kill, only this time it was a big old male and he looked a bit the worse for wear with only one eye remaining. I had a crack at the rest of the rapidly departing troop but they were quickly out of range, scrambling noisily off up into the hills.
Paul With Chacma Baboon Old Male
We drove on and headed up one of the valleys at the base of the Brandberg mountain range in search of the elusive Greater southern Kudu. After disembarking from the truck, we walked up a valley and positioned ourselves on a ridge to scope the gully ahead. We were just about to head back to the truck when I spotted a magnificent Kudu bull stationary under a tree, looking straight at us. He stood absolutely motionless for about 10 minutes before deciding we were nothing but trouble and headed off at a trot. We quickly dropped down from the ridge and headed off to the right of the hill we had just seen him disappear behind, in the hope that we might be able to head him off.
Paul Scoping For Kudu At Sorris Sorris
Unfortunately as we found out later, the Kudu never stopped running and managed to duck out well ahead of us. We tracked him for a couple of hours and were amazed to discover that the bull had headed up the mountain over some very difficult, steep terrain in an effort to avoid us and had then descended over equally precipitous slopes into the next valley, to make good his escape. We had nothing but respect for such a determined and resourceful quarry and both agreed that this Kudu deserved to live that day. It was incredible to see the steepness of the slopes, that such a big animal had descended. Kudu are truly amazing and beautiful antelope, perfectly adapted to live in such inhospitable and rugged terrain.
View Of The Truck Below From Our Vantage Point
Upon our return to camp, Hentie suggested that it might be a good idea to try the Huab conservancy on Saturday for a Kudu, as the big bulls are few and far between in the Sorris-Sorris conservancy and we could be looking for a week or more, with no guarantees of even finding another one. It would mean an early start and a long day’s drive, but our chances were much better of finding a good trophy bull in the Huab conservancy.
Sat 30th August – Huab Kudu
We headed off at 5am and were rewarded with a stunningly beautiful African sunrise.
Sunrise At Sorris Sorris Conservancy, Namibia
At Khorixas, we stopped to drop of the springbok and Oryx meat from the previous two days hunting and met the chairman of the conservancy.
When we got to the Huab conservancy we drove over some very rough stony tracks for several hours without spotting much game. We had a couple of sightings, but the kudu were well aware of us and moved off without stopping. We continued on before deciding to disembark and head up one particular riverbed to a water spring up on a cliff face. From there we headed up the valley, on the lookout as always.
Huab Conservancy Dry Riverbed
The black trackers spotted a group of male kudu, but it was decided that they were too far off and difficult to stalk given they had seen us and we returned to the truck. After more driving we headed off on foot once again in the hot midday sun up a hillside from where we scoped a more promising valley stretched out below us. But lady luck was not with us and there was not a living thing to be seen, even though we scoured the landscape for a good 30 minutes.
Hentie With The Trackers At Huab Spring
Feeling somewhat disheartened we drove back towards the Huab tented camp and loaded elephant bones from a previous hunt into Hentie’s truck. I remember Hentie saying at the time, that it would just be our luck to find a kudu now that we had loaded the truck, because it would be awkward to unload all the bones if we shot something.
Huab Conservancy Landscape
A short while later we stopped off at the home of the old man who guards the Huab camp for Hentie. He decided to join us and we headed off again at around 4pm in search of what was proving to be, the very elusive Southern Greater Kudu. I spotted what I thought was a leopard sneaking through the bush up ahead. However it turned out to be a cheetah and I was amazed at how difficult it was to see, even when moving, because it kept so low to the ground.
As luck would have it, not long after, the trackers spotted a trophy size kudu bull about 80 metres off from the track in very rough, rocky ground with lots of low bush cover. The light was now starting to fade and we knew that we would have to be quick, before it got dark. It was difficult to see exactly where the bull was and we had to back track a couple of times before Hentie finally spotted him in thick cover. We stumbled over boulders and then Hentie set up the sticks and indicated that the bull was straight ahead. I positioned the rifle but could not see him at first.
Just when I was beginning to think I was looking in the wrong direction, I spotted him looking straight at us, completely motionless. They don’t call Kudu “grey ghosts” for nothing! There was not much of him to see, but I aimed at the front shoulder and pulled the trigger. I hit him for sure, but he bolted, so we were not sure where the bullet went in. It did not appear to be fatal and with the fast dying light we both knew I had to hit him again quickly, if we were not to lose him in the dark. We ran after him and this time I had plenty of bullets. We closed on him but he kept moving and was very difficult to aim at. Hentie feared that we might lose him and yelled that I had to hit him again. I scrambled over the rocky ground, to get closer to be able to get a clear shot at him, before finally bringing him down.
The light was now failing fast but we managed a few snaps before darkness descended. It turned out I had a 55.5” trophy bull, which is certainly well above average these days. What a thrill! Once again, such an adrenaline rush, especially when it looked like he might escape. I joked later about Hentie yelling at me, but it certainly focuses the mind, when you realise the consequences of missing. Once again, the animal fell in difficult rocky terrain about 100m from the truck, so we had no choice but to butcher the carcass and lug it back in pieces to the truck. Darkness had descended quickly and it was difficult, bloody work for the trackers. I held the torch, so they could see what they were doing, and felt, with quiet satisfaction, very much like one of the Great White Hunters of bygone years.
Paul's 55.5" Kudu Bull Trophy
We arrived back at the lodge well after 11pm, but I remember thinking on the way back in the truck, that this Nambian hunting safari, was really like a dream come true. All credit to Hentie Van Heerden for finding such a magnificent range of trophies in five days. Anyone who imagines these animals are sitting around waiting to get shot, is in for a big surprise! Damaraland is a hard, parched land and the game are widely dispersed. You have to be prepared if necessary, to walk long distances in hot, dry conditions. You will earn your kills. This is no canned, game farm shoot. This is proper fair chase African hunting!!
Sunday 31st August – last day
Given that we had achieved all the trophies on my wish list, there was little need to continue hunting and it was decided that the last day would include a Game drive for my family.
Hentie bought the .22 long rifle on the off chance that we saw something for Hugh, (my 9yr old son), to have a crack at. Hentie had previously given him some target practice on empty coke cans and we hoped that he might be able to bag a francolin bird or something similar.
Desert Elephants At Sorris sorris, Mt Brandberg, Namibia
We caught up with the group of desert elephants which frequent the area, down by the river. The herd includes a number of females and their calves, so it was a real thrill for my wife and daughters to see wild elephants up close.
Paul's Wife & Daughters On Game Drive, Sorris Sorris Conservancy
Hentie Teaching Hugh To Shoot
On the way back to camp we spotted a large flock of guinea fowl running up ahead on the riverbed. Hentie stopped the truck and handed up the .22 rifle, urging Hughie to take a shot.
Even though he is too small to be able to place the butt into his shoulder he laid the rifle on top of the truck cabin and lined a fleeing bird. Much to my surprise he dropped it with his first shot from 50m. It was a big thrill for us all and Hughie obviously has a good eye for this sport. We live in England where hunting is generally under constant threat. So it’s great for me as an urban father, to be able to involve my son in this great African hunting adventure.
Thanks again to Hentie, for being willing to take time out to show my family his fantastic hunting lifestyle and the wonderful country, that is Namibia!
Hughie's First Kill