Elgin T. Gates, Hunter & Adventurer
This is a discussion on Elgin T. Gates, Hunter & Adventurer within the Hunting Africa forums, part of the Hunting Forums - Hunting in Africa category; Elgin T.Gates Elgin T. Gates with Sable, Mozambique 1959 Elgin Gates is argueably the most well traveled and greatest sporting ...
07-21-2010, 12:47 AM #1
Elgin T. Gates, Hunter & Adventurer
Elgin T. Gates with Sable, Mozambique 1959
Elgin Gates is argueably the most well traveled and greatest sporting hunter of the 20th Century. He hunted Africa for nearly 30 years, many of his hunts were true expeditions into areas unknown. He had a standing agreement with Jack Blacklaws (one of Africa's greatest and most debonair White Hunters) that Elgin would fund any exploratory safari into virgin country, provided Elgin went along, then Blacklaws could have it to take the rest of his clients. Through this type of agreement, Gates helped to reopen French Equatorial Africa, Sudan, Uganda, and Mozambique to sport hunting. In doing so, Gates got first crack at wildlife virtually unknown to the outside world. Some instances, Gates would explore by himself, flying into some remote village in the wilds of Africa and hiring the locals to help him mount an expedition.
Gates has 152 African trophies listed in Rowland Ward's Records of Big Game. He also has 54 trophies from Asia listed and 26 from North America, for a total of 232 in the book. He was the Weatherby Award winner in 1960.
Elgin raced motor boats winning several national championships and set 26 world records. He won 17 national and international championships in clay target shooting. Won 3 International Olympic-style championships in 8 years, defeating every member fo the elite and highly trained military teams from the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy. He was the only civilian to ever do so. Elgin also founded the International Handgun Metallic Silhouette Association (IHMSA) and helped develop many of the Dan Wesson Super Mag cartridges.
MonishITS NOT THE RIFLE BUT THE MAN BEHIND THE RIFLE
07-23-2010, 02:18 AM #2
A New Way to Hunt Lion
A New Way to Hunt Lion
from details provided by by Elgin T. Gates
AGAIN - CLOSER - came the awesome full-throated roar of a hunting lion. Rrrrrooooom, oooom, oooom, uh, uh, uh! More than anything else, this savage sound epitomizes wild Africa. “It always raises the hackles on my neck,” Elgin said, “and starts the adrenalin tingling through my body.” Only male lions roar, and the deep, frightful violence of this one's roar bespoke a monster lion.
The three hunters - American Elgin Gates, professional hunter Jack Blacklaws, and Mbui, their wizened little Kaffir guide - were sitting at the base of a giant, grotesque-limbed baobab tree where they had set up a meager camp an hour earlier. In the shadowy twilight, Blacklaws had poured the first long-deferred drink. The sharp bite of the warm Scotch and the pungent flavor of their Manila corona cigars were a fitting climax to a long and weary day.
Mbui had led Blacklaws and Gates far across the sandy, ochre veldt and through tangled thickets of thorn, mopani, and miombo, to that remote water hole along the southern fringe of South Africa's vast Kalahari Desert. They had sat there in relaxed contentment while the roseate afterglow of sunset slowly darkened to crimson. Flights of imperial sand grouse, silhouetted against the blood-streaked sky, came whispering in out of the desert to drink at the waterhole before the night creatures took it over.
As the first jewel stars appeared in the darkening sky, Mbui kindled a tiny fire and squatted beside it to roll a cigarette with strong Kaffir tobacco and a bit of old newspaper that he'd found behind the front seat of the Land Rover. As he drew a glowing coal from the fire and raised it to light his cigarette, the first guttural roar shattered the stillness. Although it was a distant roar, the ground vibrated with it.
Mbui dropped his light and hunched closer to the fire. He clutched his unlit cigarette and rolled his eyes in fear. Blacklaws and Gates grinned at each other - partly because of Mbui's behavior but mainly because neither of them had believed that there was really any truth to the story of the giant black-maned lions of Korannaland.
The story that Gates had pieced together over several years had begun with a footnote in a scientific journal. Gradually, he had also gathered rumors, bits of information sifted from conversations with a variety of people in South Africa, and - finally - a first-hand account related to him by an eighty-six-year-old Boer hunter who had been to the area as a young man in 1892. Gates had nothing really solid or recent, but enough to lure him across two thousand miles of Africa to this primitive, unknown corner of the Kalahari.
The third roar came out of the night - still closer but farther to the east.
“I suspect he's smelled us and the fire,” Blacklaws said, “and is circling the camp to investigate.”
Lions behaved basically the same in most areas of Africa where Gates had had experience with them, but he was now in a new and different corner of Africa, and this lion was of a different breed.
“I think we'd better build a boma, just in case,” he said, voicing the thought in both his own and Blacklaws’s minds. With Mbui's eager help, Gates and Blacklaws built a twenty-foot ring of fires and dragged into the circle enough fuel to last all night. Then, while Mbui cut thorn bush with his panga by the light of the fires, they pulled the thorn high around the ring in a classic boma, the Africans' age-old thorn “fence” as night protection against marauding lions.
While they worked, the lion had circled the camp, roaring at intervals. Another lion answered in the distance. Later, when the hunters lay on their blankets in the center of the boma, Blacklaws pointed to Mbui. Though he was still trembling with fear, he had finally summoned up enough courage to light his cigarette. Moving from fire to fire, he squatted and carefully fed each one.
“We won't have to worry about tending the fires tonight,” Blacklaws said. “Mbui will take care of that.”
About midnight, the lions moved off until they could no longer hear their roars. Reassured, Mbui dozed off. Gates lay awake, thinking of lions, while the fires died down to ruby embers and the gleaming panoply of stars pressed down into the twisted limbs of the baobab.
Lions - through myth, legend, and history, man has feared and worshiped these great carnivorous cats since the beginnings of civilization. The ancient Egyptians and Persians deified them. The Greeks sculptured them as royal symbols. The Romans pitted them against gladiators. To this day, we respect them as a fearless living symbol of Africa.
A fully grown male lion weighs up to five hundred pounds. For its size, it's the deadliest adversary in Africa. For a hundred yards, a lion can outrun a race horse. One bite of those powerful jaws can crush a man's skull as easily as you can crush an egg shell. A lion can run alongside a Cape buffalo, leap on its back, thrust one huge paw forward and bury talons in its nose, and with a powerful wrench break the buffalo's neck.
A wounded lion lies in heavy cover until his antagonist is close, then launches himself with a grunting roar, claws extended, teeth bared - a terrifying spectacle. He comes in great leaps, making deadly aim with a rifle difficult or impossible. For this reason, most professional hunters prefer double-barreled shotguns for close-quarter encounters - the idea being that the shot pattern covers a greater area than a rifle bullet covers. Any kind of a hit in the face blinds the lion, and within fifty feet or so, a shotgun charge is even deadlier than a single bullet.
If the lion reaches his victim, the carnage is terrible. Anyone who survives a lion attack is scarred, maimed, or crippled for life and may wish that he were dead. The wounds inflicted by lions' septic claws can turn into gangrene unless they're treated immediately. One swipe from a massive front paw can take off half a man's face, and when the victim is down, the cruel, crunching bites are deadly. The long canine fangs can meet anywhere in a man's body and usually do.
Compared to the other four of Africa's “Big Five,” lions can display the sly cunning of the leopard, the malevolent vindictiveness of the Cape buffalo, the raw power of the raging rhinoceros, and the crafty courage of a rampaging bull elephant. For these reasons and qualities, the lion is one of the most desirable big-game trophies in the world. Most hunters may collect most of the big game in Africa, but they will never be fully satisfied until they bag a lion. Without the lion, an African safari just isn't complete.
But lions aren't easy to come by. Gates knew big-game hunters who had made as many as six trips to Africa before collecting a lion. Also, within five years, three men whom he’d known as friends had been killed by lions that they had wounded and followed up. Two others, badly mauled, had survived. Gates had long held to the philosophy that there is no substitute for that first well aimed shot when you're hunting dangerous game. He'd let a trophy lion go, rather than gamble on a fast shot at a running lion or a snap shot at the rear end of a lion disappearing into heavy cover.
Little known outside scientific circles is the fact that there are over a dozen recognized varieties of African lions, from the scrawny maneless bush lion of Somaliland to the black-maned giants of South Africa, presumed to be extinct. Gates had collected most of them in other parts of Africa, and the story that he had pieced together - that some of the giant black-maned lions still existed in that lost corner - had brought him far across Africa. For weeks, he had been chasing the end of a rainbow. Now he had found it.
But a few details were still not clear yet - like maybe these would be ordinary lions, not the legendary monsters that they were supposed to be. There was also the little matter of locating and shooting one - never an easy task with lions.
At daylight, Mbui was curled up, still fast asleep. Blacklaws motioned for Gates to be silent and imitated - with chilling accuracy - the roar of a lion. Mbui sprang up terror-stricken and looked wildly in all directions for the lion that he thought was inside the boma.
“Baas,” he said gravely in his stilted Afrikaans after Gates and Blacklaws had stopped laughing and assured him that there was no lion close by, “I had a vision in the night that the great lion Tau was chasing me through the vleis and kloofs, and finally I climbed to the top of a klopje and was safe. And then Tau roared behind me and leaped.” He paused and felt of his arms and body. “But now I am awake, Baas, and it is good to still be alive." Something about the incident stuck in Gates’s mind - but that morning, he couldn't pin down what it was. Later, it would prove to be a crucial element in the safari: a new method of hunting lions.
Basically, there are two ways to hunt lions. The simpler way is to mark the direction from where the roars come at daylight. A lion usually stops roaring at this time and settles down for the day in thick cover, especially when he has made a kill. Either on foot or in a hunting car, the hunter then quarters back and forth toward the direction of the last roars, particularly checking the heavy brush. Many a lion has been spotted this way, because he usually sticks his head out of the bush to investigate any strange sound.
The surer way is to kill a few antelopes for bait, make a cut in the body cavity to let the fluids drain out, then drag the bait behind a hunting car for a mile or two through likely areas where lions may pass during their night-time hunting forays, and finally tie the carcass securely to a tree, usually high enough that a lion can eat part of it but not all of it. As long as he can still see and smell part of it, he usually stays there until morning. The idea is that a lion that crosses the drag then follows the scent to the bait. By hanging several baits in areas inhabited by lions, then checking them every morning, a hunter can hunt a lot of country.
Many years ago, men used to track lions on horseback, using dogs to follow the trail. British officers in East Africa considered this method quite sporting, but it was prohibited long ago.
In the days that followed, Gates shot several antelopes, which the hunters carefully dragged and put up as bait in the classic East African fashion, including one magnificent gemsbok with horns as long as Gates’s rifle. He kept the horns and cape. The hunters heard more roaring each night, carefully checked the baits each morning, and spent the rest of each day hunting the surrounding terrain. For some reason, these big Korannaland lions wouldn't touch their baits.
Blacklaws was puzzled. So was Gates. They knew that the lions were in the area, because of their nightly roaring, and they found their tremendous tracks in several places. Perhaps they just weren't interested in carrion, although lions in all other parts of Africa eat it with gusto. But only the smaller scavengers like jackals, vultures, and occasional hyenas worked on the baits. It was extremely frustrating to hunt for lions day after day without a glimpse of one, yet continue to hear them roar every night.
Finally, on the way back to camp one muggy evening, with the late sun at their backs and the clumps of mopani throwing long shadows ahead, Gates, Blacklaws, and Mbui skirted a kopje of crumbling rock and saw a magnificent black-maned lion not forty yards away.
“My God!” Blacklaws breathed. “Look at that!”
In the same instant, Gates slipped the rifle off his shoulder. But before he could raise it, the great lion saw the men, made two tremendous leaps, and disappeared into heavy brush. He hadn't stood there five seconds after the men had seen him, but the picture was indelibly impressed on Gates’s mind. Nothing else in Africa equals the sight of a wild, full-maned lion in all his savage splendor. Majestically he had stood, his flowing tawny-black mane edging to red on the sides and hanging coal-black down his front. Beyond the power and the grandeur and the danger of a lion, it is his mane that is the trophy, the motif, the symbol, the very epitome of Africa, and this one had it all.
Both Gates and Blacklaws knew that it would have been foolhardy to go into the heavy brush after this monster in the shadowy dusk. But he was the kind of lion that hunters dream about, and Gates knew that he would never leave this corner of Africa until he had bagged one of these giant lions. At camp, while Mbui roasted tender strips of gemsbok backstrap over the fire, Gates and Blacklaws marked the occasion with an extra drink and a cigar. There is nothing like the sight of a desired trophy and the fresh memory of it to stimulate and revive a hunter's flagging hopes.
As the dusky twilight settled in, and the first lion roared, Gates got to thinking how good it would be to go out into the fading light somewhere and call in one of these lions. They often go to another's call, looking for food or a fight. Blacklaws could imitate the roar perfectly, and Gates could do it almost as well, but it took tremendous lung power, and the human voice can't produce the timbre or volume of a lion’s roar.
“Has anyone tried to call lions by using an amplified recording of a roar?” Gates asked.
“It has been tried but with rather poor results. If you could get a wild lion to roar naturally into a microphone, then play it back through the proper high-fidelity equipment, it might work.”
The elusive half-formed idea that Gates had been chasing around in his mind, ever since Blacklaws had startled Mbui by imitating a roar, suddenly came into sharp focus.
“Where is the siphon hose and that big funnel you use to pour gas into the Land Rover?” he asked. Mystified, Blacklaws brought them from the back of the car. Gates quickly explained, “There used to be a radio character named Bob Burns, who used a thing he called a bazooka. It was a funnel with a piece of gas pipe stuck onto the small end, and he made funny music with it. The important thing is that it increased his volume, something like the principle of a megaphone.”
Blacklaws caught on fast. Gates slipped the hose onto the funnel and handed it to him. His second attempt was a good rendition of a lion roar with a considerable increase in volume. But it still wasn't quite right.
“Wait a minute,” Gates said, remembering something else. “We need a sound box, the thing that gives a guitar volume. I've seen old-timers put violin strings on a broomstick, then put it in a bucket and make music.” Looking around, he spotted an empty five-gallon petrol tin, the square kind with thin sides. He cut the top out of it with a knife, then Blacklaws lowered the funnel into the tin and roared into the hose. Mbui let out an involuntary yelp, and Gates felt the hackles instinctively rising on the back of his neck. It was perfect - and loud enough to be heard for five miles.
Blacklaws was stunned. “A bloody two-shilling funnel and an empty petrol tin. If I'd only known this ten years ago!”
“Let's drive out from camp a ways and try it right now,” Gates said, with a wave of excitement sweeping through him. They drove about two miles through the bush to an open clearing that they had spotted a few days earlier. Blacklaws switched the lights off, and the hunters sat there in the inky darkness for a few minutes, whispering.
Then Blacklaws silently got down from the car, set the petrol tin on the ground, and roared into the hose. “Rrrrrooooom, oooom, oooom, uh, uh, uh!”
It was a perfect lion roar, and Gates’s hackles rose again. They waited silently for about three minutes, and an answering roar came from far in the distance.
“I'll be bloody damned if it isn't working!” Blacklaws whispered.
He waited the proper interval and roared again. A few minutes later, the lion answered again, closer this time. Suddenly, Gates realized that in their excitement, they hadn't brought their rifles. But the important thing was that if this way of calling lions worked once, it would work again.
Blacklaws roared a third time. Gates estimated that the answering roar came from less than half a mile away. They waited, and Blacklaws roared again. This time, there was no answer after five minutes. Well, Gates thought, at this close range, the lion had realized that our roar was a fake and wouldn't come any closer.
Suddenly, in the stillness, Gates detected a slight sound ahead. Impulsively, he reached over and switched on the lights. Not thirty feet in front of the Land Rover stood a monstrous black-maned lion, looking directly at them. As the light struck, he growled horribly, showing his fangs, and crouched down, lashing his tail from side to side.
For what seemed like an eternity, Gates sat transfixed. The top and windshield were off the Land Rover, and if this big lion leaped, the men wouldn't have a chance. Blacklaws eased into the front seat and reached for the ignition key. A couple of times in the past, Gates remembered, the sound of an engine had frightened off a menacing lion - but would it work this time? The instant before a lion charges, his tail stops lashing and becomes as straight and rigid as an iron bar. Later, Gates realized that his whole attention had been concentrated on the lion’s whipping tail.
Sitting there without a rifle in front of that snarling monster gave him the most helpless feeling that he’d ever had. There was no use trying to leave the Land Rover and run. He would have been on anyone fleeing in a single leap. If anyone tried to crawl under the dashboard - which crossed Gates’s mind - the lion could pluck him out with one swipe of a taloned paw.
As the starter whirred, and the engine fired, the strange sound startled the lion for a moment, but he held his ground and growled again. Blacklaws eased the gear shift into reverse and slowly, almost imperceptibly eased backward, gradually widening the distance. At about seventy-five feet, Blacklaws cramped the wheels hard to the right, whipped the gear shift into low, and stomped the gas pedal. Blacklaws didn't slow the Land Rover until they had gone a mile.
Back at camp, they steadied themselves with a stiff drink and discussed their new method of hunting lions. It offered all kinds of interesting possibilities, but neither man suggested going out again right away. They had been driven ignominiously from the field of battle - enough for one night.
At mid-morning, they drove about fifteen miles out into the barren wastes of the Kalahari to practice with the lion caller. After two hours' work, with a few minor improvements, both men had the technique honed to a fine art.
“By the way,” Gates said, as they were driving back to camp, “what will happen in Nairobi when you tell some of your professional hunting buddies about this lion-calling trick?”
“I'm not telling anybody anything,” Blacklaws said firmly, “and I hope you won't, either.”
Every white hunter had a few private corners where certain trophies were easier to come by, and a few hunting tricks of his own that he zealously guarded and kept secret, so Gates promised to say nothing.
The sun was hanging on the horizon that evening when they parked the Land Rover. Blacklaws carried the lion caller and his .470 Westley Richards double rifle. Gates carried his .300 Weatherby Magnum, binoculars, and a five-cell flashlight. They walked about five hundred yards to their chosen spot, found a small clump of miombo, and settled down. The air was warm and still. As the soft afterglow of sunset began to fade, Blacklaws got ready.
“We might as well be the first lion to roar,” he said, easing the funnel down inside the petrol tin. “Rrrrrooooom, oooom, oooom, uh, uh, uh!”
The roar was so real, Gates could feel the same old feelings crawling through his insides.
They waited five minutes. No answer. Then Blacklaws roared again. This time, an answer came from not more than a mile away. Gates had already put a cartridge in the chamber, and now he eased the safety off. At the right interval, Blacklaws roared again.
The answer came blasting back from somewhere to their left. What they didn't realize at the moment was that this lion was coming to them in a half circle, approaching the quarter with the heaviest cover, which was at their back. Blacklaws hesitated as if in doubt, then roared again. Then he lifted the funnel out of the tin, laid it down silently, and picked up his .470 double. There was no answering roar, but both men knew that the lion was close by. There was still enough light to see about fifty yards. Both men were straining to see in the direction of the last roar when a very faint rustle of grass whispered to their right.
Gates turned quickly and saw a great lion crouched low to the ground, coming directly toward them, stalking like a cat after a mouse. The distance was about fifty feet. He had come looking for another lion, to share a kill with or to fight, but instead had found two victims to stalk. He meant business, and there wasn't the slightest doubt that when he got a little closer, or if either man made a sudden movement, he would be on them in a leaping rush.
Stealthily, Gates swung his rifle around, and Blacklaws raised his double at the same time. The creeping lion had closed the gap to about thirty-five feet, and the men had only a few seconds left. Gates caught his big head in the scope and fired just as he gathered himself to spring. Momentarily blinded by the muzzle flash, Gates bolted another cartridge into the chamber and kept the rifle at his shoulder.
“You got him,” Blacklaws said, slowly lowering his rifle.
They approached cautiously and stood over the biggest lion that either man had ever seen. The bullet had been high, just skimming the top of his head, but it had entered his neck and severed the spine - an instant kill.
“A bit sticky, that,” Blacklaws said, thumbing his safety on. “For a second or two, I thought you couldn't find him in that bloody scope. I'd already taken the slack out of my trigger when you shot.”
He went back for the Land Rover while Gates sat admiring his trophy and sweeping the flashlight around every minute or so to make sure that no more lions were nearby. The big lion was too heavy for them to lift into the car, so they spent two hours skinning him on the spot, leaving the head intact to work on later at camp.
Mbui came out of the boma as they drove up, but when he saw the great maned head staring at him, he backed away terrified and wouldn't touch the skin. Gates and Blacklaws worked until midnight to complete the skinning, carefully treating the trophy with salt to keep the hair from slipping. Then they drank a few toasts to celebrate, smoked fine cigars, and described all the details of the hunt to each other again.
As Gates lay down at last, an exhausted but happy hunter, a final roar came floating in out of the night. There may be some who wouldn't believe their story of these monster lions if they could only describe their roars, but at last they had physical proof that the giant black-maned lions of Korannaland were neither myths nor extinct.
And they'd devised a new method of hunting lions.
MonishITS NOT THE RIFLE BUT THE MAN BEHIND THE RIFLE
08-16-2010, 01:38 AM #3
The King of the Kalahari by Elgin T. Gates
The King of the Kalahari
by Elgin T. Gates
The following article written by Elgin Gates was published in 1963 in the Outdoor Life Magazine, when Namibia was still referred to as South West Africa and the hunting sector was yet to develop and become the major earner of foreign exchange it is today. This article holds a lot nostalgic memories for ‘old hands’ of Namibian hunting and for anyone interested in sustainable use principles, it contains very interesting information on the origin and development of trophy hunting as a conservation tool.
I saw my first giant oryx, or gemsbok, in a habitat group in the Los Angeles Museum – and my eyes popped. Here was an African antelope as large as a cow elk with needle-sharp, straight horns nearly 4 feet long.
Subsequently I was to hunt the smaller cou-sins of the giant oryx – the fringe-eared oryx found in Tanganyika and in Kenya south of the Tana River, the Beisa oryx of the northern frontiers of Kenya, and the beautiful and off-beat white or scimitar-horned oryx of the Sahara Desert, the only member of the oryx tribe that has curved horns. In addition, there is an Asiatic relative, the much smaller Arabian oryx, which at one time inhabited the Holy Land and which is mentioned in the Bible. In the Sahara I was lucky enough to take the No 1 and No 2 white oryx, magnificent creatures with almost unbelievable heads. Incidentally, like many African antelope, cow oryxes have horns, and generally they are longer, although less massive, than those of the bulls.
But I had never hunted the king of all the desert-dwelling oryx tribe, the gemsbok, and that was one trophy I’d always wanted. My resolve to take a gemsbok or break my neck trying, hardened one time when I was in London, where at W J Jeffrey & Co, the gun makers in Pall Mall, I saw horns of a bull oryx that looked as long and thick as baseball bats. For me that was it. Right then I knew I would have to take a gemsbok even if I had to strangle it with my bare hands. By any standard, the giant oryx is one of the world’s great trophies.
My opportunity came in 1959. I planned a trip primarily for the rare brush-dwelling nyala in Portuguese East Africa. In Portuguese East I’d be well below the equator, so it seemed feasible for me to fly across the narrow part of Africa and see if I couldn’t collect a gemsbok.
But such a jaunt offered some difficulties. South West Africa, where gemsbok are found in and around the great Kalahari Desert, is not a safari country, and I knew of no regular outfitter there. However, by writing around I finally made arrangements to go out with a keen hunter, Basie Maartens, a South West African of Dutch Boer descent. He did some outfitting in connection with a gun business and told me that if I came, he wouldn’t have any difficulty in showing me plenty of gemsbok and also, if I was interested, some of the local race of the beautiful spiral-horned greater kudu and the little springbok. Because South West Africa is so far off the beaten track, only one American sportsman, as far as I know, had ever shot a gemsbok, and if I could get one I’d be the first American ever to complete a grand slam on the African oryx family – Beisa, fringe-eared, white and giant oryx.
En route to Windhoek, the capital of South West Africa, from Portuguese East Africa, we stopped off briefly at the glorious Victoria Falls, crossed Southern Rhodesia, and flew over part of the great and mysterious Kalahari Desert, home of the gemsbok. As the Delta Airlines DC-3 began its descent into Windhoek, we passed over some low rocky hills rising out of the desert. They looked just like the rocky sheep-hills of the Sahara where I had found the bearded Barbary sheep and a few kudu, and not unlike the desert sheep that inhabit the mountains of Lower California and Sonora. I later found that all the hills and mountains of South West Africa were full of kudu.
Basie Maartens, who was outfitting Pop and me, was waiting for us at the airport along with Smitty, who was to be Basie’s assistant white hunter. We spent the rest of the day clearing customs, securing the necessary papers and otherwise getting ourselves squared away. But the next morning we were off. Basie and I led in his American pickup, which was piled high with gear and which was topped off with his two Owambo assistants. One was the cook and the other – a man of many talents – second cook, skinner, waiter, wash boy and personal butler. Pop rode with Smitty in a Land Rover, that tough little British job with four-wheel drive that is generally used as a hunting car all over Africa. Our destination was Gochas, a police outpost 200 miles south east of Windhoek on the edge of the great Kalahari Desert. A policeman friend of Basie’s had reported seeing gemsbok regularly when out on patrol there.
It took us a long hot dusty day to arrive at Gochas, but when we did, the policeman offered to take us out to a salt pan where he had been seeing gemsbok and, since directions are hard to give in the desert and even harder to follow, we took him up on his offer. The Kalahari is a real desert and as we headed east we drove through great red sand dunes that lay in winding rows like giant frozen waves stretching from north to south. Topping the great dunes and plunging into the valleys between them, was like riding a giant roller coaster.
The Kalahari is one of the great deserts of the world – and one of the least known. It covers about 120 000 square miles and covers part of old Bechuanaland and the eastern regions of South West Africa. Mostly it is red sand, but there is thin dry grass and in some places considerable thorny brush. The gemsbok and other desert game depend on melons and wild cucumbers for moisture, while the local inhabitants, the strange little mongoloid Bushmen, live by hunting, digging for water, gathering seeds and fruit, as they have lived for 100 000 years. It is a tough country, the Kalahari, lonely, beautiful and cruel. Thousands of people, white as well as native, have lost their lives there. Back in the last century a party of Boers with 300 wagons and thousands of cattle tried to cross it. Before the ordeal was over, more than 250 people and thousands of cattle had died of thirst.
Just before dark we turned off on a dim track into one of the valleys and headed south. A few miles further I saw our first Kalahari game, a herd of beautiful little springbok. The sand became softer and more difficult to drive through as we continued and finally, when we topped a dune overlooking the salt pan, I saw my first two gemsbok gallop away into the gathering darkness. I could tell that they were the largest oryx I had ever seen. I was thrilled with their long, straight horns.
We camped that first night under a big thorn tree about half a mile from the salt pan. It had been blazing hot driving down, but the night grew cold, and we soon huddled around the fire for warmth. I didn’t sleep much that night as I was thinking about the game we had seen, wondering what luck we would have the next day. When it became light enough to see, I discovered a thin skin of white frost on the red sand. After a hurried breakfast, we drove to the salt pan. Pop was inside with Smitty, and Basie and I were standing on the back of the Land Rover. I had my .300 Weatherby Magnum loaded and ready for action. There was no game at the pan, but we saw holes where the gemsbok had broken the crust of the earth with their hooves to get at the salt beneath. Much to our disappointment we spent all that day and the next driving over the endless red dunes seeing only an occasional springbok.
On the morning of the third day Pop and Smitty headed south in the pickup and Basie and I decided to take the four-wheel-drive Land Rover and look for another salt pan to the north east where the sand dunes were particularly difficult to cross. I stood up in the back with Komu, while Basie drove. About an hour from camp I thought I saw something resembling a gemsbok on a sand dune far ahead and tapped on the cab, the signal for Basie to stop. A quick look through the binoculars confirmed that it was indeed a gemsbok, a big solitary bull. The horns didn’t look very big but this one fooled me. I have looked at a lot of Beisa, fringed-eared and white oryx and experience has made me a pretty good judge of their horns. Now I was mentally comparing the horns against the length of the face and the size of the body, forgetting for a moment that the gemsbok is bigger than any one of the other oryx and is on average at least 150 pounds heavier. Basie, however, had an experienced eye for gemsbok and when he got a good look at this one through his binoculars, he whispered, “That’s a very good bull, let’s get him.”
So we began the stalk. For twenty minutes we struggled through the knee-deep red sand, keeping out of sight and sneaking up-wind. Finally we crawled the last few feet up to the crest of the dune, and there, about 200 yards away, the big bull gemsbok stood, a magnificent picture on that red dune against the clear, frosty blue of the early morning sky. I was out of breath and when I eased the .300 Weatherby to my shoulder, the crosshair reticule was jumping all over the gemsbok and over part of the scenery. I didn’t dare try a shot until my heart stopped pounding and I got my wind back. Fortunately the bull was accommodating. He stood there, still looking back toward the Land Rover. Finally the crosshairs settled down on his shoulder and I squeezed off the shot. He lunged over the dune and out of sight, but I was convinced I had hit him dead centre. An instant later the confirming whump of the striking bullet came back to us. When we crossed the dune and found him lying dead at the bottom, it was the end of another quest that had carried me halfway around the world.
While Basie went for the Land Rover, I measured the horns. They went 44 inches and the bases measured 8 inches in circumference. This was a whopping big bull! When Basie drove up in the Land Rover he said he had just seen another gemsbok disappearing over a dune and thought it carried horns longer than the bull I had shot. We quickly loaded the bull into the car and drove back to where Basie had spotted the second gemsbok. The tracks showed in the sand of the dunes and we followed them on foot. We eased to the top of each dune that the tracks had crossed and looked carefully before exposing ourselves. As we peeked over the top of the fifth dune, Basie pointed. The gemsbok had seen us and was running up the side of the next dune about 75 yards away. I missed him with the first shot, broke him down with the second and finished him with the third. When we got there the “him” proved to be an exceptionally good cow with 46 Er inch horns that tied for third in the record book. In the oryx family, the cows usually carry longer but more slender horns. All the top places in the record book are occupied by cows. When we arrived in camp, Pop and Smitty had a good springbok Pop had shot but nothing else to show except an ostrich egg he’d found, a trophy of which he was very proud.
We broke camp the next morning and drove back to Gochas. Our next destination was the Namib Desert to the west on the Atlantic coast. There I wanted to collect a specimen of the Namib gemsbok, a smaller animal with markings slightly different from those of the Kalahari animals. There also, in the rocky hills bordering the Namib, Basie told us we would find kudu and the rare Hartmann’s mountain zebra. We stayed that night in Maltahöhe and continued the next day to the Namib.
If anything, the Namib Desert is even more desolate than the Kalahari. Basie told us that the highest sand dunes in the world were there, and we saw them. Also, the great untapped diamond fields of Africa are in the Namib. It is forbidden by law to venture into the interior.
We stopped to see a rancher friend of Basie’s, who told us hundreds of gemsbok were coming out of the desert for the sparse dry grass at the base of the hills. He was right. On the way to a lonely thorn tree in the desert where Basie had camped previously, we saw about 200 gemsbok. But we had no chance to hunt, as they took off like the wind into the big dunes where even a four-wheel drive vehicle could not go. We saw even more the next morning, but they were very wary and gave us no opportunity to stalk. I collected another springbok and late in the afternoon Pop and Smitty finally got behind some dunes without being seen, from where they stalked a herd of about 30. Pop picked out the best one and dropped him with his .300 Weatherby. It was a very good bull with horns 43 Er inches long.
We broke camp again and headed north with the intention of stopping off at Naukluft, a ranch in the hills, to hunt the mountain zebra. Because of a serious drought, the rancher said zebra had been migrating for miles around and were depleting his permanent waterholes. He was delighted to hear we wanted to shoot some of them. These Hartmann’s mountain zebra are strange beasts. They are as large as small mules and about the size of the East African Grevy zebra. They have the same narrow stripes as the Grevy but instead of pure white between the black stripes, it is shaded with light brown. Also, there is a very peculiar pattern on their backsides which no other zebra has. Normally, zebra are thought of as plains game, but these animals were completely at home in rocky hills that reminded me of Arizona desert-sheep country. Pienaar, the rancher, knew exactly where to find them and he took us to the top of a rugged 5 000-foot-high plateau. These zebra are far more wary than the Burchell’s zebra of the East African plains and it took Pop and me two hours of stalking before we got one each. Later that afternoon Pienaar took us down a rocky canyon off the plateau and we picked two more off the steep sides of the canyon. We also saw two good kudu bulls, but our host asked us not to shoot them as the drought had just about wiped the kudu out in that part of the country.
No American sportsmen have ever hunted in South West Africa and with the exception of Basie Maartens, there are no organised outfitters in the country. Basie is a natural hunter and besides having good, new equipment, he has hunting friends all over South West Africa because he is in the gun business in Windhoek with his father and has sold guns and ammunition to just about every rancher in the country. Besides the desert game, like gemsbok and springbok, and mountain game like kudu and zebra, Cape eland, blue wildebeest, red hartebeest, cheetah and lion are also found in South West Africa. Basie told me that some of the finest black-maned lions in all of Africa came from certain parts of the Bechuanaland Kalahari. As confirmation we saw some tremendous skins at stores in the far north.
Actually, I wasn’t interested in anything except the gemsbok, springbok and mountain zebra, since I’d collected the others elsewhere; but Pop was anxious to take a crack at one of the unusual mountain kudu. After stopping over in Windhoek for a day to replenish our supplies, Basie told us about some country in the far north near Angola (Portuguese West Africa), that was lousy with kudu and springbok. In addition there was another geographical race of gemsbok that were slightly different from those found in either the Kalahari or the Namib Desert.
We drove north for two days, covering 400 miles, to a ranch called Rietfontein, owned by another of Basie’s friends. We camped in a canyon near the rancher’s house among some beautiful palm trees. The rancher told us that while there was normally running water in the canyon, the drought had been quite severe all over South West Africa that year and there were only a few pools left. He said the kudu had been dying off in great numbers, with the older bulls going first. We verified this during the time we hunted, as we found twenty-five or thirty sets of big kudu horns in the canyon, some of them tremendous in size. About 200 yards from camp, down the canyon, I picked up one pair that measured 59 Qw inches around the curve! We piled them up into a great mound and when I looked at them I couldn’t help thinking of all the sportsmen who had spent thousands of dollars, months of time and many weary hours walking all over east Africa where kudu are hard to come by, while in South West Africa they are practically considered vermin. This, I believe, is the world’s greatest kudu country.
There were still plenty of live kudu around, for in two days of hunting, Pop and I collected four that went from 54 Qw to 57 Er inches. These South West mountain kudu are indeed different looking animals. They have the typical white chevron on the nose but the face, instead of being light grey, is a dark charcoal grey and the body a beautiful rich brown instead of the regular kudu grey. In addition to the four kudu, we collected several fine springbok, including a 16 Er incher, which ties for second place in the record book. I also collected a 43 Qw inch gemsbok while hunting kudu.
On the way back to Windhoek, I took stock. Although there isn’t the great variety of game here that can be found elsewhere in Africa, most of the species are unique. Anyone who has collected the big game of East Africa and is looking for new and unusual trophies will find South West Africa a most interesting country. We hadn’t been on a plush safari comparable to those offered by some of the East African outfitters, but I enjoyed it more. We travelled light and fast, covering 2 500 miles in two weeks. There was never a dull moment. We had batted ---
1 000 per cent, collecting exceptionally good specimens of everything we had hunted and that, more than anything else, is what makes a safari successful.
It was the South West African winter when Pop and I were there and we found a tremendous variation in temperatures, a phenomenon common to all desert countries – from a high of 110 to a low of 25. In the Kalahari, a thin skin of ice would form on the water. But the nights were so clear and pleasant that we slept on cots under the stars instead of pitching tents. The licences we had to purchase were for kudu, giant oryx and springbok. The cost was 1 pound ($2.80) for kudu and oryx and a half pound ($1.40) for springbok. Actually gemsbok and mountain zebra are royal (protected) game, but the local ranchers obtain special permits to shoot a certain number of animals that grazed on their land and used their water. The sportsmen could shoot on the rancher’s permit and give him the meat. It was perfectly legal.
Our safari cost Pop and me $50 a day apiece, about the cost of a hunt in the American Rocky Mountains. The country is much like the American West was 50 years ago and everyone speaks English as well as German and Afrikaans. Just about anything anyone could possibly want in the way of film, ammunition and food can be purchased in Windhoek at prices similar to those in other African cities. In the future many more Americans are going to hunt there, as it is a unique hunting area.
MonishITS NOT THE RIFLE BUT THE MAN BEHIND THE RIFLE
By Leeukop Safaris in forum GREAT DEALS on Hunts WorldwideReplies: 24Last Post: 05-08-2011, 06:23 AM