Elephant Hunt in the Caprivi with Karl Stumpfe
Today is the first day of my safari in Namibia with Karl Stumpfe of Ndumo Hunting Safaris. My primary goal is trophy elephant. Also on the wish list is an Own Use elephant, hippo, roan and hyena. I am also prepared to take any other animals whom opportunity may supply.
Our flight from the US is the non-stop Delta flight from Atlanta to Johannesberg. My wife and son are joining me so I bit the bullet and booked us in business class. Steve Turner of Travel With Guns did the booking. The flight was actually not too bad with a much upgraded meal service and the flatbed reclining seating. The staff spoke to me by name each time they addressed me, a small but nice touch.
Upon arrival we were greeted by a representative of Africa Sky Guest House who had us into SAPS right away where he produced our pre-approved gun permits. We were in and out in a flash.
Food and service was as good as always and the next morning we were escorted back to O R Tambo for our flight to Victoria Falls. From the airport we took the shuttle provided by our hotel, the historic Vic Falls Hotel. I have seen photos of the old gal before but it really wreaks of colonial times. The grounds were spectacularly manicured and the view just as awesome.
Hotel staff greeted me and got us set up in our rooms and delivered a message that a driver arranged by Russell Caldecote would be by to get us at 2:30 to take care of our transportation needs.
After a quick lunch our driver arrived and transported us over to the Falls Park so we could get an up-close and comprehensive look at the falls. We were not disappointed. The river was in full flood and the Falls were just as impressive as I had imagined. Because of the mist created by the "Water That Thunders" there is a rain forest created in an area that would otherwise be semi-desert. Monkeys , warthogs and bushbuck were spotted as we walked along the path that took us through the park.￼
After our tour our driver took us to the Ultimate Safari Lodge to enjoy sundowners on the patio overlooking a waterhole that was visited by elephant, impala, warthog and all sorts of waterfowl.
At 7:00 we returned to the Vic Falls for a great supper and a good nights sleep. We were in no hurry to get up the next morning and after a late breakfast at the hotel we had our driver take us to the Gorge Zipline where Angela and Todd tested their nerve by riding the zipline across the Zambesi River Gorge.
From there we went to a crocodile breeding farm where we toured the facilities and bought some crocodile leather goods for the family back home.We spent the afternoon fishing on the Zambesi for Tigerfish. We caught six and that was not a bad effort for a trip when the river was in full flood.
Supper was at Russell Caldecote's lodge and was a very good brai and at a very fair price. Here we were joined by our professional hunter Karl Stumpfe. During super we made plans to begin our transfer to the Sobbe conservancy early the next morning. It would be here that we would begin our actual hunt. As much as I enjoyed the trip so far I was really anxious for the morning and the beginning of the elephant hunting.
This morning we began our day by driving from Vic Falls to the Sobbe Conservancy to begin our elephant hunt. The drive took us across the border from Zimbabwe into Botswana and through the Chobe National Park. We spotted quite a few elephant as well as ostrich and buffalo as we made our way through the park. The border crossings were no more or less aggravating than typical crossings but by the time we crossed into Namibia at Kasane Crossing I was getting a bit tired of packing and unpacking all my guns and ammo.
From Kasane we drove on to Katima Mullilo where we got our gun permits for Namibia. Once the permits were issued we were ready to drive on to the camp at Sobbe. It was 2:30 when we made it to camp where we were greeted by and introduced to the camp staff. Our trackers would be Calicious and Zorro , a pair of Caprivians, and Willems and Petras, a couple of Kavongo natives. Simone ,our skinner was a Khoi Hottentot, as was our driver Ricardo. Our chef was Bernard, from the Herero tribe and his aides was Moses and Reagan , both Caprivian. The other camp staff who were waitresses, housekeepers and clothes washers were Kathryn, Anita and Veronica, all Caprivians. Gotfried was the camp manager and a PH appy.
After a quick lunch we went out to check our guns and take a brief look around the hunting area. We would be ready to begin hunting in earnest early the next morning.
May 20, Our first full hunting day, we woke to mild temperatures and a partly cloudy sky. We spent the morning driving the park boundaries. Elephant sign was plentiful but mostly older. Broken trees and tree limbs were everywhere you looked. Droppings also were plentiful but hard and dry. It was obvious that elephants had been in the area recently but just as obvious that they were not very many in the area we checked at the present time.
We spotted a few kudu cows, some cow roan, and a small group of zebra on our afternoon drive. The zebra we would have taken but they slipped across the road into the park before we could catch up for a shot.
Just at dark we got a light shower and it rained an bit more during the night. Not a heavy rain, but rain it did.
May 21- Began this morning again cruising the concession/park boundary looking for sign that elephant had entered the conservancy during the night. Saw a small group of impala , which are not on quota here, and two warthogs. It is my impression that good numbers of elephant were here as recently as two weeks ago but that the concentration of elephants is much lower here now.
In the afternoon we located the tracks of a couple of bulls entering the concession and we circled the block that they had entered to see if they were still in the area. As we were driving the western border we had a nice big black mamba rush across the road directly in front of the vehicle. As we met in the road he had almost escaped cleanly but we may have just hit his tale with the wheels as we went past. He exited on the passenger side where I was sitting with my left arm draped across the window of the truck. His head was at the same height and his cobra-like neck flare had me seeing visions of Capstick musings as we went quickly past.
By the time we had confirmed that our bulls were still in the block it was too late to take the track so our plan was to be on it first thing in the morning.
May 22-First thing this morning we drove out to the area where we had seen the bulls tracks the day before. We knew they came into our block night before last and that they had spent one night, so we were optimistic that they would stay in the area to take advantage of the available browse and water that was here.
The track took us along the north eastern edge of the concession and through some agricultural fields. I noticed that the corn had all been picked and that most of the grain was gone as well. But there were plenty of melons and occasionally one had been fed on.
Karl had sent a truck on ahead of us in the direction we were going. The idea is that as we get a line on where the elephant may be headed the truck can hop-scotch ahead and possibly cut the track in front of us. Also if the track leaves the concession the truck will be there to pick us up.
When we were about an hour into the track Karl's radio crackled and I heard Ricardo's voice. An old man in the village ahead of us said that the elephant had been in his field before daylight this morning.
We took a shortcut to the nearest road where Ricardo picked us up and from there he drove us ahead to the village. We had likely gained an hour or so with that little maneuver but unfortunately it had also taken us near the boundary of our concession.
We picked up the track and began our pursuit again. Up ahead was the highway, B8, that runs through the Caprivi from end to end. We hoped that the elephant had reached the highway after daylight and that they may have stopped to avoid a daylight crossing. It was not to be. The tracks went across the highway where we could not follow.
As it was nearly noon we made our way back to camp for some lunch. It is the time of year when leaves are just starting to fall but I saw that the grounds were immaculate. The footprints from last night had even been swept away.
"Karl, why do you have them sweep the compound every day? It seems kind of futile to sweep dirt."
"It looks neat when it is swept each day. But the real reason is because if a snake comes into the compound, or any other unwanted critters for that matter, we will know it right away."
After lunch we drove the borders again. There was always the chance that we would see elephant from the roads. Karl assured me that three weeks ago he and his client had glassed and evaluated 50-60 elephant doing just that. But this week the numbers were just not there. Each day we would see on or two sets of tracks coming in or out of the concession. Some cows and calves, maybe some smaller bulls but nothing that got the trackers excited. Our main focus in the afternoons turned out to be plains game. This afternoon we saw some roan cows and calves and a group of four giraffe.
As we approached a small pan we noticed an eagle rise from the ground carrying something in his claws. He struggled mightily with his load and soon landed in a tree beside that road. As the truck approached he dropped his cargo and flew to another tree fifty yards off the road. We sent one of the trackers in to see what the eagle had been carrying. Turned out to be a bit less than half a guinea fowl. Don't see that everyday in downtown Manhattan.
I was beginning to get a bit concerned. This was not turning out to be the hunt that I had hoped it would be. I wanted to hunt in an area ,and at a time, when elephants would be plentiful. I wanted to be among a lot of elephant, both to give me some time in close with elephants, but also to keep the excitement level high for my wife and son. Also, hunting trophy elephant is a numbers game. You may have to kiss a lot of toads before you find that prince. We were now four days into our hunt and we had not seen the first elephant. I know that this area has good numbers of elephants in the early season. References had told me of seeing as many as two hundred elephant a week from this very same camp. Sign told me that elephants had been thick in this area recently, even though we were not seeing them now. I still had faith that we could kill an elephant if we were patient, but my expectations of sorting through a score of bulls before settling on a real monster, now seemed to be unlikely.
May 23- Today we set about on the same routine as we had established in our first days here in Sobbe camp. Up at 5:30 AM, breakfast at 6:00, on the road at 6:30. We drove boundaries looking for tracks or for plains game that was on quota. The grass was still quite high and the bush very thick this time of year and that made sightings of plains game difficult. I expected this and knowingly made the choice to hunt early in the season because I wanted to concentrate on elephant. However, seeing plains game was a pleasant diversion for my wife Angela and my son, Todd.
Today was a very slow day with only one set of tracks that was from an average bull, and he was headed into the park.
May 24-At breakfast this morning Karl told us that on his way out of camp this morning Gotfried had spotted the tracks of four bulls crossing an interior camp road. We went to investigate and decided they were fresh enough to follow.
The tracks led us through some conbretum scrub that tore at my bare legs. I was loving it! Onward into some mopane where we made good time. After about an hour it became obvious that we were heading out toward B8 again and just as with the tracks two days ago, we had to give up the track when it crossed the blacktop.
In the afternoon we found another set of tracks that were of a modest bull and that seemed fresh enough to track. He was headed into an area that was fairly close to our eastern boundary, but Karl said that there was a lot of cattle along the border in this area and that he was fairly certain the bull would not go in that direction.
The track led through some very thick bush and had us taking a generally southern direction. He could go this direction for days before leaving the concession. Finally, things were looking up.
Gradually the track began to turn easterly and after about two hours the bull left the hunting area, escaping through our eastern border.
It had now been over a week since we had last seen an elephant, and that was in Chobe Park on our way to Namibia through Botswana. On our way back to camp Karl suggested we consider another option.
"I don't know what is going on with the elephants here. Normally we have really good numbers of elephants here through at least June. But they don't seem to be here now. Let's get up an hour early tomorrow and drive over to Salambala and see what it's looking like there. My game scouts are telling me that there are lots elephant moving in that area. Gotfried spent the day there scouting some areas for us and he agrees that there is some potential. What do you say we go see?"
"Sounds like a plan to me", I replied. And so our plan was set.
May 25-As per our plan we got up this morning at 4:30 for the ninety mile drive to Salambala Conservancy at the far eastern end of the Caprivi strip. It is well after daylight when we reach the conservancy headquarters and pick up our game scout.
We drove through the conservancy for a bit over an hour and saw several sets of tracks. A few were just too small to consider. A few more were cow and calve groups. It was getting close to 10:00 AM when we came across a set of tracks that seemed to hold some promise.
Karl and the trackers examined the track for a few minutes and decided that it was a group of about six bulls, two showed potential to be pretty good, and they were definitely fresh enough to go after. That was the words we were waiting to hear!
Packs were filled with water and guns were loaded. When everyone was prepared for the march, we took the track. ￼
Progress was good and it was obvious that we were not too terribly far behind the bulls. Freshly broken limbs and moist leaves told us that the bulls were feeding actively. The droppings contained remnants of Marula fruit and although starting to dry just a bit in the morning sun, they were still very wet under the surface.
After about ninety minutes I saw Karl bend over and insert a couple fingers into the dung. When he raised up he smiled and said, "Less than an hour old."
Thirty minutes more and we had slowed down a bit. The trail was meandering a bit and several trackers took off in different directions , each claiming to have the track. We had stopped for a moment to let the guys sort things out when from just ahead we heard the sound elephant hunters love to hear. Ears flapping!
The trackers came back to Karl and a plan was devised. Some of the guys wanted to walk to where they heard the elephants but Karl insisted we stay with the track. It appeared that the elephants had stopped feeding and had settled in to rest a bit in the heat of the day. Karl wanted to stay with the track as he felt the elephants may have been scattered in different locations and he wanted to get a chance to look over as many as possible and also to avoid stumbling into one and possibly blowing the entire group out of the area.
We eased ahead actively searching for the elephants we now knew were just ahead. The track meandered to our right and when we had completed a semi-circle we entered some dense jess. Straining to see deeper into the bush ahead of us, I was surprised to hear a gasp from behind me. I looked back to see Simone pointing to our right. Just twenty yards away in bush we were walking past was an elephant.
The bull was looking directly at us although I am not sure he realized that we were there. In the heavy brush his myopic eyes may not have been able to pick us out. This was the moment we had been planning for, and looking forward to for quite a while. My wife and I have been walking several times a week. Each trip between six and twelve miles to make sure we could get to the elephant when our time came. My son had been assigned the duty of video-taping the hunt so we could preserve the moment for years to come. However at the last minute Karl had suggested that when the time came Todd could provide back-up to me and he would do the video-taping. Now when we came to the moment of truth, the brush was too thick and there were too many elephants for Karl to be tied up with the video camera. So that duty fell to my wife, Angela.
I was first in line, Karl right beside me, and Willem the tracker was just behind Karl with the shooting sticks. Next was Todd and then Angela. Angela was trying to put herself into position to get the shot on video. When Karl gave me the order to step into the open and take my shot, Willem lost his nerve and started a hasty retreat. As he passed Todd he gave the order to run and Angela accepting the notion that he had a better grasp of the situation than she did, turned tail and retreated with Willem.
At the same time I took two steps to my right, cleared the last bush and raised the 470 NE double rifle to my shoulder. I was now completely exposed to the bull facing us. He began a slow turn to his right, (my left) , and this is when Willem had broke rank. As the front bull turned he was actually giving me a bit more room to get access to the targeted bull in back. As the safety was clicked off my express sights settled on the ear hole of the bull that was quartering away and still oblivious to our presence twelve paces from him. I brought pressure to the rear trigger of the 470 NE double rifle and from the left barrel came a 500 grain Woodleigh solid that struck the bull in the crease of his ear hole and angled forward through the brain and into the base of the tusk on the opposite side of the skull.
The bull never heard the shot that took his life. The back legs folded and the head went up. Then the front legs collapsed and the head fell down leaving the bull setting up in classic brain shot pose. Karl shouted to let the other elephant know where we were and to encourage them to flee in the opposite direction. I shouted myself as I moved forward and dumped the front trigger of the Chapuis sending another Woodleigh solid into the crease behind the shoulder and into the vitals before entering the shoulder on the opposite side. The bull rocked a bit from the impact and rolled onto his left side. I broke the rifle sending the spent cartridges over my right shoulder and dropped a couple of fresh cartridges in the tubes of my rifle as I moved forward.
"Come up here Todd and place one between his front legs." Todd did as directed.
Karl passed Todd his 450 saying, "You wanted to shoot my rifle so give him one more in the chest with this one."
Again Todd delivered. By now the boys were returning to shake hands and offer hugs and back slapping. The nervous tension is gone now. Everyone did his job well and the celebration is ready to begin. Support staff are called in to aid in the recovery of the bull. In just a few minutes the first of the local villagers begin to arrive. They come carrying baskets or empty feed sacks, anxious to get a portion of the meat.￼
It is late when we arrive back at our camp in Sobbe, tired but happy that our elephant drought has been broken and now is behind us.￼
May 26- We slept in a bit late this morning after getting home late last night. Karl estimated that the tusks from my bull would be pretty evenly matched and weigh just a bit over forty lbs per side. Not a monster, actually the first he has taken this year that did not go at least fifty. But I think he sensed that it was the right time to take an elephant on this particular hunt.
On our ride back from along the Sobbe west boundary this morning we spotted a couple of Zebra and a warthog but lost track of both in the high grass before we could get a shot. We got word from one of the local headmen that he would like to have a neighboring village over to the conservancy for a bit of feasting and beer drinking and that he would be real pleased if we could round him up an elephant. Karl told him that we had a real desire to take an own-use bull but that he had been frustrated up till now by the failure of MET (Ministry of Environment and Tourism) to issue the own-use permits. Less than an hour passed and MET called to say that our permit was ready. Karl sent Gotfried in to Katima Mulillo to pick up the permit and as soon as he had the permit in hand he called to say we could begin our hunt.
On his way out of the conservancy Gotfried had crossed a set of tracks and we confirmed it was five or six bulls so we were all set to go. Todd and Angela had not got their wind back after the track from the night before so it would be just Karl, me and the trackers on this trek.
It was nearly noon before we took up the track but from early on Karl and the boys were convinced we would catch up to these elephants. The tracks were meandering back and forth and broken trees and scattered limbs adorned the path. These guys were feeding hard.
About an hour into the track Karl reached down and stuck two fingers into some droppings and looked up to tell me that it was less than an hour old. Just a few minutes later the track led us over some hard dry ground and the boys seemed to be having a bit of a time figuring out which way they had gone. The trackers scattered out and began circling to try and relocate the track. We had been waiting just a few moments when Zorro whistled for us to come to him. He pointed to his eyes and then to the north. There, about three hundred yards to the north was a group of elephants.
The elephants were on the opposite side of a large grassy plain. We could see three bulls feeding along the edge of a mopane woodline. The wind was blowing from us to them so we began working our way to the western edge of the plains before starting north to close the distance. It became apparent that the bulls were drifting to the west also, and that if we got there ahead of them we could simply find a good ambush spot on the northwest corner and wait for them to come to us.
We got to what looked like the perfect spot and Karl began to glass the bulls as they walked and fed in our direction. At that point we noticed another bull twenty yards directly north of us that we had not seen previously because he had been in the dense bush at the edge of the woodline. The bull was busy eating branches from mopane and conbretum and was not yet aware of us.
So now we had three bulls coming toward us from about forty yards to the east and one bull twenty yards to the north. Karl looked them all over and said that any of them would be fine for own-use bulls and that I should apply a frontal brain shot to the first one that got to us.
The three bulls to the east were coming faster but they had farther to come. The bull to the north came forward a few steps and then paused. From the east, the bull in the center broke a branch from a bush and took a few more steps forward as well. The bull to the north was on a trail that would take him just a bit to the right of me. When it became obvious that he would be the first one in, I took a couple steps to the right. As he got to ten yards from us, I took one more step to the right and raised my rifle taking off the safety in the process. The bull froze in recognition of the movement in front of him and his ears flared wide as he raised his head to look down his nose at me nine paces in front of him.
The bullet took him just below eye level and a bit left of center. It exited through the neck just behind the head on the left side of center. The head went up and the back end sagged. Then the head came back down and the bull rolled onto his right side. As the other three bulls crashed off to the east I walked forward a few more steps and placed another shot into the chest from the front. Even though the bulls reaction to the first shot indicated a solid brain shot, the follow-up is simply a good practice. In the unlikely event that the brain was not actually penetrated and the elephant stunned by a near miss, the follow-up could be a life saver.￼
The trackers and game scout rushed in to shake hands and pat me on the back. Then they began clearing brush for photos. The recovery team was called to come and take care of retrieving the bull.
It was nearly three hours before a road could be cut and a vehicle could be brought in to the bull. There were two truck loads of local villagers to open the trail and butcher the elephant. As they arrived they were singing.
"We are happy today,
We are happy today,
We have killed elephant,
We are happy today."
I am told they had been singing this chant continuously for the entire time it took them to get to us , nearly three hours.
It was again after dark when we finally reached camp, scratched ,tired and dusty. But at the same time feeling warm and happy for a safe and successful hunt.
May 27-With the two elephant taken in the last two days we agreed to make today a bit of an easy day. We slept in until 6:30 and then drove some roads looking for plains game. Nothing was seen in the morning except a couple of big old buffalo bulls. They were very impressive specimens but Karl had filled his quota on buffalo earlier in the season.
After lunch we began the same journey we had made so many times in the previous week. We spotted some roan and started on their track, but they were on to us from the start. After we had bumped them a couple times Karl called us off the track. I did manage to get a shot at a couple of warthogs and fortunately we were able to get some warthog ribs for supper tonight.
May 28-During the day yesterday Karl was on the phone making arrangements for us to hire a boat. Early this morning we made the drive back to Salambala and the Chobe River to try our hand at hippo hunting. Even though we made an early start and had made much of the arrangements the previous day, it was still after 10:00 AM before we got the boat in the water. Anyone who has spent much time in Africa will know what I mean when I say that while you are in Africa, you have to have your watch reset to Africa time.
I am admittedly a type-A personality. If I have something planned I want it to go on a schedule. I like to be punctual and I want to know what is going to happen and when it is going to take place. Africa doesn't work that way. I have learned to expect complications and try to leave the detail work to the people who are paid to deal with them; The PH and his staff.
So after making the drive to Salambala we first have to go to the villages and locate the owner and boat driver. Then we have to drive to Katima and pick up the boat. The boat has to be taken to a fuel station and filled with gas. The station does not have two cycle oil so we have to go find one that does. We drive to the Conservancy headquarters and pick up the game scout. Finally we can head down to the river and try to find a location to launch the boat.
The boat was a pretty decent boat for Africa. It was about 17 feet long, aluminum, and had six bench seats and a pair of storage compartments in the rear that could be used as seats also. It was powered by a 40hp Yamaha outboard motor. Once we found a suitable bank for launching we began organizing our gear and loading the boat. Prepare to be amazed!
I got Angela into the boat and in a seat as we began to launch the boat. I placed Todd and myself in the front seats as that would be the best place for a shooter to be. In the second row beside Angela would be Karl. Next was Simone and Calicious, a tracker and a skinner. In the very back was George, the game scout, Daniel, a partner in the concession, and Eric, the boat owner.
I looked over at Karl and said, "Karl, this boat is seriously overloaded!"
"It's got nine seats, counting the storage bins, and we have nine people. We should be OK."
As soon as we left the bank I knew that we would not be OK. The 40hp motor did not have enough power to get the little boat high enough in the water to make plane. At full power we sat dangerously low in the water, barely making any progress at all. Surveying the situation I realized that the only life jacket in the boat was the one that our boat driver had on when we picked him up at his house this morning.
I guess the obvious became obvious to the rest of the souls in charge because we began making our way to the nearest bank. We dropped off our skinner and tracker with a can of sardines and a bottle of water and told them that we would see them when we saw them and to make do until then.
We were able to get the boat on plane, and cruised up the Chobe River for about ten kilometers until we reached a densely wooded island that was about 8-10 acres in size. We put ashore on the downwind side of the island and began working our way upwind looking for hippo or hippo sign. Their tracks were abundant in the muddy soil as were the tracks and droppings of elephant.
We had worked our way upwind for the length of the island and as I expected we did not see any hippo. It being mid-day most hippo would be out in the water somewhere rather than on dry land. But I was encouraged that this may be a location from which we might be able to contact some hippo coming ashore to feed at dusk.
We were making our way back to the boat through the dense but dryer bush in the center of the island when we heard a branch break between us and the shoreline that we had walked by just moments earlier. We eased a bit closer and had approached to twenty yards before spotting an elephant in the thick cover. Seconds later we spotted a second bull slightly farther ahead and facing in the opposite direction. We moved around a bit to get a better look at both animals tusks but when the first one became slightly agitated we backed off. Circling inland we found a different opening through which we could observe the bulls. One had about 25 lbs and the other about 35. They caught our wind eventually and crashed away through the thick riverine bush.
Once back to the boat we decided to continue on up the river channel and almost right away we came upon a pod of hippo that was almost certainly responsible for all the sign we found on the island. They were lying half-submerged on a flooded bank beside the river channel.
As we approached to about 150 yards most of the hippo moved into the channel in front of the ridge, but a few moved off the ridge into a channel on the backside. We glassed the hippo in the channel closest to us as they rose to breathe or to check our position. None looked to be a big bull.
We eased over the ridge to the channel on the backside but were never able to locate the hippo that had escaped in that direction.
We left the pod and made our way back to the island to enjoy some shade and a shore lunch. Bernard, our Herero chef, had packed us the leftover warthog ribs from the previous evening's braii. I think they tasted even better cold ,there in the shade of an umbrella tree on the river bank.
As it was still quite early when we had finished eating , we decided to make a run downriver to see if we could locate another group of hippo. We drove back to the bridge where B8 highway crosses the Chobe to enter Botswana at Kasane. Continuing on downriver we began to see lots and lots of game on our right side in the Chobe National Park that occupies the Botswana side of the river. We saw lechwe, impala, warthog, buffalo, sable, giraffe, and elephants. Unfortunately all the game was on the Botswana side of the river where we could not hunt. The Namibian side of the river was inundated with a large shallow floodplain where the Chobe had spilled out of it's banks. The vast but shallow and weed-choked bank kept us from getting within three hundred yards from the new shoreline.
Later in the dry season these areas would become grass covered plains that would be a magnet for game coming across the river from the dry and overgrazed park. I knew this to be true because I had seen this very same country in late July 2009 when I had come here to hunt elephant with Vaughn Fulton Safaris.
When we realized that we were running short of time we began to make our way back upriver to the island. Our plan was to watch the shoreline for hippo coming ashore to graze through the night. Our plan almost worked. We heard the hippo splashing through shallow water and they were definitely moving closer as the light faded to the point where shooting would have been impossible without the aid of artificial light. We sloshed our way back to solid ground and across the island where we got in our boat for the starlight ride back to our waiting vehicle.
May 29-This morning we again made the ninety mile drive back to Salambala from our permanent camp in Sobbe Conservancy. We spent the morning exploring the waterways of Lake Liambezi. In spite of positive reports from the local fishermen we were not able to locate any hippo.
After lunch we made our way back to the Chobe River to check out the pod of hippo that we had seen the day before, and to possibly attempt a twilight ambush.
When we got to the place where we had seen the hippo the day before they were lying in the exact same location. While we were still a couple hundred yards away, we slowed the boat to a crawl and continued in to about seventy yards. The pod slipped into the channel as we were approaching, but none slipped out the back as they had the previous day.
As it appeared we might be about to attempt a shot I told my son Todd to get ready, as his scoped 375 would be a better choice of weapons than my open sighted 470, under these conditions. He said that he did not feel confident shooting at such a small target from an unstable and windblown boat. So, we swapped rifles and I got myself ready for the shot.
Karl was busy scanning the hippo in search of a good bull. He thought he had one located several times, but before getting me directed to the correct animal he would either dissapear below the surface or the wind would blow the boat into a position where I could not get a shot.
It was beginning to get very frustrating when Karl whispered, "That's him, the second from the left. He's facing us. Go ahead and take him!"
The cow on the left side of the bull swam into my sight picture and submerged just under the chin of the bull, causing him to raise his head just a bit.
Ka-Boom! I was solid on the shot but had to force the trigger to break rather than waiting for it to surprise me in a more controlled and preferred shot. But I thought for sure that I had heard the bullet slap hide at the instant of the shot.
Before I got the scope back down in recovery from the recoil that rocked the boat, the hippo was out of sight. Then a head popped up in my crosshairs and I shouted, "Is that him?"
"No, it's a cow!", answered Karl.
We watched the pod for a while but never once got a positive sighting of the bull. I wanted to move in right away to look for the bull or some sign of a hit, but the rest of the crew voted to wait a while for the rest of the pod to move away.
It did not really matter anyway. Our yellow-bellied coward of a boat driver was not wanting any part of the hippos anyway. Minutes seemed to last longer than hours as we drifted on the river not knowing whether the bull was ours or if he had totally escaped.
After what seemed an eternity Karl ordered Eric, our boat driver, to slowly make his way into the area where the bull was last spottted. As we were getting into the general vacinity we rose from our seats to stand and peer down into the dark waters for any sign of the hippo.
At that moment a hippo surfaced five yards to our right with a blast from his nostrils that was very similar to that of a whale surfacing. Eric buried the throttle sending us all tumbling backwards into our seats as the boat surged over the shallows where the hippo had been sunbathing earlier.
My heart was in my throat and beating furiously over the prospect that we just might lose the hippo. We calmed Eric and convinced him to circle back into the area where the bull had disappeared.
"There he is!", said my son Todd. He was pointing down at a pale spot in the dark depths of the Chobe River channel.
I was finally able to breathe again. Now one would think that with the hippo thoroughly and completely murdered, the excitement of this hunt would be all over. Not so, my friends. We still had to get this beheamoth to land for processing.
We considered our options. There was still about ninety minutes of daylight remaining and we were still in the middle of a slightly agitated pod of hippo.
"It will take at least an hour for him to float on his own", said Karl.
Both Todd and I offered to go in and tie off on the hippo but since it looks bad on a PH's resume to have a history of clients getting eaten by crocodiles or hippo's Karl insisted it would be him to do it. So Karl slipped off his shirt and lumbered over the side of the boat. It was probably about nine feet deep where the hippo lay on his side, but by standing on the hippo Karl was able to keep his head above water while tying a rope around the back leg of the hippo. He worked as fast as he could in the surprisingly cool water, and when he felt he had the rope secured he practically sprang from the hippo and back into the boat.
It took us several attempts to get the tow rope positioned to where the overloaded and underpowered boat would not be steered by the hippo instead of the other way around.
With about an hour of daylight remaining and about ten kilometers to our landing site, we finally got our hippo towing straight and cruising at about three kilometers per hour. We also had to stop about every fifteen minutes to clear the prop of lilies, weeds, and monofilament gill netting. It became obvious very quickly that we were going to be on the river well after dark.
I took stock of the situation. Angela had a light sweater. Karl, Todd and I were in T-shirts and shorts. The black trackers and game scout had plenty of clothes as they wear plenty even in the heat of day. We had mosquito repellent- A plus since they get really bad on the river once the son goes down. We had one life-jacket, our boat driver apparently had been wearing it since we picked hin up the day before. The boat had no lights.
"Does anyone have a flashlight?", I asked. No response.
" Get my flashlight out of my little blue bag, Angela." She scratched around for a spell and said that she could not find it. Apparently it had fallen out in the truck somewhere.
So we are about ten kilometers from our vehicle, towing three tons of hippo down the Chobe River, after dark, with no lights of any kind, and no life jackets, in a seriously overloaded and underpowered boat. Any survivors are sure going to have a great story to tell their grandkids!
By about 8:15, we had been in the dark for about an hour. We had settled into a routine. Cruise for fifteen minutes. Prop gets fouled. I lean over the back of the boat and in the soft glow of Eric's cell phone, I clean the prop of debris and we do it all over again.
At some point, we shut it down for about the tenth time and I extend out over the back of the boat to clean the prop.I am holding onto the motor with my right hand and trying to clear the prop with my left. The hippo is floating pretty well by now, tied off a few feet behind the boat. When we stop it sort of drifts right up against us and I have to be careful that when we resume cruising the rope does not get tangled in the prop.
Anyway, as I am leaning out over the water and reaching for the prop a huge splash erupts from the hippo just behind my outstretched hand. I yank back my hand and begin to retreat from the crocodile that is feasting on my hippo.
"What was that?", I shouted.
Eric looks calmly into my eyes and says, "Fish."
Mildly embarassed, I go back to my job of clearing the prop.
Almost as soon as we got the boat back on coarse and were again making progress toward our destination, Karl shouted, "Elephant!"
Eric throttled down the motor and put the boat in neutral .In the dim light it was hard for me to make out anything. But as the elephants passed twenty yards in front of us they blotted out the lights on the Kasane bridge and revealed their forms more clearly. It was a cow and her calf, making tracks from the Botswana side and headed toward the Namibian shore.
If Karl or Eric had not spotted the elephants when they did we would have driven right into them. Angela had been a real trooper up until this point. But elephants in the dark, and in boats was just more than she had signed on for. For just a short time, she lost it. Sobbing quietly into Todd's shoulder, she kept repeating that she did not want to be here anymore. We were crazy and she wanted to go home.
The elephants glided past us on the floodplain and once again we started our boat and made a bee-line for the lights of our vehicle waiting on the shoreline a couple kilometers away.
The last thirty minutes of our journey passed without further fanfare. One more net to cut out of the prop and we were back to the landing and our truck. There waiting, was our staff as expected. Also waiting were about ten or twelve local villagers who had got word of the hippo and were there to see it. With all the men helping out, and the wench from the truck straining mightily, we were able to beach the hippo for photos and butchering.￼
It was quite late when we got to the Zambezi Houseboat Safari Lodge in Katima for some much needed food and rest. The suites are three sided with the open side facing the Zambezi River so one can awaken to see the sun rising over the Zambezi in the morning. Quite an awesome sight, and the splashing of Tigerfish and the croaking of hippo is the music that lulled us to sleep that night.
May 30- We left Namibia about 8:00 AM after getting a few daylight photos of the hippo. The local village had turned out in full force for te butchering of the bull. Everyone wanted to make sure that they got their portion of the njama (meat).
The border crossing into Botswana went pretty smoothly but the clowns at the Zimbabwe border had me unpack my rifles twice so they could check my serial numbers. We checked at customs as would be expected. After getting their approval and all my permits stamped we moved ten meters to the road block where they make sure you have all the permits before letting you go.
"I need to see your firearms please."
"We just had them inspected at customs and they stamped the permit", I tried to plea.
"But I am the detective, and I must see them myself."
Nothing I could do but get out of the truck and unpack them again.
We arrived back at Vic Falls and went to The Ultimate Lodge to unpack our things before going to a guest house for lunch. The cafe where we had lunch was called In Da Belly, which is kind of cute on it's own. But it is also a double entendre' as one of the local tribes are the Indabeles.
We used the afternoon to do a little more Tiger fishing, but the fishing was slow and we only caught two small tigers and one catfish.
We had a wonderful supper at the ultimate lodge and the next morning it was time to start our flights home. It was the end of a wonderful trip and we have memories that I am sure will last a lifetime.