NAMIBIA: A week hunting in the Kalahari

Discussion in 'Hunting Reports' started by philheise, Oct 2, 2011.

  1. philheise

    philheise AH Member

    Aug 4, 2010
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    SCI, Dallas Safari Club
    Namibia (Omaruru, Mariental), South Africa (Limpopo, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape)
    After my first African hunt (a plains game hunt to Namibia in 2009), I dreamt of returning. That dream turned into reality this summer. The third of August, 2011, found me departing from my home in northwest Florida for Atlanta and, ultimately, back to Africa! Upon arrival in Johannesburg after the sixteen hour flight, an overnight stay at Afton Guest House allowed me a small chance to get on "African time" before departing for Windhoek, Namibia, the next morning. The flight was uneventful and, after the relatively simple matter of clearing my rifles through the Namibian police office, I was meet by Arno Schultz, operator of La Bips Safari and my professional hunter for the next seven days.

    Arno and Theo (a bright young man who would serve as tracker/skinner) quickly and efficiently loaded all of our collective gear into the back of the hunting vehicle (a dual-cab Toyota Land Cruiser). Our destination was Farm Hartebeesloop in the Mariental District, a three-and-a-half hour drive south and located in the strikingly beautiful Kalahari Desert. Upon reaching Okongona Haus (where we would stay while at the farm), we found the camp manager, Susan, already had a delicious dinner prepared and waiting for us. After the meal, it was time to unpack and head to bed in preparation for an early start the next morning.

    Day One (August 6)
    We were up at 5:30 a.m. for a quick breakfast of tea and rusks. A cold front had moved in during the night and the weather was windy and cold I was very grateful for my sweater, jacket, woolen cap, and gloves! First item of business was to head to the shooting range to check the zero on my rifles. I had brought two Savages, one in .243 Winchester and the other in .300 Winchester Magnum, and both topped with a Bushnell Elite 4200 3-9x40mm scope. Although both had been dead-on at home, the airline luggage handlers had not been kind to them. After bringing them back to proper zero, we headed out to see what we could find. The animals on my "wish list" included southern bush duiker, steenbok, Kalahari springbok, ostrich, red hartebeest, gemsbok, and southern greater kudu.

    This part of the Kalahari was a series of parallel red sand dunes separated by flat, grassy areas (or "streets") that varied from just a few dozen meters to many hundreds of meters wide. Arno's style of hunting involved two tactics. The first was to drive the along the length of a street looking for game. Once spotted, the animals would typically head over the closest dune into the next street. We would quickly jump off the truck and make our way to the top of the dune, hoping to spot them before they had the chance to move off too far. A stalk would then be initiated, using either whatever vegetation was present or the dune itself to allow us to move into a shooting position. The second tactic was to drive across the streets, moving from dune to dune. As each dune was approached, we would stop short of the top, dismount, and slowly walk to the crest of the dune, hoping to spot the animals on the other side while we were still relatively concealed by the dune. Both methods were extremely productive and made for a very enjoyable hunt.

    Kalahari landscape 4.jpg (click on photo to enlarge)

    As we set off, the amount of game we saw was incredible. It seemed like anywhere one looked, there were springbok. Also present in lesser numbers (but still plentiful) were ostrich, duiker, steenbok, gemsbok, blesbok, and hartebeest, to name just a few. Numerous times we would stop to glass a particular animal only to have Arno say "He's okay but we can do better" and so we would move on. We dismounted from the truck several times to start a stalk but something always seemed to be against us an animal other than the one we were after would bust us, or the horns were not as big as originally thought, or upon cresting the dune we would find the animals had seemingly disappeared into thin air, etc. etc. ad nauseam.

    As the morning drew to a close, we started the drive back to the ranch house for lunch. As we crested a dune, Theo spotted a duiker close to the track on which we were driving. Arno and I quickly and quietly got out and started a stalk. The grass was just high enough that, when the duiker put its head down to feed, it provided us the chance to move up, a few meters at a time. The duiker was unaware of us and calmly fed as we closed the distance. Once we were within forty meters or so, Arno slowly put up the shooting sticks and I got into position to fire. Remembering Arno's instructions to aim a little further back than I would on a larger animal (in order to preserve the cape for a shoulder mount), I slowly squeezed the trigger. The duiker jumped at the shot but only ran twenty or thirty meters before it collapsed. My first Kalahari animal was down!! After the obligatory pictures, we loaded it into the truck and headed for lunch. This would set the daily pattern: up early for a morning hunt, back to Okongona Haus for lunch and a short nap, and back out in the afternoon.


    After lunch, we immediately started spotting bat-eared foxes everywhere we looked. I had never seen one before but in the short span of maybe forty-five minutes, we had seen over fifteen!! The afternoon seemed more like a drive through a national park than a hunt. Game was everywhere, including not only all of the same species from the morning but also eland, zebra, and kudu. Late in the afternoon we spotted a suitable hartebeest bull and tried a stalk. However, luck was not with us and after pushing him several times, we conceded defeat and headed back for a well-deserved and much appreciated hot meal.

    Day 2 (August 7)
    This day would be my personal Hunting Day from Hell. What started full of promise and excitement would become as bad a day of hunting as I have ever had in my life. Many hunters will relate to what happened. I believe if you have hunted for any length of time, you probably have had things go horribly wrong from time to time. On this particular day, mistake was compounded by misfortune and multiplied by mischance. I am going to relate my experiences because integrity compels me to do so. It would be easy to omit them but that would be disingenuous and dishonest.

    Driving along one particular street, we spooked a steenbok that immediately ran into a thick cluster of bushes. Arno and Theo started a rapid exchange of Afrikaans (which I do not speak) but it was clear they both were very excited about the trophy quality of this animal. Arno and I started a stalk, hoping to get into a firing position. Every time I thought I might be able to take the shot, the steenbok would flit to the next bush, hiding itself by crouching low to the ground. Although we jumped it repeatedly, it never become overly spooked and would only run a few meters before stopping and starting to feed again. This went on for quite a while before it finally had enough and ran over the dune into the next street. Arno and I followed on foot as Theo moved the truck in a wide circle ahead of where the steenbok was heading.

    We re-located it and started over. After what seemed like a hundred busted opportunities, the steenbok finally stopped in the clear and broadside. I quickly (too quickly as it turned out) got onto the shooting sticks and took the shot. It only ran a short distance and , surprisingly, stopped in the tall grass and just stood there, less than 50 meters away. We watched it through our binoculars as it hunched its back up and reached back with its head, nosing its hindquarters. Arno thought that I might have hit it too far back, gut-shooting it but the grass prevented us from knowing for sure. We debated shooting it a second time but, as I wanted to have it mounted life-sized, Arno thought a second shot on such a small animal from such a close distance would destroy the skin. So the decision was made to wait a few minutes to see if it would go down. As we watched, it repeated its hunching behavior several times. After what seemed like forever but was in reality probably only a few minutes, we decided to shoot it a second time. This would end whatever suffering it was experiencing my desire for a full mount was not important compared to the ethics of responsible hunting. But as I moved to put my rifle on the sticks, the steenbok spooked and took off running, giving us a clear view. My first shot had not hit in back in the body but rather had been too far forward and too low, shattering its front leg. This was certainly not a fatal injury and so my delay in taking the second shot now was revealed as a major misstep. We started off in pursuit but, even with only three legs, the steenbok quickly outdistanced us and crossed the dune into the next street.

    Upon crossing the dune, the steenbok was nowhere to be seen. We searched the area for at least an hour, each minute of which only further emphasizing my feelings of disappointment, embarrassment, and shame. The situation was entirely of my own making I was the one who made the original bad shot, I was the one who should have decided to immediately take a follow-up shot, and I was the one who spooked the steenbok in running out of our sight. As we were discussing our next move, the steenbok jumped up from under a bush and took off running yet again. I fired at it offhand but was unable to hit such a small, moving target. And so began another round of chasing and evading, chasing and evading. But it was obvious that the stress of the injury and the chase was taking its toll, as it was running much slower than before and stopping more often. I knew that it was suffering and wanted desperately to put it down but now my nerves were getting the best of me and my shooting was nowhere near as steady as it needed to be, resulting in several missed shots.

    Eventually, sadly, we ran the poor steenbok to ground, when it no longer had the strength to run any farther. Theo was able to grab it and we ended its suffering with a knife. This brought a small level of satisfaction, as it was no longer in pain, but I was feeling rather low. I should have done a much better job in the taking of this animal. Arno tried to be as supportive as possible, in an attempt to keep my spirits up, but we both knew that I had performed rather poorly on this hunt. The photo session was far from joyful and seemed more of a obligation than a celebration.

    Me and steenbok.jpg

    After lunch, we headed out in search of an ostrich. There were plenty to choose from but Arno had one particular male in mind. We quickly found him and started a three-hour long marathon of cat-and-mouse. Every time we would get set up for a shot, the ostrich would manage to evade us. If he was in cover but approaching a shooting window, he always seemed to know to run (not walk) through this area and then resume walking once he had a bush or tree between us and him. Or he would cross a dune heading to our left. We would hurry along the dune, to get ahead of him, only to find out he had crossed the dune and then turned right. So he would be hundreds of meters from where we thought we was going to be. Over and over we thought we had him, only to be out-foxed by the wily bird.

    After a long afternoon of this, a shot finally presented itself just as darkness was approaching. We were lying on top of a dune with the ostrich in the street below at a distance of about 195 meters. My first shot hit him but he took off running. Trying to avoid a repeat of the morning hunt with the steenbok, I quickly fired a couple of follow-up shots, wounding him a second time but he still kept running. We followed as fast as we could but the speed of an ostrich must be seen to be believed. Quickly he pulled away from us but then, just as quickly, he slowed, stopped, and lied down in the grass. We ran up as closely as we thought we could get without spooking him and put up the shooting sticks. I tried to calm my breathing in order to steady my shot and fired, hitting him a third time. Slowly he lowered his head until the entire length of his neck was stretched out in front of him. We slowly approached, rifle ready just in case. And it was good that we were prepared. As we neared to within five meters or so, the ostrich suddenly stood up, although it was clear it was very unsteady on its feet. I threw up the rifle to my shoulder only to find that in my excitement I had not turned down the magnification on the scope all I could see was a black blur! Hurriedly I cranked down the magnification and shot yet again, dropping him. But even then he hung unto life. Although down and not moving, he was still breathing with a discomforting rattling sound. As a safety precaution, Arno advanced and stood on his neck to prevent him from standing up again. In just a few seconds, this had the effect of cutting off the oxygen flow and the ostrich died.

    Me and ostrich.jpg

    So, in one day, I had managed to bungle not one, but two hunts, unintentionally inflicting un-needed suffering on two game animals. I was at the bottom of a pit of despair, mostly for the animals but (selfishly) also for myself. On just the second day of a seven-day hunt, I had performed abysmally in two situations. What could Arno and Theo possible think of their new client? I had to take a tiny bit of comfort in that, at least the animals were down, not lost and suffering in the bush somewhere. And hopefully I could redeem myself in the remaining days of the hunt. Thankfully, that is just what happened.

    Day 3 (August 8)
    This morning found us hunting springbok. Although they were very plentiful, finding one that met Arno's standards was time-consuming. Eventually we located one and slowly worked our way to the top of a dune, where we set up in a prone position. But "our" ram was in a state of constant motion, chasing ewes, battling with other rams, and just running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. After thirty minutes of this and deciding that enough was enough, we withdraw and continued looking. What we found was not springbok but gemsbok. Topping a dune, we encountered a small herd of maybe twenty animals in the middle of the next street. They saw us and moved off slowly as we maneuvered into position, at times walking, crawling on our knees, or finally belly-crawling to set up the shot. The animal that Arno decided was the best trophy was at the far-side of the herd, which at this point had stopped in the shade of a few trees. We waited for it to clear the animals in front of it but to our dismay it decided to lie down and rest. So began a waiting game. Occasionally it would stand up, only to move a couple of meters and lie back down. After an hour or so of it refusing to present a shot, we decided to pull out and look for something else.

    In the afternoon, we spotted three gemsbok bulls and decided to try our luck with them. For a change, we were able to easily get into position at a relatively close range (~140 meters) with the animals unaware of our presence. I was lying prone with a solid rest on my backpack. I slid the crosshairs onto the gemsbok's shoulder and squeezed the trigger. Other than a slight step at the sound of the shot, the gemsbok didn't react. Had I missed? I was immediately overcome with nervous apprehension how could I be this bad? As it turned out, although my sight picture through the scope was clear, there was a small dune in front of us that was JUST high enough that the bullet hit it and was deflected (later we actually found the crease in the sand made by the bullet). So we eased up a few more meters and I took a second shot. At this shot, the gemsbok dropped his head, jumped up in the air, and ran about 30 meters before dropping dead to a perfect high heart-lung shot. The curse was broken!! Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), it was a much happier client, PH, and tracker that posed for pictures with a beautiful old gemsbok bull.

    Us with gemsbok.jpg

    Day 4 (August 9)
    Fairly quickly after breakfast, we were stalking a lone hartebeest bull. We had to follow him from one street into the next but then a little creeping and belly-crawling had us in position. He was still walking away from us but Theo whistled to get him to stop. He stopped and looked back, slightly quartering away at approximately 190 meters. At the shot, he dropped in his tracks. Another clean kill and a little more return of confidence in my ability to shoot straight. On the drive back to the skinning shed, Arno took me to a location where, in the past, he had spotted meerkats and, sure enough, they were at the entrance to their burrow, soaking up the warm morning sun.

    me and hartebeest.jpg

    After yet another delicious lunch, we went out looking for springbok, as we hadn't been able to take one the day before. We found a likely herd and spent about thirty minutes glassing them, looking for a good trophy ram. There were two that showed promise and eventually Arno decided which one we should attempt to take an old male that showed a pronounced limp. We were perfectly set up as "Gimpy" slowly made his way along towards a clearing which would allow us a clear shot. But as luck would have it, he actually sped up as he crossed this area and didn't stop, even with a whistle from Theo. As his path would take him across the dune, we quickly shifted our position to intercept him. He re-appeared exactly where we wanted him to and he dropped to the shot. Arno made sure to take photos while the springbok was still "proinking", or raising the alarm hairs along the midline of its back.

    springbok pronking.jpg Me and springbok.jpg

    Day 5 (August 10)
    The morning started off well enough. After the cold temperatures of the first day, the weather had been getting warmer each day and so we left Okongona Haus with just a long-sleeved shirt. And so it was very pleasant to drive along in the morning air, reveling in the beauty of the desert, and surrounded by wild game everywhere one looked. A kudu bull quickly caught our attention but a shift in the breeze carried our scent to him and he was off and running. Soon after, we made a very short stalk on what I thought was a springbok that Arno wanted culled for the meat. For only about 90 meters, I was able to shoot it through the neck, hitting the spine, and dropping it instantly. As we approached, Arno informed me that this ram was a better trophy than "Gimpy" and that it why he had me shoot it. And to make matters even better, he very generously gave it to me for free! So, quite unexpectedly, I now had two springbok trophies (and so could have one as a shoulder mount and the other for an European mount).

    The afternoon had us on the trail of the same kudu bull we had seen that morning. We tried stalking him but only succeeded in pushing him along. He soon joined up with some kudu cows and, not wanting to harass him any further, we called off the hunt. Arno was confident that we could re-locate him the next morning and so we retired to the ranch house.

    Day 6 (August 11)
    We went out this morning to find the kudu bull. As it turned out, he and his cows were exactly where Arno and Theo thought they would be. The kudu were slowing feeding across a street, towards the opposite dune. The plan was to drive towards them, pushing them over the dune into the next street. Once we had done this, we would dismount and quickly run to the top of the dune, giving us the advantage of height from which to begin our stalk. However, no one had thought to let the kudu know! As we drove closer, rather than moving off, the kudu simply stopped feeding and stood there, looking at us. So Arno and I quietly got out on the side of the truck away from the kudu, crouched down, and let Theo slowly drive away. We then slowly stood up and began making our way towards the kudu. The cows began to walk away from us but the bull stood his ground, looking at us. But once we had closed to within 150 meters or so, he started off as well, although slowly. Arno put up the shooting sticks and I readied for a shot, should one present itself. The kudu bull walked into the group of cows and turned to look back. He was slightly quartering away but with a cow both in front and behind him so we had to wait for the cows to clear before I could shoot. After a few minutes, he was clear and I shot him slightly behind the shoulder, aiming for the opposite shoulder. He was hit but slightly low so I quickly chambered a second round and shot again. The bull made it no further than thirty-five or forty meters before piling up against a large bush. We moved him to the top of a nearby dune for the photos and, with that, I had taken all of the animals that were on my "wish list."

    Us and kudu.jpg

    The rest of that day and the next were spent culling some springbok to provide meat for the local butchery. Theo also spotted a half-grown savannah monitor lizard under a bush which I quickly captured for photos. As I am a biology professor and a herpetologist by training, this might just have been the highlight of the trip for me. African hunting is incredibly enjoyable but the chance to handle such a beautiful lizard and then return it unharmed to its environment will also get me excited!

    Me and monitor 1.jpg monitor 1.jpg

    All in all, my week in the Kalahari Desert hunting with Arno Schultz and La Bips Safaris was an experience I will always remember and treasure. Even the Day from Hell was useful as a learning experience and while I never, ever, wish to repeat it, at least I can hope never to make the same mistakes. Namibia is a beautiful country and everyone I met were friendly, helpful, and pleasant. I cannot wait for a chance to return.
  2. timbear

    timbear AH Enthusiast

    Mar 17, 2011
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    Germany, NZ, Australia
    Phil, thank you for sharing this fantastic hunt report! I felt I was almost there with you. Your honesty regarding your "hunt day from hell" impressed me a lot, as did the unreserved gratitude you show towards your PH and tracker. It sure sounds like you had a wonderful safari.
  3. Nevada Wapati

    Nevada Wapati AH Veteran

    Jun 18, 2010
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    Namibia, RSA
    Thank you for the report and photos, enjoyed it greatly. Your trophies are excellent and that Steenbuck is GREAT.
  4. Wolverine67

    Wolverine67 AH Fanatic

    Feb 18, 2011
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    Norway, Sweden, Poland, South Africa
    Thank you for sharing your hunt. Fantastic trophies, and yes, I think all of us has had such hunting days sometime. I have had for sure. Love your kudu.
  5. FOUNDER AH Ambassador

    Oct 1, 2007
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    Thank you for your hunt report and photos Phil.
  6. enysse

    enysse AH Ambassador

    Jan 20, 2009
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    Northeast Wisconsin SCI chapter, Lifetime member of NRA,RMEF
    Namibia, South Africa (East Cape, Guateng and Limpopo)
    Yes Sir, Namibia is a beautiful country with friendly people. Thanks for the pictures and stories!
  7. RickB

    RickB AH Fanatic

    Mar 9, 2011
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    NRA lifetime, SCI Member, Longhunters LLC
    South Africa, Germany, USA (OH, NY, VA, PA, WY)
    Congratulations on some fine trophies. Thanks for the great report and honesty.
  8. Nyati

    Nyati AH Legend

    Jan 15, 2011
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    Madrid, Spain
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    Finland, RSA ( KwaZulu Natal, Limpopo, North West ), Spain
    Thank for your report, and congratulations for a great hunt.

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