My Return To Namibia in 2007
I am going to skip most of the travel part except to say that the long layover and day room in Frankfurt were worth their weight in gold. I arrived in Windhoek almost refreshed and ready to go.
Johann met me at the airport even before I was finished with all of my paper work and police forms. It was almost like I had never left, the friendship we had formed a year ago was still in tact and strong as ever. We caught up on the drive back to camp. We brought each other up to date on our various adventures during the past year and we also relived some of the events of last years hunt together.
We arrived in Otjiwarongo about lunch time and Johann asked if I would like to eat at a local restaurant called the “Camel Thorn” The name intrigued me and I decided to give it a try. We pulled around back of a small house and I thought we were taking a short cut, but Johann pulled up and stopped and said we were there. The owner had converted her tea garden into a small dining area with perhaps seven or eight tables. The menu has several items on it and I decided to have the Oryx or Gemsbok steak. It was undoubtedly the best steak that I have had in many a year, that includes fancy restaurants and ones that I had cooked for myself. While we enjoyed or lunch we planned our strategy for the upcoming hunt. Johann informed me that he had the baits up for about 5 days and was still waiting on Mr. Spots to show up. We finalized the plans for the week over one last beer and completed the short drive to camp.
We got to camp in the early afternoon and decided to have a lazy time in camp. I guess that I was not as rested as I thought I was after two days of travel. We did get the chance to sight in my rifles and check my gear after being bounced around half way across the world and everything was in working order.
Vera was busy with dinner preparations and it was just before dinner that I got to visit with her and Zoë who was now almost three years old. It still amazes me that after being separated for a year and by thousands of miles that I immediately felt at home. After dinner we retired to the fire pit for another glass of wine and some more catching up. It was not long until my traveling fatigue caught up with me and I decided to head to bed early. Tomorrow it was off to check baits and look for Mr. Spots.
Up at 6:00am and breakfast at 7:00am then out to the trusty hunting truck and on the way to check bait. It is cold this morning and I am glad that I had plenty of hot coffee to keep me warm. We stop at bait #1 and nothing no tracks not anything. We do however see lots of every other kind of game; Kudu, Gemsbok, Steinbuck, and even Eland. Bait #2, he’s been there!!!! Mr. Spots paid us a visit last night Ingwe (leopard) had been eating on our bait. We checked the timer and it had been triggered at 6:45pm. This bait was on the side of a small mountain or kopi and Johann showed me where he has picked out for us to wait. It is a perfect spot across a draw and backed into the side of the kopi about half way up the side. There are some boulders in the front that separate us from the bait. They were big enough to hide us and made a steady rifle rest, everything is great. Bait #3 nothing, so we headed back to camp for lunch and prepared for the nights events.
When we got back to camp Johann’s friend, Andre was there trying out some new loads that he had been working up. Andre is an interesting guy, he is a machinist by trade and he makes his own bullets from solid brass. He turns a brass blank down until he gets the diameter he wants, calculates the weight and length and finally puts a point on it.
He said that his home made solids work well but I don’t see how he gets enough weight without excessive length.
Before we headed out that evening Johann and I spent some time going over shot placement and discussed tactics. It is so very important to make the first shot count on a leopard that one can not prepare too much. In the opinion of the late Peter Capstick there was a 50/50 chance that someone was going to get chewed on if you went in after a wounded leopard. This was something that I needed to be well aware of before I attempted a shot.
Finally it was time and we headed out to the blind. This in it’s self was no small feat, we had to climb half way up the kopi and skirt around the side to our blind. We finally got into the blind and we waited and waited and waited. Johann heard something and all of my senses went on red alert. It was almost too dark to see but that did not matter, Johann had heard something. The sound came and the sound went and it never got close to the bait. It did not really mater though, I had some action in a leopard blind on my first night, that in it’s self was reason to celebrate. If I thought that my adrenalin was going before it really was going when I started going down the rocky path and slope of the kopi in the dark. Even with high powered flash lights it was amazingly difficult climbing down the rocky side of the kopi.
Back at camp because of the late hour I was expecting a cold sandwich and a beer, but I was wrong. Vera had prepared a wonderful late dinner of gemsbok stroganoff, complete with salad, rice, desert and red wine to wash it down with, what a treat. The camp fire conversation was all about Mr. Spots and our plans for tomorrow. It does not take long for me to realize that my batteries have worn down and it was time for a shower and bed.
Just a note here about taking showers in a tent when the temperature is in the high 30’s.
Johann uses wood fired water heaters and there is always plenty of hot water. So the key was to be prepared for getting out of the shower. I laid out my towel; pajama bottoms and a fleece pull over. When I got out of the shower I toweled of my upper body wrapped the towel around my waist then put on the fleece. Then I proceeded to dry off my lower half and put on the pajama bottoms. The steam kept the bathroom warm long enough to get dressed comb your hair and brush your teeth. Then all I had to do was climb into bed, get snuggled under the covers and drift off to sleep.
Up at 6:00 and Breakfast at 7:00 then out to check the baits. Ingwe did not return last night. I do not know if we made too much noise in our exit or he just was not around. After checking the other baits and they had not been hit we decided to freshen them up with some fresh warthog. We found a volunteer and I sat up the shooting sticks and started to take a bead on the warthog. Tjokkie (our tracker) suddenly diverted Johann’s and then my attention to a massive old warthog that we had not seen before and he was headed straight for us. As quickly and quietly as I could I switched the shooting sticks around and tried to get the hog in my scope. He was still moving and as much as I hated to take a shot at a moving target I had no choice. In just a few more trots he would have been with in 7 or 8 yards. I tightened my grip on the 9.3 x62 Mauser lined him up and squeezed the trigger. He was magnificent, the shot went thru both lungs and clipped the top of the heart but he still managed to run about 60 yards. This old hog had a set of very fine tusk perhaps equal to the 13 incher I took last year. Johann showed me that his molars are worn down to nothing. If it could be considered lucky, this very old warthog was lucky; he would have probably starved to death in the next few months. What a privilege to take a fine trophy that was old and on his last legs. Now I have a fine trophy as well as fresh leopard bait. Soon the trophy prep is done and the baits have been freshened, then it was back to camp for lunch and some rest.
During lunch we decided not to risk spooking Mr. Spots with another visit today so we headed out to look for a gemsbok. I missed my chance at a nice gemsbok last year on the last day of the hunt and I really wanted a nice one this year. We saw and stalked several that afternoon but none over 35” and it was much too early in the trip to take a small one. We also saw more kudu, steinbuck and duiker, especially kudu. Since I took a nice old kudu last year it was not even on my list this year and they seemed to know it. The one I took last year was only 50” and very old, but these were in the 57” to 58” range and were taunting me. They allowed us to get within 80 yards and then they just walked away. Oh well that’s how it goes some times, but if a 60 incher shows up I may have to rethink things.
Earlier in the day Johann told me about a young man that wants to become a hunting guide and asked me if it would be ok if he tagged along as an observer. I told him that the more people we could get involved in our sport the better I liked it. Buise (pronounced Base) joined us in camp for dinner that night. He seemed to be about twenty, eager to learn, and full of energy. I decided then that Johann had a lot of patience and a true desire to pass along his knowledge to take on a young apprentice.
Vera had prepared stuffed zebra steaks for Johann to grill and serve with potatoes, salad, and German style cooked cabbage. I got cleaned up and had a glass of wine while Johann started to prepare the grill for the steaks. To do this he took several shovels full of coals from the raised fire pit and placed them on top of a concrete countertop that was just for grilling. He then placed an iron trivet on top of the coals and then a grill on top of that. Talk about good eating, the high heat at the beginning sears the outside and then the cooled down coals cook slower and everything stayed nice and juicy. Add several glasses of a good red wine and if you are not careful a fellow could really hurt his self. After dinner it was back to my favorite camp activity, relaxing around the fire pit. Here we were able to relive the day’s events and excitement and plan for tomorrow’s adventure.
Up at 6:15 and breakfast at 7:15 and once again off to check baits. We climbed to the top of the kopi and then to the opposite side to check if ingwe was perhaps on the bait. I have already climbed the kopi more this trip than the whole time I was here last year. My boots did a good job of keeping me from twisting an ankle in the loose rocks, but my thighs are killing me. Next trip I must remember to climb a lot not just walk to get into shape.
Something had hit the bait during the night but it must have come and left by the rocks around the bait as there were no tracks. Johann and Tjokkie decided that it was probably not a jackal or other small scavenger because quiet a lot was consumed. After we checked the other baits and there was no activity at either location we decided to go after some plains game.
We saw a sick eland yesterday and when we found it this mourning it was on its last legs. Since the eland was on Vera’s dad’s farm he wanted to ask him if it was ok to put it out of its misery and if it was ok if I shot it. If we got the ok it would be a perfect time to try out my .416 Rigby in this 1600lb animal. Vera’s dad, Udo would be at camp when we got back because it was her birthday and we had a celebratory brunch planned. Since Johann had told her the brunch was for me to visit with her parents she had no idea that we had planned a surprise birthday celebration for her. When we got back to camp Udo was already there so Johann asked Vera to visit with her father while he and I prepared breakfast. Once we ran her out of the kitchen I snuck back to my tent and wrapped her presents and brought them to the kitchen. We fixed a nice brunch and surprised her with her birthday gifts. We totally surprised her and I had a blast watching Zoë helping her mom unwrap presents. It was really nice to be included in a family event, and even nicer to help in the planning and preparation of the event. Vera and Johann do a good job of making anyone feel at home but after being a part of the birthday celebration I felt like family not just a guest.
Vera was not the only one that got a surprise that day; I got one of my own. As he was leaving Udo said he needed some meat for a friend and for himself. He also asked if I would shoot it for him. He did not have to twist my arm to hard before I agreed to help out. Before we could do that we needed to take care of the eland. When we got back he was so week that he did not even get up at our approach. I was able to drop to one knee and put a Barnes X form the .416 into his chest and it was over. We took the quarters to freshen the leopard baits and returned to camp to switch rifles and hunt for some meat for the pot.
Tjokkie and Buise dropped us at a water hole to look for a warthog while they went to add the eland to the baits. Johann and I decided to try a tower that he has for bow hunters. We climbed up and sat down to wait for the perfect hog to come in. No sooner had we gotten settled than the wind picked up and the dust picked up and the game got scarce. We decided to change locations and climbed down to move. We sat up a short ways form the tower under a small tree and watched the water hole. A lot of hogs came in but it was either a sow with little ones or an old boar that would be too tough. We also saw other game including duiker, steinbuck and an eagle. If you have the time on a safari take the time to sit over a water hole just to watch what comes in to drink. Finally a young, but mature male came in and Johann said that this was the one to take. He asked if I could take a brain shot as not to ruin any meat and I told him I could. I had never tried one before so I was a little nervous. Soon the hog was lined up and I put the crosshairs between his eyes and squeezed the trigger. The little 9.3 barked and the hog nose dived into the water hole and it was all over. I was ecstatic that I had pulled it off but I try not to show it because I do not want Johann to know that I had any doubts. After that my confidence in myself and the 9.3×62 was rising. Now it was time to go back to camp to rest and regroup.
A short while later we were in search of a gemsbok. We had not gone far when Tjokkie spotted a mature gemsbok with non trophy horns. We drove past him for a short ways and pulled into the bush about 400 yds past him. The wind is blowing in the wrong direction so we had to walk away from the gemsbok and circle back towards him. After we started back we find out that there were three gemsbok and that they have headed towards us and we ended up right in the middle of them. After we figured out where the animals were Tjokkie moves us behind a termite mound and I start to set up. They are so close that I can smell them, Johann points out the one to take and then something behind them spooks them. The first two went by one on either side of the termite mound. The third and largest one ran then started to walk on left side of the termite mound. I said to myself that I can do this; it is just like shooting a quail back home, start form behind swing thru and pull the trigger. That is just what I did. My thoughts had one fatal flaw, while a quail can not stop in mid-flight a gemsbok can stop in mid step, and that is exactly what happened. I shot two feet in front of him. He reversed course and ran around the other side of the mound and about 80 yards away. As he was running, I was spinning around and working the bolt. I dropped to one knee and as he stopped for a look I got off the luckiest shot of my life. I hit him in a high shoulder spine shot and he dropped in his tracks. This just reinforces my belief in the old saying that “if you have time to think about and analyze the shot you are going to screw it up” and I did just that.
Tjokkie brought the truck and we loaded the gemsbok in the back with the warthog and were off to Vera’s dads. While we waited for Udo’s staff to unload the game I had a chance to look around the complex again. His place is a paradise in the middle of the Namibian bushveld. The compound was fenced in and there was a fruit orchard around the house. This provides shade as well as fresh citrus fruit. I looked up and there were ostrich pecking around outside the fence paying us no attention at all. As I watched the ostrich Udo walked up and pointed out the sunset over the top of the kopi, I was so intent on the animal life that I almost missed Mother Nature. I must remember to thank him again for allowing me to take the two animals for him and sharing his home with me.
After we got back to camp Vera had a roaring fire going and dinner ready to go on the grill. We had gemsbok steaks, scalloped potatoes, tossed salad, and a chocolate covered custard for desert. It was all wonderful and as usual I ate too much. After dinner the fire beckoned and we sat around relaxing and talking. It was funny to me that TV, telephones, and the like just seem to fade away to a distant memory when I was around the fire.
Up at 6:15 am, breakfast at 7:00 am and off to climb the Kopi at 7:20. Up one side across the top and then part of the way down the other side. I had the routine down to an art and my legs had quit hurting so I was able to enjoy the climb and the view from the top. During the previous trips to the top I had forgotten to just enjoy the beauty of the view. Sure enough Ingwe had been there again this time the timer had been tripped at 7:20 pm so he was pretty much on schedule. Johann and I rearranged our blind to make it more comfortable and allow us to sit more quietly. We then headed back to camp for lunch. We got back a little early and wile Vera prepared lunch we watched Craig Boddington’s leopard hunting video on shot placement and trophy judging.
For lunch Vera prepared a Sheppard’s pie. I had never tried it before and after eating some of this one that is a mistake I will not make again. During lunch we decided to be in the blind by 4:00pm and stay until 10:00 pm.
We made it to the blind a little before4:00 pm and started to wait for dusk. I got comfortable and stated reading my book and the time passed quickly and soon sunset was upon us. It was much easier to sit still with the book to occupy my mind but that all changed when it got too dark to read. The beautiful Namibian sunset kept me occupied for a while. The pure blue of the evening sky merged with the sun and put on a spectacular show, the colors changed from blue to yellow, pink, red and finally a deep purple. It was truly fantastic.
After sunset I was left with my own devices to occupy my mind and pass time. Any small noise started my mind to race with the question of what it was. Star gazing helped also but since I was in the southern hemisphere the Southern Cross was about all I recognized. I was able to see a few shooting stars but other than that I sat in the dark and waited quietly as possible. We left at 9:30 pm because our backsides were so sore that we could not take it any more. Climbing down the kopi was not as bad as before but it was still some what nerve racking. The closest thing I can relate to was free climbing a cliff in the dark. As we descended the kopi I suddenly realized that ingwe was out there with us and very close.
Up at 6:15 am and on the way to check bait at 7:30 am this day started like every other day, but that would soon change. Johann received a cell phone call and was told that poachers were in the area and the police were on the way. He immediately tried to call camp and got no answer and I could see concern on his face. He finally got thru to one of the hands and found out that everything was ok in camp they just had not heard the first phone call. After a very speedy and bumpy ride back to camp Johann rearmed himself, Tjokkie, and Buise and they went to help with the investigation. He asked me to stay in camp and watch things there. I was a little disappointed at first until Vera explained that a recent change in the law had made things much more dangerous. The government made the penalty for poaching much more sever and now some of the poachers were much more prone to shoot at their pursuers that face more jail time. I was not so disappointed anymore. I spent the rest of the morning in camp with Vera and the staff while keeping a close eye on the bush. The decision not to return hunting until the situation was resolved and all was clear was the correct one and I din not mind at all.
After Johann returned he filled us in over lunch. The poachers had been coming and going for some time. They had been hiking some 20 miles thru the bush in the dark to their hidden slaughter and camp site. The police were going to set up an ambush for them when they returned. Since they were on the far side of the property we thought it was safe to continue hunting.
For today’s account of sitting in the blind reread yesterdays. This was a smart cat we were hunting. We left a little earlier again so we could get home in time for one of Vera’s fantastic late dinners.
Up at 6:15 am and breakfast at 7:00 am, we have to make a big decision today.
Do we give up on ingwe after tonight and relocate to Tualuka and hunt there or do we stay here and keep after the cat. So far Mr. Spots is winning the contest and we have tried everything we can think of. That includes varying our time in and out, varying you route in and out, washing in sent free soap and wearing sent free clothing, and this cat is just smart. I sort of decided that he has been shot at over bait before and he knew exactly what was going on. I finally decided to try things for a few hours tonight and move to Tualuka tomorrow.
I felt pretty good about my decision as we left to check the bait one last time, and was already planning my adventures at Tualuka. I could not wait to see the place. Tualuka is Johann and Vera’s luxury lodge up in the mountains; I had heard a lot about it but had not seen it yet. Wrong again, ingwe had been on the bait with a vengeance last night, he was obviously hungry and he had waited until we left to eat. The timer had been triggered at 1:30 am, so we were in for a long night. On the way back we decided to look for a good gemsbok. We saw plenty but none were the one I was looking for.
Over lunch we decided to change our tactics one more time. We had been driving past the bait side of the kopi and about half way up the other side, parking, getting out, loading up, and leaving after Tjokkie or Buise had started driving back down the kopi. Tonight we would drive the long way around the kopi out of the leopard’s sight and approaching from the back side stopping only long enough to jump out with our gear.
Hopefully ingwe would not see us get out and if he did he would not be able to count and not know that the truck was a few people short when it returned to view. After we did this we hid in the bush almost ¾ of a mile away from the kopi until the dist and noise from the hunting truck had completely faded. Once we started to move we picked out way thru the bush trying to stay out of sight of the kopi. We moved slowly but steadily trying not to work up a sweat so we would not ruin the sent free clothing we had so painstakingly washed in baking soda. We picked our way up the side and we were in the blind by 4:00 pm. Let it suffice it to say we punished our selves for eight hours not moving, hardly daring to breath for fear of scaring off ingwe. At 12:00 am I informed Johann that I was ready to go if he was. We packed up our gear and headed down the kopi; tomorrow we would sleep late and leave for new adventures at Tualuka.
Today I slept to 8:30 am and it was great. I headed to the dining tent about 9:00 and Vera and Johann already had things just about packed and ready to go to Tualuka. While Vera fixed breakfast I packed my gear and placed it outside to be loaded. After breakfast we all head to Tualuka.
Because of the uncooperative Mr. Spots I was not sure I was going to get to see the lodge but now that we were finally on out way it should be clear sailing. Wrong again, we had a few more obstacles to overcome. First we had a flat that could not be plugged in the field so after changing the tire we had to divert to town and have the tire patched from the inside. After this detour a warthog decided to commit suicide by jumping out in front of the Jeep. I was just starting to wonder if I was going to make it to Tualuka or not. By the way Johann told me the name Tualuka means “we have returned” and that he and Vera helped build the lodge then ran it for a few years before leaving to start their own hunting safari business. When it came on the market this past year they were able to buy it and call it their own.
In order to get the full effect of Tualuka let me set the stage for you. On the drive in the only things that were visible in any direction were rocky mountains with patches of scrub sticking up her and there. I had seriously started to wonder what the place could look like when Johann announced “we’re here”. I looked over and saw a gate on the right that we were getting ready to drive thru. As we proceeded thru the gate and down the road there was a gradual change from dead vegetation to green lush plant life. The further we went the only thing that was not green were the summer grasses and they were golden brown, tall and swaying back and forth in the breeze. We rounded the last bend and there she sat. Tualuka was built into the side of a kopi with giant boulders all around and integrated into the structure. The roof was thatched, the masonry and tile work blended perfectly with the boulders. The big surprise however was the inside. It was absolutely gorgeous. The round poles that held up the roof were at least 60 feet long and the roof was probably 40 feet tall and held up by gigantic round timbers. There were three levels inside the lowest was the bar area that looked out over the dry river bed. The next level up was the reception desk and a lounge area. On one end of the sitting area was a fire place with a built in rotisserie that is used to cook whole animals or hind quarters. Up from that was the dining area with another small sitting area off to the side. Behind the dining area were the offices, kitchen and pantry area. The structure was open on three sides but it is at least 15-20 degrees cooler than the outside air. It was amazing, the temperature out side in the shade was in the low to mid 80’s and it was no warmer than 70 degrees inside. Johann then took me to my quarters or shall I say chalet. Upon stepping thru the patio door the air was again very cool and comfortable. It was constructed in the same manor as the mail lodge with a high thatched roof, tile floors, and masonry walls. Stepping back onto the patio Johann pointed out the water hole not 20 yards from the patio and told me that wild elephants would water there when they came thru. Ingwe had even walked thru between my unit and the one beside it a few nights ago. The woodwork on the inside was exquisite, mostly made from Namibian teak. The carvings defy description; you simply have to see it to believe it.
After a quick lunch and visit to get reacquainted with Johann’s mother Clarissa, it was off in the hunting vehicle to see what we could see. We saw gemsbok and kudu before we even left the driveway. We drove out into the bushveld with large patches of open savanna and saw a heard of about 50 gemsbok. We drove a little farther and came upon an aardvark having dinner. After stopping to take some pictures, we dove to an observation point that overlooked a waterhole. At first we did not see much but as the sun dipped lower and the afternoon cooled the animals started to move. The first to appear were gemsbok then the kudu including a few that were in the 55” to 58” range. As I said earlier since I was not after a kudu the really nice ones were taunting me unmercifully. After glassing for a little longer we spotted a small herd of mountain zebra just below us. Johann asked if I wanted to take one, and since I really had not thought about it before the first thing that came to mind was could I get a zebra rug in the house. A few seconds after that I came to my senses and grinned and said sure and the heck with the consequences and off we went. The stalk was a difficult one because we had to drop off the steep side of our vantage point and there were a lot of leaves on the ground. We were doing pretty well and closing the distance between us when the stalking hunter’s number one problem reared its ugly head. The wind changed from steady and light to a swirling changing nightmare. They started moving and we changed directions to try and keep up but after about a kilometer they caught our sent and that was that. Tomorrow will bring other opportunities and we headed back to clean up and have supper.
The other two clients that were joining us arrived shortly before dinner. Johann’s dad Vellies had picked them up at the airport in Windhoek and made the 6 hour drive back to camp. Claude was from France and would be hunting leopard with Jan. Jan is a very good friend of Johann’s and runs his own hunting lodge on a neighboring farm. Robin was Claude’s booking agent and was from South Africa. He would be accompanying Claude on the hunt to check out Johann’s operation. Jan joined us for dinner to get acquainted with his clients. I had not met Jan before but sort of felt like I knew him already because Johann had told about many of their adventures and misadventures together. It was in fact Jan that peaked Johann’s interest in becoming a P.H. himself. I knew we would get along well when I noticed that he carried a .44 Blackhawk strapped around his waist.
We moved to the fire pit for drinks and conversation and I noticed a huge cauldron at the edge of the pit. Inside was a beef and kudu stew. The meat had been slowly cooking for a few hours and then carrots, cauliflower, onions and squash were added. What a fantastic supper. The helpings were more than generous and the wine they served complimented the stew well. After the meal the new arrivals retired to their chalets to get some much needed rest after two full days of travel. I followed them shortly and tried to fall asleep by pushing the possible adventures of tomorrow from my thoughts.
I got up early and made my way to the lodge for a quick breakfast with the gang.
Everyone was anxious to get started and Jan, Claude, Robin, and Buise soon left to hang leopard baits. Johann, Jonas, and I were off right behind them in search of gemsbok or zebra. We headed off into the bushveld and soon spot a herd of gemsbok. We ease past them and start a stalk. My old friend the swirling wind was back however and the gemsbok know of our presence long before we want them to be so we are content to watch them head up and over a mountain side.
Johann wants to check out a hidden valley close to where we were hunting. Talk about Mr. Toads wild ride, we bounced, we dodged trees, we scraped thorn bushes, we climbed over boulders, but we finally got there. It took very little for me to imagine that I had been transported back 100 years or so to the early days of the safari business. I felt like I could I could have been hunting with one of the early PH’s going thru brush where no motorized hunting vehicle had gone before. In hindsight I think that this was exactly the experience that Johann was trying to give me, either that or he was just trying to rearrange my insides. I think I’ll believe the former. It took a little longer to get there than we originally thought and the game had already started bedding down to escape the afternoon heat. When we were ready to leave Johann asked me if I was up for a bit of mountain climbing? I really wasn’t but said ok anyway and started to get out of the truck and he told me to stay put. I said no you are not, and he just looked over and flashed me an evil grin, put the truck in low range 4wd and up the side we went. It was a good thing I got a good grip on the seat with my backside or I might not have made it to the top. When I pried my eyes open and let go of my death grip on the seat we were at the top of the world. The lush valley before me was surrounded by rocky barren mountain tops and the view seamed to go on forever.
We took a different route back traveling in the same manner as the early pioneers of the safari trade. We went slow and easy thru the bush not following any road only animal trails. I was very glad that Johann knew where he was going because after the ride up one side and down the other I was completely turned around.
After lunch Jan and company headed back out to hang baits and we were off in search of game. Vellies had asked Johann to bring back some game for the pot as well so we had a whole range of options open. Johann explained that if they saw a cull animal, one with crooked or deformed horns or would never make a trophy they would take it fir the pot. He asked me if I would like to take it and after he twisted my arm awhile I agreed to. We only travel a short ways when he spots a kudu with a broken horn and after a short stalk I was able to get set up on the shooting sticks. I took aim and pulled the trigger and click. I must have not chambered a round I checked and sat that a round was chambered so I aimed once more and pulled the trigger again and click. I worked the action dropped that round on the ground, chambered another and boom. I was so rattled that I completely missed. In hindsight I know that I had made a mistake by not stepping back, calming my nerves and starting over, but I thought I could make the shot. I was very lucky not to have wounded the animal and lost it. The only thing I lost was an evening of hunting. By the time it took to make sure the animal was not wounded and relocate to an area that everything was not scared off by the shot the light had faded and it was time to head back for dinner. I learned a valuable lesson today.
Supper was better. Everyone was joking around and the conversation was light and I started to feel better. It was quiet amazing how much better one could feel after a few glasses of brandy and coke. I had never tried this mixture before and although it sounds quiet nasty I can assure that it is not. Vellies had spent the afternoon slow roasting a hind quarter of springbok over an open fire. The spit turned so tantalizingly slow that it was hard not to reach out and try to steal a small bite. It was absolutely delicious. We has broccoli with cheese sauce, tossed salad, and other sides with it, a truly great meal.
After dinner I headed back to my chalet. Even thought it was sort of early I was beat and wanted to be fresh for tomorrow.
Johann, Jonas, Buise, and I headed out early in search of gemsbok and zebra. I had put the events of yesterday behind me and promised myself a clean start. We decided that we would walk to the waterhole and see what we could see. Nothing was immediately visible so we hiked a little farther and still nothing. Johann and Jonas climbed a small kopi. They soon returned and had seen a group of gemsbok. The wind was playing games with us again changing direction constantly. We got close and the wind blew our sent to them and the only thing we can see is a bunch of swishing tails disappearing over the side of a mountain. I am disappointed but Johann just smiles and then lets me in on the reason, there were two groups of gemsbok and the wind is now blowing directly from them to us.
Once again we were off. Even though the wind is in our favor the group is a large one and there are lots of eyes looking our way. So it was stand up, walk slow, crouch, stop, and then stoop and walk. All of this to be repeated in some order or another many times while trying to get into position without being seen. Finally we get into position and I can only see the gemsbok that Johann has selected for me to take. He is between 80 and 90 yards away. I stand up place my rifle on the shooting sticks and pull the trigger. Miracle upon miracle he goes down and hard. Johann tells me to chamber another round and get ready because a gemsbok almost always gets back up. He does and takes off fast. I swing my rifle after him and pull the trigger and knock him off his feet again. We approach him slowly and as we get closer Johann reminds me to only approach from the rear. This is because if he starts to get back up again his horns are like twin rapiers and ruin your day permanently. He was down for good and we start the celebratory smiles and handshakes that only a hunter can truly understand. The teamwork between the trackers, the PH and the hunter is a true joy and experience that should be experienced by all hunters if there is any way possible. The gemsbok is magnificent, his horns are just a fraction shy of 40” and the bases are huge a truly magnificent animal. Johann shows me where my shots hit; the first was dead center of the shoulder and caused plenty of chaos inside, the second was a little further back and hit the spine. Buise returned after fetching the truck and cameras so we could take pictures and I could relive this moment over and over. After many pictures and many poses we loaded the animal into the truck and headed back.
After seeing to the proper care of the horns, cape, and meat we headed back to the lodge. We had not even gotten all the way out of the truck when Jan, Claude, and Robin returned with a fantastic kudu. There were smiles, handshakes, and congratulations all around. What fantastic morning.
While we gone Vera and Clarissa had prepared a Sunday brunch fit for a king. There were scrambled ostrich eggs, sautéed mushrooms and onions, grilled tomatoes, thin sliced gemsbok tenderloin, and bacon. If you could not tell by now I was well adapted to hurting myself at the table and this morning was no exception. It was all very good and now it was time for a short rest before returning to the field.
After the events of the morning I knew that this afternoon would me exciting as well. When we left it was still hot and we decided to drive to the top of a kopi and wait for the game to start moving. The road if you can call it that was very narrow and extremely rocky. Johann told me that if elephants were coming down while we were going up that there was no room for us to move over. I asked him what I should do if that happened and he looked at me and said “If I start running and shooting feel free to do the same”. I was not sure then and am not sure now if he was kidding or not. When we arrived at the top we started glassing for game. After a bit it struck me how beautiful it was up here and mumbled something to that effect to myself and then I heard Johann say to me “that is why I brought you up here”. I knew then and there that there was a soft spot in that tough PH hide of his somewhere. Shortly after that he saw the first group of gemsbok and then some kudu. All in all we saw about 30 kudu and 24 gemsbok, not bad for one vantage point. We stalked two groups of gemsbok but none were of the caliber that needed culling so we switched gears and went after zebra.
We took off across the valley floor to a favorite zebra water hole. While no zebra came to the party, doves and sand grouse came in by the hundreds and I could only wish for my over and under. I decided however that the peace and quiet of the African twilight was best left unspoiled by gunfire. As I watched a pair of jackals run and play, completely unaware of our presence I could once again transport myself back to the days of the Africa of old.
Last night, after dinner we decided that Jan would take me on my springbok hunt and Johann would take the new guys out to check leopard baits. This was cool with me as I would like the opportunity to hunt with Jan and get to know him better. This would also provide me a chance to talk to him without Johann and perhaps find out a little tidbit to tease Johann with.
The ride to the neighboring farm where we were to hunt was interesting. The temperature was in the low 40”s and the trusty hunting vehicle had no windscreen or roof. Riding down a dirt road at 60mph in those low temperatures reminded me of a January morning back in North Carolina skimming across the water at the outer banks heading to a duck blind. After we arrived at the farm I met Ulf, and he told us of a few places to look and then asked if he might accompany us. This was alright with me and it proved to be a lot of fun. While Jan and Jonas climbed a kopi to do some scouting I stayed behind and talked to Ulf. He told a lot of great stories including one about when he was younger knowing the driver of the German WWI fighter pilot the Red Baron.
The wind was blowing stiffly and the springbok were all hunkered down for protection. The blowing wind interfered with their ability to hear danger coming. We were only able to spot two small groups, the first was all female and the second mixed. The mixed group had two young bucks with small horns so I decided to pass and let them grow up. Just before lunch and the wind showed no signs of letting up, we decided that the chances of finding game were better if we went back to the lodge and looked for more gemsbok or zebra.
After lunch Johann, Jonas, and I went to look for a gemsbok for the pot and mountain zebra. We saw lots of kudu cows with young and a few bulls. Some of the bulls were young and quiet a few had the potential to be great trophies in a year or two. The gemsbok were scarce and the zebra were non existent. We saw a few gemsbok that would fit the bill but the light was fading fast and they were determined not to cooperate so we headed back to the lodge. As this was to be my last night in camp I wanted to enjoy the fire and the conversation.
After getting back to camp I cleaned up a little and headed to the fire pit for a brandy and coke. Johann had me hooked on this nasty sounding drink but it was fast becoming a favorite way to wash the days dust out of my throat. All too soon it was time for dinner and into the main lodge we went. The main course was a gemsbok stroganoff that made me forget about the fire pit, and that was followed by a lemon meringue pie type of desert. Johann decides that we need to head out extra early so we can get up high and try and spot some zebra. That and the fact that I need to do a little packing in order to hunt longer tomorrow convinces me to turn early.
5:15 am comes all too early but I manage to make to breakfast before 6:00 am. I decide on coffee and cereal so that I can stock up on carbs because I know the day will bring lots of walking and climbing. Johan, Jonas, Buise, and I head to the top of Tualuka. We drive up an incredibly steep grade with the trusty hunting truck grinding away in 4wd low. After about a 20 minute ride I was looking down on the valley floor that is just starting to come to life. I can see the small specks that I know are kudu and gemsbok, but I was desperately looking for zebra. I turned back to the front and expected to see a road dropping back down to another valley, but instead we were on what I can best describe as a plateau. There are the tops of koppies around the edges are nooks and draws that should hold mountain zebra. Johann wound his way thru a narrow twisting road that is full of dips and switchbacks. We were soon at the edge of one of those koppies and it was made up of some of the largest boulders I had ever seen. My ankles start to ache just thinking about climbing it. Johann was either psychic or he just knows me to well because he tells me to stay put while he and the others do some scouting. He then grins and said “by the way, if the elephants came back just shout out or climb that pile of boulders over there”. I thought elephants? What? Where? I then looked around and noticed the tracks and droppings that were literally everywhere. There must have been an elephant party here in the not too recent past. After I came to my senses I turned back around to ask Johann for clarification but since he is half mountain goat he was already half way up. Oh well hopefully the elephants were sleeping in this morning.
Buise soon returned for me. They had heard some zebra but had not yet seen them. I don’t have to go to the top but Johann wants me closer just in case. When I got around the first kopi Jonas was waiting for us, the zebra were on the move and Johann had already come down one kopi and was up another one. After about 20 minutes Johann came down and informed us that the zebra had moved off and down into a narrow draw and that a successful stalk would be all but impossible. We repeated this process several times during the rest of the morning, all except the hearing (or seeing) the zebra part. The only other thing that I did not hear was the helicopter that must have come in and airlifted all of the zebra out of the area. There were no zebra to be found anywhere.
We would travel back to the Omuzire camp tonight so that we would not have such a long drive to the airport on departure day and we headed back. It took almost an hour to get back to the lodge; the size of this property was absolutely immense.
We got back to the lodge and had a quick bit of lunch and loaded the vehicles. It was hard to leave this little bit of paradise tucked away in the mountains of Africa. At least my last night will be in the place that made me fall in love with this country last year.
Johann and I followed Vera, Jonas and Zoë back to camp the drive passed quickly as we were already planning our next adventures together. When we got there Johann and I unloaded and Vera whipped up a great dinner in no time. We took our time at dinner and around the fire pit afterwards, it was nice just the three of us remembering the events of the last twelve days and even the year before. We even made plans to get together if they get to the U.S. for a trade show. I might not have large game in my back yard but I have some pretty good bird dogs for quail and know where to find some ducks at the outer banks. Tomorrow I would make the drive back to Windhoek and climb aboard an airplane to go home. The best I could hope for would be able to catch a few winks to break up the long trip and maybe, just maybe dream of the next time I would be stalking thru the bush looking for adventure.