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A NAMIBIAN SAFARI JOURNAL

Updated: Aug 8, 2019


My personal preference when looking at an international hunting destination is to find places that have a different experience to offer. I consider myself an adventure hunter rather than, and I hate the term, trophy hunter. I hunt for adventure rather than trophies, the animals that are displayed in my room are snippets of the successful adventures gone by and a reminder of the wonderful animal that challenged my ability as a hunter. Regardless of whether the hunt or stalk was successful or not, and there is a lot of unsuccessful ones, there has been one constant, the experience. As time goes by I find myself more alert to the journey and moments that lead to success than the success itself.

CHOOSING NAMIBIA AS A HUNTING DESTINATION


Namibia is a country that has fast become a destination for the modern hunter to experience an authentic African safari. In the early days hunters explored areas such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. Namibia was often overlooked mostly due to the lack of dangerous game in some of the main hunting areas, despite there being some great dangerous game opportunities in the northern part of the country in the Caprivi strip.


Namibia comes into its own when searching for a plains game safari. The country has the modern conveniences that we have come to expect and there are some very unique hunting opportunities on offer. Since 2016 my interest in hunting Namibia peaked when researching the tiny ten after hunting one of its members the klipspringer in South Africa. The damara dik-dik is another specie of the tiny ten and he only occurs in pockets of the Namibian country side.


My research lead me to a property situated in the mountains west of Namibia’s capital city in the Khomas Hochland mountains. This 15,000Ha, rugged, operating cattle station has elevations up to 6000ft high which makes it the natural habitat for a unique genus of zebra that I haven't hunted before, the Hartmann's mountain zebra. Being a cattle farm rather than a game farm meant that the property is 100% free range and the indigenous animals will come and go throughout the year, some stay all year round but others will go where ever they wish.



I loved the fact that due to the rugged mountainous terrain, hunting is predominately undertaken on horseback and utilising traditional walk & stalk methods as it is near impossible to get a vehicle into some areas. These inaccessible areas are where horseback safaris come into their own as the horses will allow you to cover much more land. Another positive for this outfit was that the working cattle farm has been in the Schickerling family for 3 generations which means the guides have grown up there and know the property better than the animals that inhabit it.


The last box that needed to be checked to get me over the line was the opportunity to continue my tiny ten exploits. I have been interested in the Damara Dik-Dik after seeing one hunted on a DVD I bought 12 years ago but I didn’t act on it because I got caught up hunting for the massive variety of animals that South Africa has on offer in the years after watching that hunt. I found out that they had access to a concession where the dik-dik occur nearby and the success rates were fairly high there. I couldn’t resist the temptation of getting a permit and testing my skills on one of these tiny critters.


CHOOSING A TIME OF YEAR


After speaking with Johnny we decided the best time for this hunt was March. I wanted to hunt in the vast, green bush after the summer rains rather than the typical sparse grounds that imaginings of Africa can conjure up as I usually hunt Africa later in the year when the bush is dry. Once the dates were determined I booked my flights, which to my surprise were cheaper than I thought they would be. This is when the excitement started to bubble and I couldn’t stop thinking about setting foot on some new soil of Africa, I was looking forward to hunting for adventure again.


PREPARATION


I hit the gym in the months leading up to the hunt in order to get hunt fit. Although the guides told me that they could accommodate hunters that are past their peak in terms of fitness, I didn’t want my inferior fitness level to hinder my efforts in the rough and rugged mountains. I wanted to be prepared for anything that would be thrown at me. Its hard to train for something that you have never experienced before but I decided to just start. I began with some basic low intensity cardio and resistance training, slowly increasing the intensity when I felt up to it. About two months out from the trip I increased the intensity to a point where I felt like I was fit to tackle the mountains. This put me in good stead for the Khomas Hockland terrain and in better shape for life in general.


In the days leading up to the hunt I had packed my gear, unpacked it and packed again. Each time adding something or taking something out again. I try not to over pack, I like to travel light. This is particularly important when travelling with a firearm because most of your baggage allowance will be taken up with ammunition and the bang stick. Most African safaris offer daily laundry so you really don’t need to take all that much kit with you.


TRAVELLING TO AFRICA


On departure day I was dreading the fact of leaving my family for 12 days however I was so excited to be exploring again. I find leaving my little family the hardest part of the safari life, I miss those guys every second and always look forward to the hugs and kisses upon my return. The travel component to a hunt is a huge part of the adventure. Being confined in an aeroplane for what feels like eternity doesn’t sound like the most exciting prospect however the experience is what you make of it. Long lay overs can drag but I use the time to prepare mentally for what is ahead. Its also a good opportunity to research the history of the country you are travelling to.


DAY ONE


After a long journey in the air I finally arrived at Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek. The first thing I noticed as we started our decent was that the country side was as dry as a chip. My plan to see the greenery that the summer rains produce was hindered by the fact the area hadn't received a drop of rain for the season! During my research on Namibia I soon found that it is the most arid country of southern Africa so I should have expected as much!


After clearing the firearm I was met by the large smiles of Johnny and his wife Mariana. It never ceases to amaze me that the guides can maintain their excitement levels after waiting so long for us to clear customs. That waiting period must drag on! After our introductions we walked out to the land cruiser, loaded up and hit the open road toward the property. I was amazed by how small the international airport was and also the lack of traffic on the road. It was Sunday but I expected to see more hustle and bustle! After heading through the outskirts of Windhoek we hit a dirt road only 10km out of town, it felt like we had gone back to an era where time was a lot slower. Namibia has a population of around 2 million people and it shows, the place was clean, quiet and laid back. I think their moto is hakuna-matata!



Along the 80km drive from Windhoek to the property I was spoilt with some amazing sights, the mountainous country was phenomenal. My eyes were almost sore from the epic scenery. Mariana and Johnny kept us entertained on the journey and when we turned right into the property's entrance the excitement levels peaked through the fatigue of travelling such a distance. We arrived at the family home and were introduced to Johnny and Mariana’s son John-John and his wife Marika who showed me to my room, they told me to make myself at home and rest if I needed to. I unpacked my gear into the bedroom cupboard and proceeded to meet Johnny in the lounge room where he mentioned we should test the zero of the Blaser 300 win mag. The Blaser I was using was kitted out with a Swarovski Z8i with a turret system for dialing out to 500m. The rifle and scope were spot on, with light on the first day starting to fade we went for my first drive up to the top of the mountain. Both Johnny and John-John were spotting game along the way and I was struggling to get my game eyes sorted. I blamed fatigue but I also think it takes a little bit of time to become accustomed to new terrain.


As we climbed higher and higher I caught myself staring at the beautiful mountains that surrounded us. I was in awe of the Khomas Hochland, it truly did far exceeded my wildest imaginings. The tops of the mountains all seamed to be at the same level but with varying depths and steepness of gullies between the tops. There wasn’t too many flat spots. We found a nice little ridge to sit on and glass while waiting for my first Namibian sunset. Again the guys were spotting game and I was struggling to keep up, you start to feel a little silly when you cant spot a zebra on a mountain side 300m away! The jokes started flowing thick and fast but I continued with my jet lag excuse!


In the dark, we made our way back down the mountain for my first home cooked meal of the trip. I noticed that the moon was only visible by a small slither and thought to myself it will be perfect for hunting and an attempt at astro-photography. Mariana is the head cook and she serves delicious Boer food with the help of Marika. It really is a family affair, the guys opened their family home to me and treated me as part of it. The first meal and dessert got a huge tick of approval, we ate like kings and retired to bed to spend some much needed time horizontal. The night was so clear and endless stars were visible, I wanted to set up the camera to capture the starscape but I just couldn’t stay awake any longer.


DAY TWO


I was awoken by a knock at my door and a polite ‘good morning’ from John-John, I jumped out of bed with excitement. Breakfast was scrambled eggs with bacon on toast, muesli with yogurt and coffee. The plan for the day was to saddle up the horses and head out for our first horseback hunt. John-John took three bushmen trackers with him and headed up the mountain to round up the horses for us while Johnny and I loaded up the second ute with my gear and the firearm. On the way up the mountain we discussed my wish list and decided to look for a Hartmann’s mountain zebra first.


By the time we made it to the kraal John-John and the bushmen had saddled up half the horses and were busy with the remainder. I am no expert when it comes to horses and can only remember riding one once in my life which was why I felt slightly nervous but also excited. Before our ride Johnny's brief explained that the horses have two speeds, slow and stop. He said they will follow each other nicely but you need to let them know you are riding them. My horse for the day was Jack Daniels. Johnny told me Jack likes to stop mid hunt for a feed and will walk me through thornbush if he knows I'm not riding him properly.



I put my foot on the stirrup and while bushman Dios held the other side down. I pressed my right foot down and lifted my left leg over the rump of Jack to meet the stirrup on the other side. Dios helped me locate the left hand stirrup and I sat on Jack ready for action, the only problem was that I didn’t know how to make him move! I spent the time waiting for the others to mount taking in the moment, the sun was just rising, the dawn air was crisp but not cold, the suns rays had illuminated the mountainside and allowed me to see the rugged country we were about to head into. Johnny and John-John lead their horses in a south westerly direction and Jack Daniels follows without me needing to do anything. I was impressed but a little worried that I didn’t do anything to make him go, I thought to myself how do I make him stop!


While still masked by the ridge line, the leaders of our caravan jumped down off their horses when we came to the ridge where I witnessed my first Namibian sunrise. They crouched down and approached the top ever so slowly searching each visible area as they went. A sudden stop and quick retreat back to the horses made me realise that there was something of interest in the gully below. John-John explained that there was a dazzle of zebra feeding in the gully and that I should dismount and take a look with them. While I dismounted Johnny grabbed the rifle from the scabbard. We made our way to the edge and glassed the zebra to understand what they were going to do. At this stage they were over 300m away which was too far for my first shot at an animal in Namibia. I watched through my Minox 8x42 binoculars as the zebra started to get uneasy. The wind must have blown our scent down to them because they hurried over the ridge and disappeared. They weren't all that irritated but they knew something wasn’t right.


We mounted our steeds and carried on down the concealed side of the ridge to the bottom of the gully. On foot we crossed onto the face where the zebra were first spotted. The wind wasn’t perfect but an attempt was made to find the zebra that had traveled over the top earlier. As I got into a prone shooting position on top of some sharp rocks the wind hit the back of my neck and blew our chance on the herd. They meandered out to 500m and stopped as if they knew that was a safe distance.

We backed out of the shooting position and while concealed from view made a plan to ride the horses a little closer to a gully system that johnny saw zebra on over 2km away from our current position. The bushmen walked our horses to us and we slowly rode them to around 500m from where the new zebra should have been. We dismounted and started stalking on foot toward a peak of jagged rock. John-John paused and signaled to crouch and back down to conceal our silhouettes on the ridge line. Once we were out of sight he said that the zebra were actually standing between us and the jagged rocky peak where the PH’s thought we would be shooting from. The distance would be around 210m if we leopard crawled to just over the ridge line. We began crawling and I held the blaser vertical using the butt on the ground as a support not knowing that the sun glare from the barrel was causing some of the zebra to take notice of the foreign object. As we got into position I lay down on my stomach, extend the bi-pod and insert my ear plugs. The blaser 300 win mag had a muzzle brake so this was to become an important ritual over the next 10 days.


Johnny sat patiently next to me while I got settled. There was a small spindly thorn bush between us and a large bodied animal which Johnny identified as an old mare. He said she is just over 200, if you have a shot, you can take her. I adjusted the turret to 210 and when she stepped broadside into a small opening in the thorn bush I sent the lethal shot which saw her run only 40m before expiring. We lay still after the shot to allow the remaining zebra to walk off in their own time. I liked that the PH’s were aware that if they stood up they would teach the animals to run at the sight of humans, its these small actions that make you realise that you have chosen the perfect outfitter for your safari.



When checking over my first Namibian animal we noticed that the mares teeth were flat and the guys rough aged her at between 15 and 18 years old which made the moment even more perfect. The guys also pointed out the many differences between the Hartmann’s mountain zebra and the Burchell’s plains zebra, some of which I knew but most I didn’t. Before heading back for lunch we took off the saddles and let the horses out into the vast rugged country they call home. After our early success on the first hunting day we decided to rest for the afternoon and head to the highest peak to watch another beautiful sunset. We ate some very nice zebra fillet schnitzels that night for dinner.


THE HONEY HOLE


My next hunt, two days later, was again off horse back. As it was early in the hunting season we decided to only use the horses every other day to allow them to get their hunt fitness up without over working them after the off season. I wanted to witness the guys round up the horses so I took the opportunity to jump in early with John-John to get to the top of the mountain before the sun came up. The reward was a glorious Namibian sunrise that was a reddish, burnt orange color and spotting a porcupine in the vehicle head lights. I was amazed to see how quickly the guys can get the horses into the kraal, these really are well trained animals. Once Johnny arrived at the kraal we jumped onto our horse and set off on our expedition. I was on a grey/white horse named Moritz, I must have scared Jack Daniels off because the guides said he was no where to be seen that morning!



We decided to hunt some back country where there was no cattle. The boys called it the honey hole so I was pretty keen to understand why it got this nickname. We search far and wide for animals and only managed to locate a troop of baboons and some zebra. The baboon have super keen eyesight and a sixth sense as to how useless farmers think they are because we only see the male once they scoot off to a distance where I wasn’t comfortable to shoot. It was beginning to get hot and I thought that we would need to re group after lunch however on the way back to the kraal the bushman tracker Hageb located a lone gemsbok over a kilometer away.


We plan a stalk and Johnny tells us that if John-John and I can get to the second ridge from here we will be just over 200m from the animal. We walk to where we think the best position will be and sneak into a position for a shot. The range comes back at 370m. I wasn’t too comfortable at that distance so we backed out and tried another spot further down the ridge. We crawled on our hands and knees using a thorn tree as cover between us and our quarry. As I crawled along for 30m, the rocks on the ground were too hot to leave my hand on after less than 4 seconds. I'm sure it was a sight to see us trying to be stealth while coping the odd thorn in the knee and trying not to knock the rifle out of zero.


John-John got into the shade of the thorn bush and I managed a nice little rest in the beaming sun. The heat was intense and the radiant heat from the rocks made the sweat flow off me dripping into the dry soil below. I asked the range, 310m was the reply. I started to wonder what just over 200m meant. Maybe this was it. I set the turret to just past 300 and got a steady rest on the bi-pod. Sweat still dripping, I grabbed some nearby stones and propped up the rifle butt until there was little to no movement on the cross hairs. It was time to put the turret system to the test.


The bull was standing in the shade of an acacia tree facing slightly away from us. I asked if I should aim for the opposite shoulder but I wasn’t really comfortable with this shot at this distance, there wasn’t much room for error. I was glad when John-John suggested we wait for a broadside opportunity. It felt like an eternity in that blistering heat, the bull took half a step toward us which allowed a perfect broadside target. I focused hard on the hold and squeezed off the shot which disturbed the midday peace.


The bull took off down hill toward us and rounding the gully head before disappearing into the depths of the gully behind the ridge line. I wondered what just happened, the thud of a hit was heard surprisingly late after the shot blasted but it sounded solid. I kept focus on where I last saw the bull and identified a few markers so that we could pick up any spore if required. We cut through the gully that I shot over to where we last saw the gemsbok. It was pretty rough to get there but in the excitement we managed to get through it without issue. As we went over the ridge towards the markers we spotted the downed animal where he disappeared earlier. He had only run about 60m before coming to rest.


He was another old animal with battle scars and abscess’ on his shoulders. These animals fight hard and often break horns in the process. He had heavy, rubbed out horns and it was surprising that an animal this big was pushed out of the herd. One day I would love to see the youngster that managed to take over the females. We loaded the bull up and packed out for lunch taking all the meat with us. That night we dined on kudu goulash, washed down with a couple of glasses of red wine.


Hunting from horse back gave me a different perspective of Africa, atop those gorgeous mountains on a well trained animal gave me a connection to the land and our heritage. Horses have been utilised for many different tasks for centuries and riding one made me wonder if we as a race could be where we are without them.


DAY FOUR


My third Namibian hunt was again from horseback. The pre dawn routine was becoming familiar. While riding along the track toward our intended gully system John-John spotted a lone male baboon at 200m, this was not a common sight and it was one we had been hoping for. After our first sighting of fleeing baboon a few days prior, John-John mentioned that it will be ideal if we can see a lone male because he wont have the other sets of eyes to spot danger for him and will be much easier to get a shot at.


We edged forward away from the horses and lined up on the casual animal. He was meandering around without intent but with many people in our hunting party there was confusion about what animal we were planning to take. There were gemsbok nearby and people were asking if we were aiming at one of them, oblivious of the baboon that had slowly snuck into cover. John-John and I were pretty disappointed when the baboon managed to clear the ridge and the opportunity missed but we were optimistic that another chance would present itself in the following days.



We glassed some blue wildebeest in the distance and decided to take the horses back around past where we started to try for a bull in the herd. The detour took 40 minutes and upon arrival into the gully we noticed the wildebeest had actually cut around to where we were lined up on the baboon. John-John told me he wondered why the wildebeest didn’t let us know that they were going to move to the gully where we were over an hour earlier. We jumped back on the horses and took the 40 minute ride back.


We got off the horses and stalked into a position where we could assess the herd for any animals worth harvesting. From the cover of some rocks on top of a ridge line we were able to determine that there was one bull holding around 10 females with calves. The decision to take this bull was made due to the fact he was certainly mature and that he had clearly passed on his genetics to the females. It isn't always the case that the biggest bull takes the herd, often it’s the really nasty buggers that get that right.


We crawled 20m to a tree where John-John sat in the shade and I edged around to his right setting up the rifle on the bi pod. The bull was 230m away. I couldn’t find a rock nearby to prop up the rifle butt so I needed to improvise. I grabbed a dry piece of cow dung and packed out the stock until it was solid. The bull was standing on top of a ridge roughly 30m from the bedded females but he was facing us. We weren't silhouetted but he knew something was up. John-John told me to wait until the bull turned to look at his females and to aim slightly to the right of centre just where the neck meets the body.


We waited for the moment to come, the wind was blowing in our faces and dust was getting in my eyes. Just as I took my head away from the firearm to rub my eye I heard “OK now”. One opportunity missed. I lined back up and refocused on the target. The bull stood looking at us again for what seemed like an eternity. The next time the bull turned to his females I thought that he was going to turn broadside but he didn’t, he turned straight back to look at us. I thought to myself that if he looks at his females again I will be ready.


The bull stared at us again for another eternity but when he turned to his females I squeezed off the shot. I only heard the O from John-John before the shot blasted, he didn’t even have time to say the K. The bull dropped right on the spot and I reloaded waiting for him to get up. A minute or so went by and the bull didn’t move. We grabbed the horses and went to my bull. He had a very dark face and rough hard bossed horns, he was perfect. Taking this bull would give one of the bachelors a chance to take over the herd and improve the genetic pool on the property.



We drove back to the family home via the dry river bed that was supposed to have pools of water scattered throughout its length. We spotted a large tusked warthog not 50m from the vehicle and John-John and I took a moment to see if it was a boar. The first thing we noticed was that the animal was skin and bone, it didn’t want to move and looked as if it wouldn’t make too many more days into this drought. There was still a chance the property will get rain this year but not in the time this animal needed it. John-John and I jumped off the bakkie and walked toward the sow. We tried to get her to move off but she stood staring at us 20m away. John-John asked if I could end her suffering as there was no water nearby and limited food for the warthog. The mood afterward was very somber. As tourists we leave at the end of our holiday and I prefer to leave a place in better condition that when I arrive after all the guys that we are staying with need to live there after we are gone, this drought was starting to take its toll on our hosts. Dinner was gemsbok meatloaf wrapped in bacon.


DAY SIX


After taking my first Hartmann’s zebra I wanted to try for a stallion, the mares skins are better for a flat skin but the chiseled jaw on a stallion makes them a great addition to any hunters collection. John-John went up early to round up the horses and during this process noticed a group of zebra not far from the kraal. When we arrived to start our horseback hunting a plan was made to check over the zebra to see if the right stallion was among them. We walked 200m to where John-John believed them to be. I was searching on the opposite face and couldn’t locate any animals so I wondered why we needed to be in such a stealth mode as we approached the rocky shooting position. When I finally slid on my stomach and peaked over the edge I soon realised that the animals were actually below us on the face of the gully that we were on, not even 100m away. I was surprised to be so close in such big country, the Limpopo Province property that I regularly hunt has 100m shots as the norm however this place was different and I didn’t expect to be within 100m of them!


The zebra were feeding slowly to our right when John-John pointed out the stallion. He was obscured by thorn bush but there was a small shooting window if he took two more steps. With his head still down feeding, he took those steps rather quickly and as his shoulder met my cross hairs I squeezed off on the trigger. The stallion was hit hard but managed to pile down the steep gully and came to an abrupt stop when he crashed into a rough rocky outcrop near the bottom of the gully. Walking down to the zebra I noticed how large he was in the body and head. When I got close enough to see better detail, he was scared up from battle and he had opened up a cut above his eye when he fell. He was an old warrior.


I couldn’t believe that our plan had worked, its not often plans come together like this. It wasn’t even 8:30 in the morning. We even had time to get back to the horse and try for a gemsbok for my hunting companion. Without success on the gemsbok, we let the horses loose and traveled back to camp. On the way down the mountain we saw another troop of baboons walking parallel with us across the valley. They were 270m away, a large male was located and his position was described to me. I lined up as the male stepped up hill toward the top of the ridge. They seem to walk nicely along until you’re ready to shoot when they change direction and vanish over the top of the mountain. I squeezed off and he dropped at the shot. John-John said after the shot, I hope that wasn’t a head shot because many clients end up hitting them in the head! We walked up the mountain into some really steep country where the baboon lay and upon investigation the shot indeed did hit the head but because I was using a .223 the damage wasn’t severe enough to ruin the cape. I had been chasing a baboon for nearly 10 years and was over the moon to get this big old male.


DAY EIGHT


My last Namibian animal was taken by opportunity while hunting the plateau area for warthog and black wildebeest. The farm owner mentioned that he had a predator problem and his calves were being harassed in the cover of darkness. We spotted two jackal and the truck came to a sudden stop, I took aim at the closest animal and squeezed off an impossible shot through brush at a running target. I missed. The other jackal was standing still before the shot but took off soon after. I lined up on him in the open and as he slowed to see if he was safe I squeezed the shot off and hit him hard on the shoulder. We sent the hounds off on the scent and they howled only 30m ahead of us indicating they had found the jackal. In Africa its always important to stay ready, you never know what is around the corner.


THE REWARD

The reward of putting myself in such special places are often things like...... the biggest night sky you can imagine, a multitude of stars not faded by the city lights, the smell of the burning camp fire with the flickering amber glow of its flames, meeting lovely people and enriching the mind to new experiences and adventures. We ate like kings with game that came from field to fork. I carried out protein that feed the camp and the local community. I was treated like a part of the family and left Namibia forever indebted to the Schickerling family for their hospitality and generosity. Without private land owners like them allowing access to hunters we would struggle to continue living our hunting dreams.Their ethical hunting, thoughts on conservation and sound game management practices all aligned with my beliefs which made for a seamless safari experience. The horseback safaris were unbelievably rewarding and I consider myself extremely lucky to have had an experience like this. I hope that you too one day enjoy a horseback safari in the Khomas Hochland mountains of Namibia.



For an adventure of a life time contact us today safari@bushveldhuntingadventures.com 


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