A Namibian Eland – a father daughter hunt
By Sydney Pendergast
At the age of thirteen I killed my first elk. That cold November morning, which I remember clearly, began a new, lifelong love for hunting and the outdoors, a “hunting bug” fueled by my father who has enjoyed hunting here in our home state of Montana for over 37 years. His lifelong dream was to take a hunting trip to Africa, and as my senior year of high school came to a close, his lifelong dream would become a reality.
After months of careful planning, we took a father daughter trip to Namibia, to spend eight days hunting with Jamy Traut Safaris. We got on a plane in Montana, and within 24 hours were on the other side of the world. In many ways, I had no idea what to expect. When we met our guide Jaco, he suggested we each make a list of the animals we would most like to hunt. I was open-minded, since we were unsure of what we would see and what we would have the opportunity to hunt. However, when we arrived at our camp and were relaxing in the lodge, I got a better idea of what would interest me – I noticed an iPad set up with a slideshow of some of the impressive trophy animals taken by other clients. I became particularly intrigued with pictures of a massive yellowish animal. Jaco told me that it was an eland. After watching the slideshow several times, and focusing on the eland, I decided that that was what I wanted most to hunt.
It was the fourth day of my hunting trip in Namibia. Eland are the largest antelope in Africa, and I thought that their size would make them easy to spot, but the old bull that we had been hunting had proved to be difficult. Two days previously my father and I shot two animals each – a hartebeest and a gemsbok for me, and a wildebeest and a springbok for him. We felt very blessed to have been able to come to Namibia and experience such great hunting, hunting vastly different from anything that we would experience at home.
We had searched for a specific eland bull an entire day without sight of him, but were lucky enough to run into some giraffe. In Namibia, at least at Panorama Camp, it seems almost impossible to go out hunting without seeing such varied wildlife and so much of it.
We start our eland hunt today. Everyone has a good feeling about it. Panda, a brilliant tracker, keeps an eye out for eland tracks at one of the waterholes where we had started bright and early following an eland herd. From the spoor, Panda points out that there is a large bull, the bull that we have been searching for. It is impressive to watch Panda and Stephanis tracking. They know which tracks are from what species and how long ago they were made. They have no problem identifying and following those of the large bull, in spite of the countless tracks from different animals all crisscrossing the trail.
We end up walking quietly along for two or three hours, me wondering what is in store. The eland, because of their size, can travel a great distance in no time at all, and it is obvious that we are far behind. If they do not stop, we won’t be able to find them. Soon the sun is blazing down, and I am sweating, pestered by a fly, its persistent buzzing the only sound apart from our soft footfalls in the red sand. Suddenly, Jaco spots something. We strain to see, peering through our binoculars, and Panda climbs a tree for a better view. We finally see a herd on a sand dune very far away, and decide to take the truck to get closer, and then realize that it is the very herd we have been seeking. The bull is with them!
As soon as we got close enough we began our stalk. There were several eland visible, standing on the top of a sand dune near some trees. We had some cover from trees and small bushes, but there was also a lot of open space. We would have to crawl a long way to get close enough to them, while using the scarce cover to avoid being spotted.
As we began to approach, walking hunched over at first, we realized that there was a lone gemsbok standing under a tree between us and the eland. He stared at us before deciding to run off, fortunately heading away from the herd. We were all relieved – he could so easily have spoilt our hunt. We continued, moving very slowly, and at noon we decided to sit under a bush and wait, hoping that during the hot part of the day, the eland would relax and settle.
I lay back on the prickly African grass trying to calm down. I had sore knees and aching back, and several cuts on my hands from crawling through the bush. I was nervous, but the sun on my face and the peaceful silence helped me unwind. Hunting takes much patience. Finally, after moving along again slowly for a half an hour, we settled behind a bush around 240 yards away from our target. We couldn’t get much closer without being spotted.
Jaco set up a tripod, and I put my gun on it, kneeling for the shot. The bull was massive, with very worn-down horns and a face that had become bluish-gray with age. He stood broadside, then moved behind a tree before I could get a shot. He makes me wait. There was a cow in front of him, and another lying in the shade of a tree 30 yards to his right. The hot sun is in my eyes, and I was covered in a thin layer of sweat and dust. I took some deep breaths and readied myself, waiting to get a good shot.
Through the scope I watched him stand on his hind legs to pick some leaves off a tree. It seemed like ages. Finally, he is in my crosshairs; the bright afternoon sunlight is shining on my scope. I stop breathing. Time seemed to slow down as I squeezed the trigger. I heard the sound that I was hoping for, as my bullet hit him solidly. He disappeared over the sand dune with the rest of the herd. By the time they made it to the other side, we were on the top of the dune with guns ready. He was weakening fast, and the rest of the eland were moving steadily away. Finally, he just stopped, I shot once more, and he fell. The one that we had been searching for was dead at my feet. A picture cannot do such a powerful animal justice. As we took photos in the hot Namibian sun, I once again felt truly blessed to be able to experience such a trip. I could not have been happier with the hunt.
That day, and for the rest of my safari at the Panorama Camp, I was reminded again and again of the impressive beauty and power of nature. In Namibia, a hunter can experience an adventure that is truly unparalleled. Each hunt was a fulfilling experience for both of us. Over our eight days I took a hartebeest, a gemsbok, an eland, and a waterbuck. My father got a black wildebeest, a hartebeest, a gemsbok, a kudu, and even an ostrich. He also had time to bowhunt, taking two springbok with a recurve.
But it was not just the trophies that made our safari so special. On the first day we had met a group of strangers – by the end of the week our hosts felt like family. We spent our days hunting with Jaco and Stefanis. At night we gathered around the dinner table, eating and talking for hours with the family and friends, exchanging stories, getting to know each other more and more.
It was difficult to say goodbye. On our last day in Namibia, we promised all the special people we had met that we would return someday. Although we live halfway across the world, we had started to feel at home hunting on the plains of Namibia. We dream of going back someday, as soon as possible. As I look back on my trip to Africa, I am thankful to have been fortunate enough to have had such a wonderful experience. I hope that one day soon my father and I will have another chance to watch the sunset in Namibia.
Sydney is currently a pre-pharmacy major at the University of Montana in Missoula MT. Along with hunting, she enjoys lifting weights, skiing, and (sometimes) going running. She likes to read books and also spend time with friends she made in college. When she graduates from college, Sydney hopes to take her Dad on a trip back to Namibia to celebrate!