Namibia (Caprivi): 2014
From Broomsticks to Buffalo
by Roger Wiltz
“Doug, take him!” snapped professional hunter Karel Grunschloss, “and remember the broomstick!” Doug Koupal eyed the approaching bull elephant as it closed the distance between them, and brought his rifle up to the off-hand position. “The broomstick” had been a discussion item during the previous two days of elephant hunting, when numerous elephants had been encountered and discussed. If the elephant is facing you, place an imaginary broom handle across the tops of both eyes. Then put the bullet directly between the eyes and just above the broomstick…
It was the third morning of Doug Koupal’s trophy elephant hunt in the Kwandu Conservancy in Namibia’s Caprivi Strip (now known as the Zambezi Region). It was a hunt he had booked for August of 2014 with Jamy Traut Hunting Safaris. The first two days of the hunt had been spent watching elephants, studying their behavior, and developing a plan.
Karel “Kabous” Grunschloss, Bristow the tracker, and Gift, the government game scout, had set out that morning along the Kwando River. They hunted into a barely perceptible breeze as they stepped cautiously through the stressed Namibian habitat. The elephants had already depleted much of the flora on the Botswana side of the Kwando. The hunting party had gone perhaps three miles when they began to hear squeals and trumpeting ahead, every indication of an elephant quarrel in progress.
As an approaching bull rumbled toward them through the intermittent bush that dotted the floodplain, the elephant didn’t see the partially concealed party of four behind a lone tree. When the bull closed the distance to 15 yards, Doug aimed and fired, sending a 400-grain solid from his .411 caliber bolt-action through the animal’s head. The big tusker’s hind legs folded under him as his trunk rose skyward, indicating a perfect brain shot – the slug had passed through 18 inches of skin, muscle, and bone. Doug scurried to a position behind the elephant and put a second slug between its ears. A final shot went into the spine. 15,000 pounds of bull elephant lay dead on the ground. It was 7:30 a.m.
Within minutes of the rifle shots, meat-craving locals bringing pails, dishpans, and homemade knives, began to assemble at the scene. Karel ordered the growing crowd to wait until the skinners, who hadn’t yet arrived, had done their work. By 8:00 that evening, nothing remained but bone.
By choosing the Kwandu trophy option, Doug’s pair of 60 pound tusks could be legally exported to his South Dakota home. Had he chosen a non-trophy hunt, the ivory would become the property of the conservancy, and the only part of the elephant he could have kept would be its tail. Now, the ivory, along with the elephant’s right ear, a near duplicate outline of the African continent, would someday grace the Koupal trophy room.
Doug had four more days to hunt before they broke elephant camp, so they headed down the Chobe River for Cape Buffalo camp, and hoping to have time to take both a crocodile and a leopard. Though they set leopard baits and checked for feeding activity, leopard sign was all but nonexistent. None of the baits had been hit. Crocodile became the primary quarry, and an aluminum outboard motor boat was now their principal means of transportation.
Karel located “slides,” places where crocodiles had slid down the bank into the water. Pre-measured reeds were placed on the slide areas so crocodile length could be estimated. Blinds were built across from active slides. They tried baiting crocs with elephant trunk and blood. Locals were asked where they had seen big crocs. The closest Doug came to taking a big croc was a shot at a skull and eyes protruding just above the waterline. His shot was high.
They had previously seen a large herd of red lechwe as they rounded a river bend. Doug hadn’t considered one, but Karel told him that he couldn’t believe the size of a ram he had spotted. “You can’t pass this up!” As they approached the herd, the lechwe appeared to run on the water surface with their large splayed hooves! The men exited the boat on the nearside shore and made a stalk through ankle-deep water. From cross-sticks Doug dropped the record-book lechwe with a single shot from his Ruger #1 in .308 Winchester caliber.
Meanwhile, six months earlier, Doug and I had booked our Namibian hunt with Jamy Traut Safaris during the 2014 Safari Club International Expo in Las Vegas. Although we wanted to travel to and from Africa and spend some camp time together, our hunts would be different – partly because of cost, and partly because my debilitating tremor made dangerous-game hunting prohibitive.
Other than wanting a good springbok as well as upgrading the red hartebeest I had taken on a 2007 Namibia hunt, I had tiger fish in the back of my mind. Jamy said my hunt could be kept affordable by hunting camp meat and non-trophy animals, and my friend Jim Paulson of Mitchell, SD joined us for plains game.
Jamy met us Windhoek’s Hosea Kutako International Airport, and we spent the night at House on Olaf Palme, a very comfortable B&B – also the Traut’s home. In the morning Doug flew to Katima Mulilo for his elephant, and Jamy drove Jim and me to his Panorama camp where he would guide me for the next seven days. Jim’s PH was Donnie Botha, a talented hunter and gentleman who was great fun to be around.
The Panorama Ranch lay in a game paradise 90 minutes’ drive southwest of Windhoek. Bleak and desolate mountain ranges separated the broad expanses of red sand dunes, camel thorn trees, scrub brush, native grasses, and rocky outcrops. Springbok, unhampered by high fences, bounced across the trail at every turn. The desert was alive! The winter night-time temperatures hovered around freezing, while day time temps reached the eighties.
Jim, my eighty-year-old partner, shot well – a red hartebeest, blesbok, kudu, waterbuck, springbok, gemsbok, Burchell’s zebra, and blue wildebeest. If my hunt was stressful for Jamy Traut, it didn’t show. Apropos my tremor, I had explained to Jamy prior to the hunt that I was the only one who knew whether or not I should touch the set trigger on my bolt-action Steyr-Mannlicher .30-06 carbine. I would need a rock-solid rest such as a tree limb, and if I never fired a shot during my hunt, I could go home happy.
On my first morning, Jamy and I headed into the wind in an area of thigh-high grass and numerous trees, moving as quietly as possible with Jamy using hand signals to communicate. Perhaps a half-mile later, Jamy held up two fingers. He mouthed “springbok” and pointed to a tree in front of me that had a chest-high branch parallel to the ground.
Minutes later two springbok rams moved into view. Jamy flashed a thumbs-up! With my rifle snuggled into the fork of the branch, I dropped the larger ram. Jamy pointed at the second one and wiggled his trigger finger. The second “camp meat” ram was down. In the end I took five animals, including a gold-medal springbok. None were lost, and each was taken after a fair-chase stalk on foot and hands and knees.
On Day 8, we flew to Katima Mulilo, Namibia’s most northeastern point and the east end of the Caprivi Strip and were met by Doug and his PH, Karel “Kabous” Grunschloss. After a fine lunch, Karel drove us to Camp Chobe, a comfortable tourist lodge on the bank of the Chobe River. From the open-air restaurant deck that evening, we saw herds of elephant across the Chobe, and later heard the deep guttural sounds of a lion. The next morning we would cruise down the Chobe for Cape Buffalo Camp and a crack at tiger fish.
It was a highlight, with different waterfowl, mile-long herds of Burchell’s zebra, and impala herds dotting the banks. As the river widened, we began to see hippo, elephant, and Cape buffalo. Crocodiles skittered from the banks as we cruised past.
We pulled up to a tented camp on the sandy bank of a Chobe inlet, home for the next three days.
As Karel and Doug prepared to embark on their buffalo quest, Jim and I were met by our fishing guide, JG Gericke. Jim and I had two-piece spinning rods in our gun cases, and lures and reels in our luggage bags. From JG’s boat we spent most of our fishing time trolling brightly-colored lures up and down the numerous channels for tiger. Strikes were vicious, and 90% of the time the tigers threw the lure on their first jump. While our Chobe tigers averaged one to four pounds, we sometimes had bigger fish.
Doug’s Cape buffalo hunt nearly ended in tragedy. The party included Karel and Chris – the required government game scout, Cassius the tracker, and Doug. They were hunting in open expanses of knee-deep water that concealed much deeper water through the main channels. Tall reeds blocked the horizon in all directions. The area was also home to elephants, crocodiles, and domestic cattle.
On their first full morning of hunting, the men spotted a grazing herd of 20-25 buffalo a mile away. They left the boat and began a two-mile trek that would circumvent the buffalo and put the light breeze in their favor. All went well until they came to a channel too deep to wade and too foolhardy to swim. Luck was with them as they spotted a mokoro (a dugout canoe) tucked into the tall reeds. One at a time the men were deftly poled across the 60-foot expanse by Cassius.
Cautiously they continued for a half-mile until Karel signaled a halt. The herd was grazing peacefully 65 yards out, and a bull with a very impressive boss was broadside and isolated from the rest. Karel whispered to Doug, “Take that one!” as he set up the sticks and stepped aside.
When he was comfortable, Doug squeezed off a shot that delivered a crashing blow to the buff’s left shoulder with his .411 caliber Winchester .458 wildcat. The buff reeled to his right, staggered, and headed straight away toward the reeds. Doug sent a second shot directly up the bull’s rear end, hearing the telltale whumpf as the tall reeds enveloped the buff. Doug felt the shots were good.
The herd, mostly cows, had gone to the left at the first shot. Now they were 150 yards out and looking back. Karel put his hat over the end of his rifle barrel and raised it into the air as he yelled and whistled, and the herd retreated into the high reeds.
Karel called for a 20-minute break before trailing the wounded bull. He hoped they would hear a death moan or bellow, a sure sign that old nyati was dead. But nothing. They would have to follow the old buff into his own lair where he would wait in ambush… if he were still alive.
The men lined up – first PH Karel, then Doug, Cassius, and Chris. Ankle-deep water had swallowed any possible tracks. The men came to a chunk of lung tissue floating on the water – surely a good sign. They continued with new confidence. Karel strained to peer into the reeds ahead, and threw up his rifle and fired at a fading black silhouette of hind quarters and testicles he had glimpsed for a millisecond. The sound of a large animal or animals running, splashing ahead, gradually faded after the rifle shot. They continued.
Suddenly, without warning, an adult cow buffalo, head down, charged PH Karel from his immediate left! She might have been eight feet away when her head and horns appeared. He fired into the back of her lowered head, breaking her neck and severing the cortex. The buff piled up against his legs. “Let’s get the hell outa’ here!” cried Karel.
They returned the following days to salvage the cow meat and look for the bull, but found nothing. They hoped to see vultures, but vultures need to see their prey. We left the Caprivi without Doug’s buffalo. Jamy Traut offered a significant reward for the bull in an area ravaged by poverty, and weeks later Doug received an email with a photo of his Cape buffalo skull.
On our last day and a half we hunted in the desert. Doug took a record-book sable, and book quality blue and black wildebeests. Jim added an ostrich to his collection. I hunted sand grouse near a waterhole, but cooler, damp weather affected the flight paths.
Doug’s elephant trophy, buffalo skull, and lechwe were quarantined in a Katima Mulilo locker for almost two years for alleged foot and mouth disease, till released to his Namibian taxidermist. It was in August 2016 that he finally received his Caprivi trophies.
Born in 1942, Roger spent his working years in South Dakota public schools as teacher, coach, administrator, and guidance counselor. He and his wife of 52 years have three married daughters and six grandchildren. An avid hunter-fisherman from his earliest years, Roger has penned an outdoor column, Rog’s Rod & Nimrod, for the past 45 years. Hunting trips have brought Roger to Africa, Alaska, Alberta, the Arctic, Argentina, British Columbia, New Zealand, and Newfoundland, often with Betsy and friends. They have endeavored, notably in Africa, to see the country rather than limit their adventures to round trips to hunting camps.