Sharp Eyes: Springbok, Impala – and a Bushman!

Sharp Eyes: Springbok, Impala – and a Bushman! by Archie Landals

I am sitting at my computer on a cold Canadian winter’s day trying to recall every minute of our first African hunt. I am inspired by the pictures of our African adventures that adorn the walls, and refer to details from the journal and photo book from our first hunting adventure. That was six years ago…

My wife Carole and I had been on photo safari in Namibia with Louw van Zyl, owner of Track a Trail Safaris as our tour guide. Springbok and impala were the most common animals we saw, and the beautiful markings of these small antelope really inspired us to have them as our first trophies in our living room. Because they were so abundant we assumed we could find a hunting package that included both, and we wanted to hunt with Louw as our PH.

Impala, kudu, gemsbok and warthog were included in Louw’s standard package, but not springbok. Springbok had not been available on the property for several years previously as cheetah were getting under the game fence and had decimated the population. However,

Stephan Jacobs, PH and owner of Aandster Farm where my brother Duane and I would hunt, told Louw we could take a couple of springbok rams for the trophy price or exchange one of the animals in the package. The problem was remedied!

After being close to many fine springbok and impala rams in Etosha National Park we assumed it would be easy to bag trophies of both. We were in for a surprise! Unlike the animals in Etosha that are undisturbed along the roads and at the waterholes, springbok and impala are extremely wary in areas where they are hunted. It took a lot of spotting and careful stalking to get within range, because both species favour open grassland habitats and depend on their exceptional eyesight to avoid predators. Pronghorn in the southern part of Alberta, Canada are reputed to have eyesight equivalent to a person with ten power binoculars. After spending a week trying to get close to springbok and impala, I am convinced that their eyesight is as good!

Aandster Farm in northeastern Namibia is an area of ancient, low-relief sand dunes that have been stabilised for centuries.  Much of the land is forested with small trees and dense, thorny scrub.  A few old cultivated fields have reverted to open grassland savanna which is maintained in places by periodic burning.

Hunting at Aandster was a thrill. Whether it was spot and stalk in the hunt for springbok and impala, or following Joseph, our gifted Bushman tracker looking for kudu and gemsbok in the thick bush, it was always a challenge.

Much time was spent following Joseph as we hunted kudu in the thick bush. I glassed the open areas with my Bushnell Custom Compact binoculars, and mostly saw springbok and impala. Often their eyes were upon us as we looked at them! But the slightest movement from us had them on the move.  Both species, particularly the older rams stayed well away from cover, and wind direction was a problem – on our first attempts we either ran out of cover or were betrayed by a shifting breeze.

Then our luck improved. A small group of springbok with one good ram grazed some distance from the main herd. They looked close enough to the edge of the field to attempt a shot if we were successful with a stalk. We drove about four miles, parked a mile downwind, and began a stalk through the bush. Keeping to the thick cover we got within about 500 yards. From there it was a cautious sneak from one clump of brush to the next every time the herd faced away. At 280 yards, cover was running out, so Louw got me on the shooting sticks.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“It’s a very small target at that distance,” I said.

Gambling on one final sneak we managed to get behind the last shrub, but were still 240 yards away. It was either try a shot or forget it. Back on the sticks I peered through the scope of the .300 Winchester Magnum, following the ram, watching for an open shot. He was always surrounded by ewes and smaller animals. At one point he lay down behind a tree with only his rump showing. I was on the sticks for about twenty minutes, but it seemed like an eternity.

While the ram was behind the tree I started shaking so badly that I could not keep the crosshairs on him. I raised my head and took a few deep breaths. Whether I had buck fever or simply could not hold the rifle steady for that long, I do not know. (Almost 60 years ago when I shot my first Canada Goose I definitely had buck fever, but not until after the shooting was over! I still remember hunkering back in the blind with my goose by my side. I was happy but shaking so badly that if another flock had come within range I would have had trouble holding my shotgun. Some memories of magical moments last forever.)

Finally, the ram stood up. With my PH, tracker and my brother for an audience, the pressure was on.

“Make sure the ram is clear of the ewes before you shoot,” Louw kept saying.  “Allow an inch for the distance and an inch to the right for wind,” he advised. “The kill zone of a springbok is the size of a saucer.”

At 240 yards I was not convinced I could hit that, let alone by adjusting an inch.  You cannot believe the relief I felt when I squeezed the trigger and heard the bullet hit. The ram tried to run with the others, but dropped after eighty yards. With the grassland savanna and a clear Namibian sky as a backdrop I happily posed with my trophy.

A few days later as we casually watched giraffe and a herd of eland from a tree stand, springbok appeared in a burned area a long way off. On the chance that there might be a good ram, my brother and Louw started a long stalk, and I followed far behind. Duane dropped a nice ram with one shot. The springbok has a patch of long white hairs concealed in the brown hair along the back, and when they are alarmed, the white hairs stand erect. Sometimes these hairs lift for a few minutes after an animal dies, and we captured that on photos.

Hunting two on one with Louw, it was my brother’s turn to carry the rifle when we spotted a herd of impala with a good ram.  Once more, a long drive got us downwind, and our stalk through open woodland had fair visibility but still plenty of cover.  Out of nowhere, impala were suddenly bounding though the bush. We dropped to the ground hoping to be less conspicuous, but I thought the impala had scented us and that was the end of this stalk. But soon the herd was bounding back the other way, only to turn around and repeat the performance. It was just the youngsters playing – what a thrilling sight. Then Louw pointed out a good ram walking toward us, and Duane made a great kneeling shot as it angled away.

It was day six before I got a chance at an impala. Tracking kudu through thick Kalahari Apple-leaf trees we came to the edge of an open field.  As the afternoon shadows lengthened we spotted impala grazing with a herd of blue wildebeest far across the field, and Joseph’s sharp eyes picked out a good ram that I could not see!

A long circular stalk of more than a mile got us downwind on the other side of the field. Carefully peeking through the last cover, Louw pointed out the fine ram in the middle of the wildebeest. It was walking slowly, grazing, and with its head down only the top of its back was visible over the low shrub.

I was on the sticks following the impala through the scope and hoping for a shot where I would avoid hitting a wildebeest. After a few minutes, there were no animals behind, but the two in front prevented a shot. Finally, one of the wildebeest moved enough so I could see the spine of the impala just behind the front shoulder. I squeezed the trigger and he dropped on the spot. Louw radioed for the truck and we set up my trophy impala for a few quick photos as the light faded.

Aandster is a great place for those wishing to experience rural life in a remote part of Namibia. Grootfontein, the nearest town is about a two-hour drive. The farm and lodge are totally off grid. Hot water is provided by wood-fired boilers. Lights and freezers run on solar power. Seven native families live and work on the game farm and tend livestock on the adjoining Aandster properties. The native staff from the skinning shed also worked in the machine shop helping to maintain and repair heavy equipment – self-sufficiency is essential when you live that far from services, and everyone learns to be a jack of all trades. Home schooling is the norm for younger children.  Those in the upper grades spend the week in Grootfontein and come home for the weekend.

Carole and I had our own private cabin with all the amenities, and evening routine was sipping a glass of Amarula and ice while Louw cooked steaks on the open fire. It was a treat to eat what we shot, blue wildebeest being our favorite.

And now, Africa beckons once more. Carole and I are planning our fifth trip.

Retired after 40 years in parks and conservation, the author has hunted for as long as he can remember. He has hunted across his native Alberta, Canada as well as New Zealand, Namibia, South Africa, the western United States and the Canadian Arctic. In 2013 he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work in conservation. Along with his wife Carole he spends a lot of time in their rustic cabin enjoying the solitude of the Boreal Forest

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