The Old Man and the Young One in Africa
“We were headed home, on a cold November night – deer–hunting weather.”
My 10-year old grandson, Isaac, and I stopped at our usual restaurant. The only restaurant, in fact. The same waitress, same owners, same menu and order: toasted cheese sandwiches with a cold drink. Where I’d grown up hadn’t changed much since I’d left. I own timberland there and Isaac and I hunt would it after school. We’d talk about places I’d hunted other than in my home state, Maine – Quebec, Labrador, Alaska – and how I’d always hoped to hunt Africa, but how it already seemed too late. I remember when Isaac said to me, “When I grow up, we’ll go to Africa.”
There’d been many hunts since his promise: black bear, red stag, birds and boar, leading one day, to a conversation I’d never thought we’d have… As we discussed the cost of an elk hunt, I mentioned the great hunters of Africa. Isaac cut me off and asked: “What about Africa, instead, Gramps?” Twelve years later, the jet touched down in Windhoek.
After clearing security with our rifles, PH Pieter de Lange met us outside the terminal with a sign reading “Omujeve Safaris Welcomes Isaac Davis.” The dream had started.
I can never describe the thrill of motoring the deserted miles of Namibia to Omujeve Lodge, north-east of Windhoek – the semi-arid landscape, with red rock disturbances rising from the bushy plains. We saw groups of baboons scurrying along the roadside and our excitement increased.
“Omujeve” read across the rock piers of the lodge’s entrance, with the Namibian and U.S. national flags flying alongside the gateway. Including their own land, Omujeve hunts on over 1.5 million acres. In addition to their PHs, important members of their hunting staff include the Jack Russell and other terrier trackers, Milo, Snippy, Max and Brutus.
We’d flown for 10 hours through the night, so we freshened up, ate breakfast, and rode with Pieter and our tracker, Kabilah, to try our rifles and ensure the scopes had not been jarred or misaligned on the flights. A group of springbok milled around while we test-fired. Then we cruised around to acquaint ourselves with the landscape in which we’d be hunting. After lunch at the lodge, we started the hunt. I’d already insisted that Isaac take the first trophy animal.
A herd of blue wildebeest harboring a potential mature bull was selected. Isaac and Pieter left the vehicle, Pieter with the shooting sticks, Isaac with his .300 Ruger Compact Magnum. Later, Kabilah and I heard the shot, then the call from Pieter, by two-way, saying the animal was down and directing Kabilah to drive to the kill: a mature, blue wildebeest bull. After pictures and loading, we returned to the lodge.
I’d been hunting for 71 years – my mother had started me hunting when I was nine years old. Although I’d shot many whitetails, and seen the large herds of caribou in Quebec, Labrador, the Yukon Territory, and Alaska,I saw more wild animals that first day in Africa than ever in my entire life.
The next morning started with a short drive to a local farmer’s property, where we were given permission to hunt. I’d planned to take a warthog, but after observing herds of red hartebeest and spotting a large bull, I said to Isaac, “Why don’t I choose one of those?”
We stepped down from our perch atop the truck, Pieter with the shooting sticks, and me with my custom Borden .300 Winchester Magnum, to start the stalk. When Pieter set the shooting sticks, I settled the forearm of the rifle in place, took a sight picture, and fired. The animal took the hit and disappeared into the bush. Kabilah took the track and in a short distance found the hartebeest lying dead. My first kill in Africa – a dream come true.
The next morning Isaac took a beautiful gemsbok, after a hard, long stalk. But after trekking across plains and over steep hills, the big bull was finally his.
We spent the rest of the morning cruising, scouting, and being inspired by this rich, raw, uplifting land, enjoying ourselves with no sense of urgency. Pieter explained much to us about animal behavior, based on the science of etiology, or the study of why things occur, such as why kudu have a rutting season, while oryx mate year around.
We saw the huge webs of the golden orb spiders, and heard kori bustards fly overhead, sounding like a flying erector set. This country is a bird watcher’s paradise, from the ostriches to the sunbirds.
Next was Isaac’s quest was for the Grey Ghost of Africa, whose horns curve upward forming a barrel which, it is said, allows them to observe the tips of the horns while fighting. As the sky pinkened and darkness approached, we took photos of Isaac’s kudu and the old blue wildebeest bull I’d killed that day, then delivered the animals to the skinners and meat locker.
Isaac wanted a warthog, and me an oryx and my own kudu. The next daywe saw many springbok, impala, blesbok, steenbok, giraffes, and fleeing warthogs, and a group of oryx cows with a very presentable bull.
After two stalks over the arid ground covered with thorn bushes and rocks, from the size of a thumbnail to a loaf of bread, the third stalk gave me a quick but fair chance to shoot. The Jewel Trigger reacts with very little pressure, and is easy and quick. Once the sight picture is on target, you only have to lightly release the trigger; there’s no chance to correct the picture, which is usually the best. I now had a truly beautiful oryx.
We saw both warthog and kudu, but none worth collecting. After glassing many kudu, Pieter said there was a very old bull with another group. He jumped to the ground with the shooting sticks, and I followed with my .300, loaded with 165-grain Hornady SST ammunition.
Three times the sticks were set up, but each time I couldn’t get a good sight picture. Finally, the bull started up out of a ravine with three cows. He stopped behind a bush, quartering uphill and away from me. I had to shoot down from the upward slope across from the bull.
Pieter said, “You only can see his horns, back of his head, and some neck. Shoot through the bush into his vitals.” After a second of aim, I touched the trigger. The kudu made one lunge forward and collapsed. Upon examination he was a very old animal with teeth worn almost completely down.
The next day Isaac made a perfect running shot on an exceptional warthog, using 165-grain Hornady GMX ammunition. He dropped instantly. His left tusk was worn down slightly, but his right tusk was one of the largest taken there to date. Isaac said, “He’s left-handed, like me.”
We’d collected all the animals we’d desired. Now it was time to relax. We visited with Pieter’s family in Windhoek, had a great steak, shopped the neat and well-organized street where local hand-crafted wares are sold, visited the private game sanctuary Erindi, where we saw every kind of plains game, and lionesses with their cubs, and enjoyed a classic safari picnic. We saw rhinos, hippos, two male lions lounging by a waterhole, brown hyenas, crocodiles, elephants, and the unusual weaverbird nests that can house up to 500 birds.
Back home now, I often think often of those colorful landscapes and African sights – a land of beauty beyond description. So diverse, the bushveld, the worn-down mountains, the people, the trackers who seem to follow unseen tracks.
I think of the thrill of seeing a large African animal just a short distance away, starring as you move around the thorn bushes, and then gracefully leaping, trotting or galloping away and out of sight.
Bio: Clayton Davis grew up in Maine and has hunted and fished the state extensively, as well as Canada and Alaska.