Thoughts from a Namibian Hunt
By Pottie de Bruyn
As the dust settled from the departing herd, we slowly started walking to where I shot the eland bull of my dreams, and found him lying a mere 20 metres further on. Emotions and trembling hands followed. It was the culmination of six years and five trips to Eldoret Hunting in the north-east of Namibia. Although there had been close calls every year, all the previous trips resulted in either eland cows, kudu or gemsbok – but not “The Bull”.
Now that the bull was down, I concluded that I do not need to shoot another really big trophy of any animal. The hunting experience was what I was actually after. Here on Eldoret there is no such thing as spotting and stalking. You drive fencelines until the San tracker sees a spoor worth tracking, or you just start walking. This is how the hunt starts – full of expectation and questions. When you start on a spoor, you don’t know how big the animal is, what condition it is in, or how big the horns are.
I had found myself losing focus for long periods while trundling along a spoor. Yet a San tracker is able to maintain concentration for hours on end. My San tracker at Eldoret, Sem !Ugab, is an artist in what he does. His skills were honed from his cultural background, though the latest generation is losing this skill completely. Sem loves to hunt, but he has no desire to do the shooting, and I have to admit, some of my best hunting days have been where no shot was fired. I have now decided to incorporate a new element into my own hunting – tracking. The success of this venture can only be judged in the long term!
While on Eldoret I had a lot of time to think. Six years of questions and conflicts in my mind had preceded the run-up to this successful hunt. These thoughts ranged between queries about the right caliber, the direction that civilization is moving in, the value of friendships, and morality in general. Initial excursions to Eldoret were with a .30-06, loaded with 200-grain bonded bullets. It worked. But then I started thinking… Was it the right tool for the job? After two hunts from switching to a .375 Ruger with 300-grain bonded bullets, the answer was that the Ruger was an infinitely better choice.
I had turned down many other opportunities for an eland bull on other properties, so I wondered why I insisted on going back to the same place year after year. Likely, a combination of reasons. Nico and Vasti (the owners of Eldoret) are the kind of people you only meet once or twice in a lifetime. They want you to succeed. They want you to grow fond of their home. And they do not compromise on their way of hunting. These two points are probably what made me go back again and again.
As Nico and I stared into the night-sky unpolluted by light, we talked about how difficult it was to market a hunting destination to trophy hunters in such a way that there is a perfect fit between his vision and the expectation of the hunter. Often, the overseas hunter has to save money for his trip and to achieve his goal of a trophy. The way that hunting is conducted on Eldoret cannot absolutely guarantee a trophy, but it can guarantee a hunt! How far are other outfitters prepared to go to guarantee a trophy? Is this not where the practice of put-and-take or canned hunting comes from – to satisfy the expectation of the hunter, the “hunt” being made more memorable by the facilities and the temperature of the Jacuzzi?
Over the six years my hunt for this bull took a total of about 150km of walking in 17 days. How many visiting hunters are prepared to hunt for this long for a single animal? Or how many can afford it if they are not locally based? Is the guarantee of a trophy more important than the total hunting experience?
On this trip, the delight in my success from friends brought a realization that hunting is not a competition. It is an activity with no winners and losers! So why do we as hunters care so much about our trophy sizes? Recent media coverage on hunting activities also made me think about what most hunters refer to as their “sport”. For me, it is no such thing – it is my culture. Culture cannot be ranked. Can culture (and by implication hunting culture), change? I would say, yes, but perhaps not always with positive results. If you are after a record trophy, it is your sport. I get the impression we have the “A-Team” – those that are fortunate enough and rich enough to hunt in exclusive wilderness areas. Then we have the rest, in varying forms of acceptability, including the pick-up hunters, the ambush hunters, and hunting with dogs.
In many instances there is an ignorance of facts. Take the sugar industry that is facing the anti-sugar movement. Many products contain sugar, and consuming too much of this will make you fat. Stop blaming the company, blame yourself. Read the labels! Few educated people actually read and understand the ingredients label on food packaging. And this puts the anti-hunting brigade in perspective for me. They are educated, but they don’t “read the labels” and they blame the hunter instead of the real cause of declining wilderness, which is one of a range of possible things depending on the area you are referring to!
As I sat alone over the huge eland bull waiting for the recovery vehicle, the obvious questions arose about what to do with the trophy. I could have a skull-mount made, but as yet I have no place to put it. In hindsight, the real trophy is the fact that I have more photos and memories of the hunt than of the dead animal. My favorite “trophy” photo is of me with a kudu cow shot on my first trip to Eldoret. This was my first animal hunted on foot. Since then, I have shot three Roland Ward qualifying trophies on the property, purely because they were the ones that offered a shot. For this bull, I have photos of a tree that was marked with his horns, a day-old cheetah track, and a fresh kudu spoor. All these made my hunt that much more memorable.
For the first time I was able to smell the mop of a mature eland bull. It is not the stuff of French perfume, but it smelled of primal instinct and millions of years of evolution, and as such is one of the most memorable smells I have ever had. Real hunting takes sweat and labor. But, sadly, many modern trophy hunters select their venues simply on a guarantee of the biggest reward (trophy) for the least cost and effort.
In hindsight, this bull is not my biggest trophy. Memories of eland cows and young gemsbok came flooding back with similar feelings, but only because of the way I hunted.
Thoughts from a Namibian Hunt