Vision of an African Safari
By Jofie Lamprecht
An email notification dings in my inbox – a safari enquiry. I answer, and the correspondence starts. An email unanswered for more than 18 hours equals a lost safari. That’s my thought.
Patrick had a lot of questions, so I sent him our “Safari Preparation Guideline” – 20 pages of answers to questions most people ask, whether it’s their first or twentieth safari.
Personal information needed: Dietary and safari requirements, and medical information. Travel advice: insurance, travel documents, traveling with firearms and photographic equipment, and immigration forms. Particulars on daily routine: recommended reading, safari payments, gratuities, donations, shopping, climate gear guide, what to pack, and taxidermy information.
Patrick was full of questions. Back and forth, dates, deposit, contract – finally all done. All we had to look forward to was safari.
Having received passports from newly married Patrick and Darby before their arrival, I knew what they looked like – the brunette versions of Barbie and Ken… Both handsome and extraordinarily beautiful is an understatement!
Patrick had seen a National Geographic documentary about kudu a couple of years before. This was his first hunt as well as first safari, but our nemesis was a giant 200-pound black wildebeest. We could simply not get one in the salt – no matter distance or situation. The first three days were almost Patrick’s last. The usual upbeat safari-talk was low and muted. There was little talk around the dining tables – it felt like day 13 of a 14-day elephant or leopard hunt with no success…
Then Day 4 saw us beat our antagonist, and the joys of safari started in earnest. Everything was new; no trophy was uninteresting. Now excited, we started enjoying the wondrous magic of Africa.
At the top of Patrick’s trophy list was the object of his desire – the “grey ghost”. We hunted hard, Patrick and Darby up for any physical exertion I proposed. We drove, parked and walked until we were successful. Our trophy tally climbed, and Africa’s magic infected the couple – a honeymoon on safari.
The purple-pink dusk of evening was setting in as we were rounding the edge of a granite kopje in an area often called ‘The land God made in anger’ – western Namibia’s Khomas Hochland. A tap on the roof of the truck from Daniel, the resident tracker brought us to a halt. I stepped out, and saw a finger pointing at our 11 o’clock. I started scanning, understanding from the angle and direction that we were looking for the “grey ghost”. The kopje had a small plateau, falling to vertical cliffs below, which is where the vegetation started. Camphor bush was mixed with a variety of other edible bushes, and this is what the “ghost” fed on. The sun had set behind the kopje, casting a shadow on our side, cutting the light now by several stops. Then a jerk of turning horns caught my attention. An old kudu bull straightened his head to start walking, relying on his cryptic colors. Shooting sticks, rifle, and no time to lose. We set off through the formidable theater strewn with ankle-twisting rocks.
I set our course to intercept the kudu’s descent, hoping to get to the ledge that overlooked the next valley and hoping to get a chance. With the light waning, we were holding our breaths the whole way. We crested the valley – nothing. We stood for the last minutes of light for the bull to emerge out of nowhere, but to no avail.
A sable was on also our trophy list, so we moved to an area where they were more prevalent. The Land Cruiser churned up a steep mountain, careful not to spin the tires, or wear them out faster than need be. Another tap on the roof stopped us on the ascent. Daniel pointed across a vast valley. “I think there is something under that tree.” Irritated, I got out. The opposite mountain was more than two miles distant. There is absolutely no way anyone could see anything while bouncing around in the back of the Cruiser. Raising my optics I scanned the opposite ridge with squinted eyes.
“Where?” I asked, still irritated.
“There is a large Camel thorn tree just under the ridge. In its shade I think something is lying there.”
Scanning, I found the tree, and looked.
“There is something, but I don’t know.” I took the shooting sticks to stabilize my binoculars, and focused on the spot. The sweep of a horn caught my eye, in the black-on-black shadow of the hot, late morning.
“Sable!” I said to Patrick. “My goodness, that is a long way off.” I congratulated Daniel on seeing so far – irritation gone. Patrick had a look. Big tree, shadow. Yes. There.
“I can’t see what it is, but how the hell are we going to get there?” he asked.
We studied the terrain and we worked out that there was a road to our left of the bull. We could drive around till we were able to get closer. Swinging the Cruiser around, our tires ate rocks until we were near enough. We needed to hurry. In the next hour or so our quarry was going to get up from his siesta and start feeding. We knew exactly where he was – “Let’s move.” We got out of the Cruiser and dropped down our first ravine. With rocks underfoot we had to be careful not to fall, or make too much noise. Our wind was decent, but not great. We were approaching from the downhill side – not good, but better than nothing.
We got to the bottom of the ravine. Which of the valleys was going to take us up to this animal and which would bust us? I chose, and we started climbing. Slow, sure, with secure footing, we crept up. After almost an hour of down-and-up we got to the rim of the ridge. My first clue was the giant acacia we had previously seen across the valley. I found a camphor bush that we could crawl up behind to avoid detection. Peeking around the bush I saw what we were looking for – at 80 yards, in the shade where we had first spotted him. My breath caught – WOW! What a magnificent, old and long trophy, at least 44 inches. We had found a beauty. I paused. The sable turned his head slightly. NO. Can’t be…
His left horn, magnificent. His right – a stump of 12 to 13 inches, probably broken in conflict. My heart sank. I slid down to Patrick. “Look,” I said, “I made a mistake. He only has one horn, the other is broken. Let’s go and find you another.” Patrick looked at me. “Can I see him?” We crept up to behind our vantage point and sat there in silence.
“We hunted him,” Patrick said. “He is ours, and I would like to take him as my trophy.” I was stunned for a second. For most European hunters, a broken trophy shows character. For Americans, symmetry or close to, it was preferred.
I unscrewed my African Sporting Creations carbon-fiber shooting sticks and we prepared. “You are going to shoot sitting flat on your butt. I will crawl over into that bush – no thorns – and set up the sticks. Get to me and then get on the sticks. Get comfortable, and shoot when you ready. He does not know we are here.”
Silently we made our moves, and were ready. “Shoot right in the middle of his shoulder.” As the shot broke, so did our objective, jumping straight up with a clatter and crashing down the valley and out of sight. We all burst through the bush to see where he had gone, and found him standing motionless across the valley. Patrick raised his rifle, but I held up my hand. “Wait!” And as we watched, with a gentle sway, over he went.
What a stalk! Sweat fell from our brows, all forgotten in the elation of the successful hunt, a feeling that is incomprehensible, impossible to describe to non-hunters.
One of the challenges in the land God made in anger is getting a vehicle in to load your trophy. With bushes scratching down the side of the Cruiser, low gears engaged, we inched down the mountain to collect our prize.
After lunch we went in search of Namibia’s endemic Hartmann’s zebra. In most places in this area this is not a problem at all – the retrieval is the only issue, and by late afternoon we had collected a splendid, large Hartmann’s zebra stallion.
Rushing to get back to where we had hunted the evening before, and passing on a old, but not huge kudu bull along the way – we approached the kopje where the grey ghost had evaded us just 23 hours earlier. Reaching the foot of the kopje we got out and started scanning. Within 30 feet of where we saw the bull the previous evening was not just one, but three kudu bulls, two of them shooters. The one that had caught my attention the previous day with the bold, out-swept horn-tips was the chosen one.
The sticks went up and Patrick got set. A 150-yard shot. Having attended the SAAM (Sportsman’s All-weather All-terrain Marksmanship) shooting school in Texas, this was a simple chip shot for Patrick. As he settled on the sticks I could feel the tension, hunched shoulders and rapid breathing. I put my hand on his shoulder.
“Lift your head, take a deep breath, aim and shoot when you are ready”. He did just that. I crawled in under his elbow to give him extra support.
The shot broke, and so did the three kudu bulls, taking the same direction as the previous evening. Light was not in our favor, so we scooted double time up the rubble to the same point. I got to the edge of the next valley first – huffing and puffing from excitement.
To my right he lay, though not as majestic as when he was standing. I turned and looked Patrick, smiled and pointed, and slapped him on the back. Emotion showed on his face as his vision of an African safari was realized at last light, on the last night.
We left Patrick there. We left him on bent knee in appreciation of the life that he took, the animal that drew him to Africa, hand outstretched on the cooling neck.