Africa at Last
14 hours from JFK we changed planes in Johannesburg for the 1 ½ hour flight to Windhoek, we arrived when the world was asleep and the airport personnel were literally waiting for us to clear customs so they could lock up and go home. The Namibian police representative was very polite and professional, diligent in his duty and in filing out the triple copy carbon paper form that was our permit to have a firearm in the country. Desk jockey by training, I dotted all I's and crossed T's but my brother in law (John) had to be literally chased as we were leaving because he forgot to sign the bottom line.
Our professional hunter and guide Siegfried (Ziggy) met us at the gate with his 13 year old son Erwin who proved to have the most amazing eyes for spotting game that I have ever seen. These two would be our near constant companions when afield for the next 10 days. We loaded into Ziggy's van for a short drive over paved roads on the outskirts of the capital city until arriving at the Safari Hotel. I was beat but the consensus was for a drink before retiring for bed and that pattern would also serve us in good stead for the remaining 10 days. I balked a bit at the $8 price of an Amarula cream beverage (a sweet fruity cream liquor similar to Bailey’s Irish Cream made from the fruit of the Marula tree). But then I realized that the price was in Namibian dollars which were a 10 to 1 exchange. That made it only about 80 cents US.
The room was on par with US motels, except that the television and radio played in Afrikaans. There was neither enough English in the language, or enough memory of my German class to let me follow a story line, so after a call home and a shower, the night passed without incident. Breakfast was an elaborate all you could eat buffet that we made good use of before setting out for the long drive to Ziggy's ranch and home. En route we picked up provisions for the week at the local butcher and grocer.
The very first evening after sighting in we saw an enormous kudu and a pair of oryx gazelle racing away from us and much more of the same for the next two days. Three days into the ten day hunt I had not had a shot opportunity. The game was skittish due to unusually windy conditions. They were staying under cover and were very nervous because the wind kept setting off the kudu's defense system, those big mule deer like ears were never quite sure if the unknown sound was a leopard creeping up to take them down, or just the rustle of grass in the wind.... So they ran at the first hint of danger.
Monday we rounded a thick patch of brush while driving up a dry river bed. My rifle was in my hands a when a huge bull, a real monster with three full twists and out turned ivory horn tips was suddenly at our elbow. This moose sized antelope was maybe 40 yards away, at eye level as I sat on the back of the moving pick up truck. Ziggy stopped the truck, but we had already gone past. I turned in my seat twisting to face what had been over my left shoulder. The kudu was frozen in an instant of time while I brought the rifle to my shoulder and the scope into play. At least I thought he was. In reality, he was already moving, sinking into a crouch from which he would bound away into the thorns. I saw his body in the scope, and swung my cross hairs over his flank and toward his shoulder.
Suddenly, I couldn't see him. His entire heart/shoulder area was covered by a tree 20 inches in diameter that filled my scope even on its lowest magnification. I debated the shot in the fraction of an instant when I saw him start to move. When he stepped forward, his chest would be clear. My finger tightened on the trigger. He threw his head away from me and leapt 20 feet straight away. I fired the 30-06 and I thought the shot was good. Time began to run at full speed again and the bull crashed away out of sight in the brush.
We climbed off the truck and began to track. I could not believe that we didn't see blood. 30 minutes later, I STILL couldn't believe that we couldn't see blood! I quit following the bull's tracks and returned to the river's edge. The tracking had been for nothing. The evidence was plain. A thumb sized branch at the height of the bull's shoulder was shot clean off. It had been between us. A tree that had been behind the bull was fully penetrated a foot higher. Somehow, the intervening stick had deflected my shot (already a bit high) too high. And the bull had escaped unscathed. We saw him again a week later and my brother in law, nearly ... very nearly had a shot at him. But that night as John crept toward the kudu an unseen Steinbok bolted and the old bull wheeled and raced away without knowing for sure that danger was near, but I suppose that is what keeps him alive today....
The next morning after my missed shot (I still find it hard to believe) - we decided to let the area we had been hunting hard for 3 days cool off and drove 26 km to a farm owned by Louis Anderson. Mr. Anderson owns a successful trucking company in Namibia. He graciously allowed us to hunt on his property in exchange for a share of the PH's trophy fee and for the meat from any game collected. Considering that we couldn't import the meat home into the US anyway, it is not a bad deal for trophy hunters.
It was cool for Namibia when we left Ziggy’s house at 6 AM and bundled into the back of the truck. I had brought a light jacket for just such a morning, but by the time we reached Mr. Anderson's property riding in the open back of the truck, I wondered why I hadn't brought a parka!
Turning onto the private lane, Ziggy stopped the truck and told me to load the rifle “just in case.” We had driven perhaps half the 8 km from the public highway to the ranch house (Mr. Anderson owns some 15,000 acres on THIS ranch) when Erwin true to form, called out "Kudu!” with outstretched arm pointing to the left of the lane. I have no idea how he saw them with the naked eye from a moving truck, but eventually I found them in the scope. A PAIR of old bulls slipping away beyond a screen of thorn brush!
This time I had the Winchester model 70 topped with a Leupold 3-9x scope (on 3x power). The chamber was filled with my hand loaded ammunition, 300 grain Swift A-frame projectiles over 67.9 grains of Alliant's Reloader 15 powder in a 375 H&H Federal classic case.
The bulls were slipping away at a trot. 200 yards away a bull passed in and out of sight in the 7 foot high thorn brush. Almost without realizing it I said out loud "I can't get a clear shot!" Erwin stepped close behind me, checked the angle of my rifle and pointed with his open hand ten degrees to the right of my aim. In his Afrikaner accent the boy said "He is there!" And he was!
The second bull, unseen by me was moving away at 250 yards. His front shoulders higher than his haunches gave him the appearance of walking away up hill. From this angle I could put a bullet into the back of his ribs, through his vitals and into the offside shoulder. I squeezed the trigger.
I left the empty cartridge case in the chamber until my feet hit the ground. I then cycled the action, putting a live cartridge in the chamber and without realizing it, pocketed the empty case as I set off behind Ziggy into the bush. He had been unable to see the bull when I fired so was unsure of the exact location. But Erwin had seen and raced ahead. He passed me about 200 yards from the truck, turned and smiled pointing with outstretched arm "There he lies." Coming up with Erwin I could see the bull 50 yards beyond us. He lay on his chest where he had dropped with a clipped spine, perforated lungs, and a 300 grain bullet lodged in his far side shoulder. Stepping close I shot him behind the near shoulder, unloaded the rifle and leaned it against a bush, then took hold of the bull's massive horns and raised his nose from the dust it had furrowed when he fell. I held his head as he breathed his last. There was no fear in him. He was king here, and he was king as his breathing slowed, his heart stopped, and his eyes saw his kingdom no more.
Ziggy said that he was an old bull well past his prime. The reference books tell me that a very old kudu may live to be 14. Ziggy said that this bull was at least 10 years old. He had begun to drop weight and his horn ridges had been worn smooth by a lifetime of breaking thorny branches to bring tender leaves within reach to browse.
We loaded the bull on the truck and delivered him to the butchering shed at the farm. In two hours the skin and horns were packed, the meat hung in a screened shed as quarters and ribs, the internal organs stripped, cleaned and divided by the staff for their evening meals, and the floor of the shed washed clean.
My kudu's horns measure 52 inches on one side and 54 on the other around the curl. They tell me that it qualifies him for SCI record book, but that doesn't matter. He is my first African animal and a truly worthy trophy to remember.