By Rick Hobert at ElandPro Safaris
It’s 31 May 2021, about 2.30 a.m. somewhere over the north Atlantic bound for Frankfurt, Germany on the first leg of my trip. I’m sitting here wide awake and can’t sleep. I started thinking about what had led me to this point in time, going back to the end of an incredible hunt with my youngest daughter in 2019.
I had made plans to return to Namibia in 2020. Travel arrangements were made through a trusted travel agency I’ve used before. Once again I would be flying through Doha on Qatar Airways. I contacted my PH at Elandpro Safaris and booked my hunting dates. Then it all came apart. The Covid-19 virus was unleashed upon the world. I was informed by my PH that Namibia was closing its borders to outside travelers. Airlines started shutting down routes. Shortly after this my travel agency notified me that Qatar Airways had cancelled my flight to Namibia. Refunds were issued, then the waiting began. In previous years I would go to Rhode Island to visit my daughters as they had fallen in love with that area and made it their home. Guess what? Due to restrictions I was also unable to visit them.
In early January of 2021, I received a call from my PH. The president of Namibia and the Health Ministry were talking about lifting the travel ban into Namibia. By late February this was confirmed. However, contacting my travel agency again presented some hurdles. Qatar Airways had suspended direct flights into Windhoek, Namibia. The travel agent suggested flying Lufthansa through Frankfurt as they had a flight into Namibia. I booked my hunt and instructed the agent to get my tickets. Also I had to take the Covid PCR test a minimum of five days prior to arriving in Namibia and with a negative test result. Finding a clinic which could provide results in that time span was a little tricky but finally accomplished. I would also have to take the rapid Covid test with negative results to re-enter the US. The hunt was back on! The only disappointment came as two friends who were supposed to go with me canceled. I would fly out 31 May and be back in Namibia on 2 June.
My flight arrived in Windhoek at 8:30 a.m. and it was a beautiful clear, crisp cool morning. I was met by my PH’s wife Makkie as Gerrit had business at the farm to attend to.
Collecting my checked luggage and clearing the gun room went without a hitch. We had a great ride to Grootfontein giving the chance to catch up on things since the last trip. Here we stopped at Janneman Breedt’s home. Janneman is Gerrit and Makkie’s son and has been my PH several times over the years. Makkie would stay there in Grootfontein to look after her new grandbaby while Janneman and I continued on to the ranch. We arrived early enough so that after unpacking we went to the range to check the zero on my rifle and be able to start hunting the next morning. The zero had shifted slightly, but several rounds later I had the rifle printing where I wanted it to. I’ve been on a kick of late, wanting to use classic African cartridges to hunt with. Last trip I carried a pre-64 Winchester M70 in .375 H&H. This trip I carried a Zastava M70 in 9.3X62. I did some cleaning up on the rifle. Added an ebony forend tip and grip cap, refinished the stock with a hand-rubbed oil finish, and glass-bedded the action. Then added a barrel band front sight with ivory bead and finished off with a Leupold 1.25-4X firedot scope. This rifle/caliber is fast becoming my favorite medium bore rifle.
It’s light and friendly, snaps to the shoulder and gives 85% of what a .375 H&H delivers. Loaded with a handload using 250-gr Swift A-Frames I felt I was well appointed for the hunt. Sleep came early as I was bone-tired from the flight and the hunt would start early in the morning.
Over breakfast we discussed what we would look for first. Janneman wanted me to take a really good eland bull. Plans were made and off to the bush we went. While driving along the two tracks it wasn’t long before we cut a set of fresh tracks of five bachelor bulls. This was worth pursuing. Well into the tracking, misfortune struck like a hammer. Going around an antbear hole the sand gave way under my boots and I hit the ground hard. Twisting to the side while falling to prevent my rifle from hitting the ground I managed to pull some muscles in my back. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but it would come back to haunt me. Because of the rains the thorn bush was extremely thick. We got close several times but never laid eyes on the eland. But that’s hunting. Nothing in the salt the first day, but a day well spent.
The next morning dawned cool and brisk – and brother Murphy raised his ugly head. The fall the previous day made itself known in a big way. Bending over or twisting my torso let me know really quick that I was in no shape to be stalking through the bush. Gerrit gave me a local something to ease the pain. It was decided that I would sit in a blind over a waterhole that attracted a variety of game.
Within a half hour or so we had plenty of game coming into the waterhole – impala, blue wildebeest, a fine but young kudu bull and several cows. A band of mongoose was a treat to watch as they moved through the area. As much as I admired that kudu bull he needed another year or two to fully mature. He’ll make a future hunter a fine prize one day. Then things got interesting. For some reason I really like hunting impala. Not only do they have some of the best venison (in my opinion) but I really like the horns. A very nice ram came in for a drink. He was a solitary ram, no youngsters following in his wake. He was as nice as, or slightly better than the last impala I had taken on a previous trip. The decision was made to take him and finally I had game in the salt.
The 9.3X62 with a Swift A-Frame is probably overkill for impala. But, like the .375 H&H it’s a well-balanced cartridge and has a flat enough trajectory to be very versatile on a wide range of game. Returning to the ranch house that evening we were treated to a great supper. Afterwards, sitting outside by the fire having a sundowner, I reflected that days like this was why I keep coming back time after time to hunt in Namibia.
Up the next morning and over breakfast Janneman asked me how my back was feeling. I thought I might be up for some stalking, and said, “I’m up for it.” Strange as it may seem, especially with the large numbers available, I’ve never been able to connect with a good springbok. My luck was soon to change. About mid-morning while glassing an open savannah area we spotted a lone ram off in the distance. The wind was in our favor so we ducked back into the bush to make a wide circle in order to cut the distance. Coming out to the edge we found we were within 120 yards of the ram. Getting on the sticks while Janneman looked him over, he finally told me that it was a very nice ram and to take him if I wanted him. My back was still sore, but as the crosshairs settled on his shoulder the shot broke and I finally had my springbok. I couldn’t have been happier. His horns are a little further apart than normal but with very heavy bases. I was most pleased.
Going in for lunch, Janneman asked if I still wanted to try for a waterbuck. He said he had spotted a couple of rather nice bulls in a field only a kilometer from the ranch. I’ve always wanted a waterbuck, so yes; I was game to give it a go. He told me they were very wary and only came out to the edges of the field right at dusk. Plans were made and now the waiting till the right hour to make our stalk began. This gave me the opportunity to enjoy a cup of coffee sitting in the shade of a tree while a cool breeze blew around me.
The time finally arrived to begin our hunt. Binoculars on, rifle ready, I grinned at Janneman and said, “Let’s do this.” Because of the close proximity of the field to the ranch, we wouldn’t be going out in the truck. We started down the two-track and when several hundred yards out we slowly made our way into the brush surrounding the field. Easing up to the edge we started glassing. We spotted three cows and a calf to our front and a young bull to the left front. We ducked back into the brush and made a circle to the right. Slowly easing back to the edge we spotted a very good bull facing to our left approximately 140 yards out. Janneman set up the sticks.
“Hit the point of the shoulder,” he whispered to me. I slightly pulled the shot, hitting five inches back and just below the spine, we found later. The shot knocked him down but in an instant he was back up! The second shot as he spun away hit him in front of the hip and ranged forward into the offside shoulder. He went about 80 yards before going down.
I finally had an animal I have dreamed of taking. Waterbuck are very stocky and heavy built antelope. I believe they are as tough as a zebra to put down. This was a prize and hunt I shall cherish for all time. As this was a low-key trip, with these three animals in the salt, my hunting came to an end. This would give me time to visit with the family and get my gear sorted at leisure before heading home in a couple of days.
The conditions this trip were amazingly different from my trip in 2019. Because of the drought back then, everything was burnt brown, hardly any grass or browse on the brush, and sand blowing everywhere. This trip was just the opposite. Grass was three to five feet high, the brush was green and thick. As an example, while tracking those eland early in the hunt, we bumped a kudu at less than 40 yards but never laid eyes on him. All we heard was his bark and crashing brush as he went away.
Ah, but the rest of the conditions were outstanding. We had three mornings with temps down to 31 F and mid-day getting up to the low 80s. Perfect! The evenings spent around the fire having sundowners were special indeed. What better times to be had with people who have become more than friends and more like family? Now if only I could stay long enough to learn how to speak Afrikaans, ha ha! The next morning farewells were said. And the worst part of the trip started – heading down the road toward home.
Traveling during Covid did pose some minor irritants. Having to take the PCR test before leaving home, then the rapid test to go home. This cut my hunting by one day as we had to drive back to Windhoek to take the test then get the results the next morning before catching my flight home. The upside was that with the time we had, Gerrit gave me a tour of the city, from very nice coffee shops to sporting goods stores which cater to hunters and fishermen. Rather than stay at a hotel that last night, Gerrit’s daughter and son-in-law who live in Grootfontein invited us to stay at their home. A fine meal was grilled over a bed of coals and a grand time was had by all.
The next morning, we headed to the airport. I thanked Gerrit for an outstanding time and as always for the hospitality of his house. As I watched him drive away I sat down on a bench to look around me… All the various people from other lands, the local area, the raw beauty of this country. I’ve always wondered why more people don’t come to Africa. You will not duplicate the sights and sounds of Africa anywhere else in the world. The culture and the varied peoples are a wonder in itself. And I can assure you, if you can spend a week to 10 days at a very popular theme park in Florida then you can afford to travel to Africa.
I am already dreaming and planning of my next trip to Namibia in 2023. I don’t know yet what I’ll hunt the next time. But then again, that’s part of the fun isn’t it? Maybe another warthog? Maybe that eland bull Janneman was talking about. Whatever it may be, it will be another grand trip.