Client surname is Aman. This means: Peaceful place.
2:30. The alarm startled me out of the few hours of slumber I allowed myself. Nights were short during summer hunting. 30 minutes to prepare and then leave for the blind. 3:00 the cruisers L.E.D. headlights lit the winding red sand road ahead. A half hour drive to the national park boundary. Another half hour to the seemingly insignificant piece of toilet paper hanging on the side of the road. The place where we were to leave the vehicle more than a mile from the blind and bait site.
To say to fill this annual single Leopard tag of Waterberg National Park in 2016 was easy would be lying outright. This was our third attempt. The previous two hunters had both too little time and were way too noisy in the blind to fool one of Africa’s premier predators into our set up. Recovering from a lung infection and allergies being the problem on the first two hunts – and as said before not enough time allowed for the hunt. With Leopard you need time.
I met Bob Aman in 2013 at the Heym factory situated in Gleichamberg east of Frankfurt, Germany. We were invited to a special weekend shoot at the factory to try out these finely built rifles. I had a break over a weekend between safaris and jumped on a plane to attend this prestigious event. I met many interesting people – all shooters, many hunters – but Bob was particularly interesting. Having lived all over the world working for Boeing and spending every spare minute he had in pursuit of his primary passion – hunting. It was a special trip for me. My first Heym double rifle had just been completed and I was to shoot with it for the first time.
It took Bob three years to secure a cattle-killing Leopard in Zimbabwe – self guided – the way most of his hunts were conducted in his 30-year hunting career in Africa while working for Boeing. He saw the late season tag that was on offer on our monthly Safari Journal and booked within a week of our renewed correspondence – the last two weeks of hunting season.
We now had a crack team assembled. Pre-baiting was done well in advance with a combination of Warthog and Beef. The pre-baiting the team was rewarded with a hit. 10 to 12 November 2016 – a very big Tom Leopard had just about eaten a whole Warthog over this period. His first appearance was at 22:00 and the day after he fed through the early hours until broad daylight leaving the bait well after 8:00 in the morning. Jacques and his team set about building the blind 86 meters from the bait which was sky-lined on a perfect tree.
13 November 2016. Fetching Bob at the international airport my iPhone was quickly produced to show the images sent to me – we have at least one Tom on bait.
14 November 2016. We arrive at Waterberg National Park in central northern Namibia for lunch and then immediately went to sight in the rifle. The rifle is very special to me. It is a .300 Winchester Magnum Heym double rifle topped with a 1.5-6 X 42 Swarovski optic. It is at least 25 years old, beautifully engraved and I inherited this fine rifle from my father that tragically past in 2015. We fired three shots, once with right and left barrels and no adjustment was necessary. We proceeded to find our team that had already been very busy for the last week. After a short discussion with Jacque is was decided that we would not sit that night – but go into the blind set-up ‘blind’ – since I did not know what the set up was. An early evening and even earlier morning was planned. The cat on this bait was a morning eater after all.
Well before first light we were on the road. The plan was for the cruiser to slowly drive down the road where the bait and blind were with the three of us sitting on the tailgate. When we got to the right spot we would slip off the back and walk into the already prepared path to the blind. Being ‘blind’ and not knowing the set up was an unfamiliar feeling – I had to have full trust in my friend and big game PH Jacques, having just completed his Namibian big game qualification.
A tap on the shoulder, we slip of the cruiser that did not slow from its already crawling speed and the soft red Kalahari sand was welcome under our feet. Jacque led, his short stature a distinct advantage since I was able to easily see over the top of his head and scan the bush ahead with the light of the waning moon showed us the clean Rhino path used for the access to the blind. We slid into the pop-up blind silently and got Bob’s rifle on the tripod and settled into the chairs already prepared the day before.
Silent-thought was the only entertainment in anticipation of sunrise – occasionally drifting off into a light slumber. Bob’s hearing was not as good as it used to be having shot hundreds of rounds without hearing protection in his life – so we heard it first. Crunching. Like a horse eating corn? A few heavy steps. Jacques looked at me. “Rhino. Black Rhino!” I silently mouthed. “Sit still” was my silent instruction. With a loud snort – sounding like the snot should have splattered on the back of the blind. Foot stomp, stomp another snort and then a crash of bushes and trees that carried the upset and frustrated mini-tank in a fortunate direction away from our blind. Relieved shaken smiles were exchanged by all in our little blind, thankful that there was not a fourth body to join us in the blind.
There was light just enough to see and peeking out of the blind the bait trees was clearly visible. The set-up was almost perfect. It would have been perfect if the Tom was in the tree. It was not to be this morning.
Using the middle of the day to patrol our other baits that were set and waiting for a strike. There was nothing. Mornings and evenings we sat in wait for ‘our’ Tom to return. Fortunately we had the incredibly scenic Waterberg National Park that is game rich with –Eland, Cape Buffalo, both Black and White Rhino as well as Roan and Sable Antelope. Three of the above being a very real and present danger when walking in and out of the blind in the dark.
After a few days with no success it was becoming more and more overcast – giant cumulonimbus clouds building and towering in the north. Rain was imminent – wonderful in a dry and grateful country like Namibia. The wind however was a problem. Mornings and evenings the wind was being very unpredictable.
The team decided to build another blind and footpath on the far side of the 1st blind, 180 degrees on the other side of the bait. They were aptly named blinds #1 and #2. Blind #2 was 100 meters from the bait tree. What was unique in placing the blind is that there was a dune between the bait tree and the blind. On approach the Leopard would not be able to see the blind at all. Only once the Leopard was calmly in the tree would there be a possibility of seeing the blind – and we would only then be able to the Leopard. If he came. With the unpredictable wind we used the Norwegian weather app called Yr.no. Only with this 21st century technology were we able to accurately be able to predict the wind direction for the morning or evening blind session choosing between our now two blinds.
On the other baits there was nothing going on. The Leopard tracks that we usually saw daily had evaporated to everyone’s frustration – and that’s Leopard hunting.
On two further mornings we had company. An ancient Dugga bull moved noisily just 10 feed from the blind, hoof dragging steps at a time, breaking what he moved through plucking grass out with what should have just been his gums at his age. The distinct ‘click’ of the bull Eland’s knee tendon excited the hunter in me – a noise only herd at very close range as they fed past the blind. For the rest of the time we were left with our thoughts staring at a tree so hard sometimes you jumped as your mind started playing games with you. As the light changed spots seemed to appear out of thin air – and with raised binocular they disappeared as quickly as they came.
And hence came the fateful day of the 18th November 2016. With the 2:30 wake up call and the 3:00 departure. Arriving at the toilet paper signal at 4:00 – a full hour earlier than we had been arriving the previous four mornings. The wind was blowing hard and it had rained that night. I somehow had a feeling that today something, or something great, or something terrible would happen before the day got started. My .500 NE Heym double got loaded and swung onto my shoulder. Bob was weapon-less. The scoped and loaded .300 Heym double was waiting for us in the blind on its rest. We would take a brisk walk into the blind, slowing, as we got closer. We could not be seen, only just possibly heard if we took a noisy wrong step. My mind in deep thought with the task at hand. Looking up and to the right in the waned moonlight I saw a huge white animal glowing not 30 feet away. My first instinct was “Rhino!”. I stopped Bob silently and indicated that we needed to back-up. My double came off my shoulder at the ready. Once we had backed up I slowly raised my light-gathering Leica binoculars and looked at the animal. More light gathered by the glass than my naked eyes could see. The form suddenly became clear. The old Bull bull was staring at us with as much interest as we stared at him. Our march continued down the red sand road as did his crashing into the bush.
The vibration made me jump again. The device on my belt indicating that it had ‘paired’ with the motion sensor on the bait tree. This was normal. Its range is about 1000 feet in open country. After the initial buzz, it stopped for a second and then buzzed again. Then it buzzed again. ‘It must be the wind moving the tree’ I reasoned.
Our raked path to blind #2 was wide and clear, marked with toilet paper at intervals preparing for the moon loosing illumination with every passing night. Preparing for the dark walk-ins that would surely be coming in the days ahead – clouds also making the nights darker. We got to the blind and in the cover of the heavy wind. The double on the rest was clamped down and pointed in the right direction. The safety was quietly pushed forward and the waiting game began. The time was now 4:20. Even with my binoculars I could not see anything in the tree – not that we could have done anything at that hour. It is illegal in Namibia to shoot with out sunlight. My buzzer was driving me nuts – so I simply pulled the battery out. The silence was now complete with the sound of the wind moving the leaves around us. I was lulled to sleep. I was woken at 5:45 by an elbow in the ribs by Bob. Opening my eyes I could see Bob had stayed awake the entire hour and 25 minutes waiting for sun-rise. His eyes as big as saucers.
The blind was build so that the hunter could not see the bait tree at all. I picked up my binoculars and slowly lent forward. He was not were I expected him to be. The limb slanted upwards from left to right. I was expecting to see his head on the right – this was not the case. The monstrous Tom was busy feeding on 6 day old beef, having knocked the attached fresh Warthog from the limb and focusing on his breakfast. Sitting backwards I said to Bob that he should lean forwards and look – “HE is there” I whispered with pointed finger. Bob shifted forward to the mounted rifle and took hold, focusing for the first time on his target prey on this trip to Namibia. Positioned in the blind so that I was directly to Bob’s right, just a little behind him with my mouth right at his ear. Bob was set, my binoculars trained on the tree. Bob words bring a smile to my face to this day “Are you sure?” – I am not going to write what I said… The Leopard was calmly feeding away. “Wait. Wait. Wait” as he was tearing away at the spine of Beef. Finally the Leopard was still and with the “Ok” coming out my mouth the set trigger on the .300 erupted and the giant feline jumped / fell off the limb. “That felt good” Bob said – referring to his shot. I quieted him down and said – “we will wait at least 20 minutes before we go to the tree”. I quietly switched on my radio. “Come” was my instruction. Jacques answered a little bewildered “Did you shoot something?”
We learned later that the cruiser was buttoned up tight. Jacques, tracker Gerson and game ranger Thomas all soundly asleep with the windows tightly shut. They had heard nothing. “Warthog” I quietly said into the radio.
I heard grunts at between one and two o’clock from our position. “I can hear him,” I told Bob. In the minutes that passed I was preparing myself of what was to come.
When the rumble of the cruiser was audible I radioed again – “stop and wait at the foot path”. I left Bob in the blind and went to talk to the team.
It was just after 6:00 when we made our slow stalk towards the bait tree down the shooting lane. I led the group with my .500 at the ready, Bob had his now scope-less .300 reloaded and ready and Jacques was carrying my .45 pistol on his belt. All concentration was focused ahead, every shadow inspected, nothing left to chance. We got to the tree. Nothing. Jacques and the Gerson circled and immediately found where the cat had hit the ground. He had fallen and not landed on his feet. A good sign. Jacques and Gerson took the lead – both vertically challenged so I could see over the top of their heads with a clear view. I took up position on the right. Bob was on the left. Slowly we proceeded. Nerves taught with tension. The first rain growth grew knee deep. Plenty for this cat to hide in and pounce from only feet away.
And suddenly – there he lay. Expired. Not less handsome. No longer treacherous. We were elated. 75 yards from the bait tree. A great team had done the job and on day four of fourteen we had gotten it done.
Photos took almost two hours. Every angle taken. It was then time for the very thorough photos taken for the stringent Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism permit conditions. It is great to live in a country where we can hunt these magnificent animals – a country where the government has a firm hold on sustainable utilization.
Post script: I would like to congratulate my friend and fellow big game hunter Jacques Strauss on getting his final and upgrade dangerous game license. Thank you for your help on this hunt. You are fast on your way to becoming a legend in this industry