I could barely see the head between some rocks 120 m away up in the stony hill, it looked at me, completely still, feeling safe hiding its body after running from the dried riverbed where we bumped into it. My rest was totally dead, my scope superb, and me and my trusted Mauser became one. Having this good relaxing feeling of foreseeing success, I squeezed the trigger and the gap between the rocks became empty.
Despite we were no "novices" we forgot, or maybe ignored, all safety precautions and run up the steep hill, battling the stones, the thorny bushes and our breath. Suddenly, with great excitement, we faced the leopard, stone dead, shot between the eyes. I thought I couldn't be happier.
Despite this great hunting experience when I shot my first cat, I felt more and more unrest about leopards as years went by, I realised that I had to do it the "proper way".
After eight years, many hunting safaris, and "Covid-19-Cancellations", I yet again landed in Johannesburg, picked up my rental car and headed south-west once more, but this time with leopard on my mind. After a nice stay-over in Bloemfontein I were passing Bedford in Eastern Cape by Sunday early evening and closing in at beautiful "Spring Grove Lodge" where "Allan Schenk Safaris" is situated.
I stopped where the gravel road began, the same place as I always stop, turning of the "aircon", open the windows, unbuckle the safety-belt. Then my "safari" really begins. Driving up this beautiful green valley lower my pulse, lower my shoulders, fill me with joy, peace and pleasure. What a wonderful place to arrive, where my good friend and PH, Allan with family and staff, wishes me warm welcome.
The Eastern-Cape Hunt:
I could gladly just stay at "Spring Grove Lodge, relaxing in the luxury of the lodge, enjoying the beautiful surroundings, eating the excellent food, drinking cold beer by the campfire in the evening and enjoy the good company. But I was here to hunt, so already next morning we headed out for my yearly Eastern Cape mandatory hunt, to maintain my PH licence, and soon we shot an excellent non trophy Warthog. The next day we went out with long-bow and the day after with our big guns, mostly to enjoy these beautiful "Green Hills of Africa" and to discover new hunting fields.
The Journey North:
On Friday, with loaded "Hilux" and fresh "Covid-19- Tests", we turned our focus North, stayed over in Upington, and the next day arrived at Andre & Cecilie`s mountain lodge just south of "Keetmanshoop" in Namibia. After two nights, great company, wonderful surroundings, a fine non trophy Springbok and my bad shooting for Jackals in the night, we continued further North to join our Namibian leopard PH along the way North-West to hunting grounds nearby Namib-Naukluft national park.
The Namib Leopard:
I could feel the sun rays warming, making me sleepy, we had been sitting waiting at this quiet junction, free from traffic, for just 20 minutes now. I expected us to enjoy the sun rays for a long time when a heavy loaded beige "Land Cruiser" arrived at high speed and a tall guy with very dark sunglasses jumped out of the vehicle with a big grin on his face shouting "are you guys lost or something?". He introduced himself as Gerhard and his wingman, the always happy "Henok", as "his brother from another mother".
Allan is absolutely not a slow driver, but now and then I felt he was struggling a bit to keep up with this beige "Land Cruiser" on the gravel road that eventually led us to our excellent lodge on the rim of Namib-Naukluft. What a stunning beautiful area, reddish sand and soil, scattered with green trees and vegetation. I was filled with zest of life, knowing we had 14 days of hunting ahead of us in this breathtaking area.
This first evening, sitting by the waterhole at lodge, seeing all the animals come for drinking, then eating excellent dinner, sharing a couple of chilled Namibian "Taffel" beers and planning the hunt, made it clear that Allan had picked the very best outfitter and PH. As we all know, hunting is not a certain "business", at least not leopard hunting, but already this first evening I felt confident about success.
My idea and quest for hunting leopard the "proper way" involves baiting, building blinds, check baits for hit, long warm evenings and long cold mornings in the blind, patient waiting for the cat to be tempted enough to approach the tree and the bait, feel the rush when he at last come in, trying to control the heart pounding, aim the cross-hair, squeeze the trigger, uncertainties about the shot, the thrill of "walking-up", tarry by the admire of a most beautiful animal, sense a bit of melancholia for killing it, the ecstasy of success, the celebration and reviving the hunt around the campfire and happily exhausted fall in sleep after days of demanding, tiring, exciting and successful hunting.
And so we did to the fullest!
Gerhard had arranged three "pre-baits" which seem to me to be crucial for success, we called them "Granite", "BergTop" and "WitKam". Trailcams at all three baits could tell about hits of very shootable leopards, but we also arranged an additional "Hot-Bait" just in case. To Gerhard's despairing Allan and I became totally "Wrapped-Up" about this massive male at "Bergtop" and endless times we forced ourselves and the "Land-Cruiser" up this long painful track just to be tricked by the sly "BergTop-Cat" for another evening and for another morning. Then, suddenly, we realised that he was gone.
The days of hunting went by, cold mornings in blind, checking baits, checking trailcams, shooting fresh baits, refreshing baits, studying tracks, trying to get a nap now and then, warm evenings in blind, but I was never bored despite it every time seemed that the wanted cat had other things on his mind. I did not expect this kind of hunting to be so exciting, engaging and absorbing. Often under the lack of sleep I resist getting up of bed or heading out, but not this hunt, I literally jumped out of bed every time and felt ready to go, my eager superseded my tiredness.
Five days left! I could hardly wait for us to get into our relocated blind at "WitKam-Bait", this evening. The very same morning we had seen him on the trailcam, and to our surprise we saw that, Him, the massive "BergTop-Cat" had hit the "WitKam-Bait" despite the two baits was far apart and separated by high mountains. We had the good feeling that this was our evening.
I rigged my rifle carefully in the small gap of bush that covered the blind, steady at the rest, made myself as comfortable as possible, putted on my leaf-gloves and leaned back in the relative nice chair "crossing my fingers" that this really was our evening.
And, so it was!
I almost dozed when Gerhard walked his fingers along my leg, soundless explaining that something is arriving, my heart started to pound immediately and I begged in my quietness that his next sign would wait until my pulse was manageable, then one tap on my leg telling that "The Something" have entered the tree, by the next sign I slowly joined the rifle and my pulse dropped to "zero" with the amazing feeling of being in total control. By Gerhard's last sign I looked out of the gap, ready, but still surprised to see a cat in the tree and that he apparent to be so far away, of course an aspect that changed when I moved my vision into the scoop.
Crosshair at shoulder, as we had agreed on, squeezing the trigger, and the cat disappeared simultaneously with the always soundless hunting-shot. Did I "feel good about the shot" or was it just a phrase I had learned to think and to say? Silence, then two deep growls, silence again, then some encouraging respond from Gerhard and Allan by whispering "sounded good".
Yes, I really "felt good about the shot", but still, the always to long "waiting time" of insurance was almost unbearable.
Slowly approaching the tree, searchlights moving carefully, the "last light" had faded out, heart pounding, mind doubting, eyes scanning for spotty fur, then heart jump and eyes "lock on target", big relief, the most beautiful animal I can image, a massive male leopard laying at the base of the tree. I couldn't believe how massive and strong built he was, an old scar faced warrior.
The "BergTop-Cat" was shot at "WitKam-Bait" on the 10.th day.
The big relief, mind blowing happiness and energetic feeling that follows when you suddenly succeed on a long demanding task rushed through mind and body along with admiring the impressive animal, taking photos and repeating the event with laughter & smile.
I couldn't be happier and I saw the other guys felt the same.
We were well into "the party" long before reaching lodge and while slowly advancing on the bumpy tracks Gerhard introduced us to his "Leopard is shot custom", a very loud, unbelievable silly and extremely catchy melody from a well known 70th band, and indeed, we sang along and toasted all the long way "home".
"The Party" continued around the campfire long into the dark night and was now and then boosted by Allan's "Snuff-Tobacco-Machine" which really turned out to be a great "Party-Maker". I remember going to bed, exhausted, with brown tobacco rings around my nostrils, a big smile at my face and this extremely silly song from the 70th glued to my brain, but I don't remember quite when.
The next day we sorted out the baits, the blind, got organised and said goodbye after 1,5 weeks intense, demanding and very successful hunt. To hunt Leopard is not a certain activity, you better connect with the very best and professional, and so I did, and so I succeeded in my quest for hunting a leopard the "proper way".
My true thankfulness to Gerhard, Allan and all others involved, for great company, excellent hunt and professional accomplishments in all respects. I got the whole experience!
My only complaint goes to Gerhard for introducing me to this extremely silly and catchy 70th song. Weeks after returning back home to Norway my wife asked me again: what are you humming? I just had to download it and play it, and believe me, It's not a melody you want to play for your wife. She looked at me with resigned eyes, a compassion smile and said:
"Well, Boys will be Boys".
Desert, Coast, Tourists & Fishing:
Allan and I had some additional days and headed north through the beautiful "Namib-Naukluft Park" and then west trough the fascinating desert, then out to the Namibian west coast and the town "Swakopmund" where we had a two nights stay. We went out on the South-Atlantic Ocean for some fishing during the day and in the evening we just enjoyed being tourists with good eating & drinking, learnings to know a bit of this charming town where the desert meet the ocean.
We had already putted a quest for "short notice hunt" on the "bulletin board" and suddenly an offer arrived at Allan's cell-phone, wow!!! , Hippo hunting in the Caprivi, a true hunting dream. Did we have the time? Allan had no booking for next weeks and it was two weeks to my flight home, so YES ! Did we have the money? It was a "Self-Use-Hunt" (food for the village), very affordable, so YES !
The very next day we headed north-east, stayed at pleasant "Roy's Camp", then straight east and entered "The Caprivi Strip" (Namibia's panhandle) and turned south just before crossing Okavango River where we had booked a two nights stay at a wonderful river lodge with the promising slogan "Better Than The Best". We fished tigerfish at dusk, we fished tigerfish at dawn and we drank beer in the late evening, yes!, boys will be boys.
The Caprivi Hippo:
After two days of excellent tiger fishing in Okavango River and good game viewing in Mahango Game Park, we headed further east into the deep green heart of Caprivi and arrived an idyllic and rustic, but still luxurious hunting camp on the eastern riverbank of Kwando river.
Sitting by the campfire with a chilled beer after excellent dining, looking at the late sunset over Bwabwata National Park with the unknown splashing of "something" in Kwando-River, planning the next morning Hippo-Hunt, then you don't have to ask about the meaning of life, you, your fellows and your surroundings is for the moment everything and all you need.
At dawn we were already slowly making our way down the river, I enjoyed just sitting in the aluminium boat looking at the fertile landscape passing by, see the birds starting their always promising activity, I didn't want us to bump into Hippos now and destroy this peaceful moment. My wish lasted just long enough to suddenly be inspired and excited by the grunts of some Hippos downstream.
And Hippos there was, a lot of them, and despite the initial purpose of "Self-Use-Hunt", to get food to the villages, we wanted to get as much exciting hunt out of it as possible. We didn't want to make it "easy" by shooting the first one, so we continued downstream, scouting for big males. We wanted to use a bit of time and put a bit of effort into might achieve my demanding dream of hunting a Hippo on land, but making our way with the little boat through those big groups of Hippos, almost blocking the narrow river, turned out to be as much excitement as I could ask for.
Next morning we headed out before dawn, and in the early light we walked an area where we had spotted a lot of "Hippo on Land" activity the previous day. In faint light, to wade waist high through crocodile infested water, close to where you have seen your biggest Croc ever and where the sound of fighting Hippos make you feel you're more inside than ringside, is an activity that invite for some "small talk" with yourself. I remember trying to convince myself that big Crocs probably think it's easier with horizontal swimming prey than vertical walking pray, and in the need to soothe myself I really believed it. I have this philosophy that the worst thing that can happen in life is not to die, but not to live, and indeed we were living.
We were closing in on the two fighting Hippos in the river and we were able to stalk very close as their minds was occupied, but suddenly they became aware of us and the biggest of them turned the alertness on us. By bending the overhead forward and threaten us, the Hippo exposed the brain at an ideal angle and my shot departed at the right moment, sinking the Hippo with sudden death. We all saw it was a good shot and the following excitement was more about where and when it would float to the surface, rather than if.
Neville, the outfitter, won by guessing some 20 minutes, and the Hippo floated to the surface, by the expanding gasses in its stomach, at the very same spot where it received the bullet, just late enough for us to finish our bush-breakfast.
The day was still young and we had all the time we wanted to enjoy the moment, talk our experience over and over again, refresh the excitement, admire the colossal impressive animal and of course taking pictures.
The Hippo resisted taking photos and while we were battling with it to get in position, the "air" went out of it, and for those who haven't experienced a close-up Hippo burp, well it's something you don't want in revival. We had to tow the big animal by boat downstream to the nearest village where we could drag it on land with the Hilux, and we soon realised the effect of the big Hippo burp.
The creature sank to the bottom of the river like an anchor and made our floating journey almost impossible. Philip, the Hippo PH, presented some impressive "maritime" skills by actually being able to, in a way, manoeuvre the strained boat, helped by us hanging over the rail like we joined a sailing regatta. This was not a preferred position when forcing through the big groups of Hippos that increasingly appeared around every second bend off the river, this Hippo hunt turned out to be far more exciting than I had ever imagined.
Partial "paralysed" we finally arrived the first village and with big relief we were able to drag the counteracting beast on land. Our struggle was over, now we could lean back and enjoy the slaughter-show that took place at the green field by the river. What a privilege, as a hunter, to be able to contribute and to witness that every little part of your kill is needed, taken care of, appreciated and used. I really felt we did something valuable when we drove around and delivered the meat to the villages, this good feeling became my real trophy. "Self-Use", what an excellent way to hunt, it's affordable, you get the full experience and a great trophy in the meaning of doing something valuable and meaningful.
We concluded the same fantastic way that we arrived, around the campfire by the Kwando-River, admiring the beautiful Bwabwata sunset.
Another hunting-dream had come true, to hunt the adventurous Caprivi and with big satisfied smiles on our faces we said goodbye to the hospitable staff, left this rustic delightful camp and headed west, then south, and out of Namibia's, might best, hunting paradise.
I'll sure be back before the "Devil" catch me!
Heading Back Home:
Allan and I separated in Upington just south of the South-African boarder, he went back home further south to "Spring Grove Lodge" and I headed east for a two days stay in charming "Mokala National Park" before I suddenly found myself back at "OR Tambo International Airport" in Johannesburg.
With reinforced friendship, fulfilled dreams, acquired quest, five weeks of excitement, a lifetime adventure and a "Snuff-Tobacco-Machine" under my arm, I was already longing back before I had left.
Thank you so much Allan, I'll conclude with the apt saying from our Tiger-Fish camp by the Okavango-River:
"Better Than The Best"
Juel (Nov. 2021)