WILTZ: African Plains Game -- There's nothing plain about it.
As I lay in bed the first night in camp, I thought about the half cabin — half tent that would be home for the next six nights. The raspy cough of a leopard interrupted my thoughts, I climbed from bed and pulled down the zipper of my front screen door. There would be no unwelcome visitors in this tent. Wrong! I awoke at 3:10 a.m. Ants were swarming over my body. Welcome to Africa!
If you follow my column on a regular basis, you know that Doug Koupal, of rural Dante, Jim Paulson, of Mitchell, and I recently completed a safari to Namibia Africa. The hunts were booked with Jamy Traut Safaris. Our connecting flights included Omaha to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to New York JFK, JFK to Johannesburg, South Africa, and Johannesburg to Windhoek Namibia. A domestic flight included a round trip to the Caprivi Strip's Katima Mulilo via Air Namibia. Other than gun-related miles of red tape, the flights went smoothly enough.
I'll begin with a general overview that isn't particularly exciting, but it will serve to bring coherence to future columns. Consider saving today's column as a reference. At this point I don't know how much Africa readers want, but I could tell of the people, creatures, and geography I experienced for the next six months.
Late Thursday afternoon, July 31, we were met at Windhoek's international airport by Jamy Traut. That first night was spent at Jamy's home, a home that also served as a very comfortable bed and breakfast. The following morning Doug was flown to his elephant camp near Katima Mulilo where he would begin his quest for dangerous game. Jamy drove Jim and me to his Panorama camp, where we would spend our first seven days hunting plains game on the northwest corner of the Kalihari dunes.
The game at Panorama seemed to travel in herds that were extremely wary after being hunted since March. They included blue and black wildebeest, red hartebeest, blesbok, Burchell's and Hartman's zebra, kudu, impala, steenbok, duiker, the ever present springbok, ostrich, eland, gemsbok, giraffe, warthog, waterbuck, leopard and cheetah. We also saw jackals, bat-eared fox and badgers. A sizeable monitor lizard also crossed my trail.
When I'm up and about well before daybreak for November's deer openers, I like to look across the southern sky for Orion. I see the mighty hunter as a good omen for my hunt. At 5 a.m., the first morning of my Namibian southern hemisphere hunt, I scanned the sky for the Southern Cross. After finding it, I peered northward and spied my old friend Orion in the northern sky! I was 8,300 miles from home, a third of the way around our world, and found an old friend just where I thought he might be. It would be a good hunt.
My partner, Jim, who was on the brink of turning 80, had a highly successful hunt in spite of a bout with food poisoning that led to a doctor visit. He took a red hartebeest, blesbok, kudu, waterbuck, springbok, gemsbok, Burchell's zebra, blue wildebeest, and an ostrich in that order. He literally toughed it out. Jim was guided by professional hunter Donnie Botha.
Doug's adventures with dangerous game will be chronicled in detailed future columns. To whet your appetite, I will tell you that Doug's PH, Karel Grunschloss, killed a charging buffalo cow at six feet during Doug's cape buffalo hunt!
I had the good fortune of being guided for my first seven days by Jamie Traut, a recipient of Africa's prestigious Professional Hunter of the Year award. With some exceptions, I basically hunted non-trophy camp meat animals. I'm pleased to say that I shot well, and all of my animals were taken on rigorous stalks, including hands and knees, far from our Toyota Land Cruiser. We hunted hard, very hard!
Twice I have hunted African plains game in the past — once in South Africa and once in Namibia. Because plains game, mostly an assortment of antelope, do not eat you or transform your body into a greasy spot in the dust, I have been mildly apologetic about hunting the far more reasonable plains game. By reasonable, I'm referring to cost.
Jamy and I spent the best part of seven days stalking red hartebeest and blue wildebeest. I wanted a red hartebeest that was better than the skull already on my wall. We tried to get up on some record book animals, but always we were betrayed by swirling wind, spooked springbok, or too many eyes.
The same was true of blue wildebeest. I worked myself to near exhaustion trying to get within range of a good bull. About that greasy spot on the ground I talked about, a wounded blue wildebeest will charge. So will a wounded gemsbok. According to Jamy Traut, the gemsbok and the blue wildebeest are two of the most difficult African animals to kill. Shot placement is imperative. I'll no longer apologize to anyone about hunting African plains game. It's a tough hunt.
On the eighth morning of our hunt, Jim and I traveled back to Windhoek where we boarded an Air Namibia jet for Katima Mulilo by way of Rundu. We were met at Katima by partner Doug and his PH Karel "Kabous" Grunschloss. They had broken elephant camp where Doug had been highly successful, and were now headed for buffalo camp on the Chobe River where Jim and I would join them.
We spent our travel day night at the very comfortable Camp Chobe where we observed herds of elephant and cape buffalo from the deck of the restaurant. These herds were on the Botswana side of the Chobe. As I lay in the tent that night, lions could be heard from down river. Scratch another bucket list item.
What lay ahead for Jim and Roger as Doug hunted buffalo? African tiger fish! It couldn't get any better.
Don't forget: The mailing deadline for East River deer is Friday.
See you next week with more safari action.