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An African Big-Game Hunt, Caprivi Style

Standing toe-to-toe with Earth’s largest land mammal makes one thing clear: Elephant hunting is not a task to be taken lightly.

Pete and I hear the crack of the ’06, and as we motor across the red Kalahari toward the sound we see Kabous and the springbok and Tom standing beside it with the Kimber by his side. It is the last game we will shoot here.

This week, Tom’s taken two springboks, a blesbok, a gemsbok and an ostrich. I’ve shot a dandy red hartebeest bull. But last week was the climax: I killed a Botswana bull elephant in the Caprivi Strip. Ron killed a croc and a hippo. Tom took a 23-inch red lechwe and a blue wildebeest.

The word “safari” certainly explains any voyage to or from the Strip. The 280-mile-long stretch of Namibia is sandwiched between Botswana, Angola and Zambia, and it holds the country’s only significant quantity of dangerous game. It took us two days to get there.

After getting worked over in transit like a sailor’s sea bag, after hunting “big” game at Kasika and after driving six hours to Kwando and hunting some more, the last thing I wanted to do was climb in another Toyota. But we tapped out in the Strip, so Kabous, Tom and I left Dwight to pursue his quest for a 70-pounder with Danie and Jamy and drove 12 hours across the country to hunt plains game here at Jamy’s farm, Panorama.

It’s easy to see why the place got its name. One can see for miles across its 15,000 acres of red-desert Kalahari south of Windhoek covered with camel thorn, black thorn and shepherd’s trees and teeming with kudu, gemsbok, zebra, blue wildebeest, impala, blesbok, springbok, duiker …

Jamy and his family live here. Guests stay in chalets—tents on concrete pads with queen beds, wardrobes and en suite baths. Everyone takes meals beneath a soaring thatched roof in the great room, open on two sides to reveal the surrounding countryside.

Tom, a first-timer in Africa, is proficient now with the ’06 and he doesn’t want to leave. I can see it in his shoulders. He wanted a trophy kudu bull most of all, but try as he might it didn’t happen. So he’s lingering the longest after two weeks away from home. Man, what a ride.

Big Game, Caprivi Style
Like campfires everywhere, ours tonight at Kwando Camp in the Strip inspires conversation, and I learn a lot about my hosts.

Besides me, there is Dwight Van Brunt, vice president of marketing at KimberKimber RifleManufacturing. He’s obsessive in the field—I know, because I’ve hunted elk with him—and his zeal drives us all. Ron Spomer is an AH field editor whose work you read in these pages. Tom Rickwalder is the development manager for NRA E-Media; he’s here to film our hunt. Dries Bronner is South African and a PH, but that’s not how he makes his living. He and his wife, Renette, love this stuff enough to burn vacation time, driving here from the Cape every year to help out Jamy as camp hosts. They bring their teenage son, Reinhardt, because he soaks up the outdoors, too. Karel “Kabous” Grunschloss is a 20-something man not long out of college, where he majored in tourism and recreation. The lure of the bush inspired him to become a PH. He signed on with Jamy Traut Hunting Safaris so he could apprentice for his big-game license. Danie Botha is big-game qualified, but he makes his living as a farmer. This week, Jamy was tied up with another safari and needed help so Danie agreed to pitch in for his friend. I like Danie. He’s big, affable and able.

Curious, I ask Danie what is meant by “big-game qualified.” A PH license is one thing, he says. To guide hunters for big game one must apprentice for two seasons with a big-game guide and be in on three kills of at least two different species from the big five, croc and hippo then take a practical and written exam.

The night before I left the States my girlfriend and I saw Lyle Lovett and His Large Band in concert, and I realize a T-shirt they sold hit the spot. “Hell,” I say, “lechwe, wildebeest, reedbuck—that’s big game. What we hunted here in the Strip—elephant, hippo, croc—that’s not big, it’s large.

This morning was a prime example.

Kabous, Ron, Tom and I picked up a local game scout, Frank, and set off down the Kwandu River in search of lechwe and reedbuck. Right off the bat we struck naturalist gold: a colony of southern Carmine bee-eaters. We stared in wonder at what must’ve been a thousand of them. What a treat. But I left my 300mm lens in camp and took the .30-06 instead. I shot what I could with my short lens, and vowed never again to leave camp without my telephoto.

We saw lots of good red lechwes along shore, but they were in the Bwabwata Game Park, Red Lechweoff limits to hunting. So we motored downriver past sport fishermen, past tourists at a game lodge. Eventually, Frank directed us to a landing.

It was quiet as we tied off the boat. Suddenly, we felt alone. Somebody called the place Lechwe Island. I think it was me when I thought about Capt. Benjamin Willard, Martin Sheen’s character in “Apocalypse Now,” when he said, “Never get off the boat.”
We hadn’t gone a hundred yards when we spotted two hippos sleeping in the shade. They were facing away from us, snoozing, and the wind was in our favor, but the ’06 my hands suddenly felt dainty.

Soon after, we spied some lechwes but they weren’t trophies. Then I looked down and saw elephant dung. Kabous kicked it and I realized it wasn’t that old. Then we spotted them: a herd of cow elephants with calves feeding in the shade 200 yards away. At least the wind was in our favor.

Ten minutes later, our path back to the boat was blocked: the hippos had risen to return to the water. They say the most dangerous place to be is between a hippo and water. We weren’t, but we crouched only about 50 yards from them. Still, the wind was … I felt it on the back of my ears. This could be a problem. I figured if things got Western I’d run for a tree about 20 yards away and hide behind it.

Then I wished I had not my telephoto lens but the .458 Win. Mag. Kimber Caprivi loaded with Federal Premium Cape-Shok 500-grain Trophy Bonded Sledgehammer Solids I used on the Botswana bull. Yeah, forget the lens: I decided I’d never step off in dangerous-game country again without a big-bore.

Botswana Bulls
Kasika Camp, the base from where I shot my bull and Ron shot his hippo and croc, lies on a peninsula surrounded by backwater of the Chobe River. Every inch of earth here is verdant. Across the Chobe is Botswana and Chobe National Park. The Chobe turns into the Zambezi, and a long boat ride down that lies Vic Falls. Fish eagles and crocodiles ply the water.

On our side, below where we put in with the Asila, lies the Zambezi Queen, a giant houseboat. It’s not the only hospitality around here. Upriver on the Botswana side there are a couple of five-star lodges. Tourists are drawn to the wildlife in the park (mostly the elephants) and the fishing. Soon, fishing may be the only draw. Botswana recently shut down hunting. Deforestation caused by elephants is evident for as far as the eye can see. Mature adults forage for about 400 pounds of food a day, and will walk as far as 25 miles a day for the 50 gallons of water they need. Now that everything close to the river in Botswana is eaten, they must walk farther inland to find more food. How long before they outstretch their 25-mile range? If those Botswana elephants swim the Chobe in search of food, Namibia will have to think about increasing its quotas. Either that or the Botswana elephants will die of starvation.

The African elephant is Earth’s largest mammal. Unlike some species, it never stops growing. The largest of this largest species on land lives in western Zimbabwe, in the Hwange Park corridor; the animals in this population trade northwest and southeast, flowing through Botswana, Angola and Namibia. A bull of this ilk can be taller than 13 feet at the shoulder and weigh as much as 7 tons. To the east in the Zambezi Valley and on into Mozambique, the elephants are perhaps 20 percent smaller. In southern Tanzania’s Selous Reserve they are even smaller. In northern Tanzania and farther up into East Africa they grow larger again. And in the forests they are smallest yet; a mature forest bull rarely grows taller than 8 feet.

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2 Responses to An African Big-Game Hunt, Caprivi Style

Tim Ferrall wrote:
March 10, 2014

As Scott found out, one should ALWAYS have in hand a rifle sufficient to deal with the largest animal inhabiting the hunt area.

joe phillips wrote:
March 07, 2014

The african elephant is the earth's largest land mammal. The blue whale is the largest mammal. Good article. I envy you.