Peering earthward from my tiny window, the single propeller on the right wing whirred in a blur as the sandy colours of a dry Africa passed below. I was destined for Windhoek airport in Namibia. My green shirt, khaki shorts and Rogue boots probably made the reason for my trip obvious. I liked to pack light, so civvy clothes hadn’t made the cut. I was most comfortable like this in any case, and few people in Africa would look twice – this wasn’t like at home.
With a bump and bounce, rubber met tar and the short flight from Johannesburg was at an end. Windhoek was a great airport to fly into. Small and on the edge of town, it almost feels like you are flying into a remote landing strip as you lose altitude. Retrieving firearms is also much more straightforward than in Jo’burg, and you can be sure not to be the only hunters passing through when you arrive. This is a hunting Mecca, and one of the last accessible true wildernesses to hunt safely in Africa. I would soon be headed north after dangerous game with my old friend Larno Rens, but colleague and hunter Jost Arnold was destined for the Gaingu conservancy on a springbok cull.
There is no doubt that Africa offers some of the best value and exciting hunting on the planet. The landscape is nothing short of breathtaking, with the terrain transforming remarkably within and between countries. There is an atmosphere here that is hard to describe in a couple of sentences, and without actually setting foot in Africa it is all but impossible to understand. The closet you will come is reading Capstick, Selous, Hemingway or the other greats. But be warned. Once you have consumed their stories and felt the palpitations of excitement as you join the adventure, you will be left knowing that a hunting life is incomplete without making a trip to the home of the greatest hunters who ever lived.
In terms of value for money, what is on offer in Africa is staggering in comparison to home soil. Most people look at the price of a five-day safari and spit their tea out at the thought of spending £2,500. But a representative red hill stag at home, at best, will be around £400 plus VAT. In South Africa you could shoot two trophy blesbuck and a duiker for that. A big trophykudu would only cost a little more. Day fees, including accommodationand all the drink you can consume, come in around the £350-a-daymark. Assuming you are with a decent outfitter, and depending onthe kind of hunt you are on, these camps are usually fantastically luxurious, nestled in the bush surrounded by game. It will be unlike any where you have stayed before. Compare that to hotel prices, fuelcosts to get where you’re going, as well as the eating out and the bar bill, and you will probably find yourself not far off the same money.
If you are not interested in trophy animals, then you can bag yourself an even better deal, and a lot of hunting. Hunting speciessuch as warthog, bushpig and the smaller antelope is tremendousfun and superb value when trophies are not the aim. Another great way of experiencing hunting in Africa is by getting involved in a cull hunt. These tend to be focused on one or two species, and most of the animals shot are females and non-trophy males. Having said that, a trophy animal or another species can usually be added to your hunt.
To get the most out of these hunts you need to be a competent shooter, and be able to acquire, lock and take out your target as soonas the opportunity arises. Hunts can vary in location and species,but the species most frequently culled are springbok, kudu, impala and blesbok. You may have a little less flexibility on the time of year though, with some areas only opening up culling towards the latter part of the year. It is worth this minor inconvenience, as you will get to experience hunts every bit as exciting as chasing down trophy animals for a fraction of the cost. As a result, you can normally bag more game in one trip.
This will not be an unfamiliar option to UK stalkers, may of whom take to the low ground in search of roe does once the buck season closes. Outside syndicated ground, prices vary a lot, but you can expect to pay around £80 an outing, with two outings a day. There may even be a doe fee on top of that, but these are quite small. So a week’s doe stalking, just in hunting costs, will set you back around £1,100. Compare that to five days’ hunting including a kudu cow, two impala, three warthogs and a night’s jackal shooting, all for around £2,000 including all your accommodation, and you can see the appeal.
It was on such a cull hunt that Jost was headed, except the terrain was unique, and he had only one species on the cards. The area was a good two-and-a-half-hour hike cross-country from the airport. Covering almost 750,000 hectares, this was a colossal concession on the fringe of the Namib desert, teeming with game including oryx, mountain zebra, kudu, hartebeest and leopard among others. But of all the species, there is one in particular that flourishes in this harsh, vast and unforgiving environment. The common and under-rated springbok is here in huge numbers, and this would be Jost’s focus for the trip.
As you can imagine, the terrain bordering the desert region is open and expansive, with vast tracts of grass plains stretching out with little interruption. Ridges of mountainous areas punctuate the landscape, with dry river beds snaking through plains with distinctive tones of lusher foliage following their path. Spotting game here provides little in a way of a challenge, but getting in to a reasonable shooting distance certainly does.
Even with the intimate knowledge of the professional hunters, shooting ranges here are a bit stretchy. If you can’t take a competent shot beyond 200 metres, then you’re probably not up to the task. The likelihood is that most of the shooting will be a good bit beyond this, with shots beyond 300 metres common practice. For this reason, appropriate calibre selection is important. This is one place in Africa where the faster-flying Magnums certainly have a place, especially if you want to hunt the larger species. That said, the calibre will make not a jot of difference if you can’t place it where you want it. Before venturing here, you should be able to smash a clay pigeon at 300 yards every time without question.
Having hunted this concession before, Jost was well versed in what was required, so was packing the right gear and the skill to make the most of what was on offer. With a fixed day rate and each cull springbok coming in about the same price as a brace of driven pheasants, up to 10 springbok a day wasn’t an uncommon sight. This is very much ‘fill your boots’ hunting, but you will be only as successful as your preparation.
Africa holds a special place in most hunters’ hearts, even before they foot on the continent. It is shrouded in mystery and history of a bygone era, and still offers today some of the best hunting on the planet. It is a trip every hunter has to make.
Visit www.orionhuntingtours.com for more information.