Namibian Sunrise: The story of a young man's African dream

As a junior in college, I had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad for a semester at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Those six months were unforgettable as I had some incredible adventures all over southern Africa with some wonderful people.

I survived the highest bungee jump in the world. After a long trip through crocodile and hippo-infested waters I camped on an island in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

I witnessed the “smoke that thunders” at Victoria Falls in Zambia, bartered in the public market in Zimbabwe, and caught a big Tiger Fish in the Zambezi River that separates the two countries.

I even road tripped with three of my friends from South Africa into Mozambique and back to South Africa via Swaziland. We had to bribe corrupt police officers but we made it back in one piece. However, the adventure that stood out the most was my 11-day hunt in Namibia.

A Bullet Dodged
I saved every penny that I made during my previous three years of college, hoping the entire time that maybe someday I might get the chance to hunt Africa. I worked as much overtime during the summers as I could get, and when I finally found out I was going to study abroad in Cape Town, I jumped at the chance to book a hunt.

About two weeks before my hunt, I received a startling email from my contact agent at Cabela’s. All it said was “Daniel, please email me your South African phone number ASAP.” I was really worried, and within 20 minutes of my response I got a phone call. I was informed that the outfitter with whom I’d booked my hunt was and still is being investigated for illegal hunting activities in Namibia.

All trophies taken with his company were being seized and held as evidence in an ongoing criminal investigation by Customs. My agent informed me that I would no longer be hunting with that outfitter, and instead Cabala’s had arranged for me to hunt with Makadi Safaris. I was assured that they were excellent, as my agent has personally hunted with them three times.

A little research revealed that Makadi was much more expensive than my previous hunt. Being the excellent company that Cabela’s is, they paid the difference, which turned out to be several thousand dollars. That is why I always have and most certainly always will buy my gear and book my hunts through Cabela’s. Diethelm and Katja Metzger run Makadi Safaris and Deithelm is the president of the Namibian Professional Hunter Association. I had been upgraded big time. Thank you Cabela’s.

The Hunt Begins

Day 1
I arrived in Namibia on June 6th, after about 4 hours of sleep. I enjoyed my last night in Cape Town so to speak, and was still feeling the effects of the bottle of brandy my buddies and I had consumed during our goodbyes. I flew from Cape Town directly to Windhoek, and was met at the airport by Katja, who walked right up to me and said, “You must be Daniel.” Slightly surprised, all I could do was nod my head. We drove about an hour from the airport to the farm.

In Namibia, most of the major roads are dirt/gravel and are maintained by the government. While they are very dusty, they are actually very good roads. I spent the first day hanging around the farm where I spoke with another hunter who had just completed his hunt. He was another Cabela’s hunter who had been switched to Makadi for the same reason that I had been switched. He told me his hunting tales, and informed me that it was the best thing that could have happened. He could not have been more right.

Day 2
The next day I woke up at 5:45am and had breakfast at 6:00am. Breakfast each morning consisted of eggs, assorted cold cut meats, and fresh bread and jam. At 6:30am we departed for my first day of hunting.

We mounted up on the hunting truck with my professional hunter Schalk and I sitting in the open back and our driver Phillip in the cab of the Toyota Land Cruiser. The cold air cut right through my light coat. I never knew it was cold in Africa! The wind was cold and exceptionally dry, and by the third day my lips would be so chapped that I would have to ask for lip balm.

But the sunrise was so amazing that I almost forgot the bitter cold. The dark red and orange hues crept slowly out of the Namibian plains, illuminating a world of open fields, thick brush, and rocky hills. Never before had I ever seen so many different types of habitat so close together! I have never witnessed anything as spectacular as the beauty of African sunrises and sunsets.

We started my hunt by driving on trails through the huge property and glassing any animals we could come across. We’d get down and hike to glass further. For a guy who grew up hunting the thick Virginia woods, glassing over a hundred animals a day was awesome. In the foothills where I learned to hunt, if you saw four deer in a day it was a success. In Namibia, animals are in groups of six to 60. It was incredible.

After driving and glassing for many hours, we took a break for lunch. Each day at lunch, we would sit overlooking a water hole and eat our picnic lunch. This first day we waited for quite awhile at the water hole, and after eying quite a few warthogs, a nice boar came in.

However, he had broken off a tusk on one side, so we passed him up. Soon after, another nice boar came in, his tail sticking straight up in the air like a flag as he sauntered in to drink. This time, the warthog had nice tusks, and my PH told me to take him. I slid down out of my chair and rested the rifle on the edge of the blind.

I clicked the three-position safety off the Winchester Model 70 Classic Stainless in .300 Winchester Magnum and put the crosshairs on the warthogs shoulder. I squeezed the trigger. Boom! The warthog dropped. Bang Flop. He twitched twice and lay still. I lasered the range at 44 yards. The bullet penetrated through both shoulders and exited. My first African big game animal! I was ecstatic as I approached the magnificent warthog. I knew in that moment that I was so blessed to have the opportunity to visit such an amazing place.

Schalk looked at me with a sly grin and said “Lets go see if we can shoot something bigger.”

Day 3
The next morning we got up at the same time and departed. We drove to a rocky part of the property and proceeded to glass for Kudu with their regal spiral horns. We knew that there was a natural water hole nearby and we hoped there would be a nice kudu bull down there. We hiked up the shale-covered mountain and peered through our binoculars. No luck. Hiked again, the thorns tearing at our pants, shirts, and skin.

The journey was tough, but I did not care. We got closer to the water hole, and climbed another mountain over looking the water. No kudu bulls. However, we did see a group of hartebeest. There was a nice bull lying down, and another standing 50 yards away from the first. The bull lying down was a shooter. Even though the wind was bad we decided we were going to try to stalk within shooting range. We hiked down, slipping quietly down a cattle trail.

We edged closer, kneeling by a fence to hide out outline. The group of hartebeest began to catch our scent and starting moving around. We slid forward behind a large metal water container and set up the sticks.

I picked up the bull in the Leupold scope. I pulled out my rangefinder and lasered the bull at 186 yards. Schalk whistled at the bull, but it wouldn’t stop. Right before the bull disappeared into the brush, I pressed the trigger. Boom.

The bull jumped and made it back seven yards and went down. We clapped and shook hands and approached the hartebeest. I had hit him hard, making a great quartering shot. The bullet had penetrated the chest cavity and had taken out the lungs judging by the frothy blood on the chest and the blood trail. He was a magnificent old bull, with the bases of his horns so thick that I could not wrap my hand all the way around them. He made gold medal as well.

Day 4
I woke up freezing. Only the white light of the numerous stars twinkling overhead illuminated the bitter darkness. Schalk and I stumbled to breakfast and then drove to a separate property to hunt that was about an hour away on the dirt roads. We saw some steenbuck on the way in along the fence lines.

We made a long stalk on some gemsbuck, a large species of antelope with spear like horns and a gorgeous black and white face, but they kept spooking. As we moved, a steenbok with nice horns popped his head up 16 yards away. All Schalk could say was “shoot, shoot, shoot!” I rested the rifle and shot the springbok at 16 yards as he stood near a brush pile. The .300 Win Mag did quite a number on that little antelope. As we walked up to the little animal, Schalk started smiling uncontrollably. The steenbok was huge! The horns measured 5 3/8 inches. A massive steenbok that not only is gold medal but also will end up way up there in the SCI record book.

The day’s hunt continued. We kept driving and glassing. We found an ostrich that had caught its leg in the wire cattle fence and then gotten tangled up. We had to put the animal out of its misery. Apparently, sometimes male ostriches try to jump the fences and get stuck. I found that very interesting.

As the sun started to sink, we spotted a big gemsbok cow. She was near the property line, so we made a long stalk to get into range before she left our hunting area. Finally we snuck out from behind a bush and set up the shooting sticks. The crosshairs wobbled as Schalk told me to take her. I took a breath and held a little high to try to avoid hitting a branch that was in the way. At the shot she dropped like a rock. We started laughing and congratulating each other when the big female cow jumped up and ran off! My PH and I sprinted towards the property line, cursing as we ran, to try to hit her again before she made it over the fence. Fortunately, she wandered back into the property a little deeper, and laid down. We rested the sticks again and shot the cow broadside at 60 yards. She rolled over.

We approached and began to set up for pictures. Schalk checked to make sure she was dead by poking the animal’s eye to see if it blinked. It was not breathing either as we posed it for pictures. Then all of a sudden, after two minutes of being dead, the tough old cow started wheezing again! Gemsbok are tough, and this one just would not die, despite having a 180gr .30 caliber bullet through both lungs. Even after my PH slid his knife into the gemsbok’s chest the thing refused to die for another minute. I had never seen an animal cry until then.

Tears were rolling down the gemsbok’s white and black face. It was heart wrenching. My PH was astounded too; he said he had never seen an animal take that much killing. It really bothered me, and I had a few extra drinks that night in the gemsbok’s honor.

The old cow was spectacular however, with long gorgeous horns. She now has a special place on my wall, and every time I look at her I remember her epic toughness.

Day 5
The next morning, on the 5th day of my Namibian experience, after glassing for kudu early on we decided to go after black wildebeest. In Namibia it is law that wildebeest must be kept separate from cattle due to worries about disease transfer.

As a result, the wildebeest are free ranging within a 7,000-acre area separated from the rest of the farm and their prize cattle. As we drove, my PH spotted a nice bull. We had been talking guns all day, and my PH asked if I would like to use his custom .375 H&H. I was thrilled as I sheepishly said yes and he uncased his beautiful rifle. The stock was fitted just for him, built on a Mauser action, with a illuminated Schmidt and Bender 1-6x scope. It was stunning. We quietly climbed down out of the truck and cautiously made our way into the bush. We slid into a dry riverbed, the sound of our footsteps muffled by the soft sand. We emerged from the sand behind a bush, a mere 100 yards from the group of wildebeest. Schalk pointed out which one to take, as we set up the shooting sticks as low as possible and I rested the rifle in a kneeling position.

I placed the crosshairs directly on the bulls shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The bull was hit hard, and ran in a dizzying circle and finally rolled over dead. We laughed and shook hands. Another big bull, and yet another amazing animal. My hunt was going well!

We continued hunting all afternoon. As we were making our way back to the main camp, the sun sinking low in the sky, we saw a nice gemsbok bull. We slid out of the truck and made a good stalk. His head was down feeding. We edged along a fence line to about 160 yards.

The bull crossed to our side and kept walking. Schalk whistled, but the bull wouldn’t stop. I pressed the trigger. The bull dropped in its spot. My PH told me that he thought I spined it so I jacked another round into the chamber and we advanced cautiously. The bullet had broken its spine about two-thirds of the way back. I put another round into his heart/lung area from six-feet away and it was all over. The gemsbok apparently gave me fits for accuracy. They were the only two animals that required more than one shot, regardless of distance. The old bull had thick horns and his black and white face was incredibly handsome.

That night at dinner, Katja was joking that if we shot our kudu early the next morning we would be home in time to watch the opening of the 2011 World Cup. I joked with her that we would be back by 10 a.m., to drink beer and watch the game.

Day 6
As we stumbled out of the dining room, sleep deprived and sore from long days of hiking, we decided to go hunt a different property. It was about a forty-minute drive in the bitter cold pre-sunrise air, but as soon as we arrived, we spotted a nice kudu bull. Unfortunately, as Murphy has so well demonstrated, the bull was on the neighbor’s property! We laughed at our lousy luck with kudu. I thought to myself, well we will just have to shoot a bigger one! My goal was to shoot a kudu 52 inch or better, since the Greater Kudu grow larger in Namibia than the Cape Kudu found in South Africa. This is one of the reasons why I chose Namibia over South Africa for my adventure. As soon as we crossed to our side of the property line, I started loading my rifle. Next thing I hear is “Load your gun, load your gun!” Another big kudu bull had walked out of the bush on our side of the fence. I slid down off the truck, rested my rifle on the shooting sticks. I didn’t know the range but guessed it was 200+.

I held high on his shoulder and squeezed the trigger. I heard a distinct thump as the bullet struck home. I had always read that you could hear a bullet hit a game animal, but I had never had the opportunity to take a shot long enough for that phenomenon to occur, as most our shots in my part of Virginia are inside 100 yards.

Schalk and I were shocked at our newfound luck. We walked down to see where the bull had gone, since he had reacted like he had been hit hard. Thirty yards away from where I shot him, I saw these massive spiral horns sticking up. He was down. I later lasered the shot at 250 yards almost exactly. The shot had quartered into him, taking out his vitals and did not exit. I was giddy with excitement. My longest shot ever, and a 600-plus-pound animal. The tape stretched around his horns to reveal that he was 53 inches; I had made my very selective goal a reality!

Katja and the rest of the family were shocked when we rolled back into camp at 9:30am. We spent the rest of the day watching soccer with the family and drinking beer. It was a great day and we very much needed to recuperate.

Day 7
The seventh day of my hunt found us returning to where I had shot both my steenbuck and as well as my gemsbok cow. Today we elected to hunt duiker, another tiny antelope. We walked through the brush glassing and up along a dried riverbed. We spotted a nice one and tried to get into position, but like steenbok, duikers are extremely skittish and he bolted. We came out of the bush and moved on. All of a sudden my PH points to the fence line, he whispered to get ready as I looked through my scope. He judged the horns and told me to shoot. Boom!

At about 40 yards the .300 Win Mag repeated its earlier performance. Somehow the old duiker ran 40 yards, with no chest cavity left. His bases were thick and he was extremely old. The duiker’s horns were just over 4 inches as he had worn them down, but the thickness of his bases easily made him a gold medal duiker. I was thrilled.

Day 7
Katja had gotten tired of us always being so successful and then hanging around the camp all day. So, she suggested we go hunt springbok again, even though all of our glassing told us there were no good rams and that it would be better to wait until we transferred to a different farm to hunt zebra. However, after much searching we found a decent old ram. We made a good stalk and closed the distance to about 160-plus yards. I rested the rifle on the sticks and squeezed the trigger. The ram reacted like he was hit. He jumped about 40 yards and went down for good. I thought the shot had hit too far back, but he had been quartering away so even though the bullet hit him far back, it had penetrated to the offside shoulder taking out the boiler room.

He was beautiful, an old ram with thick bases. A beautiful trophy, and my only non-gold medal animal. I was a little disappointed, but not much. It is hard to argue with a silver medal springbok!

Day 8
I transferred to Ilala, the other farm owned by Makadi. It is home to many mountain zebra, my last trophy animal, one that I was informed by my girlfriend not to return home without because she “wanted a rug for her closet.” Yeah, we will see if that happens….

The drive was about 3.5 hours and was incredibly picturesque. We left the bush and plains behind and climbed into the rocky boulder strewn mountains. It was absolutely stunning.

At Ilala I had a different professional hunter, because Schalk had to stay in Windhoek to pick up a new hunter. The first day I was there I just relaxed and the PH John, one of the few black African PHs took me out in the Land Rover in the evening to see the area. We saw fewer animals than we had seen on the grassy plains, however all the antelope in the mountains had longer horns. The rocky mountains soared skyward with incredible beauty and the wind whipped around the peaks with a ferocity I have rarely experienced. The sunset over the Namibian mountains was breathtaking. The orange fiery orb slipped behind the summits as night descended on us.

Day 9
The next morning, the bitter cold was accentuated by the brutal wind at the top of the mountains.  After eating lunch in a dried up riverbed we began our hunt for the clever mountain zebra. When hunting zebra, you often try to kill a mare instead of a stallion. This is because stallions battle each other for dominance over the females, which results in heavy scaring on their faces and hides. Therefore, females more often than not make better trophies.

We spotted a group about two miles away, and began a stalk on foot. When we finally circled around and inched forward on a rock formation, the zebras were about 220 yards out. John whispered for me to wait because they likely would move down the hill and closer to us. For some reason, they decided not to cooperate. Each time they moved farther away, and each time we moved to get a shot, we couldn’t get closer than 300 yards. Even though I desperately wanted to take a beautiful zebra, I did not trust my ability to hit a game animal at 300 yards in heavy winds. John and I made a fantastic stalk, straight at them, without cover.

The wind was in our favor and the sun was in their eyes. However, when we popped up in shooting range, the mare we wanted had changed positions. Even though I had not taken a Hartman’s zebra, I was incredibly happy, because the stalk itself was one of the best experiences of my life. The mountain zebra would not be a epic trophy if they were easy to hunt.

We made the long tiring trek back to the truck. Up and down the rocky mountains, sliding occasionally on the loose footing. It was often like a controlled free fall. When we finally got back to the truck, and spotted another group of zebras a mile and a half away. With the sun sinking rapidly, we decided to see if we could get to them in time. John almost ran down the mountain and up the next, as I followed behind. We made it to a dried up riverbed, and the soft sand proved invaluable in our stalk. The sand muffled our footsteps, hiding our presence from the cunning animals. However, the brilliant stallion, realizing that he could smell anything upwind, would just stare downwind to protect his group. We got trapped behind a bush, unable to maneuver to get a shot on the mare we wanted, as the stallion’s keen eyes has us pinned. Finally, after fifteen minutes of stillness we slid around the bush and set the shooting sticks in the soft riverbed. The zebras started to cross diagonally, about 110 yards away.

Our mare was to be the last one to cross. As she came into the open, John whistled, but she wouldn’t stop and continued at a trot. I pulled the trigger, not willing to let her escape into the bush. She was hit hard. Mountain zebra usually bolt when shot, even when the bullet is placed perfectly.

My big mare had no idea where she was. She wandered in a big circle, and after a couple minutes she went down for good. As I stood there, a huge smile on my face, I realized I had achieved my dream. I had tagged out on my first African hunt.

The next two days were a blur, as we checked leopard baits and relaxed. Finally, after too many flights, the airline losing my baggage, and 25 hours of travel time, my amazing girlfriend greeted me at the airport. The six months of us being apart seemed to melt away.

My trip to Africa was complete.