Some 20 years ago now, Westley Richards took on the main dealership of the Courteney Boot Co. range of boots in the USA and UK. It was an ideal and complementary range of footwear for our brand. The simple truth that every hunter needs an accurate rifle and an a great pair of boots for every hunt, led us to look for the suitable boot to recommend to our customers headed to Africa.
I recall very well the sizes of the 2 blisters on the bottom of my feet on the day of my first buffalo hunt in Botswana many years ago. I packed a single trigger .470 droplock rifle and wore a pair of ‘custom made’ moccasins which looked great, but allowed too much movement, in all fairness I had probably not worn them enough before the trip. Anyway after a long day’s march after some buffalo I had to call it a day, it spoiled that hunt and many days after also, whilst the healing took place.
Shortly after this event we took on the Courteney Boots distributorship and we have never looked back. Thousands of satisfied customers have been served over the years and many thousands of miles have been hunted in the boots. The praise for the ‘out of box’ comfort of the range of boots never ceases to come in. Many times at Safari Club a customer will come up wearing his boots and tell me ‘I have been wearing these for 15 years’ to which I would quietly think I wish they would occasionally wear out so I could sell you another pair!
All these years later it gives me pleasure to introduce the latest creation from Courteney in Zimbabwe, the ‘Courteney Selous Shirt’, a safari shirt which Gale Rice, owner of Courteney has developed carefully over the past few years. By bringing together the company’s years of experience in the safari field and collaborating with the local professional hunters, Courteney have, I am sure, produced another winning product that will be well suited in your safari wardrobe for many years to come.
Any of you who head to Africa for safari will encounter, on your first visit, the use of shooting sticks, these are carried by the PH and provide an instant and stable rest for your rifle. I know I was unfamiliar with this practise 25 years ago when I went on my first safari, using them correctly took some time and practise, the height, the grip and flexibility all take getting used to. I don’t recommend taking expensive screw apart tripod sticks to Africa, it is weight and bulk you don’t need, rely on the PH and his sticks as he will place them fast and effectively giving you chance to concentrate on your quarry. I do however recommend practise with simple sticks which can easily be made at home.
I asked my long time friend Robin Hurt, one of the most respected Professional Hunters practicing today, who has carried the shooting sticks for many a mile, to write a short piece about the importance and use of the sticks which he has kindly done.
Robin Hurt with his 20 year old shooting sticks close to hand.
Accurate rifle shooting is all about a steady position and trigger squeeze. Without these two basic principals, most people will have difficulty in shooting rifles accurately. An unsteady rest leads to trigger snatching and a resulting badly placed shot. In the hunting field a good rest for ones rifle is crucial as no hunter worth his salt wants to injure or wound an animal – the objective is to hunt the animal in a sporting and fair chance manner and to take a deliberate clean shot.
The problem is that good natural rests to support and steady the rifle are not always at hand, for example an ant hill or a tree trunk. Also one is often faced with long grass or low scrub bush, making a lying down or sitting position shot impossible . This is where the African Shooting Sticks come in handy. The sticks can be set up in seconds, at the precise time the quarry is seen, without the need to possibly spoil the stalk by casting around looking for a rest. Off hand shooting, except at close range under 50 yards and on wounded game, is not to be recommended for most hunters.
My first shooting sticks were made for me by my Wata ( Waliaingulu ) elephant hunter tracker in 1963. In fact it was a simple bi pod of two wooden limbs of just under 3/4 inch diameter, 5 1/2 feet long, lashed together with strips of car tyre inner tubing. The lower tips of the thin poles were sharpened, so as to give proper purchase on the ground and not slip. It was an effective tool – but not perfect. All professional hunters at that time used these wooden bi pods.
Roger Hurt’s Tracker ‘Lekini’ with his shooting sticks and hearing protection.
Then there was a natural progression to more effective tri pods; using the same materials, but with two of the limbs being 4 to 5 inches longer and a shorter middle limb in the centre, again bound together with strip rubber tubing to give flexibility and strength when opening the sticks. This tri pod had now became an effective rest, for as steady a shot as possible in normal hunting conditions and used daily by most professional hunters.
To this day I carry wooden shooting sticks, home made by my trackers, using car tubing strips to hold the top sector together. My current sticks are now over twenty years old and used on every hunt. They never leave my hunting car and are as essential to my equipment as is a high lift Jack! The advantage of the natural materials is quietness. I have no problem with the commercial shooting sticks available, other than that they can be noisy, being made out of plastic or light metal tubing. But, they are useful for practice.
Robin Hurt following client HH Al Thani out of the bush, sticks to hand as always.
The way it works is that I always carry the sticks personally, and set them up according to my clients stature; by spreading the legs wider or closer together simply adjusts the rifles rest height as the need may be. The client follows close by and directly behind the professional, allowing quick and easy access to the rest.
Another huge advantage of the shooting sticks is that if your quarry is moving or partially blocked by bush or other cover, you can simply rest your rifle in a ready position until such time as an opportunity presents itself, set up immediately to take the shot . By the way, one of the biggest mistakes made by hunters is moving too quickly and in a rushed manner to place the rifle on the sticks. Quick movements are immediately spotted by game . Preferably a slow fluid movement of the rifle on to the sticks is what one should
Roger Hurt and client on the sticks. Note the forefinger grip on the forend.
Practice shooting off sticks will prove invaluable to better coordination and accurate field shooting . Practice standing , sitting and kneeling using the sticks . For sitting and kneeling I use one of the upright limbs and use my hand and fore finger to lock the rifle in position. For standing shots I personally also like to anchor the rifle on to the sticks by wrapping my left hand fore finger around the rifles barrel / fore end and holding the sticks where they are bound together, with the rest of my hand .
My son Derek, a professional in Tanzania, carries two sets of sticks – a short pair for sitting and kneeling shots and a normal long set for standing shots . His tracker carries the shorter pair and simply passes them to Derek when needed. I am too set in my ways to learn new tricks and only use one pair that I adjust as needed!
For longish or difficult shots on windy days , over 150 yards, I will often offer extra support to the hunter; by holding the sticks with both my hands and my body bent in a slightly crouched position, that in turn gives my shoulder as an added rest for the shooters elbow . This in effect gives a two position rest .
Lunchtime picnic use for the tripod!
Shooting sticks have other uses – they can be used as snake tongs to capture snakes ( not advised ! ). On one occasion in South Sudan I used the sticks as a spear to impale an unfortunate forest Guinea Fowl when I didn’t want to disturb the area by shooting! Here in the Namibian mountains, they make a useful walking stick in our difficult steep terrain! I often use them to carry small game as on a pole hung between two people ! Last season one of our P Hunters fended off a furious warthog with his sticks , when they surprised it charging out of its resting place in an Aardvark’s hole! I have used them as a make shift fishing rod by tying some line with a hook on one end! Yes, they have all manner of uses apart from being a splendid rifle rest!
Some further tips that may be found to be useful are :-
– Never rest the barrel on the sticks – always the fore end. Metal contact with the sticks will result in the shot going high.
– For standing shots, stand with your legs well apart. This will help stabilize your shooting position.
– For sitting shots, bring up your knees so that your elbows are rested. This will greatly improve your shooting.
– To make your own sticks, choose saplings that are strong and straight, about 3/4 of an inch thick. Strip off the bark. Hold the sticks upright, and cut to length. As a height measurement, cut them at the level of your eyes. The centre limb should be 4/5″ shorter . Bind all three pole’s with rubber strops tightly at about 1 1/2 inches below the top of the shortest sapling. You can tape or rubberized the twin stabilizer arms on the longer poles for added quietness and support.
– Get in the habit of taking off the rifles safety in one movement in time with placing your weapon on the shooting sticks.
– Don’t place your rifle on the sticks with the fore end and your hand grip too far forward as this creates a seesaw effect.
– If your making your own shooting sticks, try to find hard wood poles that are as straight as possible. Any bends found after de barking can easily be sorted by holding over a fire and straightening the heated sapling .
– Lastly practice makes perfect. Make or buy your sticks and make yourself familiar with them and their use. Go to the rifle range or some other safe place and practice shooting off them.
Good hunting !
Robin has 2 very successful hunting operations in Africa where he operates fromNamibia and Tanzania.Please follow the links for further information.
I will be discussing with our stick makers in England the manufacture of simple sets of these tripod shooting sticks with some details by our leather shop for protecting the rifle.
Another of our increasingly popular Take Down rifles was completed this past week. This deluxe grade sporting rifle, with stunning wood, was built for use primarily in Europe in the ever popular 9.3 x 62 calibre. The rifle is cased in one of our oak case frames covered in elephant hide, lined with red bookbinding goatskin and fitted with horn handled tooling. The rifle is engraved by Frederique Lepinois.
Most people think that hunting is all about killing the game that the hunter is pursuing. That is part of it, but it is a small part, a segment of the overall experience. Being in the bush enjoying nature and the animals makes one feel truly alive, the planning and anticipation of the hunt is equally as exciting. As one prepares for the hunt, equipment is decided upon and for the rifle hunter, a proper firearm is chosen for the job at hand.
I had my May 2016 safari to South Africa all planned in 2015 with my PH Eugene Small, I was taking my Westley Richards .476 double and .318 magazine rifle to use for the game to be hunted. Then at the Antique Arms Show in Las Vegas this January I stumbled into the find of my lifetime, Fredrick Courteney Selous’ Westley Richards takedown .425 magazine rifle. With the help of Simon Clode at this show the rifle is now in my Westley Richards collection. Whoever else has been the caretaker for the past 104 years has taken excellent care of the rifle, the bore is near mint and the exterior is original with minor wear. A truly beautiful piece.
To describe the rifle, it is a Best Quality takedown magazine rifle. It has the patent 5 shot drop magazine, patent use number 35, with floorplate lever to open, patent foresight with hood protector, island rear sight with one standing, four folding leaves. The bore is mint and the barrel is 24”. The checkered stock has a cheek piece for right hand shooter, blank silver initial shield and a horn forend tip. The stock is fitted with a steel grip cap and steel butt plate with cleaning rod trap. It has sling eyes on the barrel and butt stock for the hooked swivels.
I would like to propose a theory, from documentation and records read, on the legend of the .425 rifle and of Mr. Selous. He bought the rifle to take on safari in British East Africa [Kenya] with his friend W. N. MacMillan. It would appear he picked it out from the Westley Richards shop inventory in Bond Street London, and tested it at Hendon, Westley Richards shooting grounds, on October 17th, 1911. This is confirmed by the sales ledger page and states “he was very pleased with it and used 5 cartridges only”. He left for Africa in January 1912 and as the story goes he received the rifle an hour before he was to leave, not wanting to take an untested rifle he went upstairs and proceeded to shoot at the neighbor’s chimney. Pleased with the group he cleaned and repacked the rifle and was off to Africa where he shot Rhinoceros and Cape buffalo with it.
Most .425s came with a 28” barrel. With Mr. Selous being a very experienced hunter one would imagine he might think that a 28” barrel would be a bit long for the bush. I believe the delay in getting the rifle was due to having the barrel cut to 24”. The sling eye on the barrel appears to be in a position for a longer barrel. With this theory in mind I must say that the rifle is one of the most comfortable rifles to carry and shoot that I have ever used. It’s balance and fit make it a joy to shoot and hunt with. If Mr. Selous did have it cut he sure knew what he was doing. It is truly a hunter’s rifle.
Everyone that found out about the rifle said that I should take it with me on safari this year. So plans were changed, the .318 stayed at home and the .425 was prepared once again to return to Africa. The .476 was the main rifle for Big Game and the plan was to use the .425 to hunt for a big Eland bull. The reason being that during reading about Mr. Selous in the build up to the Safari I learned he wanted to go back to Africa to hunt Giant Eland after his 1912 safari where he first used the .425. Fate and WWI intervened, the rest is history.
In May of this year I was back on safari in South Africa. After completing my quest with the .476 all efforts were turned to hunting Eland with the .425. This was one of the highlights of the safari. To think that you were carrying and hunting with a rifle that was once owned and used by Mr. Selous makes one take pause. It is a magnificent example of the quality that Westley Richards produced in the early 1900s. and It should be noted that that this tradition is carried on to this day. My .476 attests to the fact.
Did I get the Eland of quest? No. We hunted hard for Eland and other plains game, but the bush was very thick this year and with many great stalks, with the .425 in hand we just could not connect with the Eland. Then the last hour of the last day the rifle was use to collect a very large Kudu bull while being backed up by my secondary PH Attie Diedericks. Friends that have seen pictures of the Kudu all ask how big it was, my answer is, “I never thought of measuring it, the pure joy of the experience was using Mr. Selous’ Westley Richards .425”. What a memorable experience it was.
Sharing with other hunters was also a joy of this adventure. At the end of my safari a game capture was setup in the area, some friends of my PHs were helping with this operation. They had all heard about the ‘Selous rifle’ and were eager to see and hopefully hold it. As it was passed around and pictures taken it was a great feeling to think that this rifle brought so much pleasure to these seasoned South African hunters. After all, it was South Africa where Mr. Selous started his lifelong adventure in 1871.
My sincere thanks to Keith for submitting this article and ‘rubbing in’ how I missed this rifle at Las Vegas! It certainly could not have gone to a better and more enthusiastic Westley Richards home and I am so glad, that within months, it has been back to Africa where it belongs!
A few weeks ago I did a post featuring an old sling for vintage rifles with only eyelets, the sling was on an original .505 Gibbs. That post led to a kind introduction in Australia, to a source of these sprung and toughened hook eyes.
After a few days carrying a heavy rifle around as part of the “Proof Test” to ensure all is secure, Joanna in our leather shop has made me the first off sample, again a faithful reproduction of the original sling I showed. I asked for this to be in natural coloured leather which, in the sun will go the colour of the background as it takes on a tan and grease.
This beautifully hand made rifle sling with even the brass buckle covered, on this occasion, in thin leather from the same hide, (which took hours!) will be a useful sling for those hunting with old rifles with sling eye lops only.
There will be some delay in offering these but if anyone would like to order one please let me know. We will make the sling in our normal colour range.
It is always nice to complete an African Safari rifle in what I might call hunting format, all best features but no frills, a rifle destined to hunt. Especially nice is that this rifle is going to a client in Africa, to a man who hunts regularly and has done since childhood, a man who has chosen our brand for his adventures, something we appreciate very much.
A two barrel take down rifle rifle built on a modern magnum Mauser 98 action with the Westley Richards take down lever assembly. Swarovski telescopes on quick detachable mounts, quarter ribs with express sights and Westley Richards patent front sights. The whole cased by our leather shop in a motor case with extra compartments for ammunition and slings. Put the case in the hunting car and off you go!
Bob Francis and Rich Cousins in Africa together with the Westley Richards .318
At the beginning of April you showed a beautiful .475 no.2 Eley Droplock rifle on the blog. As I read through the comments, one of the respondents had asked how long a set of drop locks would last. This rather intrigued me as I did not know the answer. I think the reason I did not know was because I have never had a problem with any of the Westley locks.
Then I realized I did have an answer of sorts. I currently own a Droplock .318 WR, this rifle was made in 1908, and shipped to India. Unfortunately I could find no history of the rifle in India. However, the rifle surfaced in Australia sometime after the end of WW2. The rifle was owned by a rancher in the northern territory. I have some second hand verbal history regarding its use on kangaroos and buffalo. The rifle was later sold to another gentleman in Australia, and I have some first-hand verbal history of its use at that time.
Sometime in the early nineties, the rifle ended up in the U.S. A gentleman from Montana bought the rifle and used it to shoot at least one elk. It was then traded or sold back to Westley Richards, and I was delighted to buy it at that time. It is a plain, non-engraved action with a tropical nickel finish. C type dolls head and a stalking safety, nicely engraved 26″ barrels, patent foresight and very nice French walnut. Q/D talley rings and bases were added at this time. The rifle has been re-blacked, the wood cleaned up and a new silvers pad installed. The rifle is on face, very accurate and shows no sign of ever being messed with. It has the original serial numbered locks.
I have taken the rifle to Africa seven times, and shot a wide variety of plains game, from steenbok to eland with this rifle.
In 2008, a friend of mine made a nice one shot kill on a lovely 8 x 6 elk with this rifle, on its one hundredth anniversary!
Now I have been a little long winded about this rifle, but it is very seldom that you can get some history albeit verbal, other than the story from the dealer who you bought it from. And some basic information from the maker.
The indications are that all the previous owners were hunters or shooters. The rifle was used, cleaned and cared for, otherwise it would be in a lot worse condition than it is now. It was not a safe queen, or used a couple of times and put into storage. The rifle has been used on four continents, and seen some constant use for over a hundred years.
Now for an answer. If you take care of a Droplock Westley, clean it, take reasonable care of it and cherish it, a Westley Richards rifle will last you a lifetime, or in the case of my .318, both the rifle and lock mechanism have lasted 108 years.
Bob Francis managed our first independent USA Westley Richards shop in Springfield, Missouri. This we opened after the Tulsa Gunshow in about 1995 and it was the formal brick and mortar start for me of what have been 20 wonderful years dealing in USA, from where I have been fortunate to meet so many enthusiasts who remain friends to this day. Rich Cousins is one of these people who over the years has given me good advice and always remained a Westley Richards flag bearer. I will always look upon the days in Missouri as some of the most exciting in my career, the heady days of gun dealing! Simon
An original pre war George Gibbs Ltd. .505 Gibbs Rifle. Willis & Geiger safari shirt.
I started hunting with my late father in those halcyon days in the early 1970’s, just before Kenya banned hunting in 1977
My father’s hunting career had started in the late 1930’s, his prime hunting area the South and South Eastern slopes of Mt Kenya and the trout abundant rivers and streams that flowed down the forested mountain to the plain. From his accounts, an area then abundant with vast herds of cape buffalo, big lion and numerous rhino. His preferred heavy calibre, a .404 Jeffery with a very heavy worn tapering barrel, and a thick solid stock of dark ochre red walnut.
Growing up in Nairobi in my formative years, I would haunt certain shops: Rhodes Books, Guns and Cameras, Nairobi Sports house, and, almost opposite the New Stanley on Kenyatta Avenue, the famous Kenya Bunduki.
I have vivid recollections of one particular visit to the armoury of Kenya Bunduki and browsing through the racks of heavy calibre magazine rifles, mainly the calibre of the age, the .458 Win Mag, interspersed with a few .404 Jeffery’s. One single rifle however, caught my attention. It stood out like a short –legged Borana Bull amongst a herd of Friesian cows; a monstrous .505 Gibbs. Its twenty-two inch heavy barrel blueing worn silver, dark walnut stock bruised and scratched from countless safaris. It spoke of adventure, elephant in the humid coastal forests, and the grey ghostly spider like Commiphora woodland of Tsavo and the Tarn Desert, stretching far beyond to the emerald green riverine forest tangle of the Tana River, and north, far north of south from nowhere else, to the isolated reed beds of the vast Lorian Swamp. Rhino in the coolness of the dark, damp cedar and giant Podo forests and glades, the Abedares and the snowy peaked Mt Kenya.
Lion on the red oat grass plains of Maasailand and Cape Buffalo in the scented Leleshwa, and yellow barked Aecacia choked lugas, and gullies of the Loita Hills.
The rifle symbolised a force of nature, in its short muscular dimensions, it gave you confidence to stop anything however large, however dangerous, and under whatever circumstances.
A friend of my father farmed the lower forested fringes of the Abedare range in the 1930’s, he used the Gibbs on control work, and I recall seeing old sepia images of rhino culled as vermin. I shake my head at the thought that rhino were once so common as to be vermin. Can you imagine how many rhino there must have been?
Later, in the 1970’s, when I apprenticed to the Seargent Major on his cattle ranch in northern Kenya, and while being Askari for the livestock at night, we would sit around a fire at night, chewing the cud so to speak, while countless shooting stars criss-crossed the endless void of the equatorial night skies.
He was a man who had been around the block a few times with regards to hunting, control work and as an Honorary Game Warden in colonial times. His battery consisted of a very well looked after but battered .318 Westley Richards and a Cogswell and Harrison .375 H and H Magnum. With these he took everything from impala to elephant, but he always stated that when things got “naughty”, (he was a master of the understatement), he loved the confidence and dependency the Gibbs gave him.
The Kenya Game Department at the time had a few Gibbs in service for control, and he had used one with great satisfaction when he needed that extra edge. He had used numerous calibres, but always quoted the Gibbs as having a distinct advantage in stopping power over the others. The talk would quite often enter the early hours, and around the fire at the break of dawn, “a lot of dead soldiers”, one of the Seargant Major’s long ago expressions from the Second War, meaning a lot of empty beer bottles in this case, “White Cap”, accompanied by a throbbing head.
It was a place with the most extraordinary light. I have never, to this day, seen a sky with such an intensity of blue and some days I would spend hours on Leopard Rock Kopje, with a pair of Zeiss, looking north into the eternal, far, far distance of Kenya’s Northern frontier District.
I will not go into the Gibbs’ history and ballistics; this has been done and anyway, you always have the internet for that.
Why buy a Gibbs? Firstly, the romance, for it is part of the Golden Age of big game hunting, mostly used by professionals and Game Control officers. Secondly, its large case capacity offers lower Chamber pressure, hence you won’t have any extraction problems when that Cape Buffalo that has designs on turning you into a doormat, heads your way. Its ballistics, although almost similar to the top new .450 calibre magazine rifles, has a considerably greater bore size, thus creating a larger wound channel.
Personally, I would want my Gibbs to have a short, heavy, twenty-two inch barrel and weigh around 11lbs, a single iron sight this is a stopping rifle, not for long range, although Leaf sights look great.
Its other great appeal is that it has always been rather elusive. You hear a lot about its wonderful reputation, but never actually see one: it’s like a ghost, talked about but never seen. When you have one built, the phantom becomes a reality.
On a final note, some of you may remember that old 1970’s Janis Joplin song: “Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”. Change some of the lyrics round, maybe not as catchy… I guess you know where I am coming from.
Westley Richards .505 Gibbs rifle which left the factory last month.
Left. H. Holland .577 Snyder circa 1867. Right. Holland & Holland .360 No.5.
One gun that has always seemed very interesting to me is the so-called Howdah pistol. The history is rich and it was originally created to serve as a last-ditch effort from attacking animals whilst on the hunt. The name of the gun originates from the use of the Howdah – or rather the carriage if you will – placed atop an elephant while hunting. These were quite popular for hunting in India especially during the late 19th and into the early 20th century. The need arose after, one must assume, a few hunters were plucked from their howdahs by angry tigers! The hunter needed a way to defend himself quickly and easily – much more so than a long barreled rifle could provide. H. A. Leveson is quoted in regards to the howdah pistol, “to be effective, the muzzle must be placed close to the tiger’s head, and care must be taken not to kill the mahout.” The mahout was the one who would lead or tend the elephant and was generally the first to be attacked by a tiger.
These guns started out merely as cut-down, out of use rifles. Therefore, it is typical to see them using rifle cartridges that have also been trimmed. The original howdah pistols could be smooth or rifle bored guns; although I’m sure many of them were built from rifles that had seen their rifling deteriorate through heavy use; making them nearly useless for accurate shooting. Because of the close range use, long distance accuracy was not a requirement! Over the years, I have seen a few of these that were of the original variety and, although they were not pretty, I’m sure they were able to get the job done! It wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century when the English makers started producing guns specifically meant for howdahs – or merely a defense type gun that could be worn on one’s belt. All of the big names – Westley Richards, Holland & Holland, and Purdey – made these types of Howdah pistols. They were also naturally produced by much smaller firms and probably cobbled together in India, as well.
Peterson and Elman in their book, “The Great Guns,” reference a variety of howdah pistols. One of the earliest mentioned in their book is “made by Westley Richards between 1835 and 1850, [and] was a caplock with a heavy, octagonal, .722 caliber barrel.” Obviously this was one of the earliest Howdah pistols manufactured, before the demand really took off. Through the natural evolution of cartridges, the howdah pistol was later manufactured using pinfire and then centerfire cartridges. As stated earlier, many of these were merely shortened version of their rifle counterparts or would otherwise employ cartridges such as the 577 Boxer which was developed by William Tranter of Birmingham or, later on, the more common 455 Webley.
I have seen many of these howdah pistols over the years and quite a few of them go through the major auctions. It’s quite often that they are found cased or in pairs; especially those of the nicer variety that were most likely bespoke. Many of them are very similar having side by side barrels and an underlever; though occasionally one will see something unique such as an over/under with a side lever like Lancaster made. Perhaps not serving much of a true purpose these days, I still think they are typically great values if one is interested in the history or possible providence of these types of guns. As some would say, “if only these guns could talk…”
“You must come to the Kalahari with me. It’s hunting the way it should be, walk and stalk. It’s also real camping, so you’ve got to take practically everything with you. You’ll love it.”
They say all good things come to those who wait. After Paul’s invitation (issued after his second trip to the Kalahari in 1992), a personal change of career and circumstance, meant it took twenty three years before I could call him and ask if his offer was still good. It was and what a trip it turned out to be.
A vast semi-desert of over 900,000 square kilometers, the Kalahari covers most of Botswana and vast parts of Namibia and South Africa and is spectacularly beautiful, especially the sunsets. But to the uninitiated, perhaps looking out the window of a moving car, it can seem monotonously similar in both colour and topography for many kilometers and hours of travel. But when you turn off the main road, it starts to weave its magic.
We arrived at our camp on a huge tract of some 25000 hectares of red land not far from Askham. As part of a land restitution process it had been handed back to the ǂKhomani San tribe who are descended from the bushmen who had roamed the area in centuries gone by. As a sustainable way of earning money for their people, they had removed all internal fences and were guiding paying hunters during the season. A tank holding 500 litres of water, three sacks of ‘Kameeldoring’ firewood and a cleanly swept campsite is provided. It was all we needed because as Paul said, he had brought everything else along.
We pitched tents and arranged the supplies with the help of our two guides and trackers, ‘Blade’ and ‘Arries’. They would be our companions for the time we hunted there and from the banter that started right after we arrived, I knew it was going to be an entertaining five days.
Everything was in its place by midday so we decided to start hunting straight away. We had two gemsbok, four springbok and one red haartebees on our permit, none of which I had hunted before. I had once enjoyed succulent springbok venison made by Paul’s wife Eliese, so I was really after springbok and was using Paul’s little custom made 6×45mm. He carried his 7×57mm Mauser in case we came upon gemsbok.
I quickly found my prior efforts to gain fitness for hunting the Kalahari should have been a bit more rigorous, because that red sand is soft. You also need good ankle high boots or else that fine sand finds its way through your socks and causes blisters. The dunes which traverse the landscape are separated by the hollows between them called ‘strate’ (or streets), where the game is most often found grazing or loafing. Dunes vary greatly in height and each has to be laboriously climbed to gain a vantage point to scout for game in the straat below. I was amazed however, at how fast one can pick up a bit of fitness after a few days when pushed.
Although there was a good amount of game, abundance is a relative term due to the low carrying capacity of the veld and they were by no means in every straat, so a lot of up and down hiking took place before Arries pointed out a lone springbok ram on the side of a dune across from the one we had crawled up. I was breathing hard and sweating freely as I lay and settled into the sand to aim and finally squeeze the trigger. It had been a long time since I had hunted and I was incredibly relieved when the ram dropped where it stood. Paul’s range finder said 180 meters so I was quite pleased with myself, but it was pushing the truth when Arries said “Man jy’s nes a sniper!” I was to prove him very wrong the next day.
Despite the bitterly cold mornings, we rose at 5.30am each day to get the fire going. We then had coffee and rusks at about 6am and were driving to put some distance between us and camp by 6.30am just as the Eastern horizon lightened. Once we switched off the bakkie’s engine, the silence was as vast as the land we stood in and we waited a while, soaking it all in. Then we would start walking.
That second morning we eventually found a relaxed group of springbuck after an hours walk and I crawled closer to take a long downhill shot at a ram standing off to one side. The ram fell over at the shot but got up immediately and started running with the herd. We could not find a single drop of blood at the spot, but there was no doubt he had been hit. “Nou begin die werk” Paul said, which turned out to be an understatement, and we started tracking the herd of about 40 springbuck.
We hoped to find the ram lagging to one side or even lying dead as we tracked the herd up and over numerous dunes. But no such luck. Distances are big in the Kalahari and when we did get the herd in sight from time to time, they were just moving dots to the naked eye and it was only with binoculars that we could actually see any detail. Eventually Arries noticed a small bit of the plume of white hair (which runs the length of the back and is called a ‘pronk’ in Afrikaans), was raised on one buck when on the others it lay flat. Although that animal was easily keeping up with the rest, we felt it was the wounded ram exhibiting some discomfort and it gave us renewed hope. After another hour tracking and following, Arries said he thought he could see a small red mark high up on the shoulder and we became pretty certain it was my ram and we pressed on harder because the herd kept moving steadily, covering ground at a surprising pace.
Eventually the herd split and we were undecided which group my ram had run with. Paul and Arries opted for the left, leaving Blade and myself to check those that had veered to our right. Eventually we heard Paul’s Mauser boom in the distance and we turned back towards the sound. I could see the smile on their faces from a long way off and a feeling of relief rushed through me before we met beneath a camelthorn.
There is no glory or fun about wounding an animal, but there is a sense of satisfaction in working hard for the next best outcome. It took us an hour to find the herd of springbuck. Then from the time of my first shot to Paul’s coup de grace, it was five and a half hours of hard slog. Then another two hours of direct, sweaty walking back to the bakkie, which we would have struggled to find without Blade and Arries showing the way. Then another hour to drive, pick up the ram, drop it at the cold rooms and finally get back to camp. Never has a beer tasted so good!
I think Paul is right when he said that hunts often tend to be more memorable for the cockups than the success stories. Over the next three days, he got a springbuck and two gemsbok with good shots and after a long stalk I got another big springbuck ram and dropped it where it stood, but the details of retrieving the wounded ram are clearer than all the rest. We never got close to those cunning hartebeest though and I would love to make them a mission for another day.
It’s not only the hunting that makes a trip memorable and two incidents were out of the ordinary; the name Kalahari is apparently derived from the Tswana word Kgalagadi, meaning ‘a waterless place’. Well, it started raining softly, late one afternoon and a rainbow arched in the East as the sun set in the West. There is nothing quite like falling asleep in a tent, in the middle of nowhere, to the patter of rain.
In June the swarms of sociable weavers were widely dispersed and other bird species are fairly quiet. Nights are cold and insect life is practically dormant, but miracles of nature occur when least expected. One night, a large, pale colored moth landed on the lip of my wine glass and literally quivered in excitement. I poured a small bit of red wine into the palm of my hand and it then alighted on my thumb, unfurled its proboscis and sipped long and contentedly. Where had it been hiding and how on earth did it smell that fruity liquid and find it so accurately? Once it had drunk its fill, it flew off into the night and I fancied it did a barrel roll just as it left the firelight thrown by the burning camelthorn logs.