Danene van der Westhuyzen began hunting at any early age and was mentored by her father. Eventually her passion for hunting and a desire to bring about changes in the industry motivated her to discontinue her optometry practice to become a professional hunter. Obtaining a coveted PH license in Namibia requires up to six years of rigorous training and passing a series of exams. She completed certification eight years ago and in 2012 qualified as the first female dangerous game PH in Namibia. “Most people have lost the essence of the hunt,” explains van der Westhuyzen. “We need constant awareness of the laws of nature, and hunting is the age-old way of life that provides this.” Van der Westhuyzen sees mission as restoring and preserving traditional, core values of the hunting heritage and her stated objective is to facilitate changes by leading by example.
Van der Westhuyzen hunts Namibian dangerous and plains game with Aru Game Lodges. “We love taking up the challenge of kudu, Hartmann’s zebra, eland and other endemic species,” she says. “It’s all about translating the right experience to our clients. We work hard in the mountains or in the plains.” For plains game, Aru Game Lodges hunts on privately owned areas spanning 149,000 acres, and for dangerous game hunts in Zambezi (formerly Caprivi strip).
A .308 Steyr Mannlicher, known as the “Black Mamba” is van der Westhuyzen’s choice for taking plains game together with her Sako .375. For dangerous game, she uses her Krieghoff .450-400. Rifle hunts are conducted by stalking on foot. She also conducts bowhunts.
Van der Westhuyzen has shared many fantastic experiences with clients and is considering writing a book detailing them. She considers beauty one of the often-overlooked facets of being a good professional hunter. “To be exposed daily to something that is breathtakingly beautiful, to be involved in the discovery, rediscovery and creation of beauty, are essential experiences for every PH to have to live and remain healthy,” she explains. “Being in the presence of beauty helps restore our focus. An ancient tree, visibly flowing water, starry nights, a lion’s might roar transform a working day into a miracle. I aim to translate this to my hunters. The specific moment when a client grasps this creates a memorable experience.”
Among the many clients she has guided, one is vividly etched in her memory. Her client was an enthusiastic American in his 60s and it was his first and longed for visit to Africa. “Our first trophy was an old oryx bull taken in late afternoon,” recalls van der Westhuyzen. “When my client whispered ‘last light, hunter’s delight’, the words impressed me. The client’s childhood dream was to take a kudu bull and the pressure was on to find a grey ghost. Our last day passed without presenting a suitable kudu. On our walk back to the vehicle, something ahead caught my eye. My driver was standing on the roof of the vehicle waving frantically trying to get my attention. On a small hill to the right there was the grey ghost. We moved swiftly and closed to within 120 yards. The kudu’s head and shoulders were protruding from underneath a bush. I whispered to the client to take him. Nothing happened. The client’s fingers were white pressing against the stock. Again, I urged him to take the kudu, but he replied he didn’t see it. I asked him to look through his binocular and redirected his gaze. I moved the sticks to get a different angle. Immediately he saw the kudu through his riflescope. I put my shoulder underneath his arm, he pulled the trigger and the kudu went down. The client, my driver and I were overcome with emotion. Moments like this are happening every day. It just takes persistence to make them happen.”
Currently van der Westhuyzen is vice president of the Namibian Professional Hunting Association (NAPHA) and chairlady of Outfitters and Professional Hunting Association of Southern Africa. NAPHA is involved in conservation, education, community and anti-poaching programs. She an SCI member and Aru Game Lodges is a Convention exhibitor.
In addition to hunting, Aru Game Lodges features quad biking, game drives, horseback riding, sundowner excursions, wing shooting, stargazing, photo safaris and walking trails. For non-hunters and observers, off-site activities are offered.