Erongo Magic

Author with his big kudu bull in the Erongo Mountains.
Author with his big kudu bull in the Erongo Mountains.

The big kudu bull stood motionless in the thick tangle of scrub mopane and acacia thorn bush. Moments earlier he had been cautiously drinking from the waterhole 80 yards directly in front of our improvised ground blind with his harem of females, where my wife Susan, attempted a broadside shot with her .300 short mag. Unfortunately an undetected low overhanging branch deflected her shot and spooked the huge old bull into dense cover where he felt secure.

I could make out his outline in the thorn bush and studied him for what seemed like forever. His body was massive and the horns displayed deep thick curls extending 55-plus inches skyward. I had a brief glimpse of this wise old kudu bull several days earlier as he drifted into the mountain shadows and disappeared from view like a “gray ghost.” We searched hard for this bull, but he was hunted before and knew the routine of escape all too well.

I knew this bull would be an outstanding trophy and determined to take him if he ever again presented a shot opportunity. He was old and smart and had lived all his life in the security of secluded hidden valleys in the Erongo Mountains of Namibia. This mountain monarch wore the scars of many battles won and lost over his 17 years of life in the African bush. What made this bull unique was the length of the ivory tips at the ends of his horns. Typically kudu bulls display one to two inches of polished horn or “ivory” tips. This old warrior lived long enough to have 10 to 12 inches of polished ivory on each horn. In all my years of safari hunting and as a wildlife biologist and professional taxidermist, I never saw a kudu bull with so much ivory.

In studying the bull from my vantage point 150 yards away, I could see a small opening in the thorn bush exposing a portion of his vital heart/lung area. Susan did not feel comfortable taking such a high-risk shot, so she gave me the nod to take him if the opportunity presented itself.

I felt confident my .300 Remington Ultra Mag loaded with 200-grain Nosler Partitions would do the job. At the shot, the big bull collapsed in his tracks and never moved. As we approached the bull I was amazed at such a magnificent trophy and at the same time humbled to have ended the life of this gray ghost from the Erongo Mountains.

I whispered a prayer of thanks as my fingers drifted across the bulls’ horn and hide. A broken leafy twig placed in the bull’s clenched jaw, symbolic of his last meal, was a fitting tribute of gratitude for the beast surrendering his life to me. A second twig wiped in the bull’s blood and placed in the brim of my safari hat indicated a successful hunter returning to camp.

Our travels and hunting adventures take us all to places that hold special memories. Of all the places I have been, none was ever more magical than the Erongo Mountains of Namibia. Hunting game in these beautiful mountains has a special appeal and lures me back each season. In viewing a satellite photo of central Namibia, you can see a green circular oasis in what appears to be a dry arid country. That oasis is the Erongo crater.

Giraffe-in-Erongo-Mountains-021116Mountains, created by massive meteor impacts eons ago, form the rim of the crater and provide isolation from the rest of the world. The remoteness and dense vegetative cover along with natural and man-made waterholes provides a haven for trophy species like huge Kalahari gemsbok, kudu, springbok, Damara dik-dik, steenbok, klipspringer, duiker, warthog and, of course, the unique Hartmann’s mountain zebra. A protected breeding population of white rhino is established in the crater. Elephant and giraffe often migrate through the area.

The Erongo Mountains are home to a large population of leopard. In fact, some of the largest and boldest leopards found anywhere in Africa dwell in these mountains. Even though leopards are hunted there, we have observed them out and about during midday and have seen their tracks each morning around our bungalows. Those leopards do not fear man but are “cautious” as our PH informs us. Leopard hunts are on a strictly enforced quota system to insure a sustainable trophy population of large males.

I have successfully hunted the Erongo Mountains with father and son team Carl and Peter Hinterholzer of Erongo Lodge during many safaris to the Dark Continent. They own and have access to thousands of acres of prime, unfenced African wilderness where the hunting is outstanding and the scenery breathtaking.

The Hinterholzers have been established in the Erongos for more than 70 years and provide their clients with a true African safari adventure where the hunt remains a lasting experience. Peter also offers sightseeing and photo excursions to the Etosha pan, Namib Desert, Skeleton Coast or to any number of natural wonders that occur within a few hours’ drive from Erongo lodge.

A trip to the Crater isn’t complete without an excursion to the “singing rock.” Wind funneling through specific rock formations creates a melodious sound that can be heard from a distance and adds a magical mystery to the mountains.

_Erongo-Nyala-021116The Hinterholzers are uniquely “Old Africa” and provide a rewarding safari experience for first-time as well as seasoned veteran hunters. Their patience and consideration to the hunter’s abilities insures a successful safari. Attention to detail goes well beyond the end of the safari long after the hunter has returned home. As a professional taxidermist having hunted in Africa many years, I can attest to the importance of properly processing and handling trophies after the safari is completed. Many hunters tend to neglect or overlook that aspect of their safari resulting in poor trophy quality.
Erongo Lodge is a full service safari operation. Peter provides personal attention and care for each hunter’s trophy to insure quality processing of the hides, horns and skulls. Trophy packaging, export permitting and shipping services are arranged for the hunter as well as offering assistance importing trophies to their country of destination. Peter understands the costs associated with an African safari and makes every effort to insure the hunter’s trophies arrive at their appointed destination without complications.

Perhaps one of the most unique hunts the Erongo Mountains can offer is for Hartmann’s mountain zebra. These incredibly beautiful zebra live like goats on the jagged mountainsides and are difficult for hunters to approach. Spot and stalk is the primary method of hunting, however a waterhole can at times be productive during the dry season.

Mountain zebra blend in exceptionally well with the surrounding mountain vegetation and shadows cast from rock outcroppings. They exhibit phenomenal vision and can detect movement at great distances from their mountainside vantage, which makes stalking them on foot a challenge. A family group is usually comprised of a stallion and several mares and foals. When the Stallion is harvested from a family group, another stallion typically moves in and takes over the mares.

Mountain-Zebra-in-the-Erongos-021116Hunting Hartmann’s zebra brings you into some of the most scenic mountainous country Africa has to offer. The hidden valleys and drainages within the Erongo Mountains provide ideal habitat for mountain zebra. Some of my most memorable hunts began sitting high atop a mountain outcrop overlooking a hidden valley. There, trails are worn deeply into the mountain over eons by the footsteps of game and hunter alike. Evidence of primitive man abounds throughout the Crater in the form of cave paintings and campsites. It is a most humbling experience to realize modern hunters tread the same paths and hunt the same game as our primitive ancestors did. In viewing these ancient drawings on cave walls I marvel how we as hunters have evolved from rock to rifle.

The Erongo Mountains are also home to large populations of gemsbok. The males, with their exceptional saber-like horns, can be dangerous when wounded. Some of the largest gemsbok bulls I have ever hunted have come from the Erongo Mountains where 36-inch to 40-inch horns is not uncommon. Peter’s ability to get the hunter close to trophy game has resulted in numerous record book entries. Often gemsbok browse hillsides with the sharp-eyed Hartmann’s zebra, making a stalk on foot both challenging and rewarding. The females tend to have long slender horns whereas the male’s horns are thick from the base to the tips and are more sought after as a trophy. Really old males have horns that are worn down from years of sparring with other males competing for breeding rights. Over the years I have collected many gemsbok from this region, placing some truly outstanding trophies in the record book.

Author poses beside his trophy gemsbok.
Author poses beside his trophy gemsbok.

Kudu have adapted well to their mountain environment and provide an exciting spot and stalk hunt. Big bulls spend the majority of their day in the shade of outcroppings blending into the grey hues of rock formations etched into the mountainside. Early mornings and late afternoons find the bulls going to natural and manmade water sources. Toward evening, they leave the sanctuary of their high mountain retreats and venture onto the crater basin where they browse on dense vegetation under the security of darkness. During mating season in May and June, the bulls are most assuredly found with their harem of females. However, the really big kudu bulls still remain cautious and typically wait until the last female has had her fill before exposing himself to potential danger at waterholes.

Lechwe-in-Namibia-Erongo-021116I have long considered the measure of a successful hunt is in the challenge of pursuing game in wild places with people who have a great appreciation for the land, wildlife and indigenous cultures. The opportunity to hunt this remote unspoiled region of Africa adds to the romance and magic the mountains offer to hunters seeking a memorable African safari adventure, and I know as long as Carl and Peter Hinterholzer continue to operate safaris, the Erongo magic will always remain.–Robert Halbritter

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