A dedicated handgun hunter turns to black powder in pursuit of hyena.
It was October when I received a phone call from my good friend and taxidermist Kevin Koeshall of Koeshall’s World Hunting Adventures. “Scott, you need to hunt Namibia,” Kevin said. “It’s got fantastic plains game and there’s always the possibility of hunting predators, too.”
I told Kevin that I’d like to try it, but that I’m a dyed-in-the-wool handgun hunter and Namibia is not handgun friendly. I also mentioned that since I’d torn my right rotator cuff, my confidence in my ability with archery equipment had waned.
“Don’t you have a muzzleloader barrel for that T/C Encore that you’re so fond of?” was Kevin’s response. Well, he had me there. So we began planning for a black powder hunt in Namibia.
Kevin did some checking and learned that black powder substitutes, be it powder, pellets or sticks, were out. It had to be loose black powder or nothing. Fortunately, I had some black powder on hand, so I began practicing to get a decent grouping using the heavy 348-grain Powerbelt bullets.
Kevin soon sent me a trophy list for our destination, Etosha Heights Game Safaris, which is a 49,000-hectare property that borders the south side of Etosha National Park. Among the desirable animals on the list was the spotted hyena. I’d never done any major predator hunts in Africa, but hyenas fascinate me, and taking one became my top priority for the hunt. Other animals high on my list were the southern greater kudu, the Kalahari springbok, and the Livingstone eland.
Kevin told said we would be hunting with Marius Burger. Kevin had hunted with Marius a number of times, taking plains game and leopard, and he had a lot of confidence in Marius’ abilities.
We linked up with three more of Kevin’s clients at Washington’s Dulles Airport and flew together to Namibia. Todd also was from Wisconsin, Brian was from Montana and Brent was from Texas.
When we arrived at the airport in Windhoek, we were met by Andre’ Burger, who with his wife, Tana, was to be our host during our stay at Etosha Heights Game Safaris. Late that night, we arrived at the Lion Lodge. Etosha Heights’ facilities range from rustic tent camps to deluxe mountain lodges, and the comfortable Lion Lodge was somewhere in between.
The first morning of our hunt started with a wonderful breakfast in the dining lodge followed by a sight-in session with my Encore rifle using Namibia’s FFg equivalent black powder. I found that the rifle shot somewhat erratically with that powder on second and third shots (without a cleaning in between shots). But first-shot accuracy was acceptable.
With the rifle set to go, Kevin, Marius and I climbed into Marius’ truck and set off for plains game. We spent the next four days successfully hunting springbok, eland, kudu and zebra. On the fourth day, Kevin was finally able to collect a Burchell’s zebra, which turned out to be extremely elusive.
During our pursuit of plains game, Marius actively searched for hyena sign, and he located hyena tracks just before Kevin bagged his zebra. After the zebra was back at the skinning building, we gathered entrails in a plastic barrel and returned to the hyena tracks. Marius gathered a portion of the entrails and dragged them by rope over the tracks and through an area of about one square mile. He ended at a blind that was built near a watering area.
The next morning, Kevin, Marius and I checked the drag area and found fresh hyena tracks. We dragged the area again that afternoon, and Marius was confident that we would have some action at the bait. The three of us returned to camp and joined the other three hunters, their professional hunters and Andre’ and Tana for another fabulous dinner.
Kevin had injured his left shoulder just before we left on our hunt and had surgery scheduled upon his return to the States. The shoulder was bothering him quite a bit, so he passed on joining Marius and me in the blind.
Marius parked the truck about half a mile from the blind. After spraying ourselves with scent killer, we proceeded quietly on foot. Within an hour of arriving at the blind, activity in the area picked up dramatically. Jackals started calling all around us and soon approached. At one point, five jackals were at the bait at the same time, and it was amusing to watch one of them struggle with a piece that must have weighed nearly as much as the jackal. Suddenly, we heard the unmistakable “ooowhoop” of a spotted hyena. About 40 minutes later, we heard another whoop, followed in 30 minutes by another one from behind us. The hyena was circling the area and staying at least 400 yards from the bait site.
Eventually, I observed something blocky approaching the site from the east. It was out of Marius’ line of sight, so he leaned toward me to get a look with his binocular while I made ready with my rifle. “It’s a porcupine,” Marius said with a chuckle as I sighed and relaxed my grip.
Another hour passed with no activity. Then I detected movement in the distance. A quick glimpse with my binocular revealed the unmistakable silhouette of a hyena. Marius stayed glued to the beast with his glasses while I readied my rifle. Within a few minutes, the hyena had crossed most of the open area and was slowly skulking toward the bait.
Marius had explained earlier that hyenas are extremely wary and will flee in an instant if they detect anything amiss. With that in mind, I prepared to take the first ethical shot presented to me.
As the hyena approached within 80 yards of the blind, it stopped suddenly and faced directly away from us. I took the opportunity to slowly and quietly cock the hammer on my rifle. The hyena finally turned to offer a broadside shot and Marius whispered, “Take him if you can.” The hammer fell and the recoil took me off the hyena. The blind instantly filled with black powder smoke.
“You got him. He’s down!” Marius shouted before the acrid smoke started him coughing. I gave Marius a huge pat on the back and shook his hand as I also started coughing. Once the smoke cleared, I could see that the hyena had dropped where he had stood. After I reloaded my rifle, we cautiously approached him. The hyena had indeed expired, so more backslapping ensued while I admired the animal and marveled at its powerful jaws and incredible teeth. We took some photographs, then loaded our trophy into the truck and headed back to the lodge.
The rest of the hunt went without a hitch and our group took some fantastic trophies, including a 44-inch gemsbok, a 39-inch eland and a 57-inch kudu, as well as several mountain zebras and springboks. –Scott McConnell