In early 2020 we made plans to hunt with Johann Veldsman at Shona Hunting Adventures in Namibia. The trip was a last minute decision made during a visit to the Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, PA. Available hunting dates were limited but Johann indicated that he had leopard hunters booked starting in April. He invited us to hunt with him for 9 days prior to one of those hunts to assist him in scouting, establishing leopard blinds, providing bait animals, and monitoring trail cameras. Now this plan wouldn’t suit everyone. Some might question the logic of paying someone to basically work for them. However, it suited us perfectly. We had decided earlier that we did not want to spend a lot of money on trophy fees, shipping expenses to get trophies home, and taxidermy costs. We saw this as an opportunity to visit Namibia again, stay in very nice accommodations, hunt a few plains game, and try to bait a leopard, all at a reasonable cost.
Like many of you, our plans were cancelled in 2020 but we did get the opportunity to make the trip in 2021. We returned home recently and I thought AH members might enjoy a hunt report. As time allows, I’ll post some pictures and descriptions. For those that don’t care to read a lot of my ramblings, I’ll address Brickburn’s review criteria right up front:
Country: Namibia (Outjo area)
Dates: April 23 to May 5
Type of Hunt: Spot and stalk plains game/leopard baiting
Method of Hunting: Rifle (8mm Rem Mag/Swarovski 4×12)
Outfitter: Shona Hunting Adventures
PH: Johann Veldsman
Locations Hunted: 4 1⁄2 hrs northwest of Windhoek and 45 minutes northeast of the airport
Species Hunted: Gemsbok and zebra
Trophy Quality: Not applicable (bait animals)
Species Seen: Mountain zebra, gemsbok, springbok, kudu, leopard, giraffe, warthog, steenbok, mongoose, bat eared fox, warthog, and, surprisingly, bush babies. Also, in a hunting area near Windhoek, waterbuck, sable, blue wildebeest, impala, golden gemsbok, ostrich, and jackal.
Lodging: Very nice lodging in thatch roofed chalets on the hunting property at Tualuka Lodge.
Food: Very good meals including nightly desserts and a cake for my birthday.
Activities: Local tours available to Etosha National Park, Himba Village, and several other interesting attractions but we did not do any. We had visited Etosha on an earlier hunt.
Travel Methods: Ethiopian Airlines (Dulles to Addis Ababa to Windhoek; reverse on the return but with a stopover in Dublin). Pick up and drop off up at WDH by Johann.
Overall Rating: Excellent experience. Probably not great for a first time safari but ideal for someone who enjoys hunting Africa and is interested in the “behind the scenes” of leopard hunting.
The Flight/Travel in the Age of Covid
We flew Ethiopian Airlines from Dulles to Addis Ababa to Windhoek. The return flight was the reverse with a one hour refueling stop in Dublin, Ireland. We flew Economy class in a 777 the first leg and a 737 on the second. The entertainment system worked (which was an improvement over SAA the last few times we flew with them) and the food was okay. There is nothing remarkable to say about the flight. Everyone was pretty good about wearing masks. The flight attendants did make an announcement once when they saw a few people were lax about it. It was interesting that the international terminal in DC was nearly a ghost town. Not so in Addis Ababa; the airport there was bustling with travelers.
We’d read about the process Ethiopian Air uses to check firearms so we weren’t surprised when we were led at a fast pace down the stairs, into a bus, and then into the baggage sorting area. Each way, we were required to identify our gun case, open it, and read the serial number while they checked it against our 4457 form. Although there was only 1 1/2 hrs between flights and there were five groups of hunters on the flight doing this, we had no problem catching the flight to Windhoek. On arrival in Addis Ababa from the States, we were met as we exited the ramp into the airport by an agent holding a paper or white board with our name on it. They led us through the process. On the return flight, no one was waiting. Thankfully, my brother asked the first agent he saw when we got off the flight and they called via radio to arrange to have someone take us there.
We had Covid test results and our vaccination cards ready for the flight to WDH. The airline checked the test result form at several points but no one asked about vaccination (obviously that could change at any time…). On the return, we had tests done in Windhoek several days before departure. The cost was less than $50 and we had results within about 6 hrs. Johann made the arrangements and had the results emailed to his phone. He printed copies for us at the lodge we were staying at near Windhoek and we were good to go.
Shona Hunting Adventures
As I mentioned earlier, we were hunting with Johann Veldsman of Shona Hunting Adventures. Johann owns a farm (actually two) that total 16,500 acres about 80 miles southwest of Etosha National Park (about 20 miles southeast of Kamanjab). A large thatched roof lodge provides a dining area, two separate sitting areas, and bar. Guests stay in one of four cottages or one of four walled tent facilities.
I really like Namibia. We’ve hunted east and west of Windhoek, fished in Swakopmund, and, back in 2007, hunted very near to here. I’ve enjoyed all those areas but the thing that appealed to me about Johann’s farm was the diversity. The Huab River (dry this time of year) runs for several miles through one portion of the farm. The Anna trees along the river provided a lot of shade and we routinely saw kudu here (including several trophy bulls). A broad valley runs west through the property. The plains in the valley had more open grassy areas and waterholes than the mountains that bound it to the north and south. The mountains varied from a series of relatively steep ridges (maybe 800 ft of topographic relief) to a broad elevated plateau with scattered koppies (big piles of granite boulders). The trees and thornbush on the mountain plateau were generally denser than elsewhere. In all, a varied and beautiful area!
Each morning started atop one of the mountains glassing the plains below. Much of the game traveled to the valley in the evening to feed and drink. In the morning, they made their way back up. Our goal was to stalk them on foot early either before or as they moved. In all but a very few instances, Johann put us in position to see the game within shooting distance. If early morning stalks were a bust, we headed to the mountains for what Johann calls “koppie hopping” (i.e., stalking from mound to mound in the mountains to glass the thicker bush below).
It’s worth noting that we were targeting old, non-trophy gemsbok and zebra stallions. This area had experienced a good rainy season this year and it was earlier in the year than we’d ever been in Namibia; as such, the foliage was much greener and thicker than I’d seen in this area previously. Sometimes, even at short distances (50-80 yards), it was difficult to identify an animal that satisfied the criteria. Actually, this made for great hunting. Although we weren’t looking for “trophy” animals, we hunted hard for select “bait” animals.
After about 40 hrs of nonstop travel, we elected to sleep late and use the first day to sight in the rifle and then take a ride on the farm to check a bait site and look for leopard tracks. It didn’t take long to find the first set.
Johann had established a few bait sites before we arrived. By the time we got to camp, they were in need of replenishment so before daybreak on the second day we were on a hilltop glassing. We spotted zebra in the valley and set off in that direction. About a mile in, we slowed and worked toward the area we’d seen them in. I don’t know if the zebra saw us or winded us but as we neared, they took off at a run. As the clip clopping faded, Johann said “Gemsbok…” and set up the sticks. The zebra had spooked a group of gemsbok that moved in 80 yards to our left. When an old bull moved into an opening in the brush, I fired a well placed, well… whitetail deer shot; behind the shoulder instead of on the shoulder (old habits are hard to break). After trailing the bull for 50 yards or so, we jumped it up; no shot opportunity. We circled ahead another 50 yards and saw it bedded at the edge of a shallow streambed. As it began to take off again, a second shot finished the hunt. We had the first leopard bait.
Over the course of nine days, we took another gemsbok and two zebra stallions. Shot distances were about 25 and 80 yards on the gemsbok and 40 and 270 yards on the zebra. The longer shot on the zebra was in the mountains with the zebra above us. Given their vantage point, it was impossible to get closer without being seen.
Each day usually comprised early morning spot and stalk hunting followed by a mid-day rest and lunch. Late afternoons and evenings, usually were devoted to leopard baiting which included scouting (e.g., looking for fresh leopard spoor), establishing new bait sites, scent dragging, checking cameras at existing sites, building blinds, and for our benefit, many discussions about leopard behavior and hunting tactics. It was pretty clear to us early that Johann really enjoys leopard hunting. Thankfully, he never appeared to tire of our questions (but if he never does another hunt of this type, this may be the reason…). It was a great experience learning about the things that go into a successful leopard hunt. Clearly, this is a game of chess rather than checkers.
Several afternoons, we decided to sit in blinds at waterholes. The view from each blind was nice and, in the shade with a little breeze, it was pleasant enough even at the warmest part of the day. We just wanted to see what might show up (and maybe get a shot at a jackal…). On occasion we saw zebra, kudu, and warthog but the highlight was leopard.
About four days into our trip, we decided to stay in a blind into the evening. Unfortunately, there were thousands of finches swarming between a large bush and the edge of the water hole all evening. We hadn’t seen anything and felt that the noise they made was likely discouraging game from coming in. We were shocked then when a leopard showed up. At precisely 6 pm with more than an hour of daylight left, I spotted a leopard at the far side of the water hole. I had been scanning the hill opposite us with binoculars and as I dropped down to the flat ground 150 yards in front of us, I saw the leopard walking. I wish there had been time to take video or still pictures but there wasn’t. It was only visible to us for less than 10 seconds; the cat walked past the waterhole into the brush and we didn’t see it again. I’d seen a leopard at dusk in the highlands west of Windhoek in 2016 but it was in tall grass. We watched it for a while and then left before it moved. When the leopard walked by us this year, I was struck by its grace and (don’t make fun of me, please) the length of it’s tail…which was held upright in a curl. Based on the size and track, it was thought to be an adult female.
Leopard activity rose dramatically in the days after that sighting. We found several sets of large, fresh tracks. Several bait sites were hit. We also found drag marks where a leopard had killed a zebra foal and carried it across the river. We followed up and found some remains but hyenas had eaten all that was left after the leopard was done. Things were clearly heating up.
In the following days, several existing bait sites started getting hit regularly and we established another. Trail cam pictures revealed that some cats were juveniles and/or females. We also were seeing tracks of at least one large male. Careful examination of trail cam pictures sometimes allow individuals to be identified. One cat in particular had drawn attention in the past because he had several spots that blended together and gave the appearance of a lightning bolt. Hence he was awarded the moniker Harry Potter. We were hoping the tracks that we were seeing were Harry.
Harry PotterMy favorite evening of the trip was my birthday. My brother had emailed Johann before the trip asking if they’d make a cake for the occasion if he brought a boxed cake mix. Johann said no need, they’d take care of it. And they did. It was a surprise to me when we topped the mountain to find decorations for a birthday sundowner. It was a great evening (with a tasty chocolate cake) and it was topped off by the sound of a leopard rasping in the distance. I’d never heard rasping before but they explained that it was more or less a leopard announcing his presence in the area. We all wondered if it was Harry. The hope was that it was and that we’d soon have him on bait (and on camera).
Within days, we did get pictures. Although the pattern wasn’t visible, one was a large male. Harry? Maybe… We found large tracks in another area some distance away that presumably was another male. As our time wound down, we maintained the baits and put another zebra in the cool room. The sites could need to be replenished after we left and before the leopard hunter arrived.
The morning we left Shona, there were elephant tracks in the river bed in front of our chalets. Shona is essentially a free range hunting area (one neighbor has an electrified fence to deter elephants for a short distance along on the property boundary). Game is free to come and go, and apparently that’s what elephants do.
Although we were leaving the farm, we had planned a few days to allow us to get Covid tests and receive the results in Windhoek. The leopard hunter, David Brown (author of the book Safari 101), had planned to hunt another property near the airport for a day before heading north for leopard. Rather than stay in a city hotel, we were invited along to join in his hunt. It was great to get an extra day in the field, see another hunting property, and spend some time with David who, hopefully, would be providing a proper ending to our leopard baiting trip. As we headed home, Johann and David headed north. We wished them well.