Conservation in Peril: The consequences of Western World bans on trophy hunting imports
February 9, 2024
I dream of the Grey Ghost of the Namibian bushveld
February 13, 2024

The Heart’s Hartebeest

It was a bitterly cold morning of -6°C when I arrived at Jamy Traut Hunting Safaris, where I would be spending the weekend with my brother and his 9-year-old son. After having some fresh hot coffee and a quick chat about the day it was time to head out into the bush. Carel van Rooyen

I have wanted to hunt the red hartebeest for some time now but I never really had the opportunity, and it was made even more difficult by the severe drought that Namibia was faced with during 2019/2020. Red hartebeest are somewhat of a fragile antelope that require good rainfall and grasslands to survive. Unfortunately, many areas lost a lot of their hartebeest due to the drought. Asking around at a few places about where it might be possible to hunt this species, almost all of the responses were that I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere now. You can imagine my relief when I heard that Jamy would be able to assist with this hunt. 

Braving the cold we set out with the bakkie to an area of the farm where the hartebeest were likely to be. We stopped under a camel thorn tree, grabbed our gear and started out on the long journey on foot. Walking across dunes, down into the ’streets’ – the open plains between the rolling dunes – scanning for any sign of hartebeest. Plenty of springbok and black wildebeest were found and we just had to hope that they wouldn’t get spooked and potentially spoil any chance at getting onto the hartebeest. A few dune crossings later, as we got to one of the crests, we spotted a lone hartebeest bull grazing across from us. The perfect opportunity. The only thing was that we had to cross the open street to get to him. He was close to 600 m away. We made a quick little back-track using the brush for cover and crossed the open plain. Now we were on the same dune as the bull, and slowly and quietly we made our way closer to where we had spotted him. 

As we drew closer a steenbok saw us and dashed away. Hoping it wouldn’t scare the bull away we stopped in our tracks to assess the situation. We still didn’t have sight of the hartebeest at this point and decided to push on. A few bushes and trees later we were able to spot him through some gaps in the vegetation, still grazing and with no idea that we were there as the wind was in our favour. But suddenly, by some miraculous way, the bull spotted us and started to move down the dune, in the direction that we had just come from. Not having picked up our scent he was still calm, and this gave us the opportunity to get the shooting sticks ready. Then, just as we had the sticks out, the hartebeest changed direction and turned back towards where he had been grazing, forcing us to slightly change positions as we now had a bush in the way that would block any potential shot. Getting set up on the shooting sticks again seemed to be a bit more troublesome than I would have hoped. Moving position caused the sticks to lose their place, which meant that I wasn’t able to rest on them comfortably. The bull gave us the slip and crossed the dune. Definitely an exciting moment!

Following his tracks we noticed that he had joined a large herd. That isn’t an ideal situation, as those of you who have hunted hartebeest will know. With the many eyes of the herd – and hartebeest have very good eyesight – it would be extremely difficult to get within shooting distance. Making it even more difficult was the fact that they were grazing and lying down in the open plains with very little cover for us. Slowly we moved up, trying to get as close as possible, keeping a dune between us so as to not give away our presence. The herd was roughly 500-600 metres away from us. We found a shaded spot to sit down for a while and just observe this group. 

It was just after noon now and many of the hartebeest were lying down. Only a few bulls were still grazing leisurely along the foot of the dune, but not in a manner that would allow us to get any closer. We were 9 km from where we had left the bakkie  – yes, this definitely wasn’t a quick walk in the park – and decided to radio for someone to come and fetch us to have some lunch and reassess our next move. The idea of us now leaving this herd made me think ‘well, why not just walk straight up to them and see what happens. The wind is favourable and if we get lucky, we get lucky. If not, we leave them anyway. So why not give it a go’. 

From where we had been sitting and observing the herd we set off down to the street, trying to keep as much cover as possible between us, but there wasn’t much. We were starting to make some ground and felt as though this plan was working. Even some eland that were grazing close to the hartebeest and gave us a few glares didn’t seem too bothered by these strange two legged creatures walking towards them. 

The hartebeest remained calm, but started moving further, keeping a good 400 m between us and them. Crouching as low as possible we kept on pushing forward. My tall frame certainly didn’t enjoy all of that too much, but I hoped that it would pay off in the end. The majority of the herd had by now gone down another dune, but with three bulls standing on the crest looking at us, we sat down and waited for them to cross over too. We didn’t want to disturb them too much but rather wanted them to cross over in their own time. A few minutes passed and the first bull was on his way. Now we just had to sit still and hope for the other two to follow soon. Once they were over the dune and out of sight would mean that we could pick up the pace again and try to close the gap between us. 

As the last bull crossed the crest we got up. Me and Herold, my guide, actually ran to get to the crest of the dune as fast as possible, hoping that the hartebeest would again be grazing leisurely on the other side. As we got to the top they were indeed doing just that. We crouched down behind some cover and tried to make out which of them were bulls. We spotted a good one and set up the sticks. Having learnt from my earlier mistake I decided to use only two of the sticks as a bipod, as opposed to struggling with the tripod. After running to the dune and crossing it at a fast pace my heart rate was definitely at a peak, let alone the adrenaline rush of the hunt. I struggled to get steady but knew it could be now or never. The shot fired high and over the top of the bull. Definitely a big disappointment. I hoped that the afternoon would play out differently. 

We headed back to the lodge and refuelled our bodies after the long morning stroll through the dunes. When we set out again in the afternoon we decided to try a different area. Soon enough we came across a different herd of hartebeest. Again we left the bakkie to stalk this herd. The wind was still favourable. The hartebeest didn’t know we were there and continued grazing further away from us but at a pace that enabled us to slowly follow behind them through the brush and over the hills. As they started making their way up a hillside we spotted a very good bull towards the back of the herd. We set up beneath a tree with the sticks and I got ready and focused on the bull. He was standing behind a bush with only the top half of his neck and head sticking out. Equipped with a 180gr 30-06 calibre I felt comfortable enough to go through the bush and aim just behind where his shoulder would be. Breath in. Out. Squeeze. The shot rang out but all we could hear was the cracking sound of a stick breaking. No reaction from the bull. It couldn’t be. ‘Could that bush really have stopped the bullet?’ I asked myself, and Herold. Surely not. 

We walked up to where the bull had been standing, followed the track up the hill for a little while, but no sign of any blood. Now it wasn’t just disappointing but somewhat laughable how the day had turned out so far. Was this simply not my day? 

However, it is priceless spending time out in the bush, being able to walk and stalk these beautiful animals – even after a day like this. I am sure that if we had just conducted a hunt from the bakkie things would have worked out differently and I would probably have been able to shoot the hartebeest bull that I was after. But I did not want to just shoot a bull, I wanted to hunt one.

Two weeks later I returned to Jamy Traut Safaris, this time determined not to leave empty-handed. Piet, my guide, and I set out early in the morning in search of fresh tracks. Perhaps we would even be able to spot a lone bull or small herds. As it happens, soon enough we indeed spotted a few different groups of hartebeest, left our vehicle under some shade and made our way over the dunes to try and stay downwind and get as close as possible.

Crossing one of the streets towards a group that we could see bedded down on the other side, we knew that there should be some of them on the same side of the dune that we were traversing, but that we were just not able to see them. Making our way across the open plain, Piet stopped in his tracks and pointed out a few bulls that were on our side of the dune, where we thought they ought to be. We backtracked slowly, as we were now in the open with hartebeest both in front of us and to our left. As we got back to the dune we had a similar situation as the previous time, making our way across the top of the dune, taking cover behind all the different bushes and shrubs that were available. As we got closer and closer, we knew it could not be far to the small herd that was resting. With the other herd across from us, staring our way, we just had to hope that they wouldn’t run and spook the others in front of us.

Another déjà vu moment: a steenbok popped out in front of us, exactly the same situation that we had been in two weeks before. Piet waved, trying to move the steenbok off in the direction that we wanted him to move, instead of directly running into the hartebeest. Lucky for us he did just that. Now we were able to lay eyes on a large bull lying beneath an acacia tree, roughly 300 metres ahead of us. It was somewhat of a ‘now or never’ moment. We had to tread carefully to ensure that the bull wouldn’t spot us too early and run off. 

It was time to get uncomfortable again. We lay flat on our bellies and leopard-crawled closer to the bull. Initially I wanted to shoot off my backpack as this would provide for a stable position, but dragging it along was too much of a risk because of the noise, so we dropped it together with the shooting sticks. My rifle now resting horizontally in my arms, I pushed myself forward with my legs and elbows, trying not to get too much dust and sand on the rifle or scope. We were making good progress, every now and then just popping our heads up to see if the bull was still in the same position. On the crest of the dune there was a small tuft of grass that I thought could be a good place to shoot over, perhaps using Piet’s cap as a resting point for the rifle. We crawled further to this grass patch and saw that the bull had gotten up, looking directly at us. It really was now or never. 


Piet decided to crawl in front and lie down on the grass, giving me the opportunity to rest my rifle across his back. But this position was too low and through my scope I just stared into the grass without any visual on the bull. All this time the hartebeest was still standing there, staring right at us. Piet arched his back slightly to give me more elevation and this provided the perfect height for me to rest my cross hairs on the front of the bull’s chest as he was still looking directly at us, not giving us a broadside shot. 

When both myself and Piet managed to control our breathing, I pulled the trigger and the shot rang off. The bull jumped in the air and I knew I had put one in him. He took off running to the right. Not wanting to take any chances of potentially needing to track this bull for hours, I took another shot from Piet’s back at the running bull, hitting him high on the shoulder and putting him straight down. The absolute relief, happiness, nerves, stress and all the other emotions took hold of me at once. I had finally managed to hunt the bull of my dreams. A true hunt it was, and a massive thanks to Piet, Herold, and everyone from Jamy Traut Hunting Safaris for giving me this opportunity. 

From the 2024 issue of Huntinamibia

Read the full 2024 issue here