By Stefan Fouché
It is one of those species – I mean, every hunter must have one or two of ‘those’ species. Growing up in a hunting family, I was from a young age exposed to taking an animal for consumption, as well as for trophy value – with the latter being a small part of the equation. One species stood out for me and that was the steenbok. I did not want to take one and that was because I just had some kind of special bond with this species. As I grew older, another species joined the steenbok: the klipspringer. I would never hunt ‘those’ species – they were just too beautiful for me. However, as the winters went by, I realised the true meaning of conservation through sustainable use and that by hunting animals past their prime you actually do contribute to the survival of the species with the dollars, rands or euros you pay for the privilege of hunting. I still haven’t hunted a steenbok, though …
The proud owner and PH of Warthog Safaris, Tienie Bamberger (left), and the author with the massive klipspringer they hunted in the Waterberg, Ellisras (Limpopo Province).
I am proud to say that I have made a living out of hunting over the past decade. I hunted for three of these years, and have been making a full-time living out of it for the last year. Trophy hunting has become a part of who I am. We hunt for meat most of the time but as you get exposed to more habitats and species that you never dreamt of experiencing, your curiosity also grows. You get interested in the ‘not-so-common’ animals. You start learning about their behavior by the little glimpses you have of them in the bush, and of course the hours and hours you spend reading about them. For me, another one of these specimens was the klipspringer. As a youngster I promised myself I would never hunt one but, as explained earlier, that changed and I started to look out for a hunting opportunity.
Some years ago I was hunting with my good friend, Tienie Bamberger. He owns Warthog Safaris, with hunting areas in the Limpopo Province of South Africa close to Ellisras, as well in the Free State Province in the central part of the country. Whilst chatting around the fire one night, the topic of ‘What would you still like to hunt?’ came up and a number of species were mentioned by both of us – ranging from sitatunga and bongo dreams in Central Africa to mountain lion and Kodiak bear adventures in North America.
Tienie all of a sudden dropped the bombshell: “Have you hunted a klipspringer?” I sat quietly for a moment or two and then told him that I hadn’t hunted either a klipspringer or a steenbok. I explained the reason why and said that I would definitely like to hunt one of each – but only one of each. I added that I was in no rush. As a matter of fact, I had been on a lot of steenbok hunts over the last three years, looking for the right one. I passed up close to fifty rams. The right steenbok still needed to cross my path.
Tienie repeated his question, and after swallowing a mouthful of Ireland’s finest whiskey while staring into the red coals left by the sekelbos fire, I answered: “Yes, I would like to hunt a klipspringer but it has to be the right one.”
So what was the right one? Obviously you don’t hunt a klipspringer for its meat. The twelve pieces of biltong it yields wouldn’t last a boerseun (a farm boy) a day – max two days. The obvious value of a klipspringer is its trophy value. So again, what makes the right one? Horn length for some hunters might be where it all starts and ends, and I have no problem with that. There is absolutely no shame in wanting a very good size trophy on the wall in terms of horn length alone, if that is your thing.
For me, the character of the trophy has more value, and that can also be divided into a few different aspects. Age is the first. There is (and again, this is my personal opinion) something about hunting an animal that has completed its circle of life – passing on the genetics of the species and widening the gene pool in a specific area. You feel you are part of the management process in a big way.
Horn length definitely plays a part but there is no need to hit a certain mark or score. If the horns are thick, it is an added bonus – for me a big bonus. The secondary horn growth confirms that the animal is indeed past its prime and this adds to the character of the trophy as a whole. Then, lastly, worn-off tips are just the cherry on the proverbial cake – a true sign of a good age and a male that once defended what was important to him.
Dinnertime at the main camp, Warthog Safaris.
“You must come and hunt a klipspringer with me one day,” said Tienie. I gave it some thought over the next few months and eventually I booked the date. Tienie agreed that we would only take a shot at ‘the right ram’ and after that I pestered him every second week, phoning and texting to learn more about the klipspringer activity in the Waterberg area where we would hunt.
As this would be a special hunt (if we could find the ‘right one’), I made two additions that would make this hunt even more memorable: I would take along my eldest son, Anru (5), to accompany me for the very first time on a hunt on his own, plus I would hunt my first and only klipspringer with my trusted Verney-Carron double rifle. Leaving little brother, Ruan (3), at home was tough for both Anru and me but I suppose that’s part of growing up (not only for the little ones but for dad as well …)
Cliff Williamson from Savuti Taxidermy played a big part in my choice of gun. He has hunted a number of klipspringer himself and with clients, by calling the animals. This means you get a chance at your klipspringer up close, as they come in quite quickly. I have hunted extensively with my double rifle over the last few years, so I really backed myself up to forty yards with the open sights. With a few pointers from Cliff and a predator caller in my pocket, Anru and I made the three-hour trip from Pretoria to Tienie, and arrived at Warthog Safaris just after sunrise.
I would use my double rifle in a .500NE calibre, shooting 570 gr Woodleigh FMJ solids. I couldn’t foresee any problems in terms of trophy damage. The muzzle velocity of 2 150 fps, together with a bullet that will only punch a calibre-sized hole through, would work perfectly. That is providing you take the correct box of ammunition along …
We reached the hunting area, and with my little one kitted out in his full camo’s, the hunt started in earnest. We drove on the back of Tienie’s Toyota, equipped with some of the best binoculars the Swarovski and Leica factories can produce. When hunting a small animal like this, you would be totally lost without these. While putting on my ammo belt, I asked Anru to pass me the box of cartridges … and then it hit me, I had brought the wrong box! These were softs! Shot placement would now have to be precise in order to minimise the damage to the trophy – a big mistake on my side but I could do nothing about it.
Within half an hour we spotted the first klippies against the mountainside, baking in the sun after a cold night. We were some distance away but with the 10x magnification Swarovski EL, I could clearly see that it was a young male and not worth stalking. We continued in this manner and before we were one hour into our hunt, I had counted 14 klipspringers. We saw one really nice male with very thick horns but he was gone in a flash, never to be seen again. From that brief glimpse I estimated the length at 4″ or maybe a bit longer. I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t even make a stalk, because he was exactly what we were looking for. We also saw two honey badgers crossing the road a mere ten paces ahead of us – a very rare sighting indeed.
I was amazed at the abundance of klipspringer we encountered, and for me it showed exactly what happens if you manage your area and your game populations well. Tienie explained that these little antelope are very territorial and that they seldom move out of the area they live in. We also saw in excess of fifty mature kudu bulls within that first hour. I must say that the winter also played a part, as in summer you would most probably only see five of these animals during the same period of time! This place is an absolute paradise.
We were approaching a vlei area and Tienie was telling me a story about a very good common reedbuck that a client had hunted in that exact spot … when I saw him! The klipspringer! He was standing alone next to a bunch of reeds growing in the dry riverbed and I could see his horns from about 80 yards away. I knew he would be a good specimen if I was able to see the horns from that distance with my naked eye. We stopped the vehicle, got off and ducked behind the reeds. I knew he had seen us and it would be a matter of moments before he crossed the road and disappear into the rocky mountain on our left.
As we made our stalk, the ewes, which we couldn’t see because they must have been feeding directly behind the reeds, made a dash for the mountains. We gained another ten metres or so before the ram appeared behind the reeds, heading towards the rocks. After a brief look through the bino, Tienie whispered urgently: “Stefan, skiet!” (Stefan, shoot!)
My finger slipped off the safety catch of my double and even as I aimed, he was gone! The open patch where he had stood was empty and I hadn’t even seen him move. It was at this moment that I became aware just how closely the colour of the klipspringer matched the colour of the rocks. In fact, if he stood dead still you would have to concentrate very hard to see him – you would only spot him when he moved and by then it might be too late.
Luckily, Tienie, with all his experience, had kept an eye on the klipspringer, which stopped on top of a rock at a distance of about forty yards, standing quartering away. I remembered that I was loaded up with softs, and so aimed just behind the rib cage in front of the hind leg. As I fired the shot, I could see the white puff of klipspringer hair hanging over the rock, and I knew he was down!
The hunt was over within 90 minutes. We had come upon this animal by pure chance. Tienie had been hunting this area for klipspringer for more than twenty years and by the look on his face I could see that we indeed had taken something special. I waited for Anru to catch up before I followed Tienie and the tracker to the rock where the klipspringer had made his last stand.
What a feeling it was to walk up to one of the most precious trophies any hunter can take, with one of the most precious persons in your life holding your hand. We reached the ram and I was totally gob-smacked. He was absolutely beautiful! He was as old as I think a klipspringer can get. The secondary horn growth looked like more than an inch and the bases were very thick. Both tips were worn off – the sign of a true warrior! I estimated the horns at over 4½” – a splendid trophy, indeed.
We took the trophy pictures and I savoured the moment with my son, something I will cherish forever. He even posed for a picture or two with dad, proudly holding the .500NE. Tienie and the tracker immediately removed the guts and we headed for the cooler on the back of the vehicle, filled with big ice blocks to preserve the precious little package.
We examined the damage done by the 570 gr soft that was never intended for this hunt but in the end it worked out pretty well. With the calibre-size entry wound just in front of the hind leg, the mount would look great. Cliff Williamson, owner of Savuti Taxidermy, assured me that he would be able to fix the cape and full mount it in such a way that the slight damage would not be noticeable. To see the end result of the taxidermy process, feel free to follow my personal Instagram account @fouche.stefan or @savutitaxidermy.
Back at the lodge we had time to reflect on our hunt, one of the shortest to date but for sure one of the most memorable. I was fortunate and blessed to have taken a truly once-in-a- lifetime klipspringer! And that is how hunting goes. Sometimes you spent days in the bush, not seeing a single specimen that you are looking for, and on the next trip you stumble across a world-class trophy with minimal effort.
The official measurements came in at 5⅜” for the longest horn (5¼” for the other) and a 2¼” circumference for both horns. This klipspringer ranks very high in both Rowland Ward and SCI, and I am sure that I will hunt many more years and many different species before I will see the likes of this one again.
To Tienie, you are a dear friend and one hell of a professional hunter – a man with great values and an absolute love for your profession. Warthog Safaris has treated me very well in so many ways that I will always be a brand ambassador for you guys, referring anyone interested in hunting to you with an open heart. Until our next adventure together! ASM