By Laurence Jennings

Hunting klipspringer, also affec-tionately referred to as klippies, has always been a dream of mine and with my quest to harvest the Tiny Ten antelope of Southern Africa, our paths had to cross at some point. I had the opportunity to hunt the ‘ballerina of the cliffs’ – this special little buck – in the Waterberg Mountains of Limpopo, and what a hunt it was in this beautiful part of South Africa!

Roughly translated the name klipspringer is the Afrikaans for ‘rock jumper’. The name is derived from the habitat in which these little animals make their homes. Klipspringers tend to have a special restricted habitat preference, namely the rocky surroundings of mountainous areas and koppies. This landscape, and the ability to move about in it without any restrictions, helps this nimble-footed antelope to elude predators. They are able to tiptoe on sheer cliffs at speeds that are uncanny, and they prefer to stick to rocky terrain, where they can navigate with ease on special, almost rubber-like hooves. Klipspringers have adapted amazingly well to the rocky terrain they call home. They walk on the tips of their hooves that have blunt, rounded edges, which increase their grip.
Heading in a northerly direction on the N1 highway towards the Limpopo Province, we were all filled with excitement. Over the next few days I would be hunting the ballerina of the cliffs – a hunt that I had been dreaming of for months. This would be the seventh animal in my quest to harvest the Tiny Ten, and it would proved to be one of the most difficult of hunts.

Hunting any animal in mountainous terrain can be an epic challenge, regardless of size, and I always look forward to such a test. Leaving Johannesburg at 03h00, I wanted to be on the farm before sunrise. This would allow me time to get into position early so that when the animals started moving around after the cold night, looking for spots to sun themselves in, I would be ready. The farm consisted mainly of mountainous terrain, with several valleys leading into a flattish area with thick cover. At the edge of this cover it formed a wetland, running into the next property.
My strategy was to drive to a certain point, leave the bakkie (pickup truck) there and walk back to a pickup point arranged with the farmer. However, the drive to this spot took me longer than expected and the sun caught me out in the open, so to speak. So, adjusting my strategy a bit, I decided to stop every 500 m and do some glassing from the bakkie. At the second stop I spotted a klipspringer ewe on the horison. She was about a kilometre away and was watching me intently. I was amazed at how good her eyesight was. Every time I moved, she would lift her head slightly as if she wanted to see me better. After a few minutes I spotted movement to her left. A ram walked into the open, jumped onto a rock next to her, and both were now watching me. It was too far to judge the ram’s age but I made a mental note of their location as I planned to have a look at them again on my walk back.
Continuing my drive, I didn’t see any other klipspringers. I stopped at my planned starting position for the walk and was greeted by the beautiful alarm whistle of a mountain reedbuck. I watched the herd, including a very nice ram, moving over the ridge and I had to consciously stop myself from following them. I had a long way to go and wanted to be in position for the klipspringers as soon as possible. I left the herd of mountain reedbuck and continued further in my search for the ballerina.

Weighing in at just over the 10 kg mark, the klipspringer is a small, but sturdy, little animal for its size. With a shoulder height of 500–600 mm, rams and ewes are very similar in size, with ewes being a little bigger at times. Klipspringer have smallish, rounded ears, positioned far back on the head, with noticeable dark inner markings, and only the rams carry horns. They have a thick, coarse coat that consists of hollow, brittle hair. The coat ranges from yellowish-gray to a reddish-brown and acts as camouflage and protection. In addition to being very thick, it protects the animal if it falls down. The hair falls out on touch – if a predator grabs the animal, it can escape quite easily unless the predator has a good grip. Klipspringers are selective browsers and are not water dependent, although they will drink when there is a good source available. Only one lamb is born in the spring after a gestation period of 6 months, and rams and ewes form a lifelong bond.
Gathering my backpack and gear, I decided to get to the highest point of the ridge I was on. I wanted to sit and let everything settle a bit after the drive up.

Right at the top there was a solitary tree and I decided that was the best place to sit, glass the area and have a cold drink. There was an old road heading up the side of the mountain and I followed it in the direction of the tree.
My hardware for the hunt was my Remington Model 700 cambered in .30-06 Springfield. The rifle is fitted with a Steiner Ranger 4-16×56 mm riflescope with a 30 mm tube and a 4A-I illuminating reticle. A klipspringer is not a very big animal, so I chose to use a lighter bullet and decided on the 165 gr Sierra Game Kings, which leaves the barrel at 2 750 fps. This combination was giving me exceptional groups out to 200 m, and with klipspringer I knew the chances were good that a longer shot might be needed – and that this combo would give me that option as well. The Remington is a very light rifle and with the climbing I would be doing, it suited the task at hand perfectly.

After a 45-minute walk I reached the tree and started to glass the mountainside. The cold drink I had promised myself was very welcome. I wasn’t used to mountain hunting and the steep climb to the tree was taxing. It was still early and I was hoping that the animals would move into the open to sun themselves after the cool of predawn. Using my Steiner binoculars, I studied all the ridges around me for about thirty minutes and decided to move to an alternative position.
In the distance I saw a cluster of rocks and boulders that seemed to be on the edge of a ridge. It appeared that it would be a good vantage point overlooking the next valley and mountainside. To reach it, I would need to leave the road at some point and navigate my way across a valley. I planned my route and, gathering my gear, headed for the rocks about 800 m away. The road started to drop off at the back of the ridge I was on and I

had to leave it to proceed to my destination. The wind was not in my favour and I needed to get below the ridge line in order for it to be blowing from right to left. At that point I saw a movement – a klipspringer had just disappeared behind some vegetation. The animal must have caught my scent and had probably been watching me all the time. Dropping to my knees, I waited but the klipspringer didn’t appear again.
I had no idea whether there were more animals around, or even if the one I had caught a glimpse of was a ram or ewe. My heart was racing and sweat was running down my face onto my shirt but I didn’t move, hoping for another glimpse. After about five minutes I checked the wind and decided to walk slowly in the direction parallel to one which the klipspringer had taken. To do this and get the wind right, I had to drop below the ridge line, as this would also limit my visibility on the skyline. I hoped the klipspringer wasn’t spooked too much and that the animal would only run onto the next ridge and stop.

I dropped below the ridge line and there, to my surprise, was a little flat grass field, the end of which formed a big drop-off into the next valley. The field was about a 100 m wide. The ridge line ran on the left-hand side of this field and there were some small trees and scrubs growing on the ridge. I didn’t see any movement and decided the klipspringer must have continued over into the next valley. To save time and close the distance, I decided not to keep to the ridge line and cover, but rather to cross the open flat of grass as quickly as possible.
I was about 30 m into the field, when I suddenly saw movement to my left, right in the cover of the ridge line. A klipspringer ewe was running from left to right, bouncing from rock to rock and was about to drop into the next valley. She stopped and looked back in my direction. I was caught out in the open with no cover. I consoled myself that, at least, it was only a ewe – but the thought had barely crossed my mind, when suddenly a ram appeared over the edge of the ridge and bounced onto a rock right next to the ewe. The klipspringers were watching me and, sinking to my knees very slowly, I moved in behind the .30-06.
The ram was standing, quartering towards me. Placing the cross hairs of my Steiner on the point of his shoulder, I squeezed the trigger. At the shot the ram disappeared. The ewe turned around and ran back into the valley. I sat motionless for a few seconds, scanning the rock on which the ram had been standing only a moment before. Not seeing any movement, I walked over to the spot and found my ram next to the rock! The 165 gr Sierra Game King had dropped the klipspringer in its tracks.
I sat down next to the ram, cherishing the moment. What an amazing sport we are privileged to partici-pate in! ASM