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Along the Hunter's Path

Along the Hunter's Path

A monumental, passionate work dealing with thoughts and hunting experiences in Namibia and other parts of Africa
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Along the Hunter's Path

Author: Kai-Uwe Denker
Self published
Namibia, 2006
ISBN: 9991668454
Pictorial cloth gilt, dustjacket, 16x22 cm, 506 pages, numerous colour photos


Description:

"Along the Hunter's Path" deals with thoughts and hunting experiences on the African continent in three separate parts.

Part 1 recounts diverse hunting experiences in Namibia, Mozambique, Cameroon and Tanzania with the Big Five, as well as greater and lesser kudu, gerenuk, bongo and other game.

Part 2 deals mainly with elephant hunting in one of the most remote areas of Namibia, the East-Kavango.

In the third part, thoughts about hunting in general and in our time are expressed.


Review:

"...when I turned the last page, I was of the opinion that I had read, after Harry Manners' "Kambaku", probably one of the most significant Africa books of the last decades.

ALONG THE HUNTER'S PATH is in my view the book on African hunting par excellence, the creed of a thoroughly passionate professional hunter...

The gripping hunting scenes, embedded in atmospheric landscape images, are often of such breathtaking reality that one repeatedly feels transposed into the role of the hunter, imagining the feel of dust, heat, sweat or the scent of the wild after rain.

Please allow an old man such a judgement, who himself spent uncounted hours following elephant tracks almost half a century ago and who, while reading these lines, believes he is experiencing everything once more."

Anno Hecker, former Project Leader of the College of African Wildlife Management in Mweka/Tanzania and longtime honourary game warden of Tanganyika, Tanzania and Kenya.

 

Contents:

Introduction

Part I: After a hunter's heart
An African hunter's "hit-list"
On farmland in the old South-West
In the Zambezi Delta
Experiences with leopards
On the trail of hungry lions
East African Safari
The phantom of the Nyika
On the trail of the restless wanderers
Dangerous big game
Hunting the tropical rainforest
After black rhinoceros
With spindly mongrels on a leopard's track

Part II: Namibia's last forgotten corner
To the west of Khaudum
Bernhard Tsao
The hunter's heart still rejoices
The Bushman hunter
"Keep on talking - keep on talking about elephants"

Part III: The hunter's soul
Emotions of a hunter
The measure of all things
Mafunyane - the murdering of a legend
To respect a myth
To be well equipped
The tiresome matter of the trophies
The other side
Our time
To really and truly have hunted
Acknowledgements


Introduction:

I'm a hunter.

Not a trophy collector showing off his trophies, no - a hunter, really a hunter. Possessed by an inscrutable, instinctive passion for the chase. And inspired by the striving for a fair chase. To be a good, successful hunter in primordial times was of such importance, yes even of vital importance, that this ambition nowadays, with hunting instincts still alive in many people, becomes apparent in the strangest ways.

And with that the actual matter, the chase itself, is falling into oblivion. Hunters try do outdo each other by listing enormous bags of game and even more silly, by listing trophy collections of every possible animal species and subspecies, with their measurements in inches and pounds. Or they try to devalue each other's achievements.

It is fashionable for example, to be a keen mountain hunter nowadays. The higher the mountain, the more difficult the hunt. Thus together with the trophy measurement, the altitude at which the specific animal was taken, is made the yardstick of a hunter's quality. And as one is hunting at high altitudes, it seems appropriate to drop sarcastic remarks about - for example - hunters hunting in Southern Africa.

With this I do not want to devalue mountain hunting - I am aware of its beauty. But is it not so, that in many cases these hunts are nothing more than approaching an animal, hidden by some mountain ridge into a range of 300, 400 or even 500 metres, from which distance the animal is executed with the aid of range finders and modern telescopic sights? Hunting seems to be doomed.

This cannot be obscured by the temporary booming of the hunting industry. Because the percentage of real hunters is dwindlingly low and hunting skills are choked by the use of technical devices. Together with the inch and the altitude champions there come real "gadget freaks". This book makes an attempt to depict hunting. To describe hunting passion, which as such, is very, very difficult to explain.

Hunting passion, which in two or three generation's time, perhaps no longer will be understood at all. It is an attempt. And I do not want to create the impression that I am not fascinated by hunting trophies. To the contrary - I have a real passion for big, mature, handsome and rugged trophies. A good collection of such trophies in fact can reflect hunting skills - if they indeed were truly and honestly hunted.

Moreover the personalities and experiences of real hunters can be extremely fascinating. To have bagged elusive, desirable game under difficult, unfavourable circumstances gives a feeling both humble and proud. And this is the difference to boasting with irrelevant numbers and measurements.

I have written down some hunting experiences, which in this sense, I consider interesting. Often I had a camera with me. With the photographs in this book, I tried to portray impressions, which are appealing to a hunter. The vastness and solitude of untouched landscapes, encounters with wild animals, life in camp - and the moments of triumph, when my clients or I myself took prey.

These photos of the hunter with his prey have become unpopular. For a moment I considered not to include such pictures, as I want to try and raise an understanding, even with non-hunters, for our doings. But I discarded this thought immediately. These photos depict part of the hunt.

Perhaps only a hunter can understand why we like them, what we feel, when, looking at these photos, the moment lives on, when the feverish excitement of the chase subsided and gave way to the deep satisfaction of having taken desirable game.

The photos in this book were taken with a Pentax K.1000 camera and a Tokina AT-X 50-250 mm lens. Only in the rainforest, due to the poor light, I used a LEICA MINI-ZOOM Camera. Photos, on which I myself appear, were either taken with a selftimer or by my respective hunting companions. Only the photograph on page 95 was taken by a client with his camera while I was glassing the mountains for greater kudu. The photos were almost exclusively taken in the different hunting areas. Only some very few photos were taken in Etosha National Park or Ngorongoro-crater.

As a four year old, I was given a very simple air-gun. With this weak little weapon I went after mice and sparrows in the vicinity of my parents' farmhouse. A year later, when I was five and a half years old, I was allowed to shoot guinea-fowl, jackal and other small animals with a .22 rifle.

One might now say that due to the fact, that I was allowed to handle rifles as a child, my hunting passion was instilled. This is not true. My parents just allowed me to live out my passion, as it could never have been suppressed. I know children who grew up under similar circumstances, yet developed no taste for hunting. On the other hand there are hunters which only came into contact with hunting at a relatively late age, and were nevertheless immediately gripped by an intense hunting passion.

When my parents realised that I was using the .22 rifle also on larger game, they did not react with senseless prohibitions. My father instead presented me with a .243 Winchester. With this rifle I hunted for 10 years, until I was approximately 20 years old, taking all occurring game animals from warthog to bull kudu. Those were years of great, unrestrained hunting. Then I received an 8x68S from my father - a fine, reliable weapon.

Once I became interested in dangerous game I had a .404 Jeffrey built. I decided on this calibre because it is a legendary choice and moreover I was offered a good barrel at favourable conditions. This rifle now is what the .22 was in my youth. I am no rifle collector and with these working-rifles I feel that I am suitably equipped for any situation. All my rifles are fitted with a 98 Mauser action.

Amongst my clients there have been really great hunters with whom it was a pleasure to hunt. Furthermore I have been on many a hunting trip with various friends. This book is dedicated to these fellow hunters. I was extremely fortunate to make the acquaintance and become friends with some of the very last true Bushman hunters. It is to them also, to my hunting companions in the East Kavango - to him, the old man, the hunter - that I dedicate this book.

I was born in Africa. My great-grandparents from my mother's side went to Africa as missionaries (initially in old Bechuanaland). Sometimes I can feel an instinctive desire for the gloomy moor lands and forests in which my forefathers hunted in northern Europe. But Europe no longer is home to me. Whenever I have been there for a short while, I am drawn back to Africa.

The desolate wastes of Africa's south-western arid zone are my home. And Africa possesses the richest hunting grounds on earth, both regarding the abundance and variety of its game animals, as well as the grandeur of its scenery.

It is absolutely fascinating to watch a serene, old hunter. But this is a book of barely tamed passion.
I have to run and to jump, to take cover and sneak along, to then lie in wait, while my pulses rush on.
Like on that day, when I was sitting on the Osombahe Mountain, scanning the plains below through my binoculars. Just before sunset I spotted a big old bull kudu far out in the savannah.

I rushed down the mountain slope, ran for a kilometre once I had reached the flat ground in order to be able to reach the bull before dusk, then hurriedly crawled around a herd of gemsbok, which were in my way.
Once I pass the herd, the gemsbok get my wind and run off. The kudu becomes uneasy and makes off at a trot. It almost drives me mad, to see those long, forward-pointing tips of his horns disappear in a thicket.

Stooping down low I run after him, yet I have to proceed cautiously - the kudu is still unaware of my presence, it is only the running gemsbok, which made him suspicious. He takes to the thick bush in order to hide and look out. And in a little clearing in that thicket, I spot him again as he pauses for a moment to scent the air.

Those who have hunted old kudu bulls, will be able to imagine the picture. How the bull sneaks along there on tiptoes, alert and watchful in all directions to detect any danger and to decide where to disappear to. And with a quick shot, I snatch him from that clearing.

While I gralloch him, my eyes keep gliding over those incredible horns. And enthralled by the excitement of the chase and the magnificent trophy, by the smell of the first rains going down far in the east, I start running on my way back, clearing metre high thorn bushes, while slowly dusk is falling.

I am thirty-nine years old now, a hunter in his prime. Physically as tough as a man can be, and old enough to unravel some secrets. So then, this is my book.


To the west of Khaudum:

To hunt in an area, where bateleur eagles soar, where packs of African wild dogs roam, suddenly appearing from nowhere and disappearing again, and where ancient, heavy-tusked bull elephants wander - those in the know will understand what this entails. The occurrence of these species is synonymous with vast, untouched tracts of wilderness.

Although the bateleur eagle is still quite numerous, it can only hold its own in the more remote areas away from civilisation. Concerning the elephant, words are actually superfluous. Hunting areas, where elephant bulls really reach a mature age, are almost non-existent any longer, trophies of more than sixty pounds per side have become an absolute rarity, really big tuskers have well-nigh disappeared.

And the wild dog is a species, which in fact is threatened by extinction. These magnificent predators need such big hunting territories, that to them even the huge African national parks are not big enough. As far as I am aware, noteworthy numbers only occur in the two most sparsely inhabited African countries, in Botswana and in the desolate wastelands of north-eastern Namibia beyond the red line.

In Namibia's north-eastern corner, on the border with Botswana, there is such an area - some two million hectares of unspoiled wilderness. Somewhat less than 500,000 hectares fall to Khaudum National Park, an undeveloped park, which can only be reached by four-wheel driven vehicle. The rest is the big game concession "West of Khaudum", in eastern Kavango. Here one still encounters large packs of more than thirty wild dogs, here elephant bulls still die a natural death.

When at the end of the year 1992, big game concessions in Namibia were offered to professional hunters for the first time on a tender basis, with "West of Khaudum" a hitherto untouched and unknown hunting area became accessible. This stretch of country is located between Bushmanland and the Caprivi-Strip. Both the Caprivi, as well as Bushmanland had been hunted before. East Kavango, however, had simply been omitted and forgotten. Because here there were neither roads nor inhabitants, no permanent waterholes and no features of any kind in a sea of sand and solitude.

To me it was clear, that of all the hunting blocks offered, "West of Khaudum" - although without infrastructure and unknown - was the most appealing. My tender was accepted and I thus became the first professional hunter to step into East Kavango. It is an area, the kind of which at this point of time, a few years before the turn of the millennium, actually could no longer have existed.

"West of Khaudum" has been the greatest hunting ground, which I got to know on the African continent. It fills me with special pleasure, that it is located in Namibia, a country which had often only been smiled upon by big game hunters. Now there are quite different perceptions, of what a great hunting destination should look like.

To many, an imposing variety and wealth of game will be the criteria for this appraisal. According to this, that I have to admit, East Kavango would be a miserable hunting area. No, it has rather different attractions. Nowhere have I seen a first-rate hunting area, which lay so lonely, silent and forlorn.

Bushmanland in north-eastern Namibia had generally been regarded a faraway, little-touched land. Yet it is no comparison whatsoever to the wilderness, which links up with Bushmanland to the north. The few travellers visiting the remote Khaudum National Park may be of the impression, that they have reached Namibia's last corner of virgin wilderness. However they might have no idea that they have travelled around an area, which is bigger, wilder and less touched even than Khaudum.

And all those, who sing the song of Caprivi-Strip's luxuriant, lush natural beauty, could most probably never understand, what should be so grand about those miles over miles of dusty, dry, monotonous bushveld.
There is nothing one could say about this stretch of country more significant or essential, than that it simply had been forgotten - forgotten, because the sand is too deep and the bush too tedious - had been forgotten, because this stretch of country, in so sparsely inhabited a country, appeared just too insignificant.

I could not tell, how many miles I have walked on elephant paths through these wastelands, how many days have gone by on which I did not see a single head of game. But rarely a day went by, on which I have not turned my eyes towards heaven, to watch in delight the majestic sight of a Bateleur soaring past overhead. Rarely a day went by on which we did not come across leopard tracks. Now and then we encountered a pack of wild dogs.

These were always great moments and time and again I had to ask myself, how one could regard these roaming ingenious robbers with such hatred, as farmers and cattle breeders do. More than even with the elephant, the aura of untameable wanderlust and a great urge towards freedom wafts around these magnificent predators.

Quite often we came onto fresh lion spoor. During the rainy season kudu, roan antelope and eland move in and wander off again, once the muddy pans dry up. Gemsbok and blue wildebeest brave the long dry season by digging up water-carrying tubers. And now and then one comes onto the tracks of a bull elephant, which takes one's breath away. With that, all is said.

When I first stepped into East Kavango early in 1993, the whole, huge concession area of the "West of Khaudum" was empty and uninhabited. Only in the very south of the area, close to the old cut-line, which forms the northern border to Bushmanland, there was a god-forlorn little village: Samagai-gai. The veterinary official in Rundu, once during a conversation asked me: "Samagai-gai - is that not the little village in the middle of nowhere?" Which sums it up neatly.

I now will try to sketch the history of the human habitation at the edge of the wasteland of the "West of Khaudum-Sandveld". In doing so, I rely on the statements of the old Bushmen, whom I still met here. Until the 1950's, roaming clans of Bushmen were the only humans in this area. These clans, during the dry season, had to rely on places where the groundwater-level was high enough to be reached by digging into the sandy soil. One such place was Samagai-gai.

Samagai-gai was the central spot in the hunting and gathering-territory of the Bushman clan around old Namshe. I still became acquainted with old Namshe at Samagai-gai. His son Kashe, is one of the trackers who regularly accompanied me on my elephant hunts. Similar circumstances existed at Karakuwisa at the western edge of the "West of Khaudum" area or at N'homa in northern Bushmanland. At the beginning of the 1950's, the South African Administration placed black policemen at Samagai-gai and Karakuwisa, to obtain some control on the roaming Bushman clans, who had retreated into the Sandveld. [...]