By Eric Boley
At the sound of the shot, it was absolute pandemonium. Eland were running everywhere, like a covey of quail being flushed from cover. My PH, Bennie Boshoff, had to jump sideways as a huge bull barreled past him. He was yelling that I had missed and in all the confusion, I wasn’t convinced my shot had been true. Here we were, on day eight of my safari to Namibia and I may have just blown my chance at a trophy Eland bull.
My good friend, Dr. Brian Tallerico, had purchased the hunt at an auction and had offered to let me buy it from him when he decided he couldn’t use the hunt himself. For years I had dreamed of going to Africa. When I mentioned the chance I had been given to purchase the hunt to my wife Jodie, she said, “Let’s do it. It’ll be a great way to celebrate our 25th anniversary.” Included with the hunt package was the trophy fee for a trophy Eland, a management Eland and five nights for 1-hunter and 1-observer. Jodie and I decided to extend our safari to ten days to ensure we would enjoy the entire experience and have time to do everything we wanted while we were there. In addition to Jodie and me going, we invited my father-in-law, Dennis Mortensen, to accompany us and he quickly jumped at the chance. We spent the next year planning and saving until it was finally time to travel to the Dark Continent.
The trip from Wyoming to Namibia was a long one, but the anticipation of the adventure made it more than bearable. We flew from Salt Lake to New York on a red eye. From New York we made the long flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. From Johannesburg we flew to the capitol of Namibia and two and a half days after leaving home, we landed in Windhoek. As we deplaned and my feet touched down on the tarmac, tears came to my eyes. After decades of daydreaming and years of saving, I was finally on safari in Africa, accompanied by my best friend, Jodie.
When I purchased the hunt, my impression was taking an Eland would be easy. The hunt included the taking of two Eland and was originally only for five days, so I figured we would see multiple Eland and have our pick. I figured finding an antelope the size of a Brahma bull would be easy. In my mind, I pictured Eland out grazing in the open fields. Boy, was I ever wrong. My PH, Bennie Boshoff of Duiker Safaris, explained that these huge antelope were very reclusive and liked spending their time deep in the bush. I still wasn’t convinced it was going to be very difficult to shoot something the size of a small car, but after eight days of hunting, I was a believer.
Over the course of our hunt, we’d seen a few Eland, usually as they ran away from us through the bush. We’d tried sitting in blinds overlooking water and salt licks. We’d followed fresh tracks every day for many miles. I was amazed at the trackers’ ability to stay on the same tracks through all types of terrain. When the tracks became confusing, I was fascinated to watch them figure out the trail.
We had been close a few times. On day three we tracked a herd for several miles, starting where they watered during the night. That day we closed the distance and got close enough to see their horns above the bush. but the wind switched before a shot presented itself and the herd stampeded away.
Another day we tracked a group of Eland into a big copse of bush. The wind was wrong, so we swung out wide and were able to get in front of the herd. We knew we were ahead of them, because when Eland are relaxed and walking, their hooves make a very distinctive clicking noise. We could hear them coming and could even hear them pulling leaves off of some of the brush as they walked and ate. Our eyes strained to pick out the gray/tan bodies in the brush and just as the herd was about to step into the open, we felt the breeze hit the back of our necks. The herd exploded going the other way, again never giving us a shot. On several days we had seen young bulls and a few cows out in the open, but a mature bull or a management Eland continued to elude us.
So, there we were on ‘Day 8’. We’d tracked a herd for several miles that morning and had actually gotten within range of a young bull, but never caught up to the main herd. Bennie suggested returning to camp for lunch and picking Jodie and Dad up for the afternoon hunt. As we were heading to camp, Bennie said he wanted to check another area where Eland liked to bed down during the day.
We parked the truck, making sure the wind was right and headed into the bush. After about a mile, Bennie and my tracker, Dom, slowed their pace. Bennie told me to watch where I put my feet and to make no noise. We crept forward slowly and cautiously. Bennie lead the way, with Dom on his heels and me bringing up the rear. One minute we were creeping forward and the next Dom’s head hit me in the stomach, as he suddenly stopped and I almost ran over him. I’m a pretty big guy and Dom wasn’t much more than four feet tall.
Dom snapped his fingers to get Bennie’s attention and then excitedly pointed through the brush at something I couldn’t see. Bennie told me to stay low and he and Dom whispered excitedly to each other in their native tongue. Bennie whispered that Dom had spotted an Eland bedded about 150 yards ahead of us. The Bushmen’s eyes are incredible and over the course of my safari, I had come to realize that I could trust them.
Bennie said we were going to have to crawl to get closer. Crawling in Africa is much easier said than done. Everything there either sticks or scratches you. We slowly made our way forward. About 100 yards into our crawling stalk, Bennie stopped and pointed to a spot about 60 yards in front of us. He explained there was a bedded bull and that I would need to stand up and shoot offhand. He was afraid trying to set up the shooting sticks would make too much noise and scare the bull.
I still couldn’t see the bull, but finally, using my binoculars, I was able to make out an ear, an eye and then the base of a horn. I still don’t know how Dom spotted the bull, especially without the aid of binoculars. I quietly clicked the safety off on my rifle and then slowly rose to a standing position, while bringing the rifle to my shoulder. As I stood, the bull jumped to his feet. I quickly found the bull in my scope and squeezed off a round.
At the shot, chaos reigned. A huge Eland bull came charging right past us and almost ran over Bennie. Eland were running everywhere and Bennie was yelling that I had missed. I told Bennie that my shot had been good and I was sure the bull had dropped in its tracks. We made our way up to where the bull had been standing and laying there was a beautiful old bull. After eight days of hard hunting, I finally had my trophy Eland in the salt.
Bennie explained that the light colored stripes on the bulls sides were the markings of a Livingston Eland. I marveled at his beautiful markings, his long spiraling horns and the beautiful red tuft he had on his forehead, only found on old mature bulls.
After taking multiple photos and admiring the bull, I was amazed as we loaded the huge bull into the back of the truck. Not an ounce of meat from any of the animal is wasted in Africa as every part is utilized to sustain life and livelihood. As we pulled into camp and were met by the skinners, I caught the eye of my wife as she came to greet us. She had a huge smile on her face and wished me a happy 25th anniversary. When I dreamt of Africa, Eland wasn’t one of the animals I daydreamed about. Now that I’ve hunted them, the Eland is one of my favorite trophies. It was a hard-earned trophy and as the years pass and I look at the beautiful mount in our home and relive the adventure, I will always remember that first safari in Africa and how my wife and I celebrated our 25th anniversary.