By Jofie Lamprecht
“I have shot and killed a beautiful oryx and this is more beautiful than any woman and has horns more decorative than any man”
Ernest Hemmingway – True at first light
It was with wide eyes and sweaty hands when I was handed the custom built .300 Win. Magnum Mauser 98 action, built in my fathers “The Gun Shop”, when my 6-year-old frame was told it was time to shoot my first oryx for the pot.
The term ‘oryx’ comes from its scientific name: oryx gazella. By no means a gazelle, this term only used because of the horizontal stripe down its flanks. The only gazelle occurring south of the Zambezi river is the springbuck, and the oryx is certainly not the second.
The other big debate is these elegant and resilient antelopes other name which is very commonly used: gemsbuck or gemsbok. Let’s dispel the mystery. Technically, ‘gemsbuck’ would be the English spelling, ‘gemsbok’ the Afrikaans.
Speaking both languages, in our home it was simply ‘oryx’ in English, and ‘gemsbok’ in Afrikaans.
On our families famed Rooikraal Ranch this was the most common specie, endemic in this part of the world of eastern Namibia and can could be seen at certain times of the year in herds in their hundreds. Setting off on a new adventure in my father’s 1975 FJ Land Cruiser painted his signature green, with his pipe clutched between his teeth, advice and stories still dispensing out the left side of his mouth – hunting oryx on Rooikraal was a weekly affair for the kitchen pot when not on safari. It was only the oryx huntsman that was freshly out the box. At age six, I already had two rifles to my name – a drop-block single shot .22 with a scope and a .223 ‘jackal killer’ – both were shot a lot an often at smaller animals, especially my antagonist – the jackal. This was to be my biggest quarry yet. We found a suitable area, with thick stands of camphor bush, ideal for stalking, and set off. My father taking the lead, Mauser slung over his left shoulder held horizontally, barrel pointing forwards and his shooting sticks that-never-wanted-to-die in his right hand. The lavish grass over my waistline, I had to skip-trot to try and keep up with my father’s long strides. These times in the field, in silence, stalking quarry were some of my favorite times with my father.
We would stop, nearing clearings and openings to glass and then stalk on. And then it happened, without looking back my father handed me the rifle, with both his hands now on the shooting sticks. I remember wondering why my father was breathing as hard as I was…
For those that had the privilege of hunting with Joof Lamprecht will know. He was not a man of much patience for anything other than a good story around a fire with matured scotch. His shooting sticks were built purposefully in their ‘never-want-to-die’ fashion to be sharp in the top V of the bi-pod. The theory was, the shooter would put his hand in the V of the sticks to cushion the fore-end of the rifle, your hand would then be on the sharp sticks to hasten the shot. I am sure if I go scratching around the workshop on Rooikraal, these very murderous sharp shooting sticks will be leant up against a corner somewhere waiting for my fathers return. Many a client complained – those that dared, but they never were replaced in all the years along with the 1975 LC.
We stalked for several minutes, and I could not see what we were after, rifle at the ready for surely the master would not be playing games at this point. Sticks went up, and I slowly slid the rifle into place, head up, looking for what my father had seen over the top of the scope. Nothing. “Just wait” was the instruction above my head. There was hard breathing from above and below, sticks biting into my young hand with heavy Mauser obeying gravity. And then from my lowered vantage point I saw a flick. Black. Another flick – horns moving from behind a camphor bush. Close. A pulse that was already racing hit top gear, eyes wide, mouth dry, looking over the scope and not through it so as not to get too excited, waited for him to step out. The short bats of horns were those of an old bar fighter, armor plated chest streaked with scars of battles won and lost – he stepped a little further exposing his shoulder and sagging belly. Head lowered and engage the target, eyes narrowed, focus on the ‘crease’ behind the shoulder, exhale, squeeze. The break of the shot was a surprise and the recoil disturbed my line of sight. Sticks fell over and I was left holding the heavy rifle, catching it before the muzzle hit the ground like a drunkard saving his beer. My target was streaking across the savannah with his haunches pulled in under him – “good shot” was the remark from above – having gained control of his breath again. After a couple of hundred yards with a clear blood trail lay my oryx, one of many to be harvested before my professional career – but this one was special, being my first.
You will note above, I said “focus on the ‘crease’ behind the shoulder”. This is where my father told clients to shoot their animals for decades. Thousands of animals were successfully felled in this way – but please don’t try this on your hunt in Africa. With a precise shot, this will work, but pulled slightly backwards you will have a lot of hard work ahead of you. Standing perfectly broadside, plum in the middle of the shoulder, straight up the front leg, is the ideal shot on an oryx and any other African antelope.
Having never recorded how many oryx I have hunted, it will be in the high 100’s, possibly over a 1000. It is always an exciting hunt. The saying goes, once you see the white face (mask) of the oryx – it is game over. They are very ‘switched on’ and any mistake on the part of the hunter will see his rump and long black horse-like-tail flicking into the horizon.
It must have been 10 years into my professional hunting career when an clients 8-year-old daughter pointed out that each oryx has a different face mask. The thought immediately through my mind was, no, they are all the same – but I made no comment. My interest now piqued by this, I actually started paying attention – and indeed, she was right, no two oryx masks are the same.
The oryx is a worthy quarry. Very spooky and aware. Stalked in thick cover, open savannah or in the mountains, they are always a challenge. Their will to survive evident. This beautiful antelope finds its place of honor on Namibia’s coat of arms, they survive in the world’s oldest desert, with no water and are as tough as nails. Place your shot right or face many hours on a blood trail that many times dries up with no success
Having hunted many countries in Africa, recognized PH Fred Bartlett who worked for my father for several years on Rooikraal, commented how hard the oryx was to hunt. I learnt a lot from him as a young boy on Rooikraal. He wrote in his book “Shoot straight and stay alive” that oryx were some of the wariest antelope he hunted in all his years of hunting multiple African countries.
To shoot an oryx with long horns is not too difficult. Concentrate only on the horns of a large herd and shoot the one that sticks out right? No, it is a lot harder than that. Bull or cow? What time of year is it, will the cows be carrying calves, or are their calves hidden in the tall grass – this ‘two for one special’ is deplorable in my opinion. With enough experience, one can differentiate a bull from a cow oryx relatively efficiently and then also judge the age of the animal, but mistakes still happen. Here are a few pointers that I have learnt over the years, both learnt from my father and others – and a few I figured out myself.
- In your mind’s eye, if you can place a third horn, of the same size of the animal you are looking at between the other two – you can be pretty sure it is a cow. Bulls horns tend to be thicker, but thinner horned bulls also occur.
- At the base of the horns, older oryx start getting what my father and I called “compression rings” or “socks”. As the horns harden with age these rings occur. In my experience, cows’ “socks” get much higher up the horn than bulls.
- At the root of the tail, if it has been burnt brownish, and not jet black anymore, this is a good indication of age.
- Older bulls’ bellies sag with age, much like many in their pursuit. Cows do too, but this can also be an indication that they are with calf.
- When looking at you (here ‘the five second rule’ of shoot or forget about it usually applies) bulls faces are wider than cows, cows’ faces being slimmer and more feminine.
- Bulls have a distinct strut when they are trotting. Almost in show horse fashion. Get ready, they often stop and look back when they have gone into this trot because they are unsure of what they have seen.
- If they are alone, they are generally bulls.
- And last but not least, the main difference between bulls and cows is the distinct penis on their bellies… how many times have I convinced myself I have found a bull and when looking for the last guarantee I am on the right animal, this button is nowhere to be seen.
Make sure your shot is true, I have never seen a tougher antelope in Africa take so much punishment and keep going. They are built to survive, use the right ammo, be sure of your shot, don’t take chances and you should be fine. Enjoy hunting these elegant masked dessert warriors of the savannah – and their very light-colored meat is darn tasty too!
Photography by: Jofie Lamprecht