Our 2017 South African safari with John X Safaris was the year that kicked off my quest for the Tiny Ten antelope. I was fairly ignorant going into this hunt about the unique qualities of each species, how hard they are to hunt, and how addicted I’d become to the concept of completing the challenge of harvesting all 10 of them. I only succeeded in collecting three of the ten on this trip, which just means that I have to go back again next year!
The klipspringer hunt stands out as one of the most physically challenging hunts I have ever been on. My wife, Cherise, and I were in the Sneeuberg mountain range in the Karoo of South Africa, and we put in the days, hiked the miles, and got worked over several times by the little antelope. The hunt started with a not-so-easy climb up and over a ridgeline and down into a beautiful valley surrounded by rock cliffs. We found a shaded spot for cover and all chose different directions to glass. My PH, Stix, spotted a pair way up high on a far cliff. I later determined that even spotting this elusive animal is a skill unto itself – their color blends in perfectly with their rocky habitat and they are only about 18” tall at the shoulder.
At this point, Cherise's boots had betrayed her and blisters were setting in so she decided to hang back and keep an eye on the klipspringer while Stix, our tracker Olwethu, our cameraman Ozzie, and I went on to close the distance gap. While we were climbing, we got out of sight line with the klipspringer and all of a sudden, a group of baboons started going crazy. They were screaming and hollering and their sounds were filling the valley and echoing off the canyon walls. Cherise was concerned about the close proximity of the angry baboons – she actually had no idea what they were until later – and lost sight of the klipspringer. Unfortunately, the klipspringer were spooked by the baboons as well and disappeared. None of us were able to spot them again, and we had to give up on that pair of elusive klipspringer.
Later that day, we were out on the afternoon hunt on a different part of the property. As we rounded a corner and stopped to glass the rocky mountains ahead of us, Stix spotted a pair of klipspringers way up on a hillside approximately 1,000 yards from us. We could have stalked to get a bit closer, but Stix was concerned about the wind whipping over the mountain edge and through the ravine to the left of them. Instead, we made our way to the backside of a neighboring ridge. Stix pointed up, and we knew we were in for a climb. However, Cherise and I weren’t yet familiar with the concept of a “false summit.” Although the first steep portion of the climb was very challenging with loose rocks and dirt serving as our footholds, we weren’t discouraged because we thought we were almost there. Nope. We reached the first false summit and saw another climb ahead of us. On we went. Until we reached the second false summit! … another incline to scale. Keep in mind, we did okay, but when compared to a PH who participates in kayaking marathons, a cameraman who does 65K trail runs, and a tracker who is just really in shape, Cherise and I felt a bit inferior. But we made it! And we couldn’t have been more proud.
Once we reached the top, we were discouraged to discover that we had only closed about 200 yards on the klipspringer. Our climb was full of humor and goodwill and my wife asked Stix if we had yet determined if this male ram was a shooter. Keep in mind that a trophy klipspringer has 4” tall horns – determining a half-inch difference from 1,000 yards away is no easy task. Laughingly, she told him that if it wasn’t, his Yelp review was going way down. Fortunately, it was. Unfortunately, we had the weirdest wind conditions I’d ever faced as a hunter. Also unfortunately, we didn’t know that until I flung my first bullet.
Stix and I were using our GeoBallistics wind meters and he called a hold position for over five minutes of wind because of the 13 mph winds at our location. I shot and my elevation was perfect, but the bullet hit right behind the ram. At this point, we were at 740 yards, and mathematically, the wind had to have been around 30 mph at the klipspringer’s location. The pair disappeared behind a tree and settled in to stay. Stix commented it was the most confusing wind he’d ever encountered, and we eventually determined that wind was coming up over the top of the ridgeline behind the klipspringer and whipping down the mountain. It had slung the bullet to the left, and the klipspringer never gave us another opportunity. The sun began to set – keep in mind we had spent a really long time getting up there and now we had to get down before darkness set in.
Going down definitely went faster, even though it was harder on my knees. When we got down, Cherise asked Stix what percentage of his clients he would have taken on that hike. He responded, “zero.” We felt pretty special and pretty dang proud of ourselves! Although the sun set on our hope that night, we knew that when we did get this animal, we’d have one heck of a story to go with it.
We had to take a break from klipspringer hunting for a day because the weather was perfect for pursuing a vaal rhebok high up in the mountains (that story to come later). But once we returned to klipspringer on the final day of our hunt, our tracker, Olwethu, spotted a pair on the side of yet a different mountain. At this point, we knew not to hesitate. These creatures could move fast and were not easy to find. We set up, watched the pair bound from rock to rock, and took the 270 yard shot the moment he gave us the opportunity. Olwethu knew I had nailed it, and he quickly climbed the hillside to the exact spot it went down. He came down with the klipspringer on his shoulders, and I was so excited to see this little antelope close up.
Klipspringers are extremely unique — they have quill-like hair that is pointy and hollow. It helps protect them from damage during falls high up on rocky cliffs and helps insulate them in cold weather. They also have very strange feet. They stand on the “tiptoes” of their blunt, rubbery hooves with their feet very close together as though they are loading energy to jump. These special feet help them traverse cliffs and rocks safely and quickly. Their name, klipspringer, is a combination of two Afrikaans words that mean “rock” and “leaper.” Interestingly, klipspringers are a monogamous animal and they’ll often remain with the same mate until death. They are located in pairs rather than herds and the male and female often stay within 16 feet of each other as they rest, eat, and bound effortlessly across cliffs and rocks. They are very geographically territorial, which helps hunters find them again if once found.
Our klipspringer hunt will always be a special memory embedded in my journey for the Tiny Ten. Although the first two hunts were unsuccessful, it made success that much sweeter. I learned a lot about wind in the mountains, and the sense of accomplishment I felt after our hikes was almost enough to call the whole thing a success even before harvesting the klipspringer.
Interested in joining us in Africa in July 2018? Sign up to join our Africa Hunt List to receive more information including Derrick's tips & tricks, an invitation to our Africa Info Night, and more.