Published July 08, 2007, 12:00 AM

West Fargo hunter fascinated with the trackers of Namibia

Pat Jilek thought he had a good eye for hunting. That was until he went to Africa.

By: Tracy Frank, The Forum

Pat Jilek thought he had a good eye for hunting. That was until he went to Africa.

“There’s a gemsbuck,” Jilek pointed out one afternoon during his 14-day hunting excursion last May in the southwest African country of Namibia.

The trackers, riding in a truck traveling 30 mph over the desert-like terrain of northern Namibia, politely informed Jilek that they had already spotted 12 gemsbucks.

Jilek, a 37-year-old from West Fargo, shook his head in amazement.

“In the time it took me to see one through the brush, they saw 12 and had even evaluated them for trophy quality without the truck stopping or even slowing down,” Jilek said. “The trackers would point out animals as far as a mile away with their naked eyes that took me several minutes of close study to find.”

It was trackers and guides like that who helped Jilek experience the hunt of his life. A conductor for Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad since 2003 and a hunter since his childhood, Jilek bagged a springbuck, impala, gemsbuck, steenbuck, blue wildebeest, kudu and the elusive mountain zebra.

Through an exhaustive search on the Internet two years ago, Jilek booked his hunt with “Christie’s Adventures” – an eight-year-old operation whose clients took 640 trophy animals last year. Jilek has booked another hunt for 2010 with the outfit that is run by the husband-and-wife team of Christie and Madeleine DeSousa of rural Kamanjab, Namibia.

“I knew within a day, I was coming back,” Jilek said. “I have been on a number of guided hunts and you just never know what you will get.

“I was ecstatically happy. I had never been pampered like that in my life.”

Jilek, a 1988 Fargo North High School graduate, has hunted for caribou in the Northwest Territories before. He has gone hog hunting in Texas twice. He has bowhunted for black bear in Minnesota in addition to his usual waterfowl, pheasant and deer hunting trips in North Dakota.

But he has never shot a springbuck, an 80-pound animal comparable to the pronghorns of the North Dakota Badlands. That was Jilek’s first kill on his African trip, which prompted a Bushman tradition.

Sitting on a plate covered with curry and cinnamon was a tooth pick holding the boiled heart of the springbuck, a slice of onion and cheese. Sitting next to it was a shot glass full of Diet Coke.

The hunting party sang a German song, knocked on the bar twice, drank the shot and then ate the food.

“The heart represents the animal’s soul,” Jilek said. “The onion represents the animal’s food and the curry and cinnamon represent the dirt and earth.”

And what does the shot of Diet Coke, normally a shot of the Greek liqueur Oozo, represent?

“Well, I don’t drink liquor,” Jilek said. “So when the trackers downed their shots, they were a little surprised.”

After his first successful hunt, Jilek also shot an impala which can jump 30 to 50 feet at a time; a gemsbuck, a 600 to 700 pound animal with spiral-shaped horns; a steenbuck, a pygmy antelope the size of a poodle; a blue wildebeest bull that weighed 500 pounds and a kudu bull that had 52-inch long horns.

“Christie, looking through his binoculars, estimated the horns might go at 53 inches, so he told me to go for it,” Jilek said. “The horns measured out at 52B, inches. So it pays to have someone with experience.”

It also paid to have Christie and his trackers in the hunt for the elusive Hartmann’s mountain zebra – an animal many hunters don’t see while in Africa.

“Unlike what a lot of people think, they are very smart and elusive animals that will only drink during the night and hide in the mountains during the day,” Christie said.

Jilek and his hunting party went 10 days without spotting one. On Day 11, Christie told his trackers to go searching for a zebra while he and Jilek tracked for kudu.

Later in the day, the trackers called on the radio. Listening to the Afrikaan language they spoke, Jilek heard the word zebra.

“Most of my trackers are bushmen,” Christie said. “Tracking is in their blood. There is definitely an art to it.”

Grouped with Jilek and Christie again, the trackers spent nearly 2½ hours analyzing fresh zebra tracks – a full-hoof impression much like a horse. With Christie and Jilek walking a ravine between two rocky hills, one tracker 20 yards ahead suddenly dropped to the ground. The three other trackers flanked to his sides followed suit.

“That was the sign a zebra was spotted,” Jilek said.

Duck walking about five yards to the junction of two ravines, Jilek saw the zebra about 40 yards away at the top of one of the ravines.

“Take him,” Christie instructed Jilek.

Jilek fired his Remington .30-06 rifle, scattering other animals that had been hiding in the brush.

“The shot felt good but I didn’t know if I hit it,” Jilek said.

Joseph, one of the trackers, ran to the top of the hill. He turned around with a thumbs-up sign. All the trackers started cheering, mostly because zebra is their favorite meat to eat.

Christie estimated the zebra to be a 25-year-old stallion, whose hoofs were worn out. Again, Jilek was amazed.

“How they stayed with that zebra’s tracks was simply amazing,” Jilek said. “I still can’t figure out how they did that. That was a true hunters’ hunt. I had never done anything like that before.”

Only in Africa.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549