My Quest for the Zebra SLAM!

Is there one animal on your bucket list that you’ve always wanted to go after?  Maybe you have already taken one, but the bug got you and now, you’ll hunt them any chance that you can.  It might be after you have successfully taken your first Rocky Mountain Elk, then you set your sights on a Manitoban, a Tule, and Roosevelt’s.  It could be a turkey, sheep, or deer slam that you are after, but regardless, you were bitten by the bug and now you have the itch.  Well, this is how I was bitten by the zebra bug a few years ago and it’s still an itch that I’m scratching.

Back in 2018, I took my youngest daughter on our first trip to Africa.  She was after a kudu, so I took a different path.  I wanted, if possible, an animal that is unique to Namibia.

I found that there is at least one animal that is unique to Namibia. They are scattered across Namibia, often in great numbers. They are large animals and have a reputation as being a challenge for archery hunters.  Up until this point in my life, I had never heard of them.  Sure, I know of zebras, but not of Hartmann’s Mt. Zebra. With this newfound knowledge, I now had a target for me to go after.

But alas, while she was successful and took a nice kudu with a 14-yard shot, it was just not meant to be for me and my Hartman’s on this trip. They would live up to their reputation and remain hidden until after dark. In fact, we didn’t even see one while hunting.

Regardless, I was bitten by the zebra bug, and I immediately began to plan for a return trip to Namibia with a Hartmann’s at the top of my list.  Now, I was determined to get my zebra.

I began the research and made more phone calls, which led me to an outfitter that assured me that he could put me within bow range of a Hartmann’s, and we would do so within three to four days upon my arrival.  The hunt was booked, and my pursuit of the elusive Namibian zebra would resume.  I returned the following year, as per the PH, during the hottest, driest month of the year, late September.  This would force the zebra to come to water and increase our chances of taking one with a ow.  As these zebras were hunted to near extinction a hundred years ago, they have become almost purely nocturnal creatures.  Rarely coming to water during the day and with a heightened sense of fear and distrust of all things human, they have become one of the hardest animals you can take with a bow and arrow.

As I returned to Namibia alone, I had a sense of dread, almost as if, “This is crazy, there’s no way I’m going to get a shot at a Hartmann’s.”  Thankfully, my PH, Pieter Delport, was a solid rock of confidence and had no hesitation when telling me that we would get a shot, it would happen.  I’ll never forget arriving in Windhoek around10 PM, then making the hour or so drive to his house.  On the drive, Pieter was so confident and sure, while I was still doubting.  

As we had a long drive ahead us the next morning, we went straight to bed, slept for about four hours, then we were up and on the road for a five-hour drive to the concession where the Hartmann’s called home.  As we arrived at the property, we prepared to go out for our first afternoon hunt in the blind.  I was excited, anxious, happy to be back in Africa, and yet, still doubtful.  Through my research, I had learned enough about these elusive animals to know our best chance of seeing them at the water would be the very last light of the fading sun.  Knowing this, I had practiced for hours shooting in low light conditions using lighted pins and with a peep sight that glows in the dark.  One of my favorite sayings that I try to apply simply states, “Train like you hunt, hunt like you train.”  Anticipating a low light shot at dusk was something that I trained for, and this training would make the difference in the outcome of the hunt.

As we sat in the blind, animals came and went, but no zebra.  Then, with ten minutes of light left, Peter whispered, “Zebra coming in from behind us, get ready to shoot out the right window.”

I rotated the dial to turn on the light on my sight and got ready for the shot.  I could hear their hooves as they walked on the rocks heading to the water.  As soon as I saw the lead zebra coming from the right, I came to full draw.  With no breeze, it was dead quiet, there was no masking the sound.  It stopped dead in its tracks, as did the rest of the herd.  No more than a two or three seconds passed when suddenly they all spun and raced off in the direction in which they had come.  And with that, I felt as if the wind had been let out of my sails and once again, I thought to myself, “I’m never going to get a shot at one of these zebras.”  

I wish I could say that I slept soundly that night, but I did not.  As frustrated as I was, that feeling only increased my desire to take one. I laid in bed that night vowing to stay true to the course and have faith in Pieter, praying that the next day would be ‘the day.’

The next afternoon’s hunt would find us in another blind approximately a mile from the previous location.  Just as on that hunt, the oryx came and went, then the eland came in as the sun was setting, yet no zebra.  Then we heard them.  They weren’t too far off, and Pieter said to get ready, they’re going to come in. With the light on the sight turned on, I was anxiously waiting, and praying, that they would commit and come in. From Pieter’s vantage point, he could see an old, beat-up stallion being chased by a younger stallion.  Pieter would tell me later that the younger one had already run the old stallion off and had taken over the herd.  

I couldn’t see much, just glimpses as the two stallions crossed back and forth across my shooting lane as the younger one chased the old stallion. All this action was not helping my nerves, and I kept thinking that it would be completely dark before one of them finally came in, if at all.  Fortunately for me, they stopped their antics ,and the old stallion came in for a drink. He came in from my left, my blind spot, so I would have to come to full draw, then move slightly to my right to make the shot.  Pieter told me to draw and move, he was almost there.  I came to full draw, moved slightly to the right, saw the stallion at the water, settled the lighted 20-yard pin on the chevron, and released the arrow.  In an instant, he spun back to the left and out of my view.  I knew though, without a doubt, that it was a good shot as I remember vividly seeing the red lighted nock as it disappeared into the sweet spot.

I leaned back in the chair, trying to breathe again, and I heard the clattering of the rocks as the stallion went down not 30-yards from the place where he had been standing.

I couldn’t believe it. I finally had my Hartmann’s Mt Zebra down on the ground.  We got out of the blind and started taking pictures of my scarred up old warrior of a stallion. The feeling of relief was incredible. All these past couple of years, thinking about this very moment, and here we are, living it.  My family knew how my obsession with this animal had become some ‘do or die’ type conquest and I couldn’t wait to send back the pictures. When my oldest daughter saw the picture, she replied, “Dad, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile that big before!”  As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words” and as you can tell, she was right.

My obsession was not over though, this was just the beginning. We returned to the same blind the next afternoon and the younger stallion came in and I had two stallions down within three days, just as Pieter had boldly predicted.  We would go on to hunt another concession south of Windhoek a few days later.  There I’d end up taking my first Plains Zebra, a young Burchell’s stallion, which at least one long time PH has told me, after seeing the pictures and video, that it is actually a Chapman's. Burchell's, Chapman's, it doesn't matter, my quest for the zebra SLAM had begun.

For those that think a zebra is a zebra, is a zebra, you couldn’t be more wrong.  There were four different species, but the Quagga is extinct, which now leaves three living species of zebra: the Grevy’s, the mountain zebra, and the plains zebra.  You cannot hunt the Grevy’s any longer, they are protected.  The mountain zebra has two sub-species: The Hartmann’s and the Cape. Then it gets tricky with the plains zebra.  Most will agree with the following sub-species of Plains zebra: Burchell’s (the most common), Grant’s (or Boem’s),Selous’, Chapman’s, Crawshay’s, and the Maneless.  

Having taken my Hartmann’s and a Burchell’s on this trip, then a mature Burchell’s stallion in Botswana in 2021, my goal now is to take a Crawshay’s in Zambia in 2023.  Who knows, maybe Grant’s or Selous’ will be next?

As much as I’d like to say that it is possible to achieve a zebra SLAM, the reality is that it is impossible. Some countries don’t allow you to hunt them, then others allow the hunting, just not the exporting. For example, the Cape Mt Zebra is a zebra you can legally hunt in parts of South Africa, but due to current import laws and restrictions, you cannot import it back to the United States. To my knowledge, the maneless is also non-huntable, and there may be others that fall into the non-hunt category.

For those that may say they have no desire to hunt a zebra, or may ask, “Why would you shoot a zebra?” I’ll answer with this.  Hunting a zebra with a bow is one of the most frustrating and challenging endeavors you could ever imagine.  They are highly intelligent, extremely wary, and seem to have a sixth sense which tells them to walk away, even though there are other animals present who are totally calm and relaxed.   Another bonus, I find zebra meat, when it is prepared correctly, to be some of the best meat that I have ever eaten and I usually request that some be in camp for cooking, if possible, during my stay. And we can’t overlook the beautiful mounts that they make or the rugs that add color to any room.  They are truly a magnificent animal and one that many hunters seem to shy away from as they think it’s like shooting horse and will be no challenge.  I couldn’t disagree more; I love me some zebra.

So, in the future, when you become involved in a conversation related to a hunting SLAM, bring up the Zebra SLAM and watch the astonished faces.


Dee Smith


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