Feb 10, 2014
Africa - A new Dawn Part 3
After the events of Warthog day and the inevitable evening celebrations that followed it was two weary hunters that made their way bleary eyed to breakfast the following day, it wasn’t so much the celebrations but the physical exertion that had taken its toll, being a PH in Africa is a demanding job and we both felt for Hennie and his tracker who had carried the big pig out of the valley whilst we had only our shattered carcasses and kit to extract! Breakfast over we discussed options for the day ahead.
So far we had taken three of the species we intended to hunt and as we had plenty of time to catch up with the others we decided a more sedate morning might be the order of the day and Hennie readily agreed. Over drinks the previous evening we had been discussing the spiral horned antelope species at length, ranging from the mighty Eland to the more diminutive and elusive Bushbuck and on the wall of the lodge was mounted a beautiful example of the latter.
The Bushbuck is apparently one of the most aggressive species that can be hunted with many a tracking dog falling to an injured one, it also had the benefit of being the smallest of the spiral horned species which meant that if we were successful at least we would be able to mount it easily inside rather than have to construct a new trophy room! The previous evening the temperature had dropped considerably, not unlike a September night here in the UK and the warm sunrise gave us an ideal opportunity to lay in ambush to wait for a Bushbuck seeking the early morning sun to warm himself up. We were heading for the same valley as the day before, only this time we would be concentrating on the steeply sloping sides, checking every nook and cranny for one of these elusive little animals, hoping to catch him as he stood gathering heat from the rising sun.
The sky was still red as we pulled out of camp and we had a few miles to cover but as the minutes ticked by the sense of excitement grew and by the time we reached our destination the sun was showing its head, ready to warm a Bushbuck. It turned out that we weren’t far from where we had been hunting Impala the day previously and although we knew we were near a dramatic and sheer cliff edge we had no idea that we would be sitting on it 24 hours later. Slowly we made our way to the edge and settled in a convenient spot giving us one of the most spectacular views I have ever been witness to and it was just a pleasure to watch the sunrise and the cloud burn off to reveal the area in all its beauty. With surroundings like these, the shooting really is secondary. As we were sitting around on the rocks between the undergrowth I thought to myself what an ideal place it was for any animal needing to warm itself and I casually asked Hennie about snakes and spiders and their whereabouts – his reply had us scrabbling for a much bigger rock to sit on!
As the sun got higher, the cloud began to burn off and the full beauty of the valley below us was revealed, the temperature also began to climb and it wasn’t long before we decided to move and go in search of one of the elusive Bushbuck. We had gone no more than 100 yards when Hennie stopped, the different angle had given him a different view and he had spotted two young female Bushbuck, and where there were females there must surely be a male! Well for whatever reason, he wasn’t playing our game and the next hour or so was spent glassing the area for him whilst his girls made the most of the morning sun. The morning was far from wasted though, the sunrise, the sheer beauty of the country and the abundant wildlife was more than enough and it was two happy hunters who made their way back into camp to a hearty breakfast. The rest of the party had also enjoyed the beautiful dawn and stories of Blesbuck and Impala were the main topics of conversation. Breakfast finished we discussed the agenda for the remainder of the week with Hennie, we still had Kudu, Wildebeest and a trophy to find and if a Duiker or Bushbuck came along for good measure that would just cap it, no pressure for our PH then!
The beauty of South Africa is that most of these species all inhabit the same areas so there is a good chance you will bump into them if your PH knows his onions and there was absolutely no doubt in our minds that James had provided us with his best and our wishes didn’t seem to phase Hennie in the least, having said that I’m not sure that there is much that would phase Hennie as some of his more recent photos bear testament to. A plan for the remainder of our trip was formulated; Wednesday afternoon would be spent after Duiker, Thursday would be Kudu, a big Warthog for me and maybe some trophy Impala for good measure whilst Friday would be Bushbuck and if we had time, Wildebeest! This was going to be as full on as you can possibly get but Hennie had the bit between his teeth and there appeared to be no stopping him. Unfortunately, Duiker are as elusive as Bushbuck and we spent a fruitless afternoon and evening looking for one, the other parties fared a bit better though and their tallies went up. The following morning we rose a bit earlier, the inky blackness of an African dawn greeted us as we made our way to the dining hut for coffee and toast before our longer journey to where we would be hunting Kudu.
The long drive was quiet and uneventful but nonetheless filled with anticipation of what lay ahead. We were hunting on a huge reserve about an hour from camp and we had a long, hot day ahead. As the dawn broke we pulled into a large farmyard, Hennie went to speak to a couple of farmhands before jumping back into the truck apparently revitalized – he knew exactly where to go, the farmhands had given him some vital information and he intended to capitalize on it. Five minutes later we pulled off the main road, through a gate and onto a series of dirt tracks before coming to an abrupt stop. Kudu, the grey ghost, are spooky at the best of times and from here on we were on foot. After what seemed like only a few hundred yards Hennie stopped suddenly, deployed the sticks and whispered to me, “over there”, whilst staring intently at a sheer banking opposite us – I saw nothing but bushes! “There, straight in front”, whispered Hennie again – still nothing! Now, I pride myself on being able to see our native deer species pretty well, my job relies on it, but spotting African game really is a different kettle of fish. A few seconds later I clocked it, a single Kudu cow, how could I miss those enormous ears? The only shot that presented itself was a head on shot straight through the chest, a shot I’ve used frequently on fallow deer here in the UK, so when Hennie said “take it”, I did! The animal crumpled and although the recoil from the un-moderated rifle precluded me following through on the shot, I caught a glimpse of it rolling down the slope to the bottom of the gorge. Hennie was delighted although the gravity of the situation was beginning to dawn on him, he obviously had a fairly long and arduous day planned and a long haul with a very big animal wasn’t necessarily the start he had envisaged. Nevertheless, as we made our way back to the truck he made a phone call to the land owner to organize some help with the extraction and an hour later with the help of three farm workers and the tracker I had my Kudu!
With the Kudu delivered to the farm for skinning, we set off in search of Impala. This particular farm hadn’t been hunted for a couple of years and Hennie was keen to see how the Impala population was getting on. The setting really couldn’t have been more different than the days previous. This was a big cattle farm with a good head of Impala making it their home as well, almost like a big livestock farm at home in the UK with good heads of Fallow. We skirted around the fields constantly glassing for horns above the tall grass. Hennie stopped, intent on a field a long way away, he had spotted what we had come for although quite how he spots them is anybody’s guess. Quickly we debussed and grabbing the sticks from the back of the truck we set off in search of the Trophy ram. He had the advantage, we were approaching him from below and had to make our way around him to give us a safe shot, the only problem was the long grass with only his head and the top of his back visible. Now, this is where it gets interesting. We steadily approached from the perfect angle to give us a safe shot and when we were with in 120 Yards Hennie deployed the sticks, the problem was all I could see was grass. Without hesitation Hennie said “take the shot through the grass”, I was stunned, I didn’t know if he was kidding. I looked at him and again he said “take the shot”. Well, I figured if it went wrong it was his judgment so I centered the crosshairs on where I thought they should go and squeezed the trigger, the animal leapt then nose dived into the ground, Hennie was delighted, a fabulous trophy with a perfect shot and a pleasantly surprised hunter, even more so when the trophy turned out to be a PHASA Bronze medal!
For years I have stopped clients taking shots with any trace of vegetation in the way, preferring to be safer than sorry. It is well documented that bullets can be deflected by grass and twigs but this really was a revelation. The heavy constructed soft point had pushed through the grass effortlessly without the slightest deviation and had entered and exited the animal perfectly achieving the perfect kill. It’s certainly made me think a good deal about bullet selection and shot placement with my own clients and stalking and I now use a heavier and stronger constructed bullet for all of my shooting in this country, an issue I will be writing about in the near future. This was turning out to be a real red letter day, with a Kudu and a trophy impala already accounted for and it was only 09.00! By now the sun was well up in the sky and another hot day was forecast and after catching up with one of the other parties and exchanging stories we decided to head back to camp for brunch whilst the others decided to stay back looking for Kudu and Warthog. Brunch became lunch and a little after midday we loaded up again for another descent into the valley of the pigs – having already completed the descent and ascent once I have to be honest when I say that my enthusiasm was a little dampened by the sheer thought of going through it all again but Hennie assured me that if I wanted a good ‘hog’ then that was our best chance.
Throughout our time on the ground we had seen plenty of Warthog but they are such nervous and flighty creatures that sitting in ambush is really the best way of securing one and the lush vegetation in the valley bottom was the ideal place for that ambush. As we debussed we felt the full force of the sun, radiating back off the parched ground, I hurriedly gulped down a bottle of water before we set of down the steep and rocky road, stopping every 50 metres or so for a good scan. After what seemed an age we reached the halfway point and sat for a rest although there was no respite from the heat and the baking ground and hot rocks seemed to make it hotter! After a few minutes Hennie said he could see Warthogs, a good sow with three good sized piglets. We all watched for a few minutes as they made there way to a shaded area where a young boar appeared and proceeded to chase the piglets, the sow took exception to this and quite a battle ensued. They really are quite a comical animal to watch as they are unable to turn their heads easily as their spines are fused so have to turn their whole body. The battle raged for what seemed like ages with us clearly being able to hear the crashing and thumping. Hennie took this as our cue to try and get within sensible range.
Of all the animals we hunted we were surprised that the Warthogs required the most stealth which made our rocky descent even harder as we had to leave the relative comfort of the track and head down what was literally a vertical slope of scree, shrubs and rocks, all whilst being as silent as possible and carrying a rifle to boot. At varying points of the descent we stopped to check on the pigs and were relieved to see the big sow still there, the younger boar had moved away and although still in evidence had obviously been put in his place by the bigger sow. We stopped, shaded by vegetation, the distance was nearly 200m and she wasn’t a big target, especially off sticks resting on loose shale – the last thing we needed was an injured pig, especially my trophy! I told Hennie that I wasn’t too happy with the distance, the problem was that if we tried to get much closer we would be exposed, Hennie had even taken his sunglasses off to make sure of no reflections – serious stuff! There was no way I was taking such a shot, at home with a really solid rest with a bigger target that I know better perhaps but with the degree of difficulty involved here it was courting disaster and we started to edge our way out of cover and ever nearer. Heading down and slightly across the slope I could see the next group of vegetation we were heading for and it was with some relief that we reached it and Hennie deployed the sticks immediately. I pinged the distance at around 160 metres and Hennie said it was now or never. I dropped the crosshairs on the sow and followed her for a few paces until she stopped then squeezed the trigger. What happened next was a blur, with pigs running in all directions, one shot is all you get in the valley especially with an unmoderated rifle, the report seems to last forever. My pig was running for cover, had I fluffed it? As it approached cover it appeared to hit a stump and turn, exposing her other side which appeared black with blood, she wasn’t going far. We gingerly descended the remainder of the way and soon picked up a good blood trail, 20 yards further in some vegetation she lay dead – the shot having gone a fraction high clipping the top of the lungs, maybe due to shooting steeply downhill but a good shot nonetheless and I have to admit to being mightily relieved which added to my elation.
Photographs done, it was time for a re-run of the arduous climb back to the truck. By the time we made it back and quenched our thirsts, the sun was beginning to drop and we decided to call it a day and head back to camp where a cold beer was waiting for us and on arriving back it was clear that the other parties had also some celebrating to do with a Gold medal Wildebeest also added to our tally – it was going to be a long night! I had now achieved everything I wanted to with time to spare, it had been hard work and I was feeling it, I’m perfectly used to long days in the cold and wet in the UK, often dealing with several animals a day but the terrain and the heat coupled with the exertion and late nights soon take their toll and the decision was made to spend the last day in a slightly more relaxed manner, wait out for Bushbuck in the morning and maybe the afternoon as well. The following morning, whilst the other members of the party readied themselves for a short journey to their PH’s favoured hunting grounds we grabbed another coffee, Hennie had decided that we would be staying at Kubusi and a good place to look for a Bushbuck was just at the back of the camp where a steep sided valley would catch the rising sun perfectly with the added bonus that it was only a few hundred yards from where we were sitting enjoying our coffee. By the time the others had left and we had finished our drinks the sun was beginning its long climb into the sky and another incredible African dawn began before our eyes, there really is nothing to compare to the spectacular African sunrises and sunsets and despite the fabulous hunting and scenery the sun ups and downs ranked right up there as one of the most memorable parts of the trip.
Ten minutes after the others left, Hennie suggested we begin to make our way down to the area he fancied for a Bushbuck. Slowly we wound our way down the track that led away from the camp and after only a few hundred yards Hennie bent down to inspect something that only a trained eye would see. Rubbing his fingers in the bare earth he turned and said something that rocked us - “Buffalo, and they’re probably close!” Of all the animals synonymous with Africa, the Cape Buffalo is the one that has to be at the top of the list of any true hunter – probably the least expensive of the big five to hunt yet arguably the most exciting and life threatening and one for the next trip in May 2014! With a renewed excitement we set off again down the track, only this time I was more aware of my surroundings than ever before, the thought of coming face to face with almost a ton of unpleasantness focuses the mind! Fortunately the buffalo had probably heard us coming a while before and made good their silent escape. The next hour and a half was spent glassing the slopes beneath the lodge for a Bushbuck taking advantage of the heat of the rising sun, unfortunately either they weren’t there or just weren’t showing themselves – the ticks on the other hand had made themselves extremely obvious to us and we were constantly flicking or picking them off our trousers. Thankfully the ticks in Africa don’t carry Lymes disease like their counterparts here in the UK but they can give you Tick bite fever whose symptoms include a raging headache, sickness and diaorrhea, but only for 24 hours or so!
Unfortunately, the Bushbuck and Duiker were playing a similar game as the one earlier in the week and whilst we saw other species that we could have taken we held out for the two target ones alas to no avail and with the afternoon giving us a similar result the weeks hunting drew to a close. Everyone had taken a fair tally with Blesbuck, Impala and Warthog being the mainstay along with Kudu, Wildebeest and Zebra added for good measure. With the last supper over some of the party retired early, the thought of the long journey home wasn’t great and the brief stop in East London to pick up some trinkets and Biltong only delayed the inevitable and it was with some sadness that we boarded the first of our flights to Johannesburg, memories still fresh but burned forever and as I sit writing this some nine months later, looking out of my window at the cold, grey and wet English weather my thoughts drift to three months from now when once again Africa calls.
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