Jim, Jaco, The Pig and I.
by Mark Neal
Monday morning arrived before the dawn.
The insistent knock on the door of my room sounding like the ring of doom. It was 6am and I had finally got my head down at midnight the previous night after being up for 41 hours straight.
I hadn’t slept on the plane at all. In spite of booking my tickets nine months ago, seat allocation became the scramble for check in, which taking two rifles through Heathrow airport, meant that I was destined to lose.
My middle seat, middle aisle allocation, left me sitting between two 6’2” 300 lb. monsters determined it seemed to get closer to me in slumber than I care to be with another human being besides my wife. I’m not particularly homophobic, but I draw the line at a sweaty ham sized hand landing on my lap whilst its owner with head tipped back imitates a squadron of B52’s on a run over Baghdad.
Compared to this the crew jumpseat at the back of the aircraft, complete with its continual stream of people going to the lavatory was bliss and there I spent the remainder of the flight. It was not however conducive to restful slumber.
The guy in the nearest seat had left his screen on and I watched the little animated jet crawl its way down the continent, 7 am and Jo’burgh couldn’t come soon enough.
The arrival and customs clearance went like clockwork thanks to Air 2000, a quick check of serial numbers and it was all over. As I emerged from the SA police department, a tall raw boned and sunburnt figure sporting a mass of jet black beard hove into sight, shook my hand an apologised for his lateness, in a broad Afrikaner accent that is both familiar and comforting to those of us that live in London or as many of us do have family links to Southern Africa, unnecessarily really as his timing was close to perfect.
Jaco (pronounced "Ya Koo" as in "yahoo) Human, who was to be my PH for the week and as it transpired I hope my friend for a very long time.
I must confess here and now a weakness to the famous product of Virginia plantations and found a fellow sufferer in
Jaco. Products likely to cause cancer in the state of California were exchanged ( never been there so I should be OK) and the world took on a rosier hue.
Bag and gun case into the Backie (an open backed 4.5lt Land cruiser) and we were off.
Jaco explained that the first contingent from the US (JJ miller and his son Josh) would not get in until 4pm so we had some time to kill. Jaco and I shot the breeze as we drove the 30 minutes to his house. We cruised past some township housing the cool morning air streaming through the windows as we discussed the current conditions, safety of the situation, rules of the road and common-sense situational awareness of the urban areas. It had been Chris Troskies intention that Jaco and I drove directly to the hunting area, but logistical difficulties had made that impossible.
Jaco’s house was lovely and the greeting from his family warm and welcoming. Telling me to drop my bags in the lounge Jaco headed for the kettle, I was really warming to this man now. Caffeine and cigarettes in the morning means that this is somebody that I can do business with.
We drank coffee, talked guns and hunting. Loaded 375 H+H cartridges for his rifle in his well set up workshop. Then came the question I had been putting off “What are you shooting then” “450 #2 Nitro Express” I mumbled “I may be a bit overgunned”.
For those that have not followed the postings that preceded this trip. I had decided that for this first and perhaps only trip that I make to Africa, I wanted to take a classic calibre double rifle.
I, like most of you I imagine, am just a working chap and the products of the great gunmakers are out of my reach. I do however have a workshop and a modicum of skill with engineering. My solution was to build a rifle myself. I am pleased with the way it worked out, but now faced with a professional hunter who deals in the business of meeting out death to the largest mammals on the planet, I felt a little foolish, an upstart trying to emulate my betters. Explaining the situation, I asked in a hesitant murmur, if he would like to see it. Now it isn’t a Purdy or a Holland but the way Jaco handled it and praised it made me feel a million dollars.
It was like this with a box of 41/2” long cartridges on the bench, that Chris Troskie found us. Lunch ensued, with Jaco at the helm cooking bacon and chicken, whilst I had an intriguing conversation with his very pretty and very intelligent daughter who is both a hunter and finishing her degree in conservation. The greenies could learn a lot from that young woman!
We headed eventually for the airport again. I in the company of Sabina ( I hope my spelling is correct) Chris’s fiancée. She is German and lived in Spain before arriving in Africa to join Chris recently. SA like the rest of the civilised world ( only joking boys) drive on the left . She was really quite nervous to attempt the drive up to the hunting concession and I volunteered to drive. I was running on adrenaline by the end of the 400 km journey a lot of which was on narrow roads. I think that if JJ had known how tired I really was he wouldn’t have bet me 5 bucks to top 160KPH, I declined on the basis that I thought that Josh’s life was worth more than that, but did offer to try for 500 bucks. We called that a moral draw!
We arrived safely in the end and were shown by Nikki, the farm owners wife into some magnificent rooms, far better than I had expected I have to say. The rest of the party arrived at about 11.30pm and after some hurried hellos and a round of introductions we retired to bed. Nikki pulled me aside and told me that I shouldn’t leave my door to the room open. I was surprised and told her that I thought that my gear would be OK here. “No” she said its not that, “it’s the snakes”. Makes you realise that we live in different jungles, I think thieves, she thinks snakes. I tumbled into bed mind numb and bone weary. As I drifted off I remembered the snakes, did they check my room after my foolishness I thought, too tired to lift myself from the warmth of the blanket now, I decided “If I die I die, I just don’t have the energy left to worry”
6am was cold and crisp. I danced across the tiled floor like a ballet dancer on meth and shivered in front of the pan. I dived into my hunting clothes, slotted the components of my double together and a quick brush of the teeth later had me standing in front of a roaring fire with a cup of tea clasped in my hand. So much for the heat of Africa, it had been 72 degrees when I left London! People began to drift in, PH’s and my hunting companions. The atmosphere became buoyant and the hum of chatter and introductions and jokes rose with every additional member that arrived.
The first business of the day was to sort ourselves out into our allocated hunting partnerships and to load our guns and gear into the vehicles for the trip to the range to check the sights on our guns.
I’ve shot a lot of competitions, but I have never been as nervous as I was that morning, can I cut it in this company, to me it was as you would say, like asking a rookie to pitch in the world series, I was with the varsity here. I hung around and temporised, putting off the inevitable. About 40 minutes later I heard the inevitable “has everybody shot”? I hadn’t and I took my .357 Marlin to the firing point and cranked in a round.
A crack, a smooth push and that small fraction of a second later I was sure that 180 grain Hornady was where I intended it to be. Peiter scanned the target through binoculars and asked me to put another down range. Oh hell, can’t he see it, or is it so far out he cant believe it. Another crack and the words “That’s OK” were like the call of salvation.
Now for that .450 NE. To much ribaldry JJ wants to know if I want to shoot it prone, I will if he will. Now those doubles are not designed for 100 yds off a bench rest so dropping those vast cartridges into the chambers I take a long lonely walk 40 yards down range. I am vaguely aware of a video camera man off to my right. I do not want to make an ass of myself here. I have to point out that I stand 5’6” and weigh 160lbs. One ear-splitting boom later and I haul the barrels down from recoil that stands them at 45 degrees, boom again and congratulations abound. I am not sure to this day if they were for the shooting results or the survival of the same. Marlin who had been looking the other way when I touched off the first shot, was I think trying to figure out if we had some 105’s to call in for counter battery fire.
We retired to the trucks and a days hunting could begin.
I had the pleasure and privilege to be paired up with Jim Taylor, with Jaco as our PH.We discussed what we wanted to hunt and our order of preference for animals. Both Jim and I wanted to take our animals strictly on foot. Jim invited me to be the first to hunt and after a journey of about 20 minutes we arrived on a neighbouring farm to be greeted by the farmer.
He was to drive for us and Jaco hopped into the back of the truck armed with his bino’s and I think complimentary to Jim and I without a rifle. We rounded the first corner and there about 250 yards away was a magnificent Kudu bull, now that wasn’t on my list for financial reasons, nor was it on Jim’s. Did we want to try for it we were asked. Now we have all read about “canned” hunting and I must confess that I was a little concerned about our “luck”. Oh boy if I had know then what I knew 5 hours later I would have fallen out of that truck crawled the 200 yards closer I wanted to be, clobbered that Kudu and quit till the next day.
I didn’t, nor did Jim. Instead we hunted for wildebeest and/or Zebras. We walked and crawled through some of the prickliest densest bush I have ever seen. Jim has me on video butt crawling to get close to those grey beasts with thorns sticking out of places I don’t want to remember.
The soil is sandy with a carpet of crunchy leaves and dry twigs that seen to conspire with the animals to keep them tantalisingly out of reach. On one occasion we got to within 30 yds, but they were just the other side of some dense scrub, making a shot little better than shot gunning grouse, with no idea of which animal would be hit. That is just not on, so we passed and retired to lick our wounds again..
The day was drawing in and Jaco asked if I would like to try for a pig (warthog). Indeed I did and was motored to within ½ a mile of a waterhole where we left the truck and walked in the rest of the way. The farmer had told us that the pigs passed this way from neighbouring land in the evening and that we would have a good chance of a shot.
Jaco set up crossed shooting sticks and he and Jim set silently on a log behind our position whilst I waited with the forend of my double resting in my hand, that resting on the crook of the sticks. For over an hour I stood there as motionless as I could be. My lips were dry and cracked my legs aching. I remember shifting the butt of the rifle twice from thigh to thigh and transferring the weight form one foot to another to ease the cramps.
The light was just fading, the dappled sunlight fading to dusty grey and as I was about to give up hope and succumb to the temptations of the devil weed a movement caught my eye off to the left of my limited field of vision. A pig came in, not hesitantly but straight in oblivious to both me and my companions. It lifted its front trotters onto a water station 60-70 yards away, standing and stretching upward. I appraised its size and determining that it was an adult took careful aim placing the front bead on its shoulder and squeezed the trigger. Now that is what I think or know that I did. Jim swears that the pig cam in and in the time he opened his video camera and looked up I had already shot it. It is strange in those moments how ones thought processes can seem so slow internally but so fast to the observer. I know now that I should have waited for Jaco’s OK to shoot but he has excused my naivety
In spite of the recoil (which I never noticed) I saw the 480 grain Woodleigh softpoint pass through the animal and splash a big puff of dust on the far side. That pig ran so fast immediately circling from in front to our left and behind us. I don’t know who was more surprised me of the pig, I thought that it would keel over on the spot. I followed the noise looking to put another round in it if I crossed a clearing. Jim, who I had asked to shoot if the pig appeared likely to get away in the fading light also tracked the pig by the noise. A heavy thud followed and Jaco announced that it was down. We searched for about 30 seconds and there was my first African game dead on the track 50 or so yards to our rear and off to our left.
That 480grn had torn an exit wound 8” long and an inch wide in the furthest side and there was scarcely a drop of blood left in the animal. It seems that the only thing in that wood that didn’t know that the pig was dead was the pig itself. I am still astounded how far it travelled on adrenaline alone.
Now I knew that I was not overgunned and I have to confess that I never pulled the trigger on the Marlin .357 for the rest of the trip.
To Follow…….The Wildebeest, Regardt and I