Leon, The Kudu, two Wildebeest and Me
Mark Neal (aka Bramble)
Oh the sweet relief of success. Followed shortly after the photographs were taken, by the discovery that the winch pole had been left off of our vehicle. A shallow hole was dug in the sandy soil underneath the animal and the professional hunter and the client linked hands. One, two, three and hup. Or maybe not. If there is anything heavier and more awkward than a dead bovine, then I have not had the misfortune to have to load it into a truck. The air was damp and heavy and the sweat clung to us as sweating and cursing we finally risked the roof of the truck and ran the wire directly over the top of the cab. Ten minutes later and he was aboard.
We headed back toward camp pausing a couple of time in the fruitless pursuit of Impala, the Wildebeest steadily getting smellier and more bloated.
At the skinning shed the arrival of the truck was the signal for the small army of skinners to appear from their nearby lodgings. The skill they display as the hang and then fall upon the carcass is very impressive, they can have the skin off a beast in less time than the front row of a Tom Jones concert can remove their panties.
I stayed to watch my trophy being turned into meat. Somehow I didn’t want to leave. I had come to Africa to test both myself and my rifle. This poor mans Buffalo was the biggest and toughest beast that I could afford to hunt on this trip and to walk away before seeing his ultimate end seemed to be paying less than my proper respects to him.
He wasn’t the biggest Wildebeest that anybody had ever seen, but he was old, his horns worn with use. Before he died he had stared at me and me at him, we owned each other now in a way that I do not truly understand, but only feel. Perhaps in the fraction of a second that passes between the brain saying shoot and the trigger finger moving, as we looked into each others faces both he and I knew what was to pass.
I am sure that a dinner had never tasted better, the meat sizzled over the barbecue pit and the world took on a rosier hue altogether. Neither I nor my nervous system needed alcohol that evening, well not in quantity anyway. A couple of drinks and then coffee as a respectful nod toward my abused but faithful constitution. That, curiously produced more ribald comments than the excesses of the previous evening.
Chris explained to us that we were to move camps in the morning. Unknown to us the camp that was to of housed us had cancelled at the last moment and caused a logistical nightmare for him although he hadn’t let it effect our hunting.
The upshot of this however was that Peiter could not keep us for the full duration of the hunt as he had a party of South African hunters coming in the next day. His
neighbour, friend, and one of the PH’s that had hunted with others of our party for the past few days Phillip and his wife
Lande, were to take us all in at his neighbouring farm.
Now a neighbour is a relative term in South African geography. First you drive off of Pieter’s property and then onto Phillips, that takes thirty minutes. It was with sadness that we bid farewell to our hosts for the last five days.
We had been so well looked after and made so welcome that and simple description of the atmosphere of fun and hospitality will seem trite. Suffice it to say, as they do in north London influenced by the Yiddish language, that these are
We had a late start to the next mornings hunting and packed our bags before we departed, to be collected and transported to our new lodgings.
The morning was crisp and clear, with less chill in the air than the previous day, but still cold enough to need sweaters and coats. To my surprise and delight Regardt and I were to hunt together again, but just for the morning as he was to conduct some of Peiter's new party in the afternoon.
What did I want to hunt was his enquiry, with his broad and engaging smile. I wanted an Impala. Although one of the animals on the original list that Chris had compiled for us was a
Blesbock, I had decided to pass on one as those that I had seen were grazing peacefully just a hundred yards or so from the road. I had seen none in cover and rather than take one in these circumstances I wanted to take an Impala in cover or if we were lucky enough to find one I would have been delighted to take one of the magnificent Gemsbok that Jim and I had seen a few days earlier.
Regardt and I hunted the river banks not too far from the camp, moving quietly in and out of the bamboo and giant rushes that line the bank we worked our way around in a large circle for about two hours, following spoor and getting back into the vehicle once to cut the corner on these restless and elusive creatures.
We were crossing a small clearing, dotted with the characteristic termite mounds, when a movement from our left about 50 yards away caught our peripheral vision. We froze like Siamese twins and crouched down. From the scrubby thorn bushes emerged and Impala ram. Regardt raised his binoculars to his eyes and the ram edged to face us directly on. The graceful twin spires of his horns edged skywards as his lifted his nose. After an eternity that was but a few seconds, Regardt murmured “shoot him”. Slipping the butt of the rifle into my shoulder I squeezed the rear trigger launching the 480 grain bullet toward him and his date with the happy hunting grounds. A huge blurt of sound
The ram gave a contemptuous glance in my direction and then took off for the bush to our right.
The disappointment was overwhelming, Regardt stepped forward and examined the ground for signs of a bad hit. Can you call your shot he asked me. I couldn’t. The sight picture had been good, I had lost the white bead on the foresight in yesterdays wild scramble from the thorn bushes but that should not have made the difference or had it?
Regardt confirmed that there was no blood spoor ( all wounded animals must be followed and paid for if retrieved or not). He looked at me and I at him. We looked at the foresight of my rifle. It was bent but it didn’t seem enough to make the difference, or was it.?
We selected a convenient termite mound about ten inches high and paced off fifty steps, I knelt and dispatched a shot at its centre. The bullet ploughed a groove in the dirt in front of the mound. Holding at the top resulted in a hold dead centre of the hill of thrown up earth.
The expletive that followed this discovery dear reader is not for publication. Regardt was philosophical and I was furious, not at what had happened but at myself for in my euphoria of the previous evening for forgetting to properly care for my rifle. I knew it has been damaged but I had not followed that knowledge with the close examination that it deserved and I had been soundly punished by the hunting gods for my sloth.
We hunted on but as the sun drifted upward in the heavens it became clear that another opportunity was not to present itself quickly.
All too soon it was time for us to head to our new accommodation for our late breakfast and to bid goodbye to my companion.
Phillips House is perched on a Koppie, a statuesque pile pushed up from the African veldt when the planet was young. A solid boulder of rock that gives a commanding view of the surrounding area that comprises his property.
His lodge is lovely, planned by him to utilise the bounty that nature has provided to him. He had it built with as far as possible an absence of straight lines, to blend in to its background and become a part of and not an obvious addition to that which surrounds it.
The rooms as at Pieter’s were first class with a shower that requires a fight to get to the taps to turn it off, such is the invigorating force of the water.
Whist the dining area at Pieter’s is outdoor and rural elegance at its best, Phillips is best described as being like the dining room at your favourite Club. Enclosed with large glass doors opening onto terraces.
Another sumptuous breakfast or brunch if you rather, followed. This is no fly camp in the jungle here.
We lingered after lunch, sorted luggage and Al for one worked on his tan.
We were to hunt again in the afternoon.
Phillip and I spoke of the possibility of using his facilities to attend to my abused pet rifle and before the afternoon session started, he, Leon and I went to the range. Setting up a target at 50 yards I sat and resting my elbows on the bench and the flat of my left hand on sandbag I loosed a shot. It was six inches low and four inches to the left. I was flabbergasted and so was Phillip, so much so that he called a flinch. Not wishing to doubt his call but sure in my own mind that the shot had been a true break, I shot from the same barrel again. The two bullets holes cut each other. That is a hell of a long way out. We rummaged in the tool box on the bakkie and located a round file and a hammer. This is not the workbench at Holland and Holland chaps. Several strokes of the file later and a decisive tap of the foresight to the left and the next shot was on centre and 3 inches low. Another quick bit of butchery with the foresight now reduced to a half circle and left and right barrels cut holes just an inch apart in the centre of the target. Both Phillip and Leon shot the rifle to confirm its sighting and I was back in business.
I am not sure who hunted with whom that afternoon, it was rather confusing with those who had filled their tickets and those who were still hunting. I was paired up with Leon for the afternoon. Like all of the people I met on this trip, here was another stand up guy. We drove toward the hunting grounds and chatting relaxidly about experiences and life and where we had all been before now. Leon is ex SA forces and whilst I will not repeat our conversation, having hunted with him I would not want him chasing me through the bush, no Sir.
We had not been back into the hunting ground very long when Leon spotted a small band of Impala to our left. We stopped the vehicle quietly in the middle of the track. In the extreme distance we could see vague outline which Leon’s binoculars confirmed was a Wildebeest also on the track.
The Impala were our main target however we crept through the bush for about ten minutes, catching tantalising glimpses of a head here, a body there, a flash of horns, a swinging tail. The wind was again lousy as it had been all week and as we worked ourselves into range we were still separated by thick brush when a subtle shift of breeze took our threatening man scent to their sensitive nostrils. With a light drumming of hooves they moved off with alacrity, leaving us again frustrated by our un-rewarded efforts.
We retreated a quietly as we had come hoping for another try but the Impala had moved to our right and rear leaving us with the disadvantage of the wind and no real prospect of being able to circle around them.
As we approached the track, Leon motioned for me to be quiet and he edged out and glassed the track. As he pulled himself slowly back, he whispered that the Wildebeest was still there and in fact was in company of another now. Was I interested.
Now I had a decision to make. It was late on the Friday and the next day had already been set aside for another specific hunt ( of which more later). If I turned this animal down then perhaps there would not be another. My first Wildebeest I had waited for, and whilst I was pleased with it I wanted to complete a stalk in these difficult conditions.
I had learnt in the past few days that a successful hunt is as much about taking your chances when they present and being flexible as anything else. It is very well to have a specific quarry in mind, but we were not in the days of the 3 month Safari, we were on a tight schedule. This and my self imposed conditions of only fair foot chase, could not allow me to be too species specific.
With the benefit of perfect hindsight I wish now that I had taken the Gemsbok that Jim and I had seen whilst hunting with Chris. A lesson learnt.
That was it then a second ‘Beest or perhaps no other large animal.
I whispered to Leon that I would be happy to harvest another ‘Beest. The stalk began. We worked our way down the side of that track, lifting branches aside one for the other trying to cat paw our way into range. Two or three times we approached the track again and peeped out to see our quarry still standing there.
Time took on a funny character, I cannot tell you how long it took us to cover the ground. Only after it was all over we calculated that the vehicle was at least a mile away. The warmth, silence, the constant expectation of discovery and disappointment seemed to compress the time into a surreal, Elmer Fudd like, long stepping “wabbit” hunt.
Each pace a measured and weighted placing of the for foot and the carefully drawing forward of the rear foot, looking all the time for the snag of thorn on cotton trousered leg that might give away our position.
We eased to the trackside for the final time a thorn bush between us and our quarry. There were two Wildebeest there, one covering the other as they stood. To our total surprise also standing there was the great ghost of the forest a Kudu.
Now if Wildebeest are cautious, then Kudu are just damn skittish. I couldn’t get the shot. Either a soft or solid from my rifle was guaranteed to pass through the target animal on a broadside hit and kill or fatally wound the second. Three times we crouched and waited, three times we stood in slow motion , waiting for the beat of hooves that would signify failure.
On that third time, slowly, inch by inch the two Wildebeest slid apart.
As the hind quarters of the nearest one cleared the nose of the second, Leon whispered take the left hand one.
I settled my half foresight on his chest and squeezed the trigger. A deep rolling boom and as the rifle comes down out of recoil I see the creatures legs fold out from under him. The Kudu leapt and ran. None of the animals had any clue that we were there and his reaction is almost comical my bullet must have passed a foot or so from his tail. He took off for Botswana and I think that he is still running. My victim was down but not dead, his hooves beating a tattoo on the dusty soil. I stepped onto the track and gave him the right barrel in through the spine and out of his chest.
Thumbing across the lever, I broke the rifle and dropped the cartridges from the chambers into my hand. My Beest was dying but not yet dead. I love to hunt, but I want the end as quick and clean as I can manage, so with Leon’s permission I walked to the front of the animal and shot him again between the eyes. It was over, a couple of kicks as his muscles relaxed and it was finished, green freshly plucked grass still between his teeth.
I shook Leon’s hand warmly. That had been a hunt. It took Leon twenty minutes to walk back to the bakkie and that was along a track. Only then did the length of the stalk really begin to sink in, and the thirst start.
Next. Jaco, I and a complimentary Pig….