To return to my story, I must return almost full circle.
I related to you in the first installment, the drive in the dark, as I piloted the bakkie in the company of
JJ, Josh and Sabine from Johannesburg to the Limpopo district.
Well Chris may have his faults ( being far more bloody handsome than me being the chief one), he is however a good sport as is Sabina. Sabina had approached me at dinner several days ago and told me that she wanted to do something for me for sparing her the long drive.
When Chris came to speak with me a couple of days later I assumed that Sabina’s sister was in town. No he said, something much closer to my heart, he was arranging for me to shoot another warthog on his own property with his compliments. Now I am sure that the longer I know Chris, the more he will realise that my heart is much closer to my groin, but still, I was touched.
All humour aside, I thought and I still think that that was a very considerate and generous gesture from both of them.
Thus the last day of hunting dawned and my African odyssey was fated to end as it had begun with just Jaco and I under the Southern sun.
We started late that last morning. Driving to Chris’s land Jaco and I chatted over the details of the days since he, Jim and I had parted company. As the dusty road rolled by, there was an overwhelming sense of well being and satisfaction.
The warm air was streaming through the windows and the weight of my double pressed against my leg as it rode in the cab with me (contrary to all regulations incidentally).
I understood now why so many of my countrymen chose to spend their lives in South Africa, or Rhodesia. There is a special something about it, intangible but pervasive. It may be the quality of the light, the lightness of the air, staring up at the southern cross as I did the morning of my hangover and seeing shooting stars tear across the heavens. Or perhaps, in spite of many travels and continents, I can never remember a place that has felt more like an embrace, than a destination.
I can’t rationally explain why it affected me so, but it has. Jaco had already told me I was a “Soutie” which is an unflattering term, which refers to an Englishman with one foot in England, one foot in Africa and that area near to my heart, dangling in the sea. Between Jaco and I, it was meant as a compliment, he realised how Africa had touched me.
Chris’s property is splendid with a huge koppie dominating the skyline, we drove past cultivated arable farms, irrigated to draw the best out of the rich soil. Onward and deeper into the property we drove, catching site of a nice Klipspringer. We were here for pigs though and I wasn’t gunned for anything that small, given that we would not be able to approach within 150 yards or so.
Besides we had no contact with Chris and it would have been the height of bad manners to shoot other that that which he had gifted me.
Jaco spotted several Warthog in the distance but all moving down toward a shaded area and a river that ran at the far side of the property.
We parked the bakkie under the shade of a Baobab tree. Jaco strapped on his binoculars. It was now very warm and we pocketed small bottles of water and set out the intrepid two. We crept and hid. Walked and crouched. Working into the wind we stalked through thick cover, never being able to command a straight line. For better than two hours we covered that area. The grass was still high here, the density of animals not being what it is on the other properties we had hunted. In the distance we saw movement. We halted stock still. There were pigs, but mixed amongst them were a troop of baboons. We squatted down. They were two or three hundred yards off, but they had made us. We waited in the hopes that they would settle down and allow us to proceed, but it was not to be. Gradually one by one they melted away.
We allowed ourselves the luxury of talking again and after Jaco consulted his global positioning we decided to head back to the truck to slake out thirsts and plan our next move. It is hard to imagine that if the GPS gets you to within one hundred yards that you can fail to see the truck. We knew we were close and because I was tired and we were little more than ambling along, I had removed the cartridges from my rifle and had it hanging over my shoulder grasped by the barrels.
Yes dear reader you have guessed it haven’t you. We rounded a patch of scrub, that would not seem large enough to conceal a rabbit and boiling out of that dismal tuft of grass came a fine Warthog Boar. The attempt to get the rifle off my shoulder, loaded and onto target was pathetically comical, I think that the hog even took the time to cock his stumpy tail particularly high in derision. Africa had just taught me another lesson.
Jaco and I stood there. I think the gist of what Jaco wanted to say was “Dear honoured client of mine, please be good enough not to unload your rifle in future until we get back to the vehicle”. That is not actually what he said. But I will feign lack of understanding of Afrikaans long enough to stick to that syntax!
Back in the truck and a couple of rueful smiles later, he had I think forgiven me ( so much for lunch Jaco!)
We drove back toward to the middle of the property in the shadow of the koppie and met up with Chris. He was going further into the property and after chatting with him, Regan and Marlin, Jaco and I decided to work our way on foot in a large circle around the boundary of the property.
We left the vehicle about 300 yards from the boundary fence that marked a native farm house and embarked on some more hard trekking. The details are a blur. On a number of occasions we saw movement in the distance as we worked light sparse grass land. After completing a three quarter circle that too two or more hours we again entered an area of very thick cover. This looked more promising and more on a hunch than any evidence we slowed our pace to a stealthy long stepping stalk, for fifteen minutes we carried on in this fashion.
My tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth. Neither I nor Jaco had taken any water with us on this occasion. I wanted to stop but Jaco showed little sign of tiring ( my excuse is that he was not lugging an 11 ¼ pound rifle around) my head was pounding with exposure to the sun, but pride dragged me onward. Through the stubby thorn trees we crept and emerging from the latest little piece of scratchy hell Jaco halted in mid step and froze.
My vantage point did not allow me to see what Jaco was looking at, I slid behind him and to his right. He brought his arms up slowly binos in his hands. The direction of his body gave me the line he was looking along. I saw it then, a Warthog standing sixty yards off in a little clearing under the shade of a tree, a couple of dead and desiccated thorn bushes surrounding.
The Warthog was looking directly at me and I slowly raised my rifle and hovered the foresight on its chest.
“Any good” I whispered to Jaco, my eyes never leaving the sights. If I tried that on a range the foresight would have been bobbling all around, but curiously here is seemed as still as night a perfect tunnel for the bullet to travel within.
“Shoot it” Jaco murmured. I squeezed the trigger and the bullet leapt toward the target. I saw the pig react and then lost it in recoil. As the barrel came back down I saw the rear end of a pig departing to my left. “Stay there” Jaco instructed and moved forward to the point where the pig had departed the clearing. He was looking anxiously around, not the reaction I was expecting at all. After interminable minutes he beckoned me forward. “Can you call the shot” he asked. This I didn’t expect. “I thought it was good Jaco” I replied, “I cant understand this.”
My heart was sinking, had I knocked the sights again, Oh heaven what a way to end my trip just the opposite of what I wanted. We returned to the spot where Jaco had placed the Warthog at the instant I fired and scouring the ground we found a speck of blood not much bigger than a fingernail.
Shit and double shit, not only had I botched the shot but I had wounded the beast.
Slowly dawning though was a strange thought. Jaco was much further to the left than I thought that the pig had been. “Lets try a bit further over to the right” I asked him and we began to move 10 yards further to the right. I spotted a piece of bone on the ground the size of the last joint on my finger, picking it up, it was a piece of rib. Thank goodness the bullet was at least in the chest and all things being equal the hog should not have gone too far. Moving now from this position along the path that the bullet had taken another few steps brought us on a gout of blood. We were getting warmer. Another few paces and the grass was as red as holly berries. With a few long strides and a cry of exhortation Jaco’s “It’s here” was music to my ears.
The bullet had taken Her in the chest, traversed diagonally through and exited out the short rids in the rear, taking with them eight inches of intestine.
There She lay, as dead and still as a windfall tree.
Yes, She. And that explained it all. With the sight lines that we had respectively, Jaco and I had a thorn bush between us about twenty yards out. He had binoculars on a Boar to his left and I had the sight picture on a sow to his right. Neither of us could see what the other one could. He could see only one pig, as could I. When I shot, he kept his glasses on his pig and I lost my one in recoil.
We dragged her from her grassy resting place and took the photographs. She was old and rubbed bare, her tusks flattened by abrasion and I have them on my desk as I write this now. Past her breeding prime, She made the end to the hunt that I wanted. A clean kill after a long stalk.
Jaco said that he would fetch the truck. He consulted his GPS and wandered off to my rear leaving me with the obligatory couple of cigarettes, for I had run out. I knew that we couldn’t be far from the bakkie and my head getting worse from thirst and sun, I settled down in the shade of a spindly tree to wait.
Wait I did, and waited some more. I heard the truck in the distance and springing up jogged to the edge of the bush to see Jaco heading from left to right. I waved and hollered. The bakkie vanished in a cloud of dust. I had only gone perhaps fifty paces, but I was disorientated. It took me five minutes to locate the pig and my rifle again.
I can’t remember a thirst like it, or a headache. Fifteen minutes or more passed. My mind was beginning to wander.
I had wanted this last hunt to be special, I wanted to earn my animal, to treasure each step and each sound. To remember the birds agitated in the trees warning of the snake beneath, the ants I had seen in a solid column marching across the bush floor on my first days stalking. The knurled twisted brush, every limb tipped with thorns in an attempt to protect itself in the continual struggle for existence that is the veldt. I wanted to feel the soil under my boots, changing colour and texture from one area to the next dependent upon whichever rock outcrop had been thrust to the surface in the time before a single creature walked upon its hind legs. This uncultivated vastness, changed only by the passage of time, weather and nature. If I never returned to this continent, I wanted to take these good memories with me to my end.
I had succeeded by all measures that I validate.
I sat and chuckled, and that chuckle turned into an outright laugh. There sat I, an Englishman half crazed by the sun, sitting by the body of a dead pig, a rifle firing a cartridge that is a relic from the turn of the last century propped against the skeleton of a dead tree. The salvation of the cooler box and the bakkie could only be a few minutes away, I knew in the rational side of my mind that 100 years had passed, I would not have to stagger to the nearest Elephant dig and suck up brackish moisture as they did, but just for a while, the ghosts of Selous and Bell, and those countless unnamed hunters whose bones lie unmarked in the dust of Africa, had come to mock me. To remind me for an instant that I was in the playground of elemental forces. A toy to the whim of nature and fate.
I heard the engine and then a horn. Calling out I heard it getting nearer and then the horn again. More calling , pauses and honking. By such measure was the hunter brought back to the 21st Century, the better for the water and the aspirin, but somehow the poorer also.
I made friends here, such that I would wish never to loose contact with.
The African bush is timeless.
She will not miss me, I was there for but the briefest instant in an eternity.
But I miss Her dreadfully.
Mark T Neal