A Hunters Reflections
The Karoo Gnu.
Leaving the mountains of the East Cape behind we traveled North through the town of Kleinpoort and on into the Karoo. The landscape changed dramatically from lush green Mountains to dry open plains broken by rocky Hills and Gorges. In a lot of ways it reminded me of areas of the Australian Outback, particularly the areas around Broken Hill in New South Wales and parts of the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. There were deep tree lined Gorges running between high rocky ridges that seemed to run parallel for endless kilometers, then vast open plains of seemingly nothing, it looked like it would be a very challenging area to hunt.
The Karoo is peppered with rocky outcrops like this, they are fine vantage points to glass the open plains below.
We arrived at the Royal Karoo lodge early in the afternoon and our host Rob and PH Braun were waiting to greet us, Rob made us feel welcome right away and quickly showed us around before offering us a traditional South African Milk Tart and refreshments for afternoon tea. We then unloaded our gear and were shown our rooms, Jack and I were staying in the main house and our room was 5 star with beautiful polished wooden floors and a wonderful en-suite. Once unpacked we returned to the veranda and discussed with Braun what we would hunt and how we would hunt this area.
A Kudu would be our first target and I was eager to once again match wits with the Grey Ghost, all be it in a completely different environment to Pebble Paradise. We drove to within sight of a deep Gorge that had a creek flowing through it and then started stalking on foot, as we entered the Gorge I noticed some caves way up in the rocks, Braun said they were quite often home to passing leopards. One side of the Gorge was more or less bare rock for the most part but the other was more sloped, with areas of rock slides and heavy brush lightly spattered with trees, the Gorge also provided shade offering us and the game a cool respite from the blazing afternoon sun. The edges of the creek were heavily overgrown with thorn bushes and scrub, Braun had told us that the Kudu would come down from the hills to drink from the stream and stay in the heavy cover along the banks as long as they weren't disturbed.
He was not wrong for we hadn't gone more than 200 meters into the Gorge when we spotted a big bodied Kudu Bull in the stream bed drinking, unfortunately his horns were not very big but he would make an outstanding trophy in a few years time. We watched as he walked from the stream bed and up the bank then started to climb the sloped side of the Gorge. He stopped a few times and looked back toward us I think he knew we were there but not being able to see us he didn't appear too concerned. He climbed higher until he joined a small herd of Cows and then stood with them watching the base of the Gorge.
We hadn't gone more than 500mts or so into this area when we were barked at by a Kudu, this set off a number of unseen Kudu Cows and the whole Gorge erupted in a cacophony of barking Kudu Cows. There were dozens of them scrambling up the rock slides into higher cover then stopping and barking at us. The game was well and truly lost and we sat in the shade listening to the sound of Kudu voicing their displeasure at our intrusion up and down the length of the Gorge. Some what dejected we made our way back to the vehicle, arriving just as the sun set. We loaded our gear and headed back to the lodge, arriving in the dark we were greeted by Rob and asked to sit by the fire in the Boma. Here we were treated to cold soft-drinks and beer and served some amazing appetizers cooked by Malachi the chef.
I woke early as I often do, just before the alarm I had set and could hear signs of activity form the kitchen, I quickly dressed and woke Jack before making my way down the wide hallway, the smell of freshly brewed coffee meeting me half way to the dining room. I filled a cup with coffee and helped myself to a couple of rusks that had been placed out for us and made my way to the veranda to enjoy the dawn. One by one the others joined me until we were all watching the first rays of sunlight break the horizon. Jacu and Greg had been up for a while taking sunrise imagery and photos to use for the African Hunter TV Episode and had captured some amazing images.
The ridge we spotted the Zebra and Hartebeest from, they were on the flats to the left behind the rocky outcrop.
The Zebra taking off at the shot, at this stage we had no idea what had happened but somehow I had missed.
Somehow I had managed to shoot a stick that was sticking out of a bush about 6 meters before the Zebra, a closer inspection found the stick to be the remains of a burned tree that had lined up perfectly with one of the black stripes on the Zebra. I could not see the stick and it was only visible in the video once it was hit, through some freak occurrence it was a perfect colour match to the Zebras stripes, we watched frame by frame and could clearly see the bullet deflected harmlessly above the Zebra. Both Braun and I were equally relieved, I had an explanation as to how I missed and both Braun and I were happy knowing I had not wounded the Zebra. We gave the Zebra close to an hour to settle down and started off parallel to the direction they ran but from some higher ground about 1 kilometer away. We could soon see them far in the distance but they appeared to be somewhat settled so we continued to cautiously close the gap on them. Somehow we managed to get close enough to them that we could get another chance for a shot if we were lucky. Braun, myself and the rest of the crew made our way behind a rocky outcrop that hid us from view and used the rocks as cover to close the gap on the Zebra. As we rounded the edge of the rocks we saw we were in luck and some trees threw dark shadows over the area we needed to move through giving us further cover. We slowly moved into a great position in the shade and started to get set up, when all of a sudden the Zebra looked in our direction and took off running away again. At first we were a little confused as to what happened, then a Dassie Rat ran across the rocks in front of us and we realized we must have startled some unseen Dassies above the tree line and that is what had alerted the Zebra to our presence.
After eating lunch we rested for a few hours before heading out again around 3:30pm for an afternoon hunt. We set up on a rise with a good panoramic view and started glassing for Wildebeest, locating a herd we moved to a better vantage point to better look them over for a good Bull. Once we saw the herd had some nice animals in it we planned a stalk. They were located in a basin half way to the top of the hills, with the wind blowing as it was we would have to circle the base of the hill and stay hidden in a riverbed, we could then climb the back of the hill hidden from view. If they stayed where they were we would break cover right under a prominent tree and have a slight downhill shot at them from about 150 meters away.
We set off stalking through the river bed and as soon as we went to climb the hill we spotted a very nice Kudu Bull, Braun instantly put the sticks down and told me to take him if he presented a shot. Unknown to Braun and I there was also a massive Hartebeest Bull near the Kudu, my Son and the ITZ crew saw the sticks go down and saw the Hartebeest. They couldn't see the Kudu and we couldn't see the Hartebeest, my son was a bit miffed as prior to the trip we had agreed that he was going to take a Hartebeest, not me and now here I was about to shoot his Hartebeest or so he thought. Luckily or unfortunately the Kudu never presented a shot and walked off, as did the Hartebeest.
The guys looked at us and quietly asked why I hadn't shot the Hartebeest, I asked back what Hartebeest I was looking at a Kudu! We worked out what had happened later on, but at the time we just got back to the Wildebeest, hoping they hadn't moved. As we neared the tree we quietly crouched down and slowly glassed the herd from the cover of some fallen timber. Braun picked out a nice big Bull and when it was clear of the herd he told me to take the shot. I steadied the cross-hairs just behind the bulls shoulder and squeezed the trigger on the .375, when the trigger broke I saw the bullet hit the Bull just where I wanted it too. The Bull jumped in the air and ran into the river bed with the rest of the herd, I could tell he was hit hard by the way he ran. The Herd milled about in the river bed for some time then ran down the bank dropping in and out of view as they ran, eventually they ran across the flats and we watched them cross over the next ridge line and disappear.
We called Rob on the radio and explained what had happened and he offered to bring another tracker and help us search for the bull. We met Rob back at the river bed and had a quick discussion on where to search, Richard suggested we review the video footage as it may help us. We crowded around the screen as we watched the footage, it confirmed the shot was perfect so the bull should not be far away. We continued to watch and counted the herd as the animals ran between gaps in the bush, as we counted we noted that at one point 13 animals entered the bush but only 12 emerged from the other side, this allowed us to pinpoint the patch of bush he was likely located in. Cautiously we made our way along the river bank until about 500 meters later Braun let out a WooHoo and I knew he had found the Bull.
As I made my way towards where the Bull lay I went over everything in my head, I questioned whether we should have searched longer initially or were we right to follow the herd in case the animal was wounded, I reasoned we were right to try and dispatch a possibly wounded animal as a priority. Having found the Bull we quickly set up to take the trophy photos as Jacu said the early evening light was perfect and he didn't want to delay any further and loose the best light. While we did this Rob and his tracker retrieved the vehicles.
Once we had finished with the photo session we loaded the vehicles and made our way back to the lodge, happy that we had found the bull and he was not wounded and lost. We once again realized how helpful the video footage had been in locating the Bull. Maybe if we had reviewed it earlier we may not have followed the herd to look them over, who knows but either way we did what we thought was the right thing in the situation. We arrived back at the lodge jubilant at having stalked a fine trophy Wildebeest and ready to have a celebratory drink. As we entered the Boma Malachi was once again happily tending to his Brai , no sooner had we sat down and he had a tray of appetizers ready for us.
Dinner was once again served in the dining room and was of an extremely high standard, as was the desert Malachi had made us and we gladly ate every last bit. After dinner we made our way out to the veranda and sat and watched the stars for a while before heading off to shower and bed. I opened the windows to let the cool night breeze in then climbed into bed, I rested my head on the pillow and was quickly asleep.