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Thread: Africa with Athina 2010 part 1

  1. #1

    Africa with Athina 2010 part 1

    Dubla mangi.
    Harsh words in Afrikaans spoken to the two black guys hanging around the garage doors had the rapid effect of a wooden seat being brought out and lashed to the back of the bakkie. It being hardly four in the afternoon we were undeniably excited if not actually a touch delirious, having stepped off an aeroplane four hours earlier, at the prospect of going out hunting straight away. However were we to understand that we would be shooting off the back of a bakkie? Not to start the week off with a bout of snobbery but surely this wasn't the African adventure we had quite envisaged.
    As it turned out, if it is the case that danger lends the aspect of the sporting to methods otherwise mundane and, ah, perhaps mainly biltong-orientated then driving around on the back of S.'s bakkie in pursuit of anything game shaped was the wounded-leopard-following-up-in-thick-bush of plainsgame hunting……
    Even the ride to the range (a Swiss-cheese sculptured oil drum, full of rocks, in front of a three foot earth, and rock, berm.) was death defying enough, In fact S.'s driving was only bested by the special looking gentleman and the Chase of Willy's Wounded Wildebeest but more on that anon.
    We checked our rifles' zeros to a soundtrack of whizzing cowboy-movie ricochets (see description of zero range above.) and roaring from this little moggie…

    Quite the soundtrack and one, unfortunately minus the ricochets, that by various strokes of fortune became rather pleasingly normal during our stay in Africa. The roaring of the lion cemented for me a feeling of otherness I had felt since we landed. More specifically I am talking about the feeling one gets when it is apparent that one is very far from home. Africa is a place very much of itself and was quite alien for those first few days. I suppose what I'm trying to get across is that to be cruising around with intent and a loaded rifle, listening to lions roar and watching the wildebeest running around on the plain made Africa "real" at that moment.
    A. and I tossed a coin to see who would open the African account, A. winning the toss and seating himself on the left of the bakkie so as to be as naturally comfortable as possible at the time of the shot. It did occur to me that this seemed a nice way to ease into the first afternoon and settle the nerves with a good look at a few different species of game and try and translate the diagrams and landmarks of the shot placement guides onto the new animals, but upon reflection have come to feel properly contrite at having taken this view. As it turned out the antelope are engineered much the same as our comparably sized deer, perhaps with the heart a touch lower and further forward.
    We saw quite some number of species on this ranch, which was big enough to house several different habitats and a corresponding variety of species.
    Soon enough a Springbok presented itself, trailing a herd at about 150 metres (my apologies to our imperial readers all shooting distances in this report will be given in metres as the range finder of our excellent PH, Dennie, read in metres). S. swung the bakkie out to the right as A. took aim and the double thud of a moderated rifle followed by the impact on the animal sounded in our trip in assured style. Despite visibly scoring a solid heart lung shot the springbok took off like a shot, running 150 metres into the veld directly away from the bakkie before turning around and running all the way back again. I confess that despite Dennie's assurances that it was dead on its feet it seemed awfully sprightly for having had a .270 through the boiler room. To my delight it dropped as it crossed the track in front of us.
    We piled out the bakkie and surrounded the springbok. A. was grinning like a madman and the South African boys were saying all the right things. Eventually amid the handshaking and back-clapping we took a closer look at the thing. There is a curious phenomenon in recently deceased Springbok whereby the patch white hairs running along the back on to the rump stand as if by static for a few minutes after death. A further, and if anything even more curious, phenomenon is that these rump hairs smell like candyfloss.
    Now I don't know about you gentle reader but A. and I suspected that the two suddenly very serious Afrikaans gentlemen in front of us may have been planning to have just a bit of sport with the two greenhorns….
    The events following that standoff are probably best illustrated by the series of photographs I reproduce here:

    (The stand-off ends with A. abruptly clearing his rifle in preparation of sniffing the springbok's bottom, note the stony serious demeanour of Dennie and S.)

    (As if by the report of a starter's gun three men pounce on the springbok to arrange for photography. And also to sniff it's bottom of course. )

    (This photograph illustrates the first phenomenon mentioned above very well. I am not sure what the purpose of this adaptation would be for in nature and so far my admittedly cursory researches have not turned up any information on it. If any one has any more information on this phenomenon I would be very interested to hear it. There is also a man rather self-consciously sniffing a springbok's bottom. )

    (In addition please excuse the particularly poor quality of this photograph, as apposed to the merely shabby quality of the others, I was practically micurating with mirth by this point m'lud…..)

    (A wonderful first African trophy!)
    The shadows were lengthening however, so we loaded the springbok on the bakkie and drove on from the relatively open grassland into progressively thicker bush. The terrain of the place roughly divided into three main habitats:
    Open scrub and grasslands

    Thicker, low bushveld

    The third being burnt plains. The blackened remnants of the first two habitats where according to age and rainfall the only areas where green shoots of new growth could be observed the ranch. This was probably led to it being the favoured habitat of the black Wildebeest, Blesbok, Springbok and Ostrich who seemed to come out on to the plain to feed, heading back to the cover of the veld to rest up in cover. I think that their behaviour is different on the plain than in the veld, but I would like to spend more time observing them before drawing any concrete conclusions.
    Such soul-satisfying amateur ecology was all well and good, but it was time to set off and see if I could bag anything before the end of the first day. As we drove into thicker bush, Dennie leant over to the back window of the bakkie and told me be ready with the sticks as would probably be stalking anything we spotted in this bush.
    Spotting game was the hardest aspect of the hunting over there for me. The eye takes a while in getting accustomed to looking for the subtly different silhouette of backs, flicking of ears and upright legs spotted in gaps in the bush in different terrain. It is also fair to say that I found a lot in the African bush to become accustomed to. Red lumps that would at home frequently resolve in to deer would turn out to be ant hills and termite mounds; the preponderance of woody undergrowth both screening the smaller species very effectively and the taller bush providing effective cover for beasts as large as hartebeest.
    Dennie's game spotting abilities seem to verge on the supernatural to this rather awestruck and humbled hunter. There was also a small issue in that moving through the African bush quietly is rather difficult. I found that if it wasn't the grass rustling as you moved through or the thorns scraping on your gaiters, it was the "go-away" bird squawking or an amazing noisy and belligerent species of ground squirrel chattering that just occasionally bumped a carefully stalked animal on from ahead of you…..
    About the only thing a neophyte can effectively manage is being careful not to break any of the abundant supply of dry twigs lying around. I eventually took some consolation in the fact that despite it all, as long as one didn't break any of those accursed twigs the rest was fairly manageable as long as I carefully mirrored the PH's pace.
    Visibility depended on the exact terrain generally varying from thirty to one hundred and fifty metres. It must however be admitted that from the top of a bakkie one could see out a little further. Nevertheless it was Dennie who first spotted the herd of Impala, with a nice cull ram in it, from his position two feet below us.
    He quietly got out of the bakkie, motioned me down off the back, bad puns involving the back of bakkies - the hanging out whereof et al - becoming a perennially popular theme over the two weeks by the way, and extended the sticks.
    "We'll stalk that ram."
    "Remember, when the sticks go up get behind me quick and get on them. When I say "shoot now!" you shoot ok? They won't hang around these animals!"
    There was a ride leading to a dam, Afrikaans for anything from a rough borehole to a full on lake, about five hundred metres away with its nearest point being about thirty metres to the right through some low bush. The Impala were meandering across this ride from the patches of feed and cover on the verges of the ride, tending generally towards the water but far enough ahead of us that they had not appeared to have noticed the bakkie. The wind being just about perfect, I judged that we had thirty metres to stalk to get on to the ride and then perhaps another two hundred to get within comfortable shooting range.
    More by luck than judgement I managed to arrive behind Dennie at the edge of the ride without scaring the herd off and got the binos up for a first proper look at the African Impala.
    An elegant and fairly alert antelope, the Impala is great fun to hunt, especially the smaller herds of females with one or two rams attached. This sort of hunting was relatively familiar to me as similar to stalking small groups of our woodland Fallow deer. The main aim of the game is to manoeuvre into a position where you can take a shot a particular animal from the group without being busted by the constantly wary females. It's fun and addictive stalking and after a scant ten minutes of the usual stalking shenanigans we managed to get within about one hundred metres of the herd.
    There is a particularly exciting moment when hunting with a guide the world over, the moment when the guide suddenly stiffens and begins deploying the sticks. It reaches the point where one is getting buckfever even before seeing the beast, never mind getting the bloody rifle up and the crosshairs on it!
    Aptly enough then when Dennie froze and began to slowly put out the sticks my treacherous pulse started playing silly buggers before I even knew exactly where the ram was. We were in the shade of some trees just inside the bush, about a hundred yards away from the majority of the herd. The herd were now alert if not actually suspicious. Getting on the sticks I saw what precipitated the sudden freeze on the part of my PH, the ram was behind some light bush a hundred and twenty metres in front of us but a ewe at only about seventy metres appeared to be looking directly in our direction. Fortunately the movements I had made in getting behind Dennie and getting the rifle onto the sticks had been hidden from her by Dennie's bulk so whilst she was undeniably suspicious she wasn't outright spooked. I suspected that she would err on the side of caution and move off, probably taking the rest of the herd with her. Keeping my eye on the ram I placed the crosshairs of the scope on a gap in the bush in the direction I thought he might go. Sure enough the ewe decided that the area was perhaps not as safe as she had first thought and turned off towards the rest of the herd. This had the predicted effect the rest of the herd, who trusting their matriarch's judgment instinctively began to depart the scene in an approximation of single file into the wind and towards the water.
    I had been on sticks for a couple of minutes watching the herd, specifically the ram to be fair, when the ewe started moving. The effect on the herd was interesting, the members perhaps paying as much attention to each other as their surroundings, the effect very much reminiscent of our herding species in the UK. It was interesting to compare and contrast the behaviour of the game animals with those of roughly the equivalent seral niche with those of places I am already familiar with. Geeky I realise, but part of the fun as far as I'm concerned!
    Forcing myself to calm down, planning the shot had helped, I watched in the periphery of the scope for the ram to come clear of the scrub, it looked as if he was going to go in the direction of the gap so easing off the safety I checked Dennie's position with my left eye. I had told him earlier that for some reason the only word I can reliably use to warn others of an impending shot in these circumstances is "ears!". He was looking intently at the herd through his binoculars so when I saw that my whispered "ears!" had no apparent effect I resolved to give the poor guy one more warning, In truth I have had a few complaints about detonating an short barrelled 30.06 next to friends' ears before, and so whispered "ears!" a little more loudly.
    Just then the ram stepped into the clear.
    "Sorry old boy, Dubla mangi." I thought, closing my left eye again and focussing all my attention on the by now one step way from clear Impala; if Dennie hadn't heard my warning he would certainly be left in no doubt in a moment.
    The ram took one step and stopped to look around presenting an almost perfectly broadside aspect, right in the middle of the gap. This was all the invitation I needed and following the front leg a third of the way up, where the cream of the belly hair meets the reddish hair of the back, squeezed that wonderfully, comfortingly familiar trigger on the trusty Tikka.
    The rifle kicked the sight picture out of view but remembering the advice of a stalking mentor whose advice has yet to fail me I made sure to regain the sight picture before reloading the rifle. At the risk of subsequently labouring the point I was glad I did as I saw the somewhat shocked looking ram at the apogee of a jump that upon landing from which threw its head forward and set off in a blind dash. "Heart shot?" I thought, once again this antelope behaving perhaps surprisingly similarly to our deer.
    The herd took off at a run at the report, though we had stayed almost perfectly still since that ewe spotted us, away from the water, across the wind into what must have been thicker bush. The ram ran with them across us mostly hidden by bush and long grass. We could see some of their backs just above the grass and the tips of some of their horns just above the bushes and that was it. Despite my earlier confidence and Dennie's assurances I was immensely relieved when one of the pairs of horn-tips wavered as the rest ran by and started tottering sideways behind the bush rather than determinedly departing towards the horizon.
    The relief gave way to adrenaline when the horn tips gave one last waver and dropped out of view. My ears ringing and mind spinning I was shaking Dennie's hand and at the same time bizarrely fixated on trying to fix in my mind the position that the ram had dropped. What a first animal! The whole thing from spot to shot couldn't have taken more than ten minutes but the stalk was honestly one of the most exciting I have experienced. We walked over to where the ram had dropped to arrange it for the obligatory photograph.
    It was as elegant as life, when we found it.

    It is therefore entirely fitting that the only photo I should have is the one where I slipped on to my arse trying to get into position.
    We dragged the Impala to the ride and waiting for the bakkie to pick us up. It had been quite the conclusion to my first day in Africa. As we drove back to the lodge, A. and I riding on the top of bakkie like self-styled rancheros, the sun set. It has become a bit of a cliché in these hunt reports to talk about African sunsets, I fully understand why. The views from our chalet-like rooms in the bush camp were not exactly scintillating in terms of dramatic geology or even in terms of the flora and fauna; At sunrise and sunset however it took some beating.

    After an excellent dinner of steak we felt suddenly very tired, a few Castles later in the bar and we were finished. Heading back to my room I showered and went to bed with the intention of writing some sort of journal entry on that rather interesting day; however sleep was not far in coming.

    Is it safe?
    We were staying at something called a "Bush camp" which consisted of a cluster of individual chalets, basically individual rooms with en-suite showers, set about five hundred metres away as the crow flies from the main camp buildings across a large dam.

    (The bush camp buildings are on the horizon on the left hand side of the picture above. The picture itself was taken from the veranda of the bar of the main camp building.)

    (The corresponding view from the bush camp, towards the restaurant built over the dam)
    The main camp consisted of a wonderfully rustic lodge, built with roughly trimmed logs as main beams, stone block walls and thatched roofs in what we would come to recognise as a distinctly African style. The lodge had a large hall, increasingly rented out to conferencing groups these days apparently, together with a restaurant and bar built out over the water on slits.

    (Diggory enjoying some quiet time on the first afternoon)
    It was a very picturesque place to spend a week and set a high standard for the rest of the trip.
    As Adam has hinted the owner S. was quite a character; a man of many talents, of which game farming and game capture were merely two, he seldom suffered for want of a suitable anecdote during one of our many drinking/talking session. Having so many fingers in so many pies, just the stories of his daily trials and tribulations kept us entertained whilst his excellent camp manager and cook Peter kept us very well fed and watered.

    This is Zambian Peter, a man who speaks thirteen languages, cooks a hundred different cuisines and cuts a quite a dash in a dish-dash…… His story is not really for here, but was a rather eye opening introduction into the politics of Southern Africa of the last 30 years for me. I got to know him a little over the next week and I am glad I did. Without wishing to give the impression that I interacted with everybody I met in South Africa on the basis of an anthropological experiment, I was almost as interested in the people as the hunting. To a child of the nineteen eighties South Africa has, ah, a certain image in the preconceptions of us products of later-day urbananised society. On the other hand I have always believed in travel as the antidote to preconception and also that only a fool would rock up to another man's country and assume he could know the score better than the locals on the ground. Zambian Pete's was one of the more important stories I heard in this regard.
    The owner's brother lived on the ranch, for some reason near the skinning shed, and in the middle of several lion enclosures.

    (Another photo of the big boy with quite exceptional genetics above)

    A breeding population of white lions surrounded his home in perhaps what was the apogee of home security we were to see in our stay in South Africa. I did actually get to go into an enclosure with a male and female hand reared white lions of only about 100 kgs each with S.'s gigantic younger brother and found out the frightening way that lions don't like the smell of tobacco…..
    (A. and I drive past the white lion enclosure to see that a enormous South African gentleman is standing in it playing with the lions.)
    (We stop and make polite conversation about the ranch, rugby and his current choice of leisure time pursuit activity)
    "Is it safe?" I ask.
    "Sure it's safe china, you want to come in?"
    (Caution sounds a note of it's namesake in the back of mind only to be is immediately double clotheslined by Bravado and Recklessness, bundled off the scene by Curiosity and quietly buried in a shallow grave by Watch-This)
    (We go around to the gate to find the gentleman has now nonchalantly armed himself with a three foot length of plastic piping and oddly seems more nervous at having company in the enclosure than at being alone)
    "They can sense fear so don't show them any fear and you'll be fine"
    "They won't bite unless your down and they've worn you down a bit with their claws so don't worry about being bitten, it's not going to happen. The main thing is not to let them up on to you so they push you over"
    (F&%k me….)
    "If they get aggressive slap them hard on the nose"
    (F&%k you….)
    "Other than that no problems! Come and rub his side"
    Seeing no honourable option but to join him in cooing the lions' names and rubbing their sides like overgrown Labradors, I did my best to look utterly nonchalant. The male was the first to overcome his suspicion of the strangers and came towards me with his head held low. It is a very impressive feeling, being that close to the king of the jungle, the power and sinuous grace evidenced by every ripple of their musculature certainly might look impressive but I can assure you that they do feel at least as powerful as they look.
    Enthusiastically whacking away at the lion's shoulders and flanks it didn't occur to me that there would be the remotest possibility of lions really not liking the smell of tobacco. You see gentle reader I am a man of many bad habits, most minor and I like to thing of as possibly endearing, but I will admit that my smoking is a terrible habit and the one of which I'm least proud. My girlfriend always says smoking would kill me and on that day she was almost vindicated in truly spectacular style. S.'s brother was the second to notice the growing animosity the lion appeared to be displaying towards me. It might have been the growling that gave it away but it's also possible that he saw the slobber on my right arm from a particularly animated lick the lion had just given me.
    "Hit him on the nose the b%&$£d!"
    (F%&k me I briefly thought before the good bit's of my life flashed before my eyes, kiss your fundament goodbye Amir - you're about to belt an irate lion)
    "Ha Ha" I mirthlessly vocalised as I backhanded the lion on the nose with more force than I had initially thought I had put into the blow, just as S.'s brother started towards the lion cursing in Afrikaans. The lion sort of yelped and slunk back to the giant Afrikaaner, rubbing against his legs like a giant kitten.
    A. has some video footage I believe, entitled "Dances with lions" he might post.

    I shan't bore you gentle reader…..
    Looking back at the four and half thousand-odd word introduction to the camp and account of the first afternoon's hunting I feel that some brevity might be a good idea at this point.
    Despite our tiredness A. and I convened over a cup of coffee in my room before going to bed on that first night. We had been welcomed to Africa, literally with a bang and needed to discuss and digest the day's goings on.
    The game was so plentiful and riding around on the bakkie so likely to put one on them that some discernment, a few rules of engagement if you like, was going to be necessary. We were there to hunt, rather than shoot, after all.
    The first order of business would be to refuse the bakkie if at all possible and stalk for the rest of the week. We also needed all the experience we could get, considering we had a competition hunt to look forward to embarrassing ourselves in the next week. We also decided that despite notionally cull hunting, we would make an effort to be more selective in our shooting, the farm owner having a number of animals that actually needed shooting, heterozygous white blesbok and springbok in pure herds especially, as well as one of each of the species of our wish lists. Wanting to warm up on some antelope the next day A. and I set our sights on an Impala and Springbok respectively in addition to a Blesbok apiece before deciding what else to shoot.
    Fortunately for us Dennie is a sportsman of the first order and turned out not only to be naturally sympathetic to the above points of view but also a competitive (ultra)marathon runner more than willing to march overweight tourists in to submission under the African sun. The winter sun admittedly, but sun nevertheless.
    I felt oddly restless just after A. left, not quite sure what to make of it all. I think Africa is a sort of dream for hunters, a place the hunter reads about in his escapist equivalent to the commuting salary man's thriller or, god forbid, the bored housewife's romance novels. As such one tends to construct a kind of mythology about the place in one's head, I defy the first-time reader of Capstick not to romanticize the adventure aspect of African hunting for example, and so when the anticipation meets the reality a certain amount of reflection is necessary.
    As I mulled it all over, a new and in the circumstances more useful line of reasoning struck me. "Bugger" I thought, "I'll be knackered tomorrow unless I get to bed". The wisdom in this, hard won from previous expeditions, seemed to be unassailable as I was possibly asleep before my head touched the pillow.
    After about three days with literally no sleep I had expected to need extracting from bed with explosives, scorpions and dancing girls but experienced a slightly strange, for this bon viveur, inability to stay in bed. However the next morning I was awake wide awake, at something like half past four! I could hear something, something at first alien and I must admit slightly menacing, seemingly not too far away from our camp. It was a guttural roaring with a deep bass finish that I didn't immediately recognize as a belonging to a lion.
    In retrospect, the old boy made quite the alarm clock.
    Throwing some clothes on, the morning being bloody cold, I am slightly embarrassed to confess that I stuck a full magazine into my otherwise empty rifle and cautiously stuck my head out of the door to see if I could get a fix on the source of the roaring. I was fairly sure the lion would be in its own enclosure rather than munching it's way through S.'s breeding stock in the main farm but I'll hope you'll forgive as inexperience my retrospectively comic caution.
    It was however pitch black outside and the source of the roaring, which seemed a scant couple hundred metres away, at least appeared to be getting no closer. I eventually felt slightly silly standing on the porch in flip-flops, dressing gown and rifle and so went back inside to put the kettle on.
    I came to discover a morning ritual, uniquely and wonderfully African, of emptying my kettle of a small, particularly aggressive sort of red ant before putting it to boil. The little blighters were getting in through a crack in the window sill, and for some reason known only to them, trying to set up a forward observation post in my kettle. They would defend the kettle, and the corner of the room with the kettle and dresser more generally, with an enthusiasm and valour that would have been movingly noble had it but involved somebody else's domestic arrangements instead of mine. They would form into phalanxes at the first sign of trouble (me) and come in waves arching their abdomens above their heads like scorpions. The main issue I had with them though, my bed being apparently considered neutral territory, was that, boiled, they somehow managed to unpleasantly taint an already struggling Ricoffey™ brand instant coffee that the South Africans try and convince people is drinkable.
    Therefore the second cup of Ricoffey™ was the one taken out on to the veranda to accompany the sun rise that first morning. Folk stirred in their rooms as I sat there drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette, watching the first blush of dawn tint the wide, wide horizon. Things were Ok, I concluded.

  2. #2
    Soon I was joined by the chaps drinking their Ricoffey™, who though understandably grimacing outwardly, were sure to have the same inner smile I had going on.
    Kiri and Dig left with Andre to go and do some of that bird shooting stuff I hear might be ok for when big game hunting is totally and irretrievably impossible whilst A. and I struck out into the veld, a matter of a 10 metre walk from our front doors, with Dennie.
    My gentle reader, if he still perseveres with my ramblings, will be glad to know that I shan't be giving a blow by blow account of each and every beast we knocked over that week. Suffice to say that the little scene described above was repeated every morning for the rest of the week, stalking into the veld, taking it in turns to hunt whatever we happened across.
    A. and I managed quite a varied bag of beasts during the week, I'm sure he'll post on his highlights but for me a several stalks stood out and I hope to beg the favour of the your indulgence in recounting a few of them.
    The Springbok is a difficult animal to stalk in the veld. Their natural habitat tends more towards plains than bush and in those circumstances the lack of cover from which to approach together with the natural alertness of these pretty wee antelope make stalking them on foot very hard. On S.'s farm however they did frequent one or two bushy areas, mainly around a bare-topped koppie, Afrikaans slang for anything from a termite mound to a ruddy great mountain, bordering a patch of mature burnt plain. Our plan was to leave the A. at an observation point with binoculars and stalk one on one into these areas in the hope of connecting with one as it moved through. This occasion was a masterclass in African bush stalking by professor Dennie. The bush averaged between four and seven feet in height with the effect that a man's head, sticks and rifle barrel are clearly visible, particularly to the sorts of antelope that depend on their visual acuity in their natural habitat and especially if said fighter-pilot grade antelope happens to be above the hunters. An interesting technique of stalking bent double, the animals associate vertical carriage with man and therefore danger, was employed to get to within shooting distance of a Springbok spotted browsing along the side of the koppie as part of a small herd.
    Again by the good grace of Diana (or Athina, whichever she prefers) at the moment the ram came clear of the scrub we were no more than one hundred and fifty metres away. Those sticks came up again and in a moment I was in position and with the ram in my sights. As I flicked the safety off the ram took two more steps into some low grass that came halfway up his flanks.
    I had lost my reference points for the heart and though at home and at closer range I would might whistle the deer to attention and shoot it just under the chin, this would not be possible here. My early attempts in stopping antelope to shoot had been disastrous in the least. In the UK we just shout "Oi!!" once on aim at a particular deer and nine times out of ten, if the deer was previously unaware of your presence, it will stop and look in the direction of your shout. If one is, for example, shooting from a solid rest and within around fifty yards a bullet just under the chin is a convenient way of making venison. The first African antelope I tried to stop by shouting "Oi!!" at taught me two valuable lessons. The first was that the particular antelope we were hunting didn't appreciate loud London vernacular to the point of running first and asking questions later. The second was that the bewildered pity of a PH trying to make you feel better for basically spending half a day stalking an Impala and then shouting "piss off!" in human/antelope Esperanto at it doesn't in fact help the consequential self-esteem crisis much at all.
    As a little bit of background information, we had been asked to shoot only for the heart and lungs. This is of course usually a sensible plan in almost every instance anyway but one got the feeling that until it was proven to the PH and farmer that a given hunter could shoot straight we were watched with a degree of nervousness on their part. This was only the second day after all and if the horror stories we were to hear later on in the week, after we had gotten some beer in to them, were anything to go by they were right to be cautious.
    The point of all of this waffle is to explain that whilst I was watching the Springbok through the scope wondering desperately where it's heart was and whether I could shoot through the grass, a little voice of the Ghosts of Stalker Not Here Present in the back my mind was saying "Look at all that where-the-neck-meets-the-shoulders visible and still whilst he's got his head down, you 'orrible little man"
    'Orrible little man?
    My god, I know that tone of disembodied voice, it was the (dis)embodiment of our very own IanF bollocking me for dithering!!
    As Ian has reminded me many times, the whole point of the thing is to maximize the chance of killing the animal outright whilst minimizing the chance of wounding for any given situation. This is the thinking behind the chest shot usually being the best choice in most circumstances but in this case, where the chest was obscured from sight and behind light cover I realized that I was better off shooting at a lethal target I could see than one I could not.
    The shot into the junction of the neck and shoulders on small deer is more humane than on larger deer in my opinion as long as one hits bone on the way in there is usually enough fragmentation to sever a few major blood vessels on the offside. It is not a shot I like to take on larger deer however as I imagine that the wound, though immediately immobilizing, is not as quickly fatal as a high neck or ordinary chest shot. On things the size of Roe and Springbok I am more comfortable however.
    If I was steady enough, that was.
    For some reason, I think it was desire, I was particularly steady and not wishing to risk wobble-inducing discussion with Dennie didn't tell him about my revised aiming point, merely whispering "ears!". By now Dennie was attuned to this whisper in the same way a new mother can hear her baby sniffling through a concrete wall and stuffed his fingers into his ears with appropriate alacrity. Knowing my zero was about spot on at 150 yards, this did help my confidence somewhat, I held on the broadside Springbok and touched off the round. Loosing the sight picture under recoil I chambered another round with my heart in my mouth. Despite my steadiness precision shooting off sticks is always a slightly risky business and although the shot and follow-through felt good I had not heard that comforting thud of a solidly placed round.
    I searched frantically in the ocular with my right eye whilst attempting to independently move the left around to scan the koppie. Extreme duress is a bad time to attempt to learn new ocular skills and so I was immensely perturbed when Dennie, who hadn't so much as twitched the whole time, asked me where I was aiming for on the beast.
    This was bad news.
    People, PH's especially, tend not ask that sort of question of hunters whose animal have just run a short distance, approximated a sideways bicycling dance and then collapsed in heap or collapsed where they stand.
    People, Ph's especially, tend to ask that question of hunters whose animals have done something else.
    I confessed to him that as I couldn't see the heart I had held for the junction of his neck and shoulders, expecting the worst.
    "Well you certainly dropped him, good shooting." He said in what seemed to be a slightly strained tone.
    "Oh dear, he's not best pleased" I thought. It couldn't be a meat damage issue as they were quite happy for us to pin them through both shoulders.
    "Keep very still until the rest of the herd move on, I don't like to disturb these animals any more than necessary."
    A relief, the animal was done for and he wasn't too annoyed at me not shooting for the chest; rather, he didn't see the sense on charging in and stressing the rest of the herd. I have found it quite common in herding species that if one is initially undetected and one's first shot manages to drop the target animal, the rest will often stand around in confusion for a while rather than run away as they would if on their guard before the initial shot or if the first beast doesn't go straight down.
    We waited until the herd gradually dissipated and walked up to where the animal had dropped.
    A. by this point had joined us in the search and together we found my first Springbok lying on the rocks.

  3. #3
    Good writing Amir.
    You can't say muntjac without saying, Mmmmmm.

  4. #4
    A great account Amir

    Good to put another face to a name the other week.


  5. #5
    Wildebeest and Ostrich
    I’m not sure how exactly one is supposed to approach the decision of which species to pursue on safari. Obviously if one is in the position of having a hankering after a specific trophy, say a good Kudu or a battle-scarred old Daggaboy then the issue is moot but for a first-timer with catholic tastes things are not so cut-and-dried. The nature of ranch hunting in South Africa is such that according to the wishes of the client it is possible to shoot to a list, something I find a touch distasteful, or to wander around and take game according to opportunity.
    Having dismissed the former as not my personal cup of tea, I just don’t like the idea of chasing a specific beast around on enclosed land, I set about considering how best to go about the latter. The problem was that the first animal one tended to see was the Impala in the bush, the Blesbok on the grassland and Black Wildebeest on the plain. If shot these targets of first opportunity would clear the area of other, perhaps more interesting by this point, game. More discernment was going to be necessary in order to avoid shooting a large number of the same species.
    As luck would have it A. solved many of the problems for by winning the toss on the first afternoon. For instance A. decided that he wanted a Black Wildebeest the morning before the braii and so we had set off in the Bakkie to see if we couldn't catch up with one to hunt. He did in fact catch up with one by sitting up under a tree and catching it with a spectacular shot at over two hundred and fifty metres when one it’s giant laps coincided with the said tree. S., by now our near-inseparable hunting companion, spotting an old and infirm female that he had been hoping to catch up with as it had worn its teeth down and had been loosing condition. He asked me if I wanted to shoot it and of course, after all those hours we'd spent telling him how selective and management–orientated we British stalkers are, I said yes. This gave S. the excuse to embark on another of his trademarked hair-raising chases across the bush. To give him fair dues he did avoid the larger anthills but provided yet another textbook demonstration of how to test a client's scope's zero holding ability to the limit. As an aside the trusty fixed power Meopta held up magnificently, later on in the trip I dropped the rifle out of a bakkie and despite the rear action screw coming loose (!), the scope and mounts were still rock solid.
    This particular Wildebeest was in visibly poorer condition than the others and it was not difficult identifying her amongst the herd. The problem was that these creature were utterly loathe to venture into the bush, making stalking them impossible as the burnt stubble of the plain was at best two inches high. The only solution was to chase them on the bakkie and hope to be able to get within a reasonable shooting range when the beasts stopped.
    The behaviour of Black Wildebeest is fascinating, they are known as the clowns of the veld for their erratic and rather comic charging about the place, mostly without provocation. They run in huge circles and look rather impressive galloping across the plain at full pelt raising enormous clouds of dust in their wake. This tendency towards randomness is also their downfall as I think they eventually forget what they were running from, in the all of the excitement of charging about after all, and all stop for a look round to remind themselves. After a couple of attempts I realized that we were not going to get any closer than three hundred metres to the cow we wanted and so shouted down to Dennie, who helpfully also shoots a 30.06 with 180 grain bullets, to shout up the range from his rangefinder and his idea on the drop whenever we stopped. I had at that point not shot at a big game animal at much over a hundred and fifty metres, for one reason or another, but with the solid rest and light wind that was almost straight in our faces I felt reasonably confident. Another factor behind by confidence, a nice settled pulse, was also the death-knell for any more of this sort of shooting on this trip; it just doesn't get the pulse up and so, merely in my opinion and in my own case, I don't regard it as hunting particularly.
    Finally the cow obligingly turned broadside and looked at us with that long-faced balefulness they radiate. Dennie called out three hundred metres on the button and so holding on the line of its back, about eighteen inches of drop I reckoned, I switched the safety to fire and squeezed the trigger.
    I was rather put out, it was most likely to be an empty chamber as the Tikka was not controlled round feed and occasionally would fail to pick a round up from the magazine if one babied it, but I was sure I had fed a round into the chamber by hand before we started off. I have never had a misfire, nor seen one encountered by other club members either shooting my home loads, commercial and all manner of milsurp ammunition at the rifle club in three years. To give you some idea we shoot on average 250 rounds of centre-fire each a month and so I was loathe to suspect a misfire either. Now I also know the drill for dealing with misfires, one waits thirty seconds and then carefully, with the rifle pointing in a safe direction, opens the bolt with no part of the body behind the action.
    Whilst the theory for application on the range is all well and good, in theory communism works, but in the field I compromised and gave it five seconds of indecision before following standard operating procedure of swearing and racking the bolt as hard as possible. I made damn sure that another round had been chambered before settling down on aim again to look for my Wildebeest. The herd had moved off, though by some miracle not at a run, and was now even further away. Dennie had taken the news of the misfire in stoic silence and when informed that we were back in business ranged the female once more at three hundred and sixty metres. I was momentarily torn on whether to ask S. to get closer or whether to try from there when the Wildebeest made the decision for me by stopping broadside and looking back at us. Dennie second guessed me by calling out "Three inches above its back!", confirming my guess at about twenty four inches of drop at that distance. I flicked the safety off once more and with a rather less settled heart rate than the last attempt squeezed the trigger. My ballistics program tells me that the time of flight was four and a half tenths of a second but as the rifle came down from recoil the bullet had still not struck. Time slowed down immensely for that half second and I was praying the beast wouldn’t suddenly move, as is the Black Wildebeest's want in particular.
    With a distinct thump the bullet struck home and giving a kick the Wildebeest took off in a headlong rush. The strike looked good and thankfully the cow piled up within seventy five metres, shot through the heart. We drove up to where it had fallen, right in the middle of the plain, and quickly arranged it for a photograph.

    It was not long before sunset now and S. being impressed with the shooting and I think wanting to make sure that his own prowess wouldn't be underestimated opened the coolbox and handed around a Castle each.
    "Drink, eh!"
    "You all have to drink two each!"
    This was the first time that beer had been included in the coolbox and also the first and last time wily old S. bought us a beer……
    With the hunting obviously over for the day we all set too with some gusto and quenched our parched throats with some of South Africa's finest. When we had finished our requisite second beer the bottles were collected by S. and set up on a few anthills at varying distances from the bakkie. There followed a truly memorable redneck shooting competition under the red skies of Africa, nothing but bush for miles and miles and four friends flush with the thrill being out of doors, busily missing beer bottles.
    We rapidly decided that beer, fading light and rifles didn't mix and clearing up the residues, we got the Wildebeest into the back of the bakkie. With a few more beers to keep us going until sunset we eventually headed back from a truly glorious sunset to the first braii of the week at camp.

    Amazingly we had not had an honest-to-goodness South African braii until that third night. I don't want to give the wrong impression, we did not want for vast quantities of red meat at any time during our stay in South Africa, (minced spicy beef and eggs for breakfast anyone?) but I must confess that I was more than a touch surprised that we hadn't lit the coals at least once! It was rather nice to have that first braii, all amidst beer, guinea fowl and francolin shot just that morning by Kiri and Dig, under the African stars and plot the rest of the week. We had hunted antelope for three days taking a few Impala, Springbok and Blesbok each. A. had taken a nice cull Black Wildebeest already and had designs on a Blue. I had also taken the Black Wildebeest and was trying to decide whether I wanted to take a Blue Wildebeest or maybe a Hartebeest and then to stalk Impala around the bushy north end of the farm.
    A. is a man of catholic tastes when it comes to his shooting and a deal more decisive than I am in his choice of species. This is not say that he is indiscriminate, rather that I personally probably wouldn’t have woken up on the morning of the fourth day, hell bent on shooting an ostrich for a admittedly tempting coffee table mount.
    This request was greeted with some bemusement on Dennie’s part; I suppose it’s not every client that expresses a desire to top a Blue Wildebeest with an Ostrich before breakfast. We had consulted the two experts the night before on the methods of hunting the noble beast but in consideration of the considerable amount of beer during said exposition were slightly hazy on the precise details the next (mid) morning. We did remember that it would almost certainly involve a chase and that the shot of opportunity would in all probability be the world (in)famous Texas Heart Shot.
    Now, the Texas Heart Shot is not a shot that the UK stalker takes very often, it is deeply frowned upon and just about only acceptable to anchor a wounded and fleeing deer. The concept of deliberately shooting Big Bird up the arse with a hot loaded .270 seemed oddly alluring for sounding so incredibly wrong. In the same way that the unhealthiness of a given snack is probably directly proportional to its tastiness the degree to which a shot makes you giggle is probably directly proportional to its relative immorality. Please don’t get me wrong, the Texas Heart Shot is every bit as humane as any other sort of heart shot, rather the immorality comes in when one considers the poor buggers at the skinning shed who have to gut the thing!
    Happily though, it was nothing a timely supply of cigarettes and cash wouldn’t smooth over.
    The Ostrich can apparently be a nasty customer if wounded and with three inch claws on the ends of powerful legs not one to be treated casually by any stretch. We had asked about the possibility of stalking one, polite comments intended to direct attention away from the relative athletic ability of the proposed hunters versus that of the proposed quarry towards issues centring around the eyesight of said proposed quarry; but were convinced that the back of the bakkie was the way to hunt these plain dwelling animals. As I had no desire to shoot one A. took up position on the left hand side of the bed and off we went. By this point we were fast friends with the ranch owner S. who had taken to coming along on the hunts whenever possible, i.e. when predominately bakkie based, and heckle, curse or congratulate as he adjudged helpful.
    We started off with the best of intentions and all the appearances of a stealthy, in as much as is possible with four blokes and a Toyota, downwind approach to a group of Ostriches feeding on the plain. They were about five hundred metres from the edge of the bush through which we were approaching and remained oblivious to us until we gently nosed our way out of the bush. They were then on to us as quick as a flash, never mind that head buried in the sand ********, and started off at a slow trot. A. and I quickly realised two things, the first was that this was not going to be easy and the second was that S. would now be gearing up (or rather down as he dropped a gear and floored it) for a chase proper.
    He was fond of chases was old S……..
    Despite the fact that we were on now doing quite a rate of knots over rough and anthill peppered terrain, the fact that the rather inconsiderately placed bolts on the improvised and crudely lashed on wooden “seat” would have key-holed our fundaments in an instant had we not stood up and, hanging on to our rifles with one hand and the roll-cage with the other, careered off back into the bush trying to cut them off further on up. I think I might have mentioned my firm belief that danger adds the quality of the sporting to activities perhaps otherwise staid. We were once again given an object lesson in the concept as with committed driver and dedicated PH we bounded through the bush buoyed on faith alone that we would both survive the chase and meet up with the now unseen Ostrich. We broke cover a few hundred metres further up, about three hundred metres away from the group. Upon seeing us they broke to the right and looked to be heading for the safety of the bush right over the other side of the plain. It would have been no good to drive straight at them, they would only break into a full run, and so our man dived back into the bush once again.
    A. and I were bracing ourselves for another refreshingly anti-health and safety oriented ride in the bush when S. switched off the engine and told us to get down.
    “Ah!” We thought “An element of strategy at last! No doubt we shall wait until they calm down and settle a bit before trying some other trick.”
    There was no other trick to it, as it turned out. They are very hard birds to hunt in groups and as we tried to sneak through the edge of the bush to get on them again they duly spotted us and started to move off again. A. had prepared himself for a long shot at but they were now at least two hundred and fifty yards away and moving at a smart pace. I suspect patience had worn thin on S.’s part as he started towards the birds directly across the plain. We were gaining on the birds which were trotting directly away from us, now within a hundred metres of the bush. As we got to within about two hundred metres of them S. pulled the car out to the right and turned off the engine. I looked into the cab and saw Dennie and S. already at their binoculars jabbering away in Afrikaans together whilst the birds trotted just into and then along the edge of the bush. A. had sensibly gotten himself set up and comfortable waiting for instructions from the PH.
    “Take the very last one A.!” Dennie all but shouted after a moment's pause.
    The Ostrich in question was at the moment facing directly away from us as he turned to disappear into the bush, A. knew what he had to do and I am assuming thanked the gods that made him bring a flat shooting .270 with 130 grain bullets zipping along at three thousand-odd feet per second as he made a fantastic shot at least two hundred and something metres directly up the backside of a running Ostrich.
    Please gentlemen, credit where credit is due.
    The “hump” of his moderated rifle was followed shortly by one hell of a thump at which this ordinarily rather ungainly bird reacted exactly as one would imagine a giant bird would react to being shot up the arse with a big game calibre.
    Splaying it’s wings out, in a beautiful approximation of a bloke throwing his arms up and crying “Alas!” in response to similar provocation, it performed a technically perfect and rather spectacular forward swan dive, good enough to make a professional Portuguese footballer jealous, into the long grass with a final thump.
    I must admit there might have been some brief amusement at the precise manner at which the sudden and rather unfortunate, for the Ostrich, deceleration had occurred but under the circumstances I think it was not altogether inappropriate….
    As we composed ourselves somebody noticed that its head had come back up in the long grass. A. was back on aim as quick as a flash but S. started the engine convinced that the bird was immobile. This turned out to be the case and by the time we got there the head had gone down again and with the beast still we assumed it was done for.
    I will be accused of over-using a story-telling device here but the following sequence of events involving a hunter, an Ostrich and field expedient moonwalking are better told by the series of photographs I reproduce here than by my scratchings:

    A. stood back somewhat taken aback by the fact that our boy was still alive and literally kicking. I was volunteered to jump out and finish him with my knife. Learning wisdom from A.’s attempt I quickly grabbed his neck from behind him and feeling for the protuberance of bone just above the atlas joint divided the spine cord with a quick slash. The Ostrich kicked once more and lay still. It was all in all quite involved hunt for all concerned and the trophy photos, with the bloodied, still defiant looking Ostrich, bloodied and dusty, together with a hunter in not much better shape, convey some of the nature of it.

    The rest of the week was spent stalking and even shooting a few birds with the boys.
    Quite an introduction to Africa, I hope you’ll agree and fine preparation for the competition hunt that came next.
    Thank you for persevering with my ramblings gentlemen.

  6. #6

  7. #7
    Great account Amir and some cracking photo's


  8. #8
    Greta read. Thanks for sharing. Gorgeous looking impala in those pics. Well done.

  9. #9
    Wonderful read, admittedly I have now done very little of the neuro I was planning on, but still.

    Can't wait for more! Thanks

  10. #10
    Thank you for the kind words gentlemen, very much obliged.

    Johnathon, good to meet you too mate I just wish the traffic hadn't been so bad and we'd got there sooner!

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