I can clearly remember the bitter cold of that Karoo morning on the back of the truck. There were 15 of us, piled into every available square inch. As the Toyota sped away gaining momentum over the many kilometers of dirt road, I picked up the familiar smell of Balbal’s tobacco. I watched him crush the raw tobacco in the palm of his hand before tearing off a piece of news paper, and rolling a flawless cigarette. He leant over, lit it, and sat back to enjoy a small ritual we’d all become accustomed to.
We had been in this situation many times before. We had seen him do the same thing over and over, before taking on the same Vaal Rhebuck. That Vaal Rhebuck had been stalked, beaten, chased and even shot at by many a hunter on numerous occasions, but still he survived. He had read each hunt like a playbook, at times toiling with us as if he were making a mockery of us.
Balbal, our Bushmen tracker, for one believed the ram possessed special powers that protected it from all forms of danger that man could throw at it. For a 6-year-old boy, his story certainly captured my imagination.
It was only the following year, 1990, that I finally lay eyes on the ram we had been hunting for, for over 4 years. We were distraught finding him dead like that, lifeless and motionless, when the only memory we had of him was his white tail disappearing over the next horizon, only to skunk another hunter with his agility and ability to escape from the trickiest of situations.
It was obvious – the drought of ’89 had got the better of him.
That Vaal Rhebuck had captured my imagination for life. In some respect, he’d been the culprit for many of my firsts as a young hunter. He had provided my first mountain hunt, my first frustration of failure, my first feelings of anxiety to succeed, and my first real “want”. He carried the magical 10’’ horns that all Vaal Rhebuck hunters dream of, but rarely ever see. He had outsmarted my father and beaten us to his resting. He lit a fire inside of me that I still carry with me to this day.
Early October 2010. My nerves were killing me. Ed Wilson had called that morning. He had found one. I felt like jumping into the Land Cruiser and heading north immediately. I needed to see this Vaal Rhebuck myself. We were both excited for about a day, and then the anxiety set in. Would the ram make it through the summer without being killed by another, and could we find him again in 2011? Season 2010 was a thing of the past, the waiting had begun……..
January 2011 finally rolled along. I was at Safari Club when our old friend Brett Nelson stepped into the booth with a cold beer in his hand. Brett had been on 5 previous hunts to John X Safaris. He has hunted every available specie in the East Cape, yet he returns year after year. Season 2011 would be his 6threturn trip and a Vaal Rhebuck was at the top of his list. I knew Brett well enough to know that I could mention the monster without any regrets. If the ram was still there in March, then great. If not, we’d still have a blast and go hunting!
March 2011 – Brett and his group had arrived safely and were hunting from our Coastal Area, before heading north. Brett and good friend, Jeff Edland, together with Professional Hunters, Carl van Zyl and Ed Wilson, had set their hopes on the mountains.