“Randy was shaking like a man with severe hypothermia. It was fantastic seeing him like that, knowing how much it meant to him, and having the excitement overwhelm his self-control……”
But before I get ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning – long before Randy had even boarded the South African Airways flight in Washington.
During early May I received an email from our good friends Chris and Martie Petersen. They were planning on joining us on safari during late July, bringing along with them Martie’s niece, Cherie, and her husband, Randy. The entire group was planning on doing some form of hunting, with Randy leading the pack on his quest for East Cape Kudu.
Our hunt started in the south from our Coastal Base Camp before heading north to experience the Karoo in all her glory. We took our time making the 3 ½ hour journey north, touring and stopping off along the way in the true spirit of life on safari.
That morning I woke the crew and heard our tracker, Boy; pull in with the truck just after 4am. A lively fire with a quick coffee and a light snack drove out the last bit of sleep from weary bones – and we were off. Our bearing for the day was north-west, directly towards the edge of the escarpment, running down to the great plains of the Karoo.
At 5.30am we collected Niel along the way and continued our journey into the mountains. The area we were hunting formed part of a 150,000 acre privately owned low fenced area. Game thrive in their numbers on the great plains, and valleys team with groups of Kudu and Mountain Reedbuck. The higher reaches of the mountains can be seen ruled by the many hundreds of Baboons and small groups of Vaal Rhebuck, while the ever-present Klipspringer can be found sticking to the cliffs and rock falls. Niel has been managing the area for the past ten years. He’s a meticulous man, very strict on quota and obsessed with quality. Those who’ve had the privilege of having him along on a hunt can vouch for his passion – a true hunter and a leading conservationist.
Niel had been spotting a large number of Kudu during the course of the previous week, with most of the bigger bulls feeding away from the cows. We decided to hunt the north facing slopes first, hoping to spot an old bull sunning himself in the early morning rays. At first it was quiet; in fact we became a bit concerned. I’d look over at Niel and Boy, knowing that they were thinking and wondering the very same thing as me; where were all the Kudu from the previous week? Chris and I had spent all evening prepping Randy and Cherie on how many Kudu the area boasted, now we couldn’t buy one for any money in the world.
As the morning grew on and the temperature rose we finally started seeing Kudu.
Having had no luck glassing the north facing slopes we decided to hit the valleys. The morning breeze was a light one and the temperature was mild, there was no evident reason why the bulls weren’t feeding on the upper slopes, either way, we’d find them sooner or later. We first worked through a few smaller refines leading up to a main valley before entering the final canyon of that particular range. We drove the truck as far as we could, then hiked over the edge.
Once in the canyon we immediately started spotting groups of bulls feeding on the opposite slope. Boy, Randy, Cherie, Chris or Niel would spot a bull and I’d get the spotting scope settled onto that particular animal. At times they were over whelming, each wanting me to make the call on their new find. I looked over at least 12 bulls, some very good bulls, but nothing that stood out above any of the others. Randy was a fit guy, extremely willing to go the extra mile and ready to follow me wherever required to have a chance at that “extra” special trophy. Together with Boy and Niel, we decided to pass up what we’d seen thus far.
Lunch break was called, we were all in desperate need of resting our eyes for the afternoon hunt. The morning had been a taxing one with endless hours of glassing. Towards the end of lunch, Boy, Niel and I, decided to give the canyon a last once over glassing before moving along. We spotted a number of the same Kudu bulls once again, when suddenly Boy anxiously waved us down. We crawled in next to him, by this stage he was hugging the ground, sheltering behind a large boulder. He signaled me in closer, barely whispering; “Look below us, about 500 yards, you’ll see two white tips sticking out above the broken shrub.” I focused my spotting scope, barely recognizing what he’d seen. Then suddenly, right there, they came into view, two beautiful white tips shinning in the sun. The bull was standing motionless, listening for any foreign sound.
We quickly devised a strategy to get within range for the required shot; it was not going to be easy. We had a single blind ravine to work with, if the bull moved off too far from the ravine then we’d be stuck – check mate.
I left Niel and Boy and headed towards where we’d last left the rest of the group for our pick nick lunch. Randy double checked his rifle while I collected an extra bottle of water and shooting sticks. I started off at a brisk pace, explaining to Randy what Boy had spotted and a general overview of our plan. We worked our way up the ravine, checking in with Niel regards the bulls’ movements from time to time. An hour into our stalk saw us nearing the area where the bull was first spotted. Niel indicated that the bull had moved further along the ravine and was now bedded up in thick brush about 350 yards away from us. We were now stuck with a predicament. Take the chance over the open ground and risk the chance of having the bull spot us approaching, or stick to the cover and pray that the unpredictable breeze would hold its line. A quick debate with Randy saw us sticking to the cover; after all, we could sit the bull out and have him make the next move.
After an hour’s wait there was still no sign of the bull, neither Niel nor Boy could spot him anymore, and I for one wasn’t spelling out the possibility that the bull hadn’t disappeared like a ghost. I’d seen it far too often in the past; there was no reason why this bull hadn’t done the same. I motioned for Randy to come closer and explained to him that we’d make an approach on the wooded area where the bull was last spotted. I had the sticks open, ready to plant in an instant, and Randy knew the drill, if the sticks go up you settle onto them immediately. Don’t ask questions, I’ll answer them later.
We got to within 100 yards – nothing. 75 yards – nothing. 50 yards – nothing. 25 yards – nothing. I quietly started grinning at myself, he’d done exactly what I’d thought, he was miles away by now, and here we were stalking a perfectly empty wooded thicket. I’d be lying if I was saying that I wasn’t just going through the motions as I made the final 20 yard approach, I still had us sticking to walking on the rock surfaces only and always rolling our heels, but common sense was getting the better of me. With 15 yards to go I noticed something very interesting. In front of us was pile of large boulders and the other side dropped away like a mini waterfall, making a perfect hiding place. I carefully edged my way onto the boulder…. I was stunned.
Right below me not more than 5 paces away lay the same bull fast asleep, just those white tips sticking out once again. I turned to Randy, giving him the “Oh $h!t” look, at the same time making it quite clear that he shouldn’t dare make a sound, let alone breath to loud. I wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea showing him the bull at such close quarters, past experience told me that most hunters get over excited and end up missing the opportunity. What the heck, I thought. I’d never seen this before either. I helped Randy onto the boulder and gave him a peep. His face turned white, his eyes shot open even more than what they already were, and he started sweating profusely – Ok, bad move!
I tried regathering him, trying to take his mind off the bull sleeping a mere body length away and had him focus on the fact that I thought it may be easier shooting free hand from that distance. I soon realized that, that was not an option; Randy was shaking like a man with severe hypothermia. It was fantastic seeing him like that, knowing how much it meant to him and having the excitement overwhelm his self-control. I opened the sticks and Randy slowly raised his rifle and settled onto them. I checked his scope once again, double checking that it was turned down to the lowest possible magnification.
I picked up a small pebble at my feet and tossed it over the bull, the bull must have immediately woken as now his horns tips were moving around from side to side. I motioned for Randy to get ready; he’d be standing up any moment now. We waited for what felt like an eternity. The bull merely settled down and seemed to ignore that first pebble. I grabbed another one, this time hitting the bull on his hind quarters. He jumped up, luckily facing the opposite direction, slowly moving out from underneath us. At 12 yards Randy squeezed of his shot, a perfectly placed lung shot. The bull stumbled forward, then gained momentum and took off at a full gallop. Randy gave him a follow-up assurance shot in the back of the neck which dropped him in his tracks.
By this stage we had Boy and Niel running in our direction, both as eager as the other to see the bull at close quarters. Chris and Cherie followed in the rear with an entire team of porters in close pursuit. The fun and excitement was in full swing while the work of getting our bull down had only begun.