During late May we published a story, The Obsession Continues, about Luther Dietrich and Professional Hunter, Carl van Zyl, going after the holy grail of Vaal Rhebuck hunting. On that hunt the guys finally reached that magical 10″ mark that all Vaal Rhebuck hunters strive to achieve. It was a dream come true for all involved and one we didn’t think could be repeated soon again. It had taken Carl more than ten years to achieve the goal – he wasn’t counting on finding another monster in that class over the course of the next few years, let alone during the course of the same season.
It was a beautiful morning during mid June, when hunter, Lawrence Trunk and I, were on the hunt for Vaal Rhebuck. On that particular day we had spotted a number of Vaal’s, but none within range for Lawrence to feel comfortable in making a clean shot with his handgun. As the day wore on so the wind picked up from the west and within hours the mountains were starting to look dangerous, with a huge front brewing in the distance. We had been off on a hike taking a closer look at a ram we had spotted from higher up the ridge, when out of nowhere the storm hit. I’d never experienced anything like it in Africa before – it surrounded us within minutes and soon the world was white with sleet.
While the storm taught me a lesson I soon won’t forget, I did however come out of it better than having entered it. During our retreat to the truck I had spotted a small group of Vaal Rhebuck, as confused and panic-stricken as us, and with them I thought I saw a huge ram through my snow-caked binoculars. Having a look through the spotting scope under those circumstances was out of the question, and as soon as they had appeared it seemed they disappeared even sooner. The storm engulfed the group and with that visions of my imagination. I truly wasn’t sure what I had seen, it’s hard enough judging Vaal Rhebuck on clear days – in that kind of weather there was no chance.
Not wanting to instill false hope into my hunter, and knowing that the chance of us getting up onto that mountain after the storm was near impossible and not recommended – I put it off to a Professional Hunter imagining things he’d like to see every time he glassed for these masters of the mountains.
Cresting the valley I envisaged the area the ram would more than likely have staked out his territory in, we soon found the small group again. They were resting in some short stuff littered with boulders at the base of a fountain, well camouflaged to the observers’ eye. At first we couldn’t find the ram, and then there he was – in all his glory, quietly dozing some thirty yards off to the left of the group.
I groveled in the back pack for my Swarovski spotting scope and soon found him on 60 power magnification. He was mind-blowing – and this time I knew what I was looking at. With a 10″ ram under the belt for the season already, I immediately knew this ram was bigger.
With Lawrence having left Africa ten days previously, my mind started turning towards whom to call. Who could make it before the close of the season? It was already July and I needed to find a hunter who was willing to make it before the end of the month. I dialed Reno – hoping to reach my good friend Steve Robinson.
Reaching Steve’s office I was told Steve was away on a mountain hunt in Azerbaijan, and wouldn’t be back until that following weekend. In my most polite tone I urged the friendly young lady on the other end of the line to tell Steve to call me the minute he touches base with his office or gets back. Within days I received a satellite call from Steve.
I explained the situation and then calmly told him to get home, collect his son, Hunter, and head to Africa within mere days of arriving back in the U.S. Luckily Steve had got what he was after and was already on his way home. He had expressed his desire for a Vaal Rhebuck in this class over the course of four previous safaris with me, and we had done our fair share of traveling and hard hunting all across South Africa in pursuit of a big Vaal – Steve got the picture, and was on his way to Africa.
Arriving in Port Elizabeth we immediately set course for the Karoo – there was no beating around the bush – Steve was here for one reason, and one reason only. Would we finally hunt that 10″ ram we had dreamt about so often before?
That first night in camp was a restless one – my nerves were shot. I had convinced a very good friend to take on a long journey within days of getting home from an Asian hunt, and there were no guarantees. We all know it’s an unspoken rule – how could there be guarantees when it came to hunting, but it doesn’t make it any easier for the guide. We’re expected to perform, that’s why we can earn a living from doing so, but this was different – Steve, Hunter, and I, had spent enough time together in the mountains to know this was it.
The following morning we made our way up into the mountains, met up with the landowner, Kobus, and settled in for a cup of steaming black coffee around his kitchen table. There had been another bout of cold weather leading up to our hunt – there was no way the truck would get us to where we needed to go before starting the long hike. Horses were our only option.
Slowly making our way up the slippery tracks lined with snow the world started coming into view all around. The higher we climbed the more breath-taking the view. As we reached the top we looked back in awe – how could one not be inspired with scenes like this?
Steve settled into his saddle and with a broad smile of a man content no matter what the outcome of the days hunt, whispered to us; “You know there are millions of people out there that will never feel this alive their entire lives. They will never experience a day like this or even consider the possibility of experiencing anything as exciting as this. This is an adventure – Thanks for making it possible.” It was then that I knew I was sharing my piece of heaven with not only a friend, but a great one. Mountain hunts are not for everyone, but those who find their inner peace high above the world share a common bond and passion for all places high, where the reward is not only the opportunity of hunting an elusive animal, but the thought of knowing that the effort it took to get there was worth every step of the way.
Reaching a predetermined plateau having spotted three different groups of Vaal Rhebuck on the way up, we left the horses in the care of one of the trackers – from here onwards we’d walk with caution. I knew the group we were after wouldn’t be far from where I’d seen them on the two previous occasions. We had to take it easy, ensuring they didn’t spot us first.
Soon we found them, but as so often happens, they’d spotted us first. We chatted about a possible approach with limited options. The Vaal Rhebuck had us in a “check mate” situation at 500 yards out. Steve came up with a great plan, which would see us leaving Hunter, Ozzie, Zwayi, and the local ranch hand in clear sight of the group while he and I snuck out of view to close the distance between us and them with a blind rise off to our left.
The plan worked like magic! In fact it worked too well, as soon we were too close, and by the time we realized it the group had disappeared over the ridge’s edge to the valley below. Steve and I hurried after them, knowing they’d run a couple of hundred yards before stopping to peer back at these strange-looking intruders in their valley. We got to the edge and peered over, but they were nowhere to be seen.
Without much option we continued down the ridge in the direction we’d last seen them heading, hoping to find them again within range. Continuing with utmost caution we stumbled upon two wild horses and an inquisitive Jackal shadowing our every move from the cliffs above. This Jackal had clearly never seen human beings this high up before – its behavior was quite disturbing when one considers their usual hasty retreat at the sight of a human. It felt like we had become the hunted. As for the horses, they were quite magnificent, but extremely wild.
Legend has it that during the Anglo Boer War which had taken place in these parts over 100 years ago, Boer soldiers had often left behind some of their weaker horses loaded with stones in saddle bags as to lead the English on a wild goose chase while trying to track the retreating Boers who had become masters of guerrilla warfare. This tactic frustrated the English commanders to no end, with them finally ruling that all stray horses were to be shot on sight if they could not be used – they clearly didn’t get them all. These horses, like in many other parts of the world, had taken to the mountains away from humans as to live without bother.
Keeping a close eye on the horses, knowing they would have spooked if the Vaal’s had passed their position in haste, I knew they weren’t far off. We had a clear view of the slope above and below, with a partial view of the opposite ridge, which I was sure they were heading towards. With the two of us approaching the last blind hollow on our slope I steered us towards a large boulder, as for us to climb to gain a better view of the terrain ahead.
Without knowing it and only realizing it with a mere thirty yards to go to reach the boulder, our approach had been hidden by the sheer size of the rock, and now the Rhebuck were a mere 200 yards out. We hugged the boulder, scaled it to a certain degree and then both crept over. The Vaal Rhebuck immediately spotted us, as alert as ever, but paused for a mere second too long. With the ram off to the right of the group on his own, presenting a clear broadside shot, the words weren’t clean out of my mouth when Steve touched off his shot. The ram reared up onto his hind legs before crashing down. I had clearly forgotten how fast Steve shoots.
Steve and I walked up slowly, both as nervous as the other. Was this the same ram I had seen previously? Did we finally have what we had hunted for, for so long? With fifty yards to go our excitement got the better of us and we both picked up our pace to a canter, each trying to reach the downed ram first.
We could hardly believe our eyes. He was more than we could have envisaged…
He is without a doubt the most beautiful Vaal Rhebuck I had ever seen. The mass, length, light grey color of his coat, and large rubbery nose, made him the trophy of a lifetime.
Millions of pictures later it was time to pack him out and head back down before nightfall caught us. It was time to reflect on a great hunt and to savor the moment around a crackling campfire beneath the brightest stars on earth. The following morning we’d pursue one of the Karoo’s greatest mountain dwellers for Hunter.
Lying in bed that evening listing to the rustle of the Acacia tree branches on the roof above I found myself wondering if the days events were a mere dream? Twice in the same year? Could the obsession be cured? You must be joking! The mountains are far to beautiful for that….
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