“As the truck veered slightly to the left, with the edge of the road mere yards away from the hidden drop off and the forested valley below, we weren’t in the mood for the usual mutter and jokes that had accompanied our previous two safaris together.”
As the Professional Hunter I was frustrated. I had done more than enough to have scored success up to this point. My hunters and great friends, Aaron Davidson and Garrett Wall, were being the ultimate gentleman, reminding me daily we were only hunting – It wasn’t a matter of life or death.
Of course they were right but that didn’t change the situation. I had planned the safari strategically months before. No stone was left unturned. Meticulous scouting by the entire team would be the only way we could meet the requirements for this particular group. As the leader I had made sure all my PH’s were in the best areas from day one, every hunter needed a good start to settle the nerves.
I chose to explore a lesser known area – more to get out-of-the-way of my team, and to spend some quality time with Aaron and Garrett. We hadn’t seen each other since show season ended in Las Vegas during early February, and I knew them well enough to know they’d enjoy going after some “unconfirmed” local knowledge. My old hunting partner, Niel, had been touting me of late with some news of big Kudu sightings in a range of mountains to the west. It was worth a go – Niel and I had enjoyed our fair share of success on pretty impressive Kudu up until then, I wasn’t about to start doubting one of the best in the game.
We hunted hard that first day, enjoying the optimism that goes hand in hand with any first day on safari. We returned to camp that evening to be met by overjoyed hunters, my team had clearly done their part, but I hadn’t seen much of what Niel had been spotting, so we celebrated in their success. The feeling of a hard day up in the mountains felt pretty good, like Aaron enjoyed reminding us, we had earned our desert after dinner that evening.
The following day we all setoff in various directions again. I’ve never been one to force a certain area onto any of my PH’s, they’ve all got the sufficient experience to run their own hunts, and they all have a secret preferred spot, I trust their decisions and back them to the hilt. They’ve always delivered the goods. After everyone had chosen their bearing and target specie for the day, I called over my tracker, Zwayi.
“You reckon we give it another go?”; I asked him. “Why not!”, came his ever enthused reply. After all we had a packed lunch for the day, an instead of playing it safe, boldness seemed an attractive thought at the time. Zwayi liked hunting the hills to the north-east of camp. He had seen a particular Kudu bull that had him in “gibberish” mere months ago, but we had tried hard to find him again, to no avail. I hadn’t seen the bull, Zwayi was watching a particular draw we had spotted a pair of Klipspringer disappear into, when he had first laid eyes on the bull. I knew my trackers pride and bragging rights back at the skinning shed depended on the size of “his” bull, combined with his experience, there was no doubting he had seen something impressive.
We gave it a good proper go all day, spotting tons of Kudu and numerous other species including Steenbuck, Mountain Reedbuck, Gemsbuck and Hartebeest. A couple of shooter Kudu were spotted and the opportunities should have been taken, but Zwayi was insistent we’d be making a mistake. We all felt the same way, so we passed on them, getting back to camp late that evening – still nought to report.
The following few days it was decided to change our target species, and to get Garrett, fondly known as “G”, back onto the gun. G is a pretty lucky hunter all round, that we had come to learn over the years, so any change of habit would hopefully change our fortunes with Kudu. Or so my superstitious nature assured me.
G didn’t disappoint with a massive Gemsbuck, Black Wildebeest, Zebra and Common Springbuck, then making one of the best shots on a Cape Eland I had ever seen.
We had spotted a group of Eland bulls early, and I wanted to catch them on the flat ground before they headed for the hills. The group consisted of ten to fifteen individuals, with two old brutes leading the way. Their experience told them they needed to be on the high ground by sunup, but their weary old joints after more than ten winters in these mountains kept them away from the higher altitudes for as long as possible each morning, ultimately determining the pace of the group.
The morning was a brisk Karoo winters morning, typical of that time of year. The group was far too interested in catching the first few rays of warmth to notice us slipping over the edge of a small bluff a couple of kilometres up the draw. We quietly made our way along the valley floor, nervous of busting out anything else along the way. As we crested the last bit of blind ground between us and the group I felt a shift in the breeze, the cold air was no longer burning my nose, I could feel it hitting the back of my neck. Immediately the Eland stopped feeding and looked up.
I explained the various scenarios to the guys, both agreeing any further movement would result in the Eland busting out. G crawled forward to find a comfortable spot while Aaron got the camera rolling. I ranged our bull at 810 yards, gave G the reading and let him touch one off from his Gunwerks 6.5 Creedmore.
The shot was perfect. He entered the soft spot just behind the shoulder as the bull was quartered slightly away from us. He took out a lung and the top of the heart. The bull never knew what hit him, let alone any of his accomplices. We sat quietly as the bewildered bachelor group didn’t know what to make of the downed old bull. Soon they moved out and we moved in to admire Garret’s beauty.