Hunting, one step at a time by Johan Verheem

| 30 January 2013 | 0 Comments

Just the other day, after much unpacking, I eventually found my old Magellan 315 GPS. Hoping to find and plot the stored routes of some hunts, many moon ago. Sadly it’s soul has gone to the big satellite in the sky. Such a pity, for stored on it was a track that I walked and hunted, one of my most memorable Kudu. All 18km of it, one way. With no way to revive its monochrome screen, you’ll just have to trust my old memory on that.

The excitement of an upcoming hunt is truly something, which only a hunter can understand. The joy is as much in the planning and preparation for the event. Long nights devoted hand loading cartridges, and lots of them. Better to take a couple of extra rifles, just in case one of them happens to stop shooting straight, despite been packed in a padded foam layered, indestructible Pelican case. The case did saved the hunt once, when Jack forgot the pull the handbrake on the Defender, while I, eager to hunt, had already neatly stacked the gun cases on the back of the Defender.

As usual, I spend a lot of time packing and re-packing all the essentials that a modern day hunter might need, in itself a part of the preparation for the hunt. Space is always at a premium, so why take 5 gun slings for 5 rifles if you can now, with the new quick-change clips, just use one gun sling? Nice new sling, all stretchy and padded to ensure a comfortable ride for the rifle on your shoulder. No more raw shoulders after a long walk.

Stupidly I had forgotten something, the new quick-change clips. Now I had a wonderfully padded sling, plenty of rifles and no way to marry the two. At least I remembered the ammo.

I prefer to be out of camp, long before daybreak. While the grass still wet with dew, I can cover some distance to my chosen hunting area, without making too much noise. I have also found that my chances of success were a lot better, early in the morning and then of course just before sunset.

On this day, I left camp as soon as the grey shapes of the trees and bushes became visible. Feeling perky with plenty of caffeine and rusks beneath the belt, I was eager to go.

My guide was waiting, all bright eyed and bushy-tailed, ready for the hunt. According to him, he knew exactly where we’d find the big Kudus. “How far?” my next obvious question. “Not far, just over this hill” he replied. And off we went. Just over the hill, which turned out to be a mountain.

A very thick bushy mountain. With lots of fresh Kudu spoor, so I obviously went slowly and carefully. Don’t get confused by the word slow. It was exhausting work to duck below branches, climb over dead trees and trying not to break my ankles on the loose rocks while carrying a rifle (without a sling), binoculars, GPS, camera, ammunition, water and food for two days (just in case).

It did cross my mind that if I slip on the loose rocks, I’ll also need new front teeth, as there was no way that I would drop my sling-less rifle.

We crossed the first hill and descended into this lush green acacia forest, that I just knew had to harbor some long spiraled horns. There were still plenty of shadows under the canopy, and Kudu.

We saw quite a number of Kudu, but mostly females and young dik-nekke (thick neck Kudu). Nice full body’s with necks already growing thicker and heavier as opposed to the females. But that was not what I was hunting.

I was hunting the old grey ones, the real dik-nekke, with the long beards. Nothing to do with trophy size, although I really wouldn’t mind an extra turn or two. Everything was to do with the quality of my adversary. The young dik-nekke still too stupid for their own health, and the cows, well they’re female after all. Way too inquisitive.

The one thing about Kudu, which continues to amaze me, is the way that they can simply melt into their surroundings. The cows especially, will freeze and let you walk right past them. Inquisitive, staring at you with those big brown eyes. That is until, you get upwind of her, all you’ll hear is just a dainty quick snort and she’ll vanish, just like that. Barely making a sound. How they manage to melt through impenetrable bush without making a sound, is beyond me.

Problem is, with that dainty snort, she has warned every Kudu in that valley. The guide impatiently beckoned me to follow; we were not there yet. So I innocently asked “How far?” “Not far, just over this hill” he replied. Maybe he was never taught the difference between a hill and a mountain, because in my book, that surely was no hill. Off we went, to tackle this new hill.

After hill number five, I stopped asking, because I already knew the answer. At this stage the guide, still fit as a fiddle, offered to carry my rucksack, but I was stubborn. He could’ve asked when I lost control of my motoring skills between hills four and five, now it doesn’t matter anymore. I was actually way past the point that I felt pain anymore. One good thing was that between the two of us, we ate two day’s worth of survival rations between hills number two and three.

As we finally approached the last hill where according to him, the old Kudus roamed, the sun had started nudging the tops of the hills. An almost golden shade of autumn started to transform the trees and bushes, and I knew that our time was almost out. As we made our way to the top, one could almost feel the presence of the Kudu in this well protected, isolated wooded mountaintop. Even the birds were singing with reverence, because we’ve entered the kingdom of the old ones. Dark and musty with a thick layer of rotting leaves beneath the grand old trees. And my body, high on adrenaline, forgot about aches and pains; I was hunting. One step at a time.

It was already late dusk, when the guide hurriedly, but gently touched my shoulder and with a slight nod of the head, motioned towards the dense trees ahead. It took me a while to finally focus on the barely visible silhouette, frozen between the dark tree trunks. The horns mostly hidden by the dense bush, but the front quarter, adorned with a marvelous thick neck and shaggy long beard, was perfectly clear.

Ever so slowly I shouldered my rifle, the warm wood comforting against my cheek, I forced myself to breathe and stop the adrenaline from turning my muscles to jelly.  With the thunder of blood rushing through my veins and a worryingly irregular heavy boom from my ribcage, I took aim.

Although the crosshairs gave a little jump with each heavy heartbeat, the 45-70 Govt performed exactly that, for which I faithfully carried and nurtured it, all day long. There was a flurry of birds as the shot echoeddown the mountain, followed by the crash of the big bull, falling in the thick of the woods.

Everything happening in detailed, three dimensional slow motion. I was for a moment stunned by the absolute lack of memory of any recoil.

Luckily the guide was one of few words and he just sat there patiently, gently coughing, smoking his hand rolled cigarette and waiting while I spend some time, just looking at that magnificent Kudu. Still warm to the touch.

Elated yet sad. The turmoil in me, confusing my emotions.

 

I was truly spent. I could’ve easily just camped there for the night, but we had to get the Kudu back to the cold room. This from the top, of what is locally called a hill, to camp some 18km away. So

 

Off we went in the dark, back to camp and to get a vehicle.

We reached camp round about eleven that night, got the truck and went back to fetch the Kudu. Unfortunately the truck was not going to make it up that hill, in fact neither would a 4×4 tractor. The support team of three, proceeded to  produce an evil looking thing they called a trolley. Basically a heavy home-made trailer.

We pulled this medieval torture contraption all the way up the hill, over boulders, in-between tree trunks, over tree trunks and underneath tree trunks, to where my guide thought the Kudu was. Said Kudu, which was not there. Somewhere on this dark mountain, but not there. Now it’s one thing to search for your Kudu at night. A different story if you have to manhandle a trolley while searching for your Kudu in the dark.

The faithful GPS came to the rescue and while the team and the evil trolley waited, it led the guide and me with a dimly lit monochrome screen, to the fallen Kudu.

Eventually we had the Kudu loaded and started the descent down the hill. I learned an entire new vocabulary of native swearwords, while going down that hill. This was before we even hit the acres of long grass. Long grass with needle sharp pointy seeds. Seeds that bury themselves deeper, through every layer of clothing as you move along.

In half an hour completely destroyed my favorite hunting outfit. With a million tiny little spears buried in my flesh, acupuncture style, we eventually arrived back at the camp in the quiet hours between night and dawn. I went through the motions of helping with the skinning, but I was not with them anymore.

I slept through an entire next hunting day and only woke up, starving, when my mates returned in the afternoon.

It was a good hunt and at last, this memory is now preserved for my sons.

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