South Africa Day 1 - The greenhorn hunts
Jittery from lack of sleep, my confidence in my archery skills is now blunted by an uninspiring 6:30 am warm-up session. What was a 2 inch group at 30 yards at the range is now a 4 inch group at 20. Where is that god-damned rifle..?? I ask myself for the umpteenth time. But it's time I stow my misgivings and quit grumbling. I try not to let apprehension show on my face when our professional hunters pick us up for the first morning of hunting.
For the next two weeks I get my own PH - Mecheil is all of 21 years. One of the youngest African PHs. It's going to be his job to teach me to hunt, African style. You have no idea what you've signed up for kid... We get dropped off at a blind a few miles into the hunting area. A watering hole lies 17 yards away. Guinea fowl blanket the ground. A number of Kudu wander by, a few small bulls in the herd. We leave them alone to enjoy their teenage years unmolested. During downtime, Mecheil and I sort out the rules of engagement. When to shoot, when to draw down. What makes a trophy and our follow-up strategies. What kind of hunting style suits me the best. Bowhunting from a blind seems like a nice way to wake up. Yeah, speak for yourself, grumbles the wolf. I'm hungry. How long do you want me to polish my nails and chew on stale gristle?
Some ornery warthogs scuffle in, to be followed by small numbers of Impala. Warthog are the most comical animals in Africa. They waddle, not walk. They root through the mud, with none of the elegant grazing habits of the horned antelopes. Yet they present the most challenging of hunts. Mecheil and I laugh silently at this trio. They decided to play with the old rubber bucket near the blind. They play for a while, then disappear where they came from. I snap some video, the whirr of the camera sends a few skittish roebuck back into the bush.
And oh the Roebuck.. Compact, elegant, proud, words fail to describe what it feels like to get within 25 yards of these splendid animals. They are nervous wrecks near a water hole. Jumping at errant gusts of wind. A Kudu barks. They disappear. Not easy to bowhunt. But then, there isn't a game animal on the planet who doesn't present a challenge to the bowhunter. I let this young ram pass by. He still has years left in the herd. I take lots and lots of pictures. My other weapon is a Sony Rebel xTi digital SLR.
The first day is uneventful for me. I drink in the pure air. Savor the quiet hot afternoons, the clear sky. Even the dusty barren winter landscape has an unspoilt, untarnished beauty to it. I lean back in the blind and let the warm African evening wash over me. I don't draw my bow on any animal. You have two weeks and I'm barely awake, so cut me some slack, grumbles the wolf. Where's my coffee?
6:00 pm. Crackle, spit, fizzle. The radio erupts with choppy Afrikaans, shattering the quiet. John just shot a black wildebeest at dusk. When the land rover picks us up, we meet up with John & Morne. Light is fading fast. The wildebeest is in the bush, wounded and dangerous. We decide to give him some time and head back to the ranch house for a simple dinner. And here, I'm being a bit facetious. There was nothing simple about dinners at the ranch. I could devote entire posts on the menu - kudu steaks, warthog sausage... But this is a hunting story, so back to the wildebeeste.
Better to not leave the bull to die alone, muses Morne over the fireplace. Too many jackals. Besides, there are at least two leopards in the area. He could be stripped clean by dawn. We look at each other. Lets go find him.
The wolf bares his teeth. Now *this* is finally getting interesting. He pads on unseen feet next to me as we prepare for a risky night search.
We drive to the blind where John had made his shot from. A 100 grain broadhead, 700+ grains of arrow from a 70lb compound bow will do a lot of damage. But this *is* a wildebeest. They are tough as nails, known to attack when cornered, and not easy prey for even the big African cats. Tracking one wounded through the dark bush at night is not exactly safe. We follow tracks and a blood trail. Or to be more precise. Morne follows the tracks and trail with Papi and Mecheil, John and I try to stay out of the way. I'm clutching a flashlight and trying to stick close to at least one person with a rifle. Papi is a tracker and skinner extraordinaire. More about him later.
I learnt a lot about pattern matching that night. Blood dries on the sandy African soil in an instant. Look for small brown stones, advised Mecheil. Then touch them to see if they crumble in your fingers. It's likely to be blood.
Papi and Morne catch up to the bull. By this time we are over a 1000 yards from where we started. It felt more like a million. The tracks weave and disappear, then reappear out of nowhere. They backtrack, and we follow. Like Sherlock Holmes chasing an African mystery-man. Like an episode of CSI - Thabazimbi that will never be filmed. The bull has found a quiet place to lie down. He's finished. Papi, Papi... STOP, STOP, STOP! Get DOWN!! Get DOWN!! Morne yells as he squeezes a shot from his .308 into the animal. BOOM. It turns out it was the right thing to do. Papi was about to walk right on top of it. We like Papi to stay unharmed and I'm sure Papi shares that sentiment.
Snarl.... the wolf blinks. He turns and looks at me with one eye, grinning. Feed me! I look away.
It's almost anticlimactic after that. We drag 1000 pounds of animal through the forest and load up the truck. John pitches in enthusiastically. He's caught his third wind of the day.
10:00 pm. I'm in my room. Exhausted. Exhilarated. Happy that John found his wildebeest. Tomorrow, it's my turn.
About freaking time. The wolf yawns and bares his teeth. I'm bored. Are you going to hunt, or take pictures all day? Wimp!