Day 2 – May 27, 2017
We woke early and had breakfast in Almut’s dining room in their main house. Everything about these people is authentic. I feel like hunting with a family like this on a working African ranch would be hard to beat. It’s so welcoming.
And breakfast is authentic too, like Almut’s home-made bread. Dense, real bread, like what you might get in Germany. We had thin slices of smoked Kudu and sliced home-made-on-the-ranch game sausage. You can’t buy this stuff at home for any price. Delicious.
And how great is it that they live off the game? You don’t eat much pork or chicken here, oh no, it mostly comes from animals that lived their lives in the rocky hills, wild and free. It all just feels so right and like my buddy Buck Gardner from Memphis says, “if this is wrong, I don’t wanna be right!”. He also says, “the only thing better than that, is more of that”. So I load up on the smoked Kudu. God have mercy.
After breakfast, I meet a PH who would be joining Immo and I on the hunt. PH stands for Professional Hunter. His name is Kiewied (key-veet) and he’s not what I expected. Most PHs in Africa are white, that’s how it’s always been, but like all stories in Africa, it’s a complicated one. But Immo and Almut are starting to change that on their ranch. Kiewied is “San”. Some call his people San Bushmen and although “Bushmen” isn’t necessarily derogatory, San will suffice.
Kiewied comes from an ancient people. One can track his ancestry back 25,000 years in southern Africa to the Khoi Khoi people who evolved into two groups after European contact in the 1600s: the Khoi who were ranchers and farmers and the San who stayed to their hunting and gathering life, surviving in harsh regions like the Kalahari desert. Kiewied comes from the hunting San group.
And this particular member of the San looks lean and fit to me. “Your boots look like they’re made for walking. That’s good, you’ll need them to keep up with Kiewied”, says Immo. Uh oh….better stretch!
After shaking Kiewied’s hand, it’s off to the range with an assortment of rifles. I didn’t bring my own. I’m not a gun nut per se, to me it’s a tool, so I don’t need my own from home and I’m happy to borrow one. I highly recommend that to avoid the hassle of bringing one through customs. As usual, Immo agrees on this topic, and hands me a gun that looks like it’s been carried through the hills a few times. That’s good, it knows what it’s doing. It feels right in my hands, it fits me.
We also agree on another hunting philosophy: if a miss occurs, it ain’t the gun, it’s the operator, or as Immo says, “it’s about the man behind the sticks”. The “sticks” refers to the shooting sticks they carry to give you a solid brace to make a good, killing shot.
Immo has two .300 Winchester Magnums and a 30-06. Experts say you need big bullets because African game is tougher than our deer, moose and elk. I still choose the ’06.
I don’t like recoil. Like, I actually hate it. That comes from my Dad Cliffy putting me behind a ’06 when I was a tiny little fart and it knocked the heck out me and that was that. Nevertheless, I think a well-placed shot of slightly lower power is far superior to a poorly placed shot from a cannon any day. I don’t think that, I know that actually. And so does Immo, so it’s the ‘06.
We hammer a few shots at a target and the gun shoots straight, but what about the man behind the sticks? We’d soon find out.
We jumped in Immo’s truck and headed out on a small cattle track towards a distant low mountain range. The Landcruiser has a seat up in the back where Kiewied and I sit, scanning for game, while Immo sneaks through dry creek washes and avoids rocks. The landscape is dry now, but you can see in the rainy months, the land runs with water for a brief time.
I think of our land in Canada as harsh for wildlife. The winters are long. In years where the snow is not so deep, the critters do well. Here, it’s all about the rain. It is a harsh land here but the rain is forgiving if it comes. If it comes, it’s good. This year had brought rain and you can see the grass is high. Immo says the animals get very run down and hungry by the end of the dry season but when the rain comes, they bounce back in only a few weeks. Nature is resilient. It has to be.
We immediately see warthogs, some younger oryx and a red hartebeest. The latter is a strange looking animal to me. His face is too long!
We bump along till we come alongside a long rocky ridge. Kiewied and I get out and leave Immo and the truck. We get the wind in our face and head up the ridge. Kiewied is like a mountain goat. He moves from rock to rock like a klipspringer, a small antelope that lives in the rocks. That could be his new nickname.
Up and up we go. I kick a few rocks with my clumsy feet and Kiewied shoots a quick glance that speaks a thousand words, probably something like, “watch your feet you chubby flunky”!
We get to the top and peek over. This is why I love hunting hills. It’s the promise of what could be in the next valley that can keep you looking for days. At the top the view of the surrounding landscape is just amazing. Stunning. And oh ya, there’s a huge oryx standing right over there! So says Kiewied to me, but they all look big to my eyes. But I trust Kiewied, completely, and for good reason.
Did you ever get that feeling when you’re with someone that you are in the company of greatness? I felt that here. Just the way he moved and how well he could see. I am convinced he sees better with his naked eyes than me with binos. I’m not kidding, it’s crazy how he sees. He spotted two klipspringers peeking over a rock at over 500m. I struggled to see them with optics. So cool.
We snuck down to a tree on the rocky slope and hid in its shade. There were four oryx and they all looked big to me. Kiewied said they were all old. Truth is, I didn’t care much which was bigger, they were all beautiful and my guess was Almut was gonna make any of them into something amazing back at the ranch. There was one that looked different to me. It looked a big bigger in the body. Kiewied said it was the oldest one. It had oddly curved horns that swept back over its back.
I decided to shoot that one. I started to get nervous and excited and all those feelings you get as a hunter when its time to take a life. It’s exciting and heavy too, all at the same time.
Kiewied set up the shooting sticks but it was hard because the hillside was solid, jumbled boulders. I couldn’t get my feet solid. I got on the oryx but couldn’t settle the scope. The shot was likely around 200m, more than comfortable for me, but not in the rocks. I couldn’t sit down and rest on my knee because there were low thorn bushes. And it was too far to freehand.
We got the sticks planted as best we could and Kiewied leaned against me to provide some support. I found the oryx in the scope but it was looking away. You can’t take that shot, it needs to be broadside to provide the best chance to shoot it in the vital organs and ensure a quick end. So we waited and waited and because I knew the shot would be challenging, I got more nervous, which is good. All the varying emotions you feel while hunting are part of what makes it great.
Then it turned and started walking. Kiewied whistled and it stopped and looked our way up the hill. I’ll never forget its face. Black markings, white stripes, and long sabre-like horns sweeping up into the sky. Huge shoulders and big, bushy tail. Gorgeous.
I went up the front leg with the crosshairs of the rifle scope and found the spot just behind the shoulder where the bullet needed to go. Deep breath, blow it out. “Shoot!”, says Kiewied. I squeeze. Boom! A delay and a thu-woomp. A hit. Kiewied couldn’t tell where the bullet had hit the oryx. It started walking back from where it came.
I chambered another round and tried to find the oryx in the scope again but it was with the others so I couldn’t shoot. Then it was behind brush. It stepped out and I fired again. Thu-woomp, another hit. I fire a third shot but its far in brush at that point so to no avail. It walked behind some more brush about another hundred meters, circled, and layed down.
Adrenaline was flowing in me now and I was shaking. I hoped the hits were good. Kiewied thought the first hit was good, maybe a bit far back from the shoulder, but good enough. We back off to let things settle and hiked back to the truck. The last thing you want to do when you aren’t 100% sure of the shot, is push the animal because they can get going and sometimes you don’t find them and that is the worst possible thing for the animal and for you.
We wait at the truck for a half hour then drive the Landcruiser into the area where we last saw the oryx and Kiewied is immediately on the track. The ground is hard and how he sees the tracks so quickly and follows so fast is beyond me and I have been tracking animals all my life. But he’s been doing it longer and he did it for survival.
I realize this person is something altogether different. He grew up hunting in the San way, living in the bush, under the stars and hunting with primitive weapons. He got oryx the hard way. Kiewied and his San people shot the oryx with a poisoned arrow. The poison they made from mashing and mixing native plants and putting that on their arrow tips. They had to get within 20-30m and if they were lucky enough to hit an oryx, they would have to follow the animal for many, many kilometres. No wonder he can track.
We bump the oryx out of its bed under a thorn bush and it moves ahead of us. We back off again to let it bed down and expire. We head back for the truck. I start to have doubt about the shot and that does not feel well with me, at all.
We pulled in by a waterhole to have lunch. It was midday and getting hot. May is winter in Africa and that means cool nights for great sleeping and warm days with no rain. In other words, perfect. Lunch was of course insane. Almut had made each of us a beet salad with apple and a cold, chopped impala salad with onion and apple. Amaaaaaazing. And for desert? I split a smoked Kudu sandwich with Kiewied. Oh ya!
After lunch we go to get on the track of the oryx. Somehow Kiewied and Immo drive straight back to the spot, weaving through the trees and picking their way with the Landcruiser. Kiewied jumps out and immediately finds the track again. With these guys, who needs a GPS! Amazing.
Kiewied walks along following the track at a fast pace while I can barely see it. The ground is very hard and so the hooves leave only a faint imprint, sometimes just an edge digs in or the tip. Kiewied picks our oryx’s track out from the many others we cross as he moves ahead.
Immo is behind us following through the sand with the truck and he beeps the horn. There, not a 100m ahead of us is the oryx, dead under a tree. I am at once both relieved and excited.
I go up to the oryx and kneel down beside it. If you are a hunter, you know the feelings you have at that moment: a bit of remorse for the animal, a feeling of satisfaction in the hunt and a lingering respect for the animal and the landscape you took it from. Its complicated but it’s a natural and powerful experience.
Kiewied kneels beside the oryx too and puts his hand on its hide. He understands.
Immo picks a flower and touches it to the blood on the oryx and then gets Kiewied to hand it to me. It’s a German hunting tradition called the Waidmannsheil. Immo says it is a congratulation of sorts and to honor the animal. “Waidmann” refers to an ethical hunter. I like it.
Three different cultures hunting together, so different and yet so similar. So cool.
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