Day 5 – Tuesday, May 30, 2017
I wake up most days here thinking two things: what is Almut gonna make for supper tonight and is this the day Mother Nature shows us another old bull? It feels like it could be kudu day.
You just never know with hunting. Like hunting moose at home, you see none for a long time, then all of a sudden, there he is. Your eyes can’t process what you are seeing fast enough to make your brain send signals to move your arms to raise your rifle. You can’t quite believe what you are seeing. That shock of finally seeing your quarry is a sweet feeling.
It’s like hunting sharptail grouse at home. You walk all day and kind of zone out, admiring the fall colours and sunny day then – boom! – they rise loudly, calling hard, “guh, guh, guh, guh, guh, guh”, whirring wings and you fire twice and miss clean.
When the bull suddenly appears again, will I be ready?
I have spent my lifetime being ready. My father and uncle were stern teachers of the “always be ready” doctrine. That’s because they knew how this goes, you often get one chance. Having the bull run away is one thing, missing the shot, or fumbling the opportunity in some other way was inexcusable to my mentors. So I’ll be ready.
With this in mind, I double check everything after climbing into the truck. Do I have everything? Where are the shells? What magnification is the scope dialled into, etc, etc, etc.
We head back to the same rock we climbed the previous day to look for the departing bull. It is one of Immo and Kiewied’s favourite spots and areas. And there is tons of kudu sign all around it so I love the strategy. The two of them are always talking strategy but it is in Afrikaans, but no matter, I can tell what they’re thinking, I am a hunter. I smile as we pull up to the spot and I inform the two of them that I am calling this kudu rock. They like that.
In the early morning light, Kiewied and I sneak to the top and peek over carefully. Kudu rock gives you a panoramic view of the surrounding area and this is kudu country. But you don’t go barging into these spots and scare everything away. Easy does it.
The sun is coming up, its magic time, so the kudu should be moving. And they are. Nearly immediately a kudu cow comes from our right and crosses a fence. That makes me smile, I like short fences that animals can cross. High ones, not so much.
High fenced hunting operations have become increasingly more common in North America and Africa over the last two decades. I don’t prefer them for several reasons.
The concern for me as a biologist is that high fences stop the flow of genes between wildlife populations. Genetic mixing and genetic vigor is critical to keeping wildlife healthy and disease resistant. Boxing them in promotes disease transmission and virus evolution and transformation. Antelope have roamed for thousands of years and they need to. It’s what Mother Nature built them to do, what they have evolved doing since time immemorial. That’s written in stone.
Here’s another thing chiseled in granite about antelope and deer at home: during the breeding season when a female crosses in front of you, get your gun ready. You need to because a male is often coming right behind her. After our cow jumped the fence, another one crossed further in the distance. Kiewied thought it too far for a shot if a bull came, and I would never argue with the Champ, but I sure had a rock solid hold in the scope at that distance.
To all you new big game hunters, I cannot stress enough that you need to practice your shooting. Far too many people just grab their rifle and go hunting when the season comes around. That isn’t fair to the animal, and it won’t put meat in your freezer.
It’s good to shoot at a range, like that of the Brandon Wildlife Association’s (check out our website at www.mwf.mb.ca for contact info of MWF Clubs with ranges). That helps you understand the micro-elements of good shooting: proper breathing, focus and trigger squeeze. But to be able to consistently put bullets where they humanely need to be on a big game animal, practice shooting from a bunch of positions you’ll use in the field. My favourite is sitting. You rest your elbows on your knees and you can get very steady.
In Africa they use tall shooting sticks. These are great, but are totally foreign to me and might be to you too, so if you come here, practice (unloaded) aiming off the sticks to figure it out.
But we were on kudu rock so the sticks wouldn’t work. No problem, I had a solid hold sitting on a big rock. You could also find a rock to rest the gun on, that works great too.
We watched the cows for a long time but no Big Poppa showed up, at least not a kudu stud. But a huge oryx male came by. He was amazing. The oryx males have thicker, shorter horns than the females. Their necks look a big bigger. They are impressive. I thought about shooting him but didn’t want to ruin a beautiful morning with a loud blast. We were chillin’ like villains in the brilliant morning sun and loving life, why mess that up with a lot of noise and work?
We climb down and go on a short walk through kudu country into the wind. We sneak and look and go slow. Kiewied is off to my side and I approach a patch of brush. A snake takes off heading straight away. That’s fine, but what is a bit shocking is the speed with which it traveled. Whatever the heck it was, you aren’t outrunning that critter. It had black mamba speed.
We pulled up roots and did a rare thing midday: we went back to the ranch. We have a glorious routine of spending midday eating Almut’s lunches she packs for us, and watching wildlife and birds at one of the many waterholes on the ranch. It is relaxing and meditative.
But not today. We went back for a hot lunch and a rest since we were very close to the ranch and I had some work to do. The ranch has internet access so I could do some emails and some writing in the shade garden. Tough life.
The afternoon has us heading back to kudu rock to see if there is a late afternoon movement there. We sit for an hour then just at magic time, we make a move. This is a bold move, but I trust Kiewied. Normally, this is a terrible idea back home. This is when animals are starting to move, so they come to the edge of the bush and look out. They can see you moving around but you can’t see them. I call it magic time and to make magic at this time, you sit still and don’t ruin things. But not Kiewied.
But then again, he isn’t your normal hunter. We get down off the rock and head into the wind, through the patches of bush. Not once on this trip have we flushed a kudu and seen its white tail waving goodbye. Kudu, like our whitetails, hold up their tails when alarmed and fleeing, as a sign to the other kudu that trouble is in their midst.
When this happens it means they “got the drop on you”, they saw you before you saw them. The main key to not spooking your quarry is to not walk faster than your eyes can see. You need to move slow and look very carefully, with your binos. A few steps and when the angle changes slightly and you can see new ground, more looking with the optics. Again though, not Kiewied.
He is moving forward way too quick for me, but not too quick for his eyes. He is looking at the ground for fresh tracks and looking up to spot game, continuously. He misses nothing. I know I probably sound crazy by now extolling this man’s virtues, but its just that shocking and skillful and you need to come here and see this once in your life if you are a hunter. It will blow your freakin’ mind.
We hunt to the east into the wind and end up at dark at a waterhole, that has an ornery looking warthog and a jackal keeping each other company. There are so many kudu tracks in the area and near the waterhole, its mind boggling. One problem: Kiewied says the tracks are all one to two days old. They’ve moved. Either pushed out by us or simply roamed off like antelope do. In the setting sun, Kiewied says we need to relocate them in the morning.
The sun literally sets on kudu rock. We won’t likely be back.
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