Posted by Eric on 3/26/2020 to South Africa
I think the only day we didn't make a score was Monday, March 9. There were a couple of animals who gave us the absolute runaround for the majority of our time there: the skittish Bushbuck,and the wiley and jumpy Steenbuck. Oh, and even mature boar warthogs were fairly uncooperative. Even though we didn't connect on an animal that day, it wasn't empty or for naught. As Marty said in his post on day 8, he and Denver headed into East Somerset for some intensely important business purposes, aka: transferring the Mutt to South African firearms registration for the purchase of future hunts as well as a loaner opportunity of folks wanting to travel and hunt South Africa without the worry of traveling with their own guns. Yep, you heard right. You can hunt South Africa with a proven T/C platform without worrying about taking your firearms in and out of the USA.
Since Dad was tending to business, that left Mom and I to see what we could do to check that pesky Steenbuck off of the list. After being dropped off at one of the old farm houses, we set out on foot across the landscape on a still hunt. Joining me and Mom was Colani (best I can spell it in my version without the Xhosa language click sound), the lead tracker and Paul another one of the trackers. We moved slow in and out of cover, some on well worn paths and in some ditches to keep from startling animals while looking for opportunities to glass areas of cover from our own vantage points of concealment. Mom carried the .309 JDJ Contender and I had the venerable .375 JDJ slung over my shoulder should we bump into a Warthog that were also making it difficult to find a shooter. Along the way we saw a very nice Springbuck ram (we already had two) and a very nice, old Blesbuck ram who appeared injured that we had seen the day before. I had secretly been hoping Denver would tell us to mercifully take him out should we cross paths again, but alas he did not. Fortunately the old ram seemed to do pretty well for himself despite being separated from the herd. By the looks of it he had latched on to a group of Wildebeest that didn't seem to concerned with his presence and went about his business grazing but keeping a watchful eye on us as we passed. It's worth noting here that the African plains game as a whole (probably minus the warthog) have incredibly keen eyesight. For any of you North American hunters that are familiar with the 8x binocular vision of the western Pronghorn, or the eagle-vision of our wild turkey, these are the benchmark for pretty much all African antelope species. This makes them extremely difficult to sneak up on outside of the rut, and many of the animals skittish to the point of stupidity.
No matter how much we say so, it is absolutely impossible to understate the incredible "game eye" possessed by both our Pro Hunter, Denver and all of his trackers. Many target animals most of us would have hoped to have seen even with binoculars they routinely picked out with the naked eye whether from the truck or still hunting together through the bush. After a couple of hours of walking, glassing and stalking, Colani spotted a Steenbuck a couple of hundred yards out who was still completely unaware of our presence. Even better for us, we had transitioned to a sort of rolling hills terrain with intermittent bushes and small trees thick enough for us to make several moves closer to the diminutive antelope without even momentarily passing into open sight. This meant we got close. Like silly close from what we had been experiencing with most animals to that point. As Mom followed Colani slowly to the left slightly clear of the bush we used as a blind, he set up the sticks and we locked the 309 down to the Bog Pod so she was steady and comfortable. From that position we were able to watch the ram feed around calmly in and out of clearings until Mom found and tracked him in the crosshairs of her scope.
Here is where Mom continued to impress with poise and mature decisions behind the rifle. She definitely had more than one opportunity to pull the trigger on this beautiful ram, but as we watched it there was a lingering sense that Colani wasn't positive that this particular Steenbuck was mature enough to pull the trigger on. I'm not exactly sure how she had the discipline to keep from dropping him right there. Because from the point we stalked to across to the area he was feeding in, was a measly 80 yards. Top that off with the fact that we made a perfect sneak and he had no idea we were there, I was ramped up and ready to go. In fact it was all I could do to not push her to shoot him on my own. Finally, after laboring in that spot for a solid 10-15 minutes, Colani said, "No, he is not quite tall enough". For a quality, mature Steenbuck ram you're hoping his spikes are going to be in the 5" range of length. Which seems tiny, but considering that these spry little antelope only weigh in the 20-30 pound range, a horn that length would be past the tip of the ear when folded up indicating an outstanding trophy. Mom backed off, and we all breathed deep as we passed on that ram, but it was that strength in passing that allowed her to bag an incredible 5+" ram on our final afternoon.
Another quick thought about hunting with my mother... The privilege itself is actually a pretty new revelation. This wasn't necessarily because Mom wasn't welcome in a stand with us or was forced to stay home or even not given the opportunity to hunt from time to time. No, in fact the primary reason I understand as she tells it today is that she HATES being cold. And I mean absolutely loathes it with the fire of a thousand hells. Growing up our primary quarry was deer with the occasional jaunt for bird or rabbit getting mixed in. Dad and I would take some fall walks for squirrel but at a young age I never really spring turkey hunted or did much predator pursuit. This meant the heavy majority of our hunting was done in the cold. Which mom HATED. Which meant that she never really hunted. Mind you, what I'm not saying here is that mom can't/couldn't/didn't shoot. The truth is that she probably has one of the steadiest hands in our family, something she displayed fairly regularly in the past while shooting moving clay pigeons with Dad's Ithica Model 37 Featherweight.
I say all of that to say this: don't think the specialness of getting to hunt the wilds of a foreign place 1 on 1 with my mother is lost on me. My pride in watching her practice something new, a little scary and even more challenging was brimming over when I was in earshot and heard the crack of her suppressed 350 Legend signal the harvest of her first big game animal all by herself: a wild pig which she has since dubbed "Peppa Pig". She was in the dark, using night vision and in a blind entirely by herself. She got rattled, missed, then kept it together enough to reload in the dark, and made a perfect shot resulting in zero meat loss on a small target. This memory, coupled with the opportunity to see her excel with a half dozen eyes watching, on camera and under pressure are things I will treasure for as long as I live. Not to mention she's about as tough and gritty as they come, isn't afraid to sweat and hoof it up a mountain or through thick brush and can do it all with a smile and sense of humor make her a worthy hunting partner on any continent. Oh, and by the way... the day we hunted together and covered a few miles on foot, she carried her own rifle the whole way. Like a boss
I love you, momma. And I'm so proud of you!