Posted by Eric on 3/27/2020 to South Africa
Second to last day... I had gone from some feelings of anxiety due to how much success Marty and Ruth had in their first days of hunting, to some uncertainty about whether or not we would be able to connect on our final three list animals: Bushbuck, Warthog & Steenbuck. Couple this consideration with the fact that Marty was now chomping at the bit to nab either another Kudu or Nyala with the pistol and our final two days of hunting were sure to be full.
Even though hunting at Coppermoon with the laid back Denver Gowar & Co had been yielding great results, we had frequently been stiffed by both the Steenbuck and Bushbuck with an honorable mention going to the Warthog. What I haven't told you yet is that first evening we connected on my Kudu we spotted a pretty dandy Warthog in and around the watering hole we were glassing prior to moving and making a stalk on my Kudu bull. I was able to get a few crummy iPhone photos of one through the spotting scope that whet my appetite for sure. The catch 22 of that encounter was this: had I taken a 400 yard shot at that first Warthog on Friday night, Day 5, there's a pretty good chance we may have never connected on a mature Kudu due to their scarcity as well. Not sure about you guys, but I was going to take the opportunity at my African dream animal 9 times out of 10. And remember I saw immediate action upon arriving at Coppermoon with my Springbuck, so it's not like I was hurting for success.
The Bushbuck was a different story (don't worry I'll come back to the Warthog albeit a little out of order). My 2nd day there, Saturday evening and Day 6 of hunting, we moved off site to a local farm featuring lush, knee high alfalfa fields where we set up on an irrigation center pivot over looking some very thick river bottom brush. Quite honestly, had you told me I was sitting on a center pivot in central Nebraska I would have had no reason to believe otherwise. Remember before when I said that hunting Africa allowed us to employ a number of different hunting strategies all packed into one? This stand was the perfect example of that. As we drove to the spot and Denver explained the nature of the Bushbuck, I got more and more excited. These shelter seeking critters carry some interesting features that might remind you of a North American Whitetail: they prefer closed in areas, they're extremely sensitive to wind, they don't mind being out in the rain one bit, and if you don't make a clean hit they'll run for days. Denver also mentioned several times that he WILL NOT take dogs in to track a wounded Bushbuck because they've been known to kill dogs in close proximity with their heavy and sharply pointed horns.
We sat that first evening and saw nothing. Not one animal. Well Dad thought he may have seen one at a distance running but it was a ways away and none of us got a positive ID. Skunked.
Tuesday morning we headed out again to the same property but sat in a different spot where we could see further. Again, skunked. Almost. We saw a couple Warthogs and piglets but nothing worth slinging a 375 JDJ over 250 yards at. Then while we were walking off the property on a far hillside on the other side of the river I spotted a dark little figure running in the opposite direction with no intention of slowing down. Bushbuck. Knowing we wouldn't have a chance at all we headed back to Coppermoon to see if we would be able to find that Warthog that had eluded us so keenly. Our plan was to come back that evening, probably in the rain, but knowing the wind would be calm and our chances of spotting a solid Bushbuck ram should increase. They had to. We were almost out of time.
Back at Coppermoon, we drove and glassed and drove and glassed and drove and glassed. Over and over. Several pigs found their way through our binoculars but none even close to the mature boar we were looking for. I told Denver I wanted a pig big enough to look like his front tusks touched his ears in a head-on photo. This meant he was locked in. It also meant he was about as picky as you could imagine when making stalks on pigs. One group of 3 pigs yielded a nice round bodied boar but he was just apparently young and well fed because you could barely make out his cutters in the scope. The evening before back at the watering hole we had watched a group of 5 pigs meander from left to right in to the spring and then a half hour later back out, bodies glistening from the mud and water they wallowed in to help cool themselves in the heat of the day.
FINALLY, that Tuesday afternoon (Day 9), while cresting a hill and glassing a valley 1500 yards below, Denver spotted a "nice fat pig with good tusks" and the stalk was on. We drove the truck another 500 yards down behind a mountain to remain unseen. After dismounting and gathering our gear, we descended, hopped a drainage ditch then began to climb the mountain picking our way through brush and boulders then wisely skirted around the back of the peak before sneaking over the crest for a quick look. While on our way we noticed a VERY nice Nyala bull with a group of ewes. Worth noting here, the size difference in male & female Nyala is so drastically distinct that it requires the males to be referred to as bulls while the females are classified as ewes. Unlike the common bulls = cows and rams = ewes designation of the rest of African plains game.
It took us a few moments to re-find the Warthogs as they had apparently been feeding in and out of the bush, but Colani with his keen eye was able to spot the tusker 250 yards out. We were still concealed well, but Denver wanted to get closer so the three of us backed out and skirted the back edge of the mountain only to crest the peak again, this time just 203 yards from the pigs. With the Bog Pod set up and the 375 JDJ Contender rifle locked in I squared up and launch the first round noting we were shooting down at an angle of 15 degrees. I expected to see the pig drop hard immediately, which it sort of did but my shot was a little back. The Warthog spun wildly but wasn't really going anywhere. Knowing the shot was fatal but with no desire to prolong life or suffering unnecessarily, I reloaded and got steady, this time sending the 250 grain Lehigh Controlled Fracturing round right through the shoulder quartering to me and Mr. Piggy was down for good. As a side note, I've got to say there is little sound more satisfying than the crack of the suppressed rifle report followed by the infinitesimal moment of silence and the immediate sound of the round connecting with a "THHWAACKKK!".
I carefully picked my way down the steep slope behind Denver and Colani. While I was still weaving through the thick and thorny brush I heard Denver shout out, "Holy cow, this pig's got nips!" (edited for content of course). That's right, it' wasn't a Mr. Piggy after all. It was funny to hear our pro hunter startled to declare that the excellent, mature trophy boar Warthog on which we had just made an outstanding stalk and kill was in all actuality a SOW! "That's the biggest sow warthog I've ever seen" came the remarks from Pro Hunter and trackers alike. It was of no disappointed me to me as I was there after a remarkable pig and we found exactly that. Ironically the 270 pound pig I killed on our last night with Pavur Outdoors in Seymour, TX last December was also a sow and she had some pretty good cutters for a female as well. We took our "grip n' grin" photos and headed back to the skinning shed to drop her off. It was early, and Bushbuck was still on the list.
The rain rolled in that afternoon and didn't have much intention of stopping. Don't think the irony of blessing the "Rains of Africa" was lost on us as we were in and out of the lodge that afternoon forming our game plan for how we would spot and eventually get a shot on a Bushbuck that evening. Even though the rains continued, we weren't sad in the least because of how hot it had been for the majority of our trip thus far, as well as learning that portion of South Africa had been under their worst drought in years. So bad in fact that it was extremely hard on many species in their herds. Just like here, or anywhere for that matter, water is essential for survival, good herd management, antler/horn growth and overall well being of the land. Taking all of this into consideration, we celebrated the rain.
Denver informed us prior to heading out that evening that we would be hunting a new spot on a different farm. As we arrived, it was easy to see that the farm was large, very lush, and divided into tiers due to the large irrigation duct that split the property in half. In addition to the alfalfa feels that surrounded us, we were also in close proximity to sheep pasture. Yep, you read that correctly. The South Africans celebrate mutton the way we Americans enjoy our pork. While they have it, bacon and sausage aren't as plentiful in the way we've grown accustomed to them, but man do they love lamb chops. Couple the utilitarian uses of how delicious lamb with the wool industry, and you've got the recipe for a sustainable and well built agricultural foundation. We set up to glass two lower fields between an irrigation ditch and a sheep pasture. The fields were 1/4-1/3 of a mile or so directly below us and we watched intently for Bushbuck to emerge as the rain fell steadily and the sheep "baaaaaa'd" in a constant chorus creating a soundtrack for the evening.
Speaking of soundtracks, and needing a little bit of luck and maybe even some humor to liven up our damp situation, Denver found the song "Tequila" on the radio and it became our theme song for that final night and the next day. Because immediately after we all started humming our own renditions of the melody in our heads, he spotted a group of 3 Bushbuck rams in the farthest field, two of which were shooters. Off the 6 of us (Denver, Mom, Dad, Me, Colani & Paul) traipsed into the ditches and out of sight of the field, being careful to stay low and move silently through the rain soaked grass and dips. Every now and then Denver would stop to whisper directions, tell us to watch out for a slick rock or a nasty little cactus, then finish his thought with "Dah duh da da da da da da, TEQUILA" and we'd begin moving again.
When we arrived at the field, it was obvious that the setup would be perfect for us to either sneak up from the ditch to the edge of the bush and set up for a shot, OR line up on the edge with a layer of brush between us and the alfalfa and wait for the skittish Bushbuck to emerge and feed on the lush greens. Quickly and silently, Denver and I moved from the rest of the group back down and around off the corner of the brush to set up for a shot, but just like that they were gone. In the 30-40 seconds it took us to move from the concealment of the woods, back down into the drainage and around to the corner to line up the rifle on the Bog Pod, the rams were gone. Vanished. The light wind was in our favor, the steady wind was still falling, we had never emerged from cover but just like that they disappeared.
So frustrating, but we stayed put. Denver seemed to think that despite the rain, which was steadily picking up pace the longer we sat, the Bushbuck would return to feed and among them one of the shooter rams would return. After a half hour of no action, some ewes began to feed their way out into the field. Actually they would feed out, then as if they lost interest retreat back into the thick reeds and bush on the edge of the field. Then after a few minutes they'd re-emerge as if they left too early and needed seconds, thirds and so forth. The ewes are easier to spot in the fading light because similar to the Nyala, they are a much lighter reddish/brown/fawn color compared to the almost jet black and dark chocolate males. We watched this parade for 90 minutes or so when finally a couple of young rams joined the females in the field feeding carelessly closer and closer in our direction roughly 200 yards away. Still no shooters.
Finally at last light, and nearly two hours into our sit with the rain now pouring in a steady shower Denver spotted a lone ram Bushbuck on the far side of the field. But was he a mature ram? The rain shower was so steady and heavy at this point that it made discerning their horns nearly impossible. Our PH labored over whether or not the ram was worthy for ten minutes or so before eventually conceding, "Yep, I think he's a good one. I can't see his horns at all but judging from his body and the size of his neck I think you should take him". At this point I had only strained to see the Bushbuck through my binoculars, the Leupold BX-3 Mojave 10x42 series and struggled to even make out his dark figure against the backdrop of equally dark woods. With Denver's admission, I pulled the action and scope of my rifle out from under my rain coat and locked it into the Bog Pod. From where we were to where he was Denver called out a range of 236 yards. Rain. Fading light. The ram might as well have been 800 yards away. I dialed my Leupold VX-Freedom scope to 9x and widened my stance. As I pulled the rifle into my shoulder I used my off hand to shade the bell of the scope from the pouring rain. It was enough to lock on to the mature male. He was quartering away and I held the crosshairs of the 375 JDJ Contender on the last rib of the upper 1/3 of his body and exhaled as I squeezed the trigger.
Everything about that moment is cemented in my mind as the absolute favorite hunt of our Africa experience:
- The difficulty of finding a Bushbuck ram to begin with.
- Hunting an area in a foreign place that still reminded me of home.
- Rejoicing in the complexity of the situation as I peeked through a window in the brush to see my parents laughing about being soaked to the bone.
- Actually having the right gear and remembering my rain coat.
- Making a perfect stalk, to the perfect spot.
- Enduring 2 hours of rain, that would come down to one moment.
- The animals having no idea we were there. A perfect ambush.
- The certainty and maturity of our guide/pro hunter to identify the correct animal without relying on horn size to judge.
- The audible payoff of hunting with a suppressed rifle, "TTHHHHWAAACKKK!"
- Walking through soaking wet knee-high alfalfa to see clearly for the first time an animal we had hunted persistently.
The list could go on, but I'm sure you know the end. With that exhale and squeeze of the trigger Denver and I saw the same thing, me through my scope and him through his Vortex Fury range finding binos. The buck disappeared from site as we heard that 250 grain bullet bury itself and inflict untold carnage to the ram's vitals. He was down, and we had won. I let out a howl and gently punched Denver in the shoulder remembering his gripe about how hard I had punched him in the ribs when my bullet connected and toppled that Kudu 5 nights before. As we walked up to the ram, Denver delivered a satisfying, "Da duh da da da da da da, TEQUILA!" and we sat there in the rain laughing, and trying to get some quality photos in the near darkness. The feeling is almost impossible to recreate and accurately communicate but just thinking about it again brings the emotions back as if we're right there.
We traveled to Africa with a certain set of expectations. We wanted to see a lot of animals; that happened daily in spades. We wanted at least good and challenging shot opportunities; we found them almost daily. We wanted to see how the equipment we know and sell and trust would perform; it was proven better than expected. And we wanted to create memories of a lifetime while making friends along the way; there were no shortage of either.
I went with a list of 5 animals I hoped to bring home: Kudu, Impala, Warthog, Blesbuck, Black Wildebeest. I came home with 3 of those 5 and the two replacements having exceeded all of my hopes. My attitude towards the Springbuck and Bushbuck was unfairly laced with disinterest and a lack of respect, and I most definitely hope to add Blesbuck and Impala (not to mention Waterbuck) someday as well. But at the end of the trip, I realize that the two extraordinary animals I most overlooked would create the opening title and eventually the punctuation for the 5 I would bring home. The gorgeous and athletic Springbuck looks like a painting whether lying still or gliding across the plains. And the Bushbuck... I think you know where I stand with him.
One thing is for sure, I cannot wait to go back.