Take what Africa gives you is an old saying that I always thought to mean, just go hunt and see what you see. I guess different people can translate it different but to me it’s like saying don’t worry about how big or what animal and don’t pass up animals looking for bigger animals, just take what Africa gives you. That’s basically how I hunt anyway.
I do think the saying needs to be revised a little to say, take what Africa gives you that your budget allows, because a man with any shooting skill at all could go broke real fast in Africa. The days of the 30 or 40 day Safaris with endless animals you can take and millions of acres to hunt are over for most people. I’m sure there is an elite few that can honestly just go shoot whatever they want and however many they want but I’m not a part of that group by any means.
Today’s South Africa is all about packages, and having a list of animals to hunt, and game farming, and culling, I’m not saying it’s bad it’s just the way it is. There are other parts of Africa that you can hunt that are wild and free and remote but the most hunting from foreigners is done in South Africa on farms.
On the second day of hunting zebras in South Africa and basically getting beat down from the up and down hills and shifting wind and all manner of other things I said to myself, take what Africa gives you, and that turned out to be the best decision I made on the trip and landed me one of the best animals I’ve ever taken.
The plan when I left the US was to take two zebras on this trip, one for a pedestal mount and one for a rug. I wasn’t dead set on two but absolutely had to have one and I would’ve hunted as long as it took to get one so that was top priority.
We started the day like most any other in Africa with a nice cool drive and see what we could find as far as sign goes. It didn’t take long to come across some tracks and the guys determined there was a big stallion in the group so off we went.
Now I’m not a great tracker and Im nothing compared to any native of Africa that you will find in the bush. These guys are like animals, they truly see every sign left by any animal and can tell a lot about speed, direction, sex of the animal, age, all sorts of things that most Americans can’t fathom. That being said even I can follow a herd of zebra tracks in soft ground but as the ground got harder and even turned to rocks and gravel they never missed a beat and I was basically lost. Once I was shown what was what I could see it and understand what was going on but these guys did it at a pace that only people that are truly from the bush can do.
Up and down the hills we went, back and forth across the hills only to close to shooting distance and have the wind shift or an unseen impala give us away.
At one point the wind hit my back suddenly and I cringed because I knew we were close. Zebras exploded from cover and the entire herd disappeared over the next hill. The sound of a herd of zebras stampeding on lose gravel is quite a commotion and actually a cool sound unless you have been hiking the hills all day for them and haven’t gotten a shot.
On our walk back to the truck tired and defeated Bossie, the PH, says to me, chasing zebras in the hills is not a boys game, and a truer statement was never made. I couldn’t believe we were having such a hard time.
I had shot a zebra the day before right at dark and it was the first zebra I had seen the entire hunt. I knew they were hard to hunt but I thought we learned something and we could put the slip on them today. The only thing I learned was they are harder to hunt than I thought and they run fast.
I mistakenly thought the hunt would be on flatter ground and less brush and the zebras had that option but they took to the hills the first chance they got.
After the hunt the day before and now this day I was already starting to question if hunting another zebra was the right choice. We had seen several other animals that were nice, waterbuck, wildebeest, kudu, bush buck, any of these would be awesome animals to take but I had my mind on a zebra.
We finally stopped for lunch and made our way up to the top of a hill where we could glass several areas that held water hoping to catch a herd moving to get a mid day drink. Bethuel, the driver and tracker, climbed to the top of the tallest tree on the hill. Everyone glassed for awhile hoping for any glimpse of stripes to give us a direction to go but it was no use.
How a black and white animal can disappear in the bush like they do is beyond me but they do.
Before we left the states Mary Ann had mentioned she really liked the looks of gemsbok and would like a nice mount in the house and so would I but I had made a plan and a budget and I was trying to stick to it. That afternoon we caught a glimpse of two real nice gemsbok and I’ll admit I was impressed and wanted to hunt one right then. Mary Ann already loved them and after seeing them up close was even more in love.
The afternoon passed with a few sightings of giraffe, and steenbok, rhino and wildebeest and a few other things but no zebra and no real shot at anything good. As the evening approached we made the decision to sneak up on a few water holes as that had been what worked the day before on the first zebra.
Water hole after water hole we would sneak and no zebra. Finally at dark thirty we drove passed a water hole rather than sneak up on it as I thought it was too dark to make a shot anyway, of course there they are two zebras getting a drink. We drove passed the water and jumped out of the truck a hundred yards down the road and started sneaking back.
Bossie set the sticks and said the one on the left. I pulled up the scope and could barely make out an outline of two animals. As they shuffled around the two silhouettes would become one. It seemed I should have more light in the scope than this. I reached up to the power adjustment and realized I had it on 14 still from back when we were on the hill and I thought I seen a kudu so I cranked it down to 4 to allow in more light.
Now having the scope down to 4 I get settled back into the gun and it’s just not enough light. Bossie says you gotta shoot now if you are going to. I said I can’t, I just can’t make out exactly where I want to hit.
I got a little upset about it but at the same time I was happy that we didn’t have a wounded animal to track. The team had worked hard all day and we had nothing to show for it. They did their job and put the animal in my scope and I just couldn’t make it work out. The walk back to the truck was quiet.
No one at anytime put pressure on me to shoot except me. I wanted so bad to make these guys proud but at the same time I didn’t want us out tracking a zebra all night or worse having a leopard find it and eat it and I still have to pay for a zebra that I fed to a leopard.
We got back to the lodge and I told the guys hey I’m sorry, they all said don’t worry about it we are glad you didn’t shoot if you weren’t comfortable.
That night I dreamed that I had shot a gemsbok. I don’t remember the exact situation I just remember a dead gemsbok laying there and everybody was congratulating me and then I woke up.
When the alarm sounded and Mary Ann got up I told her we are gonna kill a gemsbok today. She said I thought we were hunting zebras again, I said we are gonna take what Africa gives us and just go hunt.
I had already paid most of my safari and I told Bossie look let’s just go hunt and if we see a zebra that’s cool but I didn’t like the feeling of the pressure I felt to kill a certain animal so let’s just go hunt and see what happens. I’ll pay whatever within reason if something real nice comes along but I would rather just go out and hunt and not be dead set on getting a zebra all the while letting great opportunities go by.
We started the day in the area that the zebras hang out. We had enlisted some help from the ranch. I don’t know the mans name and I’m sorry but he was a skinner there and supposedly knew the ranch well so we loaded him up too.
Off we went 7 of us, surely no critters could sneak by 7 sets of eyes. We would drive looking for sign or animals and then get out to make a stalk, that’s pretty standard procedure.
We started our drive along the river and there was no shortage at all of game. Huge herds of Impala criss crossed through the bush and across the river, I had already taken three impala so I didn’t feel like I needed another one just yet. Large groups of kudu mostly cows and small bulls, any sizable bull made himself scarce pretty quick. At one point as we crossed the dry river bed a huge group of vervet monkeys took to the trees. These are the little grey monkeys with blue testicles or as young DJ the PHs son affectionally referred to them as “them blue balled bastards”.
These things are hated by everyone I met in Africa and I seen why at the lodge one day. A huge group came off the mountain jumped on to the roof of the lodge ran across the roof then onto the clothes line pulling all the clothes off the line then stole the dogs food and ran back up the mountain before I could even get a gun. They are cool to watch but very destructive. I wanted to shoot a big one too so we stopped and watched them waiting for a shot but no luck.
So off we went down the road paralleling the river. On our left was the dry river bed and our right was a pretty steep hill so most everyone’s attention was focused on the river bed and beyond it.
I caught a glitter of sunlight off something at the rivers edge as the light was just getting down into the river over the steep hills. How I seen it before anyone else I don’t know because these guys could spot game better than anybody I’d ever seen. I grabbed Bossie by the arm and said there through the next opening I seen something. When the truck cleared the brush right there across the river was a big old gemsbok bull with his head down getting a drink from a small puddle.
I couldn’t believe it! I’m not the kinda guy that’s a believe in miracles and dreams come true and all that kind of stuff type of guy but here is a gemsbok bull in a very huntable situation and we had only seen two others in a week and they were both running through the brush. I just knew when I seen it I was going to kill that bull, I wasn’t sure how just yet but it seems like it was meant to be.
Bethuel was driving and from his position down low he didn’t see it so we let him drive on up the road a few hundred yards then we stopped the truck and made a plan. I honestly didn’t expect the bull to still be near the river, I figured he would go back up the hill when the truck passed.
We got our gear and started our walk back down the river road. The road was sandy and a line of brush along the rivers edge kept us hid, it was the perfect situation. We walked a couple hundred yards peaking through the brush trying to get a glimpse but it wasn’t until we were basically in good shooting range that we seen him.
He was still across the river near the same spot I first spotted him. I knew I was gonna have to shoot fast when the sticks went up because the brush behind him was thick and there was no way he was gonna go across the river.
Bossie set the sticks up and the brush on our side of the bank was too thick so he started to lower the sticks down to a kneeling position. I thought to myself this is going to be tough. The animal is across the river slightly above us and the brush on our side was thick so I had to shoot from a knee under the brush but shooting up hill made for an awkward shooting stance but there’s no time to worry about it.
The bull by now had an idea something was going on, he had raised his head and was looking in our direction. I asked Bossie how far and he said 150, there was no time to range him.
Now let me say this before all you safari people tell me always trust your PH, never second guess your PH, and all that, I get it and for a week everyday I never once had a second thought about anything this man said or did. I fully trusted him, hell I trusted him with my life, that’s his job to keep me from getting killed in a country full of things that want to kill you. We had already had a couple elephant encounters and was chased from our fishing hole by a hippo earlier in the week and I never once thought Bossie was not doing the right thing but when he said 150 my brain shouted no.
Now completely into the sticks and in the best shooting position I was gonna get I found the bull in the scope. He was beautiful, I don’t know much about them but I know enough about animals in general to know when something is old and he was old. The fronts of his horns at the base were rubbed flat from years of fighting. His horns although not that long were heavy and stout. You could tell his body was not what it used to be, he was a loner now that his breeding days were over. I’m sure he lost a fight to a bull in his prime and was now cast from the herd. The absolute perfect animal to take and the fact that Mary Ann had wanted one and now seeing it my scope I was in love too made this almost too good to be true.
I knew the distance wasn’t 150 but I didn’t say that, I didn’t have time to discus it, I needed to get off a good shot and quick. The bull was quartering to us and honestly I’m not even sure if Bossie told me to shoot or wait or any instruction at all. I was focused on the crosshairs and the bulls chest and I thought to myself I hope I’m right on this distance but my gut just told me it was 200+. I know you’er probably thinking what’s the difference in a few inches from 150 to 225. Well broad side or straight on not much but slightly quartering toward you if you miss low the bullet is now moving to the side of the animal too not just down.
I’ll try to explain. If you draw a line perfectly vertical line and shoot for a spot in the middle of that line and you miss the elevation you will still hit the line just lower than intended. Now if you draw a line at a 45 degree angle and shoot for a spot and miss your elevation you miss the line all together because as the bullet drops it gets farther from the line. The bullet path and line only intersect in one spot. So if I miss this elevation the chances of hitting this bull in the center are not good due to the angle.
I held on the top of his chest at the point his neck starts, figuring if Bossie is right I’ll hit him there and if I’m right hopefully it gets enough of the vitals on the quartering angle to take him down and then I squeezed.
Shooting a suppressed rifle with internal muzzle break is great because not only is there very little recoil but the noise is almost non existent so the shooter can hear the report of the bullet hitting the animal no matter the distance.
I couldn’t see the bull after the shot but heard the familiar whhhhop of the bullet smacking solid in the chest. The boys were all behind me kneeled down single file watching over my shoulder. Simone the main skinner and tracker said very good shot he is down. I was surprised to hear that, I fully expected to have made a good shot but didn’t think he would go down in his tracks.
I stood up and looked behind me and it was all smiles, the whole crew seen him go down and they were happy about it, as was I.
Bossie radioed for the truck to turn around and we walked across the river to see the bull. I was ecstatic, he was better than I thought. I don’t know the length of the horns and I don’t care. The bull over all was awesome, perfect horns, perfect hide, perfect hunt, perfect shot, the whole scene was perfect. I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about it. All the boys were happy, I was happy, Mary Ann was gonna get her gemsbok mount she wanted and I had another awesome trophy. It could not have been better.
We had good light hitting the sandy river bottom so we took a lot pictures of the bull and the whole crew. The huge boulders and sandy ground surrounded by the tall trees was a scene I won’t forget.
Getting the truck across the sandy river bottom was tricky but between the seven of us we got the bull loaded and the truck back on the road and we headed for the skinning shed. Its a full load with seven people and a gemsbok bull all in the truck but we made it without any issue.
At the skinning shed the guys were working on a load of wart hogs that a meat hunter had brought in but they stopped to unload the gemsbok and everyone there was impressed with the old bull, even the old meat hunter said congratulations sir that is a great old bull.
I noticed when we were unloading the bull that he had tiny shriveled testicles, I know go ahead and laugh and get it out of your system, but seriously something was wrong. I asked Bossie what was up and he said, use it or lose it. What do you mean I said? He said he hadn’t bred in awhile and now as he was aging they were starting to draw up. Poor guy had no friends, couldn’t get a girlfriend and then got shot trying to get a drink. This exact animal is the animal that should be taken from the land. He had done his part in his youth and now it’s time for new genes to be spread, knowing this made me even happier to have him.
This was my 6th or 7th African animal and I had been fortunate to have made one shot kill shots on all of them including a giraffe. I do shoot a lot but that’s not all that goes into it. Having a good team to get you in a position to make the shot is important and having a weapon that can do it. All these things added together make for great shot placement and that makes for easy tracking and happy trackers. What I didn’t know about our trackers was that they had really been admiring my shooting and had gone as far as to tell the skinners on the ranch we were on how good I was shooting.
When the bull was unloaded I stepped out of the skinning shed to take a look around. I wanted to help but I learned early on that’s their job and they feel if you help it is an insult to them like they can’t do it or that you don’t want to pay them for doing it so I only watched and learned. Also they get first chance at the parts they like most like the heart and liver. This group kept the liver and was cleaning it when I got back.
I walked passed a tent house and a small boy peaked out and then hid behind the canvas door quickly. I stopped, and he peaked again and again quickly hid. The third time he came out slowly and I was smiling and waving and he gave me a quick wave before hiding again. I would like to know what he thought of me. He has likely never left that ranch and has only seen a handful of white people and most of those were the owners and operators of the ranch. Now here’s this 6’4″ bearded, long haired, goofy looking white dude glaring into his house, it’s no wonder the little guy was hiding. I later learned that his dad was the guy who skinned my bull so that liver he had kept from it would be this little mans supper that night and that was awesome to know.
I walked away smiling and stopped to pet the dog when I heard Bethuel yelling at me to come over. When I got to the skinning shed I heard Simone saying, one shot, one shot, my Mr. and point at me. He was telling the other guys who had been on the track for another hunters zebra for two days that their hunter was killing everything in one shot and I guess maybe they didn’t believe him.
They had cut the heart out of the bull and washed it and right in the center of it was the bullet hole which meant my yardage estimation was pretty close because had I held dead on the heart at 150 I would’ve surely missed the bull low. Bethuel held it up and said one shot very good, and the rest of the guys smiled. It was awesome to see the guys I had grown to love over the last week being proud of me and telling the others about me. It makes their job way easier when they aren’t on long tracking jobs and it’s just more fun for everybody. The mood is better, the day is easier, and it just makes for a better experience. After having experienced Africa and it’s people I don’t think of that old saying, take what Africa gives you the same anymore. That little boy watching from behind that canvas, and the sun hitting that bulls horns, and the boys bragging to their friends about my shooting, that’s what Africa gave me. Hunting is fun but the other memories that are made because of the hunt are what Africa gives you. Everybody that’s been hunting in South Africa basically has a small collection of the same animals but nobody’s memories are ever the same. Those are yours, the scenes I see and the memories made with Mary Ann and that team of guys are the real trophy that Africa gave me and I will take that to my grave.