The hard way – This is how we learn

The changing season and dropping temperatures bring along with them an unmatched air of expectation… an itch that cannot be scratched by anything other than the chase. Several weeks into the 2019 hunting season brought along my first opportunity to get some turf on the ol’ kickers and the fresh smell of winter bushveld air. By now I had had my fill of everyone else’s hunts on social media, while streaming hunting shows and reading articles had run their course. I was due…

Having left home in the early hours we were prepped and in the veld as the first rays peaked through the dry sekelbos. Strange how bracing the piercing cold becomes less of a thing when you are in the pursuit of big buck. After a couple of unsuccessful stalks on a herd of blue wildebeest which managed to mysteriously drop the ninja dust we ran across some grazing impala. Having a personal preference for shooting vitals I waived an earlier opportunity at a headshot and waited for my selected buck to get out from behind the brush and turn broadside. The shot landed perfectly behind the shoulder and the buck dropped less than 20 metres from where it stood.

Itch scratched…

Now, there is this phenomenon most hunters and fishermen experience as soon as they have tasted success. It comes in the form of extreme gratitude and excitement of obtaining what you set out for… but amazingly combines itself with a brand-new itch for more. So, like some buck-junkie I managed to calm myself down by realising that it was merely the beginning of my outing and I still had several animals on my list.

As the trip progressed the blue wildebeest and kudu we were targeting managed to remain ever elusive. This meant staying busy by picking off impala and the like to ensure we would meet our target if our fortunes were not to change. The biting cold of the early morning was a distant memory as the midday sun was now encouraging a light sweat. We pressed on and eventually approached a large dam where we spotted four impala rams approaching. En-route to the water these rams could be seen passing through the last section of an enormous field of reeds. The first two were mature rams while the last to emerge were ‘knypkoppe’ (young rams). Beyond the reeds there was a massive clearing where the water level must have been during the rainy season, exactly where we hoped they would slow down or stop. By the time I got set up on the shooting sticks the two front rams had stopped in the clearing. The range was about 280m and I opted for another one of my trusty vital shots. I adjusted the turret, eased my breathing and squeezed off the shot.

Just Plain Hunting - The hard way, this is how we learn
Just Plain Hunting - The hard way, this is how we learn

Now. Here comes ‘the hard way’ mentioned in the title and ultimately the reason I decided to write this post. The suppressor on this rifle beautifully masks the sound of the shot and allows perfect clarity on the meat report, especially at longer ranges. I vividly remember the instant relief I experienced as the thudding sound made its way back to us. The impala buckled its front legs slightly and staggered around before doing the unthinkable… It turned.

When I took the shot the impala was facing the water. The great clearing in front of the animal automatically lead me to believe it would be the obvious destination for the stumbling buck. Not so. Instead of high 5’s and jubilation I was met by both sheer panic and its best friend, debilitating fear. Why didn’t I have the presence of mind to factor the reeds? The reeds, the massive, massive field of reeds right there that could possibly be seen from outer space but not by me for some reason! As these thoughts were running through my mind the ram kept trotting on, now looking much more solid than he did directly after getting hit. Instead of sending a follow-up shot his way to drop him right there I somehow just stood there, hoping each step he took would be his last. He was moving perpendicularly to us so we couldn’t see his line of entry into the reeds, there one second – gone the next.

An awkwardness filled the air. The shot was good, I mean, I heard it land. The guys with me heard it land. I almost expected my mates back home to be phoning me: “great shot man, we heard it land!”. Hopefully we’ll see the ram lying there when we get to the spot, surely? The awkward silence continued as we made our way to the place he stood when I took the shot. It looked like a different world from up close. The soil was dark and the stubby vegetation had a reddish-purple colour to the protruding roots. Great. After a completely unfruitful search for blood we headed for the reeds to try establish a point of entry. These reeds are ridiculous. Spanning hundreds of square metres and topping out at about 3m high you would have zero chance of finding a Toyota in here, even if it were spraying oil from every gasket. Just like my ram it’s safe to say my optimism had turned, no chance of finding this thing. I have been hunting for more than a decade and never lost an animal.

This really sucks.

The rest of the hunt went well. I eventually got the blue wildebeest bull I was after, and although I was extremely grateful, a fraction of heartbreak lingered which I was unable to douse. It felt like slowly recovering from a bad beating and realising my lunch money had been taken too. It’s tough when you feed the jackals and have to pick up the bill on your way out.

So, in the spirit of doing things right and not re-stepping in the turd, I have made a list of lessons learned which will help me going forward and hopefully some of you guys out there too:

  1. Being confident in your ability to make a shot is not sufficient reason to take it.
  2. Always be aware of your surroundings. Don’t just focus on the point of impact.
  3. You can’t accurately predict the travel of an injured animal. Prepare for the worst.
  4. And finally don’t let that itch overpower good judgement.

In a previous post I mentioned an interesting episode I had with a trophy. Hoping to avoid any and all drama for the rest of my hunting days was probably an unrealistic expectation. Sometimes life just happens and you have to get up and soldier on.

Happy hunting!

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