The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Way Hunting Should Be

Bait and friends

In Green Hills of Africa, Ernst Hemingway when pressed by the approaching raining season says that “it is not pleasant to have a time limit by which you must get your kudu or perhaps never get it, nor even see one. It is not the way hunting should be.” The problem is, paraphrasing José Ortega y Gasset, that “in our rather stupid time” we do have time limits for almost everything we do, especially for taking a “vital vacation from the human condition.”
So, in order to avoid feeling pressed by time I just decided that during my week hunting in the Limpopo I would not be a slave of time, and this would only be possible if I really accepted that “the hunter does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, he kills in order to have hunted,” and specially that although the kill consummates the hunt, one does not necessarily needs to kill every time in order to have a great hunt.
This more relaxed attitude allowed me to enjoy the hunting much more, and also take time to spend with friends and their families during the week, have long relaxing conversations during the all too frequent meals that almost put an end to my diet, appreciate the people that welcomed me to their home, and learn as much as possible, from conversations, observations and even actions.
So, on my first morning, Sunday 12th July, I did not set an alarm clock and when I woke up the sun was high in sky and I walked out in my pajamas to great Fanie and Pieter and their families, Ana and Richard. By mid-morning I finally got dressed in more appropriate safari clothes (meaning the same green Bermuda shorts and shirt that I use on a warm weekend around my home) and climbed in the Land Cruiser to drive around the farm, visit each of the four blinds (Buffalo Thorn or Wag-'n-bietjie, Kudu which is the only one without a “water hole”, Impala or Rooibokke and Waterbuck or Waterbokke) while distributing some supplemental feed to help the herd during the dry South African winter.
But even an unpretentious drive can bring surprises, especially when we encountered a small bachelor herd that had at least two Kudu with horns between 55 and 60 inches. Back in 2005 on my first safari I shot an Eastern Cape Kudu that is a beautiful representative specimen for the area, but the Greater Kudu appears to be much larger. Although I love hunting Kudu and in my opinion it is the most beautiful of all antelope and perhaps of all antlered or horned animals, I had already decided that I would not hunt for Kudu this time. My goal was to relax and enjoy a relaxing hunt, and not to drive myself to my physical and psychological limits in a quest for Kudu. But when you see the magnificent animal the heart accelerates, the trigger finger trembles, and your previous resolution is brutally tempted. Oh well, I did not have my bow with me, so it was not so hard to resist temptation.

The Limpopo semi-arid bosveld is both beautiful and diverse and each turn of the dirt road or clump of thorn bushes could hide a new surprise. I knew that bow hunting in Africa would have certain similarities to bow hunting for whitetail deer in Michigan or bear hunting in Ontario: sitting in blind, be quiet and wait…and wait…wait. But it can also be very different, since the hunter will have the opportunity and pleasure to watch and admire a greater number of species and specimens of large game animals in one morning in Africa than in many seasons back home.
Anyhow, after the recognizance drive we came back for a very large breakfast that may or may not have involved a couple beers (it is always after five some place in the world), and then shooting some arrows on a target formally to sight in the bow, but really to allow Richard to evaluate if the hunter (in this case, me) would be able to kill cleanly and not injure and inflict suffering to his animals. And during the it became clear to me that Richard really loves his animals.
By midafternoon, after a nap to fight the jetlag and while Fanie started the braai Simon drove Richard and me to Wag-'n-bietjie, the closest blind to farm compound. In order to not disturb or alarm the animals, there is very little walking on the farm during hunting season. The hunter is driven on the open Land Cruiser to the blind, and after the hunter is inside the blind the door is closed from the outside in order to prevent the temptation to roam around. Along with biltong and drinks, we would also have a couple pee bottles and a radio to call Simon to come and retrieve us, either after a shot was taken or when it was simply time to go.

Soon after we were imprisoned in the blind and Simon left the parade started. First came the birds, doves and pigeons, sand grouse and francolins, and then the boisterous guinea fowl. Shortly after, I was introduced to Bait. In order to bring new blood line and avoid consanguinity, it is the practice in South Africa, where most huntable private land is high-fenced, to introduce new animals to the herds. Bait was one of a couple young impala rams that roamed around the compound, and was clearly recognized by a red tag in its right year. His close friend traitor had the tag in the left year. I only gave them their names towards the end of the week, for whenever we hunted Wag-'n-bietjie either one or both of them would be the first animals in after the Simon left in the Land Cruiser.

Afterwards a herd of Red Hartebeest arrived, but no mature male came close to the water. As the sun started to dip behind the trees that separated Wag-'n-bietjie from the open veldt the wary Blesbok came in. While the hartebeest were almost relaxed and stayed around munching on the feed and licking salt for a long time, the blesbok very cautious and suspicious, and as soon as they drank their fill they hightailed back to the security of the open veldt. During all the time Richard would calmly explain the behavior of each species, how to differentiate between male and female, young and mature animals. He would also patiently answer to my never ending torrent of questions.

By the time the blesbok departed it was becoming too dark to shoot, so Richard radioed Simon to pick us up and after the first cold Carlin Black Label we sat for dinner with roulades (pork, smoked pork and pork belly), roasted corn and squashes. To put the night to bed we polished the remaining Macallan while making plans (or would we better call them dreams) for the following days.

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