Hoo-ee. Authentic African Adventures has made a real hunter of me.
I had never been hunting before, and never been to Africa, but I like to shoot and got a great deal on a hunting safari at a Friends of NRA Banquet auction. Hanno van Rensburg has started Authentic African Adventures in Baltimore, Limpopo, South Africa, and he and his staff were very helpful with phone calls and emails as we prepared for our big trip. He won the Green Economy Award for 2013, and has a major conservation and wild animal breeding program at his ranch, as well as supporting a local school by providing meat.
There were only two animals on my list when I came to Africa: impala (which was included in hunt package since it is nearly a pest) and the spotted hyena, with sandy yellow fur.
But zebra has such a beautiful hide, and it is a fact that they need to be culled to prevent over grazing. To make the first shot was a big hump for me since I wanted so much for an honorable kill. I know many of you won't understand that concept, but I hope you will at least give it a try.
While at Balule Conservation Center in Hoedspriut, Limpopo, I was very impressed with Waterbuck, who sport a big white circle on their rump, very distinctive. They are in same IUCN category as Impala, so I decided to add Waterbuck as well.
I was embarrassed to admit it at first, because it was so over-the-top, but here is the story of my first day as a huntress.
For the first three days, I drove around Hanno's several thousand hectares with the other hunters in my party, doing some tracking but cleanly missing two perfectly set-up shots at the same impala. The first time, the rifle went high and to the left, at 100 yards, as it had done when I practiced at the shooting range my first day here (I am a left-handed shooter). By the second try, my heart was pounding too hard to keep rifle steady on the shooting sticks, no matter how much breathing and regrouping I tried.
The other hunters teased me about my "sissy pad," which I wore to protect my shoulder. I think that is the technical name. But my shoulder protection deserved to be called such. I hadn't spent money to purchase a commercial product, since I didn't even know if I would like hunting. But I had a long, padded, 2-pocket oven mitt, with which I could retrieve a hot casserole dish from the oven. With one end hanging down my back, and a dish towel folded into the front mitt pocket, it was perfectly serviceable. Admittedly, it did look funny and as the days went on I wore it under progressively deeper layers of clothes, trying to keep it from slipping. Besides, no self respecting animal would allow itself to be shot by an old lady obviously wearing an oven mitt.
On the fourth day, I was taken by myself to a different ranch, with two guides and a driver, plus another man whom the owner always wants to have accompany people on his property. These are not game farms, with animals confined to a few acres plots, but rather thousands of hectares of free range.
As soon as we got to the hunting area, there was a huge open field, full of animals grazing. Oryx (Gemsbok), Impala, Wildebeest, Red Hartebeest, ostrich -- and at least 3 herds of zebra with more than 30 animals in each.
Kyne Edwards, my main guide, was terrific. He talked me through everything and reassured me that we had lots of time, didn't need to rush anything. He showed me some tricks about how to hold the rifle down onto the shooting sticks so it didn't wobble. I was so focused on each step of the process that I forgot to be excited and the gun was absolutely steady as I aimed at the big zebra.
I was glad to see that my animal was really old, his hooves so worn that he would have died in agony in another year.
Loading a large zebra onto a vehicle which does not have a winch was a real challenge. Luckily, we had a lot of manpower (and needed it all). Because it was so soon into the day, my guide called back to Hanno's for another vehicle to come get the zebra so we could hunt some more.
We drove around the beautiful land for two more hours and were heading home for lunch when there was an almost perfect shot for a Waterbuck. You are supposed to aim for the shoulder, but this one was slightly quartered to me and my guide suggested the bullet should go a little more toward the front.
This time the animal ran and I was afraid I'd goofed, but we tracked the blood and it was dead less than 40 yards away. When we rolled him over, it was apparent that he had been gored in his hip some weeks ago, probably in a fight, and had infection there -- another occasion when my gun prevented suffering.
It was easier to load the Waterbuck, though he was also pretty big. When we showed up for lunch with another animal, the skinners were surprised.
Not 15 minutes from the gate after lunch, there were two impalas fighting, one on each side of a cattle fence. I set up my shot from the safari vehicle this time, which is legal in South Africa. Just then a huge water truck turned down the red sand road, coming toward us. The ram looked up at us, back at the big truck, over the fence at his opponent, back again at the big truck. With a last look over the fence, he jumped into the bush and disappeared.
But you could read that last look: "Just you wait, buddy, I'll be right back!"
So we waited too, and sure enough, no sooner had the truck passed than my rutting Impala leapt back onto the road, making the "HUFF" that sounds like it comes from a much larger animal, quite intimidating to hear when you are deep in bush, tracking a critter.
Mr Impala immediately became a good example of the old adage about males having a brain and a gonad but only enough blood to operate one at a time.
Now what to do for the rest of the afternoon? This is fun!
Kyne and I talked it over and he told me that there are no spotted hyena in this part of Africa, just brown hyena. Humph, I wanted that sandy spotted look. No only that, Kyne said, the US does not allow import of hyena hide. Well, for heaven's sake!
Not long after, he was able to set me up for a perfect shot at a red Hartebeest. We were home by 16:30. I think the skinners were glad I was done hunting and would just be a. Observer fir the rest of the time. I only used 6 bullets in all, including an extra mercy shot for zebra and Hartebeest, though they all went down in place or a few yards away.
Pretty amazing day for a rank beginner. I didn't know how much so till we spent the next 3 days trolling for kudu with an expert hunter, who lives in Alaska and hunts and fishes for all his food. He finally got huge one on the third day.
Authentic African Adventures has made a real hunter of me. I think I'll make my "lucky oven mitt," a proper "camo" cover when I get home.