Suddenly Piet stopped and hissed, “There, shoot him!”
The stalk was so quick I’d yet to pull the binocular to my eyes. Now I didn’t need to—the bull stood a mere 40 yards away, and it was clearly a good one. It stomped, bobbed its head and glared at us.
“Shoot!” hissed Piet.
I centered the reticle on the bull’s chest, imagined the bullet’s path to the beast’s heart, held my breath and began my squeeze ….Boom!
I worked the bolt on the .375 and prepared to shoot again as the bull shuddered, wheeled and ran out of sight. We listened intently for a telltale death bellow, but after a few moments it was obvious there would be none. After a while we made our way over the hill slowly and found the bull motionless. It all happened so fast I didn’t have time to appreciate the hunt, the stalk … any of it. The jewel of this eight-day safari lay dead at my feet, and it was only day two. It all seemed so anticlimactic: What was left? Plenty, it turns out.
Any trip to Africa should be anxiously anticipated—the sights, sounds and smells to be experienced are enough alone to warrant it. But any excitement I harbored before I left the States was quashed when the buffalo fell quickly, and I realized I didn’t have a clue what else I wanted to hunt. I’d been to South Africa twice before and already killed many of the animals available here in the Northern Province. So I decided to just follow the lead of my PH, Pieter Jansen, to simply enjoy myself and hunt.
The rest would come naturally. I just didn’t expect things to come at my expense. We tiptoed along the Nwanedi River, hoping to scare up a duiker. We did— more than one, actually. Every time the little buggers darted from cover my heart stopped; they carried small horns, according to Piet, which was good because I never had a shot. In the afternoon we built a blind on a bluff overlooking a waterhole; maybe we could wait for one. Before long a gray loerie settled in above us. Juxtaposed against the beautiful green canopy, its ashen gray plumage was a rather dreary spot and easy to find. Long ago Afrikaners named it the “go-away bird.” Soon it’s waahh … waahh announced to everything in the brush, “Here, here, they’re right here.” Piet and I looked at each other: Which one of us would shoot the little tattletale first. But before we could acknowledge the thought an impala cautiously approached the water. It took forever to lower its head and drink.
“Do you want an impala,” he whispered.
“Nah, I’ve shot three.” Piet raised his binocular, lowered it and asked again: “You sure? It’s a good ram. Awfully nice.”
“No, I’m sure. I want a duiker,” I whispered. “And a giant kudu … maybe a baboon.”
We both chuckled. Soon the ram was joined by other impalas, and in unison we both raised our binoculars to observe them. Before us were perhaps a dozen of the world’s most beautiful creatures.
The word “antelope” is derived from the Greek word meaning “brightness of eye.” There are more than 80 species of them, mostly in Africa, and a few others in Asia. They range in size from 8 pounds (the royal antelope) to 2,000 pounds (the giant eland). All males and many females grow horns. All are ruminants that grind cud into pulp.
The word “impala” comes from the Zulu language. The animal is spread across mostly southern Africa. It is dependent on water, and active day and night. Its eyes, like all prey animals, lie alongside its head, and its pupils are elongated, the better to spy predators not only to the front but also to the rear. When alarmed the whole herd may leap about to confuse predators. Impalas can clear 30 feet in a single bound, and rise as high as 8 feet when doing so. Graceful and swift with a fawn-colored coat, it is surely one of the most elegant animals on Earth. I always found it odd that Chevrolet would name its big land yacht after such a diminutive creature. I can think of a lot of things to call it (eland comes to mind), but not an impala.
My biggest regret is that I didn’t take a picture of that ram, nor of the gray loerie. I hope my words adequately paint the pictures I saw.