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Best Laid Plans (Part II)

Nowhere else in the world provides the ups and downs of Africa.

Nights around the campfire, as in hunting camps everywhere, became something to anticipate. One fellow, Jean, had a guitar, and after a couple of nights listening to him I got the urge to play along. There was a drum by the fire—the kind tourists buy. It was huge, and the sticks were even bigger, more like femur bones. It wasn’t a setup one could really expect to play, but I picked it up anyway.

“I didn’t know you could play the drums,” someone shouted above the din. “I began taking lessons when I was 7,” I replied.

I’m not sure anyone believed me until I struck a beat that inspired Jean to strum a riff unlike he’d played for two nights straight. After that, we had a grand time; I’d pound out a new beat, he’d pick up the rhythm and off we’d go. Everyone danced, everyone laughed, everyone drank. I don’t know what time we quit.

Before I hit the sack Piet approached me: “Scott, if you want a red hartebeest, I have a plan.” “Okay,” I said.

■ ■ ■

The “plan” was to drive two hours to another farm that held red hartebeest; sounded good to me. Once there, we found a giant baobab tree topped by an observation platform, a quick climb up the rickety steps provided an outstanding view of thousands of acres. Atop the ancient tree (baobabs live thousands of years), one couldn’t help but feel small. But despite our vantage and plenty of scouring on the ground, the first day on that farm yielded nothing.

The next morning we took up the track of a herd that watered before dawn. Yards quickly turned into hundreds of yards, which turned into thousands. The sun rose quickly and it got hot fast. We plodded along. I’d stepped off 3,000 meters when we glimpsed the herd across a ravine.

They saw us, too. Quietly but quickly we moved to close the gap. But on the other side we saw only swishing tails disappear through the brush. And so it went: We’d cut the gap, only to have the rear sentry wheel and take its friends with it in a cloud of dust. We engaged in this cat-and-mouse for perhaps another 500 yards before the tracks petered out amid lots of rocks and little dirt that yielded fewer clues.

A half-hour later, after some spirited back-and-forth with the tracker, the PH removed his cap, scratched his head and said, “He’s lost the track. It’s getting late. We’ll try again this afternoon.”

I shrugged, but inside I raged. I wanted to bark at them both: “What do you mean he’s lost the bloody track? After three hours and three-and-half clicks? Tell him to find it!” In fact, that’s exactly how I rehearsed it in my head, but I said nothing. These guys do it better than I ever could, and it would do no good to get on their bad side.

My silence paid off at dark. We’d pursued another herd of hartebeest for hours. Every time we closed the gap they’d snort and bolt and we’d start after them again. Then, as we stood in the twilight wondering whether to try it one more time a duiker sprung from cover before us. The three of us glanced at each other. I quietly worked the bolt on the .300. “Can we shoot duikers here?”

Piet and a skinner from the farm engaged in a quick back-and-forth. “Yes,” said the PH.

Boom! So fell my second animal on day four. By then I should’ve had three or four animals, by safari standards. But I wasn’t complaining. There would be plenty of time for that.

■ ■ ■

The next day I was questioning my sanity and my luck when we got word some guy shot a 59-inch kudu on a farm nearby. Do I really want a hartebeest this bad? I wondered.

After lunch we spied another herd. A quick stalk with the wind in our favor was stymied when a sentry in the group grew curious. We squatted and waited. Occasionally Piet would rise above the tall grass to get a peek, then squat again. I wanted to look too, but thought better of it. Minutes ticked by and I began to get sleepy.

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