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A World in One Country (Part II)

The campfire stories of a hunt shared beneath South African skies give new meaning to a “girls night out."



Morning began with breakfast and range time. A gleeful Sandy fired several near-perfect shots with her new Kimber M8400 SuperAmerica in .338 Win. Mag. I shot my left-handed Sako .30-06, treasured for the smoothness of its action.
We had nine days to get the four animals in our hunt package: a springbok, mountain reedbuck, blesbok and either a blue or black wildebeest or hartebeest. I jumped into PH Stefan Raubenheimer’s Toyota, eager to see more of the land and its animals, and scanned Tollie’s list of 30-plus available species. Would I expand my package? I thought aloud. “This is the reason everyone comes back,” Stefan said. “You can’t see and do it all in one trip—or two.”


We glassed kudu, gemsbok, nyala, baboon and all three types of springbok—all in one spot. It’s like selecting ice cream flavors, I thought, as game came in large, medium, small, brown, black, white, spotted and striped. By day’s end, my discipline and “as is” hunt package were intact. I’d taken only the common springbok and was eager to see who else had a story.
 Sharing adventures around the bonfire that evening, we all congratulated Shannon on her blue wildebeest; few hunters can say their first animal fell in Africa on their first day afield. We were reminded that while we gathered as a group, each was on a solitary journey.
 Dinner was marked by yet another personal touch from ever-gracious Karen: Places were set with individual menus featuring each hunter’s photo of the day (the “menu surprise” continued all week).

Temptation

My “mountain-reedbuck day” came as Stefan and I went to a new area based on the animal’s affinity for steep, rocky terrain. It was tough for me to judge a good representative, as a 5-inch set of horns make for a “decent” buck and 7- and 8-inchers are whoppers. These animals flag white tails while fleeing and make a shrill, whistle-like call. I couldn’t sit and brace myself against my knee—my favorite method—as I’d be too low to see over the brush. We continued stalking that same buck and got another opportunity as we crouched on a hillside watching them below. I braced against my knee and made a 180-yard shot on the near-7-inch buck.


Only two animals remained. I told Stefan I’d be ready to stop at four—until we visited his friend, fellow PH Johan Schoeman. Johan planned to show me the mount of his near-9-inch mountain reedbuck; instead I fixated on his nyala mounted by Tollie’s taxidermist, Rudolph Ferreira. I marveled at its curling, ivory-tipped horns, the white chevron between its eyes, the white stripe down its back, the shaggy mane and stripes on its flank. This isn’t good, I thought, as I recalled the trophy fee and how Tollie’s operation was known for quality nyala.

Back in camp the bonfire glowed and I learned I wasn’t the only one thinking about springing for an additional animal.

We checked emails in Tollie’s office. Jan reported Harrell was enjoying celebrity status among his friends who were jealous he’d married a woman who would rather hunt than shop. Esther described missing several animals due to flinching with her 7mm-08, so Tollie and her PH, Mathinus du Toit, decided she should hit the range with Tollie’s .270 (which she used later to take a blesbok and a black wildebeest). Jan and Esther were stopping at four animals, but Pam, Cyndi, Sue, Kelli and Shannon already had moved to other game.

Deep Breaths


Over the next two days I got my blesbok, with its yellow-green eyes, white face and near-amber-colored horns; and, finally, a black wildebeest. The herd’s dominant male never stopped running, keeping the lesser bulls from his cows, moving his herd in a circle with tails a-swishing. “It is why wildebeest are called the clowns of Africa,” said Stefan.

The land continued to deliver as cameraman Tim Walsh taped Jan taking her mountain reedbuck. Now, with everyone else finished, it was nyala time. Every time I tried to shoot, another animal stepped in front of it, or its vitals were hidden by brush. The herd moved toward the fringe of the woods. I fired. He flinched, took one step into the bush, then disappeared. Losing daylight, we hurried across the field. We heard him in the woods, then nothing. It was dark—we needed dogs. “It’s dangerous in there now,” Stefan said. “We have to come back tomorrow.”


At dawn Stefan, his tracker, Rere, Tim and I were joined by Kelli’s PH, Purin Joubert and his trackers. We moved into the brush slowly. When I nearly stumbled over the skull of a large-horned nyala bull and Stefan explained it had died of old age or perhaps been wounded but not recovered, I prayed for a different ending. I felt I should hold my breath. There was little sign ...Then someone shouted excitedly. My spirits soared, and I gave thanks for an animal many call “the prize of South Africa.” Clearly, Tollie was right when he said, “Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

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