South African Safari, Day 5

With a Cape kudu in the salt, I hope we can pull a Cape bushbuck out of Cullen’s hat to complete this six-day safari that was cut short for its scheduled 10 days by the Icelandic ash cloud that delayed my departure from America.

My whole reason for booking this trip with Garry Kelly Safaris is because of the two members of the spiral-horn family that are found only in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The first is the Eastern Cape greater kudu which is significantly smaller in both body size and horn length as the other kudu here in South Africa, the southern greater kudu.

The other is the Cape bushbuck, which again is a subspecies based on its different coloration and horn size from either the Limpopo or Chobe bushbucks that are also found in South Africa. I’m a self-confessed spiral-horn nut, so I’m hunting all 25 of the spiral-horns, an admittedly foolhardy goal. I’ve shot three of the five subspecies of greater kudu and six of the eight bushbuck. A Cape bushbuck is number seven.

Rather than waste the hot part of the day, Cullen takes me a nearby farm with a large number of blesbuck. The blesbuck is the retarded cousin of the bontebok. Blesbuck stand out on the open nodding their heads stupidly and every now and then dance sideways, like some sort of spastic tick suddenly overcomes them.

I comment to Cullen that I’m aware that blesbuck don’t exactly have the sharpest horns in the drawer. I don’t want to shoot one that’s just standing there.

“I know what you mean, but these blesbok are wild,” my 25-year-old PH who is far wiser than his years says. “They will run and not stop. There’s not standing around with this lot, for some reason.”

We spot a solitary bull almost immediately. Sure enough, he’s standing out in the middle of the big wide open, nodding his head foolishly like a bobble-headed doll. I’m beginning to think I don’t want to shoot such a moron.

Cullen sizes him up. “He’s at least 16. He’s a good bull,” he says. Meanwhile, Goober stands there staring at us like the village idiot. “Do you want to try for him?”

“No,” I reply. “Let’s leave Goofy and find some of those wild ones you talked about.”

We walk in a promising direction and soon spy a herd of about 20 blesbok looking at us from 600 yards or so, their white faces standing out like beacons against the green grass. We begin a circuitous stalk until we get to about 400 yards and then the herd starts bounding away.
Cullen watches them in his Leica binocular. “The last one, that’s a big bull. Yesss… he’s at least 17,” Cullen pronounces. We wait until they settle down and, curiously, the big bull saunters away from the herd. We maneuver until we get to a bush about 250 yards from him, but we’re in a slight depression, so I can only see his back and head. I slide forward, watching for the thorns and cacti that are strewn on the dirt. I raise my Stoney Point short sticks and, from sitting, hear the distinctive meaty thwump of my bullet hitting home.

    blesbok

We take photos, get the blesbok loaded in the truck and drive back to camp to take his headskin. By now it’s close enough to 3:30 p.m. to find the last hill we’ll glass for Cape bushbuck.

In the fading light of late evening, we spot two bushbuck rams coming out to feed. I don’t believe it. I never have the “last afternoon of the last day” kind of luck. Cullen stares hard into his Leicas and pronounces the bad news. “Both are young rams. Not even mature yet,” he sighs.

I lower my rifle. I want a Cape bushbuck very badly, but not that badly. The sun takes its last gasp before dropping behind the hill in a scarlet departure and we stand up, stretch and head back to the truck.

Suddenly Mike, our Zulu tracker, freezes and points to the deep shadows of the dusk-covered hillside. The dark chocolate coat of a mature male! Cullen and I hurry ahead, racing against the very last sliver of shooting light. We get to where we think he ought to be and hear the bushes rustle. I don’t see him, but Cullen does. His groan is audible.

“Young ram. Just like the other two,” he says somberly.

“That would be just too lucky,” I shrug. “But now I have an excuse to come back and hunt with you again.”

Cullen and I shake hands. It has been a great hunt here in the Eastern Cape with some very unique species and very different sort of country for Africa.

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