Hunting the Bushveld oryx
In dense bushveld the oryx can be a tough customer...
The southern oryx locally known as the gemsbok proliferate against all odds in the semiarid northern parts of the South African Bushveld. Today, these majestic animals occur naturally only in the Kalahari and Namib Deserts of Southern Africa. As an introduced species they easily adapted to the harsh Bushveld conditions in the northern parts of South Africa and have never looked back. Oryx is probably one of the most delicate and tasty varieties of venison available and is served in many exclusive restaurants across South Africa and Namibia. This, as well as its magnificent horns, makes the oryx one of the mostprized hunting species in any hunter’s book.
My first encounter with oryx occurred in 2002 in the Rooibokkraal area of the north-western Bushveld. Inexperience led to a risky and difficult shot through thick vegetation and a long follow-up ensued. The tasty venison and biltong reaped from this exercise, however, more than made up for all the hardships and frustrations of the
pursuit. The droëwors, especially, did not disappoint and had me completely hooked on Bushveld oryx hunting.
The beautiful black and white “face mask” of this majestic antelope somehow seems to be out of place in the Bushveld. There is nothing else that makes a hunter’s heart beat faster than seeing those black and white markings through the dense Bushveld vegetation. Oryx usually keep in small herds, while lone bulls are seldom seen in the Bushveld. This makes hunting them rather difficult, as the many eyes of an entire herd elevate their ability of detecting danger. In addition, oryx is also known for their aggression when wounded and can seriously injure or even kill an unwary hunter. This basically puts them in the dangerous game category. I have personally witnessed how a fellow hunter was nearly killed after following up a wounded bull.
My second encounter with oryx occurred while hunting north of Alldays in the Breslau district. The 2 500ha property was well stocked with at least two large herds of oryx. I managed to take a large oryx cow during the 2008 season after a fairly easy stalk in relatively open terrain. Once again the meat was magnificent.
My next oryx hunt during the 2009 season was unfortunately not that easy. The weather had turned foul during the week and the hunting was extremely tough. Game tend to seek shelter in the thickest vegetation whenever the Bushveld is subjected to even the slightest cold spell. Some very low, dense clouds had rolled in from the Limpopo Valley, accompanied by a bone-chilling wind. My fellow hunters complained bitterly about the difficult field conditions. We had, however, invested a lot of time and money in this hunt and unfortunately »
» there was very little that we could do about the situation. Even the guides seemed to know things were going to be very tough and quickly lost interest in the hunt. On the third day, the temperature rose slightly so we decided to focus on the more remote northerly part of the farm.
The vegetation was rather dense in this area and our progress was slow. The amount of grass cover was also unusually dense for that time of the year. Fortunately the wind was still fairly strong and it masked any noise that we made. I felt quite confident in my guide as I knew him well – we had been very successful in the past on this very same property. The cold wind was strangely distracting and I had to make a conscious effort to take notice of any movements in the bush around me. The cloud cover thickened, reducing visibility. In these testing conditions we spooked a small herd of kudu cows. They fled with the white under parts of their tails flicked up. Somewhat despondent and without considering the implications, we pressed forward and also spooked a kudu bull. I got slightly annoyed, as we should have been aware of the fact that there may be large kudu bulls with the cows at that time of the year. We should have been more careful. It was a big trophy bull, but regrettably we had missed the opportunity. We soldiered on into the bitterly cold wind but it was impossible to follow the spoor of the kudus in such nasty conditions.
Towards midday we were moving through an open area between some low hills. The wind had picked up again and I was feeling tired, despondent and thirsty. The dry, cold wind had dehydrated me. I was ready to call it quits, convinced that the bad weather would prevent any success in the field. The guide noticed my despondence and we took a break, sitting down in the tall grass that provided some shelter from the cold wind. We discussed our options and decided to continue in the same direction towards higher ground from where we could get better two-way radio reception to call for a vehicle to fetch us. The prospect of having a warm lunch lifted our spirits and we started walking again.
A TURN OF EVENTS
As we reached the first low hills and started to climb, my guide suddenly dropped to his knees and I followed suit. Apparently he had noticed something moving below and to the right of us. Oryx! At first I could not see them but then I spotted a big oryx cow with beautiful long sweeping horns; she was slowly grazing towards us. As I looked, the whole herd of oryx materialised one by one out of the dense bushveld in front of us. I could not take my eyes off the first cow I had seen, her horns were truly magnificent!
She was about 80m from us. We managed to move carefully forward towards a large thorn tree, where I slowly stood up and manoeuvred into a shooting position. I disengaged the safety catch of my .375 H&H rifle and focussed on the cow. She was still totally unaware of our presence. The wind was in our favour and the oryx herd was grazing peacefully towards us. For once during this miserable week Saint Hubert the patron saint of hunters had smiled upon us. Suddenly more oryx materialised out of the gloom towards our left. If they continued grazing in the same direction they would soon scent us.
The guide urgently indicated the obvious to me so I turned to line up on the cow with the sweeping horns. Another oryx was in front of her now, obscuring her left shoulder. I had to wait for this animal to move away. We watched the animals to our left, expecting them to smell us any time soon. Looking back at the big cow I saw that the one in front of her had moved away. With the cow’s head down and grass also covering the bottom half of her body it was difficult to judge exactly where to aim. I waited until she lifted her head, then aimed just below the top of the grasses and squeezed the trigger. The bullet hit her hard but she turned immediately and galloped off to the right with the rest of the herd in a cloud of dust. Keeping my eyes on her I swung the .375 and fired another shot at her shoulder... she kept running. I was stunned, two 300gr Barnes TSX bullets through her chest and she still ran as if nothing has happened!
After the herd had disappeared in the bush we walked over to the spot where she had been standing when I fired the first shot. I could see that my guide was not happy with me. Arriving at the spot where she received the first bullet it became clear to us that it would be difficult to follow the spoor because of the long grass. We followed the general direction in which the herd had departed, looking for blood. After about 50m we crossed a dirt road and scrutinised the tracks of the fleeing herd, but it was impossible »
INSERT: Danie Grobler with an oryx cow hunted north of Alldays in 2008. MAIN PHOTO: A flat area on top of a granite hill – typical of the terrain he hunted in.
ABOVE: Danie helping to load an oryx onto a truck. LEFT: A vantage position from a granite hill top, overlooking flat-lying mopane veld below.
An oryx bull that Danie hunted near Musina in 2013 with his .404 Jeffery.