Hunting the Bushveld oryx

In den­se bushveld the oryx can be a tough cu­s­to­mer...

SA Jagter Hunter - - INHOUD - Da­nie Gro­bler

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.

DIF­FI­CULT HUNT

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.

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