Your guide and you
Good communication between you and your guide is the recipe for success.
Does your hunting guide know what to expect from you and do you know what you expect from him? Does he know what height to set your tripod at, how you want to approach your prey and what he must help you with? You might say: Sure, we often hunt together and we know each other well. But is that really true? Never take anything for granted when you are hunting.
There have been many tales told around a bushveld campfire of the hunter that shot two animals with one shot! Unfortunately a lot of them are true and hopefully were never planned as such. For any hunter to take such a shot on purpose is both foolhardy and laying oneself wide open to being instrumental in wounding an animal. Yet it still happens and I am embarrassed to say that it has happened to me! Why? What went wrong? There are surely lessons to be learned here. For me the first lesson started shortly after arriving at the game farm...
We were greeted by the owner and went through the normal process of hunting rules and indemnities. We were keen to get started and when we enquired where the guides were, we were told that one of our regular guides had been hurt while fixing a tractor. Fortunately the farmer had a substitute guide called Izak who was still very young, but knew the farm well. That being said, we accepted that he would do his job well and readied ourselves for five glorious days in the bush. What can be better than the bushveld, nature, good company and excellent food?
Not being a trophy hunter I was looking for meat for the wife and I; something tender to fill our meat needs for a good few months. Looking at that particular game farm’s hunting menu and keeping my bank account in mind I decided that a young kudu cow would fit the bill.
Three days (and many kilometres tread-wear on my boots) went past, but the kudu cows were not interested in showing their faces when I was around. When we had only two more days left in the veld, my friend Willem said: “This afternoon I’ll show you where the kudu cows are. I know exactly where to find them.” This sounded good and interesting so we were all set to go after a good brunch and a rest.
Willem, Izak and I jumped onto the back of the bakkie and headed out to the further reaches of the farm. After about 15 minutes we were driving along a fence-line when suddenly a large tract of old overgrown farmlands opened up on our left, and there, standing about 300 metres away, in the open veld, were three kudu cows. Willem told the driver to stop behind some rambling karee bushes and Izak, Willem and I hastily got off the vehicle out of sight of the kudu. Willem then asked the driver to drive slowly straight towards the kudu. He turned to me and said: “Watch the kudu. The bakkie will spook them and they will run up to the tree-line and then in our direction. Get ready and stay still, they are very inquisitive and will want to keep an eye on the bakkie.”
I got my tripod ready and with Izak on my left and Willem on his haunches behind me I stood quietly watching and waiting in anticipation at what was going to unfold. Sure enough, just as Willem had predicted, the kudu watched the bakkie approaching for a short while and then took off for the trees. Once they were amongst the trees they turned and ran along the tree-line in our direction. I quickly checked the wind, there was a very light breeze in my face. Perfect. All was set.
Then, very typical of kudu, they stopped just behind the treeline and with erect ears stared intently at the bakkie, which had now stopped some distance away. The way they were standing was perfect – three kudu
cows presented their flanks to me and were looking backwards to where the bakkie had stopped. The distance was about 80m – an easy shot for my .303, loaded with PMP 174gr ammunition. I selected the kudu in the middle and just as Kevin Robertson explains in his book, The Perfect Shot, I placed the cross-hairs at the top of the front right leg. I just couldn’t miss.
THE TWO-SHOT KUDU
I fired, and for a split second the recoil and flash blinded me. Then disaster! As my vision cleared three kudu were jumping gracefully into the air. They touched ground lightly and darted deeper into the bush. How could this be? No shot in the bush is easy but this was really the easiest that I had ever had. I now had a problem. When kudu jump like that there is a very high possibility of a bad shot too far back into the abdomen.
Fortunately my luck was in. They ran about 50m deeper into the bush and then stopped on a slight rise, their curiosity taking over again. Once more they presented themselves to me perfectly, standing broadside on and were still staring at the bakkie, obviously very confused as to what had happened.
Willem stood up, lifted his binoculars and watched them intensely for a few seconds: “The one in the middle looks a little unhappy,” he said, “she is twitching. Drop the one in the middle.” I couldn’t let this opportunity go. If I missed now it could be a very long and tiring search for a kwesbok.
Carefully I aimed at the same spot, steadied and fired. To my relief the cow went down. I was elated, no kwesbok!
Willem stayed at the karee bush and with Izak in tow I walked towards the area where I had last seen the animal. Willem helped by calling “left” or “right” so that we remained on target. After we battled through the shrubbery and bush we found her. I quickly turned her over and there, just above the front leg, were two small entry holes about two inches apart. I had definitely hit this animal twice. It was the right kudu, but what went wrong with the first shot? Well, it didn’t matter, I had my kudu and there is no wounded animal in the veld.
It took a while for the bakkie to manoeuvre through the bush so that we could load the animal. Once this was accomplished, I replaced my rifle in its carry-bag and stashed it away behind the driver’s seat. Ahead lay another 15-minute bouncing ride back to the farm’s butchery.
Then, just as I was starting to relax and the bakkie had almost reached the edge of the treeline again, Izak said to me: “Sir, what about the other kudu?”
I stared at him: “Izak, what are you talking about?”
Pointing to the left he said: “Over there sir, under that tree.” I looked to where he was pointing and sure enough there was a kudu cow lying in the long grass!
What the hell was going on? There had been three kudu and three kudu had jumped from cover after my first shot! This was obviously the cow that I had fired at first, but had that one not run away?
“Izak,” I said, “but there were only three kudu. Where does this one come from? Why didn’t you tell me that the first kudu went down?” I was furious and wanted to vent my anger on somebody.
Then Izak said: “Sir I thought that you had seen the fourth kudu. They picked her up as they ran along the tree-line. I thought you saw her when she fell straight down behind the tree and that you just wanted to shoot another kudu.”
This was crazy! I called for the vehicle to stop and decided to just shut up, because this fiasco was also my fault. When I thought about it, this was probably the first time that Izak and I had exchanged any words during that day. I should have scanned the scene better and picked up that a fourth kudu had joined the other three, and most important, that it was standing directly behind the one that I had in my sights.
TIDY-UP AND ANALYSE
I jumped off the bakkie and loaned a .30-06 from a friend for a quick photo (mine had been packed away), and then we loaded the second kudu. My friends thought that it was a magnificent job but I had a lot to think about besides the bank notes flying out the window. At the butchery I examined the carcasses and saw that a small piece of the 174gr bullet had separated and passed right through the chest cavity of the first kudu and hit the animal standing next to it. It had only penetrated the skin and was by no means lethal, but definitely sore enough to give the animal a constant twitch.
That night as I sat around the campfire I moodily digested what had transpired that day. The money wasn’t an issue because another hunter had bought the second kudu from me. I was moody because things didn’t feel right.
I had never spent time getting to know Izak, asking what he knew about the bush, could he follow an animal track? I didn’t tell him that I prefer a shot into the ‘engine room’ and as a general rule wish to avoid a head shot. I didn’t tell him what calibre rifle and ammo I was using, nor my preferred shooting distance. I didn’t make sure that he knew to check my shot placement and the animal’s reaction.
Proper communication is very important. There are probably a dozen or more things that we should have discussed to avoid misunderstanding.
In the end the lesson that I have learned goes to all hunters. My advice: Take ten minutes of your precious time and get to know your guide before you go out into the veld. Make sure that he understands your hunting strategy, your wishes, goals, motives and what you plan to do in different situations. Happy hunting!
The kudu cow in the top picture was the wounded one whilst the one in the photo above was the cow that I killed first. I did not see her go down and thought that I had missed. The guide thought I wanted another kudu and did not tell me about this one.