LAND OF HORIZONS
On the Karoo’s sundrenched plains you will find the animal of light.
Scientists believe the Great Karoo, an inland basin, was once a vast glacier that became a lake when the ice melted. Eventually the waters escaped, breaking through the escarpment and the resultant rivers tore out the gorges, valleys, gullies and poorte on their way to lower lying areas.
When the swamps eventually dried, the Karoo was formed more or less as we know it today. Some also believe that the Karoo saw the birth of the first mammal...
The name Karoo comes from the first migrating Khoisan tribes that trekked through this dry country. They named these plains Garob which means dry, unfruitful and uninhabited. Later pioneer white trekboere (farmers) corrupted the name until it eventually became Karoo.
Initially the so-called vryburgers in the Cape were forbidden to trek beyond the then borders of the colony, but there were just too many adventurous souls living in the Cape in the seventeenth century. Even though they faced a year’s imprisonment and the confiscation of their livestock if they got caught, some pioneers still took the chance and crossed the mountains to explore the unknown. As a result a number of outposts were established all over the Karoo.
Over the years some of these outposts became towns of which Beaufort West (1818) became the biggest. Many other towns sprang up in the Karoo. Strydenburg, a small village started by the Dutch Reformed
Church in 1892 was one of the last. Apparently the town fathers were a quarrelsome bunch, differing about many things, thus the name of the town eventually became Strydenburg (directly translated it means the place of quarrelling).
Karreekloof, the hunting venue I was heading for, lies about 40km west of Strydenburg and was established in 1881 by Isac Edward Wright as a trading post for farmers of the vicinity. The Wrights moved to South Africa when an ancestor, the reverend Peter Wright, was dispatched to the country by the London Missionary Society.
As the trading post became more popular Isac Wright travelled to England every two years to trade wool, skins and other products, and to buy supplies for his trading store. All the goods were transported by horse-drawn cart from Cape Town to Karreekloof. The trading post even had a post office where post arrived once a week on Thursdays. »
» Through the success of his trading shop Isac Wright was able to buy more land until the property grew to its current size of 38 000ha. The Wrights, who became leading farmers in the Karoo, farmed with sheep, goats, horses, cattle and game. Hunting and conservation was always part and parcel of Karreekloof. Many famous people visited the property with Olive Schreiner being one of the first. In 1899 she described the farm as “...it seems like heaven.”
Today this huge property belongs to Wiaan van der Linde who is well-known in the game industry. He is a founder of and still a co-owner of Wintershoek Safaris, one of the leading hunting/conservation companies in South Africa.
In earlier times the Great Karoo was home to regular migrations of millions of springbuck. The last two great migrations took place in 1892 and 1896. In 1896 the springbuck poured through the main street of Prieska and apparently the magistrate sat on the steps of the courthouse and picked off a good number of them with his rifle.
I mention all of this to illustrate that the Karoo has always been teeming with springbuck. Today Karreekloof is no different. I have never seen so many springbuck on a single property. The terrain on Karreekloof comprises of rolling hills and open, grassy plains. The latter in places covered by large patches of driedoring (three-thorn) and swarthaak (black-thorn) bushes. Not only springbuck, but a wide variety of plains game species, including buffalo, sable, roan, eland, gemsbuck and kudu (to name a few) thrive on this huge tract of land.
During my visit I shared Karreekloof with American hunters. They were allocated one part of the property that spans 30 000ha while I had 8 000ha all to myself – what a privilege! There are no inner fences on Karreekloof and you really do get the feeling that you are out in a wilderness area.
For this hunt I used my Blaser chambered in .270 Winchester and loaded with 130gr Sierra GameKing bullets. These were loaded to only 2 700fps because I knew that I would most likely take body shots and the slower bullets would hopefully cause less meat damage than ones leaving the muzzle at 3 000fps. It was my first visit to Karreekloof and because I would be hunting on my own, I wasn’t going to take any chances. If I made a mistake and wound an animal there would be no help in the form of a hunting vehicle to quickly follow up the animal to dispatch it.
Being a walk and stalk hunter I always try to get as close as possible, limiting my shots to 250m, even in open country. A 130gr, .277” bullet at 2 700fps has a rather curved trajectory, therefor I chose a scope that would make things a little easier – a Lynx 2.5-15x50 fitted with the SA Hunters crosshair. This crosshair has several hash marks on its lower horizontal leg which allows you to aim off precisely at longer distances.
Karreekloof has a proper 300m shooting range with a concrete bench. So, the day before my hunt started I spent some time shooting at 50m intervals from 100m all the way out to 300m to calibrate the scope and the trajectory of the 130gr Sierra bullet. With that done, I felt ready to tackle the wide open spaces. I wish more South African hunting outfitters had proper shooting ranges like this one at Karreekloof.
When hunting in open country I always carry a tripod and
do most of my shooting from the sitting position. Because of the stands of driedorings and blackthorns I also anticipated taking shots from the standing position and therefore chose one of my extendable tripod shooting sticks. Other important aids were my Leica binoculars, my Leica rangefinder and my GPS. The latter is an invaluable piece of equipment – it prevents me from getting lost when hunting on my own in unfamiliar country with no landmarks, and it enables me to find my way back to my bakkie after dark or recover animals after sunset that I have shot earlier in the afternoon.
Whenever I hunt in rough terrain I also take along leather gloves and knee pads. You often have no other choice but to cover fairly long distances on hands and knees. Suffer once and you quickly learn the value of good protective gear.
I had three days to shoot six springbuck which was more than enough time. The open terrain would be a challenge though and also of cause the many eyes of the large numbers of animals. Hunting on foot in open terrain calls for a certain level of fitness. I prefer to park my bakkie at a certain spot and walk from there instead of driving around until I spot game and then stalk the animals. I wasn’t going to take any long-range shots and getting close enough meant that I had to crawl a lot or shuffle along on my backside in a sitting position.
Starting at sunrise on day one I hunted hard but after four hours still haven’t fired a shot. I spotted a small herd of springbuck after only 20 minutes but the wind was unfavourable, so I had to make a wide detour to get the breeze in my face. Then I bumped into steenbuck, duiker and warthog which I had to avoid to get within range of the springbuck. The springbuck in the meantime had moved into a large, dense patch of driedorings. When I was eventually in position under a convenient witgat tree (shepherd’s tree) I still could not take a shot because the driedoring bushes were too high. I could make out flashes of white and tan but did not have a clear shot. The animals started drifting off to my right and eventually caught my scent. Needless to say, they took off in a hurry.
I shot the first springbuck at noon after stalking it through a patch of black-thorns. The distance was 158m and I had to take a standing shot over the shooting sticks. By then the wind had picked up and I found it dif- ficult to hold the rifle steady. The ram was feeding towards me at an angle and to get a clear shot I had to move out from behind a bush. Afraid that the springbuck would spot me, I did not have much time thus decided to shoot him at the junction of the neck and shoulder. At the .270’s report the ram collapsed in its tracks.
I was still gutting the animal when I spotted a number of springbuck walking in single file to my left on a low ridge about 450m away. Looking around I noticed a number of conven- iently placed black-thorns that hopefully would enable me to get close enough for a shot, so I grabbed my rifle and set off. I was lucky because the springbuck paused to nibble on some low bushes. That enabled me to get within 270m, using the black-thorns as cover. From there on I shuffled closer on my backside with the rifle resting across my lap.
As the animals started moving again I was 226m from them. They moved behind some driedorings but I followed one ram through the scope and the »
» minute he cleared the bushes I called out to him: “Hey ram!” He stopped and turned, quartering towards me. I shot him offcentre at the base of the neck. The 130gr Sierra also dropped this one on the spot. Turning the ram over, I found that the bullet had exited in front of the back leg on the far side. Meat damage on this ram was minimal.
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
When hunting in open terrain patience is the hunter’s biggest virtue. Move slowly, take your time and try to blend in with the surroundings. Game animals are quick to spot and identify the human form when we walk upright. If you have no physical limitations (an injury or being disabled), get down on all fours and crawl or shuffle along on your backside on your final approach. Moving that way you can fool game, even when they spot you because animals often cannot identify what you are. Resist the urge to cover as much ground as you can. When doing that you move too fast and the game will spot you easily. Stop, take a break and let your binos do the searching. Wait patiently, game will often come to you. Observe which routes the animals take and ambush them. That is how I shot the fourth and fifth springbuck rams on Karreekloof. Number three was shot at about 100m after bumping into a small bachelor group when I exited a dense patch of black- thorns close to a gully.
Spending time under a witgat tree in the afternoon on day one I noticed that a good number of springbuck moved along a rocky ridge to a grassy plain at midday while others trekked over a low ridge later in the afternoon to graze on a plain dotted with patches of driedoring shrub. At the foot of the ridge was a nice shepherd’s tree that I could use as an ambush point.
I returned the next day at about 2pm and walked slowly along that rocky ridge where I managed to intercept a group of six animal. Dropping to my bum I shot a ram at 179m. About an hour later I visited the shepherd’s tree at the foot of the other ridge where I planned to ambush the springbuck. After two hours I was about to give up when a bachelor herd of about 20 rams appeared some distance away. They were taking their time and eventually I shot one at 201m at last light. By the time I had the animal recovered it was dark.
That left me with a whole day to shoot another springbuck. There were springbuck all over the place but mostly in wide open terrain and I battled to get close enough. Then the wind picked up and at about one o’clock it was really racing over the plains. I spotted six rams, bedded down in a shallow but open depression almost devoid of plants. The wind was in my favour and all of them were fac- ing away from me. A very long and painfully slow stalk followed. I crawled on all fours, then shuffled on my bum and even leopard crawled. Managing to get a single shepherd’s tree between me and the animals I shuffled closer on my backside. Something on their left suddenly alarmed one of the rams and he jumped to his feet, the others followed. One of them moved clear of the rest, stopped and turned to look at something to my left. When the crosshair settled behind his shoulder I pressed the trigger. This one was the heaviest of the six I had shot.
With my hunting done I spent the late afternoon hours at the shepherd’s tree where I ambushed buck number five.On the big plain in front of me I counted almost 100 springbuck. There were some youngsters in a playful mood, running to and fro, pronking joyfully. When a springbuck pronks it lowers its head, arches its back and bounces stiff-kneed off the ground in a series of high leaps. While doing that a marsupiallike pouch on its rump (called a pronk in Afrikaans) opens like a fan to display the long snowwhite hair it contains.
The springbuck’s Zulu name, insephe, which means ‘the shining tassel’ refers to the pronk’s white hair. According to Zulu folklore the springbuck got its name when the sun god came down to earth to give the humans, who lived like animals, proper laws and knowledge. They soon prospered but turned on each other, fighting. Saddened the sun god decided to leave, but the humans, fearing that they would lose their knowledge, killed and ate his flesh in the belief that it would make them clever.
With the sun god’s death both the sun and moon died and the earth became dark and cold. Hiding in a cave the springbuck prayed to the gods not to destroy the earth because of the sinful humans. After many months the gods decided to answer his prayers. The goddess, Mother Earth, gave birth to the sun god once more who immediately restored the warmth and life on earth. Mother Earth then gave the springbuck its special name, insephe. She told the springbuck that he will be known as the animal of light, faith and reliability.
It may be just a story, but whenever a springbuck’s life is taken the hunter is reminded that this is indeed the animal of light. At the moment of death the pronk opens to display that beautiful snow-white hair. So, next time you kneel beside insephe be thankful for the sun’s warmth and its life-giving light. * For more information on Wintershoek Safaris and Karreekloof send an e-mail to in[email protected] wintershoeksafaris. com or phone 053-204-0042.
Springbuck number six was shot in very open terrain after a long stalk. The distance was 188m. This ram was the heaviest one of the six. My Blaser in .2 270 performed well on o this hunt.
LEFT: Karreekloof is home to a wide variety of plains game species. I stalked this nice sable bull to take his picture.BOTTOM LEFT: Our Toyota bakkie at the entrance gate of Karreekloof.BOTTOM RIGHT: An arial view of the lodge and other buildings at Karreekloof. Facilities and services are five-star quality and the hunting on this huge property outstanding.
When hunting in open country, be patient. Sit down, wait and let your binoculars do the searching.
I loaded 130gr Sierra bullets for my Blaser .270 Win for this hunt. Because I anticipated taking body shots a light load, that produced an average of 2 700fps at the muzzle, was used.
Rams number two and three were shot within minutes of each other. In this picture ram number three is on the left-hand side. Notice the entry wound at the base of the neck.
Ram number two was shot at 226m. The bullet entered slightly off-centre at the base of the neck and exited in front of the farside back leg.
Another picture of ram number six. Stalking game in such open terrain calls for patience and lots of effort if you are not prepared to take long-range shots.