The Kudu Mistake
By Troy Fowler
Jul 2, 2008 – 6:13:00 AM
four ~ 5:38 am Namibia, Africa
grey, clouds hang in the early morning sky their cotton candy edges
thickened by the rapidly approaching sun. Out of the west, a maniacal
Go Away bird announces the day – ?CAW! CAW! CAW!?. It’s just like
the first three mornings in Namibia; cool and 50 degrees. The coffee
is warm, and the rattle of hunting preparation rolls around my chalet’.
I wonder, given the tough conditions, did I make a mistake, or come
at the wrong time? The provident ONE has left signs. We
are to remain steadfast and keep on hunting. When the critters
won?t come to you, well, you have to go to them. But with all
the eyeballs, snakes, and predators about, it seems to be an unlikely
suggestion. The chair creeks as I rock forward to set my pencil
and pad down. Wandering around the campfire, I nod at Will
and throw my gear in the back of the Land Cruiser. I double check my
bow, everything is there. Let?s go whack something.
buddy Richard Dooley and I traveled to Namibia with Dries Visser Safari?s
and arrived with a very American agenda. By “American” I
mean, in a very timely manner within an acceptable amount of labor expense,
we expected to our return on investment to include the standard critter
punch list: Kudu, Gemsbok, Wildebeest, Zebra, Hartebeest and Warthog
while taking into consideration the other 10 species offering opportunities
to expand our experiential operational success. That was the plan
we, got up early, wend all day, (if you?re a water hole hunter bring
a pee bottle ~ ALL DAY can mean ALL DAY. If you have any hyperactivity
issues, sans your author, don’t pick at the mortar or scratch paint
off the blinds!). But Africa gets you to slow down. After
a couple days you finally notice the Go Away bird flapping in the tree
swiveling its parrot like head?..always on alert. A Francolin
hen darts by, six chicks in tow, and then there are the huge crickets.
The shadows sweep from the western side of plants to the east as you
pursue your quarry. Different rocks hold your interest. Peacefully
you go about your business.
afternoon heat invites reptile?s front and center. Richard almost
stepped on a puff adder while tracking a Warthog. The Warthog
eventually charged him. A nice howdy and hello in Africa!
The ranch owner actually hit a black mamba with his car. It was
10 heel to heel steps long, my hunting boots are size 10 ½, you do
the math. The local guys just kind of shrug at these very deadly
snakes and go on. Rounding it out there are predators. You got
to like those guys: Leopards, Cheetah?s and Brown Hyenas. Then
some time, some where, moseying through the bush or in a pit blind you
see a Kudu bull. You?ve seen pictures. You’ve watched
days of video, memorized shot placement, lost sleep?..but in real
time, he?s awesome. The double helix and striped shoulder, he
is breathtaking and kind of melts through the brush inspiring your adrenal
gland to pump you full of the shakes. He is why you are here?.
this year, Kudu are in short supply. In a large part of Namibia
the Kudu received a Circle of Life lesson in disease. Or as the bible
puts it, dust unto dust. Last winter ran a month longer than normal.
So ?the dry? as they call it, hung on too long. Dry in this
arid region means no food as the plants wait patiently for any appreciable
rainfall. Dry is great for waterhole hunting. This drought
was particularly hard on the Kudu.
But in early March the rains
came, the plants greened up and everything was honky dory.
Then the Kudu got whacked again. A peculiar disease known
as Kudu rabies roared through much of Namibia showing a particular fondness
for the bulls. One of the ranches we hunted had to kill 70, yes
mathematicians that?s 7 X 10, Kudu bulls. I saw the stacks of horns?.sadly.
The ranch is measured in square miles, so who knows how many just up
and died out there on the ground? One big bull, delirious with
rabies, stumbled right up to the house 15 yards from the back porch.
Despite beautiful 50 inch horns, he was not going to make it.
The ranch owner had to shoot him right there, in the yard. Weird
stuff ~ nature.
for the early season 2008 plains game hunter; the rain that started
a month late, stuck around longer than normal. Late May is the classic
beginning of safari season. Usually, the area has not received
rain for a month. The plant life is dormant and leafless. Low
food means low moisture, offering perfect water hole ambush hunting
as you see on videos like Dries Visser?s Best of Africa. But
if there are leaves on the trees, you might need a different strategy.
The animals are so efficiently designed they get moisture from the plant
life and don?t need water. Trust me, once we realized this fact
on day two, I picked up Mammals of South Africa in the lodge and looked
for a water hungry species. Nope, all can derive water from plants.
I mean, don?t get me wrong, there are some critters like Blesbuck
and Warthogs, who keep a thirsty schedule. But everything else just
eats their greens. Just like momma taught them.
my PH, 25 year old Will Smith from Midland, Texas is six foot nine inches
tall. I just stood on his shoulders like a walking high rack so
I could see better?.ok, not really. But, he had youth on his
side and I am solar powered. Plus the trip inspired sheer determination.
So we changed the game plan on day three. Will and I decided to
walk and stalk from dawn until 3pm and then jump in a pit blind, pick
out the thorns and see what happened. It is a very low percentage game,
stalking, with a bow. But hey, ALL DAY in the pit blind watching
Go Away Birds and Francolin was going to put me in therapy. Now, stalking
in waist high grass, around hatefully cat claw ?wait a bit?
bushes and acacia could put you in the hospital. Pick your poison.
Your legs look like you lost a kick war with a weed eater and your shirts
get trashed. It is Africa?s way of making you move slowly.
From the beginning, when I booked my trip, it was one of my goals to
get out and run around a bit. I got what I asked for. Following
our plan on day four we stalked all day and then went to Leopard Kopi.
Wouldn’t you know it, but a gaggle of Black Wildebeest wandered in around
5 pm. A wide bull caught a case of RAGE 2-blade fever for my first
African kill. We continued the same plan, chasing Kudu, Gemsbok,
Blesbuck, Red Hartebeest, Blue Wildebeest, Zebra??and other random
critters. How cool is that? We?d hit camp around 1:30,
eat lunch, wipe up the blood and go to another pit blind. It
was cool to see the dirt.
those of you out there reading this here article I would like to lumber
up on a short soapbox and release some hot air in your general direction.
I am convinced that the stalking game has a built in mental disadvantage.
The disadvantage is from a picture we?ve all seen since childhood.
You know it, the one with an Indian in full head dress or maybe a deer
head skin poised at full draw 10 yards from an unsuspecting deer
or bear. This situation, while easy to paint and imagine, very
rarely happens to modern man. The truth is, when you are on the
ground, the animals have to make a major mistake. Please release
the idea that you will sneak up 10 or even 30 yards from an unsuspecting
wild animal in most cases.
As you probably know, one of the animals always sees you, spooks the
others and sometimes a bull with attention deficit runs up to you (mistake).
Or a curious animal walks toward you to investigate (mistake) or, even
better, your quarry sees your buddy hunting in an Indian headdress and
runs right up to you (major mistake). That is the kind of mistake you
are looking for. In Africa, you may be stalking Red Hartebeest
and step on a warthog or a herd of unseen springbuck. This makes
for neat?o nature viewing and an appreciation for how fast the animals
can run. It is what I call Fun-nnoying. You have to hang in there
and keep trying. Wait for the animals to make a mistake and then
take full advantage. You won?t get many chances. So shoot
day five, Will, Ruan, and I are looking for walk and stalk candidates.
Earlier we chased some Zebra and a big Kudu bull. The stalks went
something like this: Will or Troy sees a Kudu,
Will and Troy gesticulate in the direction of the Kudu,
the Kudu looks back at Will and Troy rather apathetically, heart rate
goes up, jump out of truck, see horns at 65 yards, kudu disappears like
smoke. Go look for other animals.
just kept saying, ?Something has to make a mistake.? On this
day the mistake was the rut. Just like Whitetail deer, Kudu rut
for about a 2 month period and they are distracted heavily by the breeding
opportunity. The sun is hot overhead and I am out of breath after
chasing a Kudu bull through a dry riverbed and 200 yards into an acacia
flat. He disappeared, like the other times. Jumping into the back
of the truck we chat quickly. The plan is to climb one of
the Kopi?s (granite hills) and look for a Zebra snoozing in the mid
So, plan intact, we?re not really paying attention and bop around
a corner where two Kudu bulls are circling each other like prize fighters.
Their necks look like gray barrels. Will says,? Troy GET OUT
OF THE TRUCK ~ NOW!” I am dumbfounded as the two bull?s
crash together in a war for unseen cows. Again, much more urgently
this time, Will says, “Troy, Get out of the truck NOW and whack
one! They’re not paying attention!!!!? His video rolls,
dust flies, as the two 600 pound animals rearrange the plant life.
Deep grunting and rattling of horns, I feel the grass against my knees,
and the adrenaline charged calmness felt in dangerous situations.
They disappear behind a huge bush and go by so close I can smell them.
The bulls break and slam together, trying to kill each other and move
through a gap, I come to full draw, they spin around, no good.
are rolling around, I can feel their hooves digging into the ground,
two hops and suddenly they are thirty yards away. Realizing this
is the opportunity of a lifetime I put on my big boy pants and rush
up to the bulls. Dust, grunting, the clatter of hooves, a car door
sized ribcage, 12 yards, no thought, green pin, the arrow disappears,
he runs 30yards, and he is down. The second bull comes back for
more whacking on the dead bull.
Will runs by saying, ?run that bull off, he?ll break the horns.?
Adrenaline takes over and I barely stumble up to the bull. I replay
the moment and realize the needle in the haystack is down. One
of the rarest animals available this year in Namibia, is down.
Days of thorns, blown stalks, lost skin, shredded hopes, rabies, drought,
rain, and kudu wandering off like smoke, finally; a major mistake.
8, 5:42 am Namibia Africa
every morning this trip I sit in the peace and quiet, coffee in hand,
pondering as you imagine Hemingway might have – pencil and paper in
hand. But, today I must leave. The same muffled voices, laughter,
and the rattle of hunting gear round the corner; three clouds, smudged
pink, like always. But they seem to be grinning this morning as
a sliver of sunlight hits my face. It?s like God winked and
said, ?See you did not make a mistake.? You did exactly what
I told you, keep on hunting, and wait for the mistake.
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