A dream pursued for a long time

Text and photos by Marco Chinol
Translated by Peter Loyson

… the big passion for the hunt has taken me to many countries in Europe and even North America, but inside me I felt this emptiness for not yet having had the opportunity of hunting in the continent “par excellence” for the hunter touched by the fire of the hunting passion : Africa …

The opportunity to realize my dream, that of hunting under the African sun, presented itself to me as a result of an International Conference, to which I was invited, which took place in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. After the event, together with my wife and my son, who is equally passionate about hunting, I hurried to Nduna Lodge, situated about 150 km inland from Port Elizabeth. The hunting territory, belonging to Nduna, is very vast, about 1000 hectares ( even more since the owner has the right to hunt on neigbouring properties ) and even if the area is enclosed, the enormous space, the scarcity of humans and the variety of the landscape gave me the feeling of an “easy hunt “.

First objective : the bushpig

Wild boar hunting during my first safari on the Black Continent, concentrated on the bushpig; and it was not expensive. In fact at 5 am, Riann, the young assistant to the PH ( Gavin ) knocks at the door of our room. In a few minutes we were ready and during breakfast Gavin displays his programme. We will travel about 100 km towards the interior, in an area far out there near a chain of mountains, where there are lots of bushpigs, and we hope that the wind, which blew strongly all night, will be less intense. Arriving at our destination, we stayed at the house of a “farmer”, where we admired trophies of numerous animals and impressive tusks of bushpigs. To make the hunt easier we had at our disposal a man from the farm, who knew the area like the back of his hand. We left with the pick-up with Riann driving, whilst Ferrucio, Gavin and I sat on the bench of the bakkie, and behind us sat the three black helpers, amongst which was Albert the local guide.

The wind has just risen and the clear air is already heated by the sun. This is the best situation to come across the bushpig. This parent of our wild boar, in fact, has very different habits from the hedgehog in that he is a day animal and often exploits the lair of other animals but has a very fine skin with no hair. On hot days like today they find themselves outside the nest searching for food.
We direct ourselves towards a long a wide depression in the terrain in which is to be found the dried-up bed of a water course. The vegetation is low but very luxuriant. We stop at a point which dominates the area to use our binoculars.
Immediately, Albert picks out a group of 5 bushpigs. None of us sees them, but Albert takes control of the situation. He checks the direction of the wind and decides to approach them making a large circle. He takes with him Ferruccio and Gavin, who carries the tripod and the only weapon we have : a Ruger 270 Winchester with soft point ammunition of 130 grain. Upon approaching the animals, close to a large rock, Albert silently loads the cartridge in the chamber and passes the weapon to Ferruccio who, together with Gavin, slowly goes round the obstacle. When close to the large rock, Gavin sets up the tripod, and between the masses of rock, Ferruccio sees something move. It’s the back of a bushpig who is searching the area for food. The Ruger is mounted on the tripod, and when the front part of the body appears between two rocks, he fires. The distance isn’t more than 50 meters and the animal is shot dead with the bullet in the shoulder. It’s a male of about 60 kg with nice defensive tusks ( measured from the skull to be 24 cm ) which protrude from the snout and which are used to defend itself in fights against other males.

We direct ourselves towards another area frequented by these animals. It’s a wide valley with in the centre a large pool of water, nearly dried up, where the bushpigs love to roll on their back in the mud of the shore. We leave the pick-up and approach an observation point, dominating the valley. Immersed in the mud, there are 3 bushpigs; they are far away at about 500 meter and we then decide to approach by descending the stony slope. When we are about 200 m from them, something alarms them and they disappear into the bush. In between the rocks they are difficult to see since the color of the rocks is the same as their skin. They carry on moving, searching for food. I lean on the tripod and decide to give it a shot. This puts them all on a run and rapidly they disappear in the bush.
Gavin and Riann tell me that the shot did not hit the target. We proceed further until the eye of Albert picks up another 2 animals. This time we can approach much easier, since in front of us opens up a large channel of terrain, which ends about 100 m from the animals. We approach slowly, but when we stick out our heads to observe, they are gone. Luckily we notice a movement in the bush. The 270 is ready and as soon as the bushpig leaves the hiding I fire. The animal starts running and Gavin tells me that the animal had been wounded in one of the front legs, hence I hit it. I was surprised and astonished because the target was only about 60 m away and I aimed at it from the shoulder. Albert goes and checks the “anschuss” and after 20 m finds the bushpig lifeless in a bush. We notice that the bullet had entered perfectly the shoulder and leaving, had broken the left front leg. This is also a male about the same size as the one from Ferruccio. The legs measure, once extended, 23 cm for the bigger ones and the smaller ones 17. During this exercise we see lots of kudu, the prime objective of our safari, but they are mainly female or young males with small antlers measuring about 35 inches and therefore the young aren’t of much interest. We are very surprised to notice that these animals of more than 200 kg are practically invisible in the bush.

The large waterbuck

During the evening meal, Gavin informs us, very happily, that the weather forecast has predicted no wind for the next day and therefore this will be a good day for hunting. In fact, all the animals, including those that inhabit the bush, like the kudu and the nyala, in this springtime season, love to bask in the heat of the sun and therefore more readily look for open spaces.
The morning, as predicted, the sky is clear and the air is without wind and already lukewarm at five in the morning. We leave full of enthusiasm and direct ourselves towards a zone around an artificial dam situated in a wide valley. We stop on a high point under some big eucalyptus trees to observe with binoculars the scenery. Riann spots a group of female nyalas without any males and Gavin makes out a group of female waterbuck in a small clearing. We decide to approach on foot by climbing up the valley, hoping to find a male in the group. Gavin and I leave with the 270, the tripod and the binoculars. Riann, Ferruccio and the others with the pick-up need to complete a large circle, carrying them into the adjacent valley to control the movement of the group.

We walk, stooped, between prickly acacias under branches covered with long prickles, making sure we don’t make a noise. When we are about 300 m Gavin spots between the trees a movement of horns. He warns me that it’s a male and we need to get even closer, but with extreme caution. When we stop again, Gavin places the tripod, positions the 270 and in the optics squares a big male. We can’t approach any closer, otherwise he would flee. The telemeter of Gavin indicates 197 m. I decide to shoot. I place my legs well and slowly I pull the trigger. The animal is impressive, definitely more than two hundred kilos, and with massive horns in the form of a lyre, with the extremities twisted around in the front. He is immobile, turned towards me, but in the moment that the grid of the optic viewer positions itself on the chest at the base of the neck, the animal turns around and slowly walks away. After a few meters he stops and once again turns himself in our direction, as if he hasn’t yet convinced himself of the danger he sensed. I shoot with the 150 soft point. At the shot, the animal jumps wide like a spring and with two big hops disappears behind the hill. Gavin, who doesn’t leave the binoculars, tells me that while the animal tried to get away, he saw the horns pointing towards the ground, a sign that he had fallen. I am petrified and can’t believe it, after seeing this big animal jump and flee. I take control of myself again and start running towards the hilltop. I see the distinct body of the animal. I observe him for a moment from a distance of 30 m and realize that he’s dead. We approach slowly and when we are a few meters away, Gavin pats me on the shoulder. It’s an impressive animal, the horns and the yellow rings form a base of 23 inches in length, and a width of nine inches : a very respectable trophy.

Hunting the impala

We take again the long road towards the lodge, when we notice in a clearing of bush a large group of about 10 impalas. The expert eye of Gavin and Riann immediately make out the presence of a nice male whose horns would be a nice trophy. Also I and Ferruccio busy ourselves by looking through the binoculars and we notice this nice specimen. The horns are in the form of a lyre, bend towards the outside, a sign of maturity. Gavin, in fact, had said that, in order to qualify as a good trophy, the horns of the impala may not close in the form of a diamant, but the points needed to be turned a little towards the outside in such a way as to form a “U”. The animals are too far away and as soon as the pick-up moves in their direction, they start running with those characteristic jumps, raising in a marked way the back part of their body. I note that, unlike in our territories, here the animals are scared of motor cars.

The pack of impala, scared, runs towards a depression in the terrain in front of which they are cut off. We divide ourselves in two groups : Ferruccio and Gavin with the gun position themselves on the right side of the pack, which at this moment has stopped near the cut-off, whilst I and Riann walk to the opposite side to drive the animals towards them. The impalas immediately notice our presence and are very nervous. Ferruccio can’t fire since the male is covered by a shrub. Sensing that they are surrounded, the animal prey goes into panic towards the cut-off and the male succeeds in getting past further on. Gavin incites Ferruccio to fire before the impala manages to get away completely. Fortunately, the male stops and Ferruccio does not hesitate to fire causing the animal to fall on the spot. It’s really a nice specimen, with a 22 inch long horn.

The elusive kudu

During a night excursion we have the luck to bump into a magnificent kudu, with horns more than 40 inches long. This length doesn’t seem long, but in this zone, speaking about the Eastern Cape kudu, horns longer than 50 inches are an exception. The following morning we leave with enthusiasm towards the spot where we saw that magnificent animal. In the dense bush we search for the smallest movement, which would indicate that here the antelopes are born. After about 3 hours of hard searching, we have not made out even the shadow of a kudu and we decide to return to the lodge, to have breakfast and to dilute the tension accumulated in those hours. We leave with a clear sky, the air still, whilst the heat and our fatigue shorten somewhat our enthusiasm. Whilst the pick-up slowly descends from the top of a hill, we see a group of big kudus come out from the shade of a large tree, like a ghost scene; there are 5 females, a young male and in front of the group : “him”, the dominating male. Without running, they disappear in the bush. In a hurry we descend from the car and we start to walk fast towards the base of the slope. Ferruccio advances with the Ruger 270 and Gavin, at his side, with the tripod. We stopped in order to capture the smallest movement in the vegetation. At one point we notice the backs of the females in slow movement. One senses that they are going to run along a path towards a clearing and then would find themselves uncovered for about 20 m. Ferruccio and Gavin position themselves waiting until even the big male emerges. The females passed slowly, followed by the young ones. The adult male, who probably sensed the danger takes his time behind a big bush; one succeeds at catching a glimpse of only his head and neck. In a moment the tripod is set up and Ferruccio doesn’t hesitate to place the Ruger onto it; he positions the eyepiece on the base of the neck and fires without hesitation. One sees the big head going into the interior of the bush. The telemeter of Riann shows 163 m. We are sure that the neck has been hit, but Gavin is not too sure of finding the animal on the spot. These big antelopes, wounded even mortally by a relatively modest caliber like ours, are capable to find the necessary force to distance themselves for several meters and there is the risk of loosing him in the thick bush. We start climbing the slope, without haste, preceded by one of the accompanying blacks who uses a machete to cut a path through the vegetation. Reaching the point of the anschuss, it is not difficult to see him. He lays turned on one side, with the head and the nice horns leaning against a small bush. We are all very excited to see such a majestic animal, our dream realized. The horns form three wide spirals which culminate in a part much clearer of ivory color, indicative of the mature age of the specimen. One notes the path of the bullet, where it entered, but didn’t come out. It was really a great shot, from the moment that the target was only the neck. We return to Nduna, happy and satisfied at having obtained one of the nicest African antelopes and also a very respectful trophy. The horns of the kudu measure 46 inches.

Given that the following day we needed to leave to go back to Italy, we decide to dedicate the last afternoon to hunt for another antelope, the springbok. Different from the other hunted animals, the springbok prefers the open spaces and doesn’t like entering the bush which would limit his field of view. The springbok lives in groups and both sexes have horns. The strange thing is that when they are in danger, they carry out incredible jumps, lifting a comb ( crest ) of white skin, that runs along the back, causing in this way alarm for the rest of the troupe.

The agile springbok

We aim for an open space and see a troupe of springbok at about 400 m. We decide to descend from the cross-country vehicle, that might frighten them, trying to approach on foot, hiding ourselves as much as possible in the bush. At about 160 m from the troupe, and nearly at the limit of the bush, we stop to try to fire. I see that Ferruccio insists that he wants that hunt, and I let him fire. Gavin, looking very carefully with the binoculars, notes that the 4th animal from the right is a male carrying a nice set of horns. Ferruccio immediately sets himself up on the tripod but the animal changes position and now is the 2nd animal on the right. Luckily Ferruccio keeps him nicely in the square of the viewer and lets the shot depart. The springbok makes a vertical jump and then starts running for about 20 m and then collapses on the ground. A nice pat on the shoulder of Ferruccio from Gavin and once again there is joy amongst us. Reaching the animal, we notice that the white crest is up : the antelope is dying. The circumference of the base of the horns is 7 inches, whilst the length is 11 inches; a beautiful specimen.
Going back to the lodge, after searching for him intensely, we bump into a male nyala, unexpectedly coming through a bush at about 30 m from the cross-country vehicle. Gavin grabs the gun and tries to get him in the square of the viewer; but he is gone already.

A small disappointment, however we are not sad for long; we were very lucky to have obtained excellent specimen in only three days, while usually, to get a similar result, one would need a whole week of safari.
Unfortunately the adventure comes to an end, but the unique emotion that I experienced during this splendid hunt in Africa will remain with me for ever.

For information see cacciareapalla@caffeditrice.it which will give you the details of the travel agent which the author used.