Day 2 – Saturday July 11, 2009
Once the gates were open, we picked up our guide and headed in to set-up camp before we went into the bush. The campsite was… um… interesting. There 3 huts (more like chalets but I like the word hut). One was new and the other two had been burnt down and so had walls but no doors or roofs. The new hut was not completely finished and was storing building materials and despite paying to camp at the site we didn’t have access to the new hut and had to use one of the burnt out ones. We made a fire, offloaded our junk, and appointed Solomon guardian of the camp- without doors or roofs or windows there’s nothing to keep the pesky baboons from invading and rummaging through our stuff. I left my laptop with him (yes I brought it to the bush!), so that he could keep entertained watching movies while the rest of us, made like tribesmen and ruled the jungle.
We drove out to the hunting area and I was shocked to see that humans lived alongside the wildlife. The guide explained that it was a community park and the people that lived on the park made their living fishing on the river to the north and their cattle roamed the plains intermingling with the wildlife.
The plains were flat and wide. I could honestly see for miles around and it was in its own empty, simple way, breathtaking. Nelson set up aiming for a male in a pack we had come across and he missed. No seriously, he really missed. This was our cue to make time for some practice shots. Setting up a target on a tree about 55 yards away, we got to work. I handled the smaller gun, the 243. Using the bonnet of the car to steady myself, I trained the crosshairs on my target and pulled the trigger. And yes, I got my target. My dad got a practice shot after me, and he with the bigger gun made a larger mark on the target and on the tree. With the dead-on shots we figured we were good and went in search of our marks.
Nelson was up again and was the first to make a kill. We were all pretty excited because we had started rather late in the morning and by this point many animals had crossed into the water, where we could no longer hunt or track them. His shot was a through and through. He had aimed for the shoulder and the bullet went in the shoulder, through the heart and out the other shoulder. That poor animal did not have a chance. After posing for the required “hunter” shots, we loaded the first kill into the trailer. The dead animal must have been in the middle of business because it emitted pellets in the trailer.
Leaving Abel with the kill we set off in search of new targets. My dad was up next. He located a rather dashing male, set his crosshairs and fired. An unwitting female lechwe stepped in front of the bullet at the last minute and got hit…well, killed. It is against the rules to hunt females but there was nothing we could do, it was an accident. Lining up again, he shot and hit the male but the resilient beast would not go down and so we had to track it. It went into the mud and marshes, headed towards the water. Vic quickly threw his shoes off, the guide followed suit and they took off after the animal. As they were following the feisty brute, Vic came upon a male with his name written all over it and he bagged it. After handing off the dead female and male to Abel and Nelson, we continued in search of the injured male and soon enough Vic was able to finish him off. At this point, we were knee deep in water and the animal looked like a noteworthy conquest. I mean, seriously, the beast was huge! We slashed it’s throat to let it bleed out and rolled to over to inspect it. On the back leg of this animal was a large growth, which when cut open was filled with a sickly yellow pus. Apparently someone else had tried to land this trophy earlier on and the animal had proved elusive, refusing to die. The pus indicated an infection and so the animal and its meat were no good and we had to leave it for the vultures.
At this point I should mention that once we had reached the wetlands, Vic promptly took his shoes off and trudged through the mud and waters, bare naked footed! I was shocked but in no way moved myself to follow his lead. The guide, Malambo was the only to follow suit. For me, in all honesty, it was torture enough that I was walking through all that mess, imagining the fecal matter and other nastiness that was now only a sock and a shoe away from my bare skin, in some instances, when the water was deep enough it was touching the slim ribbon of exposed skin between my trousers and socks- ew! My father approved of my decision and he kept his shoes on as well. We felt further vindicated but privately so, when later Vic got his foot caught on a reed and sliced open the skin between his second and third toes and despite his bravado, I knew it hurt. However that barely broke his stride as we resumed the hunt and he acted as though nothing had happened at all.
Cutting our losses (letting the bad-meat-but-big-trophy go), we resumed our hunt and trudged through the swamp for my target. I was not able to get my shot lined up in time before my first real target began to move and seeing as it was quite a far shot to make, we decided to move on. Then we came across a big one and taking my time, I trained the crosshairs on the animal and shot. In the interest of full disclosure, I was aiming for the shoulder as I had been instructed but often when I try to focus on an object that’s tiny and hard to see, my eyes tear up and my vision gets blurry. I knew that the animal was in my crosshairs, I steadied myself and pulled the trigger and it went down. Because we were in the marshes, we had forgotten to bring our shooting sticks with us and I had to use Vic’s shoulder to steady my gun. Seeing the animal fall, Vic picks me up and is shouting and celebrating, uber-proud of his new student. My dad’s voice is booming in the background, “THAT’S MY DAUGHTER!!! THAT’S MY DAUGHTER!!!” I am absolutely chuffed to bits, with a giant smile pasted on my face. And yes, I remembered to turn the safety back on.
We ran up to the animal and saw that I had shot the biggest animal of the day, through the eye. It was a brainshot, it didn’t stand a chance. At this point I was beyond ecstatic. All I had wished for on this hunting trip was that I would shoot and kill my animal and I did in a very stellar fashion! As the car was quite a distance away and we still had some hunting to do, my father had yet to get his [acceptable] kill, we left Phillip with the lechwe and went off in search of more males. It was getting late in the day and there were less animals roaming the plains. In fact all we could see were herds of younger lechwe.
To save time, Vic sent me after Nelson and Abel to make sure that they had let Nelson’s kill bleed out. I was bummed to miss out on the rest of the hunt but had quite the laugh once I found out that Nelson and Abel in a display of ingenuity had managed to get the cars stuck in the mud. And no, not just one car, both cars. They had originally trying to be smart and reduce their workload, drove Nelson’s car out into the mud because they were tired of dragging Vic’s kill (and the dead female). Now they got the Bighorn stuck in mud about a foot deep. Then they decided to drag it out of the mud with the Patrol. They drove the Patrol up but then got that stuck too, in not very deep mud to boot and not even close enough to hook it up to the Bighorn. I was definitely sure to congratulate them on a job well done! Hardy ha ha! No seriously, my sides were splitting. I just could not believe that this had happened to us. At this juncture, I think that I should point out that it was flat all around and we could see for miles and there was no one around to help us. There was another car with hunters but they looked to be about 2-3 miles out and nobody wanted to walk out to fetch them. So instead, I sat and poked fun at Nelson and Abel who to make up for their gross miscalculations had started skinning and gutting Nelson’s kill.
Lucky for us, the other hunters decided to pull up and give us a hand and some local fishermen and hunters who were making their way home stopped to gives us a hand in the hopes that they’d make a quick buck. Little did they know that they were actually going to have to earn it! With enough effort we were able to get the patrol out but the real challenge was with the Bighorn that looked like a third of the tyre was stuck in the mud. It was BAD. One of the local chaps, trying to be smart went off to fetch a pair of oxen from another villager, while everybody else attempted to search the extremely flat and barren landscape for anything that could help create some sort of traction underneath the wheels of this ridiculously heavy sport utility vehicle.
We ended up hacking a short thorny tree (we took the horns off of course), using clumps of grass as well as the floor mats from inside of the car and with the Patrol circled around the front taking particular care to drive only on the drier, harder ground, we were finally able to get that massive beast out of the mud. I found that I was really amused by how readily our guide chucked his AK-47 into the front seat and got to work hacking at the mud that held us captive. I was really grateful for his initiative and effort but also amused at the sight of the discarded weapon.
It amazes me how much we take effective communication for granted, until we are sitting, one car stuck in mud and the other roped on ready to yank it out. Well, without waiting for the go-ahead the driver of the Patrol (which I am certain was my dad), took off like a man possessed before the Bighorn had even turned on and snapped one of the ropes. We almost lost a hook that went flying as the rope broke.
So finally we had everything in order, all the animals in one place, all the cars out of the mud and we were set to go, Vic spotted a flock of ducks and as he had a birds license decided to shoot, he went off and killed a golden Egyptian goose. We ended up not having it for dinner as was the plan but gave it to Solomon to take home to his wife.
We went and had the animals inspected, explained the death of the female and got our papers signed and cleared so that we could leave the following day at our convenience. The main office for the rangers was fairly typical. I was surprised to see that they had cell phone signal, this far out in the bush. There was also a big baobab tree, well big by any other standards but comparatively small for a baobab, but as the sun was setting it made for a striking picture against the violet sky.
We went back to camp, ate nshima and mince meat that gave me really bad heartburn. The old men made the young ‘uns roast and eat the lechwe balls as their formal initiation as hunters. I feel that perhaps I should mention that these dear souls had still yet to fire a gun. Ironic? Anyway, we then got to work getting the meat ready to be cut-up first thing in the morning. The campsite manager materialized in the darkness and made us aware of his notable skills in skinning animals and so for a small fee, I paid him to skin my beast, as I had every intention of processing and keeping the skin. Solomon got to work, skinning and disemboweling the rest of the meat.
Soon exhausted by the day’s events and lulled by the warmth and light of the fire, we made our way to bed. We all slept in the same hut, a doorless, windowless, roofless hut. I laid a sleeping bag down and then put my sleeping bag over it but that did nothing to shield me from the cold hard concrete that sought to wreak havoc on my back.