Making a Huntress

THE WHOLE STORY

Day 1- Friday July 10, 2009

Plan was to set off at about 1pm in the afternoon. We all gathered at Nelson’s place at about 1.30- African time for you. But Nelson himself the man of the hour, was nowhere to be seen. He had gone off to pick up the last few things, most importantly ice for preserving the meat on the ride home. Since about 12.30 he had been promising to be on his way home. He didn’t show till 2.30pm.

We packed up all of our supplies and everything we thought we needed for 2 and half days in the bush in the Nelson’s Bighorn, the Trooper and the trailer that we had hitched to the Trooper. At about 4.00pm, we were all packed up and ready to go, or so we thought. Nelson had forgotten some paperwork at Jesmondine and so needed to go back and get it and we needed to fill up the Trooper with diesel. We set off to get gas and Nelson to get his paperwork, planning on meeting up at the Petroda filling station outside of town.

Trying to beat the traffic in the heart of town, we set off towards Kamwala market. We apparently had forgotten a few things: 1. It was now the end of the workday and so there was heavy traffic during rush hour; 2. it was also the end of week and so there were even more cars on the road as commuters tried to make their way out of town. Seriously, traffic was grid-locked. We spent over 30 minutes barely making a mile. The public transportation bus drivers, had at this point resorted to getting off the road and driving on the sidewalk, so that they could get their passengers to their destinations and to pick up more passengers.

When we finally made it out of town, we stopped for fuel and lunch and then set-off towards the bush. At this point I was beginning to get more familiar with my fellow hunters. Abel and Phillip rode in Nelson’s car. They were students from the University of Zambia (UNZA). My dad (Okorie) was driving the trooper and riding with us in the trooper was Vic, a white Zimbabwean chap that now lived in Zambia and Solomon, an old friend who had often accompanied Okorie and Vic for many hunting expeditions. The stories and the adventures that these 3 fellows share would fill a book and more. I was looking forward to the stories and adventures that this trip would bring. As the only female on the trip, it was important to me that from the onset, I wasn’t treated as such and was seen as just one of the fellows and I made that explicitly clear.

Trying to make up for time, we hurried through the Zambian countryside, blasting through Kafue, and stopping in Mazabuka to get more gas and say bye to Okorie’s friends, the Kutis who had been in Livingstone viewing the Victoria Falls and were set to leave Zambia before we returned from the bush. Night had fallen upon us and we were hoping to still be able to make it into Lochinvar to set up camp the same night so that we could head out at day break in search of our targets early Saturday.

So after the pleasantries had been exchanged and gas was put in the car and all who needed to, washed their feet (group slang for using the bathroom), on we went towards Monze. The park (Lochinvar) was located just outside of Monze. We made it to the turn-off by about 7.30pm, the sign that was now too dark to read, stated that Lochinvar was 42km away from the turn-off on dirt roads. Oh, boy, had we read the sign, we might have saved ourselves some drama, but no that just wouldn’t be any fun and so off we went off the tarmac and into the bush without reading the sign.  About 12km into the bush, in the dark, we were flagged down by some chaps next to a stalled vehicle. They had blown a tyre on the dirt road, which is quite commonplace on these treacherous dirt roads and of all things did not have a jack! So we stopped to give them a hand and let them use our jack so that they could carry on their way.

Just after the stalled car we came up on the gate into the Kafue National Park, I think. We came upon a gate anyway. Shortly after the gate, I saw a sign for Lochinvar and assumed we were being welcomed into the park. So, being me, I felt adequately welcomed and made no mention of the sign. On we went down the dirt road for about 2 hours, till Solomon asked that we stop and get directions because he was sure we had missed the sign pointing us in the right direction. At this point, I say, “oh wait are you looking for the sign that said Lochinvar, I saw it a while back.” I probably should have kept my mouth shut but that’s not like me and so I set myself up for some major ribbing the rest of the hunting trip.

Trying to get back on the right road, we stopped a number of times to ask for directions. Note that, it’s about 10.30 at night and the only people on the road are the village drunks attempting to make their way back home. The first guy that we stopped to talk to, quite literally ran away from us. He was high and I’m guessing we must have looked somewhat scary perhaps dangerous- haha. Anyway he comes back and talks to us making absolutely no sense. So, on we went and we asked the next fellows we came up on and they said keep going down the road and after the second bridge turn left and you’ll get to the gate. We kept going but that second bridge seemed elusive and so we stopped again to ask for directions and this time the old man who was helping us replied in Tonga saying, “hajime, hajime, hajime,” or something to that effect which in English meant, “I am also lost, can you help me? Do yo0u know where I am?”

At this point it’s late and we were cold and seriously lost. Nelson’s following behind us about 100 yards so he could see through the dust. After coming up on a truck, whose driver said, yes, he was heading back from Lochinvar and we needed to make a left turn to get to the park, we decided to wait for Nelson to catch up. He didn’t. We assumed that he had found another road to the park and so turned around to find him, which mind you wasn’t easy because we had the trailer hitched to our car and the road was not very wide. We found nelson and he hadn’t found a road. He had…. wait for it…. blown a tire! Oh, the irony. So we obviously stopped to deal with that. As we were done fixing and replacing the tire, we were met by two chaps who ended up conning us into giving them a lift that took us out of our way a bit and set us on a village road that at many times was not a road at all, but hey, as long as we were moving in the right direction.

Finally after waking up a school teacher, fetching water from a well, wolfing down high energy cookie and driving through a ravine in search of “the lights” (directions from the teacher), we arrived at the gate. It was now 12.30am and freezing cold outside. Blocking the gates with our vehicles we parked outside and all but Vic slept in the cars for 5 hours till the gates opened up at 6.

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.

Day 3 – Sunday July 12, 2009

 Up at first light, we set to work finding good firewood for the fire as we planned on drying out some of the meat. Charcoal wouldn’t work because it had a tendency of burning too hot and as such it tended to char the meat, and that is just not desirable. Cutting meat is a lot of work. Seriously, it just kept on and on. Feeling a tad left out and uninitiated as a hunter, I decided to do something about it and made myself a side of non-rocky non-mountain oysters. I did eat it all but I will be perfectly fine not having to repeat the performance.

One of the major highlights of this last day of hunting was that my father tried selling me off in marriage to Malambo (the guide) in the hopes that the marriage would provide him with free hunting privileges for at least 5 years. Malambo would have none of it. Citing my proficiency with a gun the day before, he just did not see a happy life in the future with me as his wife. Apparently I was too much of a woman for him…a bush-woman that is. My father pleaded but to no avail, Malambo was not having me. He said the outcome of such a union would be 1 of three options: (1) he would be moved to drink; (2) he would be moved to kill himself because the drink would not be sufficient to counter a life with me; (3) I would kill him as the result of a disagreement. And so, just like that I was dumped.

By about 1.00pm we were done and loaded and we got in the car and headed back home. All the way back we received appreciative glances from people we passed. It was only right that they acknowledged and adequately respected the conquests of our hunting expedition, and we put the heads on display to ensure that. We looked like a pack of vagabonds, most especially me, who was wearing a shirt-dress over tights with feathers in my hair. I looked like I had just stepped of the set of Taking Woodstock or some other 60’s themed peace, love and happiness hippie flick. I didn’t feel like a hippie till I caught some of the strange looks that people sent my way.

By all means an atypical weekend for me but it was hands-down time well-spent. I would leap at the opportunity to go hunting again, but would draw the line at hunting honeymoon as had been proposed by some in our party.

 

PS. My hunting shoes, the ones that protected me from all of the nastiness of the great outdoors were left in the bush. My darling father, bless his soul, washed them, cleaning off all the muck and then with my express permission gifted them to the caretaker of the campsite.

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