Cindy had her own rifle 35 years ago – a .22 LR rimfire rifle with a 4X scope. Back in those days, one could go to an empty sandpit and shoot at targets, or TV’s, or whatever people left behind. Those were the days, and she was handy with her little rifle at the sand pit. We grew up learning to shoot and hunt with our father, so it was in her blood, too.
After many years, and passing her guns down to others, my sister expressed a desire to get back into shooting. Her oldest son, Brian, gave her a BB gun for Christmas in 2013. Cindy lives at the edge of Reno, Nevada, and beyond her fenced back yard are miles of sagebrush and high desert. Christmas Day, 2013, the family gathered in the backyard to receive shooting and safety instructions from Pat, my neice’s significant other, a Marine gunny, who has been deployed twice to the Mid-East.
Cindy took those lessons to heart, and practiced with her little rifle. She laughed: “Three pumps, and the BB’s bounce off the target. Four pumps, and they are part of my fence!” She became deadly on crows…..
Cindy was travelling to Africa with me, primarily to baby-sit and to take photographs, but did mention wistfully occasionally, that she may want to hunt, too. We had a vow to watch each other’s backs on this trip and she saved my bacon a few times. Another story for another time!
So, on our first day at the rifle range, our PH, Mike, made sure she shot my rifle, in case she got bitten by the bug. She shot my rifle well from the bench that day, a little bigger than her BB gun, yet she did very well with it. I was so proud of her!
Well, the bug bit her! After several days of stalking animals with me, Cindy decided she would like to hunt an impala, a game animal that was very abundant, very beautiful, and a perfect African trophy. We had eaten impala several nights in camp, and the meat was delicious. She liked it. So, I gladly handed her “Louise,” my 7mm mag, and we concentrated our efforts on her hunt, and began stalking impala with our PH, Mike, exclusively. Our PH, Mike, carried the rifle, and ensured that everything was safe with this fledgling hunter!
Impala are gregarious herd animals, and so many groups of impala were encountered and each stalk was challenging, with so many eyes and with the impala more often than not in the middle of the expansive grassy veld with little cover. And, we know of the tremendous eyesight most game animals have, and that ‘sixth sense’ that they seem to possess, and the impala were wary, and many stalks ended with the animals leaving the area.
Cindy got her first taste of ‘buck fever’ or, ‘ram fever,’ several times, enduring long stalks and then getting within a reasonable shot distance, to find the animals were not mature and permissible to shoot. It was so good to see her experience this thrill of the hunt, the shakes, the shortness of breath, and the pounding heart – and getting in close.
After a number of stalks, and going into day 5, a large group of impala were spied at the end of a grassy field, in the edge cover, very early in the morning. They were a good 600 yards away, and they spotted us immediately, even though we were careful to stay in what cover we had to conceal ourselves. They all darted into the wooded area, out of sight. A lone hartebeest was the only animal remaining of the group. We abandoned that stalk, and head back to higher ground.
After some walking, a group of zebra on an opposite hill were spotted, and among them were several impala, including a mature ram. They were in the trees on a hillside, and there was an opportunity for us to get onto the hillside opposite them and closer, as the opposite hillside offered good cover. We would then have to find a good spot to shoot. We shadowed their movements, quiet and concealed behind the tall cover that grew on our (the near) hillside. We came to a spot opposite the impala, and Mike found a break in the cover, and then set up the shooting sticks.
Cindy laid the rifle across the sticks, and Mike stood next to her and braced her elbow. Cindy took her time, found a good shot picture across the ravine, and fired. The impala dropped like a stone! Cindy’s face was beaming with joy and accomplishment!
I cannot describe the feelings of pride, joy, and also humility that I felt, watching my little sister take her first big game animal! We then bushwacked our way down the ravine, and up the opposite side to Cindy’s ram.
Her impala ram was just beautiful. Impala are among the most graceful and lithe of the African antelope, with dainty features, and gorgeous horns. Cindy stroked, admired, and spoke to the impala, giving thanks.
What a morning!!!!!
Back at camp, she told her story several times that evening, clearly enjoying her accomplishment and everyone in camp was thrilled for her. She also said she will want a rifle of her own and would like to join a gun club, upon her return to Reno, Nevada, her home. She will have a lot of hunting opportunities there!
She came to Africa, and left a hunter. She is forever now, a new person.
I love you, Cindy!