Of Small Things and Dangerous Packages

We began hunting impala for Cindy on the third day. We were hunting an area with grassy open fields and rolling hills with bushy cover, and low, wet areas that were thickly wooded. A lot of impala were seen in the open areas, as well as zebra, kudu, warthog, and hartebeest and several gemsbok (who were very elusive and our one and only gemsbok stalk ended with vanishing gemsbok: Poof! And then they were gone!).

Shortly after lunch, a promising impala ram was spotted and we crept along a tree line, moving from tree to tree, to get closer to the group of impala on the lower hillside. As we got closer, I stopped and hung back, staying in the shadows as Cindy and Mike neared the impala, as I feared one more person on the stalk might cause the impala to sense our presence and flee.

Cindy and Mike stopped ahead, and glassed the group of impala. They then had a short whispered conversation, and Cindy sat down behind a bush, and Mike motioned me forward.

Quietly, I crept to where Mike was standing, behind some cover, and he told me quietly the impala ram in the group was not mature enough, but he had spotted a bushbuck in the cover 80 yards or so below us on the slope of the hill we were on. A bushbuck ram was an animal I had decided I would hunt if the opportunity presented itself.

We had already encountered bushbuck several times during the first few days of our hunt although we did not see one. Secretive and wary, their sharp barks of alarm sound much like a dog bark, and when frightened, they flee and broadcast to every animal within earshot of the danger nearby, thus ending any stalk in progress!

Bushbuck are the smallest of the spiral horned African animals, with strikingly beautiful and unique markings, and depending on the sub-species, have spots, stripes, and other white markings. They are the size of small deer, with bodies that appear to be full and a tad larger in proportion to their dainty faces, legs and feet. Large ears grace the top of the dainty bushbuck ram’s head, as well as a pair of dark horns that consist of a thick spiral at the base and extending up to sharp, dagger-like pointed tips.

Bushbuck are said to be aggressive when wounded, and suddenly become the scrappy little devil in the pub who says, “Yeah, I am Irish and can take anyone here!” One has to only look at the bushbuck’s size and know that a charge by a bushbuck puts those sharp and pointed foot long horns at femoral artery height on a hunter.

This thought was indeed confirmed by an owner of one of the concessions we hunted who had witnessed the damage done by a wounded charging bushbuck. The sharp pointed horns of the wounded bushbuck entered the hunter’s upper legs, glanced off the femoral artery on one side, and both horns completely pierced the hunter’s upper thighs. The hunter fortunately lived, but suffered a great injury.

I recall an article I read a number of years ago, written by Terry Wieland that first appeared in the African Hunting Gazette. In his article, Wieland writes of the bushbuck:
“Dangerous? I know of a grave along the Limpopo River, near Buffelsdrift, of an Englishman who was killed by a bushbuck in the 1890s. He wounded it, got too close, and he and the bushbuck went together into the netherworld.”

So in Africa, dangerous things do indeed come in small packages!

North American bears usually turn my insides to jelly, but this little bushbuck had me thinking! Maybe I read too much???

At first I could not see the bushbuck, which was lying down at the edge of some thick bush and in tall grassy cover, but finally I saw the dark and pointed tips of his horns barely poking up above the tall grass. This was not the first time that I marveled at what our PH, Mike could see!

The bushbuck appeared to be resting in the shade out of the mid-day sun. From our position, we watched the bushbuck, and decided to try and get closer.

We slowly and quietly moved down the slope, using what cover that was available, and got within 60 yards of the bushbuck, then moved again to come within 45 yards of the animal. From there, we could see the thick bases and the length of his horns, and Mike stated he was a mature and representative bushbuck ram. Mike set up the shooting sticks. I did not have a shot, as I could only see the bushbuck’s head and horns. Mike and I agreed I would wait the bushbuck out, and see if a shot opportunity existed.

We stood watching the bushbuck for a good 30 minutes, and the sun moved higher in the sky, and we were standing next to a large bush, but were completely exposed to the sun and this was one of the warmer days of the hunt, with temperatures in the seventies. It was quiet and peaceful on that hillside, and only the soft sound of the grass whispering in the breeze could be heard.

After what seemed an eternity, the bushbuck stood up in the shade of the cover where he had been concealed. I believe he somehow sensed our presence, as we were silent. Slowly, I laid the rifle over the shooting sticks and looked through the scope. The bushbuck was looking directly at us, and I fired and chambered another round. Mike whispered I had hit the bushbuck, as he saw the tail go up, and the bushbuck disappeared, swallowed by the grass and bushes on the hillside. We would wait a few minutes, before pursuing the bushbuck.

Cindy quietly made her way down to us, and said that from her higher vantage point, she saw the bushbuck tumble and roll, and did not get up.

We waited, then began making our way down the hillside, slowly, looking for the animal. After going 20 yards or so, my heart sank when I saw the bushbuck was down, but his head was up. He then got up, and bolted another 30 yards into the thick and tangled cover that grew along a stream at the bottom of the hill. We stopped and listened, and heard thrashing around in the dark thick cover in front of us.

Safety on, but rifle ready, we walked closer, and then Mike took the rifle from me and disappeared into the thick growth. And came out, dragging the bushbuck behind him.

I was so relieved we did not have a wounded bushbuck on our hands! My shot had been fatal, but a little farther back than I liked. So, it seems this scrappy little bushbuck had indeed played with my psyche and intimidated me!!!

The bushbuck ram was about 150 pounds, and Mike judged him to be approximately 7 years old. He was dark, with spots on his flanks, and white markings on his chest. What a beautiful animal! His horns were indeed sharp, and the tip of one of his horns showed he had been actively fighting with other rams.

My second spiral horned African animal was indeed a dandy, and I will always remember that afternoon, that sunny, bucolic hillside and the smallest, yet most intimidating animal I have ever hunted!

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