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Third time's the Charm

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Once again I found myself on board a SAA flight, much to the chagrin of my wife, in pursuit of Tragelaphus strepsiceros. My obsession with Kudu began 17 years ago when I first read The Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway before my first trip to the Dark Continent. Little did I know I was to follow in "Papa’s" footsteps.

This was to be my third attempt in five years for kudu. During my prior two trips, the kudu had lived up to his reputation as the "Grey Ghost of Africa". All I had to show for my previous attempts was miles on my boots, memories of Africa, and an empty spot on my trophy wall. On this hunt I was hoping the old adage, "Third times a charm" would hold true.

Upon arriving in Johannesburg, I was met by my friend and PH Xander Grobler. Some 14 months prior he and I had spent a week hunting in the small town of Vivo, near the border with Zimbabwe. During that trip I was able to take an impressive Nyala and Steenbok, but had been frustrated by kudu. To add salt to the wound, my three companions (all on their first safari) all managed to take impressive kudu. This was now personal.

The first morning of the hunt found me awake early, anxiously waiting to hit the bush, in pursuit of a worthy opponent. After a few hours of hunting that first morning I realized the conditions were going to make for a much more difficult hunt. The differences in the terrain were striking. Areas that were once lush and green, were now brown and withered due to the lack of rain. Leaves that once hung on trees, were now withered on the ground.

During my last hunt, the Kudu were in the peak of rut, out searching for females. Now, the breeding season was now over, and the old bulls were sequestered in thick stands of marula trees, recouping from the stress of the rut.

Over the course of first five days I managed to glimpse two "shooter" bulls for a total of about 20 seconds before once again vanishing into the bush. At least they were not completely invisible I kept telling myself. As another trophy disappeared into the bush, I was amazed that an animal the size of a kudu could glide through the bush without making a sound and simply disappear.

After five hard, tiring, and dirty days of hunting, my Professional Hunter Xander Grobler and I had nothing to show for out effort; except cuts, sunburn, and sore calves from walking in the fine red sand that seems to get into everything. That evening, as we sat around the fire eating dinner, the usual good natured jokes and laughing were replaced with a solemn quietness. We were five days into a seven day hunt and had yet to get the sticks up on mature kudu. We all were feeling a bit of tension, wondering if it that spot on my trophy wall would remain empty.

As we sat around the fire, I suggested that perhaps sacrificing a virgin to the hunt gods might change our luck, but then realized finding a mature kudu bull would be easier then finding a virgin in the African bush. Instead we decided to drink an extra beer or two, hoping that a bit of fuzz in the morning would change our luck.

On day six of the hunt, we woke up with a bit of grit in our belly. After shaving my tongue from the previous night, Xander and I once again headed in the bush, hoping to end my Kudu drought. As the day wore on, the constant swirling wind frustrated our every plan.

Mid afternoon Xander and I decided to head back to a valley of marula trees, where we knew several kudu were holing up. They had chosen this spot carefully as the stands of trees were thick and the ground full of dry leaves. Anyone entering the valley would alert any animal from a mile away. We decided to set up in a clearing, wait for the kudu to emerge from the valley, where we would then attempt a spot and stalk. With about 40 minutes of shooting time left, the wind suddenly changed direction, blowing our scent down into the valley and alerting the kudu to our presence. Disgusted, we picked up and started to walk out. While we cursed the wind and our continued bad luck, Xander paused for a second to inform me that a large kudu bull was headed our way.

Out of a thick stand of trees a kudu appeared, walking towards us. It between us and the Kudu was a fallen tree that offered some cover. My heart was pounding so loud I was afraid the Kudu would hear it. I was quite nervous, feeling like a young boy on his first date. The kudu closed to within sixty yards, unaware of our presence. As the kudu drew near, I leaned the rifle against the tree, placed the crosshairs on him and slowly squeezed the trigger. Nothing happened! In all my excitement, I had forgotten to take the safety off. I pushed the safety forward, picked a spot on the kudu and slowly squeezed the trigger.

As the shot rang out, the kudu dug his feet into the red sand and took off running.

The shot felt good, the range was close, and the rifle had performed flawlessly on three previous safaris.

After a few minutes we composed ourselves and began to look for blood. As we headed to the spot, we bent down and see a few drops of bright red blood in the sand. Ever so slowly we followed his tracks to sheep fence that he had jumped over. As we crossed the fence into a patch of thick bush we began to find larger amounts of bright red blood. My heart quickens, and while I don’t dare say it, I think to myself he is mine. We find him not more than 30 yards from the fence, and he is down.

As I draw closer, I stop 10 yards away to fully admire the animal. There will be time for photos. Right now I just want to sit back and take it all in; the fading African sun, the fine red sand, the groves of marula trees, and the kudu in his entire splendor.

To have him in the salt after so many days and miles is a feeling that everyone should experience at least once in their life. My personal quest for the Grey Ghost of Africa has finally ended.

Steven Huettner

• Hunting Elephant in Mopani •
• African Pride •
• Third time's the Charm •
• 4 Paces from Death •
• Hunting with the San •
• Terminal Medicine •
• Cure for the secondhand life •
• The Journeyman •
• When things go right •
• When things go right Part 2 •
• The hunt is over - but the memories remain •
• Silent assasins •

•  •

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