Mountain reedbuck afford a challenge hunt in the wild.
By Daryl Crimp
“He’s an absolute monster,” said PH Pete matter-of-factly, “and he lives on this big plateau.”
‘Big’ was an understatement. Even ‘huge’ didn’t cut it. The landscape in Eastern Cape is steroid- expansive, and Pete’s ‘plateau’ was the size of Switzerland. The ‘he’ Pete was referring to was a steenbok and, paradoxically, the ‘monster’ was a bit bigger than a hare but smaller than a large puppy. One of South Africa’s ‘tiny ten’ antelope, it is a fascinating animal and extremely challenging to hunt, unless you are a long-range shooter, which I am not.
Ironically, hunting these miniature species never appealed to me before coming to Africa, but they grew on me; got right under my skin in fact. The steenbok especially, had won my heart, though initially I was averse to hunting them. They mate for life and the thought of killing a mate didn’t sit well with me. However, once I remembered that a predator could have the same effect, and that a mate could be replaced, my qualms disappeared.
I set my heart on a particular diminutive steenbok, and I coveted the little antelope. And his little horns were big!
“I have had hunters come back the past two years specifically trying to get that buck,” Pete said, “but those horns don’t get big by him being stupid.”
“He’ll be record book!”
“Definitely,” Ryan agreed, “for sure.”
Wild steenbok through spotting scope.
Sunrise over the karoo.
Karoo landscape – steenbok country.
My two new PHs and I were enjoying an afternoon recce, checking what animals were available and familiarising me with the territory. Ostensibly, we were after a nice old steenbok, but I didn’t allow myself to get too excited for a number of reasons: finding that buck was like the proverbial needle in a haystack; Africa had already smiled on me that morning – twice – and I felt that hoping for a third was pushing it. The cards were stacked against us, and it never pays to count your chickens.
Just on daybreak that morning we had stalked and shot my dream kudu; a very old, black-faced bull, well past his prime, and sporting worn horns that told of a rich and fulfilling life. It had recently broken free from a poacher’s snare and was dragging the long tether from its neck – had I not ended it there, death would have been a miserable event.
While tracker Jimmy was caping the kudu, we hunted further into the long mountain valley. The slopes, basins, cliffs, and undulating levels supported sparse vegetation – native grasses and low bushes dotted here and there. The only real cover was in the main creek or the dongas that fanned down over the escarpment. We were heading to check out thirty-odd mountain reedbuck spread across a sunny face, when Ryan noticed a loner low on the opposite side. It immediately caught our attention because the signs indicated an old animal: it was well away from the main herd, held a harem of two, commanded a very good vantage point, and had an escape route immediately at hand.
The stalk was perfect: challenging, remote, and tortuous. Ryan and Pete utilised every trick in the book to squirrel closer. We leopard crawled, bum crawled, lizard crawled, hunched-old-man crawled, and crawled painfully until my knees bled. It was awesome. We used tiny bushes to shield our approach, and all three of us managed to conceal ourselves behind a rock. We crossed 700m as the crow flies over open ground without being spotted. This was real hunting. If I were a long-range shooter, the hunt would have finished in an hour and twenty minutes, and the excitement would be long over.
The old ram dozed on his feet, in the sun, 120m away, completely oblivious of us.
Daryl and Ryan hunting in the karoo.
“His horns aren’t as good as I thought,” Ryan said, looking through the spotting scope. “They are well broomed.”
“But he’s old,” Pete said. Perfect, in every way. The horns were better than I could have imagined. Not long worn down, but thick with age and maturity and cunning.
“It can’t get much better than this,” I said, thanking my PHs for a magnificent morning. Or could it?
Karoo wilderness offers good free-range hunting.
“Steenbok next,” chirped Ryan. I just laughed. It was a novelty having an ADHD professional hunter. But it was time to get the animals on ice and have lunch.
“Is that the steenbok you were talking about?” I asked later that afternoon, indicating a dot in the distance.
“Tiny bugger – looks like him,” Pete whistled. “Could be your lucky day.”
Ryan checked through the spotting scope and confirmed that indeed, my initials were tattooed on that buck’s rump.
With no real cover on ‘Pete’s Plateau’, the only real advantage we held was the strong afternoon wind that had picked up. Funnelling over the contours of this monumental landscape, it bent grasses and shrubs, disguising our movement, and masking any sound we made. It also anchored the steenbok and his mate on a lee slope, giving us further opportunity to get close.
Using a donga, Pete, Ryan, and I doubled over and set off. When opposite the animals, we leopard crawled in single file until we were tucked behind a small anthill, 90m away from our target.
The antelope had bedded down in the time it had taken us to cover the exposed ground, so we took reference marks and settled in to wait them out. My knees and legs bore fresh wounds, and my muscles and sinews protested a little too loudly, but I felt almost euphoric. The whole experience had a surreal feel to it, and I kept replaying the morning’s hunts in my mind.
“He’s up,” Pete hissed, and I rolled into a kneel behind the tripod. The steenbok stretched and stood broadside – the perfect shot. I settled the crosshairs, squeezed off, and… missed by a country mile! I couldn’t believe it. The sight picture looked fine, but it’s a good liar who tells you he never misses. Fortunately, the little buck gave me a second chance; it ran in a tight circle and stopped on the same spot. That’s where it dropped.
Tortuous stalks over open ground are required when hunting wild Steenbok.
Daryl felt this old mountain reedbuck was hard-earned.
The huge little steenbok.
The guys couldn’t believe the size of the needle-like horns. The buck was an absolute monster. They reckoned record-book material, but I’m not into that, so we didn’t run the tape over it.
I sat against an anthill as the sun set and a baboon barked in the distance, taking in the full measure of the hunt. In one day we’d successfully stalked three superb old animals, each of a uniquely different species.
If I were a betting man, and I’m not, I’d wager an ‘African Trifecta’ doesn’t come along every day.