By Kendal-Ray Kaschula
If there’s a cattle rancher reading this book, then you’re about to understand this next story better than anyone.
I lived on a cattle ranch from fourteen, and for as far back as my memories went, we were plagued by hyenas.
And no, they were not just any old hyenas. They were professors…..they were graduates in avoiding a bullet. They were the holders of PHD’s in how to avoid a hunter. They were the kind of hyenas that could put a sane person in a mental institute, and in a place as tough as Zimbabwe’s Lowveld, the last thing anyone needed was another reason to go insane, but who said the weary get to rest?
Hunting hyenas, was, and still is-in fact I’m about to go out and try shoot some the very evening that I’m writing this-a regular activity of mine. Baits, blinds, sitting on roads where they frequently walk, hanging around in trees like a bat, calling them-insert gag noise here-whatever could ever be done to kill a hyena, I did it.
And believe me when I tell you that such commitment gave me about a hundred adventures. Everything from jimmying electric fences so that I could slide under them like a fugitive, to calling in leopards and lions because they responded to the caller more than a hyena, to seeing and getting to witness an entire pack of wild dogs sing their night cry of howls, and, the list could go on.
I don’t regret those experiences, because they were beautiful, but I still would have liked to win against a four-legged spotted scavenger though.
Unfortunately, they won far more often than I did.
There was one occasion, when I was seventeen, fresh out of school and having passed my Learner Hunter’s License, I was left with an expanse of time that I decided-for the sake of hunting which I still adored, even if it was hyenas-and for the sake of the money doing PAC hyenas got me, that I would tackle the ranch’s hyenas with a vengeance.
And when I say vengeance, I mean vengeance.
Picture those medieval Vikings with six-foot beards, skins across their shoulders, and battle axes raised as they charged screaming like banshees into battle and then multiply their crazy by ten. That was my version of vengeance.
The only problem was that despite my dedication to the cause, they still whipped us every time. That year I spent more nights in a blind than my own bed, and on one occasion I nearly gave up.
We’d been hunting the same cattle killing hyenas-a pair of them-every night back-to-back for three weeks and Tracker and I were starting to resemble drugged zombies. Not to mention our patience was wearing thin to the point of being as brittle as spider silk-spider silk not produced by Golden Orbs(those things weave webs of steel)-and all around we were pretty run down.
I decided, after so many nights of sitting on kills that the culprits just wouldn’t come back to, that we should have a break. Just a week or so to recollect ourselves-maybe sleep-but, on the very day we were meant to start this, we were told of another cow that had been killed, and despite our resolve, we were clearly suckers for punishment, so back we went.
Pop-up-blind in place, sticks set, chairs up, lane cleared and in we go. I won’t lie, my expectations were at zero. I was fully expecting to spend another night trying to keep myself awake for hyenas that just wouldn’t come in, but that was not to be.
It was some time past nine when we heard the first whoops. An hour later, they called again, closer. Part of me was hopeful, but part of me was quite content to doze off on the impression that we would once again have no action.
I know, I had slipped into despondency, but seriously…..I had not slept in weeks. I was basically a husk of existence.
And then, the light sound of crunching bone. I barely registered it in my dozed off state, but Prosper gave me a firm tap, waking me, and so I leaned forward to the sound of more crunching, flicking on my thermal, and there. They. Were.
Those two hyenas, glowing black in the thermal attachment on my .243’s scope-because .243 was my hyena weapon of death-were some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
There was one on either side of the cow, and when the one feeding on the opposite side raised its head, I planted a bullet in its chest, dropping it where it stood.
Its friend bolted, and I reloaded, searching for what I hoped would be a chance to shoot its pal, and thinking I saw it, let loose another round. Was that a hyena or just an unfortunate shaped tree? I’ll never know, but, either way, my second bullet roused the one remaining hyena from wherever it was and I saw it loping away, and planted, by God’s grace alone considering its pace, a bullet in its ribs.
And then, a second of silence except for the heavy breathing in the blind. In later years Prosper would get a flir to use as a second spotter, but back then it was just me and the thermal with eyes, meaning he had no choice but to sit beside me in darkness with no clue as to what was going on around us.
‘And?’ he whispered, breathless.
‘One down,’ I whispered back, hoarse. ‘Let’s go see.’
We all but flew from the blind, torching around as we made our way up to the carcass. I had seen the hyena fall, it wasn’t a surprise to find it there, but when you’ve finally gotten the one thing you’ve been searching for, for months, you believe it’s real when you’re right there and it’s glowing in your spotlight.
‘We did it,’ I was breathless. Could barely breath. ‘We did it!’ I said again, though it came out more of a squeal.
‘Very good!’ Prosper put in, shaking in his boots, and dancing around the hyena chanting, ‘you thought you could get away, but not today. You are done. You are finished.’
‘Finished!’ I joined in, yelling, as we egged each other on, and then we were both dancing and prancing around the dead hyena in what could only be called a primal dance of celebration. All that was missing was the leopard skins around our waists.
Vikings gone rogue.
Now, I know that some would say we disrespected the animal, but I know that whoever that is won’t be a cattle rancher. After the damage they do, that I’ve seen and experienced firsthand, and after months of dedicated hunting, well, lets’ just say my respect for hyenas when it comes to whether or not I can prance around them is nonexistent.
DEATH TO HYENAS! I say, DEATH BY ALL MEANS POSSIBLE!
What makes you think I hate them huh?
After we’d drifted down from our adrenalin and joy induced high, we searched for the second hyena, but failed, and ended up getting him the next morning, already dead atop an anthill.
And so, there finishes the story of the three-week hyena hunt. Cattle killer status: destroyed.
Until a new clan moved in a few weeks later, but hey, I’ve already declared no rest for the weary and I reckon I’ve got sanity to spare.
Hell, why am I even writing this down….I should be loading up my rifle.