Burkin Faso: 2015
Roan Antelope, a Twenty-Year Dream
by Kim Stuart
A splay-legged giraffe sipped from the coffee-colored waterhole. A scrappy band of baboons harassed each other in between quick drinks of water. Then, as if choreographed by an African documentary director, a young bull elephant passed beneath our treestand, close enough for us to smell the dusty, earthy, dung aroma. It was the second night of our first African safari…
My wife and I hoped to see a sable antelope come to water, but our only visitor was an antelope I will never forget – one that made an impression that etched into the memory of a novice hunter. A roan bull strutted into the clearing as though the area was his domain. Black and white face, graceful, curving ringed horns, and robust, rust-colored body, he was a vision of the perfect African antelope. There was a tap on my back from our PH. As I slowly turned to acknowledge him, his eyes and subtle headshake told the story as he mouthed, “Don’t you dare shoot, he’s protected.”
The unobtainable is always more desirable. I compare the emotions of that evening to one’s first car or first true love. The indelible impressions were the basis of many other safaris planned over the next 20 years, always with the image of that beautiful roan distinctively framed in the dim light of a Zimbabwean dusk.
Now, almost 20 years to the month from that first safari in Zimbabwe, and a couple of dozen African safaris later, the opportunity to hunt a roan finally became a possibility.
I had read Craig Boddington’s article on Arly Safaris located in Burkina Faso, in which he described the great number of roan available. I was hooked! I began the booking process by calling agent Arjun Reddy of Hunters Networks in Brewster, N.Y. and contacting my hunting buddy Jim Gefroh, to see if he was available for the December 2014 hunt. Fortunately he was! With the help of our very creative travel agent, all was arranged.
Then, in the fall of 2014, the West African Ebola crises hit three countries bordering Burkina Faso – we decided to postpone the hunt until the Ebola epidemic was under control.
Another year went by and the possibility of hunting a roan was on the back burner again!
Finally, December 2015 it was all systems go. We arrived in Ouagadougou and were met by our interpreter Aruna Sourou. We continued for another 12 hours by vehicle to the Arly Safaris camp on 40 thousand hectares in the eastern part of the country, not far from the boarder of Benin.
After a 20-year wait, my anticipation was bursting for the combined hunt for savannah buffalo, kob, hartebeest, reedbuck, warthog, duiker and, of course, roan.
We were the first hunters in camp for the season. The elephant grass was tall because of the late rains, and the only way to increase visibility for ourselves and the hunters to come was to burn the grass at every opportunity. Smoke from the fires obscured the sun with a hazy veil that obliterated a view of a mountain range we didn’t see until three days into the hunt when a strong wind blew the smoke from the valley. Then we started to see game… but no roan.
The first animal taken was a decent sized kob. One shot on the shoulder confirmed my Tikka T3 300 WSM was spot on. The next day our team of PH Ishmail and his brother, our driver and tracker, located a herd of about 50 buffalo. With the females bringing up the rear and a few good shootable bulls near the front of the herd, they were worth pursuing. Guessing where they were headed, we drove in a circuitous route to cut them off. Our tactic worked perfectly. Setting up on the shooting sticks just moments before the lead bull entered a clearing, I took a shot with my Chapuis 9.3x74R single trigger double rifle. The soft round hit the solid object. The buffalo slowed at first, but then took off at full speed directly into the thickest, densest brush around, offering almost zero visibility.
Going in blind was not an option. We crept closer in the vehicle to a tree located near the point the buffalo entered the bush, and sent the tracker up the tree for a look. From the higher branches, he motioned that he could see a dark spot toward the far side of the thicket. We slowly moved the Land Cruiser in that direction.
As we edged closer, the buffalo boiled out of the densest part of the bush and straight for the front of the Land Cruiser. He stopped short, with no daylight between his horns and the grill of the vehicle, whirled, and disappeared back into hiding. This happened in seconds, and neither the PH nor I had the opportunity to shoot – not that we would, as shooting from a vehicle is illegal in most African countries.
The buffalo was slightly more visible now in a less dense part of the thicket. Finally he gave us an opportunity to finish the deadly game. We left the truck and, stalking shoulder to shoulder, Ishmail and I eased closer to the semi-hidden buffalo. As he sensed our closeness and turned for a final confrontation, we fired at the same time, and the old bull slowly dropped. His worn horns, cuts and scars told a story of a tough old creature, a true Dagga Boy.
After a close examination of the buffalo it was obvious that my first shot had passed slightly to the rear of the point of his shoulder as he walked toward me at a quartering angle, enough to the rear to miss all the vitals, exiting the far side about mid-rib high. Reason enough that enabled him to fight so gallantly.
And still, the only roan we saw were on a dead run away from the vehicle, or when they spotted us on foot.
On the afternoon of the fifth day our tracker, nicknamed L’homme aux bons yeux –
“The man with good eyes”, spotted some warthogs rooting along a dry riverbed. With mixed instructions from our PH speaking French to our interpreter, who relayed to me which warthog to shoot, and from buddy Jim standing directly behind me, who realized I was looking at the wrong animal, we finally sorted out which warthog was the correct one. A single shot quickly did the job and, much to the delight of the crew, didn’t destroy front quarter, back-straps, or the hams. We enjoyed a generous portion of the succulent flesh for dinner that evening. The boar was also a long-awaited trophy as in all the previous trips to Africa I had not been fortunate enough to get a decent warthog.
Day Six was much the same: haze, smoke and very few roan sightings. We covered many miles straining our eyes to see any animals at all. Late in the afternoon we had a bit of luck with the wind in our favour, and bumped a small herd of slow-moving roan. Leaving the truck and moving cautiously through the stubby burned grass and sparse leafless trees, we closed to about 170 yards of an unsuspecting bull, standing broadside, at the back of the herd. He was totally unaware of us. Other than a slight buffeting of wind coming from the right, the scenario was a routine, no-problem shot. I eased into my familiar triangle shooting sticks, ones I had practiced with and used successfully dozens of times.
There was no buck fever, no pressure, no hurry. Relying on over fifty years of shooting skills, using a weapon I had been familiar with for years, military experience, forty years of hunting, including the taking of dangerous game with a handgun and black powder rifle, I confidently let out part of a breath, and gently squeezed the trigger… and blew the shot.
Yeah, a clean miss. No excuses, no second guessing, no “what if….” I just blew it!
First, in a state of disbelief, followed by immense disappointment, possibly a twenty-year dream shattered in a second, there was nothing to do but check for spoor. We were diligent in our attempt to find something – anything – that spoke of a wounded roan. Our wonderful tracker, unequaled PH, his brother, our driver, Aruna our interpreter, and Jim and I all tried in vain to find a spot of blood or telltale sign of a wounded animal. We came up empty, and the only conclusion was that I had not wounded the roan, that he flinched at the sound of the shot and not from being hit.
However it was too late in the day to make another stalk even if we did run into a group of roan. A quiet and pensive crew called it a day and headed back to camp.
I owe a great debt to all the guys I hunted with that day. Before, during, and after dinner they joked and kidded me, making light of my missed shot on the roan, and how the next day would provide another opportunity. Secretly I wondered, and that night spent sleepless hours going over my shot and what I had done wrong.
Day seven, the last day of the hunt, we were greeted by the usual amount of smoke and haze. Visibility was compromised, and seeing any game that was not close to the road, was difficult. We cruised for hours hoping for a roan sighting, but with no luck. As our enthusiasm waned and mid-day approached, our tracker pointed excitedly – roan! Sure enough, a small herd of mixed females and males, young and old, drifted off into the sparse brush and trees at a ninety degree angle away from the vehicle. We quietly came to a halt, eased out of the cruiser and tentatively began a stalk toward the last few visible animals.
“The last one on the right is very nice, shoot him on the shoulder, he is at just over seventy yards,” whispered Ishmail excitedly. Easing on to the sticks and trying not to think about the blown shot the day before, I found the point of the shoulder and instinctively squeezed the trigger. A solid, “whump” telegraphed a good hit, and all of the crew let out a sigh of relief. We closed on the downed roan bull, and a final coup ended our hunt for the roan.
I was content. Shooting another animal was pointless.
What had been a twenty-year dream, almost an obsession, at times a fleeting image of a distant memory, finally came to fruition on that smoky afternoon on the Arly Safari concession in Eastern Burkina Faso in the time it took for my bullet to travel a short seventy yards.
Kim is a member of the African Big Five Hunting Society, Outdoor Writers Association of California, and S.C.I. Muzzleloading Hall of Fame. He has written a number of articles for AHG as well as other hunting magazines. The second edition of “Dangerous Game Animals of Africa, One Man’s Quest” is nearing completion and chronicles the taking of the Magnificent Seven with a handgun, muzzleloader and rifle.
Books may be ordered by contacting Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim and I visited a village not far from the camp. The small farming community of about four hundred people contributed full- and part-time labor to the camp’s needs. Women were doing washing at a communal well. The local school consisted of three mud classrooms, and what we saw in them was pathetic.
Apart from a thin, almost totally worn out blackboard and a few scruffy, dog-eared books, there were no teaching aids. In each building were fifty kids of different ages, five to ten years old, most deplorably dressed in torn and ragged T-shirts and filthy shorts. The few “desks” were stacked mud blocks with two to three children crowding around each one. Some kids were just sitting on the dirt floor. Although the teacher in each room was well dressed and seemed dedicated to teaching some basics, the lack of natural light, filthy conditions and zero teaching aids, left us wanting to do something.
Not knowing the situation in advance, we were totally unprepared to do anything significant.
The only immediate help we could offer was a donation of new T-shirts and shorts for each child, which Aruna organised.
I encourage all hunters to go beyond the compounds of their hunting camp, explore the area, visit a village, ask if there are local schools and clinics, and do something, anything, to help. A small gesture from hunters could be something very meaningful to a child or family in rural Africa – or any remote place in the world a hunter might visit.
Jim and I made a commitment to pay the high school tuition for Johnny, a fourteen-year-old boy who helped out in the camp kitchen. He was an exceptionally bright and eager young fellow, and a worthy beneficiary of a simple donation.