By Mary Hayes


During my hunting experience in South Africa, I learned a very important lesson about taking pride in what you do and to never doubt yourself. I have carried this knowledge with me since the time I had this amazing opportunity.


Hoooonnnnnk… Shoooooo. Hooooooonk… Shoooooo.


“Dad can you please put your mouthpiece in.”




“Urgh!” I cried in frustration. All night I had been trying to get my dad to put in his mouthpiece that would keep him from snoring. It was about 1 a.m. and at that point I finally decided to give up. I desperately longed to see the back of my eyelids instead of the small, thatch-roofed room around me. My thoughts started to swarm around in my head like bees, stinging, rushing around frantically. Tomorrow I have to hunt. Tomorrow I either make the shot of a lifetime or fail. These thoughts continued to rush around my head, until one lone memory of the previous day crept in. It almost seemed to shut out all the others.


That afternoon on the hunt, my father had made a funny comment about how many times he’d missed that day: “I’ve never heard a gemsbok laugh before.” My father had shot at the animal many times, and he had missed every single time. It turned out to be just because the gun was two inches off. More thoughts till I finally fell asleep at 4 a.m.


Too soon I heard my father say, “Mary are you awake? Mary, there’s a whole bunch of impalas over in that field.


“Do you want to shoot one?” asked Pete, our hunting guide.


“Mmmmm… sure,” I replied.  As I picked up my heavy gun, all I could think about was how much I didn’t want to do this. I was tired, scared, and overall lacking in self-confidence. When I shot, it was not surprising to me that I missed.


“Why are you so tired?” my dad asked.


“What do you think?’ I retorted.


“I slept great!” my dad said with energy and enthusiasm.


“Exactly!” I replied.

We started walking towards a thick forest. All you could see was darkness as we trekked through the trees. The jeep started to fade away until it was just a tiny speck in the distance. Pete was guiding us through the thorns and thick, heavy brush.


“Did you see that?” he whispered.


“What?” we whispered back.


“There’s a buffalo right behind that tree.”


I stood very still and slowly turned my head toward the tree. There was an enormous Cape buffalo. “The only difference between this and buffalo hunting is that the animal we are looking for isn’t trying to kill us,” Pete whispered. The fear that had crept into my mind disappeared. We continued like that for a long while and eventually we weren’t looking for the impala anymore. We were looking for buffalo. It was exciting to see dark shapes moving around or a pile of fresh dung. We were in the buffalo territory! But we had to abandon the hunt because we were too far into the forest, so we headed back to the jeep.


We steadily bumped along the rough terrain, and the rocking motion almost lulled me to sleep. All I could do was replay the Cape buffalo or impala hunt in my mind over and over again, wanting to remember each tiny detail of it so that I would never forget any second of experience.


It was a different thrill from anything else. It was something that I felt belonged to us – me, my dad, my grandfather and Pete, something special, something that might not happen again. Suddenly, “Hey Mary,” I heard Pete’s voice over the loud rumbling of the jeep.




“I see a blesbok in that field over there, do you want to shoot it?” I looked. Sure enough, there was a blesbok in the field. A pang of hesitation hit me. What if I miss? What if I injure the animal and it dies a slow painful death? What if… no.


No, I was not going to let the “what ifs” be my downfall. There are way too many of them in life and I realized I was never going to get anywhere if I let the “what ifs” drag me down.


“Yes,” I replied. I found a rest for my rifle, steadied myself and pulled the trigger. When I looked up, the blesbok had moved only ten feet away from his original spot and was now continuing to eat grass. I had missed! “What ifs” were swarming now, panic started to settle in and I was having trouble focusing.


“Do you want to go after it?” Pete asked. I looked over at my grandfather and dad, sure I was going to see scowls and looks of disappointment, but all I saw were reassuring smiles. I nodded. Pete carried the tripod sticks, and I carried my gun. We walked down the hill and set everything up.


“Now remember, keep yourself steady and make sure you’re confident before you shoot. Don’t doubt yourself,” Pete instructed. I nodded my head and swallowed. I lowered the gun to the sticks and put my eye up to the scope. For once, all my thoughts were positive, and even though only Pete was with me, I could feel everyone’s voices encouraging me, giving me new strength and energy. I zeroed in on the animal, took a deep breath and squeezed.

BAM! I lifted my head. Pete was smiling.


“What?” I asked


“You hit it!” Pete replied


My doubt quickly turned to excitement and elation. I was thrilled. “Seriously?” I screamed.


“Yep, straight through the lung,” Pete said. I did it! I actually did it!


Pete started walking towards the dead blesbok. Pops, my grandfather, appeared from behind the hill and put his arms up in a questioning gesture, and I thrust my arms up in confirmation. Then my father appeared and the next thing I knew we were all down in the valley celebrating. “Go find something to put in the blesbok’s month,” my dad said.


Everyone went over to examine the animal while I wandered around to find flowers. It was an old tradition that when an animal dies you need to put a bundle of grass or flowers in their mouth out of respect for their lives and to thank God for His creation.

As I trudged along the rocky landscape, I started to think about how I was going to tell everyone at school what I had done, thoughts ricocheting back and forth in my mind. I had hunted and killed an animal. Maybe their reactions would be something like: “Oh my gosh, wow!” Or “That’s amazing!” Then reality settled in. I realized what their real reactions might instead be: “Oh my gosh, you killed an animal! How could you?” Or “What? That’s horrible!”


My self-doubt kicked up. Why did I do it? What made me kill that animal? Did I come all the way to South Africa just to take a life? I spotted some beautiful purple flowers in the bare, dry landscape. Shooting the animal was only a small puzzle piece in this trip. In fact, it wasn’t even about the shot at all. The shot was the destination, the hunt was the journey. I pondered for a while until I heard the voices of the others.


“Mary! Where are you?”


I quickly pulled the flowers out of the ground and ran back to where the blesbok was and put the flowers into its mouth

and said a quick prayer. We took some pictures and loaded it up in the jeep.


After a wonderful a picnic lunch in a beautiful rocky outcrop we went back to the lodge. That night as we all sat around the fire, all the chatter was about the hunts of the afternoon and at that moment I felt unashamed and proud of my accomplishments.


I concluded that even when self-doubt, judgement and fear may conflict you, there are still some things that no one can take away from you. My hunting experience in South Africa was one of these things. It wasn’t about killing the animal; it was about being with the people I love and hunting.


My experience in South Africa, is something I will never forget. In a way, I am almost thankful now for the insecurities I had had about myself, because without them, I wouldn’t have been able to overcome those weak spots in my self-esteem. I learned the benefit of doubt.