Elegantly decked out in terracotta, chocolate and cream, springbok stand out vividly against the arid landscapes of southern Africa. Whether travelling in an elegant trot, or ‘pronking’ stiff–legged with their white dorsal flag out, they are always a delight to see. They are often very skittish, and long shots are more common than not.
If springbok have a fault it’s that they still exist in such numbers that many people take them for granted – and that’s our problem, not theirs. There are various color phases and subspecies, but the one I’ve always hankered for is the big boy, the Kalahari springbok. They are very much the giant of the race, not just in horns but body size generally. That, plus the wild desert landscapes they inhabit, makes for an interesting prospect. It’s no secret that they are also a seriously good game meat, something I make a point of checking out on every visit.
This hunt took place on the vast Khamab Kalahari Reserve, some quarter million acres right on the border between Botswana and South Africa. The southern half of the reserve – up to seventy kilometers from camp – is the kind of laser-flat, empty landscape where sloppy stalking falls apart. There’s little cover apart from dry grass, and there are eyes – lots of eyes. My PH Hans ‘Scruff’ Vermaak spots a likely ram in a large herd and we make enough ground for a touch and go shot.
Suddenly I’m up on the sticks with a vintage rifle, and it takes only a moment to pull back on the rear trigger to ‘set’ the front. Then the classic experience of springbok hunting kicks in – getting a clear angle on the right male among all those milling bodies. The slightest touch and the shot will be away, but there’s nothing. I’m watching those lovely lyrate horns, focused on just one thing. Slow breath. Stay with him, yes, he’s doubled back, and doubling back again and…crack. For a split second a gap opens up and the little 7×57 speaks. Scruff is on the Leicas and calls it instantly. “You missed him.”
Yes, there it is folks. Heartbreak, served up on a platter after a 14,000 kilometer journey. I cycle the butterknife bolt, trying desperately to get back onto him among all the chaos. Those big horns are distinctive, he should be there – but he isn’t, and my heart beaks again.
“No, he’s down. He just didn’t react – congratulations!”
And just like that the world is right again.
About Pete Ryan
Pete Ryan is a hunting writer and photographer based on New Zealand’s South Island. His work has appeared in quality hunting books and magazines around the world. His first book ‘Wild South – Hunting and Fly Fishing the Southern Hemisphere’ launched to critical acclaim. Visit his website at faraway.co.