It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but after safaris running into double figures I’d never hunted wildebeest. Oh, I’d been in enough camps to know the story – guys wandering in late at night, sunburned and brassed off. The tale was always the same – a solid, well-placed shot that should have been a done deal, but wasn’t. They may not be superstars in the looks department but wildebeest of any species can be tough as old boots.
Pump them full of adrenaline and it’s worse. It’s May and the bulls are beside themselves in rut, chasing girls, guarding turf, testy and jumpy as hell. After much scouting we eventually come across a top notch blue holding cows. Great, but at 240 metres the cover trickles away to nothing. This is as good as it’s going to get.
All the stories play through my mind. Mess this up and it’s going to be a long, long day. That sloping design may look ungainly but it can put the poor man’s buffalo into second gear for mile after dusty mile. That’s no way to think going into a shot, so as the sticks go up I take one look through the superb glass of the Swarovski and decide to make it stick. It’s all gone in a flash of recoil and trotting bodies, but one thing is sure – he isn’t down. He’s somewhere in a stand of acacia, out of sight.
So here we are, two guys standing on the hot dry plain, wondering if we push it now or wait. Talk about an old, old story. The bull has 100,000 acres of Rooipoort Nature Reserve to get lost in.
We give him time to stiffen up and go down, but all along I’m wondering if he hasn’t simply moved through the other side and is putting ground between us even as we linger. Slowly, carefully we circle and stalk up wind. He isn’t there. A little further and there’s a bump in the grass. I don’t count anything as a done deal until you’re taking pictures, so the approach is gentle, but he’s down for keeps and must have been from the start.
A magnificent old warrior lies before us, horns thick and wide with heavy bosses, gold medal for sure if that’s your interest. His days are done, but his passing is part of what keeps the whole reserve healthy and safe from poaching. His meat will feed many, his hide and horns headed for a new home in New Zealand. Tonight the jackals and brown hyena will take even the last morsels. Not a single thing will be wasted.
High above a single bird of prey wheels on a thermal, no doubt watching our every move, but we’re not watching a circle of life – we’re in it.
And that is why I go to Africa.
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.