Junior school was rushing buy and even at this young tender age there was no confusion in my mind what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to be in conservation, work the outdoors and use wildlife to take me to amazing place, work with amazing animals and surround myself with super people from all around the world and all walks of life. My love of guns started at a young age and my father was not a hunter so I still do not know where this absolute obsession with the outdoors and guns came from, I still believe there may have been some fowl play and the postman may have had something to do with my existence as I had a true obsession, one my family did not share or really understand. Hunting became an obvious progression and soon became a major motivator in my life.
I was 14 years old and already had a great understanding of the wildlife that existed on our home farm Lowlands in Estcourt. Eland, Common Reedbuck, Mntn Reedbuck, Blesbuck and Oribi where a few of the species that resided here and called Lowlands their home. All these animals where free ranging and chose this area to be there home. I took on myself to be there guardian. I had an endless war with the Jakal population on the property and fought a valiant fight against poachers both subsistence and commercial.
The Eland on our property where occasional visitors and came from the greater Drakensberg Reserve. They would follow an old migration that existed and was driven by the changing seasons. The summer months the Eland would graze high up in the Drakensberg on sweat grasses with a far lower tick load. The winter months would see the herds migrate down onto the natal foothills and midlands. Here the quality of graze was far better in the winter months and the parasite load reasonable low. Eland are extremely susceptible to parasite, especially ticks.
John was my neighbour and we had an arrangement that any animals we could sell to hunters we would use the money to buy in and diversify the species occurring on Lowlands. We introduced Impala, waterbuck, Kudu, Red Hartebeest and Blesbuck over the years. The system worked well and some 25 years later is still working. With some super animals being found on Lowlands now all due to the hunters rands and efforts. A fine example of hunters dollars providing habitat for animals to call home. I was too young to guide myself at the time so I would rely on John to guide the clients and I knew the animals. I knew their numbers, sex, distribution and preferred locations. Even at 14 I think I knew the animals better than John did. He was a farmer and I think guided to generate money for our project not because he enjoyed hunting.
This particular hunt was my very first and my excitement must have been visible. The day eventually came and John and I met up and discussed what animals we would look for that day. Eland was top of the list. The clients where South African meat hunters and we both agreed that they should hunt a meat animal. There was a particularly old cow in the group that was almost grey in colour. She had lost a lot of her hair and was the ideal target to take out as she was nearing the end of her innings. There were also a couple young bulls in the group, these where a good second choice. This group consisted of 14 animals and it was led by a massive BLUE BULL. He was in his prime and showed it. He was an amazing specimen. I informed John that there was also a massive BLUE BULL in the group which I believed we should leave as he led the herd and was the main breeding bull. John agreed with my sentiments.
The sound of an approaching vehicle soon interrupted our conversation and the clients where arriving. We greeted the group and I am sure they looked at me saying “what is this kid doing here?” I was I was still in junior school. In these days we were not organised for hunting and the clients where not asked to shoot their rifles or anything. Soon we were on the vehicle, John driving and me directing. The adventure my very first was underway. Little did I know what the day had in store?
The land cruiser bumped along the road beneath the hill. The clients def doubting why me and my trusty 243 win was coming along. Marcelle was the hunter and he was shooting a 308. 308 being ok for Eland cows and young bulls but perhaps marginal for larger bulls. Marcelle was excited and asked John many questions about the herd and what it consisted of. John would then relay the questions to me. We eventually reached the area where I believed the animals to be. So I tapped on the roof and stopped John. We soon where unpacking our rifles and ammo. John did not bring a backup rifle to my shock as if something went wrong I had very little hope with a 243 and an Eland. However I was a kid they were adults they knew what they were doing I had faith. I led the way to a lookout which had a lot of old stone cattle enclosure on it. These from many years ago when the Zulus would herd animals through the area following good grazing and water. We reached the look out and immediately started glassing. It did not take long!! There they were grazing in an open area flanked by two large dongas (Eroded water ways). I quickly counted them 14 animals. I was excited as my part of the hunt was done. I had found the animals and now it was up to John and Marcelle to close the distance.
I followed the hunting party until they were about 400 meters away from the animals. I then dropped back to observe from affar. Easier to stalk in open areas with fewer people. I motioned to John I would stay at this point he agreed. I whispered to him “the old cow or a young bull!” He nodded.
John and Marcelle edged closer, I could see their heads in the tall grass. The Eland seemed oblivious. From afar I could see the big BLUE BULL, he was a tank and almost shrank the females around him. I counted them again there where 14.
With this I lost sight of John and Marcelle they must be closing in tight now. My anticipation was at fever pitch……
The next minute a shot broke the silence…….. The animals jump gathered together and bolted down the slope. Nothing broke or fell back they seemed to run as a group. This was not a good sign. They again turned to Run and they went down into the first donga. I started to run towards Johns position. The Eland came out of the donga and I again counted them. 14!. Had the guys missed???? I thought it impossible as this was an Eland a large target at a reasonable range. I was fairly close to John and Marcelle now who had started moving in the direction of the Eland, I shouted to John “Which one John???” He replied “THE OLD COW!!!”
With this information I knew I was very little use with them so I decided to use my knowledge of the lay of the land. I knew those Eland had two choices from their current position. They would soon run into a second donga that had very steep walls. This making it difficult for them to cross, so in my mind they would either go down the donga away from the disturbance or turn up the donga and run towards an area that we call the chove. The chove is a steep valley toped buy a waterfall and culminating in the Wagondrift dam. This area was well wooded with natal valley bushveld and would provide the Eland with great cover. I knew if this animal was to get in there it would most lightly be lost for good. I decided to take the high road and sprinted across the first donga and as I came out the donga I could see the Eland hit the second donga. They paused in confusion. I carried on running parallel to them. I needed to find a spot to set up and let them come past me. I noticed a large ant heep ahead of me I would set up there. I ran as fast a s I could whilst crouching in the grass. I reached it and looked over the top. The Eland where on there way. Coming fast towards me. I loaded my 243. I may have to try a shot.
The Eland covered ground quickly and the first one was soon at my position. They ran about 50 meters from the antheep and I had a prime position to look for blood. I could not see an old cow in the group, so I started examining each animal as they ran past. No. NO. No. No I was saying aloud. Then into my scope came the big BLUE BULL. So I skipped over him as I was quite sure they would not have shot him. As I did this I saw to my horror blood running down his shoulder!!!! Clearly the bullet had not penetrated the big Elands shoulder as the placement seemed good.
We know was decision time. I had to try something!!! To stop him. I knew with the 243 and very poor quality Jackal ammo a body shot was out of the question. In order to stop this bull I need to brain him or spine him. A lot easier said than done when you are 14 the only animals I had shot where jackal and 1 Common Reedbuck. Now however was no time for the faint hearted…….
The Tikka rifle swung to my shoulder and the 4 power scope picked up the Eland bull, I followed along his back and tried to get in a rhythm of his motion. I pushed forward and when I reached the line of his nose in line with the brain I squeezed the trigger. The rifle boomed and rocked my 14 year old frame. I came back from the recoil to see the bull going from 3rd gear to 5th and the dust cloud engulfed them. DAMIT!!!!!
This was however no time for commiseration. I ran after the Eland and got onto their tracks. They were easy to see as in full run they tore up the earth. The Eland headed straight for the chove. I could hear them run down the slope. I continued after them in hot pursuit. I now knew I was alone and pretty much off the reservation. I knew this area and was not afraid of getting lost. I was slightly afraid of if I was doing the right thing by chasing the animals. My instincts however told me to stick with them. In the river bottom I noticed a small drop of blood on the rock surface. Yes. Confirmation I am still on the right group. I continued chasing but the Eland where now well ahead. The track became difficult especially for a young boy. I followed as best I could and was now and then gifted a spot of blood.
This continued for about 3 yours. I was eventually two farms from my own property where the initial shot was taken. I however did not give up. I would find the tracks then loose the tracks. I however knew that the wagondrift dam made a large loop into the bushmens river and if I took a short cut across this could maybe catch up a lot of time. This was however a risk as I may lose the herd of animals I was on and even pick up another herd. However I took the gamble as time was against me. I cut a straight line across the peninsular. As I neared the bushmens river on the other side I found some tracks heading up the river. “This must be them!” I thought. I started following again and again the going was tough they were in long grass now and it made tracking difficult. I did my best and it was now passed midday. It was hot but I had to find this wounded Eland.
There is an old stone wall on this part of the farm and in my tracking I knew this would create an unnatural barrier and it may aid me in finding there tracks again. I followed the wall looking for were they may have crossed. In places there was dense foliage growing in the wall and it was as I skirted one of these thickets I noticed a tail swishing under a tree not more than 80 meters from me. I ducked down behind the stone wall and peered through a gap in the stone work. It was an Eland. Now was this the same group?? Was it a different group? Was the wounded bull still with the?? Question rushed through my head!!
The animals had no idea of my presence so I settled down and started trying to see and examine every Eland. I tried to cunt them, but only managed to see six! Was this another group??
I raised my head above the stone work and noticed a large animal lying in the shade of a tree probably 60 meters from my position. He was big!! The binoculars did their job. It was a big bull……. But it was lying with its left side to me.. BOTH SHOTS WHERE ON THE RIGHT!! There was only one thing to do… WAIT… I could not afford to make a mistake and shoot the wrong animal. We were a long way from any roads and this was to be a job to recover this animal. However if it was the wounded one there would be no hesitation.
AND WAITED SOME MORE. For a 14 year old an hours wait is an eternity.
One of the cows stood up and started grazing. She grazed quite contentedly. She them turned directly in my direction and started grazing toward me. Man closer and closer she came…
Now she was 15 meters away. DAM I had to do something as if she saw me the whole group would scatter…. I started making faint noises and tapping my leg. She did not hear me.. So I slapped my leg and with this she froze like she had seen a ghost. Her body language sent the asharp message to the rest of the group that jumped to there feet. There where not 6 there were a lot of them. The bull was last to rise and turned to look in my direction. The binoculars where fixed on him and my mind was saying “show me blood, show me blood!” There it was I could see blood dripping off his dulap. Cacked as a black line but it was definitely blood.
The binocs went down and slowly the 243 came to my shoulder.. The crosshairs settled on his head and the rifle banged….. With this the Eland scattered in all directions and chaos rained. What had happened? Had I messed?
As the dust settled I saw the bull lying in his tracks he had not moved. Just dropped to the deck. I jammed another round into the small rifle and put a second shot into his Skull. I think this was just a little panic mixed with total over whelm of emotions. The big BLUE BULL lay dead.
I jumped over the wall and walked to the massive animal. He was huge….. He had a neck like an oil drum.
Man oh boy how on earth where we going to get this out???
I however had no time for deliberation. I left the Eland and now closing in on 2 Oclock had to try find John and the rest of the hunting party. I guess it was an 8 kilometer hike back to where we had shot. I covered it in no time with a total sense of achievement.
I located John who was actively searching for me. He was a little unnerved as he had believed me to be lost… How was he going to explain to my uncle and aunt? Well he rushed up to me and asked “where did you go?”
“I went to find the Eland!”
“Shit I thought you where lost!!! It has been 5 hours!”
“Ja sorry it took me a while to find it!!”
“What?? You found it??”
“ it is dead near the old stone wall!! And it is a massive bull not a cow!!!”
I will leave the rest of the conversation to your imagination but it was fairly humourus!!
None the less this is where our work began. Took the rest of the day and ten staff to carry that Eland off the mountain side! It was estimated 850kilograms. A massive Cape Eland, and hunting and guiding was now cemented in this 14 year old boys mind. That Eland has led to a life of stories just like this one!!!