Bushbuck Hunt 2009
It was the last day of my 7 day hunt at Frontier Safaris in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. Although I had been quite successful with other species that week, bushbuck rams were tough to come by. Bushbuck are a species of African antelope closely related to the kudu. They range from about 80 to 150 lbs and prefer to come out of the thick bush at night. Unlike most of the African antelopes, bushbuck are hunted not by stalking but rather by sitting and waiting in the early mornings and late afternoons.
We had already dedicated several early mornings and late afternoons to bushbuck, only to come up with a handful of ewes. Lionel Wicks, my professional hunter (PH), Sykes, our tracker, and I were making our way up a new path through thick bush along the base of the mountains early Friday morning. At about 200 yards in front of us and about 200 yards up the side of the hill, we spotted two bushbuck rams. This was somewhat odd as rams are extremely territorial and rarely cohabitate. Apparently, they saw us as well and went into the thick bush. We set up stand at the base of the mountain with a full view of the thicket into which they disappeared. We waited, with no sign of either of the two rams. As the sun rose higher into the sky, the likelihood of seeing these animals in the open became less and less.
Now, having successfully hunted several bushbuck in past hunting trips, the PH’s always warn you about the relative danger of these animals. Not only are they territorial, but they can be particularly aggressive, especially when wounded. Unlike most antelope who attempt to run, even when wounded, bushbuck are more prone to charge than run. Every PH seemed to have a story about “a PH they knew” who got bayoneted by a wounded ram, blah, blah, blah. Let’s just say PH’s and charter fisherman share a knack for great stories.
At this point we’re certainly not going to go in after them, but the last day made us particularly focused on getting our targeted species. Lionel asked me if I could hit a running bushbuck. I pointed out my scoped Marlin 336-C lever action 30-30, and assured him I was certainly up for the challenge. With a little disturbance in the base thick brush, the first bushbuck ran out the western top edge of the thicket. My first bullet hit his left hind leg, and my second pierced both hips. He was down. Just then the second ram exited out the eastern edge. Quickly, Lionel asked me if I wanted two. Absolutely. At this point he was running into the sun. I thought I had a good shot and missed. Second, missed. Third, missed. Just as he was heading over a ridge into another thicket, my fourth shot took out his right hind leg.
Now the work starts. We headed up to the first ram, once in view a third shot into the boiler room enabled us to collect him and bring him down to the path. We then headed up towards where the second ram got hit. We got on an impressive blood trail, which led directly into the thick, thick bush. Given the animal and presumed risks, Lionel sent in Bully, his jack russell terrier. Soon the dog had the ram at bay. Once Lionel was sure of this, the two of us headed in through the thick brush towards the barking. We made our way down and around the two animals and then headed back up. At about 15 feet, through the dense underbrush, I could see the white stripe across the bushbuck’s chest. “Take him”, says Lionel. Pow! Just as I am lowering the gun, the bushbuck is heading straight towards me at full speed.
I’m still not sure what went through my mind in the second it took the ram to cover the distance between the dog and myself. I’m still not sure what I did. Lionel’s report is as such: I dove right, rolled downhill, and the bushbuck went straight over me. Lying on the ground, I look up, see, and feel warm blood all over my arm, neck, face, and back. “Is this my blood or his?” I asked, now trembling. With his big smile and rolling South African accent, Lionel recounts the entire episode including, my dive and roll, the results of my direct hit into the bushbuck’s heart, and its quick demise 20 yards downhill. He then points to the blood on my glasses and says, “Now that’s hunting, that’s hunting!”
A Hounded Leopard
Joseph C. Greenfield, Jr., MD
The hound music swelled to a high intensity as the pack gained on the leopard. Suddenly, the snarling cough of the leopard was audible as he took a stand in the Namibian brush. The next few minutes would end this affair one way or the other. A “moment of truth” for me was at hand!
How did I get into this situation? The adventure had its origin when I asked Mr. Frank Cole of Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures to try to arrange a leopard hunt with dogs. I have never liked still-hunting from a blind. In my estimation, it has the same appeal as watching paint dry. Hunting a leopard with hounds, now that’s my idea of real excitement — to each his own. Mr. Cole contacted Mr. Barry Burchell of Frontier Safaris who proposed a 15-day leopard hunt at Trudia Game Ranch in northern
After a long but uneventful flight, I arrived at
When we arrived at the ranch, I met the primary actors in this episode. Mr. Roy Sparks had brought his pack of bluetick and treeing
The next morning at 4:30 a.m., after a hurried cup of coffee, we began hunting in earnest. Our approach consisted of Moshile riding on the hood of the Land Cruiser using a spotlight and the headlights to try to pick up leopard tracks as we slowly drove along the woods roads ─ impossible, but that’s what he did! He found a number of tracks several days old as well as where a leopard had marked the area with scent and scat. We covered about six miles and Moshile and Roy seemed quite satisfied that a large male leopard was using that area. We quit about 11:00 a.m. and returned that afternoon at 4:00 p.m. without the dogs. We hung several more baits in the same general area and also scouted another area for leopard sign.
The next morning was a repeat performance of the day before. We found the remains of a gemsbuck killed by a large leopard about two weeks earlier. However, no fresh tracks were found and none of the baits were touched. On the third day, about 6:00 a.m., after we had passed all of the uneaten baits and had moved toward the end of the area where the leopard had been using, the situation changed abruptly. Moshile raised his hand, signaling to stop the truck. He was smiling — fresh tracks! At least that’s what he and Roy decided. I had a hard time making out what they were looking at even when the spoor was pointed out to me. After quickly putting tracking collars on three of the dogs, they were released. Moshile and Alex (Barry’s tracker) walked in the direction where the leopard seemed to be going. Moshile carried a radio to keep in contact with us. After about ten minutes, he indicated that he had seen a fresh track in a dry stream bed. About that time, one of the dogs “opened”. They were in a depression at the base of a fairly high hill on the far side. On our side was a much lower hill thickly covered with thorn bushes, scrub trees and grass. For the next hour, they gradually worked about three-fourths of a mile up the depression, the dogs “giving tongue” more frequently. At this juncture,
I had a problem. Although it infrequently happens, I’m subject to periods of rapid heart rate in excess of 160 beats per minute. I’ll be damned if this affliction didn’t decide to manifest itself at this time. For a few seconds, I became quite woozy, but adjusted rapidly. I had to decide. Should I go ahead, or stop, and try to control the problem? An easy decision: no way was I going to miss this action! I took a deep breath, ignored the tachycardia, and hustled toward the fracas. We got close to the dogs, but I could not see the leopard. However, the leopard apparently saw us. He moved about another 75 yards and again stopped— mad as hell and growling constantly at his tormentors. We got within about 30 yards of him. I made out an area of yellow covered by black spots about three feet in front of a black and white dog named Charlie. Because of the thick brush, I saw only the body of the leopard. Neither the head nor the tail was visible. I eased the rifle onto the shooting sticks and waited. After a minute or so, Charlie moved; I had a clear view. My shot was greeted with a loud growl. The leopard lurched about five yards to the left and became completely hidden by the brush. The three of us walked slowly forward. Barry saw him first and said, “He’s dead. No need to shoot again”. Well, Mr. Spots disagreed and charged hell-bent in
Interestingly, as opposed to hounds used to hunt raccoon and hogs in the
Moshile easily picked up the heavy leopard, draped him around his shoulders and walked back to the truck, followed by the tired dogs. He deposited Mr. Spots in an open area so that we could take pictures. Most animals, at least in my experience, when dead lose much of their persona. Certainly, a dead elephant is a very depressing sight. Not so this leopard; even in death, he was majestic.
That’s about all. To sum it up, it might be possible to have a more exciting experience hunting leopard. . . but I don’t see how.
Rhino – The Last Rung in My Big Five Ladder
Joseph C. Greenfield, Jr., MD
For the past 45 minutes, I had crouched immobile behind a low thorn bush on the edge of a 20 acre grass covered meadow watching five rhinos graze. Moving their enormous heads from side to side, they cut a swath through the field, ingesting an impressive amount of green groceries. A slight wind was blowing in our direction; the quarry was completely unaware of our presence. When first spotted, they were approximately 70 yards off and had come no closer during their recent machinations. In the last three minutes, this situation changed. Two of the rhino, one having the largest horn, grazed in our direction ─moving from my left to right. The smaller one came to within 20 yards of our location while the larger was approximately 45 yards away. For reasons known only to them, both rhino suddenly stopped ─not agitated, just frozen. The larger rhino was partially obscured by the closest. I held the dart gun on “ready”. Carl had set the pressure for a distance of approximately 45 yards. Barry’s hands tightened on his 470 Krieghoff Classic double rifle ─just in case! Lady Luck smiled. After two to three minutes (it seemed a lot longer) the large rhino walked forward, giving me an unobstructed view. A “moment of truth” had arrived. I sighted the red dot on its right shoulder. I squeezed the trigger. Following the whooshing sound as the dart flew, I could see the red tip impaled on the rhino’s shoulder. Startled by the sound, both rhino charged forward full speed ─luckily, not in our direction. They were joined by their companions and rapidly ran downhill. I breathed a sigh of relief and felt elated. Perhaps my final quest was over?
Just why am I here? Prior to six months before this event, I had little interest in hunting a Southern White Rhinoceros. On two prior occasions, I had seen them in the wild: in Timbavati, while I was hunting elephant, and on the Zuka Game Ranch in
The major impediment to my shooting a rhinoceros was the kill fee, i.e. approximately $40,000 ─out of the question. On the other hand, I could afford the substantially less cost of darting one of these “Pleistocene hold-overs”. Through Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures, Frank Cole arranged for a hunt with Barry Burchell (Frontier Safaris,
Accordingly, we arrived in
The next morning, we drove 30 miles to the Lalibela Game Reserve through a heavy fog and met Carl van Zyl who was to be our primary guide. The veterinarian, a delightful individual, arrived and showed me the “ins and outs” of using his dart gun. This gun had a long thin barrel and a red dot sight. The maximum range was 50 yards. He made it very clear that the precise range must to be known. (If the rhino was 20 yards away and the gun was set at 40 yards, the dart would go over its back. Conversely, if the rhino was 40 yards away and the gun set at 20 yards, the dart would hit the dirt.) I practiced several times, and managed to hit a small cardboard box.
We piled into a Land Rover and went hunting for rhino. We first encountered a female rhino with a young calf. She didn’t seem too perturbed at our presence, but it was obvious that she expected us to move on ─which we did. After about an hour, we located five grown rhinos in a grass covered meadow and crawled slowly to the edge. One rhino had a trophy quality large horn. Frankly, at that juncture, I could have borrowed Barry’s 470 Krieghoff and killed the rhino without further ado ─not a particularly challenging event, to say the least. However, since I was on a darting mission, the next 45 minutes were filled with excitement and anticipation as I sat still and waited.
Let’s return to the hunt. After the rhinos left the field, they soon disappeared from our view. Carl whistled for the crew to bring the Land Rover. They picked up both Ruth Ann and the veterinarian who had hidden behind a tree approximately 75 yards to our rear to watch the spectacle. We all boarded the Land Rover and followed the path made by the rhinos as they ran downhill into a ravine. We drove to the ravine and spotted the darted rhino, seemingly crouched in thick bush. (The total distance traveled was approximately 750 yards.) We gingerly approached the downed behemoth, but it became clear that the animal could not move. Its respirations were shallow and rapid and its skin felt quite hot. The veterinarian quickly began taking horn measurements, drawing blood samples, administering antibiotics, etc. The rest of the crew chopped down the nearby brush so that the rhino could be photographed. The dart was still in place; it had been driven in exactly perpendicular to the surface. (This is important so that the sedating agent could be injected directly into the muscle and not into the very thick skin.) After about 15 minutes of these activities, the dart was pulled out; we were ready to begin the final step. With all of us aboard, the Land Rover was turned around and made ready to exit. The veterinarian administered the antidote and hot-footed it back to the truck. The rhino seemed to shake itself somewhat and attempted to rise. We made a circle and returned higher up on the hill. By that time, approximately five minutes had elapsed. The rhino was up and walking around unsteadily, but headed in the direction of his departed buddies. Ten minutes later, we saw him grazing with the group as though nothing had happened.
In discussing the rhinoceros darting program with Carl, he indicated that they had only one other rhino that they had darted previously. The one I chose had never been darted. They would not dart any animal more frequently than every two years. He also indicated that this darting episode went about as smoothly as he had experienced.
The next day, I received a certificate of the horn measurements. I will be sent a fiberglass replica of the horn constructed using these measurements.
Back to Barry’s ranch. The next few days were spent hunting and game viewing. Ruth Ann shot a very nice bushbuck and a large springbuck. One morning after a very exciting and music filled race, the hounds treed a large male caracal. We had fulfilled all of our goals.
After a day of rest, we began the tiresome and boring part of the trip ─the long flight home. While in the air, I relived this experience and mulled over the future. Now, I have hunted four African countries and taken the “Big Five”. Would I return, or call it quits? The answer: undoubtedly, there is a Cape buffalo that needs my close attention in the future.
In comparison with hunting the other Big Five, this safari clearly was not as high a level of excitement as I had experienced before. But I must say, in spite of what I had previously thought, darting was not without some hazard and certainly was far more of a challenge than killing this rhino would have been. An added positive feature: I’m certain that the rhino was happier regarding the chosen alternative.
At any rate, all’s well that ends well. I have climbed the final rung in the African Big Five ladder.
Last Hour Leopard
Joseph C. Greenfield, Jr., MD
About 7:30 a.m., Barry stopped the Land Cruiser and shrugged his shoulders. As on the prior 15 days, we had spent the last three hours checking baits and looking for fresh leopard spoor ─ all to no avail. Although Joey and I had experienced a thoroughly enjoyable safari, the primary goal ─ shooting a leopard, was not to be. While drinking a cup of coffee, we attempted to put a “happy face” on the situation; promising that although this hunt was unsuccessful, we would soon return and fulfill the mission. At that moment, Alex called. He was with Esau in the other truck examining the roads on the other side of the ranch. In as an excited tone as possible in Afrikaans, he indicated that they had seen fresh leopard tracks near an old cistern. We should come immediately!
I need to put into perspective the events that led up to this moment. In September 2006, through Cabela’s Outdoor Adventures, I had booked a leopard hunt with hounds on the Trudia Game Ranch in northern
To say the least, my leopard hunt had a high level of excitement from day one. The trackers found leopard spoor daily. The hunt culminated on the fourth day in a very exciting four-hour chase which ended with my killing a very large (7 ft 5 in) male leopard who had been bayed by the pack of hounds and had put up quite a fight. I wanted to repeat the experience, take Joey with me, and let him shoot a leopard. Although as a PH, Joey had been on a number of successful leopard hunts shooting from a blind with clients, he had never killed a leopard himself. Also, he had not hunted leopard with hounds.
In order to comply with Joey’s schedule, the 15-day safari had to take place in May 2008. Joey brought his .500 Nitro Express double rifle. After the obligatory 18-hour plane ride, we were met in
The next morning, we began our daily routine at 4:00 a.m.: riding the roads with Corporal, our tracker, perched on the hood of the Land Cruiser looking for tracks. We methodically covered the game ranch as well as three additional cattle ranches that the owners had asked Barry to help eliminate the stock-killing leopards. In addition, we put out a variety of different baits. On the third day, we found leopard tracks in a dried river bed. The trackers, Corporal and Mike, along with the dogs, followed the leopard spoor for approximately three miles. They found where he had been drinking and evidence of several recent kills, but weren’t able to make contact with Mr. Spots.
After these morning activities each day, we returned to camp, had a light brunch, rested and then spent the entire afternoon looking for leopard signs as well as hunting plains game. Joey killed a very large impressive kudu as well as a gemsbok and a wart hog. On the eighth day, we found fresh leopard tracks at an adjoining ranch. The dogs took the trail. We followed for approximately six miles. We found where the leopard had laid down, but lost the spoor in a rocky area about 12:00 p.m. It had become too hot for the dogs to smell. We continued this general game plan for the next seven days. In addition, on a number of occasions, Corporal and Mike took the dogs through areas that looked promising ─ but again, we were unable to come to close quarters with a leopard. Both the trackers and dogs were becoming quite tired.
We had approached each day with “that hope which springs eternal within the human breast”. However, in spite of all the other exciting events, it looked like our prime goal of getting Joey a leopard was not to be achieved.
Alex’s urgent call changed everything! It took us about 20 minutes to get to the location. The four trackers, Corporal, Alex, Mike and Esau, along with about 15 hounds, went to work. They showed me where the leopard had walked near an old water cistern. (As usual, even after the spoor was pointed out to me, I had difficulty convincing myself that I could actually delineate the track.) We were situated on a low hill covered with grass, small trees and brush. There was a ravine in front and on the other side a fairly steep hill. In fact, it was in this area that I had shot my leopard 18 months ago. Very methodically, the four of them and the dogs scoured the area. The spoor was not sufficiently fresh for the dogs to open, but the trackers found where the leopard had left the area. They followed his trail for approximately 1 ½ miles in a westward direction. Then the leopard turned around and walked along the ravine in our direction. The trackers found enough spoor to follow his meanderings. Mike came to where we waited and showed me a very fresh piece of leopard scat which he had picked up in the ravine. The trackers and hounds followed the spoor eastward in the ravine. About this time, the dogs began to open sparingly, indicating that the scent was becoming fresher. After about two miles, the leopard crossed and went up the side of the hill. The hounds began to bark more frequently as the track became hotter. We positioned ourselves and waited ─ expecting that the leopard would go over the hill and hide in the rocky terrain. However, he turned and once more came back in our direction. About one mile from us, Corporal saw the leopard jump out of a tree. The hounds were not nearby and it took about five minutes for them to pick up the trail. Although the scent was fresh, the temperature was quite hot by that time (11:30 a.m.) and the hounds could not move as fast as I had expected. However, they were in full cry ─ slowly coming in our direction. Joey quietly made a very prophetic remark: “I believe the leopard is close by”. About that time, 300 yards to our front, the Jack Russell terrier (which is used to route leopards out of caves and holes) started to bark. It turned out that he was looking up at the leopard in a tree! In a few minutes, all the dogs and the trackers arrived at the tree. Corporal let us know that they had found the leopard. We got there as fast as possible. The leopard was in a tree about halfway up the steep hill. About the time Joey got ready to shoot, the leopard sailed out of the tree, but did not attempt to fight the hounds, and ran off. He went over the top of the hill and down the other side for about 300 yards and treed again. By that time the dogs, trackers and I’m sure, the leopard, were exhausted, but the pack let us know that they were again looking at the leopard. This time, we got there in time. Joey’s .500 brought a successful conclusion to the chase. (I’ve never seen anyone happier or a more excited.)
The leopard was transported on Alex’s shoulders to the Land Cruiser and we moved him to an open area to take pictures. Mr. Spots was placed on a downed tree trunk ─ the same tree that we had used to take the pictures of my leopard 18 months before. It was a majestic animal, weighing 145 pounds and measuring 7 ft ½ in. Why did he climb several trees rather than staying on the ground and fighting the hounds as most male leopards do? One possibility: his stomach was full from a recent meal. Perhaps he was more inclined to sleep rather than battle with the hounds. We drove back to camp, had a brief celebration and bid the staff farewell. Still highly elated, we began the arduous journey homeward.
If there ever was a situation in which “all’s well that ends well”, this was it.