Wily as a Western New York whitetail and smarter than the average plains game antelope, the bushbuck had become a prime target during three earlier South Africa hunt outings.
Our plan for this fourth trip to Cape Valley Safaris in South Africa, south of Johannesburg and close to Port Elizabeth, was to visit a number of wildlife watching/tourism sites, get in more fishing trips and to hunt just one species of game at the end of our 18-day stay.
The trips to Kruger Park, Victoria Falls, the Chobe River in Botswana, and the Cango Caves and Wildlife Ranch were enjoyable rides and views. From Zambia south to the Little Karoo area just north of Cape Town, we saw some spectacular sights.
A narrow roadway along the sheer cliffs of Swartburg Pass through the Swartburg Range gives riders views of valleys and multiple mountain peeks akin to the Rocky Mountains, the Tetons or the Alps. Vast acreage in valley areas is lined with grape vineyards. Many open spaces provide corrals for more than 400 ostrich farms; about 95 percent of these big birds reside in this region.
South African freshwater fishing might seem a bit strange to the average area angler, especially competitors and recreational bass fishing folk.
Introduced as an invasive species decades ago, the largemouth bass took over in ponds and gentle river waters, dominating all other native fish species; bass are considered trash fish here.
For inland-waters anglers, the tiger fish, bream and an African version of the flathead catfish locals refer to as “barbile” or “barbie,” are numerous, depending on where you are standing along the water’s edge. Our attempts at freshwater pursuits were hindered by high river waters; our four days of trying to get onto Indian Ocean waters near Jeffrey’s Bay ended with cancellation calls due to high waves.
High winds kept us off the ocean, but mild inland breezes and early-fall cooling temperatures (a reading below 100 degrees in South Africa is a “nice day” to locals) allowed for comfortable hunts during morning and evening change-of-light hours.
Hunt trophies come in assorted sizes, shapes and story lines. State, national and international groups have developed precise measuring techniques to rate antlers, horns and heads of game animals.
But even the most casually involved hunter sets trophy goals that may or may not score high on anyone’s rating system. As a “semi-amateur” whitetail deer hunter, I set my sights on someday taking an African bushbuck.
By semi-amateur, I mean there is a genuine love for the pursuit/involvement of whitetail deer hunting, with the stark realization that to enjoy outings one does not have to seek out, down and drag home a rack big enough to hang a dozen hats.
Quality — of meat and appearance — coupled with the degree of difficulty in harvesting that game provides enough of a trophy ranking for me. So, to this long-time, so-so whitetail wanderer from Western New York standing on African plains, the bushbuck has become a prime target/goal.
The taking of a big/dangerous game trophy is always impressive, but I simply sought a bushbuck. Smaller than the average-sized whitetail deer, bushbucks can hide in the bush more effectively than kudu bulls, which are known as “ghosts.”
During three previous hunts, I recall seeing dozens of kudu, mostly females, but bushbuck sightings could be counted on one hand — live, wary ones, that is. Two trips ago I saw a nice bushbuck male on a tree-lined field edge while visiting along the ocean. That boy sported nice 10-inch horns and, like so many whitetails in protected areas around Western New York, he knew where he could safely stand in the open.
During our last trip in 2010, I brought along just a bow; guide Adolf Kleinhans set up hunts where I might get within 30 yards of a bushbuck. Perhaps you recall a column on that trip.
The first encounter was at a farm pond where a sizeable, lone bushbuck had been bedded down near the water’s edge. The animal, curled up as though asleep, looked promising as we approached. But at a distance of some 30 yards we could see flies that indicated this trophy animal had died in its sleep.
Later, another nice bushbuck appeared along a barbed wire fence line at another farm. We approached and watched as it nosed its way along the fence. But we were able to walk up to within a few feet of this usually wary animal without it noticing our presence. Clearly, the animal had lost sight in both eyes; a friend brought up a rifle and gave the poor beast a quick dispatch.
The remainder of both day and night hunts resulted in sightings of jackal and impala, but not a fair-chase bushbuck in sight. So when Adolf lined up hunts on two sprawling farms close to his Shumba Lodge, I resigned myself to enjoying the smells, sights and sounds of birds and beasts warning other creatures of our approach.
For top honors, kudu seemed to have the best warning-signal system. After two mornings and near the end of the second evening, it seemed that we were going to finish up in time for an early supper. Dinners here are served at and after 8 p.m. most evenings, which would have us back to the lodge on time.
The farmer told us of two trophy-sized bushbucks they had seen along two deep-cut valleys, so Adolf and his aide Freeman drove to the spine road between the two deep cuts and began scanning the brush with binoculars at about 6 p.m. The sun would set at 7 p.m., and by 6:30 Adolf had only spotted one small bushbuck female.
After a few more minutes of watching, a dark patch of earth appeared between a spiny acacia tree and a large growth of prickly pear. It took me a good two minutes of prompting from Adolf and Freeman before I finally saw the buck’s figure as it moved into an opening 164 yards away and well downhill.
For this trip, I did not take hunting gear and had target practiced with Adolf’s .270 Ruger rifle, an action and barrel his dad had used to kill just about every hunt-worthy plains game in Africa. For utility purposes, Adolf had fixed this Ruger with a 3x9-power Leupold scope and a vinyl stock. Both worked well in the field. After three earlier tries, hours and days of setbacks, here was a truly big buck creeping across a small clearing just before dark.
The shot opportunity lasted less than one minute; the buck was turning to head into even thicker brush. Only a neck/upper torso shot was possible. Most African game animals have a heart area well below that of a whitetail deer. So I opted for a neck shot, took it and the animal fell right where it was headed downhill.
The horns measured 12¼ inches. Finally, a bushbuck trophy that beats any whitetail I ever tagged. But who’s measuring or counting?
The next evening, Adolf’s wife Estelle, the Eastern Cape version of Rachael Ray, prepared a meal with bushbuck loins on the braai (barbeque) fit for visiting royalty. That meal ended an African trip which included more tourism/wildlife watching, less fishing and an unexpected trophy hunt.
To find out more about these and other ventures Adolf and Estelle Kleinhans provide at Cape Valley Safaris, go to firstname.lastname@example.org.