If one measures the success of a hunt by taking all animals with great shots, this story is one of failure. Truthfully, it is the friends one makes and experiences in camp and the field that make any hunt memorable and successful.
Whether in North America or Africa hunting is usually highlighted by unexpected events. On a hunt in Mozambique driving the bush setting up bait sites for Leopard and hunting Sable we lost our vehicles brakes. Not a big problem, however in this case we were going downhill toward a ravine and picking up speed. Everyone except the driver and I jumped. Belatedly realizing the driver had no plan to turn off (trees on both sides). I jumped, rolling in the dirt. Moments later, seeing that no one was hurt, I announced; “that is the most fun I’ve had in a long time”. If an incident like that ruins your day, consider staying home.
In Africa, I notice that a PH usually carries his rifle holding it by the barrel with the stock over the shoulder. Wanting to look “experienced” I did the same while descending a steep rocky trail and promptly fell forward into a thorn bush. Humbled and embarrassed our native tracker helped me to my feet as I apologized and checked my gun. I will always remember his comment: “you walk like a gentleman sir”. That man showed more diplomacy than most “civilized” persons I know.
On the hunt in Mozambique for Sable and Leopard with Cabassa Safaris I spent a very cold night in a blind (who knew, wasn’t this the tropics?), taking a nice Leopard at seventy yards. Sometimes shots are good and things go as planned. Now we could concentrate the remainder of my two weeks on Sable.
The Sable were numerous and we did several stalks; all unsuccessful. Two stalks I remember well. On one, we spotted a small herd grazing in a meadow; since the wind was in our favor we got within 100 meters. No bucks. On another, we moved carefully, stalking through trees to where a nice buck was at a waterhole. Just as we got within good shooting distance the entire herd was spooked by baboons raising the alarm. Disappointing, but this is why it is called hunting not shooting. I like being in the field; successful or not.
After two more days like this, my PH and trackers found sign showing where a Sable bull was grazing only at night. Taking a GPS reading at that spot, then two more readings on our way back to the truck with the final reading at the truck, we planned to return after dark.
We returned that evening and after parking our truck at the same spot indicated by our previous GPS reading we carefully retraced our steps. There was no moon and to make it more interesting, hyena vocalized nearby. We moved single file in complete darkness; PH in the lead with his GPS, our tracker next and finally me, stumbling along in the rear gun in hand. All good except I didn’t think it would work and, was not mentally ready.
Suddenly things moved very fast. Our spotlight came on, the tracker yelled in Swahili “palahala!” and at not more than 30 meters a very surprised Sable bull was looking at us, light reflecting in his eyes. As he momentarily stood, I shifted my crosshairs from the smaller target between his eyes to his hump. However, I did not drop the crosshairs down and the .257 Weatherby 115 gr NBT round hit high knocking him over. Recovering quickly the bull ran off into the darkness as I shot a second time and missed.
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We tracked the blood trail until we lost it, planning to return the next day to pick it up. I felt bad because while the plan was brilliant and well executed I had messed it up with a poor shot. The next day, our trackers found the trail of the previous night and we followed it for hours. Entering a large sandy area the size of a football field we temporarily lost the trail, picking it up a few minutes later.
I was amazed at not only what small sign our tracker found in that large field, but how he read the story it told. Visually it was one drop of blood with two Sable knee imprints where he rested and two front hooves where he stood before moving on.
He showed me where the two front hoof prints were and that the Sable had stood “firmly and was not badly wounded”. We could not pick up the trail again and gave it up because of the animal’s relatively good condition. I hate to lose wounded game, however was comforted by the fact that nothing in nature goes to waste. Should it not recover, it would provide a good meal for a local predator.
Experiences like these make hunting worthwhile and the high price we pay to hunt game gives incentive to conserve areas where they can thrive. As a footnote, again with Cabassa Safaris the author took a fine Sable two years later in South Africa. This time with a shot worthy of the animal.