Back with his feet firmly on African soil, Byron Pace heads into the darkness with his sights set on a sheep killer.
For me, touching down on tarmac back in Africa is the start of a yearly pilgrimage. For so long now I have come to the continent, travelling to see friends and family and, of course, to hunt where the soul of every great hunter lays to rest. It is a special place, which is sadly ever decreasing in opportunities as Botswana and Zambia move to stop all hunting. Hunting across Africa is in an uncertain state, and I hope I haven’t already seen the best of it. Despite this, there still is a tremendous amount of excellent hunting to be had if you know where to go. In the hands of my friends, I have been lucky to hunt some of the places foreign hunters rarely see.
By the time I headed out for jackal, I was already nearing the end of my trip. The previous weeks had passed in a blur of hunting, with my bucket list now a few species shorter. It wasn’t the first time I had headed out in search of jackal, but my success had been limited. This time however, it was going to be different. Friend and PH Devan Delange had enlisted a fellow PH for our night’s excursion after this ruthless killer. I had met Gerrie a few years before but we hadn’t hunted together then. A long-range enthusiast as well as fanatical jackal hunter, he would be the man to show me how it was done.
Waiting for the sun to set, I had the chance to shoot with his semi-custom Howa 6.5-284, topped off nicely with a Nightforce scope. Gerrie was a man after my own heart when it came to rifles, and nailing a six-inch steel plate at over 600 yards showed he had a very nice set-up indeed. With only a subtle glow of daylight left on the darkening horizon, Gerrie ran me through the kit and how the night would unfold. A few minutes in, I realised just how serious the business of jackal hunting was in South Africa. In the last two months they had lost more than 60 lambs. This was a major predator that had to be controlled.
First up was the operation of the jackal chair, which was largely a homemade contraption, with the exception of the swivelling arm that supported the rifle. This was an off-the-shelf purchase from a specialist engineer in RSA. Sitting down, it felt more like a gaming chair, swivelling a full 360 degrees for complete coverage of the ground. Strapped into the back of the bakkie, it was easy to achieve a commanding view over the surrounding area. On the right armrest a small cradle held a Lightforce lamp, used for scanning the land as the driver forged a way through the bush. On the left side, an articulated arm held the rifle securely with clamps both on the forestock and butt, while maintaining a full range of movement for shooting. This provided an incredibly steady shooting platform, with a further lamp fitted directly below the rifle. Wherever the rifle was pointing, the secondary light source would follow. This lamp was also fitted with a dimmer dial and an over-ride full brightness switch.
Lastly, a mobile phone type holder clamped the remote for the FoxPro caller. This allowed the operator easy access to alter calling volume or type, while still holding a solid shooting position. This was some pretty sophisticated stuff. Having fitted the .223 Howa loaded with 40-grain Sierra BlitzKings, the finishing touch was to cover the bakkie. Gerrie explained that with darker vehicles this wasn’t really necessary but, as his was white, a hessian curtain was essential. Fixed to the railings on the back, it allowed the whole vehicle to be swiftly covered once arriving on location. It certainly seemed that a lot more was going into the business of hunting jackal than our equivalent predator in the UK.
Wanting to learn and see how they operated, Gerrie started in the hot seat, with Devan playing the part of chauffeur. Fifteen minutes, three gates and two porcupines later, we arrived at the first calling area. Here we waited in silence.
Now, there are a number of ways to tackle the task of calling, but on this occasion Gerrie started with a few jackal calls to see if he could entice a response. It didn’t take long before the haunting wails of two jackals sang back to us through the darkness. This was a good start.
After playing a variety of distress calls to no avail, Gerrie told Devan to take us closer to an internal stock fence in the direction the jackal had been heard. As he explained, jackals are incredibly territorial, and normally will only come in as far as their boundary. Often fence lines would form a natural barrier between holding areas, and so calling closer to where jackal are heard regularly proves fruitful.
As we arrived, Gerrie scanned the land with the lamp on its dimmest setting. After a second sweep he increased the brightness a little before switching off and allowing the bush to settle a while. Having already set the caller out 30 yards from the vehicle, the first jackal call was selected, playing through the night with an immediate response. They were incredibly close, and that presented a small problem. The ground in front of us was anything but ideal, carpeted with short scrubby bushes and long dead grass. There was going to be no chance of seeing them come in from any distance. This was going to require some fast shooting.
Switching over to a muted distress call, Gerrie illuminated the ground in front of him once more, the faint beam of the dimmed Lightforce lamp vaguely picking up the bush before us. Then, with a brilliant flash, the game was on. Little more than 60 yards in front a jackal stood face on. Before I even had a chance to process the situation, Gerrie had swivelled into position, breaking with his feet before simultaneously finding his target and squeezing off the shot. With a resounding thud, the jackal had spent its last night prowling the veld.
I was a little taken back by just how fast it all went down, and was beginning to grasp the skill required to do this successfully. This was not like hunting foxes at home. The black backed jackal was nowhere near as forgiving. You had to be on your game, and this was no place for amateurs; there was clearly far too much at stake. Next time, I would have the chance to test my mettle. I just had to hold my nerve.
With thanks to Winterberg Safaris. For more information visit www.winterbergsafaris.com