On a safari trip with hunting buddy Grant, Daryl Crimp remarks that Africa never gives you what you expect but always gives you a reason to return
It had been a long stalk, the dust of the bushveld coating my Courteney boots and a thousand thorns puncturing their solid leather soles. Solid leather soles are essential when hunting Africa because they offer the quietest tread – silent footsteps in the dirt and grit.
Soles with air pockets impregnated in the rubber for comfort amplify any crunching sound and telegraph your approach. However, it was a moot point; the waterbuck bull had the uncanny ability to hear the unheard and see the unseen, and it vanished like a slick card trick.
For three days that waterbuck, my PH Hennie, and I had danced among the thorns in a game of cat and mouse that was becoming tedious.
“These big bulls, Sir Crimpy,” Hennie addressed me respectfully, “are super cunning – we just need to keep working him until he makes a mistake.”
“Hopefully he does so before I die of old age,” I added.
Several days earlier, Grant Muir, a 71-year-old Kiwi hunter – he would turn 72 on a magic day in Africa – had tasted similar disappointment. He had booked my premier hosted safari, vowing it would be a once in a lifetime trip, and he came armed with the makings of a supermarket list. Kudu over 50in, nyala, and bushbuck was the trifecta he’d bet his pension on.
“Africa doesn’t work that way, Grant,” I had explained. “Unless you hunt one of the ‘Put & Take’ safari operations that have become popular on the back of the game breeding industry.”
I specialise in the fair-chase hunting of established animals on large properties – 40,000 to 60,000 acres. Essentially, you wake up each morning and say to yourself, ‘I wonder what Africa is going to deliver today?’ While you may hunt a specific species, you might be presented with stunning animals that aren’t on your radar; the hunter who is open to opportunity has memorable hunts and takes quality animals.
“Just do your best, Crimpy,” he replied. “No pressure, but…”
That’s the other thing about Africa,” I told him.
“She turns you on your head… you arrive thinking you want to play Monopoly and she teases you with Tiddlywinks!”
“When you see them in the flesh, you’ll suddenly want to hunt animals you never desired before.”
“I have only one safari in me, Crimpy, so I know my priorities.”
That’s the other thing about Africa,” I said, “you can’t hunt her once.”
“It’s like kissing your sister – never entirely satisfying!”
He asked me drily whether there were any other things he needed to know about Africa.
“Yes,” I replied after some thought, “she has a habit of rewarding those who approach her with an open heart and the right attitude.”
After all that, Grant was presented with his dream kudu on the first morning anyway. It was a massive beast with the charcoal hues of age and thick horns that spiralled high and wide, topped with ivory that winked in the bright sunlight. If you were a hunter with a tape measure for a belt, you’d need a huge waist – 55in plus.
He missed. A clean miss two feet wide. We could have autopsied the shot and found a dozen reasons why but not even God can change history. The big bull cantered out into the veld and, from our vantage point high on the kopje, the last we saw of him was a distant dust cloud.
But Grant was the consummate hunter, philosophical about his missed opportunity but more relieved that he hadn’t wounded the kudu, and he settled in to take all of his subsequent animals with one-shot kills, including an incredible old impala ram at 100 metres through a six-inch gap in the thorns.
Because waterbuck hadn’t made Grant’s shopping list, Hennie suggested I slip into hunting mode should the opportunity present itself. Grant was good with that.
After several exciting stalks on animals that turned out not to be my nemesis, the waterbuck had risen through the ranks and was vying for top billing on Grant’s list. He suddenly wanted a good waterbuck. The safari bug had bitten.
Hennie glimpsed a good bull that he thought was mine, so we left Grant and Malibongwe beside a termite mound and snaked our way through the thorns. There was no real reason I should become fixated with the one bull when there were so many good animals around, other than sometimes it just gets personal.
The stalk was good and so was the bull. Huge. Weighty.
We studied it through the binoculars from 80 metres for 20 minutes, deliberating, until it sunk to its knees and went to sleep.
“I’ll offer it to Grant,” I finally whispered. “It’ll look magnificent on his wall.”
“Are you sure, Sir Crimpy? That is a massive waterbuck.”
“Yes, but I don’t have a tape measure!”
I waved Grant in and one look was all it took. Using a low bush as a shield, Hennie stalked Grant closer and had him settled on the sticks 50 metres from the somnolent bull. Hennie barked to get its attention. He barked and barked and barked again.
Africa does that to you – screws with your head. These things had been like fickle fireflies all week and now this gentleman bull was languid in the extreme. However, just before Grant’s 72nd birthday, the waterbuck stood and presented the perfect shot. No need for an autopsy.
The tape measure came off a very fat man that afternoon. As Hennie’s fingers smoothed it against a deeply rippled horn, it kept climbing and climbing – 32.5in to the tip. Grant was delighted and I was deeply satisfied for him, but there remained a score to settle.
My waterbuck continued to kick my butt for another two days, continually getting the better of me. It teased with tantalising glimpses, long stand-offs behind thorn thickets, and tortuous stalks before disappearing in a sleight of hand. Until I suggested ‘drop and roll’. Hennie grinned.
On the final morning we drove through his territory en route to kudu country. At my nod, Hennie jumped off the bakkie, catching my rifle as I threw it. I jumped and rolled. Malibongwe kept driving until he was out of sight.
Hennie and I, covered in dust, crawled into the thorns. It was a short final stalk, just 80 metres at the end of three challenging years. The bull was staring off into the distant, completely oblivious of our arrival. Once it was satisfied the bakkie had gone, the bull, leisurely, recommenced feeding.
Its path transected the only shooting alley I had, a narrow gap in the thorns. Hennie timed it perfectly, giving a throaty cough that pulled the bull up dead centre in open ground. It lifted its head, turned, and took one last look at the world.
I ran my hands over the beautifully shaped, heavy horns. It’s a very personal thing. A mark of respect for an impressive animal that had given a life so that I might have hunted.
It could well have been a magic moment but that was reserved for Grant’s 72nd birthday. He’d proved to be the most wonderful hunting companion, generous of spirit, and open to what Africa had to offer, that she rewarded him well on that day.
He came into camp long after dark, exhausted and with aching knees; it was the end of the safari and his frame was starting to creak, but there was a glisten to his eye and a smile that lit the room.
“Hennie did it,” he choked. “He got me my nyala… AND my bushbuck!” We celebrated hard and reflected long into the evening.
“Well, you also finally got a kudu but it didn’t measure 55in plus,” I said. “It was 49.5in.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he said. “It was a beautiful old bull and a thrilling hunt.” Africa turns you on your head.
“But I didn’t get my gemsbok,” he said thoughtfully.
“A gemsbok wasn’t on your list,” I shot back.
“It is now,” he smiled.
Grant had come to Africa and kissed
“That’s the other thing about Africa,”
“She always gives you a reason to return!”