The weather is miserable. There’s a mix of sleet and rain rattling the window panes and a chilling wind howls around the corners of the house. It’s winter for sure! It’s the time of year that I should be tramping across white frost covered fields. My English pointer, Nikki, running ahead of me scouting for the scent of a pheasant, woodcock or snipe. But I’m not, I’m sitting inside in front of a laptop! I don’t even own a firearm anymore! Nikki, the shotgun and all these wonderful winter memories have been left behind in Ireland while I sit contemplating what is to come of this new life in Finland.
So what do I do with the weather outside makes my mind wander off to warmer climes. I think about not just a few degrees warmer (Ireland) but places like South Africa. A wild and untamed place where a sense of freedom can still be grasped.
“Big game hunting” and “Africa” are words that conjure up images of khaki uniforms, porters, luxury camps and off course massively wealthy overseas clients (usually massive in both physical and financial proportions!), add to this a few Acacia trees, the Big 5 and a sprinkling of plains game and your stereotypical image of an African Safari Hunt should be about complete.
Hunting in Africa doesn’t have to be so expensive that you have to remortgage the house, sell your firstborn or take a crippling loan to afford it. There are plenty of small outfitters who offer incredibly good value for money and excellent service. If you are willing to hunt plains game instead of the Big 5 then you are in even a better position to get a real African hunt for a fraction of the cost you might think.
My personal hunting experiences have been almost completely confined to hunting small game with a shotgun. Therefore a hunt for big game with a .300 Win Mag caliber rifle was going to be something very different for me. Due to my lack of experience with high powered rifles I was to begin by taking a few practice shots at a target. The first shot hit dead centre, unfortunately though the next three shots were well wide! What was going wrong? My guide loaded an empty cartridge into the chamber (I was unaware that it was a dud). As I pulled the trigger I flinched visibly, enough to throw the bullet way off. Well that was the problem then. The problem was solved by the fact that I used my middle finger to pull the trigger instead of my usual index finger.
On the morning of the hunt we headed out in the 4x4 and I got out with my guide some distance from a herd of wildebeest. We walked up to the edge of the lowland plains to get into position. Our target was a specific old male that was being screened by many other animals. We circled around searching for a clear shot and eventually one presented itself but it involved taking the shot with the rifle resting on my guides shoulder. I didn’t feel confident enough to take it and the chance slipped by and I could sense time slipping by. Would another chance present itself?
Another chance did come along and this time I had the assurance of a dead rest in the form of a solid branch. My breathing quickened as I brought the cross hairs down settling them on the front shoulder of the old wildebeest. “Exhale and squeeze”, I heard a faint whisper beside me. I was so concentrated on holding the crosshairs in position that I got a shock when the shot ran out. Danie’s (my guide) excitement was immediate, he ensured the gun was safe and laughing he clapped me on the back. The wildebeest had dropped exactly where he had stood, he had just knelt down and laid on his side. To me it seemed such a gentle death, almost hauntingly disproportionate to the echoing crack of the rifle and the thundering hooves of the rest of the herd as they disappeared into the bush with a cloud of red African dust rising behind them.
After a few minutes we approached the wildebeest, Danie in front with the rifle ready and me a good distance behind him. He circled the fallen beast, unloaded the rifle and waved me over. I knelt beside the wildebeest, ran my fingers over its mane and the smooth boss of its horns.
The emotions are impossible to recreate, I felt an overwhelming respect and admiration for the animal and it’s majestic beauty that was right in front of me now. I also felt a lump rising in my throat, it’s hard to explain but a hunter will understand. “Drink some of this”, Danie handed me a water bottle and I relieved my parched throat and washed down the rising lump. We had a few more minutes with the fallen animal before the 4x4 arrived to pick us all up, another arrived for the wildebeest.
I watched quietly as a team of skinners set to work on the admirable harvest, with long sharp blades separating the hide from the sinews and flesh. I must of looked morose as I was urged to come have some tea and a bite to eat. The euphoria and the adrenaline of the hunt only hit me much later.
That night Danie prepared the most fantastic wildebeest fillet steak, cooked to perfection over glowing coals and basted with some magical herbs and spices. I will never forget that meal for as long as I live!
As I nursed a cold beer and stared into the flames of our camp fire I thought “so this is Africa” . I’ve gone back at every opportunity that has presented itself, it’s a continent full of adventure, experiences, raw brutality of nature and an epic journey without comparison. And it’s so vast no one will ever know it all, you just have to find your own little piece to treasure, this story is one the gems that I will treasure forever. Now go find yours.☺