Story by Erica LaBuda
Special to the Democrat
Having hunted in Afrika in 2009 for the first time when I was 16 years old at the Fourie Ranch in the Afikanner Free State, I dreamed of one day returning and hunting the magnificent Eastern Cape kudu, which are as large as an American Bull Elk and sport stately black spiraling horns.
This past July, my dad and I finally got to go back. We left JFK for a 16-hour flight to Johannesburg. At Amanzi that evening, we were warmly greeted by old friends, the Fourie Family and staff and treated, or perhaps teased, by our first dinner there of kudu Lasagna!
It was decided to rise early at daybreak and scan the high wooded slopes for kudu taking in the warmth of the early morning sun following the chilly fall evening of an Afrikan night. We had sighted in my CZ7 Mauser with a 2.5 x 6 Zeiss 32 MM Scope, and I knew I could be right on even at 200 meters with a rested shot on the Hunting Sticks. I trusted my Dad’s hand loads of 7x55 with 139 gr. nosler partition ballistic tip, a very light bullet for 500 lb. game.
The challenge, we believed, would be in a rapid, fast and sure shoot with questionable visibility. The Gray Ghost would not be a standing still target with a bull’s eye painted on his shoulder, and the brush would be heavy and dense in the area we had chosen for the morning hunt.
As the mountainsides were fully bathed in warm Afrikan sun, we trained our binoculars intently on the slopes for the slightest movement of a kudu. “There he is,” whispered the professional hunter, Jopie, as he pointed to a small break in the trees showing a reddish-colored rock and a large kudu bull standing broadside on it. I immediately reached for my rifle, chambered a round and raised it to my shoulder as Jopie continued to whisper, that’s the ONE.
I looked through the scope and saw the empty rock. True to his name, the Gray Ghost had vanished in an instance. Jopie said, “let’s follow him,” and we did, up and down the hill, across the valley. My father, back in the truck, radioed that he had seen with his binoculars a big kudu crossing the valley heading to a small wooded hill and that we were right behind it. We never saw him again that morning.
The fall afternoon was hot and sunny, not a cloud in the sky. We drove for miles scanning the valley and now the cooler shaded portions of the hills for our kudu. Jopie wanted to check out a “hotspot” for the evening hunt, so we loaded the truck again and slowly headed for the eastside of the ranch where the hills were steeper and the brush more dense.
For the first time I began to have doubts; what if we don’t find him, what if I’m not quick enough on my shot? The silence of my fears was broken by a whisper, “there he is.” We looked and we strained, but at first I could see nothing, except trees and leaves, thorns and brush. Jopie said just look behind the large silver-colored bush on the right, you’ll see an ear flickering. Through my binoculars I saw the ear, and that’s all I saw. We quickly and quietly dismounted the truck and tried to close the distance of approximately 150 meters across a small open field to the bush with that flickering ear.
As we proceeded less than 10 meters into the field, we stopped suddenly as an ivory tip of a kudu horn could be seen shining in the sunlight above the bush. Instantly, Jopie set up the hunting sticks as I chambered a round and seated the rifle at the apex of the crossed sticks.
Jopie had made the height perfect for me and I now trained my 6X Zeiss scope on that big bush with the flickering ear and the shining point. We stood frozen still and we waited. The seconds seemed like minutes, the minutes like hours, as we waited for the kudu to make a move and give me a target. Every few minutes Jope whispered, “close your eyes, rest them.” I did so and I was able to maintain focus.
I could see the muscles on the neck strain as he turned his large head backwards. This was a big bull and I was not going to risk a neck shot at dusk through the bush. I closed and rested my eyes again as Jopie confidently whispered, “he will step out!”
Minutes later, through a narrow opening, less than half a meter between these two big bushes, the nose appeared followed only by the ears and the horns.
“Wait for the shoulder and take your shot,” Jopie said. I also recalled my father’s words: “Erika, when you have your shot, take your shot, don’t hesitate.” A second later, the muscles on the front foreleg glistened and the shoulder appeared for an instant. I knew not to wait, this was my shot. The noise of the rifle deafened my ears and I couldn’t see the Kudu anymore. My dread, where had he now vanished to, was broken by Jopie’s slap on my back and my father’s shrieking from the truck: “he’s down, you got him.”
I regained my senses and looked to see him falling down where he had stood in the high dense brush and now his feet kicking in the air towards the blue sky above. Jopie said, it was a good clean shot, as my father said, “your shot was perfect, we can’t believe you dropped him in his tracks with only one shot.”
My mature kudu bull was truly magnificent with 49 1⁄2 inch ivory tipped horns. My father judged my shot with utter joy and pride. I think I also impressed my PH, but disappointed the trackers since I made them unemployed!
Our hunting through the densely covered hill country and wide open plains at Amanzi, was challenging and a fair chase. We always saw herds of giraffes, zebra, black, as well as blue wildebeest, impalas, spring and bles bocks and stately sables for photographing along our way. We rode in an open Range Rover truck and bounced with each rock in the road.
Enjoying the painted sky sunsets with my dad and friends after a long day’s hunt was one of the best parts of our trip. As the cold night air rolled down the hills and enveloped the valley with a slight haze, the warm spicy aroma from the kitchen drew us inside, into the warmth and “Gemutlichkeit” of a dinner table meticulously set with true Afrikan foods and meats, fine wines all softly lit by candle and the orange glow from a roaring fire by the fireplace.
Also, the accommodations and candlelight cuisine each night were first class and done in real African style. The outdoor bria (BBQ) and dinners from the game we harvested (impala, kudu, wildebeest and blesbok) were exceptional. The staff at Amanzi from PH, to the tracker to skinners, to the cook and domestic help were professional and efficient and yet provided a warm family atmosphere. In fact, having hunted and traveled in many areas of the world and other parts of Afrika, I still consider Amanzi and the Fourie family, my home away from home!