Nicolaas Els, What Really Matters
Being a Professional Hunter, I get to experience nature in all his glory. Anything from open plains roaming with Impala, Giraffe, Zebra and Wildebeest to Kudu infested valleys down to Springhare and Scrubhare during the cold winter nights. I’ve been privileged to be able to meet many different people from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. I’ve worked with some of them, worked for some of them but hunted with most of them. Around the traditional South African campfires I’ve heard their stories, all they had to share about life, love and of course hunting. Over the years I’ve gotten a good idea what matters to them when they are out hunting in our beautiful country. What makes them tick and what not. Some reckon that the enjoyment of the hunt is the most important part, others reckon the animals or the amount of game you see. Some might say the people you hunt with and others the guides who take you hunting. Many hunters, many opinions, but what about the actual hunt? When push comes to shove, what really matters? Well, as a Professional Hunter, I’ve developed my own list of essentials when out hunting. These essentials consist of characteristics, equipment and capabilities that, to me can really make or break a hunt.
Telescopes – I went hunting for Impala, Warthog and Blesbuck once with a client. He got some real nice animals, but he took them all with one of my rifles, simply because he couldn’t get his rifle to shoot where he was aiming. After some time we realized that the crosshairs were basically hanging loose. In short, it was dysfunctional and so he had to use one of mine. So many times, I’ve hunted with chaps who seem to spend all their money on the rifle and as little as possible on the scope. They buy expensive stocks, suppressors, gun belts and similar equipment to make the rifle more comfortable to carry and handle, but then go for low budget scopes not suited for their rifles, calibres or hunting terrain. Now the first thing we do when a client arrives at East Cape Bushveld Hunting is to take him or her down to the shooting range to sight the rifles. More than often, ammo is wasted trying to sight a rifle that should have been sighted with the second or third shot. Either the scope isn’t setting or it just can’t handle the recoil from the rifle. The result? The hunter goes hunting with a rifle not sighted in properly and with limited ammo or, like with this client, he had to borrow one of mine or one from his PH , all because the choice for a scope is not taken up seriously. The quality of your telescope matters.
Ammunition – The second mistake hunters make is to go for cheap ammo. Picture this; A Client joins us on a hunt for Kudu. We spot a bull in the early morning sun and plan our stalk. We walk slowly and stop regularly to avoid being spotted or heard. We get down in prone position before reaching our FFP. The kudu now not more than 120 yards away is standing quartering away, browsing on a ‘Spekboom’ or Bacon Tree as it is known in English. We get set up, shooting across the valley. Everything goes according to plan, until he fires the shot, hitting the animal just behind the shoulder and hoping the bullet exits his chest on the opposite side. The bull disappears like only a Kudu knows how to disappear in these thickets. Long story short, we tracked the bull for several hundred yards before finding it dead in the shade of a Jacket Plum where he had gone to lay down. He never got up. The bullet disintegrated but the right lung got punctured by a small fragment of the jacket. If it weren’t for that, the bull would surely have gone way further and we wouldn’t have gotten him, or worse, he could’ve hit him further back in the stomach… As with the choice of a scope, the ammo you plan on using is very important and can be the difference between a successful or unsuccessful hunt. The ability of the bullet to penetrate and stay on course matters.
Fitness – the physical capability of the hunter to cover the terrain without tiring too quickly is something many hunters oversee many times. Hunting Steenbuck with a European client once, we had to cross a valley and walk right to the top of the opposite hill where there is less bushes and trees and of course where we spotted a pair of Steenbuck. The terrain was fairly rugged, but most hunters would have covered it without breaking too much of a sweat. We probably covered about a mile to get within range of the animal, but the client being very tired from walking, forgot his rifle on safe. When he realised that, he suddenly went into a rush to take it off of safe and shoot. The animal got away and afterwards the client explained to me that he couldn’t concentrate and that it was too much walking for him. “Next time, we use more car and less foot”. Yup, fitness matters.
Patience – I cannot emphasize this enough. More than ninety percent of all the hunters or clients I hunt with from all over, lack patience. When I was about eleven years old, my father took me hunting for a Bushbuck. One Saturday afternoon, we slowly made our way down into a valley where we knew some bushbuck had been hanging around. We sat down under ‘n Jacket-Plum and started scanning across the valley for Bushbuck on the other side. Couple of hours went by and we didn’t see as much as a Duiker. Bird sounds reverberated all over the valley, but no animals. A Kudu bull makes his way out of the thick bush and my father immediately notes that he is crippled in his one front leg. He instructed me to set up, but even before I can do so, he spots us and rushes back into the brush. All of a sudden a Bushbuck ewe and ram appears from the bushes below us. They must have heard our shuffling and whispering, thus deciding to leave the valley. As they make their way out, I set up to take the shot. Just before they enter the thick brush across the valley the ram turns broad side for a moment and I pull the trigger. The shot goes off but to my disappointment the ram walks in behind a River Euphorbia and the bullet from the 30-06 makes a hole on the one side of the tree trunk. The ram took off into the bush. I pulled the trigger when the animal’s front leg was exactly behind the tree, thus hitting the tree trunk and not the animal. Rooky mistake. Never before have I been so disappointed. A week later, Saturday morning very early I make my way back to that same spot to wait for that ram. I sit down under the same tree and for the next four hours, the previous Saturday repeats itself. The distinct chanting of a couple Glossy Starlings keeps me entertained for the morning, but no movement or sign of any animal, not even to mention Bushbuck. I wait patiently. Eventually I start to mash up dung from animals that have been resting under the tree, only looking up now and then to check for animals. All of sudden I catch movement in the corner of my eye. Looking up, I spot the ram making his way out of the tree line where he had disappeared the previous week and stopping in the shade of a Shepherds tree. I quickly get set up and take aim on the only part of the animal I’m able to see – his neck. Now, not more than 150 yards away I squeeze the trigger gently. The bang from the rifle overpowers every other sound and for a moment everything else seems to go quiet. The Bushbuck is down. All the hard work has paid off. Months of hunting and scouting, trying to outthink the animals. Sitting, glassing the thick brush and waiting quietly – yes my friend, patience matters more than anything else. The list goes and on. So many things come into play when you’re out hunting. Yes, you must enjoy it. Yes your guides, chef, tracker, friends, family and everyone else involved will have an enormous effect on how much you enjoy it. Even your own mind-set will be a determining factor, but on top of my list of essentials, gear and characteristics, is this; Telescope, Bullet Quality, Fitness and Patience. The most important of these, is patience.