IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE PH
The red dust encloses your boot as you take the first step behind the PH through the thorny bush. Even if you don't yet know what the hunt will bring, you know that the day will be thrilling, challenging and instructive – quintessential Africa!
On an African hunting day, you never know whether you'll end up stalking buffalo, bushbuck or something else entirely. But today, you've decided to try your luck with the astonishingly beautiful oryx.
The PH stands still, assessing the situation, listening intently to the sounds of the bush, reading his surroundings. His eyes glide over the dawn terrain, decoding the possibilities and contemplating his next move.
He stoops to grasp some of the red soil that he uses to read the wind direction. As it cascades to the ground, a red plume fans out downwind. The PH is now ready. A plan is formed.
In the teeming life of the bush, the sun casts a gentle light over the dense bush which, in combination with a mosaic of shadows, creates excellent cover for wildlife. Only a trained eye will detect even otherwise conspicuous species, like zebra or the light-coloured 200-kilo oryx.
A turtle dove coos over to the left. Its evocative call is an injection of sound through your eardrums that sends a rush of Africa directly into your veins. While you stalk behind the PH, you sense the excitement and clearly register the unstoppable rise of hunting zeal in your being.
You spot several different species in the bush. A small bush duiker rears its head, some impalas trot down to a watering hole, while the hefty eland grazes behind some shrivelled, thorny bushes. But no oryx yet.
A meeting with the bull
The oryx or gemsbok is extremely hardy and can survive in some of the world's driest biotopes.
It is not particularly dependent on direct access to water, which strikes you as ironic when the PH climbs seven or eight metres up a wind turbine that draws life-giving water from the subsoil. Not every bush animal is as tough and hardy as this antelope with its black-and-white-marked face.
Having explored the dense bush from a bird's eye view, the PH climbs down from the wind turbine. He joins you seconds later with an intense gleam in his eyes. He has spotted a lone bull oryx just a few hundred metres to the south. The stalk continues and you are lucky to have low sunlight streaming in over your shoulder and the wind in your face.
A sudden movement attracts your attention. A pair of shiny horns glistens in the morning sun a few hundred metres ahead. For a few seconds, the PH studies the animal which is almost completely hidden in the bush. He lowers his binoculars, turns round and looks you straight in the eye: "It's the bull, the one we’re after. Follow me!"
You move quickly but silently. First, in a low walk between the thorn bushes, and then on all fours with sore knees and fine sand between your fingers. You are within range, and the bull just needs to present his shoulder for a shot, so you and the PH rise in unison. You ease the rifle onto the rests of the shooting stick and find a good footing. The PH signals that you must be patient and absolutely still, but also ready to aim.
These are the few seconds that you have travelled so far to experience. This is the almost unbearable tension for which you have endured so much. The bull oryx wheels round to his right, takes a few quick but controlled steps towards a small opening in the bush.
You unlock the safety, put your cheek to the stock and lock the crosshairs to your retina. You exhale one last adrenalin-filled breath into the African morning before the beast's great flank is exposed. The PH whispers the awaited instruction: ”SHOOT”. You crook your finger, feel the recoil and immediately know that the shot has hit home.
Barbecued meat and sundowners
You're gazing at an ember of hard African firewood that one minute flares up to nearly white-hot, only to fade into an almost black hue. Sitting there with a radiant smile, a cool G&T in the hand, beads of condensation flecking the glass, you think back on the day’s events. Your nostrils catch the scent of sizzling oryx fillet as the PH gently turns it on the barbecue a few centimetres above the glowing coals.
You lean back to quietly trace a glowing ember that rises up from the fire into the night sky. As it fades away, you are spellbound by the great continent's clear, starry sky and the mystery of the Milky Way. The silence is broken by a leopard, claiming his hunting ground with deep growling on the other side of the muddy grey, crocodile-infested water.
In that second, you realise that the bush's paradoxical combination of beauty and fierce, untrammelled nature has captured part of your soul. A small part of you that you will only recover by returning once again to the mysterious hunting grounds of the bush. Africa is in your veins, it's under your skin!
Text and photo: Thomas Lindy Nissen
South Africa, July 2016
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