Mark Dedekind Safaris south of Pongola in Kwazulu Natal had kindly invited us to hunt red duiker and nyala – two very typical species for this part of South Africa.
The red duiker is usually the more difficult of the two species to get with only five animals on the yearly quota in the privately-owned Mahlalela nature reserve spanning almost 11,000 hectares. We would therefore start our hunt looking after one of these small animals.
Once again I was hunting with my Mauser M03 African PH in .300 Winchester Magnum with a Zeiss Victory HT 2.5-10X on top. Certainly too much gun for an animal weighing only about 12 kg but for the nyala the caliber was suitable and therefore I felt it was a very good all-round rig for this hunt. I simply had to be careful to place the bullet behind the shoulder on the red duiker to give the taxidermist a fair chance.
It took us more than an hour to drive the long way from the lodge over the mountain and down to the bottom of the next valley. On the way, we passed an impressive diversity of typical Zululand habitat ranging from dense camel thorn bush over enormous open grass plains at high altitudes to thick jungles filled with red duikers along the rivers at the bottom of the valleys.
Freddy Robertson – my experienced PH – knew this enormous area like the back of his hand. On our way to the riverine forests, he had explained exactly what the plan was. We would find a nice starting point on the river. From there we would slowly stalk as quietly as possible against the wind pausing frequently to observe. The little red duikers are extremely shy and very alert. If they see the hunters, they immediately disappear into the undergrowth.
We moved slowly forward under the canopy. The forest floor was covered in dead branches and crackling dry leaves. I stayed right behind my PH and tried to walk at his pace to make as little noise as possible. The forest was silent as the grave and every little twig that snapped under our foot soles sounded as painfully noisy as a chainsaw in a library.
We crossed back and forth over the dried-out river bed and stopped at the smallest sound or movement. After less than twenty minutes we spooked the first duiker of the day without any chance of seeing whether it was male or female. Ten minutes later we did it again. Duikers vs. Jens 2-0!
Crested guinea fowl
Freddy was clearly enjoying this quiet stalk. His smiling enthusiasm was contagious and I was taken by the challenge.
Suddenly Freddy froze. A few meters in front of us a small flock of crested guinea fowl was mowing between the bushes. Red duikers are often following these birds as all their scraping reveals lots of delicious food for the duikers. Without a movement, he studied the area surrounding the birds resting his binoculars on the shooting sticks. Several long minutes passed before we saw some red movement in the bushes. A red duiker appeared less than 20 meters in front of us. It was constantly moving and energetically wagging its relatively large tail like a happy little dog.
Both male and female red duikers have horns. It is therefore difficult to judge the sex by the look of the head. So Freddy was looking for testicles. Actually for the set of large – or rather huge – testicles that every male duiker carries around considering the relatively small size of these animals. The red duiker in front of us had none. In other words, she was a little lady.
The husband arrives
We both saw the movement in the bush behind the princess. Another duiker had entered the scene. Freddy did not need to look at his private parts to conclude that it was an old male. The thick horns beyond the long hair on his head gave him away. And so did his shameless pursuit of the young female.
Freddy carefully put up the shooting sticks and I tried to get in position but the duikers had other plans and moved their activities to another bush during the few seconds it took me to get ready.
Freddy took a chance and asked me to aim for an opening between the bushes. With a little luck, the duikers would appear there. The distance was less than 20 meters. I quietly got in position and waited.
I saw a tiny shadow getting closer to the opening. I cocked the action and moved my finger to the trigger. The fine dot of red light in the center of the crosshairs was already lit. Freddy studied the animal intensely through his binoculars.
”Not that one – it’s the female”, he whispered.
I moved my index finger outside the trigger guard. The female stopped in the middle of the opening staring right at us. It was the only time I saw a duiker stand still and the moment didn’t last for more than a second or two. She quickly moved on while warning the male who appeared in the same opening just seconds later.
”Shoot!” Freddy said and a shot aimed at the middle of the small silhouette rang out in the forest. The duiker fell down but he immediately got back on his feet and began spinning around for a few seconds before everything was quiet.
”Did you see the tree you clipped?” Freddy asked. I did not. Approximately halfway between the muzzle and the duiker, the bullet had ripped a small tree apart. Luckily this did not change the path of the bullet substantially. Luck is allowed! The little red duiker was out of it…
What a start, what a hunt! An ancient male with thick horns lay dead on the ground. A beautiful and peculiar animal and a very challenging hunt.
In the afternoon Freddy showed me around in the incredibly beautiful reserve. Zululand’s carrying capacity is among the best in Africa. In this area, the game is abundant and in very good condition.
Stalking the nyala
We could feel it as we got up early the next morning. The temperature and humidity were rising. We expected a hot day – and we had one!
The more than 1,500 nyalas in the areas were playing hide and seek in the heat. During a long and sweaty morning stalk, we only saw a single female in an area that is usually crawling with nyala. Going back for lunch we had the good fortune to be able to cull an old wildebeest bull in the open grasslands so the morning’s hunt was far from fruitless.
In the afternoon we spotted lots of nyalas and we stalked a few up and down steep and rocky hillsides. But none of them turned out to be the kind of bulls Freddy was looking for. The late afternoon was sizzling hot with 38 degrees Celsius in the shadow. We drank liters of water.
Our third and last hunting day started out even hotter than the day before. Not a good thing for our nyala hunt. They simply moved too little around to be spotted in the dense areas of bush. Despite some very serious efforts we didn’t manage to get an opportunity to bag a large bull that morning.
We started hunting again early in the afternoon. This was our last chance! Maybe I was not meant to bag a nyala this time around? It was nothing to complain about really. I already had a fantastic hunt, and it wouldn’t be hunting if the outcome was given.
Now or never!
The nyalas were more on the move in the afternoon but still not as much as Freddy would like them to move. We stalked a couple of promising bulls but we were out of luck. The sun was setting behind the mountain as we slowly headed towards the lodge.
Nothing is over before the fat lady sings! Freddy saw two bulls in the open bush close to the track. A very young and a very old bull was grazing side by side. We drove a few hundred meters and turned right on another road. A little further ahead Freddy stopped the engine and we quietly left the vehicle. I chambered a round and checked that the action was uncocked and safe. I lit the illuminated center dot in the scope and turned the magnification all the way down to 2.5X.
Our plan was to sneak quietly through the few hundred meters of bush and hopefully find the old bull on the other side. If we bumped into the animals on the way our only option would be a shot at very close range in the thick stuff in front of us.
A light breeze was blowing in our faces. The wind was perfect. We tried to be as silent as possible and moved forward very slowly. A carpet of dry leaves on a bedding of dead branches and twigs on top of crisp red gravel and lose rocks proved to be quite a challenge to our ambitions of stealth. We looked like Indians in artistic slow motion as we slowly oozed our way through this jungle…
After a little more than a hundred meters ultra-slow advance, we reached a dry river bed. A vertical brink of loose dirt with roots sticking out led to a stony bottom four meters below. The opposite brink was equally steep. There was no hope of getting across here!
Freddy starred a little disappointed at the gorge in front of us, but he immediately stalked along the river to try and find a place to cross. Only a few meters further ahead an opportunity presented itself in the shape of a narrow path opened by the nyalas themselves. We crawled under a dead tree and carefully slid down the brink holding on to one of the thick roots on the way. On the other side, we repeated the exercise in reverse order.
Freddy carefully raised his head over the edge. Less the 70 meters in front of him the young bull was still grazing peacefully. Freddy slowly looked to the right and there – only 15 meters in front of him – the old bull was feeding towards us!
Freddy ducked in slow motion and whispered as silently as he could that I should move around him and kill the bull in front of us. I managed to get around him in slow motion and I raised the rifle as I looked over the top. But we were busted – A nyala does not grow ears the size of a saucer for the fun of it!
When I cleared the edge I stood face to face with a very alert nyala bull at a distance of 10 meters. We were starring each other directly in the eyes. The moment hardly lasted half a second. The bull threw himself around and ran off at full speed.
”Jump up and see if he stops” Freddy hissed. I was already over the edge!
A second later I saw the fleeing nyala through thick bush at 30 meters – and he saw me! With a powerful jump, he turned 90 degrees and started running away from the river at full speed displaying his entire broadside. Instinctively I had thrown the rifle to the shoulder, cocked it, and was now following the running bull through the scope. I was on auto-pilot in driven hunt mode! A little further ahead of him I saw an opening in the bush. When the bull passed it my index finger was happy with the sight picture and pulled the trigger. The shot went off and hit the nyala in midair exactly where the neck is attached to the spine.
His lights went out as the bullet struck him and he collapsed and fell like a sack of potatoes. He was dead before he hit the ground and he raised a big cloud of red dust as he rolled lifeless on the ground.
“…or you can do it like that” Freddy cheered loudly behind me. I chambered another round and focused on the bull approximately 60 meters away. His violent kicking left no doubt. The black prince had passed on to the eternal version of Zululand’s lush bushland.