A Cherished Time Afield - 2010
The words," Daddy can I shoot it" were whispered as a duiker approached from left to right. He was a dandy for sure; I could easily see five inches of horn on either side of his head. With the push of the crossbow's safety, I prepared the means for action. My ten year daughter, Danielle, whose birthday occurred while on safari, was already mounted to her well practiced tool. The duiker dropped his head to drink. He presented the young huntress with the perfect broadside shot. Now, a simple nod of the head "yes" was all she needed-it came quickly. She took a deep breath, steadied her aim, and squeezed evenly on the trigger. The rest is history. She acquired a fine trophy, a just reward, for sitting still and quietly in a Double Bull pop-up blind a mere twenty yards from a waterhole in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.
And to think, three weeks earlier, I was apprehensive. Was I pushing my daughter into something she wasn't ready to do? The thought honestly crossed my mind-so much so that I spoke with our outfitter a week prior to our departure from Colorado. I explained, "Nic, I want zero pressure on her! If she shoots, then great! If not, I'm sure she'll have a grand time just observing the bushveld's wildlife." NIc's reply was from experience. With two young daughters of his own he said, Will, I know the concern. Danielle will only pay-at my cost-on the trophies she collects. It's important that we get the kids involved the right way. His universal words set the stage for some cherished father/daughter time! The performance which unfolded before me was absolutely brilliant- certainly loaded with several proud father moments!
This past December (2009), I had noticed a glowing ember within Danielle while the two of us were hunting white-tailed deer in the Hill Country of Texas. Like all hunting fathers, it was a hot ash I wished to fan. My little girl had the desire to hunt, but her lack of experience and confidence thwarted the fire. She, putting it bluntly, had conflict in her heart. She, as she expressed, was overly concerned with wounding and not recovering beautiful animals. Her refusal on several very easy shots gave me concern. I offered encouragement though. I let her find her comfort zone and suggested that we practice more when we returned home. She agreed. However, she took it a step further. When we weren't hunting, she was practicing. Her practice paid dividends. Danielle shot a Corsican ram, a Whitetail doe, and a Rio Grande turkey-killing two out of three with a single shot. By the end of January, this little lassie was well on her way to fully understanding wildlife conservation. She could, for example, explain carrying capacity and critical habitat with the best of them. We have discussed the 1938 Pitman-Robertson Act. She knows all about wildlife funding, management, research, restoration, rehabilitation, and improvement of wildlife habitat. She knows these are all critical aspects to successful conservation programs. Moreover, she enrolled herself into a hunter education class and passed with a perfect 100 on her examination. Her step by step training was proceeding nicely. The big question though, was she ready for Africa?
We arrived in country on the 21st of July after our flight had several delays-the result of bad weather in the United States. A plane ride which should have taken somewhere around 17-19 hours turned into a 24 hour ordeal. To make matters worse, our luggage (clothing, bows, and gun cases) managed to get stuck in the hull of our South African Airbus 340-600. Apparently, a latch securing a cargo container was broken during flight. Needless to say, Danielle and I were more than finished with traveling and eagerly awaited our hunting endeavors. On our first day, and for four similar days within a ten day period, the waterhole blinds yielded very little action. We saw guinea fowl and that was about it. It appeared the daytime temperatures were not enough to force animals to quench their thirst. We were also hampered by a bright full moon. Most of the plains game we were after conducted business at night. Stupid me, I will pay a lot more attention to moon/temperature details the next time. And, there will be a next time!
A bright full moon still up early in the morning
Danielle outside one of the ground blinds.
On the evening of day two, Danielle used a Thompson Center Encore 7mm-08 fitted with a Leopold 3x9 scope, a muzzle brake, and a Dead Mule Recoil Reducer to collect her first African game animal. She dropped the hammer on a fine Steenbok specimen. With one species under her belt, she put the rifle away and started beating the bush exclusively with her Horton crossbow. Believe it or not, she's more confident with the crossbow than the rifle.
The duiker (first picture above) was followed by several guinea fowl and four warthogs.
Her second warthog was shot right at dusk on the fifth day. We decided to wait until the following morning to recover it. To our astonishment, the tusker was found by a leopard. The big cat dragged the pig thirty yards and stashed the carcass under a tree. The situation would have been the perfect set up for a sure thing leopard hunt. However, we were missing a CITES permit- a permit which Daddy had applied for (at least information was passed along to our outfitter and this was supposed to happen).
The leopard did a little snacking. On Danielle's last warthog, she pulled off an amazing shot. It was one of those off the rock, over the bush, around the house, nothing but net affairs. Well, not actually, but it was some fine shooting. She had a fork in a tree, to shoot through, eight yards in front of her blind. The warthog was standing broadside at 35 yards. Danielle fired a perfect heart shot!
The perspective is deceiving in this photo. The gap between the tree branches is actually about six inches.
Daddy released two arrows the entire trip (I was a little disappointed my Cape buffalo hunt never came to fruition). The first scored a very respectable Mountain Reedbuck. Here's the video:
I used my second arrow on a huge Gemsbok bull. I fell short in my attempt to match Danielle's through the tree shot, though. I had the exact same situation arise-same position, different species. I shot the tree, and thus gave Danielle all the bragging rights. In retrospect, I wouldn't want it any other way! All in all, it was a great trip-one I'll cherish for life!