The Day of the Spiral Zimbabwe
by David Hulme
The careless smudge of Day 13’s blood-red dawn caps the eastern mountains as the hunting rig transports six expectant and determined young hunters from Turgwe Camp. It is the second-last day, and there is still work to be done.
Ben and Scott have taken a fine array of trophies - however, certain species still need to be accounted for. We will be hunting hard until the very last minute. That’s how it should be.
We are a fairly large team, comprising four Hutchisons (parents Bennett, Gayle and sons Ben and Scott), PH Thierry Labat, trackers Isaac Bangai and Mudhini, and myself, the journalist. Bennett and Gayle have opted to sleep in – Bennett’s job was done with his leopard on the third evening. Since then, he has been happy to take a back seat from the word go, for this is his sons’ maiden African hunt. The brothers have already taken 20-odd trophies between them, but Ben is still after kudu, bushbuck and eland, whilst Scott has eland and nyala in mind. The first week revolved around buffalo, and once they’d each taken a good bull, the focus was transferred to ticking off plains game species.
Action comes very early that day in the form of a good bushbuck ram bounding across the road ahead of us, not 10 minutes from camp. Isaac brings the truck to a dusty halt, and Thierry, Ben and Mudhini disappear into the scrub after the buck. Then begins a game of cat and mouse, as the ram twice offers brief opportunities before dissolving into dense riverine forest. The follow-up is in hurried spurts and, after the two near-misses, the hunters descend into a steep, hemmed-in gully, hoping for one more sighting. Halfway down the incline, Mudhini hisses, bringing the trio to a halt. Silhouetted starkly against the skyline on the rivulet’s far bank, stands the buck. The shot is not a long one (70 yards), but neither is it easy – uphill, over a ravine and through brush. But shooting ability has already been shown, and Ben is carrying the .375, which should make light work of the sparse brush.
Thierry has already judged the ram and wastes no time giving the nod. Ben knows he has to move fast and, ignoring hastily set up shooting sticks, he instinctively shoulders the .375, taking a snap offhand shot in the same motion. At the shot, the buck disappears from view. The hunters move, sliding down into the gully and clambering up the steep incline of the far bank. They surmount the ridge and there, lying in the first golden rays of the thirteenth morning’s light, is a splendid bushbuck ram, with horns that Thierry estimates will measure 15 inches plus. We return to camp briefly and drop the trophy at the skinning shed. It is 6.30 a.m. and Day 13 starts with a very solid foundation.
Brothers in arms: Scott and Ben with Ben's handsome bushbuck, taken with a .375 at 70 yards. PH Thierry Labat estimated the horns at around 15 inches.
Thirty minutes later we are cruising the Turgwe River road on Bedford Block – a game-rich and picturesque section of Humani that also happens to be our favourite hunting area. PH Labat’s game-plan for the morning is to drive downstream to a predetermined point and walk up the river with Ben in search of a good-looking kudu bull that we have chanced upon twice, and that has twice given us the slip. The bull is hanging out with a small harem of cows and shouldn’t move far any time soon. What bull with a personal harem would? Whilst Thierry, Ben and I walk the river, Isaac is to drive Scott and our ‘learner PH’ Mudhini to an area of dense mopane forest at the top end of Bedford, away from the river. The area has a healthy eland population and Scott and Mudhini are to construct a blind somewhere along a trail in the forest, and hope for the best. Sitting in a blind through the heat of the day cannot be anyone’s idea of fun, but time is running out, and Scott and Mudhini are both patient hunters, perfectly suited for the job.
That was the game-plan, anyway, until Mudhini (meaning ‘razor’) spots the lone nyala bull at the base of a termite mound in waist-high grass, several hundred metres off. The bush is thick here and Mudhini does his nickname justice. We drive on for 100 metres, and then Thierry and Scott disembark commando style. With Isaac at the helm, the rig trundles on as the two hunters stalk off into the undergrowth and into a steady breeze, back towards the nyala bull. A shot echoes down the Turgwe.
I am standing on the roadside smoking a cigarette and chatting with Ben, when we hear a clearly audible hit. Unless Scott has lead-injected an acacia tree, this day may well become ‘The Day of the Double Spiral.’
Whilst some are simply gratified with Scott's 27-inch nyala bull, others are openly ecstatic with the solitary bull, which is the second spiral-horned antelope taken on Day 13 of the safari.
The bull is a super 27-incher, and celebrations are taken to a new dimension. Of the 10 bulls we’ve seen so far, only two were shooters, and both were in poor and fast-fading light. This was our first real opportunity at a decent nyala. The nyala is offloaded and instructions given to master skinner Tendai. Anyone who has hunted nyala will understand why this trophy should be afforded extra care.
Then we get ready to move out again – there is still work to be done. As I haul my ample self up onto the hunting seat, I tell Bennett that I already have a great title for my story: ‘The Day of the Double Spiral’. “Why not, ‘The Day of the Triple Spiral’?” he asks. I nod in agreement; I know it shall be.
We are not cruising now. We need to get Scott and Mudhini settled into their blind. Less than an hour later, we have dropped the eland hunters off and are back down on the Turgwe, stalking slowly upstream, hoping to jump a decent kudu bull. The two-hour walk yields naught and, after meeting up with Isaac, we drive an extended route back towards camp. Though it is hot and everything is still, nobody is prepared to call lunch just yet.
“Last roll of the dice before lunch,” says Thierry. “We’re going to drive across the main road up towards the Mokore boundary and then call it quits for the morning.”
We turn onto the main road and, barely five minutes later, Thierry spots the bull with three cows, about 100 yards off. They bound off at the intrusion, but are not overly alarmed and soon stop, turning back inquisitively. Thierry and Ben are already out and moving – working an angle and soon obscured from view. The kudu make off further into the trees, and then they too are invisible. The seconds tick by…
Fifteen minutes later, we are receiving punishing bear hugs from an overjoyed Ben as he dances happily around his great greater kudu trophy – his plains game priority.
Now we are really pumped. While Isaac transports us back to camp, I hold both thumbs tightly, silently urging the eland hunters on. “Come guys, don’t leave the party early, make it a quad… Make it a ‘Spiral Grand Slam.’”
The third spiral-horned antelope of the day goes down when Ben takes his kudu. "We all know how important this trophy is to Ben, and what a grand specimen it is," writes Hulme.
Though we gulp down lunch, it is already 3 p.m. We decide to go dove shooting at a pan not too far from where the eland hunters are entrenched, so that we can pick them up at nightfall should we not receive a radio call before then. There are only a couple of hours daylight remaining, and Ben is happy to leave an eland attempt for the following morning – the last day of the hunt. In relaxed and carefree mode, we load up shotguns and shells and head out.
Two hours later, Bennett has conclusively proved himself the only real wingshooter amongst us. Although underhand and unsporting tactics are employed in a desperate bid to save a little face, the gap is widened by the minute, and the under-40s are forced to admit utter defeat. As the sun touches the western horizon and we busy ourselves collecting shell-cases and Bennett’s doves, the radio crackles to life. A short exchange takes place. Scott has shot an eland, and that eland is down. We move.
As we load the magnificent eland bull, Scott and Mudhini relate the event. As is often the case when waiting in a blind for a particular animal, the day had been predominantly tedious. From 11 a.m. till 4.30 p.m., the eland hunters had seen only a few kudu cows and a couple of warthogs. The warthogs were great trophies and, with the sun beating down relentlessly, Scott had been sorely tempted to take one and bring the vigil to an end. Fortunately, that option was dismissed and the two men sat on, sucking up the sun, sucking water bottles, and thinking how mopane flies suck.
At 5.30 p.m., just before dark, at the same time that we were wrapping up the dove shoot, a single eland cow had broken cover and entered the clearing. Scott was ready minutes before the bull stepped out. When it did finally appear, the bull cautiously tested the wind, standing stock-still, only his front half visible. Satisfied that the coast was clear, the bull walked into the clearing and stopped once more, broadside on. Scott let drive the heavy .375 slug, shattering the bull’s massive shoulder and exploding its heart on impact. The bull buckled and hunched tellingly, struggling to retain its feet before stumbling off. Scott stood and fired one shot, two, three… “breaking the heavyweight down,” as Thierry had earlier advised. The bull went down heavily and it was done.
The 'icing on the cake' is when Scott takes the fourth spiral-horned antelope of the day - an eland taken from a blind just before dark with a .375.
Each and every hunting day dawns the promise of success, but certain days fulfil that promise more than others. Lucky Day 13 of this safari did more: It fulfilled the once-in-a-lifetime experience of taking of all of Zimbabwe’s most desirable spiral-horned trophies in a single day.
Later around the campfire, I discuss the title of this story with Bennett – a man I’ve come to admire in a very short time. “‘Lucky Day Thirteen?’ ‘ The Day of the Quad Spiral?’” I quiz him.
I regard Bennett in the dancing firelight and await his opinion. After a time he gives it.
“‘The Day of the Spiral.’ Simple, to the point, and it says it all.”
And ‘The Day of the Spiral’ it is. Of that, there’s no doubt whatsoever.