An Eland Story

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Jeff Schaeffer, Sep 12, 2018.

  1. Jeff Schaeffer

    Jeff Schaeffer AH Member

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    When stories are told, they are a history, and we all know about history. There is what actually happened, and that can never be known completely. Then there is what we think happened, and that is clouded by many factors. And then, of course, is what the teller wants you to think happened. And although I like my posts to be candid and truthful, this is a story that I debated sharing because it is so tainted by inexperience, adrenaline, and abject fear that the narrative may not be in order, or exactly as it was. But if it is amusing, and at all educational then it is worth it.

    I hunted at Tholo with my PH Christo and our San Bushman tracker Morita. This not how his name is spelled, but it is as close as I can get it. There was sort of a W in there somewhere that I never got quite right. But it is close enough although I should have gotten it right and written it down because he is a cool guy and clairvoyant when it comes to predicting what game animals are going to do next.

    We were having a good week, but had not connected with eland despite a lot of track checking and a long stalk the evening before that put us close, but not close enough in thick brush and fading light. We decided to get up early and hunt a different property where the other hunters in my group had been successful. We got up at zero dark 30 and drove about an hour and half. Breakfast by the front gate, and we were off.

    It was an amazing place, not quite as flat, and a bit more open than where we had been hunting. In fact, there were huge, shallow valleys that gave us vistas of classic Kalahari habitat, and kudus were sticking their heads up out of the bush to stare us down. But we passed them up because we were after eland.

    We did just a bit of driving, and the sun was still low when Morita spotted two bull eland. We were driving west on a sandy two-track, and they were in front to the left, way downslope, and moving north. We decided to try for them and started a long stalk, moving down but circling to the right to intercept them. This did not work as planned, because they were moving faster than we thought and crossed in front of us. I did not see this because I was kneeling with head down, but I could hear whispers about how to keep stalking them. We moved north to follow them, crossed the road, and Morita quickly picked up the track. Christo and Morita are whispering to each other in Setswana, but there is a bit translation to the effect that they are moving at a pace where we might catch them. There is a short biology lesson about the superlative nature of eland vision and hearing, and I figure out that my best approach is to stay low, and not screw up by making noise.

    The stalk begins, and quickly turns into a rather long hike. We are tracking, and move left and right to stay on it. This goes on for some time and the sun is up and the day is getting hot. Then everything gets messed up because we encounter a wildebeest right in our path. We all crouch, back off, and make a big circle around him, worrying the entire time that we will be busted. The ash bottle comes out to check wind, and there is a lot of crouching through the sand and thorns. We make it past him, get back on track, and then it happens again with another animal. Another big and tiring circle. We are on this long enough for me to be thinking that perhaps I should have stuck that bottle of water in my pocket, but I had enough trouble with snagging on thorns that I did not want to be burdened. Really regretting this decision.

    We move forward, and everyone is tense because I can tell by body language that we are getting close. We stop for a moment, and my kind and gentle PH whispers to me with a tone that is certain: "from here on one bad move and one noise will spook them. Be absolutely quiet." We press on, but now low at all times. Binocs are raised, communication is with hand singles, and I am mostly looking at my feet trying not to step on a leaf or a stick and mess this up. Every bush tries to snag me.

    And then it starts. We are in a patch of brush, there is an opening about 60 yards in length, and then a thicket. They are in there. I can't see them yet, but the others can. We drop down and crawl. Morita clears the sticks and leaves as he moves forward, and takes my gun for a couple yards as I move over a rough patch. I get it back, and he tells me to move into second place. I am feeling the tension and adrenaline, and trying to prepare for that moment we have rehearsed: they are always on the move, you will have but seconds to take a shot. I am shaking the last 5 or 10 feet because I see Christo putting up the sticks. Then, there is a terrible moment when one of the braces lets go and they start to slide with metal on metal min-screech. He fixes it, and I ease up slowly. This is where it goes nuts, and quickly.

    There are two eland in thick brush and trees, except they are motionless. I can't see them well despite their size and short distance, and in a tragi-comic moment that will be related at campfires all over Africa, I whisper "it looks like a giant boulder. Is that him?" Christo tells me to look for his elbow, and I get the perspective right away. I am looking at the upper back half, his front is obscured by some thicker trees, and his legs by brush. I hear a soft whisper "when he steps forward, take him." I whisper back, "if he steps forward, I have no shot." Christo pantomines for me to lift the rifle slowly, and moves the sticks a couple feet to the right while I disentangle myself from the thorns, again. I ease over, and this is where it gets worse.

    There is now a shot, but it is through a keyhole between two tree trunks or branches. I see the back half of the eland, and a patch of grey through the keyhole that looks like it has to be in the kill zone. I feel like I have been on the sticks for an eternity, and it all goes into a blur. I somehow look down and Morita looks like he is about to faint, Christo's hands are shaking, and part of me knows this is impossible. Another part thinks that i can do this all day at the range back home, and I have to do this and can do this because these guys have put me here and now it is on me to get this done. The keyhole is about as wide as deck of cards, or at least I remember thinking that. And the wood was thick enough to stop an bullet, any caliber. Eternity stretches on, I am trying to breathe, and even reciting a line from a Mel Gibson movie about "aim small, miss small." Christo whispers something like "you can take the shot if you want to" and I whisper something like "I am going to try this." Then, when I think it can't get more tense, it gets worse.

    I take a breath, set the crosshairs on the grey patch, and squeeze. Except, I yank the trigger to the point where I lose aim and am in the wood. I stop and move my finger back off the trigger completely, and go into shock because I was within a few grams the gun going off. Now I really have the shakes, the adrenaline dump, and my mouth is filled with cotton balls. The eland, of course, is still standing there, probably because he can't see us through the screen of wood. I then do the thing of last resort that I had tried back home at the range. I breathe, move the crosshairs off target, move back on and squeeze as they line up with the keyhole. I fire. Finally.

    The gun goes off, and two eland bulls are running at us. Christo is calling for me to reload and I move the bolt. I ask "shoot again?" and he says "No, I do not know which one you hit" or "I'm not sure if you hit it". By this time they are close to us, but veer off to the right. This happens in a heartbeat, and both simply vanish into the bush like they have been teleported away. But before I have time to even wonder about the shot, there is a massive cloud of sand and dust being kicked up about 30 yards down their track. We are all standing there in shock, but somehow arrange ourselves in tracking formation, but all break into a run when we see him down for good. Christo asks me to get in front, and place an insurance/mercy shot in the heart. I kneel to do this, and find that I had somehow cocked the rifle but not chambered a new round. Good thing he was not a buffalo. I finally am able to do this, and it is over.

    At this point, I think I became a zombie, but Morita, who speaks very little English, comes up to me, puts his hand on my shoulder, and says "number one shooter." Christo has me hold out my hand, and presents me with the backup cartridges and states "I do not need to carry these anymore." I am giddy. Somehow, the truck is now there and I am handed a beer. I chug it. We hang out, do some photographs, but I am in such a daze that I do not remember much. A bit later, another truck has been radioed and the now-seven of us get him in after digging pits to get the tires low and tailgate closer to the ground. We then drive to a nearby waterhole and the trackers build a fire and we eat cornmeal pap, boerwurst, and fresh eland liver grilled over the coals out of tin plates. I have eaten at five star places (Tholo camp among them) but was the best lunch I have ever had.

    We sort of cruised for some kudu we had seen on the way out, but they were all in hiding. I was secretly relieved because for the first time that trip and I had to sit in the jump seats rather than stand and look for game. We headed back early to get back in time for camp stuff, and I was glad we did because the thought of another stalk like that one left me feeling my age. Christo told me that he had not had a stalk that exciting since he quit hunting elephants, so I am not making this stuff up. You could tell that it made their day and that they felt some pride about what they had done. That was half the enjoyment.

    He was one of the largest bulls taken this season, and we did measure him at 31 inches for those who care about that part. It was a lung shot with a 9.3x62, and the Nosler partition was retained. We found the core under the ribs, and I give the caliber full credit for what it did internally. The skull and skin are coming home, and after seeing it laid out in the salt I may construct a giant backyard tent and host circuses. Will post pics as soon as someone can tell me how I do that.

    And even the most cold-hearted among you will now understand why the return visit planning began while I was still in Maun.

    Thanks for reading and sharing crazy.

    Jeff

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    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 14, 2018 at 6:26 AM
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  2. JPbowhunter

    JPbowhunter AH Enthusiast

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    Love a good eland story, congrats mate
     

  3. IdaRam

    IdaRam BRONZE SUPPORTER AH Elite

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    Congrats! (y) Well done and well told! Sounds like everybody earned that one :)
     

  4. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN AH ENABLER SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR LIFETIME TITANIUM BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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    Nothing like sneaking up on an Eland. Love it.

    (Drag and drop for the pictures.)
     

  5. BenKK

    BenKK AH Fanatic

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    Awesome! What a wild adventure! Can’t wait to get back to Bots and track eland!
     

  6. 375 Ruger Fan

    375 Ruger Fan GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    Great story, but we need a photo!
     

  7. PHOENIX PHIL

    PHOENIX PHIL AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    Great story!
     

  8. Shootist43

    Shootist43 AH ENABLER GOLD SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    Photos would be nice. BTW congrats on the Eland. At what distance did you take the shot? Scope or Iron sights.
    If scope what power was it set on?
     

  9. fourfive8

    fourfive8 AH Enthusiast

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    Excellent! It just doesn't get any better than hunting the Kalahari with the San trackers
     

  10. Art Lambart II

    Art Lambart II AH Fanatic

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    Great Stalk and story, hoping to see pictures soon.
     

  11. Russ-F

    Russ-F BRONZE SUPPORTER AH Member

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    Jeff,
    Thanks for posting that very vivid, honest & exciting account. Wonderful.

    Regards
    Russ
     

  12. Pheroze

    Pheroze AH ENABLER BRONZE SUPPORTER AH Legend

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    Great story! And, way to keep your wits about you in that moment(y)(y)
     

  13. Nyati

    Nyati AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    Congrats !
     

  14. Bruce

    Bruce AH Fanatic

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    FANTASTIC hunt abd very well told!!
    THAT is how hunting is done....WELL DONE to the hunter, PH and Morita.
     

  15. TravisfromNC

    TravisfromNC New Member

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    Great story, congrats on a great hunt!
     

  16. meigsbucks

    meigsbucks AH Veteran

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    Congrats!
    Great story.
     

  17. Jeff Schaeffer

    Jeff Schaeffer AH Member

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    IMG_0982.JPG

    Duh, you drag and drop. Here he is. My team graciously chopped away the brush so we could get a photo.
     
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  18. Jeff Schaeffer

    Jeff Schaeffer AH Member

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    IMG_0986.JPG

    One more. I look only slightly less dazed.
     
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  19. JPbowhunter

    JPbowhunter AH Enthusiast

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    Sure is a dandy, what other species did you hunt while you were there?
     

  20. Jeff Schaeffer

    Jeff Schaeffer AH Member

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    Kudu, blue wildebeest, gemsbok, impala, guinea fowl, predator calling for jackals. All successful except the jackals. They were my nemesis.
     
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