Sunday, June 5,2016 Outfitter and professional hunter Victor Watson picked us up at our hotel in Port Elizabeth and took us to his lodge. Victor is a tall, fit young man with short hair, a clean-shaven face, and kind of a sly but good-humored air about him. Since Victor and I had previously exchanged a lot of email, I had the feeling we already knew each other. We shook hands, I introduced my wife, and he somehow found room for all of our luggage in the back of his truck. We followed an asphalt road, which Victor called a "tar road," for an hour or so, then hit a dirt road, which Victor called a "dirt road" too. I thought the landscape looked a lot like the Southwestern United States, complete with cacti and bushes that somewhat resembled sage, but were larger. Most of the way we saw vervet monkeys, flicking their long tails as they darted across the road. Go figure. I always thought monkeys live in trees, but there are no real trees here in the Karoo Mountains, just bushes with big thorns. Our host said the monkeys got into the main lodge the other day and broke a bunch of wine bottles. The grass thatching on the roofs of his chalets have chicken wire over them to keep the monkeys from tearing or chewing their way in. Victor warned us not to leave our chalet door open. As we drove down the dirt road, something like a big jackrabbit without the over-sized ears darted away in front of the truck. "Blue duiker," Victor said. I knew from my reading that the duikers are part of the Tiny Ten of Africa's hunting trophies. I didn’t have much interest in them then. More on duikers later. The Karoo Mountains aren't really mountains by Alaska or Rocky Mountain standards, more like what they call mountains in the Appalachians. Not rocky or sharp, forming no jagged outlines on the horizon; from a high point of ground these rounded weather-worn hills showed themselves as if a series of waves coming in to shore. The hills were covered with sparse, almost tundra-like vegetation and scattered low bushes, mostly bearing nasty thorns. The rounded bushes, triangular-shaped leaves of the aloe plants, and the high, crooked termite mounds made the near landscape look like an alien world, or a set for a Vin Diesel movie. The country didn't make much of a first impression on me, but I would grow to love it. After we arrived and my wife was ensconced in unpacking our over-packed baggage, Victor took me out to his 100-yard shooting range, nominally to see if my scope had been knocked off-kilter by the trip, but mainly to see if my shooting was off-kilter. My trusty .300 Winchester Magnum, managed to put two holes in the target that were touching and in reasonable proximity to where they were supposed to be. I decided that was enough of a demonstration, not wanting to try my luck with a third shot. There were a few hours of daylight left, so Victor took me out hunting the property around his lodge. His family came into the country five generations ago, and have owned property in South Africa for just as long. Victor drove a Mazda long-bed truck with a diesel engine, converted into a hunting vehicle they call a "bakkie" in Africa. We drove up rougher and rougher tracks, until we were climbing trails that would do an Alaska 1920's-era mining road justice. At one point we were clinging at so steep a sideways angle that if I'd opened the side door I'd have fallen a hundred feet without hitting anything. And now that I looked matters over more carefully, I could see there were some sizable rocks way down there, after all. “Hey, you’re not afraid of heights, are you?” “Not really,” I lied. “Let’s say I have a healthy respect for them.” “As for anything that can kill you, eh?” My nerves weren't supported by Victor's habit of pointing to various game animals while driving, saying casually, "There's a blesbok," or "There's an impala" or "There's a cow kudu." I kept trying to look at where he pointed, and even when I fully focused, I couldn’t see a damn thing. After a time, measured in days, I could usually see game when he pointed to it; but he or Mitchell was always the first to spot it. When we reached a less precipitous section of the trail I was able to see a nice blue wildebeest bull amidst a group of three, and later I almost got a shot at an impala ram, but he was standing in the middle of a group of ewes. I didn’t know it, but this was the beginning of my impala jinx. We also saw kudu and nyala cows. Suddenly night was falling. It gets dark quick here in Africa, I realized. I'm finally in Africa! And tomorrow the real hunt will begin. As we arrived at the lodge, I looked up at the Milky Way sweeping across the sky. I asked Victor to point out the Southern Cross in the sky, and he did. It was unimpressive, rather a common dime-a-dozen asterism after all. The crossbar wasn’t at a perfect ninety-degree angle and the star on the right was too faint. It seemed a stretch to call those four stars of medium to faint luminosity a cross. What was so special about them anyway? Monday June 6 We met after coffee and toast at 6:30 am at the bakkie, where I was introduced to Victor’s San Bushman tracker, Mitchell. “I hear you’re a great tracker,” I told him, as I held out my hand. “Of course,” he said with a broad grin, closing his hand on my own. I never did find out how good of a tracker he really is, but Mitchell was always busy, opening and closing gates, cleaning the bakkie, checking the tire inflation, packing the lunch box and hunting gear, gutting the animals in the field, and skinning them back at the shed. Seldom speaking, his primary means of communication would be a rap on the roof of the cab whenever he spotted game from his open seat behind and above the cab. Before we set out, he and Victor spoke in Afrikaans about the day’s plan. We drove down gravel roads through several gates, and Mitchell got out each time to open and close the gate. Hunting in South Africa is conducted almost exclusively on game ranches and private property behind high fences intended to keep game from leaving or entering the property. Under South Africa law, if you enclose your property behind high fences, you own the game located there. You can set your own hunting seasons, bag limits, and pick your own hunters. Victor owns or has access to 120,000 acres of property to hunt, so he has plenty of options on where to take hunters. The animals on the property were born there, are completely wild, and won’t tolerate the proximity of humans. We arrived at a property owned by someone else, on which Victor has hunting rights. This was a working sheep ranch. I was amazed to see big piles of oranges, limes, and lemons with sheep feeding on them, standing hock deep amidst the orange, green, and yellow surface. Citrus orchards were very common in this part of South Africa, Victor said. Citrus fruit that wasn’t perfect for human consumption was trucked in and dumped for the stock, because of the severe drought. First I ever heard that sheep would eat citrus fruit, but there they were. We drove on the dirt track, switching back and forth as we climbed the mountain. Cacti were all over the place. Victor said the cactus had been imported from Mexico some decades back to provide a source of food for livestock, and had since gotten out of control. What little game, a few impala and blesbuck, we saw quickly disappeared into the cactus and acacia thornbrush. Suddenly, there came a rap on the roof of the cab from Mitchell. Victor looked around and immediately spotted two gemsbok grazing on the sparse grass on a steep section of the mountain. Gemsbok were right there, Victor insisted. I couldn’t see a damn thing. Victor directed a stalk up a draw full of thorny acacia through a strong crosswind. We climbed and I kept reminding myself not to grab a branch to steady myself. Finally Victor stopped and set up his tripod—“sticks,” as they call them in Africa. Shooting from sticks was not comfortable for me at first, but I came to the realization that they were a very good idea wherever a natural rest was unavailable--provided you have someone to carry them for you. I still couldn’t see a damn thing. “Right up there.” Victor’s voice said hurry, even if his words did not. I put my rifle on the sticks, untangled the sling. Then through the scope I saw two gemsbok walking side hill on the steep rocky slope. “The one on the right,” Victor said, his voice still telling me to hurry. The rifle wobbled on the unfamiliar sticks. I could tell the gemsbok were about to leave the opening in the brush. The gemsbok were moving with the wind, and I put the crosshairs ahead of the near shoulder of the one on the right. I fired. The gemsbok dropped, then struggled to rise. “Again,” Victor said. I was steadier now, and swung the crosshairs down to the animal’s front shoulder and squeezed off another round. The gemsbok slumped to the ground and turned over on its side, kicking out its life, then was still. “Congratulations.” Victor stuck out his hand, and I took it. Mitchell was already running to the kill site, and we followed Victor up the steep, rocky slope. (Did I really say there were no rocks here?) At last we reached the dead gemsbok. “It’s actually a female.” His voice suggested that he wasn’t sure if I’d be disappointed. “But the horns and bases are thick enough that she could be a male. She’s old, past breeding age, in any event.” “Just like for mountain goats,” I said. “Sexually monomorphic. Not much difference between the sexes. Both billys and nannies have black horns, although a lot shorter than these. You can’t judge a trophy billy by anything except the bases of the horns.” You could see that my first shot had shattered the gemsbok's off foreleg, and the second had hit the gemsbok in the left shoulder and passed on into the chest. Victor and Mitchell got a small, heavy, blue tarp from the bakkie and used it to slide the gemsbok down the steep slope to a grassy, flat piece of ground where they set up for photos. I was pleased, even though my shooting was less than perfect. These would be the only gemsbok we saw on the trip. That evening we ate Blesbok stir-fry with rice and a cake with pudding for desert. Victor and his stunning wife Lindsay proved to be great conversationalists and we stayed up talking to about nine o’clock, then went to bed.