Days 1 & 2 | Days 3 & 4 | Days 5 & 6 | Days 7 & 8 | Days 9 & 10
Day 5: Sept. 4 – Kudu next … at least that was the plan, but this is Africa. Almost as an afterthought, Terry wanted to check a waterhole for eland tracks before going after kudu. Bull eland often drink at daybreak. Fresh tracks mean the animal is likely nearby and can be tracked. Once at the waterhole, we indeed found fresh big bull tracks immediately. Willie and Mulalazee began casting about like bird dogs. Like we’d read a newspaper, they had it all worked out 30 minutes later. Four bull eland, one very big, had watered there before heading northwest, feeding as they moved. Terry’s passion for eland hunting showed in his excitement. “We need to go after them. I think we can catch them within a couple of hours.” That was that. We took off posthaste.
Good African trackers don’t track like I do – slowly. With them, it’s a full out power walk, only occasionally slowing to check or confirm sign. We covered the first mile quickly. Only when the tracks began to meander, signaling that the bulls were comfortably feeding, did we slow the pace, watching ahead in hopes of seeing them before they saw us. Eland especially like to mingle with zebra and wildebeest. We soon began to encounter both … and impala. Our pace slowed. Willie was certain we were close. With frequent pauses to let zebra and wildebeest clear out, we moved slowly ahead. Soon, Willie and Mulalazee pointed ahead in unison. Terry and I brought binos to bear. About 200 yards ahead through the mopane scrub stood a big bull eland under a single acacia. To his right stood a smaller bull, looking at us. Time clock ticking again!
The big bull was quartering away, head left. Terry positioned the Bog-Pod and said simply, “Shoot him!” I assumed the shooting position but didn’t like angle I saw through my 4.5x14 Leupold scope. I told Terry so. He answered matter of factly, “He’s probably going to run. Need to shoot.” I confirmed that Matt, who was several feet to my left, was on him. I tried to calculate the right hold on a quartering away ton animal and let fly. The sound and look of the hit seemed good. The eland slumped and wheeled away from the impact, disappearing into the thick mopane. Handshaking and backslapping ensued, all certain a dead eland lay nearby. But alas … was not so.
So certain were we that the eland was dead that we didn’t even check for sign to start with. We just looped out in the direction he ran, looking for him. Five minutes later, a sense of gloom hung over us. Terry told Willie to go back to the acacia and follow the eland track by track. With that began the most epic tracking job I have ever been a part of.
Within a few hundred yards, we had figured out what happened. I had hit him low behind the shoulder. An eland’s vitals are higher than most other animals. The bullet had apparently traversed the eland’s massive shoulder, not hitting either leg or shoulder bone or entering the torso to catch a lung, and had exited through the eland’s huge, dangling brisket. A non-vital hit. The only good thing was that we had blood.
I was sick. I had let the team down. My job was to make a killing shot. It was obvious I had not done that. Now the burden fell back on Terry, Willie, and Mulalazee to clean up a mess I had made.
What happened next was an education in the cleverness of the eland, the unexplainable ability of Willie and Mulalazee to track, and Terry’s dogged determination and professionalism. Mile after mile, we tracked the eland. We saw him at long distances twice. We witnessed tricks that Terry had warned me would come – mingling in with herds of zebra, wildebeest, and other eland, working straight down wind of us, stopping to look back on the far side of open plains, abrupt changes in directions – always moving at that distance-eating slow trot. Hour after hour we trekked in the boiling African sun over the dusty scrub and plains. Finally, as the sun dropped out of sight, the last insult – our bull, who had now split off from his 3 original companions, entered a herd of over 200 eland. We climbed a hill and watched the herd disappear in the distance, dust bellowing. For the first time, I thought he was lost.
Camp was not quite as lively as usual. Terry and I were tired from over 20 miles of fast walking after the wounded eland and a little dejected about our prospects of picking up his tracks the next morning. David and Richard were still looking far and wide for a big bull elephant. Still, good to be in Africa!
Day 6: Sept. 5 – We started back where we left off the afternoon before – in the jumbled confusion of hundreds of running eland tracks, looking for the tracks of a single bull – mine. Anyone witnessing this scene would KNOW it’s impossible to find my bull among all the tracks. That’s what I thought … but not Terry, Willie and Mulalazee. After an hour of methodically working the area in ever larger circles, Willie whistled, raised his hat in the air, and kneeled down. He had my bull tracks, blood and all! The single set of tracks lead southward away from the westbound herd. He was alone again, a sure sign the bullet was taking affect. Hope renewed, we struck out, having no idea how far behind we were.
The hours fell away. Tracking, tracking. Twice we found where he had laid up, blood pooled in the bed. By 11:00, we were on fresh tracks made within the hour. Mile after mile passed beneath our feet. Eland walk at a man’s trot. Our hope was that he would lie up again in the heat of the day. Around 2:00, the tracks told us he was running, presumably from us. Had we missed a chance?
Terry and I decided to pull off the trail to go get the Land Cruiser, now about 4 air miles away. Willie and Mulalazee stayed on the tracks. Terry left Willie with a radio and the .458. When we finally reached the Land Cruiser, Willie was calling excitedly. Seems he had come up on the eland in thick mopane and had taken a Hail Mary 125-yard shot at the running eland. By the grace of God, the 500-grain solid connected, hitting the bull high above the tail in a raking shot. Through the bullet hit nothing vital, the fresh wound increased the blood spoor and slowed the massive animal down even more.
Terry and I rushed to get back to Willie and Mulalazee. On the way, we meet David Shashy, Richard, and crew. They, too, were in a mad chase. They quickly told us the story. They had tracked down a big bull elephant and were within seconds of shooting him when the herd spooked. The trackers were now sorting out the spoor and trying to pick up their bull’s tracks. Both David and Richard were pumped. They were on a big bull. We parted, both of us with unfinished business.
When we found Willie, he told his story. He was justifiably proud of his shot, having only ever shot one animal before in his life! Willie and Mulalazee had pressed the eland for another mile or two hoping to catch him while disoriented from the fresh wound. They hadn’t seen him again, and he was still moving fast. Terry wanted to get back on his track fast to press him. We did … for another 5 miles!
With the sun hanging low in the dust-hazed sky, the doubts began to creep in again. Would we ever catch up with this thing? I mentally kicked myself for the hundredth time for making a bad first shot. We had tracked this eland for more than 40 miles! He showed no sign of giving up. Neither did we. Wherever his tracks lead, we would follow until the end. But increasingly, it didn’t look like the end would be today. That’s when Willie and Mulalazee stooped and pointed. At the end of the point was the head of a bull eland. He was lying under an acacia 265 yards away, looking straight at us. No shot. Too much mopane. When I moved right to try to get a clear shot, the eland exploded out and ran! I scurried 10 yards and found a shooting lane. I fired. Didn’t feel good. I shot again as the running bull crested a rise some 350 yards away. A telltale “whump” finally rang back. A hit … but where?
We hurried to the scene of the hit, trying to determine the extent of the wound. It looked good. We slowly moved forward. About 50 yards farther, we could see he was dragging a rear leg. An animal that big can’t travel far with such a wound. A little farther on, the blood really picked up. The bullet had apparently entered his torso after passing through his upper leg and was taking a toll. We slowed our pace and got ready for a final encounter. He couldn’t be far. He wasn’t. Through a screen of brush, we saw the huge grey body of the prostrate bull eland. He’d fallen on his knees and remained in the upright position. The great bull was finally dead.
Only those who hunt can understand the feeling of that moment. The hunter’s code, sportsmanship, the responsibility never to leave a wounded animal to suffer – call it what you will but we had just ended a quest that HAD to be seen through to the end. The relief of it was intoxicating! Backslapping and handshaking all-round. Both Terry and I know the God of the Universe, Father of Lord Jesus, and for a moment, we turned our face to Him and offered our thanks for answered prayers. I then went over to Willie and Mulalazee and personally thanked them for their perseverance and determination. This was more their eland than mine. Then, I knelt by the fallen beast to admire this incredible animal that I had gotten to know so well and respect so much over the last two days. It’s no wonder that many call tracking eland “the greatest hunt in Africa!”
Unbeknownst to me at the moment, another equally incredible hunt was concluding at about the same time several miles away. David Shashy had shot his elephant, an old bull wearing tusks of just under 40 pounds per side! In my opinion, shooting a bull elephant, an animal likely over 40 years old, is the pinnacle of the hunting experience. It’s a really big deal. Exhilarating yet solemn. This is an animal older than most hunters. He’s smart, wise, experienced, a supreme survivor … and very dangerous. Shooting an elephant carries the responsibility to appreciate the animal you’ve taken and the scope and privilege of what you’ve experienced. Nobody I know understood this better than David Shashy. He had achieved the pinnacle of the hunting experience … and knew it!
Big doings back at camp on this day!
Tune in tomorrow when for Day 7 and 8 of my African adventure when I go after my favorite animal, the kudu.
Bucks of Tecomate - African Edition
Days 1 & 2 | Days 3 & 4 | Days 5 & 6 | Days 7 & 8 | Days 9 & 10