It’s day six of hunting African plains game Superior Safaris. The sunrise is beautiful as usual but the medium breeze is likely not going to ebb. So we jump in the truck and head off to some neighboring tribal land where Eli has permission to hunt, as long as the meat goes to the locals. We want to try and find some of the animals we hadn’t yet seen . . .
The new area is like rolling plains with occasional deep arroyos. Due to the recent rains, the low points are filled with swampy areas growing a variety of cat tails, cane and a tall grass that cuts like a knife.
After about an hour into the drive, we see a small herd of Waterbuck off about 350-400 yards. While the Waterbuck is an impressive animal, it’s not on my bucket list this trip. It is, however, high on Jeff’s list.
Eli stops the truck, takes a quick gander with the binos and tells Jeff to shoot the one on the right because “it’s huge”. Now we had both seen Jeff shoot, and I knew his custom rifle from Cactus Weapons Systems was fully capable of making good shots, but this was asking a bit much. The breeze had now turned into a stiff wind of about 25-30 mph left to right. To top it off, the bull was facing us dead on, making for a smallish target.
Jeff tells Eli that he isn’t comfortable past 250 yards. As the day is still young, we tell Eli to drive closer as they don’t seem to be spooked. We figure that if we walk, they will spook. The plan works. We make it about one hundred yards closer and Eli stops the truck. I hit the bull on the right with the range finder and peg it at 255 yards. He’s standing perfectly still facing us. Jeff gets a solid rest using shooting sticks on the critter. Mentally, I’m wondering what’s taking so long as the shot interrupts the standoff.
I hear the solid thwack of 200 grains of Barnes copper hit home. Seems Jeff has read the wind right and delivers a good chest hit. Not the most ideal shot to take, but when a guy is sure of his abilities, the shot is made. I would have taken it, too.
The Waterbuck dropped, jumped back up and took off running with the others for the next zip code. I’m amazed how the game here can take a hit like that and then run off like nothing happened. Jeff racked another round and took a Texas heart shot. I yell miss as I see a dirt cloud low and right behind the Waterbuck’s natural “target.” A professional hunter later tells us that the Waterbuck was the first animal on Noah’s ark, and was the first to sit on the freshly painted toilet…and that’s how they got that white circle.
The small herd disappear into a large cane and cattail swamp. Great. The ticks have been bad enough, but what the heck is going to greet us in that stuff?
We jump back into the truck and take off towards the swale. Eli and Jeff get out and start scanning for tracks. They are found easily enough and go right into the swamp. Huh…guess that’s why they call them “Waterbucks.”
At this point, I’m just along to help track and take pictures, so I follow behind. The slight depression doesn’t look bad, we had walked through plenty of puddles before. They were mostly ankle deep. I’m glad I’m in sandals.
Eli takes a step into the water and drops chest deep. Surprise! I start laughing. Jeff stops in his tracks. He hands Eli his rifle and tells him to shoot the bull if he sees it and goes back to the truck for his other rifle in case the bull flushed out on the far side of the thick depression.
As we are jogging back to the truck we see off in the distance what looks like our herd. We can’t see horns as they are way off. Another PH says the one on the right is again Jeff’s and he’s trailing because of the hit he’s already taken. It’s almost off the plain getting ready to disappear into the bush line. Again, I’m amazed how far this animal has made it after taking a hit like that to the chest.
The PH hands Jeff his rifle and tells him to shoot it before it disappears.
As hunting and gun guys, we’ve already shot each other’s guns and talked hunting and shooting. Jeff and I have both attended long range shooting schools. The PH’s gun is also custom made in .300 WSM. It’s topped with a Nikon 3-9 X 40 with the BDC reticle.
Jeff checks for a live round and says to the PH, “Give me your shoulder and plug your ears.” The PH guesses it’s at 600-650 meters. I left my rangefinder on top of the truck about 300 yards back. The wind is still blowing full value and hasn’t abated. Since the animal is already wounded, Jeff has now bought it whether we find it or not. (Jeff tells me later that he was trying to remember tips from his shooting school, but in the heat of the moment it was a SWAG from left field).
The Waterbuck is now standing broadside, his right side facing us. Jeff says he’s using the 600 yard circle and aiming to the left of the tail to compensate for the wind. Before I can tell him that it’s already dead and doesn’t know it, so we’ll just track it, the rifle booms. As Jeff is racking another round I hear the PH yell, “you hit him!”
We watch as the Waterbuck sits down and rolls over. Jeff has a look on his face of a mix of surprise, elation, and a “I can’t believe I just made that shot.”
Eli comes out of the cane swamp looking like hell. He’s soaked, muddy and bloody, cut up from that sawgrass. As he gets to us, he’s looking around because he says he heard the hit first, then the shot, as he was out of sight down in the swale. We telł Eli he’s looking at the wrong tree line, to look at the far one about 400 yards farther away. We make it back to the truck and drive around about way to where we find the downed trophy.
Eli can’t believe it. As they look at the hole in the hide right in line with the heart, I get the range finder and start looking for about where we were when Jeff took the shot. 789 yards.
Besides the congratulatory back slapping and rough measuring the impressive horns, Eli says something about a lucky shot.
Something a good friend of mine told me years earlier before a shooting match came to mind … luck is when skill meets opportunity.
Jeff has practiced shooting. Short range, long range, different positions, at targets of known and unknown distance. If you never take the shot, you’ll never make the hit.