The shot looks great in the video.
A trio of Mountain Reedbuck rush up a steep hillside; the border of South Africa and Lesotho.
A man drops, oddly crouched with a rifle on the opposite side of the canyon.
“Last one, last one!,” a rushed whisper from the PH.
“I need a distance,” from the man with the rifle.
“200, 220, 230,” from the PH.
Just 10 seconds had passed from the moment they saw the animal. The females are already out of sight, the lone male soon to follow.
The reedbuck tumbles down the hillside and rests, still, white belly up.
The PH smiles with joy. Congratulations. Hand-shaking. They both stand up.
The camera turns off.
Then everything turns to shit.
He’s the first to see the reedbuck get up and run.
The reedbuck was more than 500 yards away by the time I got back into the glass. We all saw the same thing.
The massive red gaping wound was obvious. A strike from the 28 Nosler cartridge created an exit wound so large we could actually see the bones of the shoulder articulate as the animal ran.
And run it did. Impossibly fast, impossibly far, right over a hill and out of sight.
No more smiles of joy. No more congratulations. Hand-shaking turned to hand-wringing.
We had just lost the last animal of our safari.
Mistakes were made. The first one started before the shot even occurred.
The distance call didn’t account for the high angle. I didn’t change my holds for the 6,500ft higher elevation than my original zero, and I didn’t know the round I was shooting for this one shot was moving 100 FPS faster than I had programmed for.
That series of beginner’s mistakes from a seasoned hunter meant that a shot that would have been a bit high was now 4” higher than that.
The bullet struck the baseball-sized no-man’s land between the top of the lungs and the bottom of the spine. The temporary cavitation had knocked the animal down, but clearly not out.
The next mistake was the biggest.
It’s not dead until it’s dead. I should have stayed in the glass and watched it lay there in case I needed to put another round in it.
Given the size of the property and our position on the other side of the canyon, it took some time to drive over to the last place we had seen the reedbuck. Once there, and with less than an hour of daylight left on my last full day in the country, we realized the animal could have gone a number of directions without us seeing it, including through a portion of the property that would likely fence in the cattle, but would do little to nothing to hold in our quarry.
If he went that way, he was likely in Lesotho, and gone. If he went any other way, he was fenced in. Fenced into a single high fence pen spanning thousands of acres.
Jacques came up with a plan. We’d take the half hour to drive back to the lodge, get a quick dinner, and return to hunt the night with thermal optics.
If you’ve never been on the southern African plains at night, it’s a treat. The diversity and sheer amount of wildlife moving at night is unparalleled.
But not this night.
The south wind blew hard, dropping the temperatures and blasting anything unprotected with gusts near 30mph.
Everything was hunkered down for the night, and nothing but the wind was moving.
The weather forecasts gave us much of the same throughout the night, so we decided to get a few hours sleep and get back at it in the daylight.
It was 6 hours from the moment we woke up until the time I had to be on a plane back home.
But now, at least we had the right direction.
A couple of years ago, I taught Ron my method of tracking. Whereas I forgot my own teachings, Ron didn’t. He went back to where we saw the animal last, got down on his hands and knees, and found one single drop of blood among the stone and grass.
That single drop of blood gave us the reedbuck’s direction, and told us he was almost certainly still in the Free State of South Africa.
We all spent the next 4 hours walking up and down the hills in that direction. With the wound we saw, he was very likely dead, his small and well camouflaged body tucked into the bushes.
With five men now looking, we covered a lot of ground, but to no avail. Half an hour is all we had left.
My shame at losing the animal did nothing to strengthen my hope, but Jacques’ doggedness and his supreme confidence that we would find the animal lifted my spirits.
I was checking for a dead reedbuck behind some bushes when Jacques stopped walking and brought the binoculars to his eyes. Turning to me, wide eyed, he said, “It’s him.”
And it was. From 150 yards away, the red wound on his shoulder was a beacon, if, yet again, a quickly fleeing beacon.
Jacques dropped to the ground and I dropped beside him, using his leg for support.
The reedbuck was running downward this time, back into a different portion of the same canyon as before.
“Now Jon. There’s no time!” from Jacques.
The reedbuck tumbles down the hillside and rests. This time upside down, caught by the base of a small tree.
I chamber another round, and watch.
The animal that was impossibly alive is now, to my mind, just as impossibly dead.
Yon, our young Zulu tracker sprinted up the canyon wall, hoisted the prey on his shoulders, and was back up by our side even before we could get the rig over.
We all admired the animal with awe. He had run a full 3 miles from the point of impact to this spot, with a massive chunk taken from his shoulder. I put a bit of sweet forb in his mouth and said a prayer of thanks.
Many large, beautiful, and expensive animals would fall during that safari, but none made me doubt, or smile, like that Mountain Reedbuck.