South Africa: 2016
A River Record
By Thomas Lindy Nissen
Hunting bushbuck in its original habitat is one type of hunt. Thomas Nissen followed Jens Kjaer Knudsen in the search for a record bushbuck on the banks of the Limpopo River where it flows between South Africa and Botswana.
They hear a splash. PH Marcel Powell points to the rings that slowly spread on the surface near the opposite bank, and they know what it means. Alerted by the faint sound of the almost silent hunters, another crocodile has slipped from the grass into the river. The ancient animal is just one of many living here along the river.
Danish big-game hunter, Jens Kjaer Knudsen has great experience in hunting in Africa and has seen crocodiles many times before, but he is still fascinated. He nods to confirm the observation. Marcel silently indicates with his right hand to let Jens know that the stalk continues. After just a few steps, Jens notices a reddish shadow slipping into the closest bush to the right. Just a peripheral glimpse, but he knows it was a bushbuck – the goal of today’s hunt, the exact game species for which he has come halfway around the world. It is not the first time it happened that afternoon. But it’s a typical situation when hunting bushbuck in natural habitat along the river.
The next afternoon they are again hunting along the river, and suddenly hear a deep grunt. Through his binoculars Marcel spots two warthog sows in the high grass, but shakes his head. They were not the ones making a noise. He lowers the binos, and slowly turns his head to look at Jens.
”Do you want to shoot a warthog with large tusks?” Marcel points to a place in the bush to the left of the grassy open area. The pigs are at this time of the year in rut, and the grunt they heard came from an amorous boar, extremely impressive, big of body as well as of tooth.
At the sight of the magnificent animal, Jens feels an instinctive reaction and his finger touches the trigger, but although tempted, he focuses on the actual goal of the trip – a big bushbuck. He chooses to ignore this chance and concentrate on what he has come after.
Hunting bushbuck in Africa is a very special kind of hunt, especially in the natural terrain along a river. Bushbuck are similar in habits to roe deer, comparable in size to a young fallow buck. They prefer a solitary life, are very aggressive, and usually defend a territory of about five hectares. It is a very exciting species to chase, as the animals are found all along the river and rarely move out of their own domain.
To hunt along the river, where the mood, scents and sounds are so different from most of the bush, is exciting. You never know what game you will encounter, as the river attracts countless species. This is where the crocodiles rest on the riverbank, getting energy from the sun’s rays. This is where the leopard takes advantage of prey that is driven by thirst to the river. This is where the hippo finds protection from sunburn, submerging into the cooling waters.
Marcel sees a movement. This time it’s a young female bushbuck. As the animal suddenly senses the men, it stops. It stands for a few seconds staring at the hunters, one ear pricked, then bounds away. One of the advantages of trophy hunting is that it is usually only old male animals that are taken.
When hunting along a river you often see game on the opposite bank. And here, across the Limpopo, the men notice another spiral-horned bushbuck, with a female standing near it. They study the animals for a few minutes. But the 30 to 40 meters of water is teeming with hippos and crocodiles – a potentially fatal swim!
They continue along the 12 kilometers of riverbank belonging to the hunting area. Fresh hippo tracks heighten their senses. In spite of its size, the hippo is lightning fast and dangerous and ready to attack, and the bush is very dense here. The animals should, however, be in the river at this time of the day, and shortly afterwards when they find that the tracks lead to the river, attention goes back to bushbuck mode.
Francolins cackle warnings, and a tan shadow slips into the bush – another bushbuck. The sun is glowing just over the horizon as Marcel suddenly spots something. The animal stands with its head obscured by a tree trunk while the entire body is visible. Jens could put a shot into the shoulder of the animal – but is it worth shooting?
In Africa, the sun drops swiftly behind the horizon and dusk is brief, so time is not on their side.
”What do you think? Does the body size tell you anything?” whispers Marcel, binos to his eyes. Jens has already locked the crosshairs on the animal’s body.
For a few seconds neither the buck nor hunters move. It’s as if the bushbuck senses something is wrong, but is unable to locate the source of danger.
”Shoot it, shoot now,” Marcel urges. ”Shoot now, shoot!”
Jens obeys his PH, squeezes the trigger, feels the recoil and the adrenaline in his body. The buck stumbles a few steps forward and collapses into a patch of yellow grass. Jens can’t believe the size of the horns.
”How did you know it was that big?”
”It turned its head slightly to orient itself, and when it did, I saw the tip of the horn and knew that it was a monster,” Marcel replied.
As they marveled over the trophy in the rapidly diminishing light, the African bush became the domain of another hunt. A great roaring cry broke the silence. Not a victorious, confident or dominant roar, but the anguished despair of a large animal that, just like the record bushbuck, ended its day as prey. The despairing animal loses both game, set and match in a dramatic game of survival. Whether it’s a leopard, a crocodile or any third party who has taken the point, the two human hunters cannot tell, but one thing is certain, a life was taken further down the river.
To take a big bushbuck like this one requires not only experience. It also requires a good hunting area, a skilled PH, and good shooting skills. On this hunt, Jens had it all.
Although hunting is not all about size and measurements, in this case, at the time of writing, it was the biggest Limpopo bushbuck that been shot in the safari company’s more than 35-year history. It was later measured to be among the largest Limpopo bushbuck ever shot, and among the largest Limpopo bushbucks taken in South Africa in 2016 – truly a river record!
Thomas Lindy Nissen is a European fulltime hunting journalist, who travels the world more than 120 days a year, documenting hunting adventures for various magazines, through photos, text and films. So far, he has produced books and articles describing adventures from more than 40 countries in six continents.
Subspecies of bushbuck:
Abyssinian bushbuck (Ethiopia).
Cape bushbuck (South Africa).
Chobe bushbuck (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique).
Harnessed bushbuck (Cameroon, Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Chad, CAR, Gabon, Congo).
Limpopo bushbuck (Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe).
East African bushbuck (Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Tanzania).
Nile Bushbuck (Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Congo, Kenya).
Menelik bushbuck (Ethiopia).
Although all subspecies of bushbuck – seen in an African perspective – with a body weight of about 80 kilograms, are relatively small, the species is one of the most aggressive if it is pressed or when a bad shot has taken place. An attack from a wounded bushbuck can be extremely serious and occasionally costs human life. This mainly due to the size of the animal (about 90 cm height), causing penetration from the horn into the chest.
Virtually all hunting companies can arrange a hunting trip for the Limpopo bushbuck. But no matter how and with whom you book, please check with references from other hunters before the final agreement is set.
This hunt was arranged by Jensen Safaris: