A Dream Come True
By Michael Clavel
It’s April 2017.
Ninety minutes south-east of Windhoek airport, Namibia, is Bergzicht Game Lodge, a ranch owned by Hannes and Geraldine du Plessis. Three generations of family are there – my wife and I, and two daughters, all at the invitation of my parents-in-law, experienced hunters who have hunted pretty much everywhere in the world.
Today is the third day of our safari. We’re on the road with our guide Steph Joubert and trackers Obed and Fessy, and we are still searching for sable antelope or southern greater kudu. We spot a couple of kudu standing on the side of the mountain before us, but, “Too young,” say the trackers. They could make great trophies for someone in the future. We had arranged with Hannes to only take the most beautiful trophies.
At a bend in the path, we come across a red lechwe, a beautiful animal, its bright tawny coat gleaming in the sunlight. I manage to photograph it just before it disappeared into the bush. Later in the day we would also come across several other species of antelope: hartebeest, impala, springbok, blue wildebeest, black wildebeest, and steenbok. At the end of the morning, we see a herd of sable. Observing silently, we hope to catch a glimpse of the large male we are looking for… but after several minutes of glassing, we find there are only females and young.
At mid-day we return to camp for a delicious lunch and siesta. Having recently bought a drone, I took advantage of the moment of calm to send it over some of the area to look for different species of animals that I could film or photograph.
A mid-afternoon recce had us hoping that today would be the day. We know that time is of the essence, as the sun sets about 5.30 p.m. and so make for the direction of the sable group we saw in the morning. Under a scorching sun, we’re grateful for the slight wind that cools us down. At our destination we begin searching for sign that will help to find a great trophy sable or kudu. We see an impressive warthog, but decide not to shoot for fear of possibly spooking any sable that could fulfil our hopes. Sunset is not far off, and we know that time is not on our side. We have to be quick.
We emerge from the bush to see our trackers indicating a Sable bull right in the center of the plain.
1. “It’s a magnificent male,” our guide Steph says, binos to his eyes. “But we need to be very careful. The terrain is very open, and we are in a bad place with the swirling wind.” With some difficulty, we manage to work our way through the grasses and holes in the ground. We get closer, and judging by Stephan’s smile, this must be a big one. Another two to three hundred yards to go, and my heart is beating hard, my mouth dry. Steph looks back at me. “I’ve lost it,” he says. Had the sable caught our scent? We continue the stalk, advancing slowly. Steph thinks it has settled down for the night… After crawling along for several yards we lift our heads but still see nothing. Nothing, that is, except what I think is a branch above the grass. I point out this large, curved branch to Steph. It’s him! He’s about 90 yards from us, lying down, immobile, obviously relaxed.
We hide behind a nearby bush, within firing distance. The animal is still lying down, unmoving, and I can now make out the top of its head and its back. I’m in position, ready. We’re waiting for it to get up, not wanting to fire on an animal lying down. My heart is pounding. After several minutes of waiting, Steph indicates that it would be better to move to the other side of the bush. As we do so, to my horror we see that our sable is up. In the time it takes me to shoulder my .300 W.M. my trophy is speeding off at a rapid pace, only its rear end and horns visible.
Disillusion. Disappointment. I was so confident that my dream was within reach. But we must continue, even though my heart is no longer in it… It’s difficult to start all over again. Then suddenly, and right in front of us, a majestic kudu bursts into a run. Steph indicates with his stick that I can shoot, as it would be a wonderful trophy. Still upset, with images of the sable filling my head, I didn’t shoot.
We continue through the plain without any sign of the large bull, although we walk in the general direction of its escape. There’s still enough light, and after 500 yards the trackers make a sign – the sable is lying down a hundred yards from us, at the foot of some dense bushes. We’re in position, calm and unhurried. Steph whistles to make the animal get up… but it doesn’t move. After several more whistles, it jumps up and whirls around. I’m ready, and have its back in my sights. It flashes through a bush – I see it, then I don’t. As it bolts out of the bushes I have it in my sights, and take the shot behind the shoulder. I see that it has been hit, but it continues to run, stopping eventually behind another bush before dropping. It was a killing shot!
He’s on the ground, beautiful, his abdomen and muzzle pure white, and the black of its coat shining in the setting sun. An immense trophy. The goal of my trip has been achieved… the dream.
Night has almost fallen and we take several photos to memorize the event. This awesome animal, of which I have dreamed for so long, will take its place of honor in my trophy room, and will remind me forever of this fabulous afternoon that almost didn’t happen.