Small Sizes Count! By Mike Arnold
“You have just taken one of the Tiny Ten,” said Arnold.
“What is that?” I asked, somewhat disinterested. My PH Arnold Claasson and I were traveling back from our vaalie hunt in the mountains near the town of Graaf-Reinet in the South African Karoo. I had just achieved a many-decades’ goal of taking my dream animal, the vaalie (Vaal rhebok). Arnold explained that this category included members of Southern African pygmy antelope, and that not only had I collected the first of these, but the main Blaauwkrantz Safaris property we were speeding towards was an excellent place to get at least three more Tiny Tenners.
However, I was obsessed with the thought of my second-most desired trophy, a zebra, and a tiny ten candidate did not have much appeal.
Fast forward three days and hunting on the marvelous 100,000-plus acres near Port Elizabeth had already netted a Burchell’s zebra, a huge Eastern Cape kudu, a large mountain reedbuck, and a very nice red hartebeest. Sometime during the collection of these wonderful trophies, I had decided to change my aim at creatures that could run me over, rip me apart, stomp me into a puddle, or even give me a nasty scratch, and rather focus on the Tiny Ten.
Encouraged by the incessant remarks from the three PHs to take more Pygmy antelopes, I think that the final incentive was the thrill I experienced as I watched my first klipspringers, or (“klippies”) , seemingly dance across the slopes in the mountainous. I was mesmerized.
One of the highlights of my safari was driving about and walking around the mountains. More than once we were almost blown out of them by gale-force winds, and the weather, like in all mountainous areas around the world, could change in a heartbeat from pleasant to ugly and back again. But, I loved the harsh look of the mountains, so different from the thick, nasty chaparral-esque vegetation found lower down. So, as we headed back up the seriously rough road in Arnold’s 4×4 pick-up, I could feel my spirits lifting.
We had almost reached the highest ridge when we spotted the little antelope that had held me entranced earlier in the hunt – a group of klippies. One of the little animals was a beautiful male whose horns even I could see.
We stopped, jumped down, and Arnold quickly got me on the rest.
“Remember, BEHIND the shoulder or you’ll damage the skin!” he said quietly. I was shooting my 7mm Remington Magnum with 175-grain Nosler Partitions. I was expecting that by careful shot placement there would be little damage to the tiny animal. (Note to all who will hunt Pygmy antelope: Use solids only!). At my shot, the little form was lifted off the rock on which he was perched and tumbled down the rocky slope. We found him at once and examined his skin. Arnold turned to me, and said quietly, “Did I not say ‘behind the shoulder’?”
It seems the male had been quartering ever-so-slightly away and my ‘behind-the-shoulder’ only worked for the on-shoulder. The off-side, on the other hand, resembled the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As I was starting to freak out at the mess I’d made, Arnold added, “Your whole mount of the klippie won’t be on a rotating stand, so just put the off-shoulder toward the wall.”
We took photos and enjoyed the Eastern Cape high country while our tracker Neville field-dressed the little animal. As we jostled back down to the rough track, I realized I was hooked.
The following morning we headed out, but this time keeping to the lowlands to look for duiker and grysbok. I pondered on what might keep these two at low elevations, while klippies and vaalies remained higher. Regardless, hunting them would be very different. Because of the impenetrable lowland vegetation, instead of spot-and-stalking, we would either “lamp” (spotlight) them at night, or call them in daylight. (Night hunting with a light source is wildly illegal in my home country, but lamping is accepted in many African countries, especially for collecting largely nocturnal species.)
We started off looking for grey duiker during daylight hours, with Arnold using an inexpensive varmint call to lure the animals into the open – a brilliant way to be able to check the gender, as well as the horn dimensions on the males. Though the morning and afternoon hunts saw Arnold successfully call in a number of duikers, none of the males reached his self-imposed minimum length of 4½ inches. A number of times I readied myself on the bipod rest, but, “We can do better,” Arnold would whisper.
I didn’t mind not collecting the beautiful little brown animal on that day, captivated as I was by my first hunting experience involving calling. Watching the duikers dashing across the landscape from one patch of vegetation to another, or crossing large open areas just to reach the source of the call was another highlight. Some of these pygmy antelope ventured several hundred yards to investigate the sound. Several came within bayonet range, while others stopped 30-ish yards away from our stands.
Arnold turned his attention to organizing a pre-dinner lamping expedition: the goal was to collect a trophy grysbok. I was excited at the thought of collecting a new species with a new hunting method. Arnold wanted at least 2½ inch horns with good bases, and I was reassured that we had still many nights to hunt and, most importantly, Arnold and our trackers, Jambo and Neville, were excellent.
Once night had fallen, we headed along the rough trail to an area of mixed lowland shrub bordered by open plains. Jambo held the spotlight, with Arnold and me on either side of him. The spotlight beam had to be kept even with the rifle’s action, otherwise the shooter would see only a bright glare from the light shining into the ocular end of their scope. As we went down the track with Jambo continually shifting the beam from left to right, a little form jogged into the beam and stayed just in front of us. It was a Cape grysbok female. We kept up the South African version of the “slow-chase” for about 100 yards, till the little animal finally trotted off into the vegetation.
Our light also caught a Cape fox and a grey duiker, but both were safe – the former needing a permit we did not possess, and the latter to be focused on in daylight. Because I was having such a wonderful time seeing the creatures and countryside in the lamp’s beam, I was almost sorry that it ended so quickly. But within 30 minutes Jambo quietly signaled for us to stop. He was holding the beam on a diminutive shape at the edge of a stand of trees and bushes.
Arnold raised his binoculars as they got me situated on the rest. The animal was turned sideways, necessary to be able to judge the horns. Grysbok’s ears are dark along the inner edge, which can give the impression of horns on females if they are facing you.
As I found the pygmy antelope in my field of view, my reticles were sharp in the lamplight. “That’s your animal,” whispered Arnold. I made certain that my crosshairs were behind the “on” shoulder. I lost him in the recoil and chambered another round as I readjusted my sight picture. He was not there, and I turned to Jambo and Arnold.
“He’s down,” Arnold said. I breathed a sigh of relief and a prayer of thanks.
Yep, I’d done it again! Shooting behind the shoulder on what I saw as an animal standing at a 90o angle to my rifle barrel had resulted in a meat-grinder effect on the off-shoulder of the grysbok that was quartering away. Arnold’s encouraging, “Hey, at least this one was facing the opposite direction relative to the Klippie, so you can have them mounted gazing at one another,” fell on less than amused ears. He was right again. Only one side would be visible on the wall mount. Remember: use solids, use solids, use solids on pygmy antelope!”
Three of the four Tiny Tens were in the salt, and the next morning broke with a particularly bright halo. We headed back out to try and call in a mature trophy duiker. I had no idea what the SCI awards were before my hunt. I just wanted to experience Africa. I did not have ‘award-level’ goals but fortunately, Arnold knew what mature animals were, and that was what we hunted.
As we walked from the truck through the chaparral-like habitat and scrabbled across the slope, Arnold pointed down at a rusted horseshoe.
“That’s from the ‘English War’”. When queried, he clarified that that was what is generally known as ‘The Boer War’. I love historical artifacts, so with his permission I took it. We finally arrived at the target of our hike, an open hillside where we had a commanding view of a valley and the hillside opposite. Before the calling began, we spotted a nice nyala bull and a kudu bull and cow across the valley, browsing on the opposite slope.
Arnold blew only twice through his call, when we heard a crashing noise in the brush in the valley. Fortunately, I had already placed my rifle on the bipod before a duiker bolted from the underbrush.
“That’s your ram,” Arnold whispered.
“How far?” I asked as I aimed.
“He seen us, shoot!” At the shot, the little form collapsed.
“Let’s go collect him,” said my never-flustered PH. As the photos were posed, I sat cradling the little ram’s chin, and realized that Arnold, Jambo and Neville had accomplished a transformation: In the span of one safari they had changed a novice African hunter into a glassy-eyed fanatic, one intent on returning as many times as possible to succeed in collecting the remaining marvelous species making up the Tiny Ten.
Michael Arnold is a Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Genetics, University of Georgia, USA. He is also a hunter, albeit with the occasional mishap! He is passionate about the shooting sports (especially hunting) and writing about said sports.