By: Kobus Fourie
The hartebeest and its variants occur throughout Africa. The specie we have in South Africa is called the red hartebeest. The Hartebeest (Alcelaphus buselaphus) is a grassland antelope found in West Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. It is one of the three species classified in the genus Alcelaphu.
The Hartebeest stands almost 1.5 m (5 ft) at the shoulder and weighs anywhere from 120-200 kg (265-440 lb). Male Hartebeest are a dark brown colour while females are yellow brown. Both sexes have horns which can reach lengths up to 70 cm (27 in). Hartebeest live in grassland and open forest where they eat grass. They are diurnal and spend the morning and late afternoon eating. Herds contain five to twenty individuals but can occasionally contain up to three hundred and fifty.
. The horns are shaped in a unique way not found in any other species. The horns grows parallel to each other, making their upward growth unremarkable, the side view however show that the horns first curl backwards for a short length. Then it curls forward and on this forward curve, very prominent ridges are formed. The horns then curl backwards again and taper into a sharp tip that turns white with age. A good trophy can be judged by the dept of the second curl, and the length of the taper. The bigger the curl the longer the horns will be and will look very impressive.
|A Hartebeest in open Savannah|
It was on the previous year’s black wildebeest hunt that my good friend Tommie Calldo introduced me to Fred Prinsloo and the game camp he owns in the Free State. For the Free State, which is predominantly flat grassland, the camp hunts really easy. There is a very prominent ridge running along the middle of the camp, making it possible to stalk the game. Most other parts of the Free State is very flat, with only short grass for cover, ’making walk and stalk’ hunting very challenging. For that reason most hunters prefer to ambush the game or shoot it from the back of a vehicle - a ‘bakkie’ as we call it in Afrikaans.
I hunt to be in nature, killing an animal is not how I measure the success of a hunt, so I prefer the walk and stalk method for all my hunting. Walking through the veldt with a rifle in your hands cleans the soul and makes u forget all your worries. When we hunted in the camp the previous year, I enjoyed it immensely, and very quickly accepted the offer to hunt a red hartebeest that Fred wanted to remove from the herd. By selectively removing animals with certain unwanted characteristics, the game-farmer can breed certain desirable features into his herd. The animal I was to hunt was the second biggest bull in the heard, and would dominate a slightly younger bull and prevent the younger bull to pass on its better genes to the heard of Hartebeest on the farm. When it comes to game we make the change from ram to bull and ewe to cow with the Nyala. The female Nyala is called a ewe, and the male a bull. Everything smaller than a Nyala ewe is called a ewe and ram, and everything bigger than a Nyala bull, a cow and bull.
|This picture clearly illustrate the shape of its horns, and also the rocky outcrop in the background that the Mountain reedbuck had as a vantage point.|
I was using my 260 Remington rifle for the first time, and finding ammunition at that time in South Africa was almost impossible. I had 60 rounds of 130 grain Speer Nitrex factory loads to zero the scope and hunt with. I had zeroed the Lynx scope on my rifle-range in the Limpopo province before driving the 700 kilometers to the hunting ground. I always transport my rifles in a hard foam-lined gun case to prevent damage to the rifle or scope, but even then I make sure the scope is still zeroed when I arrive at my destination. The destination this time was a friend’s farm - Verfkraal- close to the camp in which we were to hunt over the next two days. I had spent the 04 Black wildebeest hunt with Albie and Obie on Verfkraal as well, and was looking forward to meeting and spending some quality time with my friends again. Having used twelve rounds of my precious supply of ammo to zero the rifle at home, I opted to check the zero by firing one round only the day before the hunt. A decision that would grip my stomach with icy fingers the following day.
|This magnificent Marula tree towers over its surroundings|
When hunting we usually get up early enough to reach the destination by daybreak, but over the years killing an animal has become less important, and spending time with my friends more important, so these days we don’t get up so early. The reason why many hunters get up so early is that Daybreak and dusk are the time of day when our game is the most active. Legal hunting time also starts half an hour before sunrise and stops half an hour after sunset. On this particular day we arrived in Edenburg, a small Free State town 80km south of Bloemfontein, were Fred lives, just as the sun peaked over the horizon. We met Fred at his home, where I handed him a gift of ‘Marula mampoer’ to thank him for the hunt. ‘Maroela mampoer’ is South African ‘moonshine’ made from the fruit of the wild Maroela tree. There is also a commercial drink called ‘Amarula cream’ made from the fruit, and this Amarula cream is commercially available in Uruguay.
After meeting Fred at his home, we drove the 30 kilometers to the camp. Even though the sun was already in the sky, we still caught a secretary bird in the tree were it had spent the night. A secretary bird gets its name from the Afrikaans word for a clerk of the court, who uses to dress in the same colors as the plumage of the bird in times past. Secretary birds are about 2/3ds to 3/4 the size of a grown Nyandoo (Rhea Americana), and live on a diet off snakes that it kills with a dagger like claw on the back of its foot. Apart from seeing the usual Springbuck and other small game along the way, the drive was uneventful.
|A secretary bird on patrol in the long grass.|
On arrival at the gate, we enjoyed a quick snack on some energy bars before preparing all the kit. Having ascertained the wind direction, we proceeded with laying out our strategy. Keeping the fact in mind that we had to find one specific animal, we drove around the camp first, to make sure that the bull was indeed with the herd that day. As can be expected from a farmer who loves his game, Fred knew were the Hartebeest was likely to be and quickly found the herd and identified the bull I had to remove. We drove about a kilometer away from the herd, and parked the pick-up truck behind a small rocky outcrop downwind from their location. Having given the herd time to settle down again, we use another heap of large boulders to remain hidden from view whilst stalking them.
We had barely walked 50 meters before hearing the alarm whistle from a mountain reedbuck who was watching our stalk with bemused and peaked interest. The alarm whistle forced us to go to ground immediately, and lay motionless until the mountain reedbuck satisfied its curiosity, and started to feed again. At this point we feared that the herd of hartebeest will take flight, but the thundering of hooves that would signal the beginning of a long day for us never came. We now found ourselves in a precarious situation; we were trapped in the middle of a very open piece of real estate with no cover that would hide us from both mountain reedbuck and Red hartebeest. To continue the hunt meant only one thing, crawling on our bellies - Leopard crawling - to a small stand of shrubs 20 meters to our right.
Having reached the stand of shrubs, we found that the route that would have kept us hidden from the hartebeest was now impossible to follow, thanks to the very sharp eyes of our friend the mountain reedbuck high up on its mountain view. The only way to get to the ridge that I selected as close enough for me to take a shot, was to leopard crawl over terrain with very little in the way of cover. These were the days before I started using a Ghilli suit, and keeping our noses in the dust was the only way to remain undetected. The distance was only about 80 meters or so, but it felt like I had to crawl kilometers before the cover afforded by the ridge allowed me to continue the stalk in a more civilized posture. On reaching the ridge, we moved around the left of it until we could see the herd of hartebeest grazing peacefully.
|The Hartebeest dropped in its tracks at the shot. The rocky ridge in the background provide some cover that is not always available in the Free State.|
The rangefinder indicated the distance to the animal to be 180 meters from our position. The selected bull was grazing away from us, end we had to wait for him to present me with a side-on shot. The bull however was in no particular hurry to find another feeding spot, and I had 10 minutes to think about everything. It was in these 10 minutes that the decision to check the rifle with only one shot the previous day started to eat at my nerves. I usually have the utmost faith in my equipment, but with this been a new rifle, and my first hunt with it, I was beginning to doubt my ability with the untested rifle.
Finally the bull turned, and walked five paces to the left. Fred confirmed that it was the second bull from the right, and, with my mind dwelling on other things replied; yes second from the left. The reply I got left me in no doubt as to which animal I had to shoot. As I steadied the rifle, the crosshairs of the Lynx 6x42 found the mark halfway up the chest behind the foreleg, and remained steady as I breathed slowly. I was barely aware of the recoil, but the contorted position I was in, caused the bull to disappear from view as the rifle lifted slightly from the shot. The bull dropped on the spot, indicating the shot touched the spinal cord. The bull was already dead when we reached it, and so I ended my very enjoyable 05 red hartebeest hunt in a part of South Africa that has grown very dear to my hart.
|Tommie and me at the end of a wonderful adventure.|
The bull was taken to my friends farm, and we caped - preparing the skin for the taxidermist - the bull for a shoulder mount. The mount hang in my study, and every time I walk past and see the beautiful animal, I remember laying on the rocks one pleasant winters morning, with the reassuring cold steel of a rifle in my hands. Perhaps just like my ancestors - the Boers in the Anglo-Boer war - lay in wait for an unsuspecting '‘tommie’' to show himself, did a hundred years ago.
* Weeshuiskind is the Afrikaans word for an orphan living in a orphanage. The saying goes; Hy het 'n lang gesig soos 'n weeshuiskind. ( His face is as long as an orphans) The Hartebeest is often referred to as a 'weeshuiskind' because of the boney part of its head above the ears, making its face look longer.