The Grey Ghost of the African Veld

by Enrique del Rosario
(Beaverton, Oregon, USA)


At 69 years, John had almost given up on his dream to hunt Africa. He had watched my coming and going on safari to that Dark Continent but did not think that one day he would be doing the same.


We had spent many days and nights in the mountains and woods of the Pacific Northwest and the rivers and tundra of Alaska pursuing our dream hunts over the last 20 years but one place we had not hunted together was Africa.

But unlike some of my hunting friends who are old, not in years but in mind-set and physical-neglect, John remained mentally and physically active, and a curiousity that urged him to see for himself what lay over the crest of the hill or around the bend, and beyond.

And then one day, I was trying to talk him into joining me on an African hunt and I was drawing some similarities in terrain, vegetation, weather, and hunting conditions between the high desert of Oregon and the savannah of the Kalahari. That peeked his interest.

I reminded him to remember the photos of a plains game hunt that I had recently taken with my 12 year old son: the kudu trophy, the hartebeest running unbridled across the veld, the Himba women, the beautiful sunsets.

"John", I said, "I think a kudu head would look nice next to your elk rack. What do you think?" I could see gears rotating in his head while he envisioned the possibility of curling kudu horns set next to the fine Roosevelt.

After a long moment of contemplation he asked, "When are you going back to Africa?" He had taken the bait.
"Next March. Wanna go?"
"Yeah, I think it's time."
"I'll drink to that."


We raised our drinks to seal our pact and then went back to watching a gyrating dancer on stage take off her top.
---

From about 600 yards John could barely make out the animals that the tracker was pointing to. Armin, our professional hunter, had also seen them long before John and me and had already determined that there was a shootable one in the bunch. They glassed the kudu herd a while, talking to each other in Afrikaans, comparing their observations.

Armin came up to John. "There's a big kudu bull down there but he's out in the open where it'd be tough to get close to him. Also he's surrounded by females so you'll have to make sure you don't shoot until you get a clear shot. It'll be a tough stalk. It's up to you, John, if you feel up to it."

John studied the bull for a time with his binoculars. "I want it. Let's go for it."
---

The Greater Kudu, the grey ghost of the African veld, six- to seven-hundred pounds on the hoof, massive spiraling horns borne regally by this lord of plains animals. It was the trophy that John had dreamt of. Now, in the heat of the day, beneath the wide African sky, that dream had become a reality.

First the tracker, then the PH, followed by John carrying his .338 Winchester Magnum rifle, and lastly me with the cameras. Armin told John to chamber a round and to put the rifle on safe.

With the wind blowing almost behind us, about a 7:30 angle, we cut slightly to the right of the kudu, toward a 1:30 or 2 o'clock angle, so that the wind would not carry our scents directly to the herd. The bushes, normally almost devoid of leaves, were filled out green because recent rains and we could walk upright between them unseen by the kudu for 300 yards.

Now and then our clothing would be caught by the hooks of the black thorn acacia, the "wait-a-moment-bush", slowing us only slightly.

The herd was grazing next to a high grayish termite mound and it made it easier to bear on them again after ducking through the underbrush. Occasionally we would stop to check the wind direction, watching the swaying grass or feeling how the breeze blew over our sweaty hands and face.

A pair of plovers explode from cover ahead of us, their shrill "kee-wheet" sounding the alarm to all creatures below of impending danger. We would stop, keeping still, waiting for the birds to alight and the animals to relax their guard.

We moved more carefully as we got closer to the animals, keeping lower than the top of the brush. The tracker would stop us, peeking cautiously over or around a bush, then motion for us to follow. When we were about 200 yards, the wind came across from about the 9 o'clock angle, taking our scents safely away from the kudu.

Still the big bull did not present a clear target and Armin told the tracker to get us closer. The tracker reached a bush that gave adequate concealment and a small window view of the target bull but for John to get there he had to low crawl on his belly over ground that had only sparse knee-high grass. Before he crawled out into open ground John whispered to me, "I don't care if I have to crawl a hundred yards on my belly, I'm going to get this kudu." He wanted this kudu bad.

Finally, all four of us were behind the bush. We were 125 paces from the kudu. Armin took the sticks from the tracker and planted it solidly into the ground. "He is walking slowly to the left, John. When you get a clear shot, take him."

John put his rifle on the bipod, took off the safety, and waited for the bull to show itself through the tiny opening in the brush, then he squeezed the trigger - CLICK! John did not have a round in the chamber!

A bit of panic seized everyone as John fumbled to load the rifle. To everyone's surprise, the kudu had not detected John's blunder and was still strolling peacefully, feeding with his harem of lovely ladies.

John, again, placed his rifle between the sticks and realigned the crosshairs on the lower third and just behind the front legs. This time, after what seemed an eternity, the rifle barked and sent a 225 grain bullet into the bull. With one shot the bull's reign was ended.
---

We've been back from Africa a month now. Yesterday John came over to look at my trophies from an earlier hunt that had arrived a couple of weeks ago. Inevitably we relived the last hunt, of the Oryx that was his first African trophy... of the Warthog that charged me... of the Wildebeest that took 3 shots from my .375... the Kalahari... the skill of our trackers... the tongue clicks of the Damara... the mystical Erongo Mountains... the quietness of the Namib... and the cool clear nights under the Southern Cross.

"I'm having a .470 Capstick built, did I tell you?"
"No, for what?"
"I don't know.....buffalo maybe, I dunno, but I know it's going with me on my next trip back."


I didn't have to say back to where. There is only one place a gun like that belongs.

I didn't have to hear from John to know what was going through his mind. He was looking out the window, his gaze on the contrails of a jetliner flying eastward.

I knew that Africa had gotten a hold of him, as She had gotten a hold of me, and everyone else I knew who had ever hunted there. In his mind and in his heart, John was again in Africa.
---

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
~ Dylan Thomas


Enrique del Rosario

Comments for The Grey Ghost of the African Veld

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Jan 25, 2012
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
exelent
by: Anonymous

Very good story. Some people just don't appreciate a good hunt with a good story behind it. They just want to read the part about shooting the animal. I would love to have an old friend like John to take hunting and maybe one day I will. By the looks of the story John had the best time of his life on that hunt and I hope he still is hunting Africa.

Sep 29, 2011
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Reminder of My Own Kudu
by: Anonymous

Great story and very well told. Brought me back to my own kudu hunt 2 1/2 years ago. To those that might find certain parts offensive, please get a life. This author appreciates life in all its aspects. Well done.

Apr 02, 2009
Rating
starstarstarstar
excellent story, well told
by: SMoNY

Well written and carries the spirit of the hunt.
The set up of the story has NOTHING to do with the hunt, so golly gee folks, get over it and enjoy the rest of the story.
How many times do we agree with everything a writer does or says? Almost never, but that doesn?t mean that we can?t enjoy an excellent story well told.

Jan 04, 2009
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
One of the best!
by: Anonymous

This is one of the best stories I've ever read. Good writing!

Jun 17, 2008
Rating
star
from the author
by: Anonymous

For those of you who enjoyed reading my account of an African experience with my good friend, thank you for your time to read it. For those of you who are offended by the passage about the dancer, I offer no apologies.

I did not write this story to offend anyone. I wrote the story to tell you about friendship. That John and I were at a topless bar when he decided to join me on my next hunt to Africa is true and is irreversible. Throughout my 65 years I have never felt obliged to justify my love of women, or of hunting, and will not do so now, or ever. And, yes, I am married to a beautiful American woman, 29 years my junior, who loves me for my love for her.

Those of us who have been to Africa know that Americans are but a minority of the people who hunt there. It is a continent with diverse cultures and rich traditions that does not bend to the influences and opinions of a few American hunters and their wives.

Whether my story is enjoyed or becomes a subject of ire and disgust matters none to me. I will continue to go to Africa to hunt, to learn of its people, to learn its languages, and to share with my friends an Africa that may disappear forever.

In ending, I will tell you that my stories were meant to entertain. I hope you enjoy them. I will give myself one star for this comment.

Enrique del Rosario
Beaverton, Oregon

Jun 17, 2008
Rating
starstar
Swazi Women
by: Anonymous

This story would have been appropriate in South Africa among the Swazis, but I am an American Woman and do not appreciate men that I know taking part in such activities. What happens in Vegas remains in Vegas.

Jun 16, 2008
Rating
starstarstarstar
good story
by: JOE T..

I HOPE TO SHOOT A NICE KUDU MYSELF SOON. GOOD STORY. TOO MUCH DETAIL.

Jun 16, 2008
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Great Story!
by: Anonymous

This guy is good. Writes like Hemingway.

Jun 16, 2008
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Beyond the hunt
by: Anonymous

This is how to tell a story. It shows feelings and human character, not just go-on-hunt, shoot, got-my-trophy story.

Jun 15, 2008
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Great story!
by: Anonymous

I have read and re-read this story and have shown this story to my friends. This very well written piece is true to life. This is a story about unselfish friendship. It is about sharing something that is cherished - the African experience. I like the way the writer convinced his friend that it was time to hunt Africa for himself.

Jun 13, 2008
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
GOOD STORY
by: Anonymous

KUDOS

Jun 13, 2008
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Great Read
by: Anonymous

I have a woman friend who started to read this story then put it down when she got to the dancer. I happen to like the story very much. It is a finely written hunting story about true friendship. Kudos to you on your excellent story.

Jun 07, 2008
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Great Hunting Story
by: Anonymous

I have never been to Africa but this story makes me want to go. I have dreamed of Africa almost all of my 58 years and if John can do it so can I.

A great story of true friendship.

Jun 06, 2008
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Superb writing!
by: Anonymous

I know both the writer and John the main character of the story and that part about the dancer is exactly how it happened. They were at a bachelor party for a friends son. I like the story the way Enrique tells it.

BTW, Enrique is a great person to hunt with.

Jun 04, 2008
Rating
starstarstar
YIKES
by: Anonymous

I liked the story until the part about gyrating women. I found that distasteful in this setting.

May 16, 2008
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Riveting story
by: Anonymous

Who or what is the grey ghost? John or the Kudu.
A wonderful story of lasting friendship and going for the joy de vivre.

May 15, 2008
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Excellent Story
by: Steve

Good Golly. There is another Hemingway!
Very exciting story of living life to the fullest!

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Meaning of "Uitspan"

'Uitspan' is an Afrikaans word that means place of rest.

When the Boer settlers moved inland in Southern Africa in the 1800's, they used ox carts. When they found a spot with game, water and green grass, they arranged their ox carts into a circular laager for protection against wild animals and stopped for a rest.

They referred to such an action of relaxation for man and beast, as Uitspan.

(Picture above of our ancestors.)

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Did you know?

Greater Souther Kudu
Greater Southern Kudus are famous for their ability to jump high fences. A 2 m (6.56 ft) fence is easily jumped while a 3 m (9.84 ft) high fence is jumped spontaneously. These strong jumpers are known to jump up to 3.5 m (11.48 ft) under stress.

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Kalahari Lion

Some animals have one sense more than man!

The flehmen response is a particular type of curling of the upper lip in ungulates, felids and many other mammals. This action facilitates the transfer of pheromones and other scents into the vomeronasal organ, also called the Jacobson's Organ.
This behavior allows animals to detect scents (for example from urine) of other members of their species or clues to the presence of prey. Flehming allows the animals to determine several factors, including the presence or absence of estrus, the physiological state of the animal, and how long ago the animal passed by. This particular response is recognizable in males when smelling the urine of a females in heat.

Click here to read how the Kudu antelope use this sense.