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Realm of the reedbuck

Going after the elusive mountain reedbuck involves both stealth and razor-sharp eyesight to spot one feeding or bedded among the thorn bushes. To reach its territory PHs Jason van Aarde and Andre Steffen and my colleague Matt Wood and I drove inland to a remote hilly area of Pongola on the east coast of South Africa. On the way we glassed herds of wildebeest, impala, warthogs and several groups of giraffe.

The overcast sky and lack of wind weren?t going to help, since in these conditions the animals sit tight until it warms up. We began stalking down small narrow tracks and slowly edged our way along the dusty trail, our senses on heightened alert.

Not having stalked this species in this terrain before, it was to be a mental as well as a physical challenge. For example, ordinarily I would place a shot just behind the front leg and into the chest cavity, to hit the heart; but Jason wanted all of us to sight straight up the leg and then shoot the main mass on the shoulder. In this way the beast would receive a fatal shot, downing it straight away. The meat damage on the shoulder was clearly not a concern.

I carried the rifle, loaded and with the safety catch on, slung over my shoulder. That way I could fend off the thorn bushes and use my binoculars at every stop, to scan the terrain for the movement of a tail or the flick of an ear. As we crossed a wider track, guinea fowl took flight under our noses, causing me nearly to have a heart attack. Jason spotted leopard tracks leading to a thicket ahead; on closer inspection, however, he surmised they were made late the previous night and the leopard was probably long gone. The PHs have phenomenal tracking skills, determining species, sex and direction of travel, as well as the time the track was left. They will also share details on the fauna the animals eat and avoid.

As I was being told a story about the fever tree ? so-called because it was once mistakenly thought to emit malaria – Jason suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. He brought his Swarovski EL binoculars to his eyes. ?Jackal, 60 yards, at 11 o?clock,? he whispered. ?A black-backed.?

Sure enough, a lone jackal was slowly walking, nose down, probably following a trail just in front of us. Of all our animals in the UK it is most closely related to the fox, so I was very interested to study it further. Its features were well defined, and its vivid black and silver hair ? visible along its saddle ? shimmered in the dappled light. Its red pelage was not as bright as that of our red fox, but it was a beautiful creature.

The exhilaration of the stalk

Two hours into the stalk, we stopped by a small dry riverbed. Jason gestured to the right, where an impala with a broken horn was quartering away from us. Matt wanted an impala, so we slowly swapped positions. Matt lined up Jason?s .243 CZ/ Brno, fi tted with a South African-made sound moderator, on the sticks and over Jason?s back for additional support. A dull thump and the impala dropped like a stone, humanely dispatched at 75 yards with a single shot.

After the impala we continued our hunt for the reedbuck. The air was incredibly still, so we crept forward particularly slowly to avoid any fallen twig that might snap and give us away. Again Jason froze, slowly raising his binoculars, and smiled. ?Wow,? he said. ?Nice buck, 80 yards behind that thorn bush.?

Slowly I edged forward, simultaneously slipping the Tikka rifle from my shoulder as Jason readied the sticks before me. The reedbuck?s pale grey-brown body was partly obscured from view, but the black ridged horns were clearly visible as the animal flicked its ears to repel the flies. A Federal 165-gr GameKing was already loaded. As I slowly eased off the safety, the buck moved to the right behind a denser bush that obscured the engine room. We waited, the pulse starting to quicken. The cross-hairs traced the buck?s steps on its shoulder as, finally, a small break in the foliage prompted Jason to say: ?Safe shot, don?t miss it.? No pressure then!

As the GameKing found its mark the shot was again clearly audible and indicated a good hit. The reedbuck stepped fewer than eight paces before dropping slowly against a thorn bush. We approached cautiously and touched the eye of the buck with the sticks to test its reaction. Any flicker would indicate the reedbuck was still alive, but there was none.

The customary handshakes followed, along with an instant recounting of the stalk and shot. It?s funny how, after 30 years? shooting, the exhilaration of the stalk and final conclusion is still so exciting. Jason, Andre and Matt were all happy too.

I had shot the buck cleanly but, funnily enough, I had instinctively followed up the leg and placed a shot back from this, as I do at home. The shot was in the heart or lung ? not in the shoulder. Andre went to retrieve the 4×4, ready to take the reedbuck and Matt?s impala. Jason lifted the big buck ungralloched on to Andre?s shoulders, carefully walking it back to the truck over rocks and ridges.

This adventure frequently became a nature trail and educational trip as well as a stalk. Local knowledge from Jason and Andre was both invaluable and fascinating.

At the barbecue that evening we ate impala steaks and warthog. The warthog, slowly marinated in local spices and herbs, was lovely but the impala was my favourite: slightly more gamey (but not too much) with a tender yet fibrous texture. Perfect when washed down with a Windhoek beer or two.

For further details on safari hunts across South Africa, contact Nerise or Andre at, or Jason at