Hunting the Gray Ghost in South Africa
Having hunted in South Afrika in 2009 for the first time when I was 16 years old at the Fourie Ranch in the Afrikaner Free State, I dreamed of one day returning and hunting the magnificent Eastern Cape Kudu, which are as large as an American Bull Elk, yet with their stately black spiraling horns that had seemed to touch the sky, with their gray and slightly whitish stripped bodies, so they were perfectly camouflaged in the gray African Bush and dusty terrain!
High school came and went and I left home to start college at Saint Bonaventure, in cold, snowy Western New York. I still dreamed of those Kudu I had seen in the Bush, or standing on
a rock cut from a hill, who would show themselves, but only for a moment, and then vanish back into the bush as a Gray Ghost.
The college semesters also came and went, and I returned home to a snow covered Wurtsboro, NY, last December, to enjoy the warmth of our family’s traditional Christmas celebration. On December 25th, when the living room was littered with wrapping paper and opened boxes, our tree, green and decorated, by the fireside, I noticed a lone red sealed envelope placed carefully on Santa’s red slay decoration near the top of our 9 foot balsam fir tree.
The envelope was addressed to Ms. Erika from the Gray Ghost. I instantly thought of my Kudus and hoped for a great photo. My hope for a photo was dashed–since only a Christmas card from
the Fourie Family was inside. But, inside the card was a gift for a Kudu! A scream of joy broke the calm of our Christmas morning as, I shouted out “I’m going to hunt the Gray Ghost!” My frugal father said, “Yes, only in your dreams!”-- Not this time – the Christmas gift from the Fourie Family of South Afrika was real and I would be returning to Amanzi again to hunt the Ghost I had left behind three years earlier.
The following July we left JFK for hour 16 hour flight on South African Airlines to Johannesburg. Arriving in perfect Fall weather, my father and I, after securing our rifles from
Customs at the airport, rented a car and headed out to the Amanzi Safari -- a half day’s drive, 500 kilometers away. Guided by our GPS we easily made it to the small town of Brandfort, but quickly got lost when the pavement ran out and we were on red clay roads with no names on the plains and no GPS signs.
The local people, whom we saw in the towns along the way, were friendly and helpful; but now, out of town, there were no people nor houses. Luckily we spotted headlights coming down the dusty road towards us, and a young mother with three kids bouncing in the back of her SUV loaded with groceries cheerfully volunteered to drive the two lost New Yorkers to the Amanzi ranch and had us follow her in the total darkness of night. We made it, thanks to Ann’s helpfulness.
At Amanzi that evening, we were warmly greeted by old friends, the Fourie Family and staff and treated, or perhaps teased, by our first dinner there of Kudu Lasanga! After dinner, the white wines flowed and by fireside we planned our hunt with their oldest son, Jopie Fourie the PH. It was decided that we would to rise early, at daybreak, and scan the high wooded slopes for Kudu taking in the warmth of the early morning sun following the chilly fall evening of an Afrikan night.
We had sighted in my CZ7 Mauser with a 2.5 x 6 Zeiss 32 MM Scope, and I knew I could be right on even at 200 meters with a rested shot on the Hunting Sticks. I trusted my Dad’s hand loads of 7x55 with 139 gr. nosler partition ballistic tip, a very light bullet for 500 lb. game. The challenge, we believed, would be in a rapid, fast and sure shoot with questionable visibility. The Gray Ghost would not be a standing still target with a bull’s eye painted on his shoulder and the brush would be heavy and dense in the area we had chosen for the morning hunt.
The morning was still and dark. The coffee and freshly baked biscuits were hot and satisfying. We loaded the truck with a days worth of provisions and water and carefully placed
our rifles and binoculars in secured holders. As our truck slowly entered the valley we could see first gleaming rays of the morning sun breaking over the Eastern mountains and sending slivers of golden light across the mountainsides. A half hour later the mountainsides were fully bathed
in warm Afrikan sun and we trained our binoculars intently on the slopes for the slightest movement of a Kudu.
“There he is,” whispered the Professional Hunter, Jopie, as he pointed to a small break in the trees showing a reddish colored rock and a large Kudu bull standing broadsideon it. I immediately reached for my rifle, chambered a round and raised it to my shoulder as Jopie continued to whisper, that’s the ONE. As the rifle reached my shoulder, I looked through
the scope, and saw the empty rock. True to his name the Gray Ghost had vanished in an instance.
Jopie said, let’s follow him, and we did, up and down the hill, across the valley. My father, back in the truck, radioed that he had seen with his binoculars a big Kudu crossing the valley heading to a small wooded hill and that we were right behind it. We never saw him again that morning and returned back to the truck for lunch and to make our plan for the afternoon.
The Fall afternoon was hot and sunny not a cloud in the sky. We drove for miles scanning the valley and now the cooler shaded portions of the hills for our Kudu. Jopie wanted to check out a “hotspot” for the evening hunt, so we loaded the truck again and slowly headed for the Eastside of the ranch where the hills were steeper and the brush more dense. For the first time I began to have doubts; what if we don’t find him, what if I’m not quick enough on my shot?
The silence of my fears was broken by a whisper, “there he is”. We looked and we strained, but at first I could see nothing, except trees and leaves, thorns and brush. Jopie said, just look behind the large silver colored bush on the right, you’ll see an ear flickering. Through my binoculars I
saw the ear, and that’s all I saw. We quickly and quietly dismounted the truck and tried to close the distance of approximately 150 meters across a small open field to the bush with that flickering ear. As we proceeded less than ten meters into the field, we stopped suddenly as an ivory tip of a Kudu horn could be seen shining in the sunlight above the bush.
Instantly Jopie set up the hunting sticks as I chambered a round and seated the rifle at the apex of the crossed sticks.
Jopie had made the height perfect for me and I now trained my 6X Zeiss scope on that big bush with the flickering ear and the shining point. We stood frozen still and we waited. The seconds seemed like minutes, the minutes like hours, as we waited for the Kudu to make a move and give me a target. Every few minutes, Jope whispered, close your eyes, rest them. I did so and I was able to maintain focus.
By my father’s stop watch, back in the truck, twelve minutes had expired before the bush moved ever so slightly as it seemed that the bull was going to to turn around and return to denser brush behind it and not move forward through a narrow gap in the bushes. I could see the muscles on the neck strain as he turned his large head backwards. This was a big bull and I was not going to risk a neck shot at dusk through the bush. I closed and rested my eyes again as Jopie confidently whispered, HE WILL STEP OUT!
Minutes later, through an narrow opening, less than half a meter between these two big bushes, the nose appeared followed only by the ears and the horns. “Wait for the shoulder and take your shot”, Jopie said. I also recalled my father’s words: “Erika, when you have your shot, take your shot, don’t hesitate.” A second later the muscles on the front foreleg glistened and the shoulder appeared for an instant. I knew not to wait, this was my shot. The noise of the rifle deafened my
ears and I couldn’t see the Kudu anymore. My dread, where had he now vanished to, was broken by Jopie’s slap on my back and my father’s shrieking from the truck...he’s down, you got him.
I regained my senses and looked to see him falling down where he had stood in the high dense brush and now his feet kicking in the air towards the blue sky above. As we carefully
approached the fallen bull, I saw the true magnificence of this mature Kudu, quietly, and peacefully, allowing his spirit to rise above the mountains that surrounded us. Jopie said, it was a good clean shot, as my father said, your shot was perfect, we can’t believe you dropped him in his tracks with only one shot.
By fireside that night, the moment of the hunt, as all hunts, from the beginning of time, when the first caveman picked up his spear and felled food for his family, was retold with friends and family with the same emotion and drama of the hunt.
Our Safari hunt continued the next few days for other magnificent trophies including a Blue Wildebeest, a Red Hardebeest and Blesbok. My mature Kudu bull was truly magnificent with 49 ½ inch ivory tipped horns. My
father judged my shot with utter joy and pride, as only one shot downed each trophy I shot, as I had done with my Kudu. I think I also impressed my PH, but disappointed the trackers, since I made them unemployed! However, the trackers had plenty of work with my Dad and other friends who sometimes needed a second shot and left a long blood trail through the bush for them to follow.
Our hunting through the densely covered hill country and wide open plains at Amanzi, was challenging and a fair chase. We always saw herds of Giraffes, Zebra, Black, as well as Blue
Wildebeeste, Impalas, Spring and Bles Bocks and stately Sables for photographing along our way. We road in an open Range Rover truck and bounced with each rock in the road. Enjoying the painted sky sunsets with my Dad and friends after a long day’s hunt was one of the best parts of our trip.
As the sun set, and the cold night air rolled down the hills and enveloped the valley with a slight haze, the warm spicy aroma from the kitchen drew us inside, into the warmth and “Gemutlichkeit” of a dinner table meticulously set with true Afrikan foods and meats, fine wines all softly lit by candle and the orange glow from a roaring fire by the
fireplace. Slate floors and thatched roofs were authentically Afrikan and the dialect of the Fourie family and friends was decidedly Afrikan, a musical blend of French, Dutch and German
Also, the accommodations and candlelight cuisine each night were first class and done in real African style. The outdoor Bria (BBQ) and dinners from the game we harvested (Impala,
Kudu, Wildebeeste and Blesbok) were exceptional. The staff at Amanzi, from PH, to the tracker to skinners, to the cook and domestic help were professional and efficient and yet provided a warm family atmosphere. In fact, having hunted and traveled in many areas of the world and
other parts of Afrika: I STILL CONSIDER AMANZI AND THE FOURIE FAMILY, MY HOME AWAY FROM HOME!
I purchased my first hunt at Amanzi in 2008 at a conservation fund raising banquet by SCI in NY. This year, I was blessed with an experience of lifetime to hunt again in Afrika, and
the Fourie family not only made this hunt possible for me, but also made for my Dad and I, memories for a lifetime. I can’t wait to return when I graduate college in 2015! (But don’t tell