Hunting The Majestic Waterbuck

Waterbuck-0410136We worked our way across the valley floor along a dry riverbed. The terrain was some of the roughest we had driven on, but the sheer beauty unfolding around us as we bounced along was unbelievable. Huge trees shaded both sides of the bank and the thick underbrush served as cover for an assortment of animals.

I was hunting with African Field Sports, and Bruce Grant of Grant Adventures had put together another exciting safari for us. The property and concessions controlled by AFS are so vast that the only familiar thing you see each day is the lodge’s dining room table and your bed.

This was my third time hunting with AFS, and each time we hunted a different area. But this one was the most rugged and wild so far. Vervet monkeys leaped from tree to tree, and we caught glimpses of larger animals as they retreated from the noise of our Land Rover bouncing over the rocks.

There was something primeval about the area. We drove between cone-shaped piles of car-sized boulders as much as 50 feet high. Trees jutted from between some of the larger boulders, their spindly branches reaching to the sky in a valiant effort to survive in the harsh environment. When we stopped and turned off the motor, the sound of the birds and monkeys, combined with the wind, was amazing. We also saw hyrax scampering across the rocks. Sakkie, our professional hunter, told us they are the closest relatives of the elephant still alive. I trust Sakkie a lot. But an elephant? I’m not sure of that one.

Waterbuck-0410131We were only six or seven miles from the main lodge, but it seemed much more remote. Finally, the road became even too tough for Sakkie and we turned back. How these vehicles endure so much punishment and keep running is beyond me. As we came around a bend, a very large animal caught my eye. We had been hunting kudu for the past couple of days and my brain must have still been in kudu mode. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Kudu, big kudu.” But as my mind caught up with my mouth, I realized that in the excitement I had been thinking waterbuck and saying kudu.

The big waterbuck stood majestically and looked at me for a second or two. Then he was gone in an instant. The waterbuck had made one mistake. Sakkie had time to see him, and with the uncanny skill that a great PH possesses, he judged the waterbuck to be the one we wanted.

Waterbuck-0410134Situations like that are what separate good PHs from great ones. If you have never had the good fortune of hunting in Africa, it is hard to understand the relationship between the PH and the hunter. The best way I can explain it is, think about your best hunting buddy back in the States. Now, imagine he is taking you to his very special honey hole to hunt a possible world-record white tail deer. He puts you in his very best tree stand and makes sure the wind is perfect for you to have a great chance at the biggest buck of your life. You say you don’t have any friends that good? Well, that’s what Africa’s best PHs do for their clients every day. When you take that trophy of a lifetime your PH is every bit as excited as you are.

After spotting the waterbuck, we quickly hatched a plan. Booty, our tracker, would walk through the area where we saw the waterbuck run into in hopes of driving him out and pushing him up along a ridge that ran up from the valley floor. We would circle around in the Rover in hopes of cutting him off.

Sakkie put the Rover in gear and we took off. I held on as the tires bit at the rough ground and threw a steady stream of stones and dust behind us. Once on top of the ridge, we moved fast to cut off the waterbuck. Suddenly, we saw him about 500 yards to our left. And he saw us. It was a race to see if we could get ahead of him before he reached the end of the ridge and descended into another large valley. The waterbuck won, disappearing over the rim moments before we got there.

We went to the spot where he had made his escape and glassed the valley floor, but there was no waterbuck in sight. I thought there was no way an animal so large could vanish in the sparse vegetation below, but he was gone. Sakkie knew we had put a lot of pressure on the waterbuck, so we decided to give him a day or two to forget us before trying to track him down again.

Waterbuck-0410135The next morning we were off to hunt baboon. As we drove along the edge of a long, open field, Booty suddenly banged on the Rover’s roof from his perch in the back. No more than 20 feet away, a beautiful, heavy-horned waterbuck lay under a small bush, as dead as could be. We looked him over carefully but could find no signs of bullet holes or anything else that could have killed him. But it was mating season for most of the animals in the area, and we had observed springbuck and lechwe fighting several times. When these animals take each other on, they are not playing. Many times the loser is left dead or mortally wounded. Sakkie called for help from camp to roll the animal over. Then we saw a large wound in his side that had punctured a lung. I was worried that it might be the waterbuck I had seen the day before. Sakkie must have noticed the look of concern on my face because he looked at me and said, “Remember, the winner had to be bigger and stronger.”

The next morning, our quest was the great waterbuck we had seen earlier. As we drove toward the spot where we had first seen the big guy, we spotted half a dozen female waterbucks.  The sun, which was just starting to peek over the mountain behind us, cast an orange-red hue on the land below. This was the magical time of day: quiet and still, with the world seeming to prepare itself for whatever wonders are to come.

We dismounted and slowly worked our way to the edge of a ridge. As we scanned from left to right, something caught my eye down in the valley. It was the big male waterbuck. The sun was now high enough for its beams to reach into the valley, and they bounced off his massive horns. He was headed toward the thick cover where we first encountered him, and he still seemed oblivious to the fact that we had spotted him. Sakkie had the sticks up alongside a small bush and ranged him at 350 yards. I knew the Weatherby and I could do the shot, and I was glad Sakkie had enough faith in my ability that he didn’t hesitate in setting up the sticks.

Waterbuck-0410133The waterbuck moved slowly, occasionally stopping to eat.  I was thinking that with all the female waterbucks we had seen, he must have had a great night. Now he was about to make my day. I eased the safety off as he moved a bit closer to us. Then I held the crosshairs just a couple of inches high on his big shoulders and waited for him to stop.

The Weatherby roared as the 180-grain Nosler Partition bullet sped toward what would be one of the most magnificent trophies I would ever take. It hit him hard and he went down. He struggled to get up and Sakkie said, “Hit him again.” The second shot also found its mark and the waterbuck lay still. The usually stoic Sakkie lit up with emotion, and we celebrated with handshakes and high fives. This was Sakkie’s victory, too, and I was the instrument that helped him achieve it.

With the big waterbuck on the ground, we picked our way through the rocks and thorns for an up-close view. It was slow going, but after 15 minutes we stood in front of the waterbuck. There was no ground shrinkage. The bases of his horns were a thick 10 inches and the 28-plus-inch length was fabulous. He was perfect. Sakkie and I were smiling from ear to ear.– Patrick E. Behm

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