The “Monster” Blue

Campfire stories often lead to unexpected adventures.
Campfire stories often lead to unexpected adventures.

I’ve never met anyone going on their first safari who says, “I’m going after the small stuff.” Like most first timers, visions of kudu and gemsbok filled my first safari dreams, and I had the good fortune of having Carl van Zijl from John X Safaris as my PH to help me earn them. Like most, both my wife and I were severely “bitten by the safari bug” on that first adventure in 2007.

After our “one safari of a lifetime” in 2007, we literally had to return the very next year to celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary. My wife added fine hartebeest, blue wildebeest and an ostrich. I decided to go even bigger with an amazing giraffe trophy, followed by a beautiful nyala. Our second supposedly “last” safari ended with an unexpected bushbuck, which looked like very “small stuff” at 300 yards.

The author's Eastern Cape Kudu from his first safari.
The author’s Eastern Cape Kudu from his first safari.

After two safaris, you are on the road to becoming an addict. I ended up returning in 2010 with my brother for an amazing eland hunt. Over the campfire while toasting success on the eland, I posed the “I have no more trophy space” dilemma to Carl van Zijl. He immediately said, “My friend, I need to introduce you to the “Tiny 10.” It was by the third glass of wine that Carl started rattling off the names of the Tiny 10. They all sounded exotic, but one species in particular stood out from the rest–blue duiker.

The “blue” is part of the family of duikers, and the smallest of the South African antelope.   It weighs a whopping 4 kilograms–that’s just over 8 pounds for a monster! After just shooting an eland weighing in at almost a ton, I decided then that I wanted to hunt the smallest of the Tiny 10 and take a “monster blue” trophy.

The author's wife poses with his first species in his Tiny Ten quest, an excellent steenbok.
The author’s wife poses with his first species in his Tiny Ten quest, an excellent steenbok.

What started as a lively discussion and education on the Tiny 10 around the eland campfire turned out to be a safari that was Three years in the making.   I came to learn blue duikers are not only very small, but also that they inhabit the really dense stuff–thickets so thick that a big guy like me could never get through.

I grew up as a North American whitetail hunter.   One of the absolute joys of the hunt for me is being able to hunt from a stand or slow stalk to see the animals undisturbed in their habitat. I tried to explain this to Carl and was sure he knew what I was asking for in terms of a hunting experience, but I had no idea if it was possible with blue duiker.

The popup blind was perfect for the dense brush.
The popup blind was perfect for the dense brush.

In 2013 I heard back from Carl, “Come back on safari for your ‘blue.’ I’ve been scouting for three years and I have finally found a concession where we can hunt blue duiker from a ground blind. Both of us will absolutely enjoy it. In fact, we should be able to film the whole thing.”

To hunt blue duiker from a blind requires lots of scouting and preparation. The PH first scouts for “midden;” small mounds of dung that the males use to mark their territories. After knowing where to set up in prime duiker habitat, the PH uses trail cameras to study duiker movements and patterns before setting up any blinds.

After finding a prime location, the PH then builds a very small watering hole. Duiker will definitely come to drink, but the water and surrounding feed attract vervet monkeys. Why are monkeys important? Duikers tend to feed primarily on forage that drops to the forest floor. Since the monkeys are always dropping things from trees, duikers tend to follow the monkeys as they feed.

This blue duiker "midden" is a sign that a male has marked his territory.
This blue duiker “midden” is a sign that a male has marked his territory.

The morning of the blue duiker hunt could best be described as an early fall whitetail hunt. We got up well before dawn and made our way carefully down the trails. The air was crisp requiring a light jacket and I could hear the waves of the Indian Ocean rolling in on the shore in the distance as we walked silently through the coastal forest. We finally arrived at the blind in the dark.

For any of you who have hunted in blinds, you know that the first light plays tricks on you. You see things that are not there. Then you catch of glimpse of movement or what you think might be a duiker. I tapped Carl on the shoulder when I saw a blue flash, proud that my old eyes could even make out what proved to be a blue duiker in the flesh. Carl gave the thumbs up, so the game was on.

Where there are vervet's, there will be duikers.
Where there are vervet’s, there will be duikers.

As it turns out, my trusted PH was extremely frustrated that I did not shoot. But the duiker had gone behind some heavy brush from my vantage point, and even with a shotgun, I did not feel comfortable taking a shot through all the branches. I was told later that at least two other duikers came and went that I did not see, but they also did not present a shot.

As often happens in blind hunting, things went literally went “dead.” Well that’s not entirely true. A variety of birds, including the amazingly colorful turacos, came to visit the waterhole as light filtered through the trees. But as the duiker drought continued, I even saw my PH checking his smartphone. As my head was nodding from the early wakeup call, I was reminded to stay alert and keep the gun up on the sticks, because you never know when “it” will happen–and then it happened.

Monkeys! Chattering and climbing in the trees above the waterhole. Carl came to full alert as did Jose, who was manning the video camera. About two minutes later, the “blues” were there, materializing suddenly out of thin air and looking like two small, dark Chihuahua dogs in constant motion under the monkey troupe.

Small waterholes like this one, attract vervet monkeys. Blue duikers follow the monkeys to feed on what the monkeys  drop from the trees.
Small waterholes like this one, attract vervet monkeys. Blue duikers follow the monkeys to feed on what the monkeys drop from the trees.

When one finally stopped broadside in front of the miniature watering hole, Carl gave the signal to shoot by tapping my leg. His tap turned into a vice grip on my leg indicating to shoot already!   Somehow I saw the other duiker jump in front and managed not to squeeze the trigger. The female of the pair had bounded in front. She finally drifted off and left the “monster blue” standing broadside at watering hole.

I was using a shotgun, as is typical with hunting duiker due to all the brush. As per my trusty PH, I was up on shooting sticks to prevent any movement or sound that would spook the duiker. When the shot when off the roar was deafening and everyone jumped, especially me. When the dust cleared, no duiker!   How could anyone possibly miss with a shotgun on shooting sticks at 25 yards?

To say that Carl was “nervous” would be an understatement! He scrambled from the blind to see what had happened. As it turned out, the momentum of the shot had carried the tiny duiker into the miniature water hole so that he was out of sight from the ground blind.

The author poses with his "monster" blue duiker, part of his quest for the Tiny Ten.
The author poses with his “monster” blue duiker, part of his quest for the Tiny Ten.

Once Carl discovered the trophy, there were shouts and high fives all around. We had an amazing “monster blue” with horns measuring 1 7/8 inches and having great solid bases.   Forget all the measurements–in my book, it was truly the “monster blue” trophy not because of horn size, but because of the amazing experience. What blue duikers lack in stature, they make up for in character. They’re simply amazing animals that I had the privilege of observing in their native habitat for an entire morning.

Based on my experience, you could actually take a trophy blue duiker with a bow from the blind setup I was in. My biggest advice to those going on safari is to find a quality outfitter who will listen to what you want.   Don’t be shy!   It’s your safari … tell them exactly what you want to experience.

As I write this, I’m in my trophy room sitting under my giraffe, across from my monster eland sipping a fine tawny port. I’m literally reliving my whole safari experience by sharing it with you through SCI. The hardest part will now be waiting until next spring when the monster blue full mount trophy arrives.  We now have 30% of the Tiny 10 and just might have to make yet another quest on the journey we hunters simply call “safari.”– Chris Petersen

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