I had just returned to fly camp after hunting with my guide, Beima McGill, and was so tired that I just removed my pack, boots and headlamp and immediately fell asleep on the mattress set on the floor of my tent. As the first rays of daylight filtered through the canopy of the rainforest, another of my guides, Edwin Brophy, started on a two-hour walk to his family’s food plot, since we would not hunt again until 5 p.m.
At 8 a.m., Edwin returned to fly camp. The hunt manager, Tony Henry, looked up in surprise. “What happened?” he asked. Edwin’s reply was that he had seen three bushbucks and asked if he should we wake up the hunter.
“He said he is here to hunt,” Tony replied immediately, then moved to my tent and called my name several times.
I woke up to the realization that I was in a tent in Liberia and fully dressed for hunting except for my boots. “What is it?” I asked.
“We have seen some bushbuck,” Tony said in Edwin’s place.
I thought to myself, “Do I really want to get up with no sleep and hunt a bushbuck?” Then I remembered that the locals have all sorts of nicknames for the indigenous species, so I asked, “Do you mean a duiker?”
“Yes, the big one.”
“Yes, one of those. Edwin has seen three of them feeding on fruit dropped from the trees by monkeys and they are just a short walk from here,” Tony said.
By the time Tony finished talking, I had my boots on and was ready to go. We took off at a fast walk along a recently trimmed jungle trail with Edwin in the lead with me close behind. Tony, Beima and another guide, Sao Brophy, followed but stayed well behind. (I had lots of guides as I was checking them out for this inaugural safari in the Bella Forest, and they were using me to figure out how to handle sport hunting clients).
After 30 minutes I started thinking that this must be an African “short walk.” At 45 minutes, we turned right onto a partially overgrown trail. Then at 60 minutes, we started into the wild jungle, and the going became slow and difficult. A few minutes later, I climbed over two fallen trees and became entangled in vines around both ankles, my waist and neck.
If I had had snips, I could have freed myself quickly, but it took me over a minute. When finally extricated, Edwin was barely visible 10 yards away and frantically motioning me to hurry quietly. Then he cupped his right hand to his right ear — he could hear the duikers. I moved forward as quietly as possible, occasionally holding my breath, which is a bad habit that does not help noise reduction.
Within touching distance of Edwin, we crouched and moved forward as if one strange animal. Only then did I consider, “How am I going to kill a 150-pound animal with a 12-gauge shotgun using #4 shot when the same jungle that blocks views also blocks shot?”
Edwin pointed. I moved the barrel of my outfitter-provided SKB shotgun in the direction he was pointing, but I saw only green leaves. Then Edwin aimed a red laser, pinpointing where I should shoot. As I started my trigger pull, I saw a big body moving left to right, adjusted my point of aim by a couple inches, and fired.
We listened. There was no running sound, no thrashing sound, no insect sounds, no bird sounds. As we moved slowly forward, I pumped another cartridge into the chamber. When three yards away, the body of the duiker came into view … perfectly still, on its left side.
At first I thought it was a Jentink’s because of its size and dark coloration, but it was a yellow-back. Both Edwin and I shouted for joy in relief from the pressure of the stalk and to alert the others where we were. Then it hit me how lucky I was. Edwin had seen three yellow-backs two hours earlier, returned to camp, led me back to the vicinity where they were still feeding, and the big male had given me a shot to its right shoulder at 15 yards … Edwin’s skill and my luck.
The SCI Record Book gives a weight range of 100 to 150 pounds for this species, but we all estimated its weight at 225 to 250 pounds. Is the yellow-back rare in Liberia? Edwin says, “No. My father killed two in the communal area last month and he killed the black and gray one (Jentink’s) in October.”
Edwin’s father, Sao Brophy, guided me twice during my hunt, including a memorable hunt climbing the hills near base camp in search of zebra duiker. Sao is known as “the old man,” and he is 16 years younger than I!
After photos, Sao and Beima slid a long pole between the bound hooves, lifted the yellow-back to their shoulders on the third try, and attempted to carry it out whole along a new trail being cleared by Edwin. After a couple minutes, they thought better, lowered the duiker, and spent two hours skinning it for a full-mount and cutting the meat so four could carry it out while I carried the water and shotgun.
I was on safari in Liberia with Morris Dougba’s Liberian Rainforest Safari. Morris was born and raised in Liberia and emigrated to the U.S. during the civil war (the Liberian civil war). He now lives in Pennsylvania half the year and returns to Liberia to outfit safaris during the six-month dry season, plus whenever needed for his import-export business. After opening the Gola Forest for hunting for the 2012-2013 season, he moved to the Bella Forest for the 2013-2104 season. Base camp is only a four-hour drive from Roberts International Airport.
By permission of the Game Department and the local community, the Bella Forest has been divided into a communal hunting area and a protected hunting reserve. Morris employs local guides and staff year-round to protect, educate and cut trails in the reserve.
The hunting method was simple, but tedious and repetitive: walk quietly on the narrow jungle trails within two steps of your guide.
If the guide sees a game animal, he points at it. The hunter’s job is to place the front bead of the shotgun and shoot. By that method, I was able to shoot a zebra duiker, bay duiker, Maxwell duiker, water chevrotain, and palm civet in addition to the yellow-backed duiker.
I was often tired, always wet (mostly from perspiration), usually muddy from the shins down, and occasionally annoyed by ants. But the overriding plusses of this hunt are the possibility of great trophies and the fact that you can literally get a shot at any second.– Ken Wilson