Diamond in the Rough
- Common Reedbuck
I steadied my cold hands by resting my elbows on the front of the hunting vehicle while I kept my binoculars trained on the distant cluster of reedbuck, one of which being the biggest ram I had ever laid eyes on and exactly the type of ram I had come so far to hunt...
This was my second trip to the picturesque Midlands region of Kwazulu Natal in search of a trophy Common Reedbuck, and thus far it has been every bit as difficult to spot and get within reasonable shooting distance of a significant ram as had been the case with my hunt the previous year. The seemingly endless rolling hills and sweeping valleys so common of the Natal Midlands make it incredibly challenging to get close enough to the otherwise rather abundant Reedbuck in order to take a shot with bow and arrow. On this particular trip I was very fortunate to spot an especially good ram on a distant hillside the first afternoon of my hunt and had spent every minute since then trying to figure out how I was going to get close enough. Outsmarting a mature Reedbuck ram was one thing but I had to contend with a rather large group of females constantly with him. My first attempt had failed miserably when, just before I was close enough to take the shot, I was spotted by one of the ever vigilant females; her sharp whistle sending the whole group running. I was pushing my luck with the big ram and knew very well that each failed attempt at getting close to him would only serve to make him more wary and that he would not stand to be hassled for long. Experience had taught me that old rams such as this chap only give you a precious few chances before disappearing into thin air, something that was a very real possibility as the ram could easily be swallowed up by the immense open country I was hunting in.
Although fairly well distributed throughout South Africa, the relatively small stretch of the Midlands near the quaint little settlement which is Nottingham Road in Kwazulu Natal has always produced some of the most spectacular common reedbuck (Redunca arundinum) trophies in the entire country. Great genetics, the perfect habitat and very high numbers of these medium sized antelope makes this corner of South Africa one of the best kept secrets for those who are looking to take a record book trophy.
Although tactics differ from each hunter, or outfitter, to the next the method that has worked well for me in the past is early morning scanning of likely looking valleys or areas where a big ram was spotted, as common reedbuck are very territorial, in hopes of not only spotting a sizable ram, but also one in an area that will enable you to get close enough to ensure an accurate shot with your bow, which for most bowhunters is under 50 yards. Two things are absolutely essential for this type of hunting and which no bowhunter should be without – the first is a compact and accurate rangefinder, and the second is a pair of high quality binoculars. The reason for this is simple, firstly a rangefinder enables you to accurately measure the exact distance to the animal as guessing the yardage in open terrain can be very misleading and secondly, a high power pair of binoculars do what human eyes simply cannot, and as you will be spending many hours trying to pick out the tawny coloured reedbuck amongst a sea of thatch grass, a superior pair of optics will enable you to spot the small tell tale signs that betray the presence of a ram, this often being just the tips of the horns protruding from the tall grass, as reedbuck prefer spending the majority of the day lying up in marsh land, valley bottoms, maize fields or areas with sufficient cover, only to move from their bedding areas in the early mornings and late afternoons to feed. Although most people will agree that the common reedbuck is an exclusive open plains specie, they do adapt well when introduced to relatively thick bushveld on game farms, but will however still seek out and congregate on the more open areas on the property, something to keep in mind when hunting them in areas which are generally outside their natural distribution range.
The second day of my hunt dawned cold as a gravediggers heart and I was hoping that I would be able to find the big ram again as I sat at the breakfast table listening to the ominous wind outside while stirring the warm cup of coffee in my hand. As I would discover later when I got to the property, the initial close contact with the ram the day before had caused him to move his group of females to a distant hill on the far side of the farm. As I crested the plateau he immediately broke away from the company of the females and took off toward a distant maize field to seek refuge amongst it’s thick stand of Klitsgras that was now growing where tall maize once stood. Although I was thankful that he was finally on his own and that there were no longer so many eyes on the lookout around him, I could clearly see that he was very agitated and that I would have to make the most of what little chances I got. I gave him about twenty minutes to settle down before slowly moving in the direction I had seen him go, only moving five yards at a time before scanning the ground ahead. This soon paid off as I spotted just the tops of his horns within the stalks of klitsgras. I immediately sunk to my knees and planned my route ahead, but I had just started moving forward when I felt the wind hit the back of my neck. Two seconds later the ram burst from cover a mere 40yards ahead of me, only stopping briefly at about a hundred yards to look back over his shoulder before disappearing out of sight. At that point I was sure that all was lost and that the ram was probably well on its way to some distant hideaway. Feeling extremely frustrated I gathered my gear and headed back to the vehicle, which would at least provide some shelter against the miserable conditions, although I doubted that even the warm and snug cab would lift my mood.
Much later I happened to glance at my watch and noticed that two hours had already passed since I had flushed the ram, so I suggested to Evan, a local Professional Hunter who was accompanying me on the hunt and who knew the area like the back of his hand, that we take a slow drive along the boundary of the property. He agreed. My instinct told me that the ram would surely want to get out of the icy cold wind blowing from the nearby Drakensberg Mountains and that the only shelter I could think of in the direction he had run were the relatively high contour lines of the maize fields. I was grasping at straws but it was a better option than sitting around or admitting defeat. We set off and my mood soon lifted when we started to see the first couple of reedbuck, albeit sub-adult rams and a few females, they were doing exactly what I had thought, lying down tight against the contour lines on the downwind side. A couple hundred yards further along the substantial stretch of maize fields my spirits soared as we finally spotted the big chap. I did not need my binoculars to tell me that it was indeed him lying there two hundred yards away, already attentively staring in our direction as his tall horns stood out starkly against the winter grass. We immediately made a u-turn and headed back to the top of the field and well out of view of the ram as not to make him any more nervous than he already was. I knew that this would truly be my final chance at shooting this trophy as the boundary of the property we were hunting on, a simple five strand cattle fence, was only eighty or so yards below the ram position and if I bumped him now, I would definitely never see him again as I was sure that by now he had had enough of being pursued.
My plan was to slowly but surely make my way down to the unsuspecting ram, while constantly making sure that I kept the atrocious wind that was blowing across my front and almost directly toward the ram as far possible in my favour. I had also instructed Evan to give me about ten minutes before driving back along the road we had spotted the ram from. This would hopefully hold the ram’s attention as I tried to slip in within shooting range behind him. Checking my bow one last time to ensure all was well, I set off toward the unsuspecting reedbuck. I gave the position where I reckoned the ram to be a wide berth should the wind suddenly change again. Progress was slow due to the upturned earth in the rows where the maize had stood only a short time ago, but I was in no hurry, methodically placing each foot carefully while constantly scanning ahead to avoid bumping into other unseen reedbuck on the way. I soon found myself on the same contour the ram was hiding behind and judging from the plants and grass growing on the top of it I surmised that I should be between eighty and a hundred yards from where big ram was lying. This was it; I quietly took off my backpack, removed my boots and nocked an arrow. From here on I would close the remaining distance with only socks on my feet, gradually moving ahead while hugging the curve of the contour, stopping every few paces to scan ahead. It soon became apparent though that due to the substantial grass and small bushes on the top of the contour that I would only see the ram when I was dangerously close to him. My pulse was racing as I moved closer still. I was about thirty yards away from a particularly high stand of grass when I finally saw the first sign of him. He was, no doubt, looking at Evan in the distant vehicle but both his ears were pointed back toward me. Two things struck me immediately, the first was that there was a very small opening in the grass through which I could thread an arrow, but although I could see the big rams head and neck I could not yet see his body, which meant that I would have to move even closer to the ram which was already on high alert. The slightest mistake now and it would be game over. Any foreign sound, a carelessly placed foot or a glance back in my direction and the ram would be gone in a flash.
Keeping as low as I possibly could and not daring to look up, I moved even further into the rams comfort zone. After a dozen agonizingly slow paces I knelt and, with my bow in my left hand and the rangefinder in my right, I took a reading through the gap and right next to the ram. 18 short yards. I lowered the rangefinder and hooked on my release, smoothly drawing back I came to my feet and moved into the shooting lane. I felt incredibly exposed as the huge ram's body slowly came into view. I noticed that he was lying half on his side facing directly away from me, so I calmly settled my sight's top pin just ahead of the kidneys and an inch to the right of the spine. A shot here would put my arrow straight into the vitals. I let out a half breath and confidently touched the trigger. The arrow flashed through the gap and came to a shuddering stop against the far shoulder, a perfect shot!
The mortally wounded ram was rocked sideways by the impact and stumbled as he got up. As he ran off toward the next contour relief swept over me as I realised that I finally had him. I had just arrowed the biggest reedbuck I have ever seen! Laying my bow down, I had just lifted my binoculars to my eyes when I saw him kicking up dust. He was finally mine. Moments later as I knelt beside my trophy I was filled with sheer excitement and utter appreciation as I knew full well how lucky I was to have gotten so many chances at this stunning trophy, the third and last of which concluded with me shooting an incredible 15 5/8” common reedbuck with my bow.