Old Harley Red & shanks pony

Crimpy surveys the savannah from horseback

My feet hurt. We had been walking all day—15 to 20 kilometres—but the distance didn’t even register as a nervous tick on the vast semi arid landscape that is the Greater Karoo. I’d returned to this beautiful East Cape region in August 2023 to enjoy another solo safari with good mate and PH Pete Wenham, who owns a huge property where the only evidence of Man is the occasional windmill and water reservoir.

Nature owns this domain: an expansive vista of plains, gulches, and plateaus stretching half a step beyond the limit of one’s vision and necklaced with a rim of chiselled mountains, alien-like rock formations and pillars… monuments to a forgotten time. And animals too. Plains game. A dozen or so species, scattered in herds; some interspersed and some keeping their own company.

It was these animals now that were the cause of my aches and frustration: springbok, blesbok, zebra and gemsbok. None were what I was after but they were the eyes of the plains and, in concert with the shifting wind, were alerting my quarry of our every move. Snorts, flicking tails, sudden flight and drumming hoofbeats all kept the wily old red hartebeest apprised of our attempts at subterfuge.

When I’d first hunted Africa nearly a decade ago, I had no desire to hunt a hartebeest. In fact, I couldn’t have imagined why any sane individual would find the ugly horse-faced critters with ‘Harley Davidson’ horns and ungainly gait appealing, but linger long enough and Africa will tip you on your head.

My penchant was to hunt old animals past their prime; they’d contributed to the gene pool and outwitted many hunters over time so proved a challenging adversary. There were a few to chose from.

Old Harley Red

“Let’s put my initials on one I like and not stop until we get him,” I said to Pete. “Make it a proper challenge.”

He was good for the task.

Well, thanks to the eyes of Africa, that wily old animal led us one hell of a merry dance—K after bloody K under the hot African sun.

Over a sundowner in front of the stone mountain lodge, Pete suggested a change of tactics. My feet ached and now my backside puckered at the thought of what was to come.

“You alright?” Pete asked as the sun crested the horizon.

I’d never ridden a horse before so NO I was not alright! But my nag was accommodating and I quickly eased into this style of hunting. Apart from the ‘different’ view the high roost afforded,

Pete explained that skittish animals were less wary of other animals than sticklike men. Even so, it took a good half day to locate old ‘Harley Red’ and he was nervous at the sight of us. He pranced about, kicking up dust and tossing his horse-like head then, as we closed to 300m, bolted out of sight.

We left the horses with the tracker under the crest of a rise and mounted shanks’ pony. A vast plateau stretched ahead. No sign of Red. Fortunately, Pete had sent another tracker to a distant knoll as lookout and he now radioed a SITREP—old ‘Harley Red’ had encountered some companions while making his escape and they’d turned him back toward us.

The only cover on this stretch of savannah was a lone bush and here we set up our ambush. Fortuitously, the hartebeest wandered past in single file 200m out. Pete identified old ‘Harley Red’ and I picked him up in my Swarovski scope. The .300 REM MAG reached out and put a full stop to the perfect hunt—one that was not without uncertainty, effort and challenge. And the old hartebeest died cleanly without knowing we were there.

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