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The Springbuck

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Given an open invitation to go hunting which animal would be your first choice? One of the Big Five? An animal that is particularly rare or difficult to hunt or a species that you have never hunted before? Or would you, like me, rather hunt one of your old favourites? An animal that is close to your heart because of certain characteristics or because you know the animal’s habitat and habits and because that particular species stirs your emotions in one way or another whenever you see it in the veld.

When you hunt, what about the animal or the whole setup is important to you? It seems to me that some trophy hunters are only interested in those all important inches - to get their names in "The Book". Some people favour rare species that dwell in remote corners of the earth. To others the beauty of the surroundings might be important and, beauty being in the eyes of the beholder, their favourites may be found in the Alps or Alaska, northern Canada or the scorching dunes of the Namib.

A good number of hunters enjoy the element of danger - they prefer their prey to be capable of fighting back. Their favourites are Africa’s Big Five or the big bears of the northern hemisphere. I suppose many would jump at the chance to hunt any of the Big Five, but they do not particularly appeal to me. Having taken only two dangerous game animals, a leopard and a buffalo, I am not actually qualified to judge dangerous game hunting. I was alone though, when I shot these animals, there was no PH to hold my hand and protect me. I am afraid that modern-day dangerous game hunting would not suit me at all. I am fiercely independent when I hunt. I prefer to do my own thing - on my own. Being forced to hunt under the protection of a PH, whose job it is to ensure your safety at all times, a government game scout and several ‘trackers’ seem to turn the so-called ‘dangerous game’ hunt into a rather bland affair.

Because of my job, I am lucky enough to have had several opportunities where I could stalk buffalo all on my own. Once I spent a whole week among buffalo during which I stalked and "killed" several animals by dry-firing. I had two scary moments and was lucky to escape unscathed but even that did not light a yearning in my soul to hunt buffalo. Maybe I would change my mind after having hunted buffalo or elephant with a PH, but until then these ‘safe’ hunts where you share the veld with a large number of people do not appeal to me.

The animals that give me the greatest pleasure to hunt might bore you to death - they are not particularly tough or rare and normally do not pose a danger to the hunter when wounded. They are the strikingly beautiful and nimble springbuck and the majestic southern greater kudu.

The springbuck get its common name from its habit of pronking when alarmed or especially when in a playful mood. When a springbuck pronks, it lowers its head, arches its back and bounces stiff-kneed off the ground in a series of high leaps. While doing that a marsupial-like pouch on its rump (in Afrikaans known as the pronk) opens like a fan to display the long snow-white hair it contains. The springbuck’s Zulu name, Insephe, which means "shining tassel" refers to the pronk’s white hair.

Some black tribes in South Africa tell a beautiful story on how the springbuck got its Zulu name. Many years ago the sun god came down to earth but he was murdered by humans and when he died, both the sun and the moon died and the earth became a cold, dark and desolate place. The springbuck somehow survived and hiding in a cave the animal prayed to the gods not to destroy the earth because of the sinful ways of the humans. After many months the goddess Mother Earth decided to answer the springbuck’s prayers and once again gave birth to the sun god who immediately restored the warmth and life on earth. Mother Earth then rewarded the springbuck by giving it the name Insephe. She also told springbuck that he will be known as the animal of light, faith and reliability. Apparently some black tribes still believe that when the last springbuck dies, the sun and the moon will die in the land of the shadows and the world will end.

A free spirit, the springbuck once trekked across southern Africa at will. They thrived on the great plains of the Karoo, Free State and Bushmanland. When the Europeans arrived, hundreds of thousands were shot because they competed for grazing with livestock. Despite the unrestricted shooting, rinderpest and severe droughts that decimated their numbers the springbuck prevailed and today it is a valued game animal.

Springbuck don’t do well in wet climes and their preference for the sun-drenched plains is perhaps the reason why they are my favourites. I too, am not happy in rainy places. Deny me sunlight for a day or two and I am down in the dumps. Another reason why I love the "springbuck plains" is because they are home to birds that are close to my heart. Where the springbuck dwells, you will invariably find the Namaqua sandgrouse, the Karoo and black korhaans, the magnificent kori bustard and the beautiful little Namaqua dove.

Due to their preferred habitat springbuck have always been difficult to hunt on foot and subsequently many are culled rather than hunted - from vehicles or during driven shoots where the hunters wait in ambush for the buck to be driven towards them. I enjoy the challenge of pitting my skills against the springbuck on a one-on-one basis on foot and always try to get within 200 yards before pulling the trigger. To approach springbuck on foot in open terrain is extremely difficult, because they have phenomenal eyesight and usually run off at the first sign of danger.

To get close enough for a shot you have to resort to trickery or be prepared to leopard crawl for long distances. If he has the right calibre/load combination, an accurate rifle and a rangefinder to determine the distance to the animal, a hunter can obviously shoot them from long range but that is far less challenging than stalking close and in my eyes long range sniping is not true hunting. Getting as close as possible is the challenge. Crawling openly on all fours as if to pass them has worked for me on many occasions, enabling me to get within 200 yards.

But even if you get relatively close, accurate shooting is still required because a springbuck’s vital area is only about six inches in diameter and when you have crawled a long way and must shoot quickly it is not that easy. Brain or neck shots are options but not advisable when hunting alone and on foot. The brain and neck bones are small targets and animals rarely keep their heads still enough for long enough to ensure accurate shot placement. If you wound a springbuck (they are very tough for their size) you will not be able to follow up that animal that say, had its jaw shot off.

The first antelope I ever shot was a huge springbuck ram that I took on an open plain in Namibia, the country where I grew up. It was a huge ram and we (my late father and I) were able to close the distance to about 75 yards before running out of cover. I used my father’s open-sighted .303 Lee Enfield loaded with 174gr PMP factory ammunition and shot it squarely through the shoulder. That was in the early 1970s and since then I have taken quite a number of springbuck with open-sighted rifles.

One of the toughest hunts for springbuck with open sights took place in the Moordenaars Karoo two years ago. The country is very rugged, dry and open and after hunting for three days I finally managed to shoot a female from 74 paces. The day I shot her my final stalk took several hours due to the openness of the terrain. I had to hang back and finally use a low rise and a shallow dry river to get close enough. When the small herd disappeared behind the rise I actually had to run at a crouch for about 150 yards to get into position for the shot. A 140gr Nosler Ballistic Tip out of my 7x57 Mauser decked the animal on the spot. Because of the amount of crawling I had done during that three-day hunt, I was stiff and sore for days afterwards. I have also used my .375 Mauser with open sights to take a number of springbuck, the last of which was killed at about 60 paces.

The springbuck does not only appeal to me because of its beauty, preferred habitat and the challenging hunting it offers, but also because it is the tastiest buck (for me at least) in Africa. Its meat is tender, has a wonderful flavour and does not require marinating or dressing up. Springbuck also makes the best biltong and dried wors (sausage), two South African delicacies.

Koos Barnard is an ex-professional hunter and a full time gun writer, having published hundreds of articles. He was born in Namibia and has been a keen hunter since his youth.

Finally; whenever a springbuck’s live is taken the hunter is reminded that this is indeed the animal of light. At the moment of death the pronk opens to display that beautiful, snow-white hair. So next time you kneel beside insephe be thankful for the sun’s warmth and its life-giving light.

In the next issue I will discuss the majestic kudu and the reasons why it is a favourite.

• The Springbuck •
• The Kudu •
• Hunting the Zebra •
• The Blue Brindled Gnu •
• Deja vu in Zimbabwe •
• Living dinosaurs •

•  •

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