What defies ethics to you as a hunter? Is it the thrill of the chase in an environment that is acceptable to you and respectful to the animal you’re pursuing, or is it the comparison of what the world considers acceptable? Dare I say it may be a matter of personal choice, a place within oneself where you as a hunter feels comfortable with your actions.
I’m not entirely sure that I hold the answer to this complex question, but I’d like to share a story that has got me thinking, possibly in a manner that I have not considered before.
But before I get ahead of myself, picture the scene of a nervous PH standing in his booth at the Dallas Safari Club, trying to come up with a plan after a request from a good friend wanting to hunt Vaal Rhebuck and Klipspringer. It’s not the fear of pursuing these masters of the mountains, the dare devils of the rocks or the spotting scopes of the hills, but the thought of doing so with a man without hips.
Never the less, fast forward to early June – we always make a plan. Well this time it turned out we were part of the plan.
Lee and Debra Friend, together with their son, Coltyn, were back on their second hunt with John X Safaris, and with them came two of the finest guns we’ve ever seen. Lee was packing the Gunwerks 6.5×284 , and Debra and Coltyn shared the Gunwerks 6XC, both were fitted with Nightforce optics, an important aspect in the entire setup.
All three hunters enjoyed a great deal of success, hunting a variety of world-class trophies, including a massive 43″ Cape Buffalo and breath-taking Giraffe. As per usual the fun never stops with the Friend’s, one of the many reasons we enjoy having them on safari!
On the plains game front a number of shots were long, but nothing more than 200 yards, all fairly acceptable under African conditions. Up to that point we considered all “very” doable for Lee. The challenge would come on the mountain dwellers; we were yet to see if Lee’s cowboy days had caught up with him. At age 54, Lee boasted 2 replaced hips, a couple fused vertebra and the years in the saddle had taken their toll.
Lee’s Vaal Rhebuck would be our first challenge on distance. It’s for good reason why they’re considered one of Africa’s toughest. Unparalleled agility and sight allows them to stand out from the pack. A lucky break one morning saw two months of scouting and planning come together, a great Vaal Rhebuck was spotted. A slow, but cautious stalk ensued; finally we were in position – 400 yards out.
Lee dialed in the yardage, took a deep breath, and squeezed off a round.
With a Vaal Rhebuck going down at 400 yards – Lee most definitely had our attention. The few remaining pessimists started off as optimists the following morning.
Next up was the ever elusive Klipspringer, having earned its name from the Dutch pioneers, in direct translation, “rock jumper”, this specie is one that truly lives up to its name. The secret in hunting Klipspringer often lies with a great pair of binoculars, just spotting pairs high up on the cliffs and rocky outcrops is a challenge in its own right, and then successfully hunting a trophy quality male takes skill.
A misty morning with very little visibility and even less activity was set to dampen our spirits when at last our trusty tracker, Zwayi, spotted a pair below the mist line. I’ve often wondered what he looks for when it comes to Klipspringer spotting, as he has an uncanny ability to spot at least 80% of Klipspringer before anybody else does, truly the best I’ve seen from a tracker.
The pair was far, to be exact 678 came flashing up in red on the lens of the range finder, an easy number to remember, surely a coincidence I mentioned to Lee. We decided we needed to half that distance, or at least try. While the previous days Vaal Rhebuck shot was still fresh in our minds, this target was a third the size and much harder to spot.
While the Klipspringer were a long way out, they were lower than usual due to the mist, and to our advantage we had a deep ravine to follow for most of the way. If our cover held, we’d get a shot.
At 358 we’d reached the end of our cover. One of the many run-offs into the ravine formed the basis of a difficult, but steady setup. Lee basically wedged himself into position. Now all we had to do was talk Lee onto him.
Within minutes Lee had him, and this is where the quality of a good telescope cannot be emphasized enough. Throughout the setup I had to make way for Lee’s gun while my spotting scope took the backseat on top of a grassy pod. Not being able to get steady with my spotting scope, Lee simply dialed up his scope on his rifle and quite calmly pointed out the ram from the ewe – wow! Who needs a spotting scope with a telescope like that!
After two successful hunts the question I posed to myself on the ethics, was not how far or how long I would consider an ethical shot on a hunt, as neither shots truly pushed the gun to its limit. More so the question of what the hunter got out of his equipment and his experience, while understanding his capabilities and feeling confident within a secure distance of making a clean shot, ultimately an ethical kill.
For me, I personally found both hunts tough, extremely rewarding to guide, and an exhilarating experience to be a part of. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I could successfully guide a man without hips to two mountain dwellers of this quality, let alone both within 3 days of hard hunting.
The Friend’s have pioneered us into virgin territory when it comes to long-range calibers and hunting, who knows what the boundaries may be? As long as those boundaries are ethical and both hunter and guide understand their equipment’s’ capabilities, then I predict exciting times ahead…. As exciting as the thought of Gunwerks hosting a group right here with John X Safaris at the end of July!