Contributed by Chris Petersen, A confessed safari and photography addict.
Be forewarned, this is NOT a short story. It has become almost an epic tale of an unbelievable safari adventure that is told to all who will listen. It is about a magnificent trophy hunt … but it is more about all the incredible experiences that collectively make up what is simply called a “safari”. It is also about a John X Safaris PH, who turned into one of my closest friends on this planet. I hope that my story can begin to capture the experience for those of you who have been on safari … and to create a burning desire for those planning your first safari adventure.
I’ve never met anyone going on their first safari saying: “I’m going after the small stuff”. Like most first timers, visions of Kudu and Gemsbok filled my first safari dreams. I had the good fortune of having Carl van Zyl from John X Safaris as my PH to help me earn my Kudu and Gemsbok.
On that first hunt, he also introduced me to the challenges of hunting South Africa’s national animal. After chasing black, white and common Springbok on the open plains of the Karoo, that was about as small a target as I ever wanted to hunt in that big open country. Some humbling misses made me appreciate the Karoo and Springbok!
Like many, both my wife and I were bitten by the safari bug and literally had to return the next year to celebrate our 35th Anniversary. After her Zebra and Black Wildebeest the first year, my wife added a fine Hartebeest, Blue wildebeest and an Ostrich. I then decided to go even bigger with an amazing Giraffe hunt, followed by a beautiful Nyala. Our second, supposedly “last” safari ended with an unexpected Bushbuck, which looked very small at 300 yards in the scope.
I ended up returning to Africa two years later with my brother and a close friend on a special photo safari. But when you have 3 Eastern Cape Spiral horns, you discover that you need to complete the “spiral grand slam” of the Eastern Cape. Again, John X Safaris and Carl provided an amazing hunt for a magnificent old “blue” Eland bull. When you realize how big an Eland actually is, and you already have a Giraffe and many plains game filling your trophy room, it’s about the time that a sane hunter starts to ask questions … what else is there to hunt? More importantly, where will I put the trophies?
Over the camp fire while toasting success on the Eland, I posed the “I have no more trophy space” dilemma to Carl. He immediately said, “my friend I need to introduce you to the Tiny 10”. By my third safari I was reading the John X Safari blog and I remember Carl’s article about the Tiny 10. I knew that these species were the “small stuff” … literally the smallest members of the 27+ species of antelope in Africa.
Maybe it was by the 3rd (or was it the 4th?) glass of wine, or maybe it was the late night, but when Carl started rattling off the names of the Tiny Ten, they all sounded exotic. But one specie in particular stood out from the crowd … the Blue Duiker. It is the smallest of the South African antelope weighing in at a whopping 4 kgs … that’s just over 8 pounds for a monster! After shooting an Eland weighing in at almost a ton, I decided then and there I wanted to hunt the smallest of the Tiny Ten and capture a “Monster Blue”.
There is a very good reason that you hunt with a top quality outfit like John X Safaris. You quickly learn that trophy Blue Duiker are not found just anywhere. John X Safaris has millions of acres of hunting concessions, but you also need at top outfitter that knows where the trophies are. You need an outfit like John X Safaris and a PH like Carl who has the relationships with well managed land, with strict quotas for quality trophies. Well that meant some serious planning, which meant another safari … perfect!
What started as a lively discussion and education on the Tiny Ten around the Eland campfire, turned out to be a safari that was 3 years in the making. I came to learn Blue Duikers are not only very small, they inhabit the really dense stuff … I mean thickets so thick that a big guy like me could never get through. One of the reasons hunters don’t think about Blue Duikers is that you rarely ever see them! So how in the world do you hunt them?
If you watch the hunting shows on the American sports channels, you might possibly have seen a Duiker hunt. In fact Mike Rogers from SCI was filmed on a Blue Duiker hunt with John X Safaris. Like most Duiker hunts, Mike and his PH stood by a trail in dense cover waiting for the Jack Russel Terriers and trackers to “push” the Blue Duikers past their position. Rogers made an amazing “wing shot” with his shotgun on a streak of blue to get his Duiker. And as I recall, it was a top trophy with horns exceeding 1 inch! With Blue Duikers you have a whole new appreciation for the specie, and what constitutes a real trophy.
I have absolutely nothing against hunting with dogs in any way. I have hunted with dogs for other species. Dogs have been hunting with man since they joined at the campfire. It is not an ethical issue for me at all. For me it was a question of the quality of the hunting experience I was looking for.
I grew up as a North American whitetail hunter. One of the absolute joys of the hunt for me is being able to see the animal in their habitat, study their moves, and have the time to determine if you will take the trophy. I tried to explain this to Carl, and as a true sportsman, I thought he understood.
My quest for a “Monster Blue” was interrupted by another safari. We were hosting Randy and Cherie DeFreece on their first John X Safaris hunt. Of course we had to make a trip to the magnificent Karoo where they had their dream hunts for Kudu and Gemsbok. I would refer you to the John X blog posts on “Catching a Ghost” and “She Safari” to get a feel for amazing Kudu and Gemsbok hunts.
During this Karoo safari I developed some severe back issues, and it was clear that I would not be doing any climbing, or even much walking. Since Carl and John X Safaris practically live in the Karoo during hunting season, he was crafty enough to put me in a valley to take a wonderful Klipspringer without a painful walk. He then guided my wife to a wonderful Steenbok. Now that we had two of the Tiny Ten … we were definitely hooked.
The discussion about Blue Duikers continued over the course of the next two years. Carl is a master PH … and it turns out that he listens extremely well. He finally said, “Come back on safari for your “Blue”. I’ve been scouting for three years and I have finally found a concession where we can hunt Blue Duiker from a ground blind. I’ve never seen anything quite like it … both you and I will absolutely enjoy it. In fact, we should be able to film the whole thing.”
As it turned out, the concession was literally by the ocean near Kenton-on-Sea where Carl’s parents live. The concession is carefully managed and imposes strict quotas and hunting standards. One first scouts for “middens” … small mounds of dung that the males use to mark their territories. You then know where to set up in prime Duiker habitat. Like Whitetail Deer, they actually use trail cameras to study Duiker movements and patterns.
After finding a prime location, they then build a very small watering hole. Duiker definitely come to drink. But, the water and some surrounding feed are prime ways to attract Vervet Monkeys. Why are monkeys important? Duikers tend to feed primarily on forage that drops to the forest floor. Since the monkeys are always dropping left overs from forest canopy above, Duikers tend to follow the Monkeys.
As it turned out on our 2013 safari, we had brought some very close friends. We had been touring with them, and even went Waterfowl hunting. We also wanted to be with them as they took their first African trophies. So we were down to just a couple of days for the Duiker hunt. To say that I was anxious would be an understatement. There would no room for error … I only hoped that the setup was as good as my PH described.
The morning of the hunt could best be described as an early fall Whitetail hunt. We got up well before dawn, and made our way carefully down the trails. The major difference was you could hear the waves of the Indian Ocean rolling in on the shore in the distance.
I was given explicit instructions about not spreading any scent and keeping noise to an absolute minimum. In the dark we finally arrived at the blind. That’s right … a popup ground blind exactly like you would use for deer or turkey hunting! As the first rays of light began to penetrate the thickets, it began to look exactly like a deer trail and setup … but in miniature … like 1/10 life size.
For any of you who have hunted in blinds, you know that the first light plays tricks on you. You see things that are not there. Then you catch of glimpse of movement or what you thought might be a Duiker. I was told not to make a sound. So I tapped Carl on the shoulder when I saw a Blue Duiker flash, proud that my old eyes could even make it out. Carl gave the thumbs up, so the game was on.
As it turns out, my trusted PH was frustrated that I did not shoot. But the Duiker had gone behind some heavy brush from my view point, and I did not feel comfortable taking the shot. The Duiker then faded into the bush. I was told later that at least two other Duikers came and went that I did not see, but they did not present a shot.
As often happens in blind hunting, things went dead. Well that’s not entirely true. Some amazing birds came to visit the waterhole as light filtered through the trees. We continued our wait, I was given strict orders to stay alert and keep the gun up on the sticks, because you never know when “it” will happen.
And then it happened. There they were … the Monkeys! Climbing and chattering all over the trees above the water hole. Carl came to full alert as did Jose who was manning the video camera.
About two minutes later there they were … it was like a pair of Duiker just materialized out of thin air. To say that they were jittery, twitchy little creatures would be an understatement. They looked like two small, dark Chihuahua dogs in constant motion.
When one finally stopped broadside in front of the miniature watering hole, Carl gave the signal to shoot by tapping my leg. Somehow out of the corner of my eye, I saw the other one literally jump over the standing trophy and land in front of it. Somehow I managed not to squeeze the trigger until the intruder had cleared. It turned out that it was the female of the pair who bounded in front. She finally drifted off and left the “Monster Blue” standing in front of watering hole just 25 yards from the blind.
I was using a shotgun, as is typical with hunting Duiker due to all the brush. When the shot went off, the roar was deafening and I think everyone jumped, especially me. When the dust cleared, no Duiker! How could anyone possible miss with a shotgun at 25 yards?
To say that Carl was nervous would be an understatement! He scrambled from the blind to see what had happened. As it turned out, the momentum of the shot had carried the tiny Duiker into the miniature water hole so that he was out of sight from the ground blind.
Once Carl discovered the trophy, there were shouts and high fives all around. We had an amazing “Monster Blue” with horns measuring 1 7/8 inches, with great solid bases. Forget all the measurements … it was truly a monster trophy because of the amazing experience.
As you can see from the photo this creature is small. That is a 12 gauge shotgun shell by the Duiker! Blue Duikers are truly the tiniest of the Tiny Ten. But what they lack in size, they make up for in character. Simply an amazing animal that I had the privilege of observing in its native habitat for an entire morning. In fact, like I said, we were lucky enough to have Jose capture the entire hunt on film!
I don’t know if it is possible to have a bad African safari. I do know that the quality of the outfitter and your PH can make the experience absolutely incredible. I simply cannot thank Carl and John X Safaris enough for working for over 3 years to find a way to hunt Blue Duikers from a blind. Based on my experience, I know that you could actually take a trophy Blue Duiker with a bow from the blind setup I was in with John X Safaris. You do not have to settle for a Duiker hunt with dogs and drivers.
As I sit and write this, I’m in my trophy room sitting under my Giraffe, across from my monster Eland. I’m reliving my whole safari experience by sharing it with you. The hardest part will be waiting until spring when the Monster Blue mount arrives from Splitting Image Taxidermy in Africa.
What will be the trophy room favorite? As you can tell by this epic tale, the Monster Blue is at the top of the list. But you know what, we now only have 30% of the Tiny Ten.
We might not be done just yet with the journey they simply call “safari”! If you haven’t booked yours yet, what are you waiting for?