Hunting Lessons For Life - by Peter Flack and Derek Carstens
Sample Chapter - Chapter 19 | OUT OF ONE'S DEPTH
Taking on challenges is the way to gain experience and grow. However, when the mismatch between the challenge and the experience is too great, and you are out of your depth, the consequences can be dire.
Crocs have always held a morbid fascination for me. Difficult and challenging to hunt I am always acutely aware that of all the animals on the earth they, together with great white sharks and big Alaskan Brownies, simply regard man as a potential meal. Given the opportunity, they will eat you. Not out of self-defence, but simply as part of their food chain. I'm not sure how we stack up in their line of preferences but make no mistake, along with sitatunga, wildebeest and zebra, we're on the menu!
Now embellish this knowledge with stories of lairs beneath the waterline into which half drowned, severely ripped meals are dragged, and the fact that hunting them usually means you are out of your natural terrain. Then add the brain shot requirement and you have the recipe for a thrilling, chilling hunt. Get in over your head and you can add terrifying to the list.
My thriller was born in the Okavango when I innocently asked my professional hunter "got any decent crocs in the area?" "Not a lot" he replied, "but there's a pond a couple of miles away which legend has it is home to a brute."
"A brute - what do you mean a brute?"
"I mean a submarine!"
"OK, lets go."
Not quite that simple. The pond was about two hours away by motorboat. We had two days left and Pete was also after a leopard. Basically, accessing the brute would mean splitting forces. The PH would take me early in the morning, leave me on my own and come back at the end of the day, having guided Pete on the leopard. How did I feel about that. "No problem."
And so it started. Ronnie explained that the pond was surrounded by floating papyrus islands. They varied in depth by between one and two feet but you couldn't stand on them. You simply fell through them leaving your legs popping out the bottom like kebabs in the clear, submerged water on which they float. The only solution, by way of cover, therefore, was to tow a makoro behind us. The plan was to then hide it in the papyrus and yours truly would lie in it and wait for the brute. Our guide had last been in the area a couple of weeks prior and had noticed flattened reeds on the waters edge of one of the islands, suggesting the croc's basking area. So, off we went on the wing of a rumour about a big croc and a prayer that he would choose the same spot on April 15th 19 voetsak to return for a glorious, lazy old bask.
My .300 H & H was loaded, together with sustenance for the day and Joseph Wambaugh's "The Onion Field," to help keep me awake. Cheerful little number I must say, yet curiously appropriate. All about why and how people get involved in situations beyond the realm of the initial intent and the inevitably dire consequences.
The trip to the pond was full of the usual bravado. However, as we got into the second hour, I became aware of the fact that we were a long way from anywhere. I mean a long way.
We got to the pond at about 8:00pm. There it lay just like the PH had described it. About 150 metres East to West and 100 metres North to South. And there, too, was the basking spot. Flattened reeds and drag marks indicated fairly recent occupancy. The sphincter tightened ever so slightly and the pulse quickened perceptibly.
"OK Derek - we'll place you in the makoro directly across the way from "the spot." "Sure, no problem - sounds great. " And so we wedged the makoro deep into the papyrus with just its nose protruding ever so slightly to ensure a clear line of fire. I stumbled in and eventually got flat and as comfortable as one could be lying prone in a makoro. The line of fire was great and we were all set.
"Luck" said Pete,"we'll see you at about five this evening." "Sure, have a good day" and then they were gone. Within seconds the sounds of the motor disappeared, absorbed by the water and the islands. And so I found myself totally alone, atop a floating papyrus island in the middle of the Okavango in search of a brute croc. Talk about naïve, stupid or dumb. A perfect 10 on all three.
Within a second of total silence settling I felt fear encroaching. Not dramatically, just a heightened sense of awareness - we are talking a seriously heightened sense of awareness and a feeling that I was possibly out of my depth. I consciously blocked this out and settled down. "Be quiet and be still" were my watchwords.
The breeze was in my favour coming gently from the north east. The theory was that if he appeared, the croc would do so at the extreme eastern section. He would then case the pond and approach his basking spot from the West.
Initially I was all eyes and ears observing the movement of the water, the lilies, the gentle wind induced ripples barely breaking the smoothness of the surface. After an hour or so, things on the fear front improved - pulse down, little man chipping at the brain saying "What are you doing here?" had knocked off and I settled into The Onion Field.
At 10:00 a.m. exactly it broke the surface. When I say broke, I mean it showed itself in the form of two eyes exactly where the PH had theorised. To my extreme right and casing the joint. The rush of adrenaline was instant and massive.
Then it disappeared - gone, vamoosed. Fear kicked in. Had it seen me, was it coming for me, where the hell was it - oh Jesus!
It emerged again. Higher in the water. More head, touch of back and tip of tail. Brute confirmed. It drifted westward and was perhaps 50 metres away at about 45 degrees. Seemed it was staring directly at me and then it was gone again. Fear coursed through me like a pump action - I could literally feel my body atrophy as it devoured my reserves.
Out of one's depth
By now, I knew I was irrevocably out of my depth and, for the first time in my life, was totally afraid. Out of communication with the outside world, faced with a reptile I couldn't see, in an unsteady makoro, floating on a bed of weed. Visions of massive, huge, powerful jaws and the brief struggle filled my mind. I was convinced it had seen me and the two or three minutes after its submergence felt forever. But nothing happened. Till it popped up again thirty yards away directly in front of me confirming that it was truly casing the place. It re-confirmed its brute status and gently drifted to my left.
Relief washed over me. Approaching the western end of the pond it drifted north and then disappeared. Time 10:45 a.m. - it had felt like a lifetime.
Fear was now replaced by the excitement of the hunt. Seemed reasonable to assume the next sighting would be near its basking spot so I gently brought the 300 H & H to bear, aware that any knock in the makoro would sound like a bass drum to the submerged croc and the hunt, at least for me, would be over. The theory held and at 11:00 a.m. it emerged from the water in all its glorious grotesquesness, lumbering on to the bank, a great, shiny, green killing machine, perfectly adapted to its environment. Within seconds it had assumed the prone position, evil grin and all. The set up was perfect. Now all that was required was a perfect shot to match.
Alas it was not to be. The shot must have been one millimetre too high on the head, the top of which shattered on impact. The beast convulsed in a massive arc before landing and disappeared into the water. Clearly it was hurt badly but I hadn't anchored it with a clean brain shot. My homework on the perfect placement had been found wanting.
Instantly the emotions went into ebb and flow again. Excitement became apprehension, became fear, became terror, as I stood up shakily in the shaky makoro, re-chambering a round in my rifle with an unsteady hand. Within minutes it broke water halfway between myself and the shoot scene, twisting and convulsing but seemingly coming in my direction.
I got off two shots and it was gone again and so began the longest wait of my life - from 11:00 to 17:00 standing bolt upright in the makoro, surrounded by bullets I'd misfed into the rifle because my hands were shaking so badly.
Of course, at times like this, all rational thought disappears. Hindsight ones like "If its wounded it will want to get the hell away from you." "Its cold blooded, fear isn't in the equation." "It survived the longest of all and right now is not a happy bunny. "
After two hours I felt my stomach muscles, taut as a washing board, start trembling so I bent down for some water. The makoro tipped and in an instant my legs were kebabs. Ripping and pulling and yelling at the reeds I managed to haul myself back in and then went into a cursing frenzy. Silence followed and shortly afterward I "heard" sounds in the papyrus behind me. I emptied the magazine in the general direction. More silence which became an eternity.
And so they found me at 17:30 p.m. , standing and perceptibly older than I had been when they left me. Pathetic really. Wiser but still pathetic.
We never did find the beast - came back the next day to see if it had floated but Pete reckoned it had become trapped under one of the islands and its corpse devoured by its replacement. Assuming of course it had died.
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