I’m with you
Without moving my head I slowly made a ‘down’ gesture to my hunting partner, and sensed the gradual movement into a crouch behind me, duplicating my own. Over the tracker’s shoulder the long, tinder dry grass hid all but the vague form of the warthog. I slid the sling of the old 30.06 off my shoulder and felt the familiar worn chequering settle instinctively in my left palm, the adrenalin surge raising the hair on my neck and forearms. Time stood still. I took in the immediate surroundings, scanning for an opening in the dense bush and undergrowth, somehow without losing contact with the motionless pig. “Hopeless” I thought, “you’ll never get a clear shot in this lot, and he’s going to run now!” As if by telepathy the boar took off through the sea of grass, showing teasing glimpses of beautiful tusks, and disappeared into the deep donga running diagonally across our front. I straightened, took a few quick steps to my left and rested my forearm against the gnarled trunk of an old bushwillow. The rifle snugged into my shoulder as I despairingly scanned the far bank of the donga over the 4 power scope. “He’ll never come out within sight.” The thought was hardly formed when the warthog scrambled up the far side and stopped broadside on, head and neck exposed beyond a stunted, shrubby bush. The crosshair settled below his ear and the shot spun him around, to lie kicking in a rising cloud of dust.
I had made the bleeding cut before the tunnel vision receded, the surroundings gradually encroaching into my space. The hand on my shoulder startled me. “Good shot”, my hunting partner said softly.
The idea of hunting with Karin was born some months previously, the moment I noticed her pulling on the long swimming fins as I was about to slide from a diveboat into the blue waters off nHambane in Mozambique, to swim with a whale shark. “Are you coming in?” I’d asked incredulously, “of course” was the unhesitating retort, “I’m with you”. Karin had never been in any doubt that together we could and would achieve our dreams, together. It was then that I fully understood for the first time that the innumerable evening talks about the ‘complete’ relationship, the total partnership, could be realized. For too long had I believed that some experiences were mine alone, that some quests were private and could not be appreciated, or understood, by others, particularly the fairer sex.
Born in communist East Berlin, Karin’s early life excluded so much of what we Africans take for granted. Her outdoor life consisted of visits to the tiny family garden plot, when the children would weed and hoe whilst her father tended the vegetables. Never able to keep an animal, she had nurtured an impossible dream to own a dog. When, at nineteen and at considerable risk, she contrived to escape via Jordan to West Berlin she experienced for the first time the joy of freedom, of movement and association, and of choice. Within a few years she gained employment with a travel company and soon achieved a senior position in the branch. Opportunities for travel in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, opened her mind to the possibility of a new life in a new country. A visit to distant relatives in Namibia, and subsequently to South Africa, ignited the spark. This was a world to live in, to grow with, and to love. Five years later, aged thirty-seven, she arrived in Durban with her young son and somewhat reluctant husband. We met some 6 years later, both divorced and living alone. It was soon apparent that we shared a real love for open, wild spaces, and much of our life together has centered on enjoying time in the wild.
We had arrived at the Mozambique resort at midday, having left an elephant sanctuary that morning and flown in from Lanseria airport. The previous few days had been spent with a herd of rehabilitated elephants, some orphans of culls, others survivors of snares with the prehensile tip of their trunks severed by the cruel wire, others removed from private ownership where they had outgrown the capacity of the owners to handle them. Spending literally hours with these magnificent creatures in the bush of the reserve, touching, feeding, grooming, and walking them was an experience never to be forgotten. The next day, on the open ocean, we sighted the whale shark and the thought dawned on me, to walk with the largest land animal one day, and swim with the biggest fish in the ocean the next!
That evening, over a meal of grilled prawns and fresh barracuda, I broached the subject of hunting. “We’ve camped together, fished together, ridden together, you’ve done everything with me, but”, I mentioned cautiously,” I didn’t hunt last year. Perhaps I’ll have a chance this winter. Would you hunt with me?” Her answer was hesitant, “I’m not sure what to expect, or what makes you want to hunt, and I don’t know whether I’d like it, but I’d like to be with you even if it’s only once, to see for myself”, and then, thoughtfully, “why do you hunt?”
There it was again, the challenge to justify what so many folk see as simple bloodlust. “But this is different” I told myself, “this is someone who really wants to understand, to really know what it means to me”. With that thought came the sudden realization that I had always kept my hunting so personal, so private, because I had never wanted to rationalize it. I had avoided the obligation of trying to explain the complex emotions that accompany the hunt, whether successful or otherwise, because I did not want it analyzed. I did not want to give anyone the opportunity produce an argument which I could not answer for fear that it may somehow diminish my experience. I knew that despite all the preparation, anticipation and visualization of the desired outcome, the act of hunting is a fundamental human activity. It is an innate quest for survival, albeit no longer that of provision of food. In our world it can only be compared to situations of warfare or natural disaster. And no, I don’t disregard the dangers of everyday urban, and suburban, life in our country, for that too is warfare. Social warfare it may be, but when the rule of law is blatantly flouted in every sphere of social life, then the conventional concept of law enforcement is no longer valid and every citizen becomes a soldier by default. Then again, one may ask, “the rule of who’s law?”. The traditional, frequently brutal, but effective law of Africa or the sophisticated, complex and often contrived law of the “first world”, of charge and countercharge, and endless appeals?
My reply was hesitant but determined. If ever I wanted my feelings understood, this was the moment. “I yearn to hunt because it is an enormous challenge if done ethically, which means that I will pursue my chosen game in its own environment, where it is free to move and hide. It means that I am forced to focus my underdeveloped senses, and pit them against the finely tuned senses of a free wild animal. It means that I must move in that animal’s environment, be it bushveld or desert, with stealth and skill. I must find the animal, alone or in the herd, stalk it, and take it cleanly.”
“I can assure you”, I said, “that night often falls on a weary, thirsty, disconsolate hunter staring into the coals of a small fire, but somehow the dejection is always accompanied by the acute anticipation of the thrill of the hunt to come. Even in disappointment there often lies an element of satisfaction, when I know that I could perhaps have taken a risky shot, but that my own discipline did not allow it.”
“I yearn for the indefinable emotions that accompany the final moments of a clean kill. The fleeting seconds that elapse between the decision to shoot, the act, and the first physical contact with the animal, the interminable seconds of acute focus and concentration knifing through a sea of overlapping sensory and mental stimuli. For me the final action is instinctive, almost dreamlike, reflecting the preparation, practice and visualization that preceded the hunt. After the fact I find that it takes an effort to recall the events as they happened, like trying to remember the details of a dream.”
“Yes, night sometimes falls on a weary, thirsty, elated hunter, staring into the coals of a small fire, but the elation is always tinged with a deep sense of responsibility. This emotion of responsibility is the most difficult to describe to a non-hunter. Sadness, regret, remorse – none of these are true when I have killed cleanly. My emotion is that of complete satisfaction with the accomplishment of a challenging goal, while recognizing the liability of having taken a life. That liability is what brings to a hunter the realization of his own mortality, and is the reason why you will seldom hear a true hunter boasting of his exploits.”
The dust drifted and gleamed, golden in the early sunlight as I rose to the gentle pressure of the hand on my shoulder. “Good shot” she said again, and as my eyes focused on hers I knew that this was the way I would always wish to hunt, sharing the primeval experience with my life partner.