Spiral horns and Curious Diversions
Carefully laid plans for a classic African plains-game hunt take an unexpected turn.
We left the hills in mid-afternoon after failing to find the record-class buck known to be up there. Wind-blown mists from an imminent winter storm hindered glassing, and at any rate, we had another plan for evening. Beyond a well-kept farmstead, we came upon a behemoth green tractor dragging chisel plows over muddy ground, and assuming it was the landowner, stopped to thank him for allowing us to hunt the place. Emerging from the fogged-up cab was a big ruddy-faced man dressed in wool and brown duck. As we joked about wayward bucks and mud-splattered tractors, a lanky teenager popped out the door, and he was followed by two younger boys. Though fairer and less weathered, they clearly were the man’s sons, keen to help Dad christen the farm’s new machinery.
It was an all-American scene a long way from home. Welcome to Africa, but an Africa far different than the dusty savannah, sweltering miombo forest, and verdant floodplains I visited on previous safaris. This was a region of prosperous farms lining valleys hemmed in by the mighty Stormberg Mountains.
I was on the middle leg of a whirlwind plains-game quest along South Africa’s eastern seaboard, sampling limited days at successive spots in a tour arranged by the highly regarded Crusader Safaris. This outfit has exclusive hunting rights to more than 1 million acres on conservancies scattered across the Eastern Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal provinces. Unlike most hunting that occurs on farms and ranches throughout South Africa, Crusader’s operation is strictly fair-chase.
Enough distance separates the camps that I was due to encounter different animals and eco-zones as we ventured from the temperate south to the semi-tropical north. All told, Crusader offers more than 40 game species, and while I could have been happy hunting most of them, I wanted to set the bar high. And so I fixed on the region’s native spiral-horned antelope—kudu, bushbuck and nyala. It would be a stiff challenge to take genuine trophies of all three elusive spiral-horns, and doing so would provide a great tale to share with American Hunter readers.
But for now, my spiral-horn plans were on hold.
After bidding good-day to the farm family, we headed for higher elevations as the skies opened up with a slurry of rain and sleet and soon could see whitewash collecting on the sides of mountains whose tops were buried in clouds. All this mocked our afternoon plans, because the animal we were after—the one that had brought me to the Stormberg area—lived right up at the ridgelines.
On a continent famous for its surprising fauna, the vaal rhebok is a decided oddball. A member of Africa’s diverse antelope clan, it occupies habitat normally reserved for wild sheep and goats, and in fact its coat is more like wool than typical antelope hair. Spindly legs and an elongated neck give vaalies a gangly appearance, and their heads are a mismatch of floppy ears, bug eyes, a long nose and spiky horns like lacquered chopsticks.
Eight or more inches of horn makes for a good trophy, but the real draw for most hunters is the challenge of climbing above timberline in pursuit of an ultra-wary critter, and then making what likely will be a long, wind-whipped shot. It is the same thrill that pulls hunters up mountains around the globe, and quite an exception to most African hunting, including the chance to hunt in snow.