A tough task, but possible.
By Craig Boddington
This article originally appeared in the 2023 July/August edition of Safari Magazine.
The little antelope was far up a brushy ridge, just a tiny yellow spot. Harley Young was on the rifle, and it was one of those shots I was thankful I didn’t have to make.
The rest was steady and Young’s rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor was plenty accurate. The hard part was seeing the small animal. Agonizing minutes passed before the shot sounded. The klipspringer dropped with a perfect shot. Harley Young, 80 years young, had his Tiny 10.
Initially, most African hunters are drawn to dangerous game or the glamorous antelopes like kudu, sable and nyala. In planning early safaris, most of us give only passing thought to the little guys. We might take one or another in a chance encounter, but rarely are they high on the wish list.
This changes over time. Small antelopes are an acquired taste. They grow on you, especially when you decide they are interesting enough to hunt specifically, and then they defeat you.
Africa is rich with the little guys in the family Neotraginae. Bush duikers, forest duikers, dik diks, sunis, grysboks and more. Our record system identifies 40 dwarf or pygmy African antelopes. No known hunter has taken them all. With several areas closed to hunting, no one ever will. In the Southern region of Africa, from Zambia southward, there are just 10, and each is a possible prize. I’m not sure who came up with the “Tiny 10 of Southern Africa,” but my friend and fellow writer Peter Flack did the most to popularize the concept. Taking all 10 is a tough task. It won’t be done on one safari and will likely require hunts in at least three countries.
The accompanying table addresses the 10 alphabetically: Blue duiker, Cape grysbok, Damara dik dik, klipspringer, Livingstone’s suni, Natal red duiker, oribi, Sharpe’s grysbok, southern bush duiker and steenbok.
Some are highly localized and uncommon, others widespread and plentiful in proper habitat. All are essentially solitary, often seen as mating pairs or family groups, but never herds. They live in a world filled with predators of all sizes, so are naturally wary and nervous. Keen senses and flight are their only defenses. Below, I address them in ascending order of difficulty, easiest to hardest. This ranking is my opinion. Almost any of the little guys might be taken in a chance encounter. This is common with some, and unlikely with others, but it can happen. The difficulty comes when hunting for a specific animal. In that context, any of them can pose a major challenge. However, because of limited range, habits or habitat, some are more difficult than others.
Creatures of dry, grassy plains, the pretty little steenbok is widespread across Southern Africa, and generally plentiful in Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. Unlike most of our Tiny 10, they are often glassed at distance. I rate them the least difficult because they are diurnal and visible, most often taken as targets of opportunity. That said, because they are common, a really big steenbok with 5-inch needle-pointed horns is a rare prize and a tough quest.
Southern Bush Duiker
The common, grey, or southern bush duiker is the most widespread and probably the most plentiful of the Tiny 10. Densities vary, but they occur throughout Southern Africa, generally preferring thornbush habitat. They are somewhat nocturnal but are often seen in the early morning and late afternoon. Spot-and-stalk is the common technique for hunting them and, like steenbok, bush duikers are often taken in chance encounters while in search of other species. The bush duiker and the oribi are the largest bodied of the Tiny 10.
Although widespread in Central Africa, the oribi is spotty down south. In South Africa, they are primarily found in certain areas along the Indian Ocean coast north of Port Elizabeth. Oribis are generally found near water, so are plentiful at the mouth of the Zambezi River in Mozambique, occur in central Zimbabwe, and are fairly widespread in Zambia. In the right area, oribi are fairly easy to hunt. Like steenbok, they are diurnal and highly visible, so are susceptible to spot-and-stalk tactics. However, their habitat is open and, like all the little guys, the target is small and requires a precise shot.
Damara Dik Dik
The Damara dik dik is an enigma to me, closely related to the Kirk dik dik of Masailand, but separated by hundreds of miles. The only dik dik of Southern Africa, they are found in dry thornbush and mountain habitat in central and northern Namibia, and on up into Angola. When I first hunted Namibia in the 1970s, I saw Damara dik diks, but in those days they were protected. Although long open, they are a special-license animal, with small quotas. So, it’s essential to hunt an area that both has them and has permits. Once there, I’ve found them fairly plentiful and not exceptionally difficult to spot. Dik diks are diurnal, although mornings and late afternoons are the best times to locate them. A good technique is to walk slowly around the lower slope of rocky hills, glassing carefully into thornbush at the base. Usually found in pairs, the hard part is to identify the male because their tiny horns are nearly obscured by a long tuft of hair between the ears. It’s likely they’ll spook before a shot is possible, but this isn’t the disaster it seems. Dik diks are highly territorial. Sit down in cover and be patient. It might take an hour, but chances are they will circle back. Distances are usually too great to use a shotgun, and the dik dik’s skin is paper-thin and fragile. Accuracy is essential, but the standard plains game rifle will cause too much damage. Many PHs prefer .22 rimfires as they are enough gun and cause almost no damage, but they are questionable in terms of distance. For me, the .22 Hornet is the perfect tool. This mild, useful cartridge is incredibly popular in Southern Africa and many outfitters will have an old Hornet available.
Although spotty in South Africa, the klipspringer is widely distributed in northern Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is a creature of rocky hills and mountains. The klipspringer (“rock jumper” in Afrikaans) is pretty much the only member of the Tiny 10 that usually offers a genuinely physical hunt.
Though often glassed from below (as we did with Harley Young’s animal), the “klippie” is very much a mountain animal, so hunting them among their jumbled boulders can be a real scramble. As with Damara dik dik, the klipspringer is a special-permit animal in Namibia, so if on the wish list, it’s important to speak up when booking a safari. Where they occur, I’ve found them reasonably plentiful in Namibia. The klippie is an interesting animal, with hollow hair that is more like a miniature quill. It’s a stand-alone genus and species, with no accepted races or subspecies. Above Southern Africa, the klipspringer follows the Great Rift Valley all the way to Djibouti and Somalia. They are habitual, usually frequenting the same rocky hills. Wherever hunted, glassing and stalking is the usual technique. Often, you’ll hear their shrill alarm bark before you see them, then spot them dashing up a ridge, jumping from rock to rock. Twenty years ago, in northeastern South Africa, PH Jasper Atchison showed me a new trick. We set up on a rimrocked cliff, and he started calling, using an alarm bark. Sure enough, a pair came dashing in from far across the canyon, and the male offered a shot at the base of our cliff at 200 yards.
Natal Red Duiker
The Natal red duiker is only found in northeast South Africa, primarily KwaZulu-Natal, and on up through Mozambique into southern Tanzania. In South Africa, this animal is uncommon and exceptionally difficult to hunt. In Mozambique, especially in the Coutadas around Marromeu Reserve, they are plentiful and widespread. So, it’s easier if you hunt them in the right places. In Coutada 11, where I’ve done most of my Mozambique hunting, red duikers aren’t seen every day, but in the course of a week, most hunters will have an opportunity. One of the many forest duikers, they are most plentiful in the thickest habitat, but we generally glass them along the edges. A common landform in this region’s miombo forest is slight depressions that hold water and create pans, open grassy clearings with thick forest beyond, with small papyrus swamps in the middle. In this area, nyalas are typically hunted by sitting and glassing pans in the late afternoon. Almost invariably, red duikers will be seen along the edge. Hunting with Mark Haldane 15 years ago, I took my first Mozambique nyala just before sundown. As we approached our prize, Mark stopped and put up the sticks saying, “That’s an enormous red duiker. Take it now.” I followed orders, for a most unusual mixed double of nyala and red duiker.
In South Africa, the Natal red duiker is difficult, but the sunis that share its thick habitat are almost impossible. In South Africa they say: “I’m going looney, looking for a suni.” There, they are only found in the thickest coastal bush of KwaZulu-Natal but are widely distributed in Mozambique.
Taking a suni by a chance encounter is highly unlikely anywhere. Although diurnal, these little antelopes are denizens of cover that is so thick it is near jungle. In the thickest tall tree miombo forest of coastal Mozambique, what we call “suni forest,” they are plentiful. You must go into the forest and hunt them carefully and slowly.
Once trapped and snared to near extinction, after 30 years of careful management they are so common today that on any given day success is likely, and in two or three days, almost certain. As with so many of the small antelopes, they are territorial. A big male will likely be seen again nearby. We hunt them by slowly walking the forest roads and trails. Or, by sitting on a termite mound in the early morning or late afternoon. In the thick cover, the suni would be a ghost if it weren’t for its continually flicking tail, which usually gives it away. Because the cover is so thick, a shotgun is the most common tool. However, in recent seasons I’ve felt that a small, accurate rifle like a .17 HMR, .22 magnum, or .22 Hornet is a better and more precise choice. You must still find a window in the brush, but that’s the same with a shotgun. For its size, the suni has amazingly long, deeply ringed horns. They are wonderful little antelope.
The two grysboks, Cape and Sharpe’s, are blocky, attractive little antelopes, reddish in color, with a sprinkling of white in the coat. Their horns are smooth, short, sharp and coal black, rising more vertically from the skull than with most of the small antelopes.
The Cape grysbok is as much as 25% larger in body and horn. It is separated from the Sharpe’s variety by several hundred miles and has the smallest range of our Tiny 10.
Cover-loving and nocturnal, its primary range is thick coastal bush at the extreme southern tip of South Africa, both east and west of the Cape of Good Hope. There is also a major pocket of Cape grysbok in the Eastern Cape, in the coastal forest west of Port Elizabeth, and in the dense Addo thornbush around the massive Addo Elephant Park. The majority of Cape grysbok taken by sport hunters come from the Eastern Cape population. I tried hunting them back in the ’80s and again in the ’90s. I saw plenty of grysbok, but never a shootable male. I finally took one in 2004 with little difficulty, hunting with Rex Amm out of Grahamstown. That’s my one-and-only. The Cape grysbok is the only one of the Tiny 10 that I haven’t taken multiples of. It gets my five stars for difficulty because of its limited range, the thick cover where it lives, and because even in the right place at the right time, there’s no guarantee.
The blue duiker is the smallest of the numerous forest duikers, and probably the world’s second-smallest antelope after the royal antelope.
Interestingly, the blue duiker occupies a huge range in Central Africa but is very limited in Southern Africa. In RSA, it’s found in dense coastal bush along the Indian Ocean and in Mozambique near the Zambezi Delta. It’s also found in northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania, then continuously across Central Africa to Nigeria. Its range barely dips into northern Zambia, as does the yellowback duiker. In the Eastern Cape, the blue duiker is a specialty animal, but a possible prize. I did two blue duiker hunts with Adrian Ford south of Port Alfred. Ford had a pack of lovely little dogs trained specifically to hunt blue duiker. The hunt was exciting, fun and successful. Of the Tiny 10, only with blue duiker do both sexes carry horns. The male’s horns are thicker, but not much to look at or judge. I was standing on a trail with a shotgun, the barking of the little dogs coming closer. I saw movement, and a blue duiker stepped into a patch of sunlight. I could see the horns, complete with thick bases. In recent years, now armed with trail cameras, a lot of blue duikers are taken from blinds over artificial waterholes. In coastal Mozambique, a lot of blue duikers share the dense suni forest with Livingstone’s suni. In fact, a lot of “sunis” we saw scampering away were actually blue duikers. In the forever-shadowed forest, it is not easy to tell them apart. In recent years, tree stands and artificial waterholes have brought some blue duikers to bag, but most are taken by spot-and-stalk hunting. The numbers are high enough that success is pretty good, but of the 20-some huntable species in Coutada 11, I rate the blue duiker the most difficult.
The Sharpe’s grysbok just tips into South Africa’s Limpopo Valley, but occupies a large range to the north, including most of Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. Despite a large range, this animal exemplifies Jack O’Connor’s famous line, “Even where there are lots of them, there aren’t very many of them.”
There probably are a lot of them, but they’re largely nocturnal, cover-loving, and it doesn’t take much to hide them. I said that almost any of the Tiny 10 might be taken easily in a chance encounter. In October 1984, Russ Broom and I drove from the Lusaka airport toward camp in Zambia’s Kafue region. Once in our hunting block we stopped, uncased rifles, and checked zero. Twenty minutes later Russ spotted a nice Sharpe’s grysbok. Somehow, I missed the easy shot. When Mother Nature smiles, it’s unwise to kick sand in her face. I didn’t see another grysbok for five years, taking my first in the Zambezi Valley in Mozambique in 1989. Grysbok are relatively common all through the Zambezi Valley on both sides of the river. In the years we were doing a lot of filming in the valley, the grysbok quota was generous and never filled, so all hunters had grysbok on their TR2 Zimbabwe hunting license.
Often in the early morning one would flash across the road. At night, we’d see them in headlights as we headed back to camp, but night hunting was not allowed. Few were taken. Certainly not more than a handful per season. Then we had a brutal drought year in 2005 that nearly eliminated the ground cover. With the bush so open we saw grysboks all over the place. Any hunter who put in a bit of time could be successful. I didn’t shoot one that year because I didn’t need another. The previous year, I was stalking a group of buffalo in some thick stuff. Suddenly, a big male grysbok walked between me and the buffalo, not 50 yards away. I was carrying a double .470, but my great tracker Mukassa had my scoped .375. We made a quick trade while the grysbok was hidden, and I shot him when he stepped out. That was a simple and easy hunt, but Sharpe’s grysbok has my vote for the most difficult of the Tiny 10.
Col. Craig Boddington is an author, hunter and longtime SCI member. He is past president of the Los Angeles Chapter, a decorated Marine and C.J. McElroy Award winner.