Editor’s Note: We pick up the author’s article on African specialized game, in Central African Republic, prior to him taking down the #2 Mountain Nyala in Ethiopia. Marc had embarked on a hunt for giant eland 18 months earlier.
I was baptized on specialized game by Andre Roux, one of the few PHs not French, operating in Central African Republic at that time. Kappie, my cameraman, and I took a two-hour charter flight northeast from C.A.R.’s capital Bangui. Andre then met us at the air strip and we drove four more hours before arriving at camp. It was a 14-day hunt and I had two giant eland on license, along with a mixed bag of other game, including a lelwel hartebeest, Western roan and two Central Africa savannah buffaloes.
We rolled out of camp the next morning searching for “trace des eland.” That’s French for, eland tracks. There is virtually no such thing as spot-and stalk-hunting for Lord Derby eland. The limited roads offer minimal pathways into hunting areas, and besides, giant eland aren’t known for being too chummy with vehicles. The moment they hear engine noise, sometimes from miles away, they simply scatter into the thickest cover and you'll never see them.
So, all eight eyes of the four-man tracking team were focused on the roads, searching for spoor. We stopped intermittently to inspect the mineral licks, looking for fresh tracks also. After three hours of driving, Andre and his lead tracker Francois agreed the footsteps left at a salt lick by a small herd of eland were fresh enough to pursue, so we got geared-up and headed off on a field trip.
After fifteen minutes of walking I was drenched in perspiration. The temperature, at 9:30 a.m., was 106 degrees Fahrenheit. This was in the month of February. It gets significantly hotter here during March and April. To this day, the toughest conditions that I’ve ever hunted in are right here in Central African Republic. The terrain was flat, interwoven with savannah and thick stuff.
The locals describe the flora as savannah riverine. Occasionally there are pockets of open areas, but don’t count on finding giant eland there for a wide-open shot. The heat was consistently sweltering. The flies and bees were relentless. Hunt Africa enough times and your body will develop a certain resistance to insect bites. Instead of slapping them, you just squeeze them or roll them off. The venom barely creates a welt. Your body seemingly develops an invisible layer of protection. It’s definitely needed also to ward off fatigue, because you don’t want to have a tsetse fly freak out when you’re staring down the barrel at a Lord Derby eland. But this stuff is all part of the hunt. I expected it. Andre described it this way: “Hunting eland in C.A.R. Marc is not a walk in the park. This is hunting of the purest distillation and you must pay attention to the finest detail.”
For nine straight days, we were unsuccessful because I wasn’t paying attention to the finest detail. I will always remember Lord Derby as my most formidable African adversary. He beat me many times. Two hours after taking the tracks on day one, we caught up with the herd. Andre and I solo, the last fifty paces, to put us in shooting range.
The shot was doable at 155 yards. Andre glassed. I slowly raised my gun to the shooting sticks, but it never made it up to the tripod fork rest. A sentry cow detected my slight gun movement and the herd stormed off. They retreat for miles at a time. The next day it was a twig I stepped on, next a crunchy bed of brown leaves I stepped in, followed by a slightly aggressive hand movement brushing away some mopane flies. Six times in eight days I was made by a different member of the giant eland family.
Not only is it the largest of the spiral horned antelopes, but it has advanced sensory perception as well. Bigger eyes, bigger ears and a longer nose. Superior eyesight, hearing and smell. Not to mention the height advantage it has, which allows it to further detect your movement light years before you’re even in shooting range.
He spots you approaching by peering through pockets of the gardenia bushes before you're even close. He smells you even when the wind is not in his favor. These are the challenges to get the upper hand on giant eland in central Africa. Frustrated after nine days? Yes, but I wasn’t defeated. I simply had to hunt better. Stalk like a lioness. Strike like a leopard. We were seeing eland. I just wasn’t able to get a shot off. I went to sleep that night asking myself how would I ever get two giant eland in the next five days if I hadn’t even gotten one in the first nine days?
The Upper Hand | Day 10 Euphoria
Up for the challenge on Day 10, I did everything differently. No unscented deodorant, different shirt color and different hat. No sunscreen and no bug repellent. When we took the tracks at 7:25 this morning, my game face was already turned on. Andre estimated the herd might be several hours ahead of us. Smiling, I told him let’s go, and off we went. The several hours ahead of us turned into fifteen minutes, and there they were. Like images of animals in a mirage, there they were. I saw them, but I didn't really believe it at first. But I know they were there. I was not hallucinating.
About fifteen of them just milling around in extremely thick cover of mahogany trees and gardenia plants. We all froze. My eyes instinctively picked up the herd bull. The horn thickness of Lord Derby eland cows is miniscule compared to the mass and length of the bulls. Sixty-five yards in front of us the herd was slowly walking from right to left, slowly making its way to an opening in the foliage. It all just happened and instincts took over. Like a ballerina, Andre shuffled two steps to my left, gently forked the sticks in the ground, gestured with his right hand and told me, “Shoot him.” The Lazzeroni Titan 225-grain Swift A-frame hit dead center left shoulder. The animal hunched like a bull storming out of a rodeo gate.
All that tension and angst the past nine days was suddenly replaced by elation. I will never ever forget this moment, this emotion, this feeling! A golden moment of victory for me, giving this creature my deepest respect after hunting him on his terms. We found him 50 yards from where he was shot.
Not knowing if I’d ever get this moment again, Kappie conducted a two-hour photo session. Still pictures, video recaps and numerous on-camera interviews with Andre, myself and the trackers. He even climbed a tree to capture a neat shot of Andre and me admiring the animal. The eland was a 51” x 50,” and at that time, it went down as my favorite day ever hunting plains game. Little did I know what would unfold for me three days later or the next year in Ethiopia.
Day 10 in C.A.R. was a spectacular day. The struggles and hardships overcome in the previous days underscored the excitement that this accomplishment had brought. A victory procession, a serenade from the camp staff and champagne tributes all followed, and then it hit. We still had work to do, because I still had another giant eland to hunt. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.–Marc L. Watts