My Dream Giraffe Hunt
by Bertus Pretorius and written by Willem Pretorius
It was always one of my big hunting dreams to hunt a big giraffe bull. So, when I saw one day that a good friend of mine, Marco Mulder, was advertising a giraffe bull hunt in the winter of 2012, I was sold. I contacted him immediately, and after some negotiations, we agreed on a price and date for the hunt. I was very excited and convinced my father that we could make it a good family outing. My father agreed as long as I could prove to him that I have done my 'homework' thoroughly regarding my chosen quarry!
I started to do some more research on the net and my old hunting magazines and was amazed about the various interesting hunting info I found...
The giraffe is the largest ruminant and the tallest mammal on the planet, with the shoulder height of a male at 5 m and an average weight of 1200kg. Horns are of solid bone and carried by both cows and bulls; they are skin-covered, tufted and thin on the female and thick and bald on top for the male. Always present will be the thorn trees on which he feeds throughout the year. The giraffe is neither water dependent nor territorial and tends to avoid the very dense bush, browsing mainly during the day; they never lie flat on the ground and rarely sleep.
Man and lion are their only real predators, and due to sheer size, the lion risks being kicked to death using mainly their front feet if he chooses to attack. When hunting giraffe, the approach can be very difficult due to the terrain in which they are found, added to this is his exceptionally keen eyesight, acute hearing and a very cautious disposition, all of that combined with his enormous height, definitely gives the advantage to the giraffe and not the hunter. While spot- and- stalk hunting, the shot placement can be tricky as the heart lies in the center of the chest, to the front and above the shoulder joints The lungs are positioned high in the chest cavity. The brain is very small and positioned just below and between the horns. A quartering frontal shot would be ideal to break the prominent shoulder joint; try to avoid any quartering-away shots!
(Here I was, thinking that as a young hunter I already 'knew' all that was necessary to hunt a giraffe!...thanks Dad!)
The huge hunting concession, with the Big 5 also available, is near Hoedspruit, and my father booked for the weekend at the nearby Cheetah project. That evening I was so excited about the upcoming hunt the next day, that I could hardly sleep, playing the shot placement from different angles over and over in my head.
Early the next morning we met Marco and the PH, Uncle Pieter (his father-in-law). As we drove to the hunting concession, I realized for the first time how big and unspoiled this area was. I got goose bumps looking out over the trees and wilderness area, just thinking what it must have felt like a hundred years ago on the same wild terrain going on the same giraffe hunt, but then only on horseback!!
As we approached the hunting lodge, I could see by the numerous tanned hides that this is a place with an abundance of wild animals. I immediately also recognized three giraffe hides in salt, as well as big hessian bags full of warthog tusks.
Uncle Pieter gave me the 7x64 with 175gr bullets, and we proceed to the shooting range so I can get 'used' to the gun, but also for him to observe my shooting proficiency. I felt very relieved when all of my practice shots were on target, and we departed on the hunt.
After some scouting around, we saw three giraffes, but as we came near them we saw that they were females and we let them be.
Some distance further we saw a lone bull in some thick thorn bushes, and commenced stalking it. The terrain was very inaccessible, and before we reached 200m from him, he ran off.
We continued and after some kilometers we saw in the distance another solitary giraffe. From the dark colour of the spots on his skin, we could deduce that it was an old bull. We stalked it for about 35 minutes until we were about 30 meters from it. The thorn bushes were very dense and I couldn't get a shot. All that I could see was its legs!
Suddenly a young bull to our left, that we were totally unaware of, sounded the alarm as it looked down on us over a tree and they ran off. Back at the vehicle we drank some water when suddenly another PH, from a different location on the concession, enquired over the 2-way radio whether we were still looking for a good trophy bull. He told us that he is standing on a rise and with his binoculars he has spotted another good dark solitary bull giraffe.
When we reached the spot, the other PH was standing on the back of his bakkie with his binoculars and pointed at the giraffe, about 350 m away in another thick thorn bush spot. His advice to us was to walk towards the giraffe for the first part before we stalk for a shot, as the giraffe had already spotted us.
On the way I saw Uncle Pieter loading his .458 and the PH his .357, so I followed their lead and proceed to load a bullet into the chamber of my 7x64.
We were very close to the giraffe and circled it twice at +/- 30m, but due to the dense thorn bush we just could not get a clear shot. I was getting a bit nervous, as he was all the time looking at us through the tree tops and I was afraid that he will start running at any moment now. Suddenly he gave two steps forward and I could see his flank clearly. Uncle Pieter quickly set the shooting sticks up and at +- 30m I got a clean quarterly towards shot.
I could clearly remember the bush became dead quiet, and when my shot shattered the silence, the shot just 'felt' good. The bull ran away as if nothing has happened, and suddenly we could hear the rest of the herd that, until then, was invisible to us, running away following the dry riverbed.
We heard something fall down, and Uncle Pieter told me that it could only be 'my' giraffe. After about 50m of tracking we still could not find a single drop of blood, and decided to go down to the dry riverbed and try and follow the blood spoor from there, as we thought that he would have followed the fleeing herd. After still no sign of any blood, the PH said that he thinks that I've missed the giraffe - at 30m! I was now really rattled and started questioning myself and the shot, but Uncle Pieter told me not to worry, as he still thought that it was a good shot.
The one tracker decided to look for signs in the tree line on the edge of the riverbed, and Uncle Pieter and I followed him. After a short while we heard him whistle and thought, seeing that there was still no blood after more than half an hour's tracking, that the giraffe was still standing and needed a final coup de grace, and started running in his direction.
We were relieved to find the giraffe dead where he had fallen, halfway under a brush. Uncle Pieter then also pointed out the bump half way down its neck, where it broke when he hit the ground. After a huge effort we managed to turn him, and saw that the shot was perfect, just above the heart and still not a single drop of blood! From the spot where I'd shot it, up to where we found it, was about 100m in the dense thorn shrubs and bushes.
The recovery team, with a tractor and trailer, were summoned and we had a huge struggle to get it loaded. Back at camp another group of hunters had just arrived, and they also took photos to send home and scare their wives. Let me tell you, a giraffe has a really thick hide, and you need a good quality skinning knife, otherwise it becomes blunt in a very short time. I took the hide home to a tannery and the meat was given to the trackers.
Another big surprise awaited us when Uncle Pieter asked me whether my brother and I would like to come and hunt some meat for him as they needed some more for the workers on the concession. He said that we could shoot kudu, impala, blue wildebeest or warthog, as long as it was head shots. Wow!
My father agreed that he would come and pick us up again that evening, and we set off on our second hunting trip. I shot a blue wildebeest, my brother two impala and my friend a huge warthog boar. What a wonderful hunting trip!
We had made some wonderful friends and in the end hunted a lot of animals. The next day my father took us for a couple of days to the adjacent Kruger National Park. I must confess that I found it very difficult, while there, not to look at certain species out of a hunter’s perspective!