Mysterious Causes Of Death In Animals Shot Without Any Vital Organ Penetration. Part 1. A Springbuck Ewe Dies For No Obvious Reason.

by Andrew McLaren
(Soutpan, Free State. South Africa)

The more you hunt, the more stories you have to tell!
A recent experience when an Australian client shot a non-trophy blue wildebeest bull as part of a cull hunt made me think back of two long ago hunts. To remain chronologically correct, I’ll first I’ll tell what happened on my first Kalahari springbok hunt.

I was a guest of a group of hunters with whom I have never hunted before. We were to hunt a number of animals in the true Kalahari. The hunt started when we stopped in a very big natural pan, just inside the designated hunting area, to refuel the Land Cruisers from drums of fuel and get a bite of breakfast after driving all night to get to the hunting area. As it was my first time with this particular group of hunters, I was offered the first shot. Now some guys were sipping coffee to get the taste of gasoline out of their mouths after making a small mistake with the fuel hose and sucking up gasoline to siphon into the fuel tanks. Others were just passing the time, when Mike, the leader of the group saw a lone springbuck far out on the pan. He asked me to, instead of rinsing my mouth with coffee to shoot the springbok ewe that was a long way off in the middle of the pan. I said; “Sure I’ll just walk closer and stay in line with the vehicles so she will not see me so easily, and when I get into range I’ll take the shot.” To this Mike replied with a smirk that, seeing that: “You, as a Professional Hunter, should be able to take the shot from here!”

S*&t, I don’t remember exactly how far it was, but she was really way out there! Anyone who knows Kalahari pans know that there is nothing to help you judge distance at all: Just bare clay flat as far as the eye can see. I hate taking unnecessary far shots: But here I was being put to a test by a group of very nice guys – who subsequently became good friends. I had personally tested the rifle, a Ruger 300 Win Mag and 180 grain Hornaday load the day before and knew for sure that the rifle was very accurate and sighted in for 250 yards. A very steady rest was found over a Land Cruiser front wheel that was turned very sharply out, with a good rest for my trigger hand elbow on the front bumper. I was, then (Please note the past tense!) a good shot and had often plinked at very far rocks with a big bore rifle. I had a good idea of bullet drop, but had at best a guess that this target was “very far”. How much hold-over would be required? Eventually I aimed just between the tips of the horns of the female that was standing facing us directly, and squeezed off gently. The trigger broke cleanly and unexpectedly, and I instinctively knew that the shot was good. But was my hold-over estimation close enough?

On the shot, after recoil, I actually saw in the telescope the bullet strike. Saw the whole body lurch on impact, faintly heard a “thump” – it was far you recall, but she did not go down. Instead she walked fast a tight little circle with tail wagging rapidly. I was very glad to see that she was on four good legs, and as she was facing me directly, I thought the bullet must have hit a lung, and that she will soon die. The encouragement from Mike and other friends to “Shoot it again!” was not heeded, as I was simply not going to miss a shot at a fast-walking animal at that very long distance. Although it felt like a long time that she was walking in small circles with tail wagging madly, it was actually probably less than a minute. Then she keeled over! By the time we got there she was stone dead.

My question was “Where did the bullet impact?” There was no sign of a frontal entry wound, and absolutely no blood on the carcass! Nor any blood on the ground where she lay. Strange! We examined the carcass even more closely and found a cut of about 1 ½ “ long in the skin at the bottom of the sternum or breast bone that had hardly penetrated the skin! The wound looked like just a scratch that removed some hair and 1/16” or about 1 mm of the top layer of the skin. A few very small drops of blood oozed into the cut – but so little that none dropped onto the ground. Look closely at a non-pregnant springbok female facing you directly – the ‘lowest’ point of the body is the front of the breastbone. Very strange to have an animal drop within a minute or less and then die within a few minutes, where there is absolutely no sign of a bullet penetrating into any vital organ. The actual reason for the death of this springbok remained a complete mystery to all of us.

That hunt was in 1986, and the possible cause of death remained a mystery until recently.

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