Seeing Stripes

Seeing-StripesBefore I start let me tell you, zebras are not horses. Hear me- zebras are not horses.

I love Africa. More than that I love hunting and sightseeing Africa. If I could afford it I would go every year and stay as long as the money held out. I have yet to hunt Africa with my son and I hope, God willing, I will get the chance in the next few years.

In August 2008 I made my third trip to the “ Dark Continent”. The trip included Larry and Sue Daughdrill, a 25th anniversary present from Larry to Sue, and my significant other Sherry Oden. After margaritas at the Atlanta airport we were ready for our short twenty-hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. I can tell you that my six foot four inch frame is not made to fly coach but my wallet is not made to fly first class. I just have to take the good with the bad. Twelve hours into the flight the plane lands in Dakar, Senegal on the west coast of Africa. This is for a crew change and to freshen the plane. Everyone is excited because we will get to get off the plane to walk around a little, wrong!!! We are not allowed to leave the plane so the excitement is short lived. After an hour on the ground we are off again for another eight hours to Joburg. As the hours slowly pass the anticipation of our next two weeks grows and grows. Finally, what seemed like an eternity, we are on the ground. Customs cleared, bags claimed and out into the waiting area to meet my friend and guide, Shawn Van Ryne.

I met Shawn two years before when he came to the U.S. to learn bird taxidermy from me. We became good friends during his two-week stay and he really became a pretty good bird taxidermist. I was really looking forward to seeing him work on his home turf.

Before we get to the zebra part of the story let me tell you two weeks in Africa just isn’t enough; too much to see and do. Everyone killed good if not great animals. Sherry harvested a huge blesbok that scored SCI number 38 in the world. Sue a fine 30-inch Gold Metal blue wildebeest and Larry a grand old 2000-pound bull eland. We all ended up with great trophies and wonderful memories. Now, for the zebra.

Remember zebra are not horses. On my first trip to Africa in 1999 I fell in love with zebras. They just kind of scream Africa at you. Zebras are the watchdogs of the plains. They have ruined many a long stalk by barking and running. When zebras run everything runs. The farther they run the more other animals join in. I guess when you have to worry about hungry lions anything that doesn’t look or sound right kind of makes you want to run.

The morning started with an hour-long drive through the heart of Zulu Land. Rich in history, the area we are hunting is where the British fought the Zulu nation in the late 1800`s. Where Shaka Zulu changed the way the Zulu fought and turned them into a mighty and feared force.
The particular area we hunted was quite mountainous. Hours were spent going up and down the steep, narrow roads looking for game. On the day I killed the zebra we were heading down the mountain when Shawn had Tooloni, our tracker, stop the truck and walk a couple of hundred yards down the mountain just to make sure there we no loose rocks that might send the Land Cruiser sliding down the mountain. Sherry stayed a nervous wreck and refused to ride in the back with Shawn and me.

At one point she even pulled the door handle off the truck trying to hold on. When Tooloni is about half way back to the truck I looked down into the valley some 800 to 1000 feet below us and feeding at the bottom are a dozen zebra. I quickly showed them to Shawn and within seconds we are “making a plan”. Just after we are about to put our plan into motion the zebras get nervous and head up the side of the neighboring mountain. I figured that was that. Boy was I wrong. Off we go to the bottom of the mountain and try and gain ground on the herd. As we get off the Land Cruiser we see the zebras going over the top of the mountain in front of us. Shawn and Tooloni take off in a brisk walk if not a jog. Shawn turned to me and in his best South African accent said “ Steve, are you coming?!!” I tried to reason with him, he being 24 and my Zulu friend 27. Where I was clocking in at 54 with a metal knee. Shawn and Tooloni are waiting for a sign from me when in the back of my mind I remembered an old Richard Pryor line. I looked at Shawn and said what the hell “ Nothing from nothing leaves nothing” and off we went..We headed around the base of the mountain trying to catch the zebras making their way down the other side. About thirty minutes into the chase Tooloni tells Shawn and me to stay put. He was going ahead and trying to locate the herd. Ten minutes later Shawn says we `ve got to go and off we went. We stopped under a large tree and Shawn starts talking Zulu to me. I thought he had lost his mind. Then, from the top of the tree, I hear Tooloni answering him. Later we had a good laugh over it. Our Zulu friend comes down the tree and tells us the zebras are 60 yards right in front of us. As we ease into position, Shawn puts down the shooting sticks and I get ready. I have an opening about the size of a softball and there are a dozen zebra milling around. Looking through the scope it’s just black and white stripes over and over again. Shawn never called a shot and I never put my finger on the trigger.

After about 20 minutes the herd gets nervous and off they go. We are over an hour into the chase now so where the herd goes we go. As we head up the side of a small mountain my young friends start putting some ground on me. When I catch up Shawn is standing on a ledge overlooking a small valley- he has the shooting sticks set up so I break into run to get to him. As soon as I get to him I drop the rifle into the sticks and look into the valley below. Nothing? Shawn points to some thick bush to our right about halfway down the mountain. He tells me the zebras are in the bush and Tooloni is going to walk in and push them out and into the valley below. There are two exits in the valley and both will offer a good shot. When the first animal makes it out of the bush I put my eye to the scope. Slowly, single file the zebras start out into the valley. As I looked through the scope I remember saying – zebra, zebra, zebra, my God what a zebra!! I had the animal I wanted, now to wait for the shot.

The longer they stayed in the valley the more nervous they were becoming. Soon the whole herd picked the exit directly in front of me and headed out. Trying to keep up with one animal when all you see are black and white stripes is a chore. As luck would have it, when the animal I wanted hit the top of the hill, some 230 yards away, it stopped for a split second and gave me a good quartering away shot. I squeezed off the 300-mag and heard Shawn groan loudly. He didn’t think I was going to take the shot. More important though, through the scope I saw the zebra stumble and thought I had made a good hit.

Shawn tells me to stay put. Tooloni heads up the hill and Shawn heads to meet him.. They are hollering Zulu back and fourth so I am in the dark. When Shawn hits the top of the hill he disappears. About ten minutes later he shows up–sits down on a rock and puts his head in his hands. “This ain’t good,” I say to myself. He then orders me to grab the sticks and come on over. When I finally make it over to Shawn he tells me Tooloni has found the herd. They are two valleys over and they have settled down. “ Do you want to keep going?” he said with a little disgust in his voice. We are two hours in now and not being a quitter I said lets go. Dr. Drez should be proud.

As we start down the mountain I start seeing drops of blood. I think to myself “ Shawn, a licensed Professional Hunter, if I see the blood surely he sees the blood. As we keep walking the sign gets heavier and heavier. Finally I stop and call Shawn over. When I show him the blood he says “ Steve if you walk another twenty yards your zebra is waiting for you” I broke into a dead run and sure enough some twenty yards down the trail, there is my zebra. The animal is even more striking than it was through the scope. After over two hours of chasing and staking I had my animal. Tooloni had gone down the mountain to get another Zulu man to help get my trophy down the mountain. Shawn and I positioned my striped prize and broke out the cameras. The hugging and high fives lasted a good five minutes.

No easy chore, getting a 900-pound animal off the side of the mountain took us all. When we arrive at the skinning house the taxidermist comes out in me and I begin supervising the skinning process. I take only a second to see the four Zulu men with knives have done this before and did not need my expertise. I was exhausted but still excited and. was pretty sure sleep wasn’t going to be a problem. The manager of the ranch told Sherry and me that zebra made his favorite sausage and was very excited to get the meat. I was more than happy to have been of service.

Back at “ Zulu Wings” our home away from home, Larry and Sue were already back when we arrived. Larry had killed his eland the same day. We shared a couple of adult beverages and told our stories in the finest detail. Soon supper was served, a great meal with great friends after a full day of hunting in my most favorite place. Just another fine day in Africa.

By: Steve German