LD Jennings

The quest to harvest the Tiny Ten, which has led me to some special places in Southern Africa, has taken me to yet another one – the sand forests of Mozambique. The reason for our trip to this beautiful “garden” was to find the Livingstone’s suni and Natal red duiker. Spending a few days in this hunting paradise afforded us the opportunity to taste a bit of wild Africa.

It was the second day of our three-day hunt with Zambeze Delta Safaris. We were back in camp after a very successful morning, hunting Lichtenstein’s hartebeest. Professional hunter Poen van Zyl and I were discussing our strategy for the afternoon over a delicious lunch of hartebeest fillets and French fries. Poen suggested we try an area about 40 minutes away where he had seen good red duiker several days before. He mentioned a “garden”, a term I had never heard being used in a hunting context before, but I was excited nonetheless.

The red forest duiker or Natal red duiker (Cephalophus natalensis), as this antelope is called, is smaller than the common duiker. Red forest duiker are found from Central to Southern Africa and favour a denser bush habitat than the common duiker. The red duiker is one of 22 existing subspecies that form the subfamily Cephalophinae. Red forest duiker are territorial and often mark their territory by using a substance secreted from the maxillary glands near their eyes.

Standing, the red duiker is about 420 mm at the shoulder and has a body mass of approximately 12 kg. Red forest duiker tend to roam alone or in pairs or small family groups. The upper parts of their fur coat are a deep chestnut-red and the lower parts of their flanks and underparts a pale chestnut colour. When standing in the sun, they almost have a red glow to them – it is one of the prettiest sights and one of my favourites. The nape and throat turn ash-grey as the animal ages. One thing that makes Natal red duiker stand out is that they are more diurnal and less secretive than most forest duiker. It is therefore easier to observe and hunt them.

Both sexes carry short, straight horns. The horns have coarse basal rings and longitudinal ridges but are smooth towards the tips. One thing you need to remember when judging a red duiker trophy, is that the horns are sometimes covered by hair growing out of the base, which could be misleading when seeing this animal. 

My puzzled expression was obviously not as subtle as I thought, because Poen started explaining why he called this magic piece of land a “garden”: Local villagers select a forested area where the entire village will then cut down all the vegetation. Big and small trees are chopped down and all the grass is cleared. Once all the vegetation has been cleared, the villagers plant a variety of crops, ranging from corn and sorghum to tobacco. These gardens range in size – anything from half a hectare to a few hectares, depending on the number of villages working together.

After everyone have worked together during planting time, only the older children stay behind to look after the crops. They chase away animals, using only pots and drums. At harvest time, the others will return to assist. Because of the bad soil quality, a garden can only be used once before the villagers move on to another spot to start this process all over again.

This is how I found my ram.

The author (left) and PH Poen van Zyl

These areas will eventually revert to their natural state, but are referred to as “gardens” by professional hunters. Because visibility is a little better in these gardens, one’s chances of seeing game there are much better. Red duiker, bushbuck and nyala prefer these gardens as they serve as a sanctuary within a forested area.

We had headed to a garden the previous day, hoping to be successful in our quest for red duiker. It was about a 20-minute walk from the road and was well hidden – a perfect spot for red duiker. There are massive termite mounds in these gardens, some of them 3 to 4 m high, and they offer the hunter a fantastic vantage point. We entered the garden from a downwind position and slowly moved in. The plan was to climb onto the termite mounds and use these big mounds of earth to scan the thick undergrowth for red duiker and Chobe bushbuck. We would plan our stalk from mound to mound, moving very slowly and scanning the area ahead.

Seeing a lot of nyala but no red duiker or bushbuck, we decided to head back to the vehicle before dark. Just before we entered the edge of the forest, I caught a glimpse of red about 10 m away. I instantly froze and signalled to Poen, who was about 2 m ahead of me, to stop. He slowly walked back and, using our binoculars, we glassed the spot where I had seen the red patch. It was a red duiker feeding slowly towards us. Poen whistled and the duiker stopped and looked in our direction. By this time I was ready and in position, with the 4A-I reticle of my Steiner Ranger riflescope resting on the animal’s chest area. Poen just needed to give the go-ahead. The seconds ticked past. … Poen finally turned to me and to my great disappointment said this was not the one. It was an ancient ram with horns worn down to stumps. We headed back to the truck and reached camp just after dark.

Calibre selection in general always makes for a good debate but when it comes to calibre choice for small antelope, it really gets interesting. In this case bigger is better. You need something that will kill the animal fast but will not destroy its cape. My hardware for this hunt was my CZ .375 H&H, using handloads of 270 gr Peregrine at 2 575 feet per second (fps). My rifle is fitted with a Steiner Ranger 2-8x42mm, which allows me to hunt in the open as well as in the dark underworld of thick forest.

As we all know, the .375 H&H has great knockdown power and is ideal because, believe you me, crawling through the thick undergrowth, looking for a small animal that ran after the shot, is not fun! Don’t get me wrong, shot placement is still the most important aspect here, as a bad shot is still a bad shot, but it is unbelievable how tough these small guys can be. The .375 with a solid performs well on these small antelope and it only punches a small 375-diameter hole in the animal with no damage at all to the cape, and it gives the hunter a little more room for “error”.

After planning our strategy over lunch, Poen said he wanted to try two gardens that he hadn’t been to in a while. The last few times he was there some months ago, he saw some really good red duiker and even managed to harvest a good one with a client.

At about 14:00, we headed back to the gardens that Poen had mentioned. It was new territory for us and a good idea, because we would be able to look for suni as well on the way there. With all the so-called boxes ticked, we set out for the afternoon session with high hopes and the everlasting dream of big animals.

We headed into the first garden where we only saw bush-buck. It was getting late, so we headed to the second garden just as the sun was setting. This garden was about 200 m from the first one, and using a game trail, we made good time and reached it just before dark. The African bush was starting to come alive and the skies were turning into the deep orange and red hues one will only find in Africa. Magic hour had arrived!

We entered the garden on the southern end to keep the wind steady and into our faces. There was a big termite mound that Poen wanted to reach, as it would enable him to scan the whole area. He climbed to the top and from this vantage point he could see the entire garden. As there wasn’t enough room for two people, I had to wait at the bottom. I was just getting comfortable when Poen whispered and snapped his fingers. The moment he started to glass the garden, he almost immediately spotted a red duiker browsing in our direction. He signalled for me to move around the termite mound and get into a shooting position. I had no clue where or what I was supposed to be looking for. As quickly and quietly as possible, I carefully stepped around the mound and got into position, looking in the general direction Poen was pointing to.

“If you see him, take him,” Poen’s words echoed in my ears. At this point all I could see was a wall of vegetation and my nerves were on edge as I was scared I wouldn’t be able to spot the duiker in time. In between the tangled mess of vegetation were tunnels of natural shooting lanes that allowed me to see further that 10 m. After several seconds, I found a red patch moving between the branches … As luck would have it, the duiker had stopped in one of these natural shooting lanes.

Not thinking about it too much, I automatically squeezed off the shot. The recoil caused me to lose the red patch. Nervously, I looked up at Poen. A huge smile was spreading across his face as he looked down at me. My red duiker was stone dead. Poen climbed down from the termite mound and we walked over to my ram. It was a beautiful specimen and I was lost for words. We just stood there, admiring him, with the fiery African sunset in the background. Within these unique gardens, I was finally able to tick off no. 8 of 10 from my Tiny Ten list.