As child, the sight of blood caused me nausea. This did not last long however, as in a family of hunters, it was inevitable I’d eventually get used to it. My very first memories are of going hunting with my dad. I could walk by the age of one, and he took me along even when I was this small. My very first memory is of shooting a .38 special revolver, which I still recall now as being a huge weapon about the size of my forearm. The thing is of course small enough to almost be covered by one of my open hands now, but given I was less than 2 years old when I first fired it into a puddle, it makes sense that in my mind it remains a cannon sized thing. I have also been told by a doctor that it is not possible for me to recall this, but I went on to describe that another man was there, dressed in military fatigues. A fact no one had mentioned but which my dad later corroborated, as indeed a friend of his was with us at the time. In any case, the bullet striking the puddle a few metres in front of us is still clear in my mind today.
At age 13 though, my dad and mom took me to the North of Botswana to go on a buffalo hunting trip. This was a regular occurrence for my father who essentially moved to Africa in order to get away from civilised society and do some big game hunting. It is all politically incorrect now of course, but back then it was still a viable activity and in any case, my experience has been that hunters in general tend to be better conservationists than any so called “green” activists, who instead, more often than not, are responsible for putting in place policies that ultimately result in wide-spread devastation of animal numbers due to their lack of understanding of natural cycles and processes, which they disrupt with their well-intentioned, but completely ignorant policies, such as foot-and-mouth disease fencing, which totally destroyed the migration patterns of Wildebeest and Hartebeest in Botswana killing untold thousands of them in a single season and completely destroying the wild population of the animals. But that is another story.
After a couple of days of travel we reached the hunting area and as Botswana is a sparsely populated country there was no humans around for probably hundreds of kilometres. We were in unspoilt African savannah. We camped for the night and would set off in the morning with the tracker.
My father learnt hunting from his father who learnt it from my great-grandfather and as such it has always been an honourable affair. None of this riding around in a car and blasting animals just for the sport of pulling the trigger. Animals would be tracked, and as the terrain was virgin, it would generally be done on foot. The tracking of a buffalo could last an hour or a couple of days. You carried with you all you would have for the duration of it. Once the animal was shot one of us would go back to the car and return with it while the rest of would skin and butcher the animal so as to take the meat home if the trip was short, or would otherwise be cut into strips and dried in the sun to make biltong so as to ensure it would not rot and be wasted. We basically used the whole animal, even eating the marrow found in the shin-bones which is easily got to by placing the leg-bones on a fire and waiting for the bone to crack from the heat. At which point the marrow is cooked and warm and nice to eat.
We started tracking the animals in the morning and there were four of us. The tracker in front, who only carried a two-litre bottle of water, my dad behind him, then me and then my mom. My father carried a .460 Weatherby which only has three rounds but each of which has the stopping power to literally sit an elephant on his butt from a charge. Something my father found out when he was in fact charged in such fashion. I don’t remember what my mom was carrying, it may have been a .30-06 or maybe something else, but I know I had the .375 Remington. I was 13 at the time, but both my brother and I had been shooting large calibre rifles from a young age and firing this size rifle was nothing new for me. Carrying for several hours however was. The first time I fired a shotgun I was 4 years old. My dad had to hold the front of the gun because it was too heavy for me but I had my own shoulder against the stock. His friend wondered aloud if the recoil of the gun would not hurt
me. My dad with his classical style took an appraising look then said. “I don’t think so, but worst case it will only break his shoulder.” I think the man must have been a Spartan in some past life. Good thing he wasn’t around when I was born because I was early and had a hernia that required operation when I was two years old. I would have been off the cliff. I then went on to pull the trigger and though I fell on the ground from the recoil I was more concerned about the fact I had obviously missed the bird in the tree I had fired at than the shock of the impact.
We walked in silence for at least two hours. Trudging in the sand whilst carrying a heavy rifle is pretty sweaty and hard work. We only had limited water so I didn’t want to ask any of it and I carried on for another hour. We then stopped around lunch-time and the tracker sipped some water so I asked if I could have some too. Both my dad and mom reacted in a way I had not really seen before. They said, sure I could have some and it was clear from the way they said it that they were a mixture of proud, concerned and happy. I think the fact I had not asked for any water until then registered with them in a way that made me feel pretty good about having kept quiet as long as I did, as it seemed to have surprised them.
We continued for more hours under the African sun and heat. After a time I lost idea or track of time. I knew my parents had placed me between them because on the odd chance that some nasty creature, be it a snake, hungry lion, pissed off buffalo or whatever came at us suddenly out of the bush it would have had to get through one armed parent no matter which side it came from. I was by now in a kind of trance, tired out of my mind but just stepping one foot in front of the other. I have always had this capacity even when I get exhausted, to keep doing things like walking or swimming, with my mind practically off, counting, or thinking its own thoughts.
All of a sudden something happened up front. I didn’t hear it or see it, I sensed it. I looked up to see my father waving me forward in silence. He pointed and hissed in my ear, “There!”.
The next few moments are etched indelibly in my mind, but not because of their being so vivid, but rather because it was a kind of out-of-body experience. Years later, I would read Go Rin No Sho* and understand, this was the Void Musashi spoke of.
Everything happened fluidly and with no thought at all.
All I could see was the tip of one horn through the thick foliage. The rifle came up by itself, the automatic sighting of the animal’s unseen shoulder, a function of some atavistic animal-shape processing derived from the mere location of the horn-tip, and the rifle fired in complete unison with the rest of me. I had no sense of recoil or even sound.
For a split second I was connected to everything, then the horn moved up and forward and I recall my internal feeling of utter failure. I missed. I thought. A split second later, my dad’s .460 Weatherby, the most powerful hunting rifle available commercially in the world at the time, went off a couple of feet from my head. The piercing pain and whistling noise in my left-ear was debilitating. I crouched with one hand stuck to my ear in agony. My father asked, what’s wrong. I said “My ear…” he knew enough to know what the problem was. He’d been just off to my left and obviously concerned about making sure no wounded buffalo went off on some run or charged, he’d fired to put it down. The unfortunate fact that my ear-drum was probably as buggered as the buffalo in front of us was characteristically taken into compassionate consideration with an encouraging sentence: “Fuck the ear! Reload and watch for the buffalo!”.
I reloaded with one hand, keeping my left hand on my ear and the rifle gripped between my torso, left elbow and legs, as I was crouching. Then gingerly stood with the rifle now in both hands and we moved forward. The Buffalo turned out to be un-note-worthy trophy-wise, and if I remember correctly seemed to be sickly and was on its own. It was dead were it sat. One bullet was perfectly placed just behind the shoulder and the other was on its rump. When we butchered the animal I was surprised to discover that the bullet that had passed through both lungs and sheared the aorta was mine. The .375 calibre being obviously smaller and different from my dad’s .460.
He had mentioned many times how buffalo were odd animals, which could continue a charge or run of some 150 metres without any heart or lungs, as these had been smashed by a bullet already. It’s still an unfair advantage having a rifle, but it makes for slightly more interesting hunting and apart from hippo which has the highest number of human kills of all the big game, buffalo comes second. We even personally knew a guy who carried a scar on his hand from going for an impromptu ride atop the horns of one.
After I had shot it, the animal had begun to get up and start on a run, and it was only the heavy impact of the .460 which made it realise it was already dead. I kept the bullet as a keepsake after we butchered the animal for its meat and skin.
Though it may seem my father was harsh in this story, the truth is I am always grateful for the life he made us have by seeing to it my brother and sister and I grew up wild out there. Today I would not shoot a buffalo any more as I feel there are too many people and not enough animals, and it is us, the humans that need culling in large numbers. If there was a way to push a button to get rid of the idiots on this planet, I would happily push it and sleep well at night. I do not subscribe to the idea that every human life is sacred any more than every animal life is. in fact, all things considered, given our potential intelligence, I feel in most cases humans have more reason to deserve shooting than animals. And that’s even before I include politicians, journalists, proponents of political correctness, and other vermin. One of the advantages of growing up in that way was that you get to really get in touch with what is important. What matters and what is just so much hot air. We saw Oliver Stone’s Wall Street last night, the follow-on from his first film by the same name and I was reminded why I could never take bankers and the so-called “rulers of the world” seriously. I have met more than my share of these people. Some are billionaires, other mere millionaires. It is true their decisions affect the lives of millions, yet, although not all of them are just human shells, some are actually decent human beings for the most part, in the main, I cannot take them seriously because in most cases they have no personal power.
They may have access to private armies and untold wealth, but one-on-one, man to man, they are out of their element. I realise that in the modern world, my proclivity for club-wielding is of limited use, but regardless, we are wired by our biology in such a way that this still counts for more at a personal subjective level than all the money in the world. And I have known enough of these people to know too that their sense of self-satisfaction rarely approaches mine.
So although it was not quite just a spear he gave me, and not a lion I had to come back with, and I was not alone while I did it, nor was it forced on me, all the same: Thanks Dad.
* Go RIn No Sho — A Book of Five Rings, by Myamoto Musashi, a 16th Century Samurai. The last book is called the Book of the Void and is only about a page long and describes that sense of perfect Zen that sometimes comes to us in battle or during moments of complete Flow during combat.