The Oryx Gazelle (aka Gemsbok) looks more like the medieval unicorn than any animal I have yet encountered. These “desert warriors” are incredibly hardy. They are born with horns! And have a disposition to match. At one point during my African hunt, after John and I had each collected an Oryx, we were riding in our PH Ziggy’s truck when we approached a herd of Oryx. As the truck came to within a few hundred yards the herd ran directly away from us parallel to the dirt road. They were so fast that we had trouble keeping up with them in the truck! After what seemed like miles of galloping ahead of us on the roadside, the herd crossed the road to enter a patch of acacia thorn. When they crossed the road, three magnificent males actually stopped in the road and stared us down, literally blocking our path to the rest of the herd. This is the same behavior they adopt with other predators like lions. Yes, gemsbok have been known to bring down lions with those three foot scimitar horns.
There is not much to tell of our oryx harvest. We spotted a herd of thirty or forty of the 400 pound antelope in the acacia thorn. They were walking slowly in a loose group that covered perhaps an acre of ground. After several attempts to anticipate their movements and get into an ambush position (within shooting range) John dropped one with a single shot from his 35 Whelan. Ziggy warned him to shoot again if the animal attempted to rise as they are notoriously hard to kill, but after several long minutes we decided that the animal was down for the count. It was only when we approached within a few yards that it “whoofed!” with a sharp exhale of breath and swung his horns in our direction. We all jumped back out of reach of those lethal scimitars. Afterwards Erwin joked to John “You jumped, but me – I already ran to Angola!”
In Sands of Silence Peter Capstick wrote “It’s always the dead ones that kill you. So pay the insurance.” John shot the bull through the chest and Ziggy paid the insurance with an additional shot through the heart. Then we approached MUCH more cautiously as the ridge of hair along the animal’s spine rose to stand erect. Ziggy told us that it always happens at the moment of death for Oryx. No one knows why and taxidermists can’t duplicate it. John’s first shot had hit the spine just ahead of the shoulders, nearly completely paralyzing the bull and luckily dropping it in its tracks even though the shot was not immediately lethal.
After we secured John’s oryx in the bed of the pick up truck, we followed the herd and I repeated John’s success. Except that my shot was more typical of the gemsbok’s reputation. We approached them to within 150 yards, I waited for a chance to get the bull that Ziggy pointed out as “a good one” through an opening in the dark gray thorn brush without endangering any others who mingled about. I shot my oryx and the entire herd scattered to points unknown. We all thought that we might be in for a long day of tracking. But the Okavango trackers sorted out the myriad of hoof prints in the dry sand and found a drop of blood. A yard away they found another, and then another. William pointed to a foot long skid from the cloven hoof and told me that my oryx was dragging a leg. Perhaps I had broken a shoulder and he wouldn’t go far. I followed as William and Elliot spread out and scanned the dry landscape for hoof prints and blood droplets. We had worked our way fifty yards through the six foot thorn scrub when William pointed. The bull stood 100 yards beyond him with his head down.
When you are chasing a wounded oryx it is no time to be picky about shot angles. As soon as he realized that we were following him this animal would take off again, and it might be miles before we caught sight of him. I got into position as quickly as I could and tried to put a bullet into his vitals. As my second shot echoed across the landscape the bull began to trot away and I fired again. This time he did not go far. The bull was lethally hit but still on his feet when a fourth shot put him down. It took a fifth to finish him. The last two shots were not necessary to kill the animal, only to hasten his passing so that he need not suffer a second longer than necessary. But wow, this animal soaked up five shots from a 375 Holland and Holland magnum. I have never encountered anything with that much stamina and can’t help but admire them. I had come to Africa hoping for the chance to bag one of the three animals on my wish list. I went home with trophy book specimens of all three. Someday I hope to go back. If I do, I know that an oryx will be on my wish list again.
Swift A Frames, two from Oryx, one from Kudu