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The Great Hunters

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Ready, Aim, Fire by Victor Pohl, Great South African Hunter

As farm children on the border of Lesotho, Victor and his brother wished to emulate the shooting skills of the older men. Their ignorance led to a larger explosion than they had bargained for.

Eric and I decided one day to go hunting all on our own with the old muzzle-loader shotgun. I was only ten and Eric was younger by a couple of years. I had already fired a lightly loaded charge at a hawk some time previously, resting the heavy weapon on a stone; and, although the hawk went sailing off quietly, practically all we could talk about for days afterwards was whether I had wounded the marauder or not. The experience we had gained since then by closely watching our elder brothers had convinced us that we now knew all about the business. We slipped out quietly at a back door, and made off through the orchard and over the back wall, followed as usual by Hero. (1)

Our objective was some rocks about a mile away where there were rock-rabbits. (2) 

We were still some distance away, when the sentinels gave their warning cries, and at once the rabbits that were out feeding went scampering back to the safety of their forbidding strongholds. This did not perturb us in the least, as we knew that their natural curiosity and their love of basking in the sun would bring them out again.

We carefully loaded our firearm and took up our station behind a small bush. After about  quarter of an hour a big male rock-rabbit made his appearance some thirty yards away, and others soon followed. Only then did we realize that we should have hidden behind a stone on which we could have leaned the heavy gun, for, try as I would, I could not in my crouching position hold the weapon still enough to have a chance of hitting so small a target.

The rock-rabbit was sitting in full view, screeching and barking as if to burst its throat, and Hero, held in leash by Eric, was straining to rush at the impudent creature. Eric then had a bright idea and, shifting in front of me while hanging on to Hero, he whispered, “Rest the gun on my back.” I did this, but he was breathing so heavily from excitement that the gun kept moving, and I had to beg him to hold his breath for a moment.

Just as I was about to press the trigger, Hero gave a jerk, and we had to try all over again.

Once more we hot into position, and I took as careful and aim as the conditions allowed. A terrific kick from the gun almost paralysed my shoulder and my mouth began to bleed; while Eric complained that his ears were buzzing. My aim, however, had been true enough, and by the time we had collected ourselves, Hero had retrieved the dead rabbit. In spite of our aches and pains, we danced for joy. Then, grasping our quarry by a foot each, we set off for home at our best speed.

The others had heard the shot and were hurrying out to meet us. Imagine our surprise when, after we explained how we had loaded the gun, Stefans (3) said, “No wonder you were kicked like that. The gun was already loaded with an extra large charge of powder!”

And we had rammed in a second charge! We got a severe scolding; but nothing mattered now for we had made glorious history. Even the haughty and self-sufficient Mike (4) was impressed.

Notes

  • Hero.One of Pohl’s first pets. He was a great dog lover. His relationship with his “wonder dog” Dassie is recounted in Their Secret Ways.
  • Rock-rabbits. Also known as Dassies (Procavia capensis ). A small mammal living in crevices among the stones. Owing to a special adhesive property of its feet, it can climb almost vertical faces of rock.
  • Stefans. Victor’s eldest brother.
  • The haughty and self-sufficient Mike. A cousin who acted as gang leader when the boys went out together.