The author and PH Poen van Zyl

The quest to harvest the Tiny Ten has led me to some special places in Southern Africa, and Part 8 of the series is no different – the sand forests of Mozambique. The reason for our trip to this beautiful and wild part of Africa was Livingston suni and Natal red duiker. Spending a few days in this hunting paradise afforded us the opportunity to taste a bit of old Africa.

It was the second day of our three-day hunt with Zambezi Delta Safaris. We were sitting at the camp after a very successful morning hunting Lichtenstein hartebeest. Poen van Zyl and I were discussing our strategy for the afternoon over a delicious lunch consisting of hartebeest fillets and french fries. Poen suggested we try an area about 40 minutes away where he had seen good red duikers several days before, and he mentioned a “garden”. I had never heard that term being used in a hunting context before; nonetheless, I was excited.
Cephalophus natalensis, the red forest duiker or Natal red duiker, as they are also referred to, is smaller than the common duiker. They are found from Central to Southern Africa, with the red forest duiker favouring a denser bush habitat than the common duiker. Red duiker are one of 22 existing subspecies that form the subfamily Cephalophinae. Red forest duiker are territorial, and they 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 shoulders and has a body mass of about 12 kg. Red forest duiker tend to roam alone or in pairs, or in small family groups. The upper parts of their fur coat are a deep chestnut-red and the lower parts of their flanks and underparts are a pale chestnut colour. When they appear in the sun, they almost have a red glow to them and it is one of the prettiest sights to see, and one of my favourites. The nape and throat turn ash-grey as the animal ages. One thing that makes the Natal red duiker stand out is that they are more diurnal and less secretive than most forest duikers, therefore it is a bit easier for them to be observed and hunted.
Both sexes carry short, straight horns. The horns have coarse basal rings and longitudinal ridges but are smooth towards the tips. One thing that you need to remember when assessing for a trophy is that the horns are sometimes covered by hair that grows out of the base, and this might be misleading.

However, back to Poen’s “garden”. I was puzzled as to why he referred to this magic piece of land as a “garden”. He explained that the local villagers would select a forested area and the entire village would then start to cut out all the vegetation. Big and small trees would be cut down and all the grass cleared. Once all the vegetation had been cleared the villagers could then plant a variety of crops, ranging from corn and sorghum to tobacco. These “gardens” would range in size, from half a hectare to a few hectares, depending on the number of villages working together.
After everyone had worked together during the planting time, only the older children would stay behind to look after the crops. They would chase away animals using only pots and drums. For harvest time the others would return to assist. Because of the poor soil quality, a “garden” can be used once only before the villagers would move on to another area to start this process again.
These areas would eventually revert to their natural state. However, professional hunters still refer to them as “gardens”. Because the visibility is a little better in the “gardens”, your chances of seeing game there are much better. Red duiker, bushbuck and nyala prefer these “gardens” as they offer a bit of a sanctuary within a forested area.
We headed to a “garden” hoping to be successful in our quest for red duiker. It was about a twenty-minute walk from the road and was well hidden – a perfect spot for red duiker. In these “gardens” there are massive termite mounds, some of them 3 to 4 m high, and they give a hunter a fantastic vantage point. We entered the “garden” from a downwind position and slowly moved in. Our plan was to move very slowly from one termite mound to the next, climbing them and then scanning the thick undergrowth and the surrounding area for red duiker and Chobe bushbuck.
We saw a lot of nyala, but no red duiker or bushbuck, so we decided to head back to the vehicle before dark. As we entered the edge of the forest I caught a glimpse of red about 10 m from us. I froze and signalled Poen, who was about two metres in front of me, to stop. He slowly stepped back and using our binoculars, we watched 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 focused on the chest area of the duiker. I just needed Poen to give me the go-ahead. The seconds ticked past and Poen finally turned to me and, to my disappointment, said: “This is not the one!” The red duiker was an ancient ram with his horn worn down to stumps. We headed back to the truck and reached camp just after dark.
Calibre selection in general is always a good topic for debate. However, when it comes to calibre selection for small antelopes it gets really interesting. In this case, bigger is better. You need something that will kill the animal fast but will not destroy the cape. My hardware for this hunt was my CZ .375 H&H, using hand loads of 270 gr Peregrine at 2 575 fps. My rifle is fitted with a Steiner Ranger 2-8X42 mm that allows me to hunt in the open, as well as in the dark undergrowth of thick forest.
The .375 H&H has great knock-down power, as we know, and is ideal because – believe me – it is no fun crawling into the thick undergrowth looking for a small animal that has bolted after the shot. Don’t get me wrong, shot placement is still the most important aspect here, as a bad shot is still a bad shot. However, it is unbelievable how tough these small guys can be. The .375 with a solid performs well on these small antelopes

On our way to a “garden”

Poen glassing for red duiker
using a termite mound

and it punches only a small .375 diameter hole in the animal, with no damage at all to the cape. It also gives the hunter a little more room for “error”.
After our strategy session over lunch, Poen said that he wanted to try two “gardens” that he hadn’t visited in a while. The last few times he had been there, a few months previously, he had seen some good red duikers, and he had even managed to harvest a good one with a client.
At about 14:00 we headed 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 headed out for the afternoon session with high hopes and the everlasting dream of bagging the perfect trophy.
We headed into the first “garden”, where we only saw bushbuck. It was getting late, so we headed to the second “garden”, just as the sun was starting to set. This “garden” was about 200 m from the first one, and using a game trail we made good time to reach it just before dark. The African bush was starting to come alive and the skies were turning that deep orange and red you can only find in Africa. Magic hour had arrived!

Scenic view of the hunting area

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 that would enable him to scan the whole area. From this vantage point he could see the entire “garden”. There wasn’t enough space for two people and I had to wait at the bottom. I was just getting comfortable, when Poen whispered and snapped his fingers. The moment he had started to glass the garden, he had almost immediately seen 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 as to where or what I was supposed to be looking for. As fast and as quietly as possible, I moved around the termite mound and got into position, looking in the general direction Poen was pointing at.

A big termite mound

“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. The nerves started to kick in, as I was scared I wouldn’t be able to spot the duiker in time. In between the tangled mass of vegetation there were tunnels of natural shooting lanes that allowed you to see further than 10 m. After several seconds I spotted a red patch moving between the branches and, as luck would have it, the duiker stopped in one of these natural shooting lanes.
Not thinking about it too much, I auto-matically squeezed off the shot and at the recoil I lost sight of the red patch. Nervously I glanced up at Poen but he responded with a big smile. My red duiker was down! Poen got down from the termite mound and we walked over to my ram. He was beautiful, and I was lost for words. We just stood there in silence, looking at this wonderful animal with the African sunset in the background. Within these “gardens” I was able to tick number 8 of 10 off the list. ASM

How I found my ram

The author and his ram

‘We just stood there in silence, looking at this wonderful animal with the African sunset in the background.’

Sunset in the “garden”