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Traditional skills of the Bushmen - Part 5: The final approach
By Koos Moorcroft and Raphael Gunduza
Half the meat supplied to a Kung San camp results from the mobile hunting of big game, usually the larger antelope species where the adults weigh more than 100kg and include wildebeest, kudu, gemsbok, hartebeest, eland, roan antelope and giraffe. The Kung San hunt big game using their classical bow and arrow method.
After deciding which animal to track and carefully weighing all the relevant factors, the hunters proceed cautiously with their final approach to the target. As they close in they may catch glimpses of the animal through the bush. On the final stalk only one man moves forward, taking only his bow and three arrows with him, and leaving the rest of his equipment behind. He proceeds carefully, crouching, crawling and sliding on his belly to reach a distance of between ten and 20 yards from the animal so he can loose an arrow. Closing in could take up to 45 minutes.
The animal is watched closely, specifically the movement of its ears and head. The hunter freezes at any sign of movement. Usually, he does not have a very clear view of the animal because he is on his stomach and moving from cover to cover, and only the outline of his back and back legs is visible. The hunter must also consider the trajectory of his arrow before shooting. When he is in position he draws the bow to anchor, commits, ensures a perfect aim, then looses the arrow and follows through while remaining absolutely still in case he misses the target. If the animal does not suspect danger it sometimes moves a few paces and then continues to graze or browse. This gives the hunter a chance at a second shot. If the first arrow hits the target the hunter breaks cover and runs forward on a diagonal path, trying to intercept and fire all his arrows in order to inject more poison, thus causing the animal to collapse as quickly as possible. By now, the other team members have moved into position to cover any of the animal’s escape routes.
When two or more animals are stalked, as many arrows as possible are shot. On a good day, if all the factors are in the hunters’ favour and their final approach is successful, they may shoot four or five animals.
The wounded animals will soon run out of range, but as the poison takes an average of six to 24 hours to work, the hunters first complete various other tasks before setting out to track. The Kung San prefer the poison to do the work for them.
The first thing the hunters do is account for their arrows. If they find all their arrows then they know their hunt was unsuccessful.
If an arrow is missing the hunter begins to look for signs of blood. Finding a good blood trail could mean that the poison has flushed out of the animal’s system quickly. Finding the main shaft of the arrow is a good sign, because this means that the arrowhead, with the sinew covered in poison, is embedded in the animal. If the hunter retrieves the complete arrow on the trail, this indicates that it could have been worked out by muscle contraction. The hunter examines the arrowhead carefully to see how much poison still remains on the arrowhead, thus confirming whether the animal has absorbed enough poison to bring about collapse.
After making their initial appreciation the hunters consider the following:
• Is the animal seriously injured?
• Will it collapse?
• How far can it still travel before collapsing?
• How far must the meat be carried back to camp?
• If there are other carnivores in the area, who will reach the wounded animal first?
Answers to these questions depend on observations and interpretations. The trail must be followed for several kilometres before the following assessment can be made:
• The animal’s speed.
• How quickly the distance between it and the hunters is increasing.
• Is the animal moving away from or towards their base camp?
• Is it showing signs of weakening?
The hunters also look for zigzagging, milling and stamping tracks, which indicate that the animal is agitated. Signs of black blood in the faeces show that the poison is working. After an hour or two of tracking the hunters will know whether the wound is well placed, and the approximate time and location of the anim al’s collapse. The Kung San now return to camp to organise a carrying party.
All game must be killed and the meat brought back to the campsite. The recovery of smaller animals weighing up to 20kg can take up to an hour. The recovery of larger animals takes more organisation.
A method infrequently used by Kung San hunters is to hunt from blinds or hides, as well as pit blinds dug at the edge of flats where large herds of kudu, wildebeest and gemsbok lured by salt congregate. The hunter approaches the flats cautiously at dawn and if there are animals he crawls to his pit and lies quietly until the wind is correct and he is able to get a good 20-yard shot.
The Kung San claim to be more successful hunting on foot, tracking and stalking rather than hunting from a blind.
Reference material: The Kung! San – Richard Borshay Lee