The Red Duiker is one of those species, like the Suni and the Dik Dik, that most hunters will never pursue. Their distribution is rather limited, extending down the eastern seabord from Mozambique into Zululand. Their physical characteristics differ from the more familiar and common Grey Duiker found throughout Southern Africa. Apart from the distinctive red coat, the Red Duiker’s horns point backwards and are almost completely concealed by a tuft of reddish hair. Both male and female are horned, making differentiation between the sexes rather difficult. They inhabit areas of dense riverine bush, always near water, and are almost always solitary. It is said that they are territorial but my observation, detailed in this article, is that they are not so. Thus this diminutive trophy is absent from most hunters’ trophy rooms. However, for a small number of diehard hunters, the Red Duiker is a challenging and worthy quarry.
On a recent father/son hunt near Hluhluwe in Zululand, my 13 year-old son Evan acquitted himself rather well, taking 5 species with 6 shots in 4 days’ hunting. He took a decent boar Warthog, two Impala rams, a Baboon sentry, and a Blue Wildebeest on this hunt, his first safari and his first successful big game hunt. All fell to his 7mm-08 within 5 yards of where they stood, with the exception of the BWB, which took off at the shot but stood for a followup about 100 yards away. Both shots were well-placed in the shoulder, and the second put the ‘beest down for good. This performance earned him the nickname “Oneshot”, and left 3 days for Dad to do a little hunting, which posed a problem as I had taken all of the species available in this area, with the exception of Reedbuck, for which a special permit had to be obtained well in advance, Zebra, which were saved by the fact that the ghost ring on my 375 broke off en-route to Africa, and Red Duiker, a species that is more expensive, on a pound for pound basis, than almost any other. After giving the matter some thought, I decided that I would try for a Red Duiker, using a rather unconventional weapon that I normally reserve for Baboons and culling: a Thompson Center carbine with a 10” barrel in 45 LC. The barrel is threaded for a choke tube to allow the use of shotshells, which lends itself to the use of a moderator so I keep one for it in RSA. However, the heavy 300 grain bullet I was using on this trip was clipping the moderator and tumbling, so I used the gun “au natural”.
Thus on day 5 we set out, Johan our tracker and guide, Evan, and the writer. The only effective method of hunting these duiker is to still-hunt a track or a riverbed, passing through dense riverine bush, near to a source of water. Forget walking through the brush itself, the hunter makes far too much noise and the stooping and scratching will cause you to lose your enthusiasm very rapidly. The property we hunted is traversed by about 4 kms of seasonal river, with a vehicle track on either side cutting through the thick bush and shaded by large Sycamore Fig and Fever trees. This was ideal Red Duiker/Nyala habitat. And by the end of August, the riverbed was dry, allowing a third means of travel through the area. So we used the road and the riverbed as appropriate. Even at this late stage of the season, the banks of the river were still quite green with grass and leafy brush, providing forage that attracts the many Nyala in this area as well as a few Bushbuck. The Nyala proved to be a nuisance (never thought I would ever say that) as they would crash off when they noted our presence, alarming every duiker within a hundred yards. When a duiker is located, one has to use a good set of binos and hope for a clear view of the animal’s rear end, before he dives (the Afrikaans word “duiker” means “diver”) into the nearest thicket. In other words, you have to see the duiker before he sees you. We did manage to creep up on two duiker, using the river bed as our path through the bush. The downside of this method is that even if you see your quarry first, there is no cover other than the odd bend in the river to allow a closer approach. This proved to be nearly impossible with three of us in the party, so on day 6 Evan was appointed PH and the two of us hunted on foot out of camp in an attempt to locate a shootable duiker. This worked somewhat better as my “PH’s” young eyes were sharper than mine, and we spotted (or should I say bumped) three or four duiker that day without any chance of a clear shot. I did put my crosshairs on a Suni with visible horns, but I soon realized what we were looking at due to the upright horns and the diminutive body of this rarely seen species. We also fooled Warthogs on 2 separate occasions, Nyala innumerable times, and a group of Waterbuck including a good bull.
Day 7 dawned bright and clear. A friend had dropped in to visit us in camp, so I left Evan to sleep in on that final morning, tested the wind, and used the quad to get myself to the downwind end of the river just as the sun was coming up. I figured that hunting alone was the only way to outwit these wary antelope. I parked the quad a couple of hundred yards from the river and walked down the track. I was soon rewarded with the sight of a rather large Red Duiker walking along the top of an old dam wall. Try as I might, I could not see any horns, and of course the animal soon dropped out of sight over the back side of the wall. Puzzled, I made a detour that I thought would put my in the duiker’s path on the far side. However, it had disappeared and in retrospect, it occurred to me that I was looking at a female Steenbok, rarely seen in this area, and not a duiker at all. This was about 15 minutes into the hunt, so I made my way, very slowly, down to the dry river bed per se. Not 50 yards further, I encountered a very good Nyala, at least 27” and possibly 28”. He was feeding, and every time he put his head down, I moved closer, without any attempt to conceal myself. When he lifted his head, I froze. In this manner, I was able to approach to within 25 yards or so and by this time, I was thinking that this Nyala wanted to end his day on the meat pole. However, the trophy fee being what it is, and mindful of Evan’s looming taxidermy bill, I decided to let him move off, which he did after staring at me for a couple of minutes. By this time, my nerves were strung pretty tight. I took another dozen or so slow paces and as I rounded a bend in the path, was shocked by the sight of a Red Duiker standing broadside on the river bank, about 75 yards from where I stood. His neck was dark and I could make out horn tips with my 8x30 Minoltas. Telling myself not to mess up, I used a grass-covered swale as cover to get to a tree from where I thought I would take the shot. I did a little crawling and achieved my objective, my pulse racing faster by the minute. He was still totally unaware of me, and broadside at around 50 yards now. Mindful of the fact that I was using what for all intents and purposes was a handgun with a shoulder stock, I decided to use a switchback in the river to creep closer yet. I dropped back into the river bed, snuck around the bend, and peeked over a grass covered bank. Still standing there. I eased my rear end onto my right foot, assumed the kneeling position, cocked my weapon, and slid backward an inch at a time until I had a clear view of the duiker over the 45 degree grassy bank in front of me, my weapon trained on the unsuspecting animal. Now everything was perfect. I was no more than 20 yards away, my quarry was still unaware of me, nibbling on the brush and broadside. I breathed out, squeezed, and just as the trigger broke, I noted that my crosshair moved back a little from the shoulder. I heard no bullet impact, but then again, my ears were ringing from the shot and the duiker instantly darted to along the bank and up into the bush. I was pretty sure I had hit him, perhaps a tad low and back. However, a quick examination of the spot showed nothing but little divots where his hooves had dug in as he took off.
Doubt now set in. Rather than stomping all over what little sign there was, I walked up to the skinning shed that was not far from this place, and found Johan. We returned to the sight and after I explained, in my best Zulu, what had transpired, we searched the area for blood and found none. Even with reinforcements in the form of Tshokozaan, the second tracker, we came up with nothing. Johan examined the scene more closely and found two pieces of vegetation broken by my bullet, behind where the duiker was standing when I shot him. He opined that I had shot high. I thought low. We did find a few hairs that had landed on a spider’s web and they were red at the tip, white at the base. This was hair from the lower half of the animal. Johan now revised his theory, stating that I had clipped the duiker and not drawn blood.”Yena lo makulu bullet” (“That’s a very big bullet”), he said pointing at my weapon, and he further seemed to think that if I had hit the little antelope with “that thing”, it would be lying right where I had shot it. I was dubious but I accepted this verdict and since this was my last day, I resumed my quest, moving upwind along the river.
After 30 minutes or so, during which time I could have shot a Bushbuck and another (female) red duiker, the wind turned on me so I hunted back toward the scene from that morning, thinking that perhaps, if the red duiker I had shot at was only clipped, he may have returned to his morning meal. I reached the spot where he had stood and was looking over the bank at a flat area that was devoid of bush. A herd of Zebra tossed their heads at the far end of this clearing. To one side, there were two large warthogs. And on the other side, three Nyala bulls. Amazed at this scene, I was contemplating taking some video. As I reached for the pouch on my left hip that held my Canon videocam, I noticed something moving through some tall weeds, not more than 30 yards from me. I was shocked to note that it was a red duiker, and it was moving in my direction. I was still standing in the river bed, so from the animals’ perspective, all they could see was my head. I was, however, unobserved. Instead of the camera, I retrieved my binocs from my left breast pocket and put them on the duiker. I could see no injury. What I could see, however, was a penis, which was now at eye level no more than 20 yards from me. Closer he came, until he was now 10 yards away. No blood or crease was evident. The animal was now so close I could not move anything. I think he saw me blink because he turned and headed back whence he had come. He then made a little turn to his right, and stopped under a low tree, offering me a partial view of his body, about 25 yards away. He stood there for some time, angling to my right and looking my way. My mind was racing. Here was a male duiker, a stone’s throw from where I had shot a male duiker earlier that morning. However, no wound was apparent, and I had taken a very good look at him from very close range. If I shot, him, there was a chance that this was a different duiker. If I didn’t shoot, I may end up going home without having shot a single animal on this trip. The latter thought triggered my decision, and I cocked my weapon for the second time that morning, eased up the steep bank a yard or so until I could take a firm rest on a tree limb, and threaded a bullet through the brush. At the sound of the shot, the animal flopped forward (to my right, as he was angling toward me) and disappeared from sight. When the sound of the menagerie departing the scene had died down, I moved to the spot where the little one had stood. I found him laying dead in a little hollow, about 5 yards short of where he was standing when I shot. Expecting him to be further back and to the right of where he was standing, I was puzzled. However, a short clear blood trail led from a spot to his present position, and this spot was in line with the path of my bullet, so I deduced that he was standing a little closer to me than I thought. He was shot through the chest, a little higher than I had aimed, but dead was dead. However, there was no sign of another wound so I resigned myself to paying a double trophy fee. Relieved that my last day was not a fruitless one, I walked back to the quad, retrieved my prize, and headed for the skinning shed. It wasn’t until I got him there that I realized that he was a she! I did a double take, looking again at the dark neck and the penis, which turned out to be a tuft of hair around the duiker’s navel. After listening to my story, Johan explained that one of the other trackers had seen a healthy male Red Duiker drinking from the dam not far from the place where I had made the first shot, and clearly missed. After a brief conference, we decided to return to the same opening that afternoon and wait, in case duiker no. 1 reappeared. I had now formulated a plan to save having to explain why I had shot a female. I would attempt to take the male, and if successful, I would mount the two of them together.
After a brief lunch back at camp, I returned at 2:30, found Johan, and we set off for the scene of the morning activity. We found a large Fever tree on the river bank, almost directly opposite the opening where I had observed both Duikers that morning. We settled in for a long wait. Not long after we had taken up position, we observed a Bushbuck male and female crossing the dry riverbed upstream from us. About an hour later, a shout came from the bush somewhere to our front. It was the “Dokotela”, Dr. Mark Sutherland, who owned the property, and this being Friday he was home a little early from his practice in Pongola, taking his dogs for a walk. I didn’t catch the fluent exchange in Zulu, but Johan indicated we should leave our waiting place and go to talk with the good Doctor who was not 50 yards from us. Johan explained that the Dr. had found our missing Red Duiker from that morning. We quickly found Mark and his dogs. The smallest, a terrier of some sorts, was defending a very dead Red Duiker from the larger dogs, uttering the fiercest growls out of all proportion to the compact little dog. The duiker lay not 25 yards from the place where I had shot the second duiker, and not 50 yards from where the first had stood. However, he had run in the opposite direction from where we now stood, and must have later doubled back, a round trip of at least 200 yards. While Johan retrieved the carcass, I started to explain the whole story. “Well it was a good shot”, Mark said, pointing to the 45 cal hole on the shoulder. “These little Duikers are tough, look how far he must have gone”. Then a light bulb came on in my head. “That’s no. 2”, I said. A look at the exit wound confirmed this … the entry was on the point of the right shoulder, exiting on the left flank. This was the second duiker. The duiker I had found that morning was not the one I had just shot. It was the first duiker, which must have doubled back while we were looking for blood. And she had died in almost the exact spot where the second had stood, when I shot a second time that morning. “The horns are quite good”, Mark continued. Then he lifted a rear leg. “Too bad it’s a female,” he said. “And the hair is probably going to slip”. He advised against a full mount for that reason.
I was too flabbergasted by this turn of events to take a photo of myself with the second duiker. I did later return to the skinning shed, in time to get a photo of both heads. In time, I will have a full mount of the first. The skull and horns of the second, plus a flat skin, will tell the rest of the story.
Russ Gould is a South African who presently lives in Oregon USA where he operates a safari booking agency and a business dealing in fine sporting rifles and shotguns, particularly doubles (bigfivehq.com and doublegunhq.com).