Mika already could read the track of the leopard from the back of the safari vehicle and knew enough to tell a kudu track from a waterbuck’s.
Now it was the last day of our safari and the little girl who had been so shy the first couple of days was teaching us Afrikaans while she practiced her English.
“Do you want to hunt impala, Gary?” Wighardt asked.
To me, it is one of the most graceful of animals as well as one of the best suited to the South African bushveldt. If it was more rare, it would be one of the most coveted of trophies. Because it is so common, it is often overlooked.
“I want Mika to guide me,” I told her father. “Give her the binoculars and the shooting sticks and let her lead me to an impala.”
The nine-year-old could already judge a trophy ram as well as most people, but the trophy didn’t matter to me, a clean shot mattered on this, the last day of my hunt.
Our first stalk was blown. Mika was crestfallen. “Tell me they were too small,” I whispered.
She looked at me. This was a teaching moment. A guide can always say the animal was too small if it gets away.
“They were too small,” she said. We went looking for another.
Growing up in a hunting family, where the father is a professional hunter, a PH, respected among his peers, it is not too much of a stretch to imagine that this girl could be a licensed PH herself someday, a female hunter in a profession dominated by males.
It was less than ten minutes before we spotted the next group. Several rams were visible down a road, feeding in the tall grass at either side. A giraffe towered above them, spotted us and moved off. As one impala fed out of sight, another one replaced it. We stalked as close as we dared and then, when we were out of shade, Mika set up the sticks and I set the rifle on the rest.
“That is a very good one,” the little woman said. And then when it went out of sight and two others drifted into the opening, “The one on the right, he is the biggest impala.” It didn’t matter how big the ram was. If she said it was the biggest, it was the biggest.
Her dad was behind us, keeping track through the trees. Behind him were the trackers who must have been shaking their heads.
Afterward, the rangefinder said it was a 251-yard shot. The 200-grain Nosler AccuBond took the impala in the neck and the ram fell in its tracks.
We walked up on the fallen impala and the nine-year-old led the way. She touched the animal with the shooting sticks then turned around and shook my hand.
“That was a very good shot,” she said.
It’s all about saying the right thing.