Michael L Arnold
“The first thing I saw were his posts.” With those words, my Personal Hunter (PH), Arnold Claassen of Blaauwkrantz Safaris, introduced me both to an attribute of my first African trophy (a Vaal rhebok), and a method he used for judging whether or not a horned animal was mature, and therefore ready for harvest.
My response: “I didn’t even see his horns, let alone your ‘posts’.” So, what were Arnold’s so-called posts? Well, as the accompanying photos indicate, they are located at the base of the horns of African antelopes. The difference between the morphology of these posts and the horn above them, can diverge greatly or only slightly (also referred to as ‘checks’ by some biologists). Furthermore, in some animals, like the grey duiker, the posts can be hidden by skin and hair and thus can only be inferred from the length of horn and other physical characteristics.
Whether highly distinguishable or subtle, if the posts are visible, they will be apparent to the trained eye of a skilled PH and tracker. Unfortunately, this is much less so for a naïve, and somewhat unobservant, client. For example, of the eight horned species I collected on my recent safari to southern Africa, the mountain reedbuck had by far the most notable posts. Yet, even when we had the animal in front of us, the smooth growth form at the base of the horns had to be pointed out to me. In fact, I seem to remember Arnold commenting – with regard to my lack of observational skills – that even Stevie Wonder could have seen the reedbuck’s posts… at 250 yards.
My rejoinder was to say: “You told me not to look at their horns, but at their shoulder.” The reply was: “I didn’t mean you couldn’t look after they were dead.” Oh, well, you should never argue with a Millennial… especially when you’re a Baby Boomer.
As far as I could gather from our conversations, Arnold’s brain simultaneously judged whether or not the animal in front of us was mature by 1) the length and thickness of horns; 2) shape of horns and 3) whether or not posting had begun to show. On the other hand, I judged whether or not an animal should be taken by whether or not Arnold and our trackers, Jambo and Neville, could assist me to see the chosen beast through the riflescope. I realise this is not indicating a high level of skill on the client’s part, but if I wasn’t honest I suspect I’d receive a well-deserved earful from my PH/new friend.
However, all kidding aside, I was taught what the professionals – both PH and trackers – were seeing. And, the lesson was a wonderful one because I came to understand again how careful and selective they were being in only taking animals that had been given the opportunity to contribute their genes and, thereby, their trophy characteristics to future generations.
And, since each of my eight horned animals qualified for a Safari Club International award (four Gold, two Silver and two Bronze), it meant that the best-of-the-best were not being taken too early. As a hunter, as well as a scientist who thinks quite a bit about conservation biology, I found our pattern of harvesting very gratifying.