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The BEAST Within.

Prepare As We Might, Deep In Our Psyche Lies The Nightmarish Potential For Meltdown

At once the primal scream was all consuming, even agitated, as the relentless African sun breathed fire down our necks.

Fredrick, our native tracker, squatted in the dry riverbed with his long, black finger to his lips, big white eyes bugging out. I don't speak Swahili or any official dialect of the sub-Saharan bush, but I needed no translator for this universal signal of the wild. With the great horned monster tonnage of white rhino as our quarry, his silent intensity bespoke volumes. He had identified our quarry somewhere before us in the impenetrable thorny scrub. I strained to find the three tons of gray behemoth that stood so close, but to no avail. I took Fredrick's master predator word for it and began to get my mind right.

But it was a tad late for that. In the next moments of exploding emotions and scrambling tactical maneuvers, I would face the beast at five yards, horn to horn, face to face, spirit to spirit, and I would turn into a lost, trembling, pathetic puddle of worthless whiteboy. The standoff seemed to go on forever as if being tattooed in slow motion permanently on my inner psyche. To exacerbate the whole event, my failed state of inadequate, fumbled predatorship mindset would cause me to stick a 750-grain arrow smack dab into the rhino s massive, sequoia-like foreleg--but a pinprick to his armor, merely annoying the monster as he thundered off with a rude shake of his hind quarters in my face.

I felt like a stupid city kid about to order chicken. The biologist and veterinarian on hand assured me that it was much more painful for me than for the rhino, but I was agonizingly the guilty party.

Now don't think for a minute that I take my hunting casually or, by any stretch of the imagination, irresponsibly, especially when taking on dangerous game. Magnified by the fact that this rhino hunt would most likely be the only rhino hunt of my life, my resolve to be proficient, efficient and absolutely committed to optimum respect for the beast is paramount to my moral obligation as a reasoning, conscientious predator and my ethical sporting upbringing. That being said, I really blew it this time. Humans suck.

This particular safari represented my 12th African bowhunting foray into the Dark Continent, and I had intensely researched all things rhino for many years in preparation for this dream hunt. My heavy double-stacked aluminum arrows were delivering 90-plus foot-pounds of kinetic energy from my 88-pound compound bow. My own Nugent Blade two-edged broadheads, produced by Magnus Archery, were absolutely reliable, indestructible, razor-sharp and coated with Vaseline to assist in penetration. I was fortunate enough to have received expert advice from the masters of dangerous game bowhunting, including Howard Hill, Fred Bear, Guy Madison, Tink Nathan and my experienced professional hunter and rhino guide, Angus Brown. I left no detail to chance, studying rhino lore to the bone.

On previous safaris preceding the actual rhino hunt, I had succeeded in making clean, one-arrow kills on huge, tenacious Cape buffalo, eland, roan, zebra, waterbuck, hartebeest, gemsbok, wildebeest and many smaller animals like nyala, warthog, duiker, steenbok, blesbok, reedbuck and impala. My equipment and shooting were rocking, but I was about to be reminded that two-thirds of a three-part equation doesn't quite cut the mustard--painfully reminded. In fact, those two responsibilities, gear and shooting, are the most obvious and certainly the easiest parts of hunting. Choosing and becoming proficient with a bow are the fun, recreational parts of the hunting experience.

It is that obstacle-strewn spiritual mine field return to the timeless predatorship mindset that confuses and confounds the modern hunter. Having never missed a sacred hunting season in my life, I wasn't exactly new to this phenomena, but being the fulltime Motor City Mad Man electric rock-'n'-roll maniac and full bluntal Nugity in a career that scares many whitefolk with loud guitars across the land, my yearly return to the pureness of The Wild to wallow in her natural season-o'-harvest takes on a unique Lewis and Clark mental approach to rediscover my own Spiritual Northwest Passage at the end of every summer concert tour. From nightly ballistic guitarnoize outrage ballet to the peace and silence of the sacred hunt grounds is a leap with more than a few gator-filled quicksand chasms to overcome. Challenge is good for the soul, and I revel in the process.

Rhinos are different. It is one thing to go from hunting whitetail deer in the homeswamps of Michigan to a Rocky Mountain elk camp. Even facing the unique dynamic that is African plains game like kudu and eland is quite the leap, but the hunter's psyche goes turbo when dangerous game is considered for the first time.

There should be a Safari halfway house available to debrief the North American hunter for just such psychological preparation. It can be that intense. I assure you, reading about and looking at photographs of rhinos will not adequately prepare one for a rhino encounter. It takes more.

My mental dump in the face of the beast occurred because of the natural series of uniquely dynamic events that more often than not will take place in an average hunting experience. I have seen too many examples of deer hunters--hunting deer, with deer hunting licenses in their pocket, dressed in deer hunting clothes, with their deer bow in hand--express "surprise" when a deer shows up. We all know of the "shocking eruption" of a gaudy cockbird, even though our entire premise of pheasant hunting is to encounter just such a flush. Now think RHINO! Oh, the humanity! Can you say "Spiritual erection?"

So what do we do? Do not punt. As I sat there on the vast savannah of South Africa that hot, beautiful, reflective day a few years back, leaning against the massive side of my (fallen) white rhino, my mind flowed with thoughts of what could have been. After an extensive and frustrating tracking job, I killed the giant with a .375 H&H magnum. Though my conscience was at ease because of the believable reassurance from the demanding and knowledgeable scientist and veterinarian in our party, I nonetheless agonized deeply about where, how and why failed. Even a perfect rhino encounter will cause extreme adrenaline dumpage, but my crawling into the path of the beast, facing him so dam close for such an extended period of time, then discovering that I had misidentified my target animal and the resulting scramble to recompose myself all lead up to a brainfart of a bowshot, hence my bad hit. That's not my excuse, it is my admission. My penance continues, and this reminder is part of my selfimposed community service p arole.

I know that anybody with a lick of bowhunting experience knows exactly what I am talking about here; it happens to us with deer, elk, bear, hogs, moose, antelope, buffalo, caribou and every game animal we hunt. I cannot overemphasize the importance of getting the mind right well in advance of the anticipated encounter. Guiding bowhunters around the globe as I do, I have seen this panic manifest itself in a myriad of ways. In the final analysis, it all comes down to homework. Specialized homework.

I believe the bigger the critter, the more need for mental preparation. Same goes for newcomers to the game. We must come to grips with the excitement we know we are seeking way before we actually get there. With all the great hunting books and publications available today, there is no excuse for us to fail to be prepared. Some hunters are more relaxed and cool under pressure than others, but we all need to "predatorize" before the hunt begins and maintain that mindset throughout the hunt.

On my next rhino hunt, I'm going to "live" rhino for months in advance. I will read again everything I can get my hands on, diligently study every photograph and video available and, most important, talk it up with every experienced rhino expert I can cultivate a dialog with. Then each night and day of the hunt, I will say a "rhino prayer" to keep my spiritual vision clear. Believe me, this approach will do wonders for our deer and elk encounters and all other hunting as well. The return to our primal scream is alive with challenge, wonderment and intrigue. Know it, embrace it and celebrate it every sensually stimulating step of the way. Like in life, the journey itself far outweighs the destination. Study that map, and let the spirit soar on the wings of a predator eagle.
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Article Details
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Author:Nugent, Ted
Publication:Petersen's Bowhunting
Date:Jul 1, 2001
Previous Article:TURNING THE TABLES.
Next Article:NOBLE'S BEAR.

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