“The best long range shotgun load to have in one’s boat for mallards is a fine retriever.”
I knew the shot was good, but as I watched the impala ram run into the thick tangle of trees and brush like nothing had happened, my heart sank. Cape buffalo, kudu, and puku all seemed to notice the Swift A-frame I sent their way, but not this impala. “It’s going to be fine,” my professional hunter, Strang Middleton, assured me as I lowered my rifle. “My dogs will find him.” We walked back to the truck where his two dogs were impatiently waiting. Strang’s choice in tracking dogs gave this Southern boy a sense of home, coon hounds were his breed of choice, a red tick veteran named Rigby and a young apprentice blue tick appropriately named Blue.
The dogs were released, quickly picked up the trail, and disappeared in the same direction the ram had gone followed closely by our human trackers. It felt like an eternity, but it was only a few minutes before we heard the unmistakable sound of the hounds. Strang turned to me with a big smile and said, “See! I told you.” The trackers soon appeared from the thick brush carrying the impala between them and the dogs walking proudly alongside. We positioned the ram on a rock and snapped a few photos. I made sure to give the dogs extra pats on the head.
The importance of a dog to assist you with game retrieval can never be underestimated. I have never used a dog to blood trail a whitetail, but as a waterfowl hunter, I have used a retrievers to locate ducks that otherwise would have been lost. As we inspected the impala, the shot placement was good and there is no doubt in my mind the human trackers would have found the ram in short order, but it was comforting knowing we had the added insurance policy of man’s best friend on this hunt.
Sadly we had only been home from Africa a few months, when we learned that Rigby passed away. It was an honor to share camp with him and I will never forget how he waited outside our chalets each morning to make sure he did not miss a chance to go hunting. I have no doubt that he passed the torch to Blue.
Thanks to Charles Reedy for the use of his photographs in this article