Wilson Babb – Age 15 -10th Grade – 10 Prairie View, Columbia, IL – 618-281-8557
With early morning dew lying heavily on the scrubby ground, I crawled along, making sure to avoid the prickliest bushes. As Dad, George, and I stealthily crept, electricity surged through my veins. Not only was I actually hunting for the first time in my life, but also I was in South Africa, on a remote piece of land, seeking out that ever-elusive impala.
George, a professional hunter, picked his way across the dense ground. George slowed, and heard a low grunt carrying across the crisp morning air, sending ripples of excitement through my body. As my dad and I waited patiently, George crawled up in excruciating silence to where he could see the herd. Except the herd, having been there seconds before disappeared into the brush.
For me, the impala signified more than just an animal. The impala graduated me from boy to man in my father’s eyes, and after this hunt, I would be able to hold my own when they talked late at night about those stalks that define the true men. Unfortunately, up to that point, my safety remained on, no CRACKS hissing through the air, no cries of joy.
With twigs breaking under our noisy feet after each heavy step, we deserted the brushwood areas. Then, a herd of wildebeest galloped past. With steam billowing out their nostrils, the wildebeest bellowed and began a frenzied trampling of the soil. On the ground, fresh tracks littered the trodden earth. So, with renewed vigor, we continued.
Running rapidly, a warthog darted across my field of vision. Glorious images of me pulling the trigger and finding the target fell away as the warthog vanished. After a full morning of hunting, we began our way back to the cabin, sweating profusely from the afternoon sun. When George recalled a piece of land where impalas often gather, glee engulfed his big round face and we set off once again on our odyssey for the trophy. Traveling hurriedly throughout the field, we carefully avoided open areas, spots where impala graze. Dad decided to rest his weary legs, allowing George and myself to pick up the pace.
George and I took off, listening for a sign, until, at last, we heard the deep grunt of a ram. Resting my 30.06 gun on a nearby tree, limbs jutted out in every direction making an ideal gun rest. After a few moments, a gigantic ram ambled into the clear. George, spotting the ram around the same time I did, whispered urgently into my ear.
“Alright, as soon as he turns enough for you to get a shot, take him,” he said. “Man, Wilson, this is a big one. I haven’t seen one this big in a long while. This is one heck of a trophy.”
Followed closely by three gorgeous females, the bull paced back and forth between the two tree lines bordering the open grassland. After an extremely anxious wait, the bull disappeared into the scrub. George and I slowly walked back to where Dad lay in wait, shoulders slumped, my eyes just a bit moist. Staring at the awe-inspiring sunset (and let me be the first to tell you-if you never have experienced a South African sunset, with the beautiful sun setting over the trees displaying a brilliant hue of colors, ranging from orange to a deep mahogany, then you haven’t lived), my excitement resurfaced, a palpable feeling hanging in the air. Not but a few seconds later, four young males, amusing themselves, bucked their way into the open. Quickly, I set my gun up and waited. Quavering, my hand gently released the safety, and I prepared my mind for that shot that would propel me to greatness. Surprisingly, George told me to gently take my hand of the trigger. Then, miraculously, a ram, my ram walked out into the open.
Steadying myself, I listened, as George waited no more then 5 seconds and then said, “Alright, Wilson, he is the one. Whenever your ready, pop em’.” As I squinted into the scope, a sudden feeling of calmness encased my body, causing my hands to stop shaking, and my heart to slow. After taking a deep, deliberate breath, I once again and for the last time released the safety, and lined the shot up between the cross hairs.
BOOOM! The shot shattered the quietness, piercing my eardrums, causing me to drop the gun and inhale sharply. Nervously, I tottered out to where the impala had been. After a few seconds, although they felt like eternity to me, George roared, calling me over to where the ram had stood moments before. Sprinting over the uneven terrain, I skidded in to where George stooped over a puddle of coagulated blood. Studying the blood, I looked at a bright red, heavy splotch. Lung blood. Leaping up, we followed the trail, until finally the body of the immense ram came to sight, a monument in nature. George scurried over, along with my dad, who, as we exchanged glances, showed the pride he felt with the sparkle in his eyes.
Pictures flashing, my smile lit up the South African night. Later that night we feasted, stuffing ourselves on thick, delectable wildebeest burgers sitting around the fire. I, for the first time in my life, knew what happened when you graduated into manhood. Sitting there, with my dad and George, I finally understood what my dad meant when he talked about his own first hunt. Later, as I rested sleeping away the weariness that had seeped into my bones, I dreamt good dreams, of impalas, and my next trip to the majestic country of South Africa.