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A hunter can have many partners throughout their life. Special memories can be created with friends and relatives but nothing can compare to the relationship that can develop between a hunter and a dog. Not just any dog, a special dog. Some hunting dogs are nothing more than tools but rarely, with a chance of possibly less than one in a thousand, that exceptional dog will emerge.
History, fictional and real, tells us of great hunting dogs. The story of Where the Red Fern Grows had Old Dan and Little Ann. Jerry Clower told of the great coonhound called High Ball, who was quite possibly an imagined descendant of the real Tennessee Lead. And from Africa we have the compelling story, Jock of the Bushveld, which is a must read.
Some dogs are pets; some dogs are hunters. They are not the same thing. Words are a frail representation of the emotion and memories a great hunting dog can leave us with. To truly appreciate the story of a magnificent hunting dog you must have, at one time, owned one. If you haven’t, you have my condolences; you’re missing half of what hunting is about.
In 1994 the Limpopo Province was formed out of the once Boer inhabited Transvaal. It is separated from Botswana and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) by the river Kipling described as the great grey-green greasy Limpopo. This game rich country was hunted to near extinction but today it is the center of the African sport hunting market. Thousands of hunters travel there each year for the African experience.
I was first there in 2005. It’s where I met Hennie Badenhorst a professional hunter of the highest order. Badenhorst used dogs to follow-up wounded game. This increased the opportunity for recovery when bad shooting was in the mix. Having been a houndsman most of my life, his dogs intrigued me. He had three. Two were in training but one was, as they often say, “a finished dog.” This one hundred pound hulk of a crossbred K9 DNA was, like the modern Rhodesian Ridgeback, a mix of breeds purposely – if not accidentally – combined for hunting prowess. During the course of three safaris, that dog tattooed me with the aura of Africa.
After seeing this dog in action, I asked Badenhorst more about him. Removing his fedora and rubbing the leopard scars on his head, Badenhorst said, “Nimrod brings a different approach to following up wounded game. Most blood-trailing dogs are kept on a leash while the tracker follows the spoor. Once the animal has been jumped or the trail gets warm, the dogs are released. They push the animal until it gets tired and makes a stand, defending itself with its tusks, claws teeth or horns. The dogs bark and keep it busy until it can be finished by the hunter.”
Rubbing Nimrod’s big head, Badenhorst continued, “From the first time we released Nimrod on a blood trail he showed incredible courage and stamina and brought the animal down himself. It became an almost 100% guarantee that the unfortunate hunter would get his prize if Nimrod was turned out.”
I witnessed this on numerous occasions during that first safari. Several hunters in my party shot poorly and Nimrod never failed to deliver. Sometimes animals hit well would run a good distance. Repeatedly, Nimrod ended hunts that would have otherwise been disastrous. Remember, in Africa if you draw blood, you write a check regardless if the animal is found.
During my next two safaris with Badenhorst, I refused to hunt without Nimrod. It was a pleasure to watch him work and the big hound even acted as if he liked me. Mostly I shot very well but on a couple of occasions, Nimrod had my back. I never lost an animal while with him.
Sometimes however, disaster comes with success. A hunter once wounded a baboon and Badenhorst decided to keep Nimrod leashed; a baboon is just too dangerous for a dog. Well, a common dog. Nimrod managed to pull free and was found, treed next to the river. Without warning, the big male baboon jumped from the tree and landed directly in front of Badenhorst.
They rolled to the riverbank, a snarling, screaming ball of teeth claws; an indescribable commotion that seemed straight from a horror movie. In short order the baboon was dead. Nimrod was covered in deep cuts and his coat was dripping with a mix of his and the baboon’s blood. It was a long and tenuous drive to the vet. Not just any dog can kill a big male baboon alone and live through it; it’s even risky for a mature leopard.
Then there was the bushbuck, a devilishly dangerous animal when wounded. It came at Badenhorst and his hunter, horns lowered, but Nimrod took the charge. Gored and bleeding to death, Nimrod held on until the bushbuck was dispatched. Nimrod eventually recovered and then repeated that display of bravery with a charging leopard, holding it by the throat until a fatal shot could be administered.
The vicious cats of Africa get all the credit for the fear imagined by many hunters but horned beasts like the bushbuck can be just as lethal. A rich Texan wounded a huge wildebeest bull. Nimrod was let go. In the melee that followed Nimrod was gored through the ribs and stuck to the horns of the wildebeest while being tossed side to side. Eventually, the bull attempted to use Nimrod to make a blood puddle in the dirt. Free of the horns, Nimrod turned and grabbed the bull by the nose, holding him for Badenhorst to shoot. Another long drive to the vet and period of recovery followed. A year later when I hunted with Nimrod again, he was as potent as ever.
On the third night of my first African safari, Badenhorst took me to his farm. Not the typical five-star accommodations of modern-day safaris, it was mostly a small cottage in the bush. A moonless night along the Limpopo is as dark as a West Virginia coalmine and as I lie alone in bed, apprehensive and listening to the pureness of wild Africa, I sensed a presence next to me.
Reaching out I felt Nimrod’s big head. He stepped closer, licked my face, and then folded onto the floor beside me. In a way, I think he sensed my uneasiness and was telling me, “I’m here. You’re safe.” Of course, maybe Nimrod was just being a dog, looking for a hand on his fur and a breathing body to sleep next to. Either way, I felt protected. And, I was.
All hunters going to Africa need a liaison between them and the wild that exists there. For most, that liaison is a professional hunter, a rough and experienced man who can explain away the worries and guide you through the bush. A man like Badenhorst. For me though, that liaison was and always will be Nimrod. I’ve imagined he was with me every time I’ve been there since. I always will.
Nimrod of the Limpopo was the greatest hunting dog I ever met.
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