My wife and I had spent the previous 10 days hunting various plains game in the North West province of South Africa with both the bow and our rifles. We had taken an impressive bag of trophies between us including a 35in Eland bull, two nice Kudu bulls (biggest went 55in), 40in gemsbok, waterbuck, red hartebeest bull and cow, bushbuck male and female, black wildebeest bull, nyala bull, blesbuck ram, three warthogs, two big male baboons and a honey badger. It had been a great destination for a variety of smaller game, but I was now ready for a change of pace and looking forward to transferring to Zimbabwe for a week of dangerous game hunting up in the Zambezi valley with a preferred outfitter of Gunsmoke Adventures.
Getting to the Zambezi valley meant a 4:00am start, four hours of driving to Johannesburg International airport, a commercial flight to Bullawayo to meet our PH (Dalton) and then a further nine hours driving just to get to camp. With three of us crammed into the front of the Toyota Landcruiser cab in the hot November sun and bouncing down washed out dirt roads on the way to camp, I was unable to convince Ione of the romantic glamour associated with a big game hunting safari. A little bruised and battered we rolled into camp around dinner time. This type of travel is all part and parcel with hunting remote areas and certainly helps make each African hunt quite the adventure. The early morning wake-up call the following morning came a little too soon for Ione, but there was nothing that was going to hold me back. With breakfast quickly over and the sun now rising we made our way to the range to check the zero on my rifle. The firearm of choice for my Zimbabwe hunting was my Sako Kodiak chambered in .375 H&H. I had selected a combination of 300grn Hornady solids and Federal Premium ammunition with Barnes X projectiles for the hunting I would be doing. My rifle was checked; thankfully shot where I aimed and the hunt began.
Fitted with the UV protectiion and sweat wicking performance of Lamellar’s Xplorer button shirt, we set out on a mission to find a tuskless elephant. We slowly negotiated the winding, rocky concession roads and excitement was high when we quite quickly picked up the spoor of an elephant herd. They had been following the road feeding and meandering in and out of the neighboring national park. The road was the boundary to the National Park but there are no fences. Animals crossing that boundary become fair game and so when the elephant tracks led up a dry river bed on our side we stopped the vehicle and decided to follow on foot. The next hour was spent following the direction of the herd that had recently passed this way, only to find that they had left the river a short time later and moved back into the safety of the park.
We returned to the vehicle and moved off in search of more elephant tracks to follow. It was only minutes later and as we climbed the track out of the river bed that the frantic motion to stop came from one of the trackers. Buffalo had been spotted!
A group of four dugga boys had been bedded down and were disturbed by us as we drove up the track. The herd of bachelor bulls stood just long enough to determine that there was probably at last two solid bossed bulls worthy of following up. They then turned and headed into the thicker cover, their jet black bodies blending in surprisingly well with the surrounding bush.
Buffalo can be a difficult quarry to locate at times with the aim always to find a good mature solid bossed bull that has gone past his prime and breeding age. A cape buffalo was on my list for this trip and the opportunity of spotting this group of old dugga boys was too good to pass up. We switched from elephant hunting to buff and I quickly changed the ammunition loaded in my magazine from the solids over to the Federal/Barnes X combination. Dalton passed his PH “back up rifle” to the trackers and grabbed the shooting sticks from the back and we made ready to follow up on the spoor of this group of bulls.
The trackers made their way over to where the bulls had been disturbed from their resting place to pick up the spoor and Dalton and I cut straight for the direction we had seen the bulls last heading through the jesse scrub. We had taken a short cut a few hundred meters in front of the trackers but they were sure to soon be alongside us and pointing out the tell tale marks left behind by the bulls in the hard rocky ground. We crossed a small but steep creek bed to wait on the other side for them to catch up and suddenly Dalton froze and motioned for me to stop as well. It took me a moment to make out a shape, but there to the right and about 60 meters away screened by the jesse was a patch of black. These Bulls hadn’t run off, they had just run out of sight and were still right here and standing just in front of us. The trackers, alert as ever, had immediately caught on and became motionless but were still several hundred meters away.
Looking through his binoculars Dalton made out another one of the bulls right in front of us. The remaining two however could not be spotted anywhere. The second bull was also only 60 metres, away but was in slightly clearer view and less obscured by the dense bush. We could see some of the horn but neither of us was able to make a good assessment of him and to confirm him as one of the solid bossed individuals.
These bulls were alert and it was obvious that they could sense our presence as they were looking into our direction with the intimidating glare that only a cape buffalo will have.
Keeping as low as possible whilst taking advantage of Lamellar’s ContraCAM Fade camouflage breakup we moved a few feet to one side to get a better angle of the bull in front hoping that they would stay still just that little bit longer. Raising the binoculars again I could see he was quartering towards us at 45 degrees but with his head turned front on and facing us. Dalton whispered to me that it was a solid mature bull and a nice trophy but he was not the biggest we had seen amongst the group. Looking through my binoculars I looked hard at this bull. While nowhere near the size of my previous cape buffalo, I decided he had a nice drop and shape to his horns. I whispered to Dalton to put up the shooting sticks and if he gave me a shot opportunity then I would take him. The sticks slowly went up and I placed my rifle in the V, took it to my shoulder and eased off the safety.
Peering through the scope I could see the bull facing me and glaring us down with his never ending stare. His head turned towards me would not allow for a clear shot into the vitals from this quartering angle. The shot I wanted into the exposed front shoulder would only be possible if he turned his head to the front. The danger in this I knew was that once he finally turned and took his eye off me, it was likely that it would be because he was taking off. I would have no time to weigh up the shot once this happened.
With my finger on the trigger, the cross hairs hovered over the area that I hoped to see exposed and I waited. It seemed like an eternity but suddenly the head moved and the shoulder came into view. Instantaneously I squeezed the trigger and sent the Barnes X on its way as he went to step forward. With some satisfaction I heard the thud and watched my chosen bull momentarily stagger as the bullet broke the near side shoulder. He broke cover and ran in our direction as I chambered my next round. It was about this point that I think Dalton realized that his tracker was still holding his “back up rifle” and all he had in his hands was the shooting sticks. Move back! Move back! Came the call.
I fired my second shot and registered in my mind “a miss” as the injured bull quickly closed the 60 meter gap. The bull had not directly charged us yet but was becoming uncomfortably close and Dalton began anxiously cautioning me to move back and away from the on-coming bull. I had chambered another round however and took a moment longer to be sure of the placement this time. It hit him hard in the engine room and at 20 meters from us he came to an immediate standstill snorting a mass of foaming lung blood with his head down.
Standing facing the brute, I declared him as “done” and watched as he fell to his side some moments later.
Turning to Dalton I looked at the shooting sticks he was holding and I grinned watching him breathe a huge sigh of relief as we began to recount those intense seconds as the buffalo began running towards us. With our heart rates beginning to slow, the trackers wandered over and amongst quite a few chuckles Dalton was handed his rifle.
The bull was an old dagga boy with solid bosses, nice drop and lovely even curve to his horns. He measured a respectable 37 inches outside spread and will make a fantastic European mount on my wall to always remember the excitement of this hunt.
Although dangerous game hunting is not for everyone, the support from professional local guides and trackers will help deliver the best possible hunting experience with outstanding results. Gunsmoke Adventure prides itself on having personally hunted with all of their professional outfitters ensuring that they provide their clients with only quality operators.