May Musing - Cape Buffalo, When Things Go Wrong (Part 1)

May 01, 2018
I had dreamed of hunting Cape Buffalo ever since I had read “Pondors” African Rifles and Cartridges” and that was over forty years ago. This trip had been three years in the planning and during that time I had made three Safaris to Africa, two for plains game and one for Ellie, all had been successful. I have harvested over one hundred and fifty head of big game, in Europe and North America. I have a good practical knowledge of rifles, bullets and ballistics; I have carefully studied Kevin Robinson’s books as well as several others.  My normal practice before I depart for Africa is 10 rds a day of full power .470 NE ammo for 14 days, from point blank to 50 meters with some odd rds back to 200 meters. The scene was set for a successful Safari for Cape Buffalo, to return with no trophy, or worse to screw things up was unthinkable, at least I believed that to be the case, so off to Zimbabwe and the hunt of a life time.
 
I am writing this for two reasons, the first, I find this is therapeutic and secondly it may help a future Buffalo.
 
My son was supposed to accompany me on this trip, it would be his first Safari, with two months to go he had to cancel, I was floored, but determined to go on, it was to late for me to stop.
 
The new .450/.400 NE rifle failed to arrive successfully, no problem I would stay with my trusty .470 NE and 9.3 x 74R. I had bloodied the .470 on Ellie and the 9.3 had taken all kinds of game. I planned on having the 9.3 as back up and as she had a 1-6 Swarovski scope, she would be used for the Hyena and time permitting maybe a Sable.

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Day 1
 
Arrived Joberg international airport but Air France failed to produce my duffel and rifle case, now it would be touch and go if I made my connection to Victoria falls on day two.
 
Day2
 
Thanks to a very officious SAP girl my rifle was refused the check in to VFA as I was five minutes late. Scratch the first days hunting.
 
Day 3
 
Hotel shuttle was overheating, couldn’t even make it out the hotel drive. Was it possible anything else could go wrong? Hell no, I was away for the hunt of a lifetime. My message to my PH had not reached him advising him of my enforced delay, but he was there to meet me, all smiles. (For this tale let’s call my three PH’s Tom, Dick and Harry. Tom was the PH and outfitter I had booked with. Dick was the PH hired by Tom to look after me. Harry was the older PH and outfitter who had the concession we were to hunt on.) I was pleased to see Tom drove a nearly new Toyota truck with good tires; at last things were looking up. We had a flat tire one kilometer from camp, in itself of no importance but I was surprised when I learnt this was the first flat in this two-year-old truck. I thought changing the wheel was going to kill Tom, he was pretty sick; he told me the whole camp was down with summer flue. As always I helped change the wheel, I like to be involved, it is part of the experience. I was trying to figure out just how I would load this giant of man into his truck if he collapsed, he made three of me, but he survived. We made it to camp, arrived at 3pm. Tom asked if I needed to check my rifles, Buffalo were very close and they would prefer I didn’t fire. No problem I said, then everyone sat around and drank beer until supper time, no afternoon recce just lots of BS tales and that there were lots of Buffalo and I was expected to tag out before breakfast.
 
Day 4
 
I was first up sitting by the fire before the rest appeared! I took Tom to one side and expressed my concern that I had not come here to tag the first bull we found but that I wanted a real old beat up bull, I was not worried how he scored but he had to have a solid boss and worn up horns. “No problem, we all know what you are looking for” he replied. We tracked a herd until it entered a block we couldn’t hunt in. After lunch we tracked a small herd into long grass, one young bull and the rest were cows and calves, even so we couldn’t get close due to the wind.
 
For the next day and a half the local Lions proved that they were better Buff hunters than us, when the Lions were not around the wind would do a 180 degree change every time we just had the Buffs in sight.
 
Day 5
 
Drove around until 9.30 am then PH’s decided to move to a new camp, there were good Sable there as well as Buff. I explained again that the Sable were number two on my list and if I failed to get a Buff (I was starting to have my doubts) I would need to save the cost of a Sable to put towards my next Buff hunt. Tom replied, “No problem, we will get your Buff, I guarantee it.” We arrived at the new camp at 5.30 pm.
 
Day 6
 
Found the fresh trail of a new herd, followed them on foot until lions moved in, we listened to them kill a Buffalo, must have been close. Harry called the stalk off. We returned to camp before noon. The new camp was excellent but we sat around all afternoon. We watched Warthog, kudu Baboons and Ellie come to the water hole 100 meters from the viewing deck. I was disturbed when I was told that the table with cushions and chair was put there so I could shoot a Sable when they came in to drink and maybe even a Buff if I was lucky.
 
Day 7
 
I was up early, eager to go, the camp rose slowly, there was a change in plan. We would now wait for a scout to phone in a report from a new area. I sat on the viewing deck all day counting Baboons and watching the grass grow. I turned to Tom and the conversation went like this.
 
“Tom, can I ask you a question?”
 
“Why sure, what is it?”
 
“Do you think it is ethical to “pot’ a Sable when he comes in to drink here?”
 
“Yes this isn’t only a viewing spot, this is now a hunting camp.”
 
“Well I don’t think it is ethical, in fact I will not shoot one from here, no matter how big he is.”
 
“I’m glad you said that, it does not sit well with me, I will tell the others!”
 
An hour later eight Sable came in to drink, the first Bull was 40 inches the last one much bigger. The Leica told me 97 meters, superb, they were nervous, a quick drink and they ran away.
 
Tom looked at me, “Shall we try them now?”
 
“You bet”
 
I ran to the truck grabbed the nine three; Tom picked up the sticks and whistled for a tracker. We had a short stalk but they were long gone.

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At 3 pm we had a drive round in the truck, it was obvious we were looking for Sable. Twice Dick told me I could load my rifle. The contempt must have showed on my face, I don’t hunt from the back of a truck I thought, not at least for as long as I can walk.
 
We got back to camp, would you like a drink? Yes make it 50/50 I said I took a huge gulp from my Scotch and water and then I turned to Tom and Dick and chewed them out, I gave them a full blast from both barrels. I basically told them I came here to hunt Buffalo, not sit on my arse watching the grass grow. I would not shoot a Sable from the stoep, in fact, to hell with the Sable, I would not shoot one until after my Buff was down. If the wind and the Lions beat us that was fair, that was part of hunting, but I did not pay them to sit on their arse and drink beer while we waited for a scout to call in a report on a cell phone in an area with no service and from a vehicle that was out of fuel. I expected a maximum effort the next day, hell was I mad. I told them that never in my life did I expect to dress down two African PHs and certainly not you two. If this was the best they could do then we should call the whole hunt off, drive to Tom’s home and hunt some plains game. They hung their heads in shame said that I was right and that tomorrow would be different.
 
NOTE: It is extremely difficult to maintain high hunting ethics when you are the only hunter in camp and the PH’s are pressuring you to shoot. I was not happy inside and felt that they were not been professional.

Day 8
 
New plan, we all moved back to first area. This time I travelled with Harry the older PH, lots of experience here, a superb tracker, very experienced, he knew what he was doing, I was very pleased to have him with me. We went back to a different part of the first area. Harry picked up a local tracker, he was excellent, had worked with Harry a lot in the past and knew his job well, so with two trackers the four of us set of. Found fresh tracks, a mixed bunch, four of us, two trackers, Harry (unarmed) and me with my trusty .470 DR, life doesn’t get better than this. If a Buff charged it would be all up to me, I was glad I had my .470 and that the going was fairly open. The wind was in our face, it stopped, a fresh blast of wind hit the back of my bare legs, Harry and the tracker exchanged looks and just had time to look up when we heard the Buff charge away. They must have been close; I saw one tree where a Buff had smacked it with his horn as he ran off. Oh well, I least I was hunting Buff.
 
In the afternoon the Lions beat us again, man, they were everywhere.
 
Set up to call Hyena that night but nothing at all heard! That was strange.

To be continued...



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