June Musing - Cape Buffalo, When Things Go Wrong (Part 2)

Jun 01, 2018

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Day 9

Only two days left, pressure was mounting. We all left camp at first light, little did I know that today would be one of the worse in my life. Soon after we had left camp, a truck drove up to us and reported a herd of Buff on the dirt road ahead. They should have been sleeping until 10 am, had those dam lions beat us again? I was travelling in the passenger seat as we had planned to travel several miles before we started to hunt. Harry was driving, “They should be about here, yes there they are. Look at that monster, he is the one, shoot him.” I bailed out ran round the truck reached in and asked for my nine three. The first of several errors that I alone was now about to make. I clawed some shells out of my ruck (I hang it in the back of the truck) I grabbed factory RWS RN SP, another error. (Tom had advised me to use SN rds for Buff as he was concerned with over penetration. He uses a .416 and a .375 both have a higher velocity than my .470 and 9.3 I should have stuck to my original plan) I ignored the four rds of my reloads, Woodleigh Solids stored in the butt trap of the Merkel, placed there by me for exactly such an event. The nine three is scoped, the sun was hardly up, the light was poor, the dust was thick, the Buff were bunched up tight in the shadow of the Mopani I wanted to be sure of my shot, I didn’t want to hit a cow. Dick appeared beside me with my .470 in his hands, “Give me a couple of shells” I pulled two from my belt for him, he loaded. Another mistake I should have changed rifles, I didn’t.

 Worse mistake, I took a hasty off hand shot, only 40 meters, but I hit him to far back on his LEFT side, I called him quartering away the others said broad side, I said standing the others said moving. I knew from Kevin’s book this was the wrong side. I should have held on his neck, or a low heart. With my lousy placement a good solid 9.3 may have punched through to his liver. Bottom line, I pulled the trigger and the shot was poorly placed. Worse the unusually light recoil caught me by surprise, it caused me to stop and look up, I didn’t instinctively  “double tap” a cow moved, he turned into the group, the dust swirled and the opportunity was gone. Never in my life had I felt the recoil when hunting, let alone even heard the shot, this one round, maybe the most important in my life, threw me off balance, the felt recoil had been to light, a squib load?  That is not possible? With hind sight, maybe I could have pulled of a Texas heart shot with my second barrel, but that is not dignified, well I know better now.

NOTE: I had instructed my PH’s no back up shots unless a case of life or death. I did not feel it needed to be said, but obviously a badly wounded or “Gut Shot”  animal would require that the first person capable of hitting the animal would be obliged to fire.

I climbed into the back of the truck. “Well not exactly how I expected to take my first Buff but after all the problem this week I had to take what Dianne offered,” I said. Lots of back slapping “My shot was to far to the rear” I said. “No it was good” was the reply from Tom and Dick “you should have hit one lung at least, maybe two.” Another mistake I pulled the trigger I should have called it a “gut shot” but I liked to hear that my shot was OK, I even believed it.

We turned around and raced back to pick up a local tracker, headed back and unloaded. We followed tracks for about 1500 meters. There stood a Buff, head and half his shoulders hidden by  three trees, approx 100 m away, yes just as all the experts tell you, a wounded buff waiting to ambush us, no problem we could move in close and finish him, or so I thought. At this point I was carrying my .470, Tom had a scoped CZ bolt in .416 Rigby and Dick had my nine three. The tracker had the sticks half set up, I was uncertain that this was my Bull, Tom grabbed my .470 (his CZ was slung) “Quick shoot” he said and pointed to my nine three, I grabbed this from Dick but as I turned to the sticks my Buff ran off. If only I could have that moment again. From the sticks I can hit a 5 gallon pail at 100 meters with my .470, I can even drop to one knee and manage that, I should have shot instantly. When he ran of I could have hit him up the arse with my nine three but that is not dignified and I could see cows beyond him. He ran away, this was like hunting White Tail, everyone knows that Buff would charge, dam it, things were just not working out as expected. When he ran away he didn’t look like he was hurt badly to me, strange according to my PH’s his lungs should have been filling up with blood, yet the blood trail was drying up (it had never been great) and no froth. I was very mad with myself, I am capable of much better, that poor bull, now he was suffering.

We moved of, the Mopani got thicker, I touched Dick on the shoulder and changed rifles, from now on I was carrying my .470 NE, Norma factory 500 grain solid in the left and my Woodleigh 500 gr SN reloads in the right. Tom grinned as we changed rifles, “Keep your eyes up, scan the bush, ignore the tracks, things could get dangerous now”  he whispered.

We bumped the herd once in thick Mopani, the four trackers shot up trees, I waited .470 at the ready, but they all ran away, again. We went back to camp for lunch and allowed the herd two hours to settle down. Now I asked Harry what he thought of my first shot, he agreed with me, to far to the rear. If only we had had this conversation earlier, I would have made it very clear that to hell with my pride, we had a gut shot Buff and who ever got the chance to shoot him was to fire.

We resumed the tracking. For the second time in my life I found I was praying, praying that my Buff would charge us, so we could end his suffering. If any one every deserved a good stomping it was me. Come on old fellow have a go, please. I had screwed up, I had failed, I gut shot a cape Buffalo, the Buff of my dreams, me, how could I have failed. I felt like I had been kicked in the guts, the tears flowed freely, but I didn’t care, I had wounded a noble beast. I despised myself.

The tracking was called off at 4.30 pm we had covered sixteen kilometer from where the shot was fired, the trackers were superb, they found three spots of blood at the very end.

I was to choked up to hold a decent conversation that evening, I was to upset to be even embarrassed. What a jerk I had been, I even had the nerve to have chastised the PH’s  a few days earlier. No I didn’t sleep that night.

Day 10

We picked up his track the next morning. Harry pointed out that one hoof was uniquely shaped, Dick myself and four trackers headed off. Tom and Harry wished me good luck, I almost believed we would find him. Sometimes my Buff was dragging a hoof, poor fellow.  After five kilometer he moved out of our area. Dick called off the tracking, “leave them to settle down, they will return, this is their home patch and we may find him after you have left”, he said. We returned to camp.

I said my good bys to the others with a sad heart , Tom and I moved to the base camp for the final night, this trip was not at all what I had expected. Finally when I turned in, the water had quit, could nothing go right on this trip?

 Day 11

Tom and I drove round Victoria Falls looking for fuel so he could drive home. We finally found some, he dropped me at the Airport, we had  not even stopped to look at the famous falls but I wasn’t bothered.

I was the last one to walk up the steps into the plane, I turned and took one last look at the country of my dreams and then stepped into the plane. I glanced at my ticket, 2A first class, I have no idea why first class, I took my seat, why couldn’t I have been this lucky yesterday. The tears flowed, if only they could heal my poor Buff. I drank a huge bottle of wine, I told the stewardess it had been a rough week!


The love of my life arrived in Tambo that afternoon,  my wife of 38 years. I expected her to be unimpressed with two days of travelling and jet lagged but no, she arrived sparkling and pretty, just the tonic I needed. We headed to Kruger Park to start a ten day holiday and happily my wife came to love Africa and her animals as much as I do.

If you have read this far please remember the basic lessons that I preach (as do all the experts) and that I failed to practice. Make the first shot count and then poor the lead in.

Tom asked me if I would come back. At the time I was ready to quit hunting, but I will go back.

As for my Buff, and I don’t have the right to call him my Buff, I believe, with a little luck, you will survive your wound and I hope you sire many more calves, you taught me a lot and I will be a better hunter because of you, I salute you.

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