I’ll start this article by using one of my favorite lines, “Sometimes you take a trip, and sometimes the trip takes you.” This is very befitting of describing my personal Big Five safari, on an African Cape Buffalo hunt in Zimbabwe.
It all begins in the wildest, most remote area, in fantastic weather, prime season, with the best Zimbabwean guide ever. . . .and . . . . I was unbelievably sick as a dog. Not to mention, “house-bound” to my tent. It wasn’t anyone’s fault; it was a fluke stomach virus that was slowly working its way through camp. It seemed like it hit all of us, one-by-one, including the guides, and staff. What bad timing! My Big Five safari and I happened to be the one sick at the moment.
We were in the North-Eastern Corner of Zimbabwe on a Big 5 hunt and encamped on the banks of the Zambesi escarpment. My buddies Dr. Al and Roger were having a wonderful time and both had gotten their Cape Buffalo trophies while I was left to watch the Zambesi and hear the hippos all day, and of course, having a requirement to stay close, no, VERY close, to the ensuite bathroom.
Luckily, after about 3 days the virus was about done with me and I was regaining some strength. At dinner, my friend Al and Doug, our PH, announced they were going to try and hunt a spotted hyena the next morning and, if I felt up to it, would I like to come along? I thought I “might pull through” and volunteered.
The next morning, we were up at 0400 and rounded up into the Toyota “bakkie,” ready to head to the blind to see if any hyena were coming in. Let me tell you, the hike into that blind, over a mile in complete darkness, in an area that has many, many predators capable of killing man easily makes you feel VERY SMALL indeed despite the Winchester .458 stocked to the gills with full house Federal Safari ammo over your shoulder. Any person who thinks hunting isn’t fair should take that stroll in the dark and re-evaluate.
We waited in the blind, while hearing the hyena easily, very easily, crunch through the venetian blind size ribs of the buffalo carcasses that were left for bait. To put this into perspective, Cape Buffalo ribs easily deflect some of the large caliber projectiles flung at them, and here the hyenas massive jaw muscles were making very short work of them 20 yards in front of us!
When it was legal hunting light, Al was able to take a very nice Hyena just at sunrise. We took pictures and were headed back to camp for breakfast when the Toyota lurched to an “emergency-throw-out-the-anchor-emergency-STOP-RIGHT-NOW maneuver.”
I was still a bit out of it from the virus and blinked in the sunlight what the heck is going on? The PH and the trackers heard Buffalo, LOTS of buffalo, running on both sides of the road. So, we got off the bakkie to go take a look-see. After a bit of a walk we could see clearly at the brush-line a very big bull. I couldn’t make out all his horns, but could see he had a very nice Boss. Oh, and his face, I could see his face, he was just….staring back at us with evil intent and seemed to be in no hurry whatsoever. Doug, being an amazing PH, was on top of things, and reminded me very calmly as he whispered, “Estimate 4 inches down from the Boss where his horns meet. In which, I prepared to send a round between his eyes.
After getting settled into a steady seated shooting position, I let a round go as Doug suggested. My shot should have settled him right then and there, but it did not. To make a long story short, that Buffalo stalk went on for another 90 minutes. And of course, Cape Buffalo he didn’t just wander or run off, they love the thick nasty thorny stuff, known as Jess. The buff stopped once or twice, but each time we neared him, we’d just barely get a glimpse before he retreated into higher and higher almost impenetrable grass.
As we waded through the thorns and grass, scratched up and feeling beaten, we once more came upon him. We surprised him as much as he surprised us, in which, there he was! Not 12 paces in the thick grass, ready for battle. We got into “standoff” mode, just when he charged us from the tall grass. Let me tell you 12 paces does not give you a lot of time to think and its kill or be killed. With the buff nearly on us, we all unloaded into his carcass, guns blazing with my .458, Doug’s .450 Lott and Al’s .450 Marlin. At the end, we had at least 8 rounds if heavy duty bolt gun fodder into him, and I still had to go pay the insurance with one more into him just to be sure.
In the end, he was a classic “Steel Train Big helmet Dugga Boy” with broomed off horns that had been shortened with all his days in the brush. He would have scored poorly if at all in the SCI record books, and I could have cared less. This dude was a “warrior of note” and old scrapper with lots of character and claw marks from tussling with Lions. He is on my wall today and I will never ever forget that hunt.
One of the things I always tell people to pack first is “your sense of adventure.” Because the farther away from civilization the more important this becomes. Since then, I’ve been on many buffalo hunts with friends and clients. Each one has its own amazing story, and they never get old telling. If you’re ready for your Big Five safari, “Step up your game,” with JD African Safaris. Quotes are free, and the experiences are priceless.