The Story of Tag #1
That may not mean a lot to some, but for me it means I have a place in history now. Sometimes things happen for a reason. My wife and I had purchased plane tickets (last fall) for the beginning of the 2009 hunting season in Africa, but our plans were to spend more time visiting than hunting this trip. In December, our dear friend and remarkable PH, Pieter Potgieter of Motsomi Safaris acquired the hunting rights in a new concession in Mozambique. It is about 60 miles into the Gaza strip and north of Chicualacula bordering the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe.
Because we have been hunting with Pieter for years (and he is the only person I would ever willingly trust with our lives in Africa), he was comfortable with us going to the new place before the lodge was totally finished. And he wanted to go and see the progress since there were delays in the building because of the record level heavy rains this year. What a great side trip! The fun part of knowing Pieter is that he always has surprises. The first year I hunted with him he arranged for me to go after a Macnab. I not only achieved a Macnab, but a Gold one at that. (A Macnab is shooting a gold medal animal, taking a sporting bird, which was a Francolin over a hunting dog with a shotgun, and catching a sport fish (in this case a Rainbow trout) with a fly on a fly rod all on one property. A Gold Macnab is when it is done in one day, Silver in 2 days and so forth. (See SCI’s Safari Journal of Big Game Hunting July/August 2007, page 54) This year’s surprise was in cahoots with my wife for my birthday. I was to have the opportunity to shoot a Cape Buffalo, it would be the first animal ever to be taken in that whole area of Mozambique. Re: Tag #1. It was a dream I had had for many years. Never had I thought that we could have ever afforded it or even more, physically do it. I was elated and scared at the same time.
My Old Boy Tag #1
Because of the rainy season (extreme rainy season this year) we could not cross the Limpopo River directly into the area of Mozambique we would be hunting. Instead, we were crossing Krueger Park in the south of Mozambique, driving many extra hours instead of the 6 hours that it would normally be. We were on something that they called a road and with all the bridges out and no signs to tell you so. It was some trip. I recommend sitting on a pillow.
We drove through the night to our destination at Motsomi Mozambique. We couldn’t afford to wait daylight traveling. We still needed time for the buffalo hunt. The road (again, I wouldn’t have used that word to describe the ruts and track) went on and on. But we made it to the new camp in the wee hours and everything was ready for us. The staff had worked so hard and was so proud to have us come that they pulled out all the stops. Remember we were the very first one to ever come. When we pulled up the generator went on and the lights lit up the two gigantic Baobab trees with the new main lodge in the middle of the two. It was breathtaking. The table was set in fine china with silver candelabras. This is where we met our resident Ph named Boet and after some chit chat we had a small nightcap and a wonderful meal while our luggage was put in the outer fly of our safari tent.
I’ve seen them on TV, but none were as nice to us as the one in our eyes at 2:00 am in the morning. With the white bed linens and zebra rugs, it was out of a magazine. My wife said she didn’t want to mess it up after the long travel. But after a nice shower in the new bathroom, we feel asleep as soon as our heads touched the pillows.
Pieter let us sleep way past 6 am. More like 6:04 am, Rise and Shine, we’re here to get you your buffalo. And you’re not going to get it in bed. I lay there thinking, if they are truly free ranging animals, wouldn’t it make sense that they could wander into camp? No one would listen to my logic. So I rolled out of bed to get ready for a day of hunting.
As I had said Bush coffee and rusk again is the staple in Africa. And I needed it. Pieter was busy talking Afrikaans, waving his hands all over the place and talking to this guy and that guy, pointing here and there. Getting the new camp to his liking. When he saw we were finished with our breakfast we went to sight in our rifles. After that ride from hell it would be suicide not to. Everything was fine. I had sent over a New Leupold VXIII 1.5x5 with the lighted reticles just for this hunt. And it was looking great, dead on.
Off we went. We drove around for a few hours checking the new water holes they had put in with bore holes and generators that would keep the pans full for the game during the dry seasons. Elephants galore, that’s what they should call the place. Just looking at the first stop our tracker Sederick said “elephants working” meaning when they eat they just push the trees down and eat the tender tops. It looks like a D-10 bulldozer went through… go figure, with all the green grass up to there bellies.
We picked up some tracks that were a little old, but promising. I don’t know how they do it. They find one track and follow that same animal day after day, unbelievable. Later that afternoon, Boet, our Mozambique resident PH and his tracker who is a reformed poacher, split from us to see what they could pick up before sunset.
When we first met Boet I introduced myself as fair game and to have some fun. But the only caveat was I had a really bad back. So there will be some things I can not do. But all else was fair game. Big mistake with these seasoned pranksters! They wrote the book on playing with clients who think they know something because we have read all the right books and watched Craig Boddington and all the other 30 minute TV shows. Boet and Pieter played with me the rest of the evening and into the next morning until I didn’t know what was the truth or lies. The only times I got a hint of the truth were when I asked Pieter directly and all I got was the answer I deserved, the sacred words “Trust YOUR PH!!!!”
So off we go again… still on this big Buffalo track with a second track of a smaller buffalo. Hopefully it is a younger bull Pieter said, not a cow that will make the old bull keep moving when he would rather stop a take a nap. This old dagga boy did stop. He stopped here and there to play in the mud. That’s when you know you’re getting closer to him by the mud that drops off of him as he’s walking away and the leaves are still covered with wet mud. You find a whole new source of energy when this happens because you’re making up ground.
One second you’re walking with your head down using what we called my Poppa stick to probe the ground in front of you and watching where you’re putting your feet because of the elephant foot print holes. The next second the rifle that you can’t carry any more is shoved back into your hands and the tracker points, drops down and takes off. He did his job, and I don’t blame him. He doesn’t have a gun and he’s seen Cape buffalo up close and personal.
We’re now down on our hands and knees crawling toward a fallen tree. Pieter slowly brings his head up and sees the Bull. Down he comes and whispers “he’s a monster bull on the right and big bosses, but I didn’t see the left side.” I don’t care I said, he’s an ol’ dagga boy. That’s what counts. Not the inches. Pieter and I have had this same philosophy for years now. We both agree that a trophy Buffalo is not the inch spread, but the age of the bull. So many hunters take soft boss bulls just to achieve the inches so they can claim ‘trophy’.
He told me where he was and I started up with the new scope turned on. Just as I did the second buffalo took off and the Bull followed. I never saw him, a day done in a split second. I would have been upset except of the positive attitude Pieter had. It seems this is Old Dagga Boy hunting and we were very lucky to have gotten this close this soon. Ask my body that and it would have given a different answer. So we back out and we make a mile or two circle to see if he continued in that direction or if he was still in that dark thick wooded area.
After making the couple hour circle we picked up the tracks, (amazing) of the same two. It was getting closer to dark so Pieter pushed the button on the GPS to mark the spot and we started to walk towards the truck. We were done for the day. And will pick up from here in the morning.
I have to throw in a little comment about the GPS. Our reformed tracker Michele had never seen one of these before. And through translating three or four different languages, some without the indigenous words to explain it, Pieter was able to tell him this little ‘thingem’ of a box talked to the sky and told him where we were and which way the truck was. Michele the tracker pointed one way and Pieter pointed another and since Pieter was the Boss he listened halfheartedly. Within an hour Michele realized the box that speaks to the sky was right, and every now and then he would ask Pieter where the truck was and was very happy when we walked up a small hill, there was the truck. So every time we stopped and started in the remainder of the hunts he wanted to see what the box said first. How fast new technology is excepted.
When we arrived back a camp a shower and clean clothes were the first order of business. Soon after were sundowners and starters. Our bush chef named Zak was fantastic, fixing 5 star meals in the middle of nowhere. Every meal was better then the last. My wife and I started making plans to sneak him home with us. Let’s see, we could build a second story over the garage for him.
10 pm already, and our bellies are full and our pallets satisfied from some great wine. We found our pillows and off we were till the 4:30 am wake up call. Are we having fun yet? The thoughts of going back to pick up the tracks and follow him again were too much for my wife Ginny. But we convinced her to at least try the morning walk. Pieter and Boet were convinced that because of all the rain there was food and water everywhere so the buffalo we were after didn’t have to travel far to eat.
We picked up the tracks from the night before with the tracker now liking this little box that talks to the sky. But unfortunately nobody told the two buffalos didn’t know they didn’t have to walk any farther.
So by 10 am my wife Ginny was done (it wasn’t the physical strain on her body, it was the 100+ degree heat and high humidity that got her). She was VERY upset she couldn’t continue. I’m such an ass - I’ll never learn to keep my mouth shut. Guys, this is a big HINT for you, it is NOT the time to joke by saying that she did real good job up until now for a girl…. Good thing she didn’t have the gun. I know that look, and I tried to back paddle. But it was too late.
So we left her at the truck with the radio and a knife and a book. And off we went again. I did mention I have a very bad back. And I do. But I was not following Dr’s advice by popping pills every 2 hours. But it was the only way I could do it. This was really a do or die hunt for me. We rested only a few times because we were closing in and there was only a few hours left of this loooong day. Pieter asked me how I was doing for the hundredth time because he could see I was going downhill. He said if we hurry a little we just may catch up to him today. Was I able to do it? A quick flash went through my head: I thought that I could give all I could today and hope for the best. But tomorrow just didn’t think would happen. So let’s do it.
An hour went by of watching out for elephant track holes, still probing with my papa stick, and vines that were now dragging around my feet because I couldn’t pick them up any longer. Then, like a bolt of lightning things changed again. At an edge of a thick dark wooded area Michelle stopped, pointed, gave me my rifle and took off. Pieter was pointing out in front, but I was a few steps behind a bush. There was no pain now, the game was on. I heard the buffalo run, oh no not again. As Pieter and I ran out to a small clear spot there he was. We had disturbed his nap and he wasn’t used to something disturbing him.
It was, and still is in my memory that everything went to slow motion. I had turned on the scope and in the darkness of the canopy there he was, where he wanted to stand his ground. All I could make out was the massive light gray of his horns and his eyes. Ruark said it and I’ve read it. But not until you’ve been eye to eye with him do you really know what that means. He was done running. I had my papa walking stick in my left hand and I put the CZ 375 on my thumb. Pieter yelled “Can you take him? He’s facing us, come down his head and take him right in the chest.” From the millisecond it took for his voice to go in my ears, through my brain and out to my finger to pull back on the trigger, and the rifle went off and spit out the Barnes Triple Shock bullet as the buffalo started to turn. When I looked back up after I reloaded the Bull was gone. Pieter yelled “Where did you hit him?” I said I don’t know, he asked was he in your scope when you fired. “YES”. The new scope with the lighted reticle was right on his chest where it was supposed to be when I pulled the trigger.
We took off running - I was on the left, Pieter on the right. Again, what back problems? I’ll pay for this. What vines around my feet? I was on such an adrenalin rush I could break trees. Pieter yells “Don’t follow him, come over this way, circle him.” At the last step before I turned his way I saw the massive splattering of blood. I had to have had the heart or lung shot. I didn’t have time to even tell Pieter when I caught up to him when we heard it. The sound I’ve heard on TV. The death bellows. What a sound! I saw him piled up and there was a big cow standing over him. I looked back over my shoulder after I heard a noise and it was Michelle hiding behind a bunch of trees watching what was going on. This was probably his first look at a live buffalo down and bellowing like crazy. It lasted about 40 seconds and while he was bellowing we were dealing with the cow who was very upset and mock charging us. I also heard lions roar at the same time. I have never felt so alive. We yelled, we screamed but the cow was determined to get us. Finally the Bull quieted down and I started yelling at her again. I threw my hat at her and with a lot of reluctance she left. We put Michelle in charge of watching the cow while Pieter and I slowly approached this massive beast. Pieter had me put another shot in him, just in case. An anchor shot he called it and I was happy to do it. While still holding my nice red lit crosshairs on the bull, Pieter checked his eyes. The beast was dead and then adrenalin ran out. Now I know why good friends hug in these situations. If we hadn’t hugged I would have fallen to the ground.
Are you alright Pieter asks? I don’t know. But slowly real time started to come back and we’re at normal speed. I can’t believe it. I got a buffalo, a real Dagga Boy Buffalo. Tag #1 Buffalo, and I was still alive… Pieter patted me on my back and shook my hand and congratulated me, and then it started. Now most men wouldn’t admit this part but I’m secure enough to do it. I started to cry. I don’t know why - I couldn’t stop the tears going down my face. And you know what…….. I didn’t care. I was with the greatest guy I’ve ever met and I know he would understand more then I did. My only regret was the best hunting partner and Love of my life wasn’t there to see it. But I’ll be telling her over and over for many years to come, step by step I lifted my gun, there he was…..
My Dagga Boy Buffalo Tag #1
We returned to Pieter’s home lodge in the Limpopo province of South Africa where his family is and we were glade to see them. Once you go with Motsomi you become part of there family. There motto is come as a client and leave as a friend has been the most truthful slogan I have ever encountered.
The next day I was to go looking for my big impalas that I am so hooked on. Not ‘just’ an impala but that one out of a hundred you glass on. I was looking for the one with the real wide spread and big shelf. Well, it rained and the mud was too thick to hunt and so I enjoyed playing with Pieter’s kids and teaching them games, such as a money tossing rocks game and I took their money. Bad man, Bad bad man. But I did let them win it back.
I hope you enjoyed my recount of my Buffalo hunt and time with Motsomi Safaris. I know I enjoyed writing it. Thank you, Eldondo the world 2nd greatest.