Hunting Buffalo in Mozambique - The Land of My Dreams
by Jessica Brooks
Mozambique has always fascinated me. I remembered my father being invited to hunt elephant there shortly after the country’s civil war ended in 1992. Back then, no one really had much of an idea what kind of game remained in the country because it had been closed to hunting for so long.
These small, jungle forests seemed to "patchwork" among the swamps and tall grass where bushbuck, bushpig and warthog live. The wind can stand virtually still inside the canopy, or change direction very quickly, which led to several disappointing stalks.
Mozambique was intriguing, mysterious, and dangerous. Bands of rebels were still at large, and protection for hunters couldn't be guaranteed. And let's not forget about the land mines!
Hunting buffalo had been my dream ever since I could remember listening to my father talk about his adventures. So I booked my safari with McDonald Pro Hunting, confident this would be a fantastic experience because they've been in the business for many years, and many of their clients use Barnes Bullets, my family's business.
When I Polokwane, South Africa, I met PH Sandy McDonald’s mother, Helen – a wonderful hostess and a delightful person. The McDonalds operate a Bed & Breakfast on their farm, where I stayed that night. The next day we headed to the airport to clear customs and fly to Quelimane, Mozambique.
Had it not been for Sandy's wife, Tracey, I might still be stuck at customs in Polokwane. Is it just me, or did that customs agent make up the rules as he went along? I boarded the 6-seat Piper just after 2.00 p.m. for a thankfully uneventful flight. There was a strong headwind or we would have arrived in time to go on to Mahimba, the hunting concession. Instead, I spent the night in Quelimane in a guesthouse that belonged to a local veterinarian, an old but well kept, comfortable home.
There we met Nathan, one of the PHs, who said that not only was the buffalo hunting looking good, but that the area was the best for Chobe bushbuck. They’d also been seeing 11- and 12-foot crocodiles, which piqued my interest. The wheels in my head began to spin. My thoughts had been focused on buffalo, but Nathan was presenting me with other fantastic options.
Jessica found crocodile hunting to be more fun than she could have imagined. Her PH had named one of the beaches "Club Med for Crocodiles" due to the number of these large lizards one could catch sunning themselves mid-day. One shot from her .416 Remington Mag loaded with 350-grain Barnes X-Bullets did the job.
There are things that just can't be communicated until the client actually arrives in the field, and I was discovering what I might encounter. Everything was new to me—it was as if there was electricity in the air.
We would start hunting buffalo the next day, but I barely slept a wink. Quelimane was alive all night with people yelling and partying in Portuguese, dogs barking and howling, and chickens clucking. My 6.00 a.m. wake-up call was the less-than-pleasant sound of an air-raid siren. On the way to the airport, I soaked up some of the local sights and received a quick history lesson of the town that was part of what was formerly known as the Zambezia Province. I was grateful for the mini-tour, which added greatly to my experience.
We arrived at the small, but clean airport at 7.00 a.m. where many locals were employed to keep the grounds and airstrip cared for. Ninety minutes later we departed for camp — a short 15-minute flight in the Piper. From the air, I could see that Quelimane was located next to the very large Concua River, which flows into the beautiful Indian Ocean that is lined with white, sandy beaches. If I finished my safari early, I could spend a day or so doing a bit of fishing or just relaxing on the beach.
The meals in camp, mostly consisting of wild game, were excellent, which contributes to the pleasure of any African safari experience - especially when the hunting is hard.
At camp I was introduced to my PH, Leon, and his wife, Christelle, who would accompany us each day to film my hunt. I threw my gear in the A-frame hut, had a good breakfast, and assembled my rifle. I’d chosen to bring my .416 Remington Mag, which my father had built on a Mauser 98 action several years ago. He has hunted dangerous game with it all over the world from the Arctic to Africa, and I’d inherited the rifle in 2000 while preparing for an Alaskan brown bear hunt. Although it wasn't my first bear hunt, I was ready to shoot a larger calibre. The rifle was offered to me, but the stock needed to be shortened substantially. This was the point of no return for my father, as I am a ‘pint-sized’ shooter. My husband jokingly refers to this rifle as ‘the Fisher Price model’ with its 12-1/2-inch length of pull. Nonetheless, it has proven itself to be deadly. The load I've stuck with for years isn't a barn-burner, but it's accurate, and it does the job. I loaded a 350-grain Barnes X-Bullet with 79.0 grains of RL15, which produces 2,525 fps. I didn't feel the need to bring solids because of the performance I knew this bullet would give me.
When I travel with my rifles, I remove the stock from the barrelled action. After I reassembled the .416, we met at the airstrip to sight it in. Before I left home, the rifle was shooting two inches high at 100 yards. Leon was satisfied when the bullet hit the target an inch high, dead centre, at 40 yards. We were off in the Land Rover by 10.30 a.m. and parked at noon, then set out on foot to look for buffalo tracks.
We cut the tracks of a herd after a half-hour of walking. The trail led us through a few swamps, including one that was waist deep (chest deep for me). At around 2.30 we came upon fresher tracks and followed them to a grove. The wind was blowing at our backs. Suddenly we heard crashing through the bush - three bulls had caught our scent.
One of the trackers went ahead to determine if we could catch up to them. We probably could have, but not before dusk, and then there would be a long walk back to the truck in the dark. We decided against going after them and headed back. The trackers were burning grass behind us as we went. There was much dead undergrowth, which made walking difficult. Once when we stopped and waited for the trackers, I realized I was standing on a red ant hill. I began swatting them off, which made them very angry, and they began biting! (Note to self: Stay calm when African ants begin crawling all over your body. They sense panic. Yeah, right!) I unzipped my pants legs at the knees and was finally able to slap them all off. I was told their bites were harmless, but they were still painful.
We arrived at the truck around 4.00 and road-hunted back to camp. We came across reedbuck and half-a-dozen warthogs, but each time they were able to evade us. Pigs would be tough to hunt in the tall grass. The truck pulled into camp at 6.30, and we were served an excellent supper of reedbuck neck stew over coconut rice while a reedbuck quietly watched our fire from the swamp 50 yards away. Surprisingly, there weren’t too many mosquitoes, and I was put to sleep at night by croaking bullfrogs - very peaceful and relaxing.
The next day we set out to find the herd we’d seen the previous day. The wind was at our backs. To prevent our scent from blowing right to them, we backed up and moved wide around the herd until the wind was in our faces. We sneaked up to within 300 yards of the buffalo. They were in the tall grass, but we could see them from small hills and termite mounds.
The stalk began in the swamp. I followed closely behind Leon, and we crept through the towering grass to a clump of malala palms. The herd consisted of approximately 250 animals, with most of them roughly 150 yards away. Leon spotted some nice bulls. One real old bull had good bosses that were hard, and had heavily broomed-off tips. I would have fired, but he never presented himself well for a good shot.
We sneaked to the next palm clump, and spotted more good bulls about 100 yards away. One looked to be excellent, but one of his horns had been broken off from fighting. As the herd moved, we had to belly-crawl to several other palm clumps. Learning to stalk antelope on the Wyoming desert as a youngster with my parents was now paying off. We were spotted by a few curious cows, but they didn't know what we were, so they half-cautiously rejoined the herd.
Crawling to within 50 yards of the herd, we noticed off to our right a nice bull with another young bull and some cows bedded in the shade. I could hear the herd grunting and swishing through the grass as they ate. It was awesome being this close!
I decided to shoot this bull. Leon arranged the shooting sticks for me, and I set my rifle on them. Then we waited. When I got a good look at him, I saw nice bosses, just a little soft in front, but good curl. I glanced at my watch. It was noon. After three or four minutes, the bull stood up, stretched, and turned broadside 60 yards away.
When I fired, he began bucking. Leon urgently said, "Reload! Reload!" but I already had and was ready to take a second shot. No need, though—the bull had disappeared in the grass, and went about 40 yards. We heard five long, deep bellows. When he made a final moan from deep in his gut, we knew he was finished.
Meanwhile, the rest of the herd just stood there, staring. The animals milled around for a good five minutes, then bolted off.
As we walked towards the bull, my heart was pounding. We found him lying on his back, upside down. He had rolled into a shallow ditch. We struggled to turn him over and began taking photos. Tears were streaming down my face – I’d accomplished something I’d dreamed of doing for many years. I was a little embarrassed by my reaction, but Leon seemed to understand how much this meant to me.
I was very pleased when we retrieved the bullet, which had delivered picture-perfect performance. The bullet had entered the right shoulder, and I found it just under the hide of the left shoulder. The ventricles of the heart were severed, and the bullet had created a massive wound channel through the top of the heart and lungs. That night, everyone toasted the first woman to shoot a buffalo in the Mahimba camp.
Jessica Brooks took her first Cape buffalo at 60 yards with a single, well-placed 350-grain Barnes X-Bullet from her .416 Remington Mag, with PH Leon Lamprecht of McDonald Pro Hunting.
My safari didn't end there. I hunted crocodile from a boat, which was more fun than I’d imagined. And hearing Chobe bushbuck barking under the thick, jungle canopy was really incredible. I found it a most challenging hunt. Tree monkeys sounded their alarm almost every time we began a stalk. The end result was very rewarding - what a beautiful animal my bushbuck was! And I shot my warthog 15 minutes before dusk on our way back to camp on the last day of the hunt.
Fantastic organization and top-notch, knowledgeable, good people provided me with a quality safari experience. McDonald Pro Hunting are not only business associates, but also good friends.
Hunting for buffalo here required trudging through the swamp, sometimes in chest-deep water for Jessica. She cut several slits in the uppers of her boots with a knife to help the water drain out with each step.
Jessica is the daughter of Randy and Coni Brooks, owners of Barnes Bullets since 1974. She began working for the company at age four and has been involved in nearly every department – from managing the ballistics lab to public relations manager. Jessica has hunted big game all over North America, taking an Alaskan brown bear at age 14. Future hunting plans include hunting elephant with her soon-to-be husband, Thad Stevens, who is currently serving in Iraq with the National Guard.