Jumbo hunt gone wrong
This is a story that was never going to be told. I wanted to forget the whole thing as soon as possible. After struggling with my thoughts for a long time, I am compelled to tell it. To share it with fellow bow hunters so that someone can understand and learn from my mistakes. I am not proud of it or of the part that I played. Posterity though, demands that the story is told and I shall tell it as truthfully as it happened.
We were along the Matetsi River in the north of Zimbabwe. The Hwange National Park was to our South and also our boundary. To the North was the mighty Zambezi. It was extremely hot and the bush was dry with hardly any food for the animals. We were overlooking a herd of elephant that was trying to feed from the green reeds growing along the river. The food was so scarce and un-tasty that the elephants were chewing more than swallowing.
My client (Mr X) was from the big country on the other side of the world. He wanted a Jumbo. According to him, he has hunted a lot with his bow. White tail, Mule deer, Moose and Elk have fallen to his arrows. The previous year he hunted a Buffalo with another outfit. I presumed that he enjoyed it as he spoke about the hunt often. His setup was great. He had an Elite GT500 set at 90lb with 1100gr arrows and 210gr German Kinetics. This was going to be a difficult hunt as the area was devoted of good food for the browsers and the big bulls were all moving deep into the Hwange so as to find energy for their great bodies. The breading heards could not follow as the small calves would never be able to walk 70km from the river to the next available water and then another 80km to the next. They stayed along the river and surrounding hills and waited for the rain that was due mid October.
Looking at the heard below us I could clearly see no big bodies and knew that there was nothing to follow. This was day 6 of a 12 day hunt. We covered +- 15 20km every day and I could see that it took its toll on my client. His 60th birthday was a month before and this was his party. There was some more movement in the reeds and we could not clearly see the size of the lone jumbo, so we decided to go down and check.
The reeds were way over our heads and the wind was swirling all over the place as we went into that stinking hot river bed. The visibility was 10 feet so we were extra careful. I could hear the closest jumbo less than 20m away but could see nothing. A rustle close to me made me look to the left. I nearly jumped clean out of my boots when a Bushbuck ram barked 3 meters away.
The elephant stuck his trunk in the air and sniffed the breeze. He came forward purposefully to inspect the intrusion. At 10 yards I waved my gun above my head to get his attention and make him aware of us. He pointed at me with his double barrel trunk and lifted his head high. (Don't move) I said to my client in a low voice. By now I was aiming for a brain shot should he decide to push us. My friend and Zim PH was ready next to me.
Three things happened at the same time. There was a crashing sound behind me. The elephant flattened his ears, lowered his head and came. We dropped him a mere 4 yards from us. He was a small bull that was not even out of his teenage years. His tusks looked like bananas. The noise behind me was the clients nerve that broke and he made a run for it. The result was a dead elephant that was suppose to grow into a tusker 25 years from now. National Parks sent a scout with us and his report said that it was self defence. It did not make me feel any better.
After we found the client that the trackers had to locate, I gave him a good dressing down. He had some excuse that I was not interested in. I was mad as hell. Back at camp he was his old self again. His family just sat with big eyes when he told them of his experience. I should have known then.
That evening I explained to him again what he could expect on the hunt. I told him that with all the leaves of the trees on the ground, we would be doing well if we could get a 30y shot. I wanted him to practice at 40y just to make sure he could hit a target as big as a dustbin. He was adamant that he was not going to shoot further than 20y because that is how it is done. I just sighed and hoped that we could do it.
Late in the afternoon of day 10 saw us walking back to the truck from a distant waterhole. We all froze when we heard the tree branch break not to far away. Where did he come from? I knew that it was a bull because he did not make a sound. Cows make a lot of noise the whole time and you can hear them from far away.
He was not perfect but he was there and we were running out of time. Mr X wanted him badly. He wanted to rush in and shoot before the bull moved off. We had a tough time to get him to relax and do as we say. We stalked him carefully so as not to spook him. Time was what we did not have with dusk less than 2 hours away. He was in a clump of Faiderbia Albida trees or Anna boom as we know it. There were Ilala palms all over the place that made getting a clear shot difficult. At 30 yards we could see his back but nothing else. He moved a lot and never settled at one tree. This made us retreat our steps a lot.
Suddenly he came walking straight to us. He did not know that we were there and came to a tree 10 yards from us. Mr X came to full draw as the bull shook the tree to make the pods fall. I moved him 2 steps to the right to get a clear shot at the lungs. (Shoot) I whispered as the whole target opened up. My .416 was ready just in case. The game scout disappeared as was usual. My friend/PH was crouched behind a bush and could not see the bull clearly. Mr X stayed at full draw and did not shoot. I still do not know why.
Just then the bull saw us and spun around. As he turned Mr X released the arrow. I did not hear him shoot. I only realised that he did when I saw a yellow fletch disappear a foot in front of the elephant's back leg.
The bull was swallowed up by the Lala palms in an instant. It happened so fast that I could not get a shot of. As the bull turned when he saw us, I lowered my rifle and looked at the client to see what the problem was and I never expected him to shoot. I ran to catch up with the bull but it was of no use as he went flat out and I had to zigzag around trees and bush. In my gut I knew that he was wounded but hoped that with the angle, the arrow would have penetrated the liver. My first priority was the client and I went back to him. He was smiling proudly and wanted to know why I ran after the elephant. I told him what I saw and that we have a wounded jumbo with only about an hour of light left. He thought that I was dreaming and said that the shot was good and that we will find him dead soon.
Just at last light we took the spoor. There were a few drops of blood and then nothing. 300 meters further, we could not follow the tracks anymore and decided to return to camp and be back before first light. Everyone in camp congratulated him when he told them how easy it was. I sat with an aching feeling in me and could not sleep that night. I re-lived the episode over and over in my mind but could not come to think that we would find him close. Myself and my Zim friend discussed our options deep into the night. This was his first bow hunt for Elephant and he was not what to expect.
At lunch the following day, we were 18km from the place where the elephant was shot. We only found three drops of blood and not once did the bull stop. He ran for +- 2km in a dead run before he settled into that fast gaiting walk that just eats up the miles. He drank while crossing the Matetsi. An hour before sunset he crossed into another concession and we had to call of the pursuit. This was 31km from where we started according to the GPS. The client could not keep up the fast tracking pace in the scorching heat and returned to camp at lunch. This suited us fine as we could cover ground faster without him nagging at me for being on the wrong track. I knew that our trackers would never follow the wrong track but he was convinced.
We spent half of the next morning to get permission from the other concession to follow the wounded bull. The client flew out that same day and it was hectic. I promised him that I would find the bull and send him the tusks. We followed that bull for 3 days and a total of 84km when a scout from Parks contacted me on the radio and told me that they located him in thick Jess bush about 10km in front of us. We rushed there as my driver brought the truck to us. Seeing the spoor, the trackers informed the scouts that found the elephant that it was not our bull. The Parks scouts argued with us and said that they saw the arrow wound on its left side close to the back leg. Because they were in charge of this follow up, we could not argue too much.
We went into that Jess hell and quickly came upon the elephant. I could only see parts off him at 15 yards as the bush was horribly thick. The scouts instructed me to shoot when I get a gap. Moving slowly I got a glimpse of his eye as he stood broadside and put a bullet through his brain. It was not our bull. Now we have shot two elephant bulls that were not supposed to die. Parks just shrugged their shoulders and said that we must keep following the tracks. We wasted so much time after recovering the elephant that there was no light left. The next day we followed the tracks for only a short time before we lost it in a very rocky area with hundreds of other elephant around that obliterated his tracks.
I could not believe that we lost. This was the first Big 5 animal that I could not find after it got wounded. I had to abandon the search as another client was flying in for his hunt. Parks kept looking for our bull while Yawan and I were hunting Leopard and I was hoping every day that they would call me with good news. It never came. I know that somewhere in the thick bush of North Western Zimbabwe, lays the skeleton of an elephant bull that I guided and that died a horrifying death. He shall never be forgotten and I wish that I could ask forgiveness from him. He and two others never deserved to die in such a way.
What mistakes did I make? In my opinion?? PLENTY!
You be the judge.
*PS. Three months later, we found him where he died. There was nothing left of the body but the tusks were intact and the broad head was amongst the bones.
Fritz Rabe. Askari Adventures