When 4 Daggas Go Head to Head
For as long as they could remember Earl Lanning and Donald Kimmel had spent many a night around a North American Camp Fire romanticizing about a shared resolute desire - the Mecca and Final destination for all hunters around the world, namely Africa!
What was once a mere fantasy had become an imminent 'do or die' reality as Earl had learned from his physician that his health was not what it used to be and both these
seasoned hunters knew what had to be done.
It was January of 2012 and it just so happened that one of the outfits that Earl had been making inquiries about was in Charlotte NC at the time so with reborn youthful excitement these long time comrades set out on what would be the start of fulfilling a lifelong dream by meeting with Richard Lemmer, the Owner of Safari Afrika, to discuss details and possibilities of the near future.
After some friendly banter and bouncing around of ideas it was decided that Earl and Don would depart Asheville Airport on the morning of May 30, 2012 and hunt June 2nd through 13 accompanied by Earl's grandsons Kip Ray and Ryan Sutton, and daughter June Ray. Arriving in a bustling Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport in South Africa on June the 1st, armed with large caliber Double Rifles and the intent to hunt one of the most fierce and worthy of the famous 'Big 5' namely the Cape Buffalo, these two lifelong friends knew that this was it !
We woke up in Base camp at Safari Afrika's Headquarters the first morning well rested and astounded by the beauty we were surrounded by. Situated in the Limpopo Province of Southern Africa and nestled by the mystical Waterberg Mountain Range, it truly was a mind altering experience. Eager to get down to the firing range to check our weapons and gear we immediately tucked into a mouth watering breakfast prepared by Richard's wife, Ruth.
Around the breakfast table Professional Hunters, Richard Lemmer and Rowan Zerf remarked that it wasn't a common occurrence to have first time Africa hunters who have the courage to go head to head with the 'Black Death',especially not hunters that are edging on 80.
Unique, perhaps, but these are no ordinary men, both in great shape for their age and remarkable marksmen.
On the Range, Don fired his Custom Belgian .450 Alaskan Improved built by Christopher Bruxelles in 1965 first and it looked good. It weighs only 8 pound 5ounces including optics,and when firing the 400 grain Swift A-frame bullet it Bucks something severe. Don hand loaded it to fire at 2,190 FPS delivering a Whopping 4,250 foot pounds of energy specifically for the purpose of this hunt.
Earl's 500 N.E. Merkel double needs no introduction to those familiar with double rifles and it proved on the range once again that these guns are synonymous with deadly accuracy and knockdown power.
We had 2 days to kill before we would set out on the 5 hour journey to where we would be hunting the Buffalo's so we spent the time getting ourselves accustomed to the strategies and hunting techniques in Africa, hunting various plains game, enjoying the savanna just being under African skies.
We were kicked out of bed at 01:30am on the Tuesday the 5th although we had barely slept due to anxiety and excitement of what the next couple of days might have in store for us.Driving through several hours of darkness, at 8am we eventually arrived at Lion Spruit Reserve, which adjoins the Kruger National Park. Here we met Jasper Aitchison, one of Richard's colleagues who would be the acting PH in charge of this part of the hunt as this was one of the concessions he looks after and he knows these neck of the woods like the back of his hand and has hunted this region extensively.
The reserve had been closed to the public by special request for us to be able to hunt this area as there was a need to cull out some of the old 'Dagga Boys' here and we were only too happy to oblige. Upon driving through a security checkpoint, we encountered some workers repairing the perimeter fence which had likely been mashed up by one of the larger critters.We couldn't help notice however that the work force was guarded by uniform security armed with semi-automatic assault rifles. That's when we knew we were in deep dark Africa, and whatever lurks here, eats, kicks and bites back Hard!
It is a large reserve and it was explained to us that due to its sheer size sometimes days go by without spotting these beasts so the best tactic would be to split up into groups and patrol different areas by truck and once either of us had spotted our quarry we would report back via radio and then meet up again and plan our strategy before continuing our hunt on foot.
Less than an hour had passed when we spotted a herd of no less than 25 buffalo. We looked on in amazement and intrigue and it seemed that our curiosity and desire to overcome these magnificent beasts was shared by our more than worthy adversaries. They were snorting and pawing the ground, and after some of them advanced a few paces to further intimidate,would return to hold their battle line once again, feeling satisfied that they had given us the appropriate warning as to what we were truly up against.
While our professional hunters were glassing the herd in search of a big bull, Jaspers phone rang. It was the headman of the work force we had passed earlier. An old troublemaker bull was unhappy with the workers' intrusion and the security guard was forced to fire a warning shot to keep him at bay but it was in vain as he simply stood his ground in disgust. As Don was to go first, Jasper urged him into the truck and they knew there wasn't much time. Upon arriving at the site of the recent altercation Jasper learned from the crew that the bull had moved some hundred yards on into the thick brush and after investigation he reported that there were three bulls and not just one.
In an effort to outflank the bulls the party entered the bush along a slight depression in order to remain as concealed as possible, but the bulls being too vigilant of our tactics and weary of their safety, countered every time by shifting around and facing us head on, giving us a spine-chilling death stare (as if we owed them money which they wanted to collect!).
Don and Jasper Broke away from the hunting party and moved to the opposite side of the clearing occupied by the Dagga Boys? The bulls continued to shift around and face the hunters wherever they went. Jasper suggested waiting for a side on shot, but every time we advanced to get a better vantage they yet again shifted head on. They were clearly well aware of our game plan.
We waited for what seemed like an eternity when finally two of the bulls swung around and walked off into the brush. The remaining bull briefly faced us defiantly but as he swung around to move off he presented Don with a classic side on shot. Don didn't hesitate to line up his Leopold Scope, gently caress the trigger, and let the old boy have it. The shot rang loud and true and the Dagga Boy lurched forward flattening everything in his path and came to an ungraceful crashing halt on the ground, bellowed twice and then, silence. The result of a perfect low front shoulder shot delivered cool and calmly by the Colonel.
Earl was up next and after getting the recon team organized to take care of Don's trophy, no time was spared to do it all over again. We found a Buffalo drinking at a small lake but as soon as we were spotted he moved up the adjacent slope and headed straight towards some thick and nasty brush. We gave chase and when we were some 40 yards away he stopped side on, lowering and turning his head towards Earl with that all too familiar debt claiming glare.
Having done extensive research on a spinal shot on Buffalo and in order to take it off its feet right on the spot, Earl lined up his vertical sight with the right front leg one third down the beasts back. In the last instant just before the shot went off, the bull moved and as the shot cracked, the bull ran crashing through heavy bush and disappeared. The last thing that we would have wanted and frustrating as Earl has always been able to call his shots and knew
he was dead on the spine when he fired.
The Professional hunters asked Earl the standard question, would you like to stay or should we go in and recover the bull alone? Hell no, of course I'm going was his response. He started this fight and he was going to finish it, although looking for a wounded buffalo through thick brush following a fairly scant blood trail was a daunting experience to say the least. The trail eventually led out of the thick stuff and into a friendlier looking clearing scattered by the odd acacia tree but the trail became faint.
Suddenly Earl spotted the bull lying motionless under a tree about 30 yards ahead. Jasper walked up to the Bull and tapped the bull on the head with the barrel of his .375, which is most wise and standard practice in these parts. The animal remained motionless and it was declared dead. Upon inspection of the point of impact it was discovered that the 570 grain Woodleigh bullet had struck the bottom right of the horn, changing its path downward and striking the heart. This was luck, but it stands as a wonderful testament to the great power of these large caliber rifles.
That evening in the cleaning shed where the buffalo's were being skinned and butchered Jasper handed Don the 400 grain Swift A frame bullet which had perfectly mushroomed. The bullet entered and broke the left shoulder, continuing through the left lung and severing the arteries at the top of the heart, passing through the remaining lung and stopped right under the hide of the opposite shoulder. This marriage between rifle and bullet was a perfect combination for this task and performed handsomely.
The following day the hunt continued at the Maraheki Ranch, a 5,000-acre hunting area where the party acquired several kudus, impalas, and warthogs. The group then returned to Safari Afrika's headquarters and hunted in that area for the remainder of the 10-day trip.
Don bagged a very good Warthog as well as a Gemsbok and a Blesbok. Earl took and outstanding Impala, a Gemsbok, and an excellent Zebra.
When not actively hunting the group enjoyed some outstanding food, although some would have to admit that they were not always sure what they were eating. Meals included many local fruits and vegetables as well as fresh game meat, prepared and served in true SouthAfrican style.
All in all it was the hunt of a lifetime. The area is beautiful beyond description, the people are friendly and game is plentiful and abundant. The terrain is much like the high plains of the western United States, except almost every plant in South Africa has long, nasty thorns ready to reach out and stick anyone who isn't sufficiently careful to avoid them. But then, no locale is absolutely perfect I though this territory comes pretty close
Posted on behalf of Earl Lanning as he has no access to the Forum . Earl will be back in July at 81 for Leopard!