When all Hell Breaks Loose Namibia
by Jason Cauble
I have always had a fascination with Namibia’s unique beauty of rich desert scrub and rugged, pristine mountain landscapes. It reminded me of childhood memories hunting with my father in the arid west Texas mountains. Except here, all hell broke loose when a Cape buffalo bull in a very bad mood crashed through the scrub, heading directly for me.
Having spent the better part of our third morning following the spoor of a decent sized buffalo herd, we met a small band of tracks breaking off from the group. After considerable discussion amongst our team, we decided to follow them. Presumably, we were tracking a herd of old bachelor bulls that had tired of the crowd. But you never know for sure what you’ll find at the end of the trail.
The morning had been quite cool, but as the August sun began to rise, anything we found would likely be lying in the shade in respite from the desert sun. Our trackers moved confidently forward, although I couldn’t tell much from the loose prints in the sand. “These tracks are fresh,” voiced PH Jamy Traut assuredly. Despite each laborious step in the sand, it was obvious we were on to something and Kumado, our lead tracker, was intently serious about the task at hand.
Making our way through the maze of bush and scrub, we were in the middle of a vast expanse of open country that all started to look the same – typical desert scrub with the odd baobab tree and thorn bush dotting the landscape under blue skies as far as the eye could see. With no discernable landmarks to go by, I began to wonder how many miles we had trekked and how much further we would go before we finally spotted our quarry, as we had yet to see anything noteworthy. But that would change soon enough.
“We are definitely on to something here,” Jamy said. Then Kumado hissed as he crouched behind a small bush, raising a hand to signal something in front, which lifted everyone's adrenalin. Not 20 paces ahead, I began to see the outline of the dark blot facing away from us, head in the wind. As I reached for my binoculars, Jamy grabbed my arm, and we moved forward a bush or two closer for a better look. “It’s an old bull lying in the shade,” Jamy whispered, as we both tried to size up the headgear. Having now found the animal in my binos, I could see a wide frame of black horns very clearly against the backdrop of grey thorns and bush. He was an old male with wide sweeping horns atop his head; but we wanted a closer look.
With the wind in our faces and the old bull oblivious to our presence, Jamy and I angled into position and began waiting for the bull to raise his head. The adrenalin began to surge even more when Jamy agreed that we should take this opportunity to fill our buffalo licence for Bushmanland – a vast and remote area on the north-eastern border of Namibia and Botswana where we had the only 2006 tag for buff. Our chances of taking a really good trophy were extremely good, as only one buffalo had been taken in the entire concession the previous year. (We had been planning to hunt the diverse Caprivi Strip, but the government had yet to grant the necessary paperwork for the concession, so we had moved to Plan B.)
PH Jamy Traut, Wouter and Jason Cauble admire two fine trophies taken in Namibia’s Bushmanland. The first bull taken has an impressive 43.5- inch spread, and while the second lacks the width, he more than makes up for any shortcomings in mass. The boss is truly enormous.
Separated by a mere 20-odd paces, we passed on the shooting sticks, and I prepared to shoot freehand while Jamy made a series of noises to coerce the bull to stand. He rose and looked directly at me as I aimed for the shoulder, squeezing the forward trigger releasing a 400-grain soft point from the left barrel of my Merkel .416 Rigby double rifle. The shot was on target and I quickly squeezed the rear trigger, releasing the solid from the right barrel for the same position. The first shot was clean, and as I fired the second, the bull crashed through the scrub directly away from our position.
The bull quickly disappeared, and as I moved forward to reload, all hell broke loose when a second bull, not previously noticed and in a very bad mood, crashed through the scrub to my right, heading directly for me, announcing his arrival in a somewhat assertive manner. It was his eyes that I remember seeing most, bloodshot and bulging as if they might literally pop out of the sockets. As he was practically on top of me in an instant, I had only a spilt second to sidestep the charge when Wouter, Jamy’s longtime right-hand man – and soon to be my favourite person on the safari – came to the rescue. A single solid from his .458 Lott broke bone in the bull’s shoulder, sending it head-over-heels like a cartwheel in the sand.
Jason Cauble and Wouter with the first bull taken, a very respectable 43.5- inch spread. Walking in sand with the scrub in the background makes it easy to see how one might catch a couple of old bulls unawares.
Having gained a reprieve from my predicament, I immediately turned to empty both barrels into the spine of the bull at less than 10 paces, ending the ordeal once and for all. As the dust settled and with our group scattered about, we were finally able to take a deep breath, recounting our luck and good fortune that no one had been killed or injured. Both bulls were down. The first bull was found 20 to 30 paces from the second, having also expired with two well placed shots to the heart region.
As we re-lived the moment, I thanked Wouter for getting me out of a serious situation, and for being such a good shot - it had tripped up the bull just long enough to finish him off without further incident. It had all happened in an instant… and then it was over.
Spike camp in Bushmanland, rugged but more than adequate…as long as there is a good fire.
On a plane back home (and to reality), the magnitude of the events that had unfolded finally sank in. You often hear about sensational charges from dangerous game animals and the serious end results, often bad news indeed. But you never think it will happen to you. I had hunted Cape buffalo on previous safaris with multiple encounters during each trip and had never experienced any problems. But I guess if you chase them enough, sooner or later they are more likely to happen than not. You can never plan these things. However, as with any dangerous-game hunt, a little good fortune goes a long way.
I know one thing for sure: The next time we sneak up and catch a bull lying in the shade, I’ll be ready for an unexpected charge. That’s the thing about experience: Good judgment comes from experience, and experience usually comes from bad judgment… And as I said, a little luck goes a long way.
Jason Cauble is a native Texan currently living in London, England. He has hunted all over North America and has taken a variety of trophies, including a Boone & Crockett mountain goat, Dall sheep, and several exceptional mule deer. In Africa, he has taken 25 animals, including five Cape buffalo on safaris in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.
Hunting Buffalo in Bushmanland
The Bushmanland concession area is immense, with little or no infrastructure. There was a sizable buffalo herd there, and PH Jamy Traut was confident that we would find what we were looking for in August, when the animals would be concentrated around the few remaining waterholes. All we needed was time and a little luck in locating the herd. Tsumkwe, the largest village in the area some 30 miles from the Botswana border, would be our dropping off point, and Jamy would set up a spike camp for the hunt deep in the tribal area of Bushmanland. With few or no roads available, we all prepared for a great deal of walking, which would make for a truly authentic buffalo hunting experience. JC