Hunting Tanzania... Kilombero Kronicles 7; Old Bulls.
We were in the hunt for old buffalo bulls. As old as they get. No matter whether their horns were broken off or worn down to stubs, the priority was to hunt for old bulls, no matter what it takes. This was a safari two years in the making. A magazine editor from Europe spoke to a friend of mine who has hunted the Kilombero numerous times and wanted to know where he should go for a unique buffalo hunting experience. Something other than driving all day trying to spot game from the car and taking the commercial hunting option of shooting the next suitable bull. He was put into contact with me and a safari was planned. It was to be a special safari. It was postponed in 2008, due to unavoidable circumstances, but despite numerous hurdles in 2009, the safari did materialize and should be the first of many such ventures.
Old Buffalo Warrior in Kilombero
The plan was something that i was very excited about. It's not often someone wants to come down purely just for hunting. The man was very clear about his priority - he wanted to HUNT. Be it mountains, swamp, fly-camp or sleeping on the track. The priority was two old buffalo. After switching the dates a few times, we finally settled for the first week in December. One of the hottest periods of the season, but very good for buffalo hunting. With excellent visibility and scarcity of water and grazing, all the dugga boys that have been eluding us over the season, suddenly appear from their hide-outs and the sight of them at first light is the stuff that every buffalo hunter lives for.
Kilombero Game Controlled Area (South) - Malinyi & BomaUlanga, this is a unique wetland habitat, better known as the Kilombero Valley and is nestled between the famous Eastern-Arc Mountain Range. The swamp habitat is ideal for buffalo, hippo, elephant and puku, which in turn offer perfect conditions for lion. On the edges of the swamp, in the Miombo woodlands there are waterbuck, sable, bushbuck, bushpig, warthog, reedbuck, leopard, hartebeest, wildebeest, zebra and various other species. Crocodile are also found in good size and numbers. The Kilombero offers a special kind of hunt.
That casual, careless grazing on the sweet green grass of the korongo's, the sudden glance to smell the air and check the surroundings as if looking for trouble, the gleam of massive bosses and an attitude bigger than its' bulky body. If the sight of dugga boys does not make your adrenalin pump, then you are most likely dead! They are found mostly in pairs, but also three's & four's and if you are really lucky, you can find them in groups of between 6-15 bulls. The beauty of hunting dugga boys is the thrill of getting really close. With a good wind and decent cover, you can walk right up to them. Right up to them is sometimes within 5 meters and it is a great feeling to smell them and hear them chewing and breathing. Then you let them know you are there and they give you that look (mostly with a few blades of grass still sticking out of their mouths and a wet glistening nose), the look with such piercing eyes and confident surprise, that if you do not take the shot within seconds, you may never pull it off, either out of fear or awe.
The Editor arrives and we drive to camp which is a full days travel with a lot of country to be enjoyed along the way. We get to discuss various things and i learn that he has been to Tanzania a couple of times before but was not too impressed with his experiences and was dis-heartened by the fact that Tanzania was such a well known and established hunting destination but he never really captured the essence of its' hunting history and romance of safari and true wilderness. After a bit of car trouble, seeing game through a National Park, some grub and beers along the way, the mood was set and the safari had truly begun.
The Kilombero Valley
Arriving at camp, the Editor could not stop expressing how this is not what was expected. That it was supposed to be a rough and tough experience and everything was too comfortable and luxurious. Well it took just a day for the basic amenities to be highly appreciated. When temperatures rise to 42C and walking distances of over 10kms a day, the constant supply of ice at the bar, hot meals, modern plumbing and power to run fans in the room become a welcome convenience. As fate would have it, the generator died after a few hours of running and the Editor got what he initially expected. We spent four days at the first camp just scouting the area for forest dugga boys. We saw a couple of herds but did not spend time on them. Being satisfied that the forest bulls would keep avoiding us, we moved to the other camp in the floodplain. We were to spend the next few days sorting out the old bulls from the young and trying to get personal with them.
Old Buffalo Warrior in Kilombero
The first morning out, just as it starts to get light on our drive from camp towards the main river, Hebron (the tracker) stops the car and looks through his binoculars and confirms there are two buffalo in the middle of a large opening we affectionately call the 'serengeti'. I see them moving slowly from where they were probably doing what i call 'tax collection' (crop raiding) and heading towards a big patch of un-burned grass in the direction of the river. We quickly get off the cruiser and begin our march to try and cut them off. It is the ONE! I know this after seeing his bosses through the bino's. I do not tell Hebron nor the Editor and try my best to hide my emotions... But i could not help marching like a mad man and Hebron shortly asked me, "is it HIM?" When i affirmed, he knew the drill and the extra caution & urgency required. The two bulls were moving right through the open ground and we had no direct approach leave for a shallow korongo that ran along the edge and this was our only option. As we tried to cut them off, they changed direction three times and they almost had us, until their last move which brought them into collision course with us at the northern end of serengeti.
It was bright by now and they had quickened their stroll a little. We hurried the last bit and set-up with them coming straight towards us. He was the one behind. They were walking in single file and a clear shot at THE bull was not a certainty with the other bull being in the way and always glancing up. There was no option - we had to take an early shot because if we let them get closer, we may not get a clear shot at HIM. HE was a bull that we had seen a few weeks earlier and had been turned down for lack of spread. We had snuck-up on him to within 10 meters in a korongo, but he was rejected! HE is a dream bull with heavy, worn down bosses, worn down tips, a drop, spread and so ugly that he is beautiful. My tracker and I were hoping that by some stroke of luck we run into him again. We had him walking straight to us at sixty meters and closing. His buddy though saw us at 30 meters and stopped. But HE had no idea and kept walking on in that typical tired swagger that only an old buffalo has. A few meters behind his buddy, he stopped and looked up. It was time. He took the shot straight into the chest and the impact lifted the front of his body. He spun and was trying to get away. "Shoot again". The shot rang and he fell right onto his neck and stalled. We walked to him and put one more shot to finish him off. There HE was. An old bull!
Old Buffalo bull
We had a happy and satisfied Editor. The next few days involved looking at hundreds of buffalo and there were many 'shooters', but we were still on a mission for the elders. In between, we got an old and high scoring Puku, which we tracked on foot and through high grass and in the rain and he got away from us twice before we pushed him out into an opening and got him to stop and stare. Despite having thousands of them to choose from, the Puku is not one to take for granted and the Editor was in acceptance of the fact that Puku hunting in the Kilombero can be challenging.
We saw numerous dugga boys, but none old and damaged enough for us. It was a lot of fun hunting the old boys. Eventually we got onto a herd that had an old bull with exceptionally big bosses. We maneuvered through some elephant and got into a big korongo to close the distance. We had them grazing along the korongo and picked a spot to surface into them. There was three bulls and a cow in the break-off group which had our bull. We set-up and the broadside shot was clear and within 50 meters. For some reason the shot was not taken and the buffalo saw us and trotted off. Luckily for us, the cow just trotted a few steps and stopped. The rest covered some distance but when they turned and saw the cow still holding her ground, they also stood there staring. It was 190 meters. I knew my man could pull off the shot but he would not if i told him the distance. So i called it at 170 and told him to raise the shot by two inches. He definitely took his time and it seemed like three hours later that i asked Hebron to stand next to him as a rest for his elbow. This helped things along and the shot was taken, with a second to follow-up as the bull disappeared into the long grass. The bull did not make it 200 meters and he took one more shot just to finish him off. The second old bull was down.
It worked out better than planned. No mountains had to be conquered, nor swamps explored - just good old hunting in a well managed wilderness habitat. It was whiskey, cigars and campfires from here on. A real hunt was experienced and the Africa of old rekindled... not by man or machine, but by nature. She has not changed for those who have protected her and will always reward all those who respect and appreciate her. There is a story to be told about 'a young bull and an old bull', but that can only be shared ON SAFARI...