My Cape Buffalo Hunt with Classic Safaris in the Caprivi
Here's the story of my Cape Buffalo Hunt with Classic Safaris in the Caprivi.
I left Philadelphia International Airport at 11:30 AM for Atlanta. We pulled away from the gate on time, then sat on the taxiway for 1 1/2 hours, but got to Atlanta in plenty of time to catch the flight to Frankfurt. The Delta flight was uneventful, and we got into Frankfurt around 9:00 AM on Saturday. I had a 12 hour layover, so I had asked my travel agent to reserve a dayroom at a hotel within a 10 - 15 minute taxi ride of the airport. When I got out to the taxi rank and showed the cabbie the name and address of the hotel, he looked at me like I was from another planet. It turns out that the hotel reservation was made for a hotel in Hamburg - not really close to FRA! So I had the guy take me to a Holiday Inn which was about 10 minutes away, and got a room for 50 Euros. Not too bad. I took a walk from the hotel, and found a nice restaurant about 7 blocks away and had a nice dinner and some good German Draughts. I got to the Airport around 7:30 that evening, and the line at the Air Namibia counter was already 1/4 mile long, or at least it seemed that long. Anyway, since my luggage had been checked through from Philadelphia to Windhoek, my checkin went smoothly, and I got a nice window seat in an exit row. The meal really sucked! They said it was beef, but I never smelled beef that had an odor like that. I ate the salad, roll, and the brownie. Breakfast was a lot better, especially the strawberry yogurt. The trip to Windhoek was uneventful, and thanks to Ambien I got about 7 hours of sound sleep. Customs and weapons clearance was a breeze - I had my permit form already filled out, and the policeman took care of me first. I checked into the Safari Court Hotel. I've stayed there before, and it's quiet, clean, has a decent restaurant, and is 1/2 the price of the Kalahari Sands downtown. It's also only a 1 minute ride from the Eros regional airport, where I had to catch a a 6:00 AM flight Monday morning. I had a nice lunch at the Zoo Park Restaurant, then caught a cab back to the hotel because it was Sunday, and almost all the stores were closed. Monday morning checkin at the Air Namibia counter was a royal pain! My duffle bag weighed 45 pounds, and my rifle case 27, and they charged me 75 dollars U.S. for overweight charges. I wasn't too happy about that, but there's nothing you can do about it. The 2 1/2 hour flight to Katima Mulalo (Mpacha Army Base) was on a Beechcraft B-1900 TurboProp, and was pretty smooth. I was met by my PH, Dries Alberts, and driven into town where we had a nice breakfast, and then carried on to camp which was in the Salambala Conservancy, about 1 1/2 hours drive. The tented camp is beautiful, sitting on a small hill overlooking the Chobe River flood plain, and the Chobe National Park in Botswana. I heard lions roaring across the river almost every night. Anyway, I met the camp staff, was shown to my tent which had 2 hotel quality beds with boxsprings and mattresses, a wardrobe, and ensuite shower, sink and flush toilet. Quite plush for being in the middle of nowhere. The outfitter, Vaughan Fulton, has also installed solar panels so the tents are lighted at night. Late in the afternoon, Dries said it's time to check my rifle, so we drove out to an area about 10 minutes from camp to see what sort of havoc the baggage gorillas have caused. A target was set out on a termite mound at 100 meters, and using my Long Grass Shooting Sticks, I put two 400 grain Barnes TSX bullets from my Ruger 77 in 416 Rigby, topped with a Leupold 1.5 X 5, into the same hole, dead center, and an inch high. Dries said "my hunter knows how to shoot"! On the way back to camp we passed perhaps 1000 Zebra, and quite a few waterbuck.
After dinner that evening, Dries said that our plan was to have breakfast at 5 the next morning, and immediately drive to the Kasika Conservancy Headquarters about 3 hours away over poor roads to pick up a game scout from the Conservancy, and we would also take two of our own guides along.Then we would drop our two quides off, then head out in the land cruiser with the game scout to see if we could locate a herd of buffalo with a shootable bull. He expected that to take most of the day. Then, assuming we found a shootable bull, we would follow them up, see where they were going to feed that night, then come back the next morning, and try to collect him. I told Dries I thought I had a better plan.
I said I've always been a very lucky hunter, so we should plan on locating a shootable bull by mid-morning, then stalk into position and kill it. He laughed and said that's fine, but in his 15 years of guiding buffalo hunters, he's never had one shot on the 1st hunting day. I said, "we'll see".
The next morning, on the way to Kasika, the radiator started boiling over. Seems that Vaughan had just paid his brother-in-law $19,000.00 US to completely overhaul the land cruiser, and the idiot (the mechanic, not Vaughan) didn't completely fill up the radiator. Fortunately, in that flood plain, water was easy to come by, so we only lost about 20 minutes getting under way again.
After picking up the game scout at headquarters, we drove out, dropped of our two guides, and took "the beast", as I not so affectionately refered to the land cruiser, in a different direction. In only about 10 minutes or so we saw a herd of @ 100 buffalo feeding in a huge open area about 1 1/2 - 2 miles away. We parked the beast, and started a long, long stalk on our hands and knees through the waist high grass after walking about 3/4 of a mile along the river edge. The Chobe here is teaming with crocs and hippos. There were no trees in this area, so this would be tough to pull off.
After a couple of hours of crawling, I was really beat, but Dries kept urging me on. We closed to around 7 or 8 hundred yards, and the herd continued to feed in our direction, and the steady breeze was in our favor. The herd would pass about 50 yards in front of us. Then, all of a sudden, we heard some noise behind us. It turned out, that the herd had split, and about 30 of them were behind us in the long grass. Dries and the game scout both said that we were in a bad position, because if we located, and shot a bull in the main herd, that the buffalo behind us would charge toward us because we'd be right in their escape route. We had to move out of there, quickly and quietly. We were able to put about 3 or 4 hundred yards between us and the buffalo behind us. When we got up slightly to see where the main herd was, we saw that they had bedded down in the middle of a large trampled down grassy area. After another 1/2 hour or so, the buffalo that had split off from the main herd, decided to rejoin the main group and they also bedded down.
So back we go again, on hands and knees, through the waist high grass. My knees were killing me, and my legs were cramping up badly. We ran out of cover while we were still a good 100 - 175 yards from the bedded beasts. They were really spread out, and the herd bull was on the edge,quartering away,laying down, 163 yards from our last bit of cover. Dries said that it was a very good bull: not real wide, but with an excellent boss, nice drop, and decent mass. I said to him "if an experienced buffalo hunter or PH looked at that bull mounted on my wall, what would they say? He said that they would say "that's a hell of a nice bull"! I told him that's the kind of bull I want to kill. I took the bottom section of my shooting sticks off, so I could shoot from a sitting position. My PH said that he'd never permitted a hunter to take a first shot at a buffalo at more than 75 yards, but that based on my "shooting exhibition" at the range the previous afternoon, he felt confident that I could pull off the shot. I set my scope on 4 power and got into a solid rest, using both the shooting sticks, and my sling. It was as steady as shooting from sand bags. Dries said that because of the angle, and the fact that the bull was laying down, I needed to place my shot about 8 inches behind the shoulder, and about 18 inches above the ground level. I told him to hold his ears and fired.
At the shot, the bull, since it was so relaxed, rolled completely over 360 degrees! It then got up, took four or five stumbling steps, fell down, and let out a 2 second death bellow. The game scout said "he's done, he's done"! I couldn't believe it. The herd didn't know what happened, and stood around for a good 15 or 20 minutes. Then several of the younger bulls came over to the dead bull, and started hooking him with their horns over the next 5 or 10 minutes. They finally moved off about 250 yards and started feeding again. I was shaking so badly that I asked Dries to please take my rifle out of my hands! The combination of the long, painful, cramp filled stalk, along with the adrenilin rush had taken its toll on me. I was totally spent. Dries then said to me "you're right. You are one lucky hunter". I just smiled and said, "I told you so".
After we walked up to it and took lots of pictures, Dries got out his tape and it measured 35" with 15 1/2" bosses. I couldn't have been happier! My shot had hit exactly where I wanted it to, and it went through the left lung and center punched the heart, coming to rest under the skin a couple of inches in front of the off side shoulder. I weighed the bullet when I got home, and it weighs 399.25 grains.
I can't adequately begin to describe my feelings about having taken this bull. It is a lifelong dream come true. I'll probably never have another chance to hunt Cape Buffalo again, and having taking an old, mature bull like this, makes it so much sweeter.