Buffalo in the Selous
It was the third morning of the hunt. For some reason, I couldn't sleep the evening before and had asked Elias, the waiter, to put some extra firewood close by so I could sip a toddy and read with my head lamp. I'd read until well after midnight and hadn't a tiny bit wanted to hear the 'Good Morning, Sir' whispered gently by Dik-Dik, the morning greeter when he woke me at 5:00 a.m.
The hot shower before breakfast didn't really rouse me and sweat decorated my brow before I even finished dressing. It wasn't hot. It was damn hot. I shuffled to the mess and I had my usual toast smeared with crunchy peanut butter and juice for breakfast and with little anticipation, climbed into the Land Cruiser and politely, but not enthusiasticly, returned greetings from the trackers, driver and game scout. Pierre climbed aboard and in the half-light we bumped and rolled out of camp on the road towards the airstrip.
Within five minutes I was snoring. How the heck I can sleep in Land Cruiser without falling my stupid butt out, all the while traveling over terrian that'd bust the springs on a Humvee, is unknown to me, but to the enjoyment of the black guys standing in the back, I did so... that is until I got to the famous Koronga of the Tetse Fly. About twenty of the s.o.b.'s, in a carefully coordinated attack, bit the fire out of me at the same instant. Damn, those things hurt. Hurt like going to the dentist without novacaine. Hurt like sticking a needle in your eye. Hurt like stepping on a nail. Hell has to have tetse flies.
I stuck my hand back to the rear, and as always, Twiga put a ginger beer in my hand. Maybe that'd wake me up the rest of the way now that the damn flies had bled a quart of blood.
I stayed awake down the 1000 meter airstrip and marveled how it was all cut by hand. Lots of work there! We'd seen absolutely no game yet... or better, none of the awake people had.
The road from the west end of the runway follows the top of a ridge for several miles, then goes down into a flat that is nicknamed the Serengeti because it usually is teaming with plains game... kongoni, wildebeest, zebra, impala... but nothing this morning. I wondered if I should've stayed in bed. My eyelids got heavier and heavier.
Pierre clicked his fingers, his signal to the driver to stop. The whole crew got out of the truck and began to discuss the various merits of plops of buffalo dung that decorated the road ahead of us. Even I could tell that lots of buffalo had crossed, and I, being the experienced safari hunter I am, could figure out that they had gone east to west across the road. Heck, Ray Charles (or maybe Jamie Foxx) could have do so, too.
For reasons know then only to me, and I forgot them later, I had brought my little Merkel 141 double in 9.3x74 that morning instead of my Searcy .450/.400. I had loaded 250 grain TSX bullets at close to 2400 f.p.s. even out of the short (but handy!) 21.6' barrels. I put two in the gun, took a deep breath or two, hit a swig of my ever present Gatoraide, and began to follow Pierre, who followed Twiga and Dominique (if that's how you spell it?).
By mid-September, much of the tall grass is burned in the Selous, and you can even see your hand in front of your face, unlike in July when your nose is sometimes obscured. I was enjoying this treck, in spite of myself and my induced tiredness. Birds were singing, buffalo poop was so thick that it was hard to get purchase on uphill jaunts since my feet slid on the ever-present green stuff. Inhaling ash was not the usual problem since it had rained some the day before settling down the easily blown, sticky-bugger creating and all encompassing clouds of black stuff. For the first hour on the track, anyway, I was were I felt born to be... in Africa and on the trail of dangerous game.
Naw! Say it ain't true. The spoor began to make a big loop as we followed the herd now estimated to be at least 100 animals. Dang if it didn't cross the road only a few hundred yards ahead of where we had stopped the truck. Heck, the buffalo were probably crossing the rutted, two-rut 'infrastructure' eastbound when we hatted up and headed out westbound. Jeeze, I'd made a lot of clothes sweaty to walk for a couple of hours up and down hills in the heat.... but I was still slipping on tons of green crap and the bovine smell was everywhere. I was fine.
After crossing the road, down into a bottom we followed, there into the thick stuff, all too wet to have burned. Grass was above head height and fallen trees tripped feet and snagged clothing. Tembo had walked the trail, himself, that morning, apparently just behind the buff. He left a wake of devestation worthy of a tornado for us to climb over, under and through. I could tell that we were losing ground on the buffalo since the turds now had a slightly brown crust forming. Twiga picked up the pace after checking to see that I was still game. I hit a slug of my Gatoraide and lengthened my stride.
Dang. How do you lose the trail of maybe 50 tons of buffalo, especially in thick grass that leaves obvious signs, even to the novice? We had just crossed a steep and narrow koronga that required push from behind or a helping hand of the guy before you to climb out. Buffalo tracks were most obvious on the steep wall... but then all sign ended. What the heck.
Dominique and Twiga began to cast like good English pointers. In our haste, we discovered, we had not followed the majority of the tracks that had gone up the course of the koronga where the herd had found an easier way out. The herd had turned back toward the truck again. What was the attraction? I guess a several mile long figure 8 was the plan?
Anyway, we again began to follow, coming out of the tall grass to track side-hill along a beautiful, green lawn-like slope speckled with gracious shade trees, taking the edge off of the now high sun. To our left, down the slope, was the valley in which we had just done our treck. To the right was the crest of a ridge, usually visible through mature forest. We could easily see 150 yards ahead and we trotted instead of walked. September instead of July. It matters.
Twiga froze and pointed. Even this blind man could see. Crossing from the left to right were dozens and dozens of buffalo, all about 75 yards ahead. They must have taken a dip down into the valley for a few bites of forage, then turned right to climb the hill, bringing them in sight. An opportune termite mound allowed us to duck walk twenty yards closer. Pierre was on my right and Twiga on my left. Pierre, now on his knees leaned against a crooked tree and glassed.
Something between Pierre's knees got my attention. Damn if a skinny green snake, about seven feet long didn't come crawling out, pissed as hell and waving his head this way and that with no good intent. Damn!, buffalo within yards... lots of buffalo within yards.. and a deadly green mamba was trying to bite the hell out of something.. more particularly a Dutchman with a French name like Pierre... and the guy had no clue that the thing was trying to bite his tallywhacker!
Twiga doesn't like snakes. Neither do I. Without my asking, but with my full permission, he began to try to swat the waving sucker with the shooting sticks... but that skinny-assed little snake was quick. When Twiga had missed about three times in attempted bashes, we looked at each other and began to laugh. Priorities are important... back to the buffalo and let the snake go somewhere else. Pierre never saw the snake or Twiga's and my efforts to keep him un-bit (and friendships intact since we weren't about to fool with a snake-bit pecker!).
The line of buffalo began to swing closer. Many were now within 20 yards and passing close enough that I could hear belly rumbles and the slap of shit hitting hard ground. Where was a good bull?
Damn! A cow stopped and stared. Pierre grabbed my right arm and squeezed, needlessly letting me know that motion was unacceptable. She bobbed her head, looked away and snapped back looking at us, trying to get us to think she had lost interest. All behind her, buffalo moved, but we couldn't really study them without spooking her.
Finally, she gave up and plodded on! Twiga slid the sticks along the ground to me and I slowly rose with Pierre and placed my rifle atop them.
The PH to client dialoge began.
See the one on the right?
By the big tree?
The tree with the fork?
Below on the left, facing right is a bull, see it?
Shit, Judge... you're looking at the wrong tree.
The BIG tree with the FORK!
... and then magically, it all came into focus!
Twenty-five yards away, amongst buffalo after buffalo stood mine. Through the little Leupold 2.5x scope I could see worn bosses, a wide spread and a face with no kind intentions sporting dark, moist eyes focused back at me. He swung his head at a fly or something and I smiled. He'd do. I whispered the same to Pierre. Pierre smiled back. We love this stuff.
I wasn't quite happy with the slightly quartering on shot and I wanted to wait to get him to turn and follow the rest of the buff. Upon my mental request, he did just so and I put the cross-hairs on his near shoulder with the bullets course calculated to pass just behind its opposite. The little Merkel spoke. Enough meat to stock SafeWay whirled and ran. 'My' bull, with his right front leg spinning, ran with them.
They were out of sight immediately, but the rumble of thunder (oh, the sweet thunder!) lasted for 15 seconds.
Dominique, who had crawled up on the left began to wave wildly and point. Pierre allowed that I'd shot the dang thing in the foot. That boy has no confidence in me.
I ran the way Dominique pointed. The bull had only gone 60 yards and was quickly visible when I gained a few feet of altitude, he being all hunched up and wobbling. In the foot, my ass!
After hearing the pleasant 'thoink' of the ejected shell, I reloaded the right as I ran. Pierre passed me then and raised his gun. I told him to shoot as I filled the empty chamber. Mark Sullivan I'm not. Get them on the ground.
Pierre fired a solid .375 into the chest with no apparent effect. I popped a right and left and dropped the bull on the second shot by breaking the near shoulder. The death moan was immediate.
Twiga began to beat me on the back. We laughed and Pierre wanted to know what the heck was so funny. In bits of Swahili and Southern-Fried-Chicken-English, both filled with giggles, we told him about the snake snapping at his groin and how we weren't that good of his friend.
We then turned to inspect the buffalo. What a great creature. His horns extended well beyond his ears. His 'drop' was deep and he looked like he had a 3' or 4' flat place added before the horns curled back upwards.
We radioed the Cruiser and were informed that we were only 400 yards away and that the whole remaining herd had stampeeded by the vehicle on both sides, giving the driver quite a thrill.
What a fine, fine hunt. It had no real danger (except for the snake), but lots of rapid heartbeats, great beauty and the sounds and smells of Africa. Just like it ought to be. I was satisfied, proud, tired, satiated and among old friends doing what we loved to do. Life is grand and God is good.
And yeah... I left a deposit for 2009. I'm a sucker for buffalo.
Awesome story judgeg! I can't wait to make it back, you brought some good memories and it sounds like you had a great experience. 1 thing missing though, let's see some pictures!!
JudgeG, Thanks for the great hunt report, it was like being right there with you minus the pain of the tsetse fly bites :). It was nicely written and entertaining, a hunt report does not get better than that!
Story well told JudgeG... isn't it just one of the best hunting experiences to go after those might cape buffalo? You can never get enough of them. Thanks for sharing bwana.
Great story. Up to your usual standards, I'd say.