Back from Zimbabwe Buffalo Hunt with Touch Africa Safaris, Story and Pics
I just returned from an absolutely fantastic time with Touch Africa Safaris of Zimbabwe, with my PH Jon Collett. Four months back or so, I posted here looking for a deal a young guy could afford to make a dream come true, and I was referred to Terry Wagner of Worldwide Hunting. Being a complete novice to Africa and having a million +1 questions, I found Terry extremely accommodating, he set me up with Touch Africa and the rest is history.
My travel to Zim was uneventful, traveled through Frankfurt, on from there to Johannesburg, then on from there to Bulawayo Zimbabwe. Jon is there to meet you at the airport, we grabbed some groceries in Bulawayo, and a couple cold beverages, then hit the road for the conservancy, some 3 1/2 hours south or so. It was refreshing being "off the grid", email is kindly possible through satellite at their house, but little else is there to spoil the experience. The accommodations are beautiful, individual tents with canvas walls, thatch roofs, and stonework footings, kept sharp and proper by the staff. You get to hear all the sounds, all night... leopards grunting, hyenas calling, and a bunch of sounds I could never describe.
Food... oh dear, it is a cut above, all "real" food, the meat being all game, and the day we caught fish we had Bream for dinner the next. Also, they made a delicious Francolin pie after a day of bird shooting, so you're eating what you're shooting. The lodge is the same, though open with a view from a massive granite bluff over the conservancy, in all its splendor. Here you eat dinner, and enjoy your cold beverages, usually in company with the extremely kind Collett family, at the very least with Jon and good conversation.
Hunting, well I was very pleased to find my Buffalo a tough case. We spent four days tracking, getting right up on them, and then the wind would shift, or they'd catch a hint, and boom they'd thunder off into the jess. It's an awe inspiring experience, being on the ground and seeing a herd of Buffalo flush and stampede through the bush. The terrain in the conservancy is surreal, full of various habitats, and granite hills that jut out of the bush. We'd climb the hills, spot game, and move down to track them. Jon was fantastic, and understood my happiness in being on foot, so we did a good deal of walking and climbing hills, an experience I'll never forget and made my heart glow just in itself. This is a truly beautiful place. You see an unbelievable assortment of game, from towering Giraffe to stampeding Wildebeest, there's no doubt where you are.
Jon was also very understanding of my wishes for the hunt, as I ran a very limited budget. Buffalo was number one, and beyond that, they engaged me in anything they needed culled for meat. This let me shoot numerous Impala, and on my last day, an old Blue Wildebeest bull. Jon took me out on their resevoir bass and bream fishing, and the fishing is fantastic. However, one of my favorite activities was wing shooting in the mornings and evenings, there are so many Francolin and Guinea Fowl it's never dull. The two of us would ride the back of the landcruiser, and when birds were spotted, tap the roof to stop and jump out and flush them. We had a good time trying to keep our "averages" up on the birds, and I quickly expended all my shells shooting the various Francolin species, and a couple Guinea Fowl for good measure (my favorite, fun, big birds to hunt).
Now, for the Buffalo, took him at very close range in thick bush, he presented a tough shot, mostly obscured by scrub when we finally got the upper hand on some. We crawled in, and Jon asked if I felt comfortable with the shot, I nodded, and he set up the sticks and gave me a quick bit of advice. As Jon mentioned after while we talked about it, iron sights are perfect for this type of hunting, as your sight plane is not 2" above the bore. You can see clear as day that your bore has a clear path as well, not just your sight. At the shot, the bull dropped, and Jon encouraged me to put two more rounds into him for insurance. He death bellowed twice, and on our careful approach, we found him stone dead. Hand shakes all round, relief, and a great deal of happiness. I used 300gr Barnes TSX's over 63grs of H4895, which performed admirably (on an Impala as well).
In the evening of my last day, Jon spotted a Blue Wildebeest, and we came up behind a thicket on a small rise. He asked me to shoot the Wildebeest, and we had a perfect natural blind, maybe a 90 yard shot from a tree I rested against. At the shot, with a Federal 270gr factory soft point, the Wildebeest bolted as if unharmed. My heart sank! We went up to where he was shot, and found blood spatter, and tracked him a good ways into the bush to find him stone dead, double lunged. TOUGH animals over here. What a perfect cap to the trip... I tipped the most I could, which is modest given my means, as they had provided such a fantastic experience for me in the past ten days. I couldn't recommend more highly. Jon would do his utmost to make sure you were having a good time, even bending my itinerary from hunting so I could head off with him to see Rhino, something I wanted to see very badly. He also took me up to an ancient cave on the conservancy, with pottery shards and cave art. It was more than just a hunt for me, it was an all around experience.
So, in summary, great people, great meals, great hunting area, and great game. All made for an amazing experience, a trip of a lifetime. Don't be afraid of Zimbabwe, the news fear mongers, I felt much better there than South Africa, for instance. It's a beautiful place, and relaxed. Be sure to give Terry a shout if you're like me, and not a wealthy old fart, they just might be able to set you up with your dream.
-Bring leather footwear, and gaiters. Runners get terribly full of splinter-like seeds that work right through any venting in the shoes, quite uncomfortable, and often, painful. Footwear takes a beating, and you'll do a lot of walking. If you're out of shape, you're going to miss 75% of the experience in my opinion. Some of the scrambles climbing the granite hills and bluffs were short spurts of climbing, not hiking. You'd miss the most beautiful views by passing on those climbs and walks between due to physical limitations. Also, bring sage-green hunting clothes, as tan will make you stand out quite badly. I had to make due with what I already owned, as this trip stretched my budget to max, and I'm sure I was ill-toned colour wise for the conditions. Even wore a bad-at-home-for-ungulate-hunting faded blue hat, as even a new hat was pushing it budget wise.
Soaking it Up...
Young Breeding Bull, Massive. Won't be hunted for many, many years til he's well passed on his genes. I liked the Jon's conservation and management concerns, big bulls won't fall til very old.
My First African Game Animal, Impala.
Footwear Takes a Beating.
Last But Not Least, My Buffalo.