Zimbabwe hunt with Mbalabala & Martin Pieters Safaris
31st August 2011 was a sad day. This is the day that I shook the hand of my PH Quinton Wessels and our hosts Pam and Charlie Stanton of Mbalabala Safaris for the final time as we prepared to board our flight from Bulawayo to Joburg.
14 Days of hunting in Zimbabwe in three different locations for different African species. Each day a memory that will last a life time.
Cape Buffalo and Bushbuck.
Our journey started in Bulawayo with a short drive to Mbalabala which is a small town south-east of Bulawayo and the location of a small farm owned by the Stanton family. Spending the night and getting sorted for the long drive early next morning to our first hunting location in the Omay South (north Zim).
Our camp (Manyuli) was located high above the Ume river with views of the surrounding country that one has to see to believe. This would be our home for the next 7 days and HQ for my buffalo hunt.
At this point I would like to thank Martin Pieters and the guys that run the camp for looking after us. Fantastic meals, outstanding service. Could not have wished for more.
Our plan of attack for the first day was drive around the area and look for fresh tracks. If we found spoor that was fresh then we would follow on foot. At about mid morning we ended up on the banks of the Ume river (mostly dry) and Quinton (PH) sent our trackers up and down the river to see if any buffalo had crossed. About half and hour later we standing next to the tracks of a single buffalo. As the spoor was still fresh the chase was on. Unfortunately for us the bull had chosen his resting place well, and after only a short while on the tracks we heard and sighted the buffalo bull run off. We attempted to follow, however with the wind against us (and flushing the bull once more) we decided to leave him and return in the afternoon and try again. Our luck was no better in the afternoon with the wind again not on our side, and we spooked the bull twice more without a chance for a shot. We were not see him again.
Day two turned out to be a very dry day as far seeing buffalo. We followed a couple of herds, but with the wind gusting from all directions we never caught sight of them. But that is hunting.
Day three will stay with me for the rest of my life. It has also taught me some valuable lessons. The day started out much the same way as the others. Leave camp just on daylight and look for fresh spoor to follow. At about 7:30 am we found fresh tracks (and warm dung) on the road left by a single animal (most likely a bull). Following these for a short distance we discovered that this bull was in fact following a small herd that had passed thought the area some time before him. We continued to follow. After about 1.5 hours of slowly tracking the bull and herd the spoor from the herd was getting fresh. We were also constantly checking that the bull did not leave the track of the herd. It was at this point that we reached a low hill top with a nice thick gully running down the other side (Favorite spot for buffalo). Slowly cresting the rise our tracker and game scout almost simultaneously point into the bottom of the gully. We all freeze, and after about 10 seconds I can hear large animals moving about 100 meters below us. With the wind in our favor (for a change) we slowly start to contour the gully toward the buffalo. After about 40 meters and half way down to the bottom of the gully we stop and attempt to spot and bulls that may be there. No luck the cover is to thick to see through. We very slowly sit and wait, to see if the herd will move to more open ground. After a couple of minutes sitting and listening to the buffalo moving around we suddenly see a big black head and shoulders appear from the thicket in front of us. My Ph has his binos up and I am looking at the bull through the scope. The next whisper from my Ph "Take him".
As the sound of the shot is still echoing through the surrounding hills the buffalo herd and the bull I have just shot are gone. The time was 8:00 am.
My ph turns to me and asks how my shot felt. At this stage I am confident that all is well and that my bull is dead not far away. However, this feeling is to be very short lived, and as the conversation with my ph continues the situation appears to get worse and worse. What has transpired is that I misjudged how the bull was standing and the shot has hit the bull high and to far forward (I thought he was facing us on an quartering angle when in fact he was broadside). I am still not sure how I made such a mistake? Well at this point the only good sign there was plenty of blood to follow. As we slowly make our way through the gully and up the other side it becomes obvious the bull is running with herd and the up hill terrain is not slowing it down at all. We continue to track the herd and bull till we reach the the top of the escarpment high above the Ume river. At this point the herd and my bull have gone straight over the edge into some extremely thick thorn and jesse. As we are standing there pondering our next move, we suddenly hear some crashing not far below us. After a couple of minutes we see the heard crossing the Ume river below. The depressing sight is that there is a bull bringing up the rear that appears to be laboring as he runs.
We make our way down the escarpment to try and pick up the spoor on the other side and continue the follow up. However, after searching the tracks we are unable to find any blood trail. It is at this point that we get the first break. The trackers have pointed out that the tracks of the bull we saw laboring show that he has a part of his front hoof missing (mostly like from a snare) and that they are not the same tracks as the wounded bulls. As a precaution we track down the river for some distance, in case he has crossed beyond where we could see from the top of the escarpment. Break no 2, the bull did not cross the river.
By the time we make our way back to the top of the escarpment is has been nearly 3 hours from my shot and the sun is hot. We return to where we last left the blood spoor and prepare to follow. At this point I have removed the scope from my 416 Ruger and added one extra round into the rifle (3 in the mag plus 1 in the chamber). I have also removed the sling. The plan is go extremely slowly along the spoor, and for me to cover the ph when going through bushes and other obstacles and visa versa. Quite progress is difficult due to the steepness of the terrain and by the time we reach the flat prior to the river we are all drenched in sweat.
With about 4 feet before the river bank the tracker stops and begins to look left and right. Some quite whispering between him and the ph, and I am informed that the bull has changed direction and headed up river along the thick riverine flat and has definitely not crossed.
As we start to follow again when my ph turns to me and says "Be ready this bull is going to charge". It is about this time that I realize the enormity of the situation and begin to wish I never took the first shot. For those who have hunted in Africa will understand what thick riverine bush is like and will also understand that you really do not want to be following wounded buffalo in it. However, that is exactly the situation we were in.
The next 1.5 hours is probably the longest of my life. This is how long it took us to cover the next 200 meters. At times visibility was down to 5 yards or less and if the buffalo had appeared then we would almost certainly be in trouble. However, as we broke out into some more open ground we suddenly heard the sound of labored breathing from about 20 yards to our left. It was coming from under a large thick jesse bush growing on top of a little rise. Our problem was that as hard as we tried we could not see into it. Step at a time we started to circle the area hoping to find a spot where we could see the bull. I think at this point if we had left the bull and waited he would have died fairly soon, but no true hunter likes to see his quarry suffer and since I was the one responsible for this animals suffering I was determined to see it through to the end. As we circled the rise about half way we came to small ridge running down to (no more then 7 feet in height) us with a very shallow gully on the other side of it. Where the gully ended on the rise, is where the jesse bush ended with a gap of about 5 feet to next thicket.
Unfortunately for us the bull had chosen his spot well as now we could not circle any further as the terrain started to rise back up to the top of the escarpment and also became very thick. If continued to try and get above the bull we would almost certainly not be able to see him through the bush and also may well have caused him to try and make break for it. So the only option was to inch our way up the little gully and hope we could get a shot.
Before moving on the ph pointed to a big tree and both the tracker, game scout and my wife disappeared behind. As we slowly made the little ridge before the gully my ph looking through his binos whispered "I can see hair can I shoot". I very enthusiastically nodded and was rewarded by the sound of a 458 Lott firing. Unfortunately for us my ph could not tell what part of the bull he was looking at (later turned out his bullet passed through one rear leg not far below the hip joint) as he fired. Also this had only one affect on the bull, making him get up and run out of the jesse bush and into gap at its rear. As he appeared in the gap he saw us as we both moved into the little gully and at this point turned and came for us.
He made it about 10 feet before I and the ph fired at about the same time ending the chase that started 6 hours earlier. The time was 2:05pm.
The following 3 days were spent in recovering the meat and hunting for Kudu and bushbuck. Got the bushbuck on 2 days later, but the kudu were just to smart.
Impala, Kudu, Eland.
On day 7 we relocated back south to Nicholson West to a property called Mashura to hunt for Kudu, Impala and Eland. On the 2nd day I secured a nice Impala ram. However, we could not find any kudu bulls inn the area and so it was decided that we should relocate to another concession near Bietbridge. Here on the final morning I secured a nice Eland bull. We did see about 10 Kudu bulls, however the only one that was old and large enough to shoot had one broken tip.
I would not hesitate to hunt with Mbalabala or Martin Pieters again. Both Pam and Charlie Stanton make you feel like you are a part of their family and nothing is to difficult. I would also not hesitate to have Quinton Wessels or Lindon Stanton (Pam and Charlies son) as my ph's. Both are passionate about hunting and great company on safari.
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