I was in contact with Dempsy Bayly following an unsuccessful Cape Buffalo hunt and while sitting in a hotel in Mwanza, Tanzania. I was catching up on emails while using the hotel's WiFi after being off the grid for a week and also thought to check on the Africa Hunting Forum on Deals and saw the Bayly Sippel post: https://www.africahunting.com/threads/buffalo-hunting-the-right-way-with-bayly-sippel-safaris.54633/ . I had already booked a Royal MacNab (mountain hunting) challenge with them so seemed a logical extension to add on a Buff hunt while in South Africa (RSA). Dempsy explained it would be a challenge of trying to get older bulls in difficult terrain and cover, so this was quite appealing. What I had thought at the time, however, was there would be lots of targets so would potentially hedge my bet in terms of actually getting a decent bull (given the Madikwe blood line in this concession). What I didn't realize until later that there are huntable numbers of bulls in this concession, they in fact, can all disappear in the dense cover, be difficult to locate and complete a stalk, and so as such, it is a great challenge...the "right way" indeed.
I arrived at the Madikwe Concession located in Limpopo RSA and close to the Botswana border on June 30, 2022, after overnighting and being picked up from a Guest House in Pretoria that was arranged by Bayly Sippel. Madikwe is a concession of approximately 5,000 hectares next to the Game Reserve, and in the transition of acacia bushveld and Kalahari thornveld. There are several large hills and water holes, areas of open savannah with surrounding bushveld, but a good portion of the property is covered in Sickle Bush (about 20%). This is very thick stuff: thorny trees and scrub that is not for the feign of heart to move through. In fact, only a Pygmy covered in Kevlar armor may move through with ease; otherwise, it's slow going, noisy and difficult. Yet this is where the Cape Buffalo typically are during the day times and can with through this mass with impunity. Coupled with what was swirling winds throughout the day and early evening, it did render that would take perseverance to get a Cape Buffalo!
The savannah and open woodland at Madikwe have an impressive array of plains game. This is a great destination for more specialized animals and there are good numbers and high quality trophies. In this regard, there are very good to excellent waterbuck, sable, blue and golden wildebeest, zebra and tsessebe. There are relatively fair numbers of impala, warthog, gemsbok (oryx), mountain reedbuck, giraffe, eland and kudu. There are also in my perspective from my 7 days being there, only a few duiker, steenbok, bushbuck and klipspringer. There are good number of game birds around: Guinea fowl; three species of francolin; and, at the water holes, sand grouse.
I brought for the Buff a 416 Taylor with unknown barrel manufacturer but built on a Mauser Model 1908 action, Leupold VX-I 2-7x 33 mm Model 58800 with heavy duplex reticle scope and 24 rounds of ammunition: 14 were 410 grain Woodleigh solids and the remainder, 410 grain Woodleigh Weldcore RN SN bullets loaded each with 75 grains of Alliant RL-17 powder. To crimp, ended up getting a Lee Factory Crimp die specific for the 416 Taylor from a store in Pretoria, RSA which I picked up with my son passing through during a hunt in RSA just before the lock-down at the end of March 2020. The bullets brought to RSA were loaded into head stamped Norma brass. Previous load developed and practice shooting was done with annealed and fire formed 458 Win brass. COAL of the Woodleigh bullets is 84.43 mm. Measured velocity using of the 75 grain RL-17 loads: i 2,346 ft/s; ii 2,359 ft/s; and, iii 2,354 ft/s (SD of 6.5)...so comparable to 416 Rigby performance.
There is one main camp at Madikwe that has several buildings, including four tent accommodations, each with double beds, tented eating and lounge area, and a brick cabin with shower and bathroom that I had the fortune to get for the 7 days. Vehicles are new and well equipped for hunting. While most of RSA is currently wrestling with load shedding, this area was spared so there was no loss of power during my stay. Being my 14th African safari, I was never disappointed with the food I had at all of the places in RSA, Tanzania, Mozambique and Nambia; but, some places were better than others such as at Induna and Etosha View Safaris. This fare and the cook (named Trust) were simply exceptional in every regard and easily the best food at all of the safari lodges and previous trips. Truly culinary skill and the game meat always cooked to perfection. Overall, very comfortable stay and excellent food!
Right by the camp and the view from the boma with firepit and braai area, is a waterhole that attracts several species of animals. That night of the afternoon I arrived, I packed it in early but the two PHs, Mike Sippel and Nick (the latter being the PH for an American client who left a couple days after I arrived) saw an ancient and half blind Cape Buffalo bull come to the waterhole. Game on!
The plan after breakfast was to follow the tracks of the bull that was at the water hole the previous night. Mike and I and the tracker, Big John, followed the tracks through the moderately wooded bushveld for a couple hours. Big John is an excellent tracker and has a great sense of humour and speaks several languages, including English very well. It is amazing to see how little spoor or vegetation deflection it takes for him to follow the tracks and validated by fresh dung along the path. Unfortunately, a herd of zebra passed through and completely obscured the tracks so the track was lost. Regrouping after lunch, drove around to find tracks or signs of buffalo but none were apparent.
While driving the roads, spoor was seen on the roads and off in the distance saw a herd. Leaving the vehicle out of site, we put the stalk on along the edge of the thick bush. The wind was perfect and we had bush to conceal our approach. The plan was to intercept the herd as they left the bush and crossed into the open, allowing viewing the herd to spot mature, shootable bulls. Unfortunately, a zebra has spotted us and alerted the herd. Only two bulls pushed out from the bush; one being immature and the other stood away from us directly in the sun. By the time it turned and was determined to be a good bull, it started running to rejoin the herd in the thick bush, and did not present a shot. Foiled twice by zebra.
The other client, Steve, and the PH, Nick, had been driving around to get Steve a steenbuck and had spotted a herd of buffalo on the way back to camp. We were alerted by radio and had to walk quickly through the saddle of a hill to be able to get to them before dark. Moving along the road, they had moved from the left (east) side to the west. If on the left side, we would have the advantage of height and could spot them and shoot from the road. Unfortunately, they were on the rise on thick bush and spotted us. Its amazing how loud a herd of buffalo are as they crash through the bush and kick rocks while moving up a hillside!
That night, Big John and the skinner swept the roads using a large piece of brush attached to the back of the vehicle so fresh tracks could be seen in the AM.
We followed fresh tracks from a water hole created from a broken water pipe and into the really thick stuff. The trail camera in this location verified the presence of an ancient, half blind buff. Got close but with swirling winds and the noise we generated by moving, on two occasions the herd spooked and just had the sound of the buff crashing through the brush. Did see one immature buff peering through an opening and was setup on the sticks to shoot, but it spooked and took the rest of the herd with it.
Big John said to me that in his experience, all of the buffalo in this concession have college degrees.
During the day we climbed the large hill to spot any buff in the wooded areas and also drove the roads. Following tracks in the thick stuff in the morning in the west side of the property only led to the conclusion that we were losing ground and they moved much faster than we could track them. In the afternoon, there was promising tracks in the same area as the saddle of the hill we followed the early evening before in the east side of the concession, and quite possibly, the same herd. Back in the saddle again!
We approached slowly and carefully and had to move around the rocky and hilly ground to keep the wind in our favour. At one point, we thought we would stop and wait for the herd to approach us and setup in the wait. The herd though were moving in a direction to our right (NW). We knew we were close and Big John and the PH spotted the herd. The trouble was that the herd was to the west and right into the setting sun making them hard to spot and judge. Just as a good, mature bull was spotted in the opening and the sticks were set up for about a 100 yard shot, the bull moved off into the bush. It was a good setup and I was ready on the sticks to shoot. While waiting for the bull to get into the opening again, a zebra spotted us and gave an alarm call. There was then pandemonium as buffalo and zebra pounded into the bush. At this point, Big John and I joked that we truly disliked zebra and he encouraged me to shoot one. I jokingly suggested that Bayly Sippel also do an aggressive cull on all zebra at the start of the season!
While driving looking for spoor in the AM, a herd was seen in the distance in the open. They spooked at a distance of about a kilometer and moved into the sickle bush. We drove close as we dared and put a stalk on but already alerted, they heard us and took off even before we had a chance.
Further on, there was another set of fresh spoor and so the PH, Mike, instructed Big John and the skinner to follow, while Mike and I would drive to the next block to see if they had crossed the road into the next block or not. While driving I saw three buffalo crossing the road from the right, including at least one decent bull, and alerted Mike. Getting out, we were ready to put the stalk on when a fourth bull crossed. It hesitated just long enough to turn broadside and I took the shot at what turned out to be 110 yards. The shot felt good and the bull hunched forward slightly which could be a good sign. Unfortunately, the bull had disappeared int the really thick sickle bush in which visibility is measured in some places in only a few yards and there are no sizable trees to duck behind if a wounded bull charges. Mike gave me some instruction and we put our game faces on to go in once Big John joined us after hearing the shot.
We entered the bush with Mike and Big John checking the deeper bush for any sign. It was me that first spotted the black mass lying down about 20 m from the road and once we went in a few meters. I put an insurance shot in but was unnecessary, as it was already dead. The bull exceeded my expectations! It was +10 years old with a decent boss and two boss laminated sections stripped off, measuring 43 inches in spread. Clearing bush around the downed bull allowed photos to be taken without shadow and tractor access, making recovery very easy. Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good but after several days of minimum 10 km stalks each time of pushing through thorns and sickle bush, clambering over uneven rocky ground and climbing rocky hills, I figured we had put in our dues.
The Woodleigh RN SN bullet performed (mushroomed) perfectly with an estimated weight retention of about 95%. The shot took out the upper heart aorta complex and both lungs and imbedded in the opposite shoulder, where it was recovered. That night, a lion’s share of brandy was drunk around the fire and Mike, Nick and I took turns to pick out music until 3 AM when we finally called it a night. For young men, the PHs had an old sage taste in music and I both recognized and enjoyed much of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s music they had selected. That being said, I was surprised that they had never listened to “The Cult” or “Tears for Fears” which I picked on my turn. Perhaps the only disappointing aspect of the whole trip. Since then, zebra have also been forgiven.
The next day pushing away the feeling of being trephined by a molten stainless steel bar, I managed to get the Madikwe bird slam: three species of francolin and a sand grouse.
On the very last day, enjoyed hanging around camp and heading into Thabazimbi to allow the PHs and Cook to do some paperwork and get some supplies for the next hunters coming into camp. We also climbed the hill to spot for buff as the next hunter was interested in hunting Cape Buffalo.
Overall, I would highly recommend hunting with Bayly Sippel Safaris. Mike and Nick are consummate professional hunters and will do their utmost for success of the hunter. They also have a good sense of humour, are good natured and enjoyable to be around. The staff at the camp are friendly and the food I mentioned, quite excellent. Madikwe Concession for hunting the selected plains game mentioned previously would be great and the prices based on the trophy list seem competitive. I found the buffalo hunting challenging but extremely rewarding.
Bayly Sippel sent me buffalo success photos both prior to my hunt and since I returned back home on July 15th, and it seems that 2/3 of the hunters are successful in getting their buffalo in this concession but it could take 6 to 8 days on average. I would totally agree that this challenge in the type of terrain is the “right way” and I am extremely pleased, that for my first ever Cape Buffalo bull harvested, that this was the area and that Bayly Sippel the outfit I had selected.
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