SOUTH AFRICA: Up Close In The Limpopo - Hunting Cape Buffalo With Phillip Bronkhorst

Red Leg

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The morning started like many buffalo hunts anywhere with the fresh tracks of a small herd crossing a dirt trace cut through the bush. Phillip Bronkhorst, Pieter Taylor (one of Phillip's PHs), our tracker Josias, Rickey (a young videographer in training), and your faithful correspondent bailed off the truck to take up the spoor. We had gone barely half a mile when the morning's fickle wind graced the back of our necks. Large animals could be heard running off in the distance. We had all started to relax and consider our next move when Josias suddenly knelt to one side pointing into the bush. Looking up, I could just see the bits of an approaching black mass coming directly up our scent line. Leveling rifles we began to back up, assuming the bull would eventually break away. We backed across a very small open patch in the jess and a young, but mature bull burst forth on the far side perhaps 35 meters away. He halted, head up, staring at us. With a lot off shouting, we slowly backed away eventually breaking contact. On his first DG hunt, our young videographer provided a marvelously rich and descriptive commentary as we made our way back to the Land Cruiser.

It was a little bit of an accident that I was hunting buffalo at all in South Africa. Previously, I had the privilege to hunt them in the Caprivi and twice in Mozambique. I had anticipated my next buffalo hunt would have been in Zimbabwe or Zambia. However, two years ago I was sitting at a banquet table at the annual Central Texas Wildlife Legacy gala in Austin. My table mate was Phillip Bronkhorst and he had donated a cow buffalo hunt to our organization for the evening auction. As it came up, making small talk more than anything, I asked Phillip if the hunt could be upgraded to a bull at the usual trophy rate. He assured me it could. He also noted that these were managed herds, not purchased and released animals. I have rarely bid on an auctioned hunt (maybe twice) much preferring the comfort of a bit of research. However, on this evening, the hunt had no bidders, and rather than let a generous donation to our organization go wanting, I raised my hand. We sealed the deal on the bull with a handshake, and late June found me boarding the SAA flight to Johannesburg at Washington Dulles.

Phillip's lovely and very comfortable camp is located in the Northern Limpopo some five hours from the Johannesburg airport. Sited on his own property, the camp offers easy access to a number of ranches in the area offering a wide variety of game and covering a huge range of biodiversity from sandveld, through bushveld to the Waterberg Mountains. We would be conducting our buffalo hunt on Rudy Heinlein's vast "Circle N" property in the heart of the bushveld.

I had hunted high-fenced property with Jamy Traut when he was with Eden in Namibia almost a decade before. Therefore, I knew large properties with self-sustaining herds could offer an outstanding hunting experience. However, my only buffalo hunting had been in wilderness areas. I was curious, frankly even skeptical, about hunting the big black bulls in a fenced environment. After the first abortive effort and the belligerent youngster, I was beginning to revaluate my preconceptions.

Late morning found us again on the tracks of what appeared to be a bachelor herd of bulls. At that time of day, they were almost certainly headed to water and we pushed at a forced march pace to try and close where we might get a clear look at them in the open ground near the waterhole. As the sweat worked into my eyes, I noted that three to four miles sprinting after buffalo felt pretty much the same whether conducted along the Zambezi, the Kwando, or Limpopo Rivers.

The breeze had settled for a bit and we were able to carefully maneuver around one side of the group of bulls. We could see eight animals ranging from three or four years of age to a couple of large bulls clearly pushing eleven or twelve. One of these was very wide (40+) with fairly flat curls and bosses, while the other was a bit narrower but with the massive helmet that some older bulls develop. Either was a very respectable candidate to take back to Texas. I should note that we had no limitations on the size of the bull that we could take. However, the goal was at least a ten or an eleven year old animal.

We backed out and found a shady tree where we could unpack the cooler for a bit of lunch and a bottle of water. With two good candidates in the group, we would take up the track again once they had cleared the waterhole. I mentioned to Phillip that either bull was fabulous, but given a choice, the wider flatter one looked awfully good.

Around 2 pm we were again on their track, and by 3:30 or so we had closed to where we could see the animals bunched in a large group in the thickest brush. They had apparently joined another group bringing the total number of animals to 15 or 20. Sorting out "my" bull was going to be tricky. We had just begun to probe the edges, when again we felt the light breeze touching the backs of our necks. Immediately the main herd began to move off, and in a replay of the morning, a large shaped detached itself and began moving with a purpose up our scent line. We carefully tried to back away, but our options were limited. Getting into brush so thick that we could only see a few feet would be asking for trouble. At about fifty-yards, we could see it was the old bull with the huge boss. With our backs to thick thorn we would not be given a choice. Phillip finally set the sticks and whispered "Joe, this is your bull!" At 25 - 30 meters his head and chest cleared for an instant, and I hit him with a 300 gr Swift A-Frame from my Blaser R8. He staggered off approximately sixty-meters giving me a rear quartering shot which put him down. As is always the case, the mournful bellow was comforting. I had no complaints that the big bossed bull had chosen me.

However, we were not quite done. As Pieter headed out for the truck, the death bellows cause the original bachelor group to break off from the larger herd and return. Phillip and I backed away while Josias and Rickey scrambled up a nearby tree. For the next half hour are so, we were treated to the spectacle of half a dozen bulls hooking their fallen comrade. It was a behavior about which I had read, but never witnessed. The arrival of the truck, allowed us to clear off the other animals, take a few pictures in the late afternoon light, and load our prize for the drive back to Phillip's camp.

full


On the way back, I relived the long day and mused about my preconceptions and the actual hunting experience. I shall always love the wild places and I hope I can again pursue the wild buffalo herds that inhabit them. However, in all fairness, I had just experienced a truly exciting buffalo hunt in the Limpopo; far and away, the most adrenalin packed in my experience. The animals we had pursued had been born on the vast property we hunted. I am certain that they did not feel constrained by their environment, and nothing in their behavior demonstrated anything but the big truculent beasts they are everywhere. I have no hesitation recommending the experience to anyone.

Much of the remainder of the trip was taken up with pursuit of a large kudu. We hunted a large beautiful cattle ranch in the Waterberg very near Phillip's place that had seen almost no hunting for the previous seven or eight years. I had taken two 55" kudu in previous years, and told Phillip that our goal would be to try and better them. Over three days, we saw at least eight bulls in the 51-55" range - fabulous trophies anywhere. We had a brief chance at one in the 56-57" class, but just couldn't reestablish contact for an ethical shot. I have no doubt bulls in the 60" class roam that area awaiting my return. But on any day, I could have taken a wonderful mature bull over fifty-inches.

Late one morning, while easing down a spring-fed creek, we stumbled upon a group of bush-pigs. A bit of careful maneuvering gave me a shot at the boar at about sixty-feet. He is by far the largest that I have ever taken.


Two other animals on my "South African List" were a Burchell Zebra and black wildebeest. For the former, we found a lovely big stallion, and based upon the excitement of my PH, I am certain the black wildebeest would score very well in the SCI measuring system were I so inclined.



Finally, we saw a lovely Impala that proved irresistible.


On a final note, I hope South Africa solves its Leopard quota issues soon. We saw tracks everywhere. In the Waterberg in particular, several were the size of a lioness. They could only have been left by huge males.

All too soon, the hunt was over. I had a wonderful time. Phillip is as fine a gentleman as I have ever met, and as passionate a hunter and conservationist as our sport can produce. He and his lovely bride Jo-Anne run a comfortable, welcoming camp that I recommend without hesitation to anyone. http://www.pbsafaris.com/ Whether a general mix plains game hunt, a buffalo hunt without the usual logistics drama of Zim or Moz, or a specialty hunt for night creatures, Phillips operation should be on anyone's shortlist of potential destinations. It certainly will remain on mine.
 
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Art Lambart II

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Great Report, thank for sharing the adventure.
 

BRICKBURN

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Nothing like having a big critter doing the opposite of "what they are supposed to do."
Mark Sullivan would be proud of that Bull choosing you.

Congratulations!
 

Nyati

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Congratulations for a great experience !
 

Bruce

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Great hubt...tnx for sharing.
 

kevin masters

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very nice bull and I love the way the hunt unfolded.
Congratulations!:D Beers:
 

cls

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Thank you for the report. Great bull and experience.
 

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Looks like you had a great hunt! Congrats and thanks for sharing!
 

Royal27

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Congrats!

Great feedback for those who are trying to decide "wild" or "fenced."
 

PHOENIX PHIL

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Congrats on another successful hunt!
 

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Glad you had a great hunt.

Thanks for sharing the report.
 

375 Ruger Fan

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@Red Leg , another excellent hunt and report! Congratulations and well done. I noticed you had your JT Raider knife, from @Von Gruff, along for the adventure too.
 

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Excellent report and animals!
Thanks for sharing!
 

AZDAVE

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Nice report thanks for sharing. I concur on the Leopard tracks everywhere in Limpopo.
 

Von Gruff

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Not only a great hunt with very good results, but a wonderfully well told tale of the adventure.
 

Red Leg

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Not only a great hunt with very good results, but a wonderfully well told tale of the adventure.
And a perfect knife on my hip. Thanks again!
 

Von Gruff

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gillettehunter

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Nice bull.Congrats on a great hunt. Well written and looks like it was a great safari. Thanks for sharing your hunt with us.
Bruce
 

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That was a fun report!

On the way back, I relived the long day and mused about my preconceptions and the actual hunting experience. I shall always love the wild places and I hope I can again pursue the wild buffalo herds that inhabit them. However, in all fairness, I had just experienced a truly exciting buffalo hunt in the Limpopo; far and away, the most adrenalin packed in my experience.

I really appreciated learning from this bit of candor. Its hunt reports like this one that do the entire community a favour.
 

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