We were up very early today, because we were heading to the plains to get on a herd of Cape Buffalo. We needed to arrive by daybreak, so we got up around 4:00 am, had a quick breakfast, and left camp around 4:45 am. This was the earliest that we had left camp and it was cold on the top of the truck as we rode through the darkness. Charles and I spoke some, but mostly I was lost in my own thoughts as I anticipated the day’s events. I was finally going to hunt Cape Buffalo, an animal that both captivated me and put fear into the back of my throat. Anyone who wants to hunt these black tanks of the African bush knows the stories and have read of their charges and the effort it takes to put them down. As Craig Boddington says “Not all buffalo charge, but not all charges can be stopped.” I came to Africa to hunt buffalo, and as the truck rolled across the plains of Zambia with the sun coming up, that’s exactly what I was preparing to do...on his terms.
We drove past a herd of Cookson wildebeest that stood illuminated by the rising sun. The plains were beautiful, open grass areas, and as we drove on, we spotted a lone bull elephant slowly wandering. For a moment my mind transported me back in time, and I thought of the hunters who came before me, the ones from the books that I had pored over for so long, and now, I was writing my own African adventure story. We got to a spot and parked the truck and the trackers and game scout got out and started looking for tracks. Charles and I stayed in the truck and Strang got out and walked around a bit. We spotted lion tracks that were not very old. We had seen sun-bleached bones scattered around on the ride in, and we realized that we were not the only hunters in this area. Strang walked back to the truck watching the trackers through binoculars. He informed us that we were going to follow them for a bit and I said a silent prayer.
Soon, fresh tracks were found, so we dismounted the truck and I grabbed “Margot”, my CZ550. I named the rifle after the wife in Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber”, a story about a buffalo hunt in Africa I have read many times. We started tracking through the scrub. It reminded me of scrub oaks back home, and for a moment, I half expected a covey of quail to flush out. I snapped back to reality and thought that what would be flushed out of this would be a lot bigger and a lot more dangerous. We tracked through the scrub oak we could see the dust from buffalo walking and we moved to catch up with them Strang was in the lead holding his big double on his shoulder. We hadn’t been tracking long when Strang paused and looked at my boots. “Your shoes are making to much noise. Step like this,” he said. He then showed me how to step and roll my foot. I had bought a pair of Keen boots for the trip and had spent many hours walking in them in preparation for this Safari, but the hiking sole of the boots mixed with the dried leaves made it sound like I was walking on corn flakes. I made sure to follow Strang’s advice, and we moved on to continue looking for the herd.
Coming through some trees, we finally found the herd on the edge of the long grass. We circled around, and Strang attempted to get us into position, but they bolted before that happened. A few dark bodies moved into that nightmare-inducing grass. We also moved and followed the herd going into the grass, and it’s as hellish as Capstick wrote and more It’s tall around 10-15feet and you can’t see anything except what is directly in front of you moving through the long grass we heard a sound, the grass moved, and Strang and I shouldered our rifles. For a moment, all went quiet, but nothing happened. We came out of it on the other side, and Strang saw the buffalo and set up the sticks. I quickly got set up on them, we could see a bull that was looking at us, but before I could squeeze off a round, they bolted and were gone. We went around the edge of the grass backtracking to where we came from and regrouped. The wind was a big factor and we were fighting the wind most of the hunt.
We rejoined Charles and the rest of the group and learn they almost had a close encounter when the herd split thankfully nothing happened and we moved to a different location where we could take a break and gather our thoughts. I made a grave mistake in not leaving my jacket at the truck. The cool morning has now turned warm, and I had to come out of it. Thankfully, Charles did not mind carrying it for me. After a rest, we resumed tracking the herd, and before long we had caught back up to their tracks. We moved through an area of tall trees and grasses. Luckily this grass was not so tall that I couldn’t see through it though! At this point, it was just a tracker, Strang, and me, as the rest of the group stayed back while we moved in on the herd. Strang sat down and then it was time to start crawling on our hands and knees, so I knew we were getting closer we had to clear gaps and be as cautious as we could because there were lots of cows at the rear and if they spooked it would be done. We moved, and they moved and kept checking the wind. We changed positions from crawling to sitting with rifles across our laps and inching along on our posteriors. I had read a copy of Africa’s Most Dangerous by Kevin Robertson prior to coming on this hunt, and I remembered him discussing and demonstrating this same movement. I wondered if I would do that on my hunt, and now I find myself moving through the scrub in a similar fashion in Zambia to take a buffalo.
We got to a point where we could stand and get on the sticks. I saw a mass of bodies, cows and calves then I saw a bull raise his head and look at us. I wish I could tell you I saw the famous " Looks at you like you owe him money" look that Ruark wrote about , but when the bull raised his head and I saw the shape of his horns all I thought was that's what I want and almost yelling to Strang , “Strang that’s it! I want that one!” I had in my mind the shape I was looking for in my first buffalo and that bull fit the bill! Strang calmed me down, and and we waited for the bull to get into position. I was trying to distinguish him from the other black bodies, and finally, he moved into position quartering to us and Strang said, “You see that blade of grass that’s bent over in front of him? Aim for that.” I saw it, and I aimed directly for it. All was quiet, and I steadied the crosshairs, and squeezed the trigger. The gun recoiled, and then bodies scattered. We picked the sticks up and moved forward, paused, and then I heard it...the famous death bellow.
We cut a wide path and made it to the buffalo. He’s laying down and we watched for any movement or signs of life, because, well, it’s the dead ones that kill you. Objects were thrown in his direction, and no life was in the old bugger The 300 Grain Swift A-Frame had done its job well. When it was deemed safe, we moved in and handshakes and congratulations went all around
I placed my hand on the bull and admired his horns and let myself soak in the moment.
Like my kudu the day before, this bull was full of character. He had a big hunks missing from both horns and had a body covered in marks and scars from fighting and ears ripped from thorns. I knelt down and wondered what all he had seen, how many lions and poachers he had fought off. We took plenty of pictures, and the trackers returned to get the truck. Strang and Charles sat in the cool shade of a tree while I spent time snapping pictures and enjoying the moment. I couldn't be happier with my first buffalo or the way the hunt played out and I know I was lucky as I have read enough to know not all buffalo hunts go this smoothly and bulls are rarely taken with one shot. I thanked God.
( This bull had everything I was looking for in my first Cape Buffalo and I hope one day to return to hunt Mbogo again and I know now why it becomes such an addiction for some )
( I can't thank Strang enough for getting me on this bull and making my first buffalo hunt a success)
( The 300 Grain Swift A-Frame was my bullet of choice on this safari and it lived up to its solid reputation )
The truck returned and we took a couple of group pictures. After Strang made certain I had all of the shots I wanted, they began the field dressing process. Charles and I grabbed a Mosi from the cool box and watched the scene it would later take all of us to load the bull into the bed of the truck. Charles told me that stalk had everything you could want in a buffalo hunt from being in the long grass to crawling, and it ends with a great first bull.
( It takes a group effort to find these animals and hunt them correctly and safely )
As we laughed and discussed the day, Charles remarked that he didn’t even know what the date of today was and I agreed that I had lost track of time as well. We had become lost in Safari, and I would not realize until later that night as I am lying in my bed that the date is July 21st, Ernest Hemingway’s 119th birthday! Hemingway first stoked the coals of safari for me so many years earlier that it seemed fitting that I hunted a buffalo on his birthday. I’ll admit that I was a little bummed that I didn’t realize it sooner so I could have toasted him in the field. It was not until I came back home to North Carolina and read a magazine article written by Ruark that began, “When you are out in the bush for any considerable length of time, you do not remember days by week or by weather. You refer backward to the day of the lion, the day of the buffalo, or the day the jeep busted her ankle.” It realized that the magic of safari is getting lost in the moment and forgetting for a time, the days and the weeks and the demands of home and just getting caught up in the moment. I’m sure Hemingway would much rather someone get caught up in the moment of a buffalo hunt than concern themselves with the date. With that being said, Cheers Papa! Thanks for lighting the spark that sent me to Africa.
( The Plam trees on the plains of Zambia filled my mind with thoughts of the South Carolina low country )
( Heading back to camp and driving through the long grass its a different feeling when you are on foot looking for Buffalo)
As we left the plains we saw a variety of game including a bushbuck, but we could not get a stalk on him because of elephants being close especially a cow with a calf. In two days I had taken my number 1 and number 2 target animals! If the Safari had ended right there and then it would have been a success, but the hunting was just getting started! Will continue with the rest of day three soon. Thanks again guys!