ZIMBABWE: Bubye Valley Conservancy 2018

Hank2211

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This won't be exactly the same as my usual hunt reports. Fear not, it will still be far longer than it needs to be, but it will also be part travelogue, for reasons which are set forth immediately below. If you find the non-hunting stuff boring, well, you could just skip it, but then you likely won't find the hunting stuff that exciting either. This was just a nice, leisurely hunt, checking out a new destination for me.

In the spring of 2018, the PH I’ve used for all of my hunts in Zimbabwe, and who sometimes accompanies me on various other hunts to less congenial places, Dean Stobbs of Touch Africa Safaris, e-mailed me to say that an opportunity had opened up in the Bubye Valley Conservancy, and to ask if I had any interest. At this point I was living in London, where I had been since September, 2017, while my wife was back home in Calgary. I didn’t think it would be a great idea to suggest that three weeks after getting home in early September, I would be heading to Africa on a hunting trip, especially since I already had a trip scheduled for Cameroon in January of 2019 for LDE.

My wife, though, had been asking for some years when we might go on a photo safari, as many of her friends had. I had said I had little interest in driving around looking at animals with lots of other people, since we could do that in a safari park. But I raised the idea with her – would she like to go to Zimbabwe, and see most of the animals she would see on a photo safari but do it without the crowd, the price being that I might just shoot one or two of those animals along the way? To my surprise, she said she’d love to go, and that as long as I kept the shooting to a minimum, she thought she could tolerate it. Well, given that the range between my minimum and my maximum is actually fairly narrow, I thought that was a deal I could accept. So plans were made, and we were scheduled to leave

I wasn’t bringing any rifles on this hunt. Canada enforces the UN embargo on firearms to Zimbabwe, even for temporary purposes, so taking my own rifles was out. But that wasn’t a big problem. When the embargo was first announced many years ago, I, ahem, helped my PH to acquire a couple of decent rifles. He rents them to others and when I’m there, I use them and ammo is supplied. Works well for both of us.

One rifle is a Remington 700 .300 Win Mag with a Leopold 3-9x scope. Dean had 135 grain Barnes triple shocks as well as more conventional 180 grain Hornady’s of some sort. The second rifle is a CZ Safari Magnum in .375 H&H, with a Leupold 1.5-5x scope, and here I was using 300 grain triple shocks.

Victoria Falls

Since this was my wife’s first trip to Africa, I decided to start easy. We began in Victoria Falls, staying at the beautiful Victoria Falls Hotel. If you don’t mind spending what it costs to stay here (multiples of any other place in Vic Falls), it’s well worth it. A step back in time to the turn of the 20th century. Incredible views, lovely staff, good food, old rooms of decent size with just enough wear and tear to seem authentic to the period.

The first thing my wife did the first morning after our arrival was head to Zambia for a trip to the Devils Pool. I was against it, and refused to have anything to do with it. For those of you who like things like bungee jumping, this might be for you. From the Zambian side you swim just above the Falls to a small pool where the water seems to eddy before going over the edge. To your right the Zambezi is rushing headlong over the Falls, with a massive roar and mist which can be seen and heard for miles. But things are quieter just a few feet away . . . and from this point, you get to look over the falls . . . as the water is going over the Falls around you. I should mention that someone hangs on to your legs to make sure you don’t join the water. Lunacy.

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The people you see are standing in a pool . . . but note that the water still goes over the Falls. The lunatic with the red bathing suit standing up in the water is the guy in charge. He makes sure no one does anything more stupid than he does.

We were having lunch on the veranda of the hotel when my wife, somewhat to my surprise, returned alive from the Devil’s Pool. That afternoon we just rested, trying to get over the jet lag. We had an exceptional dinner in the Hotel's main dining room - the Livingstone Room - and had no difficulty pretending we were living in the times of Rhodes and Selous.

I am not a big tourist type of thing person, but the next evening we had a Zambezi dinner cruise on the Zambezi Explorer, one of the many ships which ply the Zambezi above the Falls. It was a leisurely cruise up the river, seeing animals (elephant, hippo and croc) while watching the sun go down. Drinks and dinner were first rate – a better meal than I’ve had in many first class restaurants. A lovely way to get introduced to Africa (though I think there are some bad boats plying the same waters . . .). This was well worth the price.

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Night on the Mighty Zambezi

Next day was a visit to the Falls themselves, which are the largest in the world. I have seen Victoria Falls both in the rainy season and the dry season, and they are very impressive in the dry season. In the rainy season, the Falls are something else again (which explains why this is one of the seven natural wonders of the world).

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During the rainy season this is an entire wall of water

Lunch at the Lookout – decent food and great views of the Zambezi River gorge as well as the zip liners going across. We went to the local croc farm in the afternoon, and had a wonderful old man as a guide – a tour all to ourselves, since we were the only people there. An interesting place, and if you were looking to buy crocodile luggage or bags, it’s the cheapest place I’ve seen. Not entirely clear that you’d get them back home though!

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Lunchtime . . . at the vulture restaurant

Dinner at the Boma, about as touristy as things can get. This was my second visit, the first being ten years ago, and it has gone badly downhill. You used to be able to try all sorts of game . . . and mopane worms . . . not the same now. I would say you should give this a miss.

The next morning, Dean had been able to find gasoline (which was in short supply – line-ups were 3-4 hours long), and we were able to get started. We headed for Bulawayo to have lunch at Dean’s, pick up our trackers and then to head to the BVC. We encountered fewer road blocks than in the past, and those we did hit – whether army or police – just waved us through. No gasoline maybe, but no stops at roadbocks!
 

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The guy will go up against an Ostrich, but scared of the Devil's Pool. Who'd have thought!
 
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Hank2211

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I'd have thought with your centre of gravity Wayne you'd be on my side!
 

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Always enjoy your reports Hank. Looking forward to this one as well.
 

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I'd have thought with your centre of gravity Wayne you'd be on my side!

I’d be more scared of my buoyancy floating me over the edge.
 

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Great to have you writing a report again! Looking forward to the rest of the story.
 

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I am looking at taking my wife next year and vic falls is on the itinerary.
Thanks for the info and anymore would be appreciated!
 

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Great stuff so far... love the Falls and you are right, you NEED to see them in the summer( rainy season) and the winter( dry season). Preferably from the Zambian side, as it is MUCH longer and far better views!!!
Bring on the rest of it....
 

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Thanks all. Now, on to the hunting part . . .

We finally arrived at camp around 4 pm. I was, to say the least, embarrassed by what we found at Lamulas. You need to understand that for years I’d told my wife that I was roughing it in hunting camps, and for the most part that was true. She took one look at Lamulas and decided I hadn’t been at all honest about those trips of mine!

To call Lamulas impressive is to understate matters. Our “chalet” was truly massive, with a large four-poster bed, and a bathroom bigger than my family room at home. Three sinks. An enormous shower. A claw-footed bathtub, complete with loofah (!). A sitting room. Walk in closet. A porch overlooking the water hole. Of all the camps at BVC (there are 9), this might be the least “African” camp – in fact, the buildings could pass for Texas Hill Country, but it was no less comfortable for that!

We had a very nice dinner, and were joined by Jonathan Collett, Dean’s partner in Touch Africa Safaris, who was working in the BVC. Jonathan’s farm – where he and Dean used hunt – was “taken” about 4 years ago (“war veterans” had been trying for some years apparently, but it was only 4 years ago that things became so bad that the Colletts were finally to give up). Some interesting conversation about the state of things in Zimbabwe. The expression you hear most often is “same bus, different driver.”

Day 1 - Wednesday

We hadn’t had time to sight in the scopes last night, so woke up a bit later than we normally would – about 6 am – had breakfast, and then went to a nearby gravel airstrip which doubles as a range. It took a few shots to get the .300 where we wanted it, and three to confirm that the .375 was on, so by about 7.30 we were good to go. Fortunately (for them) no one tried to come in for a landing while we were taking care of business!

Now you have to understand that I had told my PH that hunting was a secondary purpose on this trip, and that the primary purpose was to ensure my wife felt that we were on a sort of personalized photo safari. So we did lots of driving, a bunch of walking and less shooting that I might otherwise have done. As is the norm in Zimbabwe, the hunter (me) was in the cab with the PH (although Dean drives a crew cab, so when it became too hot, my wife, who otherwise was on the back with two trackers and a game scout, could come down and enjoy the A/C!).

With that said, I told Dean it had been a while since I last pulled the trigger on an animal, and I wasn’t sure how my wife would react to seeing an animal die (at least at my hands) so an impala would be a nice place to start. He allowed as how he was thinking the same thing himself . . .

It didn’t take long until we came across a nice herd. I wasn’t looking for anything big, since I wasn’t going to take any of it home, so old was best. Dean spotted a likely candidate, we jumped out of the vehicle, and made a short stalk on the bunch. They ran a couple of times, but one male stopped to look back. You can’t make those types of mistakes too often . . . a quick shot from the sticks and he ran 30 yards and dropped dead.

My wife had seen the whole thing from the back of the truck, and a bit to my surprise, she had no issues with the dead impala at all. In fact, she wanted to make sure that we kept the filets . . . so we were off to a great start.

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We saw lots of zebra but a few hours later, some of these didn’t seem to run as far as others had. So we stopped, and Dean and I jumped out. The trackers were well trained, because whenever I jumped out in sight of animals, my rifle (and always the right one) was ready! The zebra were a bit skittish, and kept moving and milling, making a shot difficult, but I had told Dean I wanted the skin for upholstery projects, so better shape was best. Dean had picked out an enormous zebra, and once I found it, it was just a case of waiting for others to clear. When that happened, I took the shot, and it seemed to buck, but it and the herd ran off.

We began to track, and had slowly covered about 500 yards, without finding it, so I was beginning to get worried that it wasn’t a great shot. So far, we had seen not one drop of blood. Dean was convinced it was hit though, and I thought so too, given the sound and the buck, so we went back to the spot where the zebra had been standing when I took the shot, and began tracking again. It was now becoming very hot – over 95 degrees – and there had been a lot of zebra, so it was difficult to follow the right track.

Some time later, not 50 yards from where we had called off the first try, the scout saw it, dead, under a tree. A huge relief. I would have hated to have started off the hunt by losing a zebra.

zebra.jpg


It had been well-shot, but it was tough, as zebra are. She (turns out it was a mare, which is OK here) had managed to run almost 600 yards with her heart blown out (I checked it) because although there had not been a drop of blood, she had bled out internally. She had been at a bit of an angle when I shot, and when she began to run straight, the skin covered the bullet hole. It happens.

Given some of the threads on AH, I was interested in Dean's take with respect to what would have happened if we had not found the zebra. He was clear. There had been no blood found, so no matter how much he thought it had been hit, it would not have been considered wounded. This is likely a conversation every hunter should have with their PH before the hunt, but Dean and I had had it before, so I was comfortable that would be his answer. Having said that, I could have talked myself out of it being a hit, but I was virtually certain that it was. But I have completely missed animals I was sure I had hit, so I (or any hunter) may not always be the best judge of what has happened. Always presents a bit of a predicament.

That afternoon we drove to a far part of the concession to hang part of the zebra as hyena bait. Once done, we began a slow drive back to camp, but a few hundred yards from where we hung the bait, the trackers stopped us. They had seen a lion cub – at least a year old – by the nearby waterhole. As we stopped to take pictures, Dean told everyone to stay in the vehicle – there had to be other lions nearby. We suddenly saw a lioness get up close to the cub – she was likely 150 yards from us.

The lioness stared at us for a while, and a bunch of pictures were taken. Suddenly and without any warning other than a low growl, she charged the truck at full speed. Dean began to drive away, slowly at first, but then more quickly once it became clear she wasn’t fooling around and wouldn’t stop. I yelled out the window to Molly to hang on, and I could swear I heard the scout rack the slide on his carbine. Apart from Molly, who seemed to find this all a bit exciting, those on the back did not see the fun in it at all.

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Fairly easy to spot the lioness here, but not always that easy when you don't know you're looking for it!

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The lioness finally gave up, and we continued on our way. We chalked the behaviour up to having a cub with her, but even so, it was unusual behaviour for a lion. They will generally just slink away when they encounter people in daylight. There were also no other lions in the area, which seemed more than a bit odd. I would have thought she'd be part of a pride, but she may just have gone walkabout. Interestingly, if that’s the right word, the waterholes are checked every few days here – by young men on bicycles! I don’t think a bicycle could outrun the lioness . . .

We had an interesting sort-of experience with African “killer” bees in the morning. Driving along a road, we saw an enormous baobab tree. I asked Dean to stop, so we could get out and take some pictures. Quickly, we heard pounding on the roof. It was our scout who asked if we were planning to go to the tree. Dean said yes, and the scout told him that the week before, a donkey carrying supplies had been killed by bees from the tree. Apparently, there are a number of hives, and they are uniformly large and occupied by very aggressive bees. Good to know!

DSC01919.jpg


We (or I should say Dean) had an interesting experience with similar bees a day later. He was in a shed fixing a flat tire when he was attacked by bees which apparently had a hive in the shed. One stung him on the eye lid, which by the following day had swollen to the point where the eye (his shooting eye) was virtually shut, and the eye wept continually. He was surprised, since he’d never had such a reaction to bee stings, but equally, was angry that these bees had come after him even though he had done nothing other than get within some yards of the hive. As I told him when I saw his eye at breakfast, better him than me! My wife told me that being truthful did not make up for my lack of empathy. Oh well.

I should perhaps add at this point that there are an enormous number of lions on the BVC, as well as elephant, black rhino and lots of buffalo. You don’t go walking around without a rifle handy.

Day 2 - Thursday

No shots were fired on our second day, but we did get to see much more of our block, and that pleased my wife.

We swung by the “lioness” waterhole in the afternoon, and drove very slowly. We had come from a different direction, but we quickly saw her and the cub again. This time we kept our distance, staying at least a couple of hundred yards away. Still she stared at us, but this time, began to slowly walk away. At that, we began to continue along the road, but very slowly, not cutting down the distance between us. She did look over her shoulder a few times, and I said to Dean “if she thinks we’re pushing her, she might not like it.” At that moment, she turned and without missing a beat came at us. Slowly at first, but as Dean began to execute a quick three-point turn to turn us around (the road ran right past her), she began to pick up steam and once again, we had to push the truck to speeds not normally used on these bumpy roads. This was clearly an unhappy lioness, and still without a pride.
 

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Wonderful writing as always. Your reports are great. Enjoying this one immensely. Any speculation on why the lioness was so aggressive? Seems slightly out of character from what little I have seen.
Bruce
 

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Enjoying the story so far. It is amazing that as big as the BVC is (800,000+ acres), the game density and variety is quite good. The road and waterhole network is also quite good and as you pointed out, the camps are excellent. The BVC is a great hunting (or photo safari) destination!
 

Hank2211

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Any speculation on why the lioness was so aggressive? Seems slightly out of character from what little I have seen.
Bruce

We thought about this a fair bit, because she was at it a couple of days later when we were back in the area. At first we thought it was about the cub, but the cub is not small, and certainly didn't appear worried by us, nor did it try to leave, which is normally a behaviour they have picked up by that age. She did not appear hurt in any way, and there were no snare marks or other scars or marks that we could see. She appeared in good shape (as you can tell from the pictures). The other unusual factor is that she was alone. We thought at first that she might just have taken her cub and gone for a walk, but seeing her in the same place, without any other lions nearby, over a number of days, led us to believe that she had left whatever pride she had been a part of. And of course, if she were to find a new pride, her cub would likely be in some danger. We did see other lionesses who did slink away when they saw us, as you would expect. I should point out that there are scouts on foot throughout the area, and of course, the guys who check the waterholes on bicycles. So a lack of fear of man was a concern.

It is amazing that as big as the BVC is (800,000+ acres), the game density and variety is quite good. The road and waterhole network is also quite good and as you pointed out, the camps are excellent. The BVC is a great hunting (or photo safari) destination!

I was told that the total area is 980,000 acres, or about 1,500 square miles! There are nine camps I believe, and apart from two which are fenced to keep lions out, there are no other internal fences. The external perimeter is double fenced, with the internal fence being the one intended to keep animals in, with three strands of electric wire and the usual other fencing. There is the about a 20 foot "moat" of cleared brush and you get the exterior fence, which is intended to keep humans out. If it wasn't cost prohibitive, I thought it would be a great idea to make the external fence animal proof and keep (hungry) lions in the "moat". That would give poachers pause!

As you say, a great area.
 

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Killer Bees, Lion charges, I think your bride already got her moneys worth.

Scolded for teasing your buddy; Proof it was not a boys trip.

As always Hank, you spin a great yarn.
 

tarbe

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Been waiting for this. Really appreciate the detail!
 

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Thanks for sharing the adventure with the rest of us. Glad the bees didn’t don’t decide to come after you guys!
 

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What a great start to your trip. Total luxury at the Falls followed by lion charges and killer bees. On the edge of my seat waiting for the next installment. There is also an element of intrigue as you have not told us what your intended animals are likely to be. Easing into the trip with an impala and a zebra is a great move to get the bride on board.
Hopefully that hyena bait works!
 

Hank2211

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What a great start to your trip. Total luxury at the Falls followed by lion charges and killer bees. On the edge of my seat waiting for the next installment. There is also an element of intrigue as you have not told us what your intended animals are likely to be. Easing into the trip with an impala and a zebra is a great move to get the bride on board.
Hopefully that hyena bait works!
I think the intrigue may be unintentional - with apologies! I really wasn't looking for anything in particular, if you take out the wildcat and a Sharpe's grysbok. I will let you know right now that I didn't get either one! As I said, more of a high class photo safari for my wife with a little hunting thrown in to keep me interested!

Much more intriguing will be the Lord Derby hunt in January. The last of the nine spiral horns. It's got me worried!
 

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No need for apologies- intrigue is a wonderful thing; whether intended or not.
LDE will be amazing. Last year I took my first Cape Eland. It is very addictive as the tracking is so exciting.
 

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Can't add much to other post comments. Great report!
 

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