I was dozing a fitful sleep whilst sitting in a camping chair at 4am on a full moon silvery lit night when suddenly a hand grabbed my shoulder. It was Sam the head tracker. The elephant is coming he hisses to me urgently. I reach for my Ron Wharton of Rigby .416 rifle and walked a couple of yards to the brush fence we are using as a hide. There, 50 yards to my left, walking down the path was a very large grey apparition sporting, what looked liked, almost luminous yellow ghostly tusks. At long last the Bull Elephant I had been seeking was majestically hoving into view. The big head, broad shoulders, sloping down to powerful haunches was almost gliding like a battleship on the high seas. Wayne whispered in my ear he is good we will take him. I knew that the path he was following would pass 20 yards in front of me and that the trackers were ready with their torches.
This adventure started in 2016. I had already hunted tusk less cows in Zimbabwe with a very good friend and PH Warren Thorne and was just pottering around Africa Hunting dot com window shopping one idle Friday afternoon. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw an offer from Wayne Van Den Bergh of @Nyamazana Safaris for Bull Elephants. His price can only be described as 40% of fees I had historically been quoted for this animal. English people are a pessimistic crew. I think it comes from growing up in a rainy grey country. We have a saying that if it appears too good to be true then it normally is. However after a few emails with Wayne I was hooked and sent my deposit. I had booked for the middle of June 2016.
Wayne contacted me just prior to my departure advising to bring warm clothes for the evening as a cold snap had settled in. He was not wrong. Whilst I was there it snowed 85 km’s north of him (very rare in Zimbabwe) and by day three I was going to bed in socks, tracksuit bottoms, tee shirt, fleece and bobble hat under double duvets. The bad news about this weather was that it was not hot enough for the crop raiding elephants to stop midday for us to catch up with them. They wandered in from the forestry and walked straight out again.
We did have a few exciting moments when a call would be received to advise that there was an elephant in a field or by a dam. We would race to the location only to be advised by the informant that “they” had been told “by someone” that a bull was in the area.
We did find a field that had recently been raided. Wayne decided on an ambush. 4 nights were spent next to that field but with no joy.
On that trip Wayne clocked up over 1,000 Km’s trying to get me my Bull Elephant. He must have used every trick in the book. Poor old Wayne; he was devastated. I was the first (and still only) client that did not even see a Bull Elephant. I promised to return in 2017 to continue my quest.
In the ensuing 9 months, we worked out the best date for me to come out again to coincide with the harvest, a full moon and heat during the day.
I left England on the evening flight on Thursday the 11th May 2017 and arrived at Bulawayo at midday on the 12th via Johannesburg. After the usual airport rituals we went to Wayne’s house to pick up the crew and then on to his camp north of Bulawayo on the Vic Falls road. We arrived at camp at 4pm.
Wayne’s camps are rustic tented accommodation with no electricity except what he stores in car batteries, topped up by solar power, for running lights in the tent and eating area. Point for any future hunters; make sure you bring a car charger adapter to recharge any electrical devices you have.
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Wayne asked whether I would like to go out that night to reconnoitre the area we would shoot from if we had to hunt at night. Well when in Rome etc, so off we went after a quick unpack and a bite to eat.
They say that reconnaissance is never a wasted exercise. We discovered that the pathway had been used the night before and judging by the prints it was a Bull Elephant superhighway to the crops. This reconnaissance also provided further useful and salutary lessons.
1) A 230 lb Englishman makes a lot of noise getting in and out of an Army cot
2) A 230 lb 6’ 5” Englishman doesn’t really fit an Army cot
3) A 230 lb Englishman makes a lot of noise (snoring) when eventually getting to sleep.
4) A 230 lb Englishman gets shaken awake frequently for snoring.
5) A 230 lb Englishman doesn’t snore when cat napping in a camp chair.
We left the blind at 5.30am, returned to camp for, in my case, much needed sleep.
We are now officially on day 1 of my hunt and after a lunch Wayne has decided that because of the tracks we had seen the previous evening we were going to try the ambush site that night.
The Army cots were dispensed with and mattresses with sleeping bags replaced them. I promised faithfully that I would not make a peep if I was allowed to sleep on one.
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We arrived with an hour to go to last light and settled in with a book, sandwiches and thermos of coffee. Night time fell, and the waiting begun. About 9pm the mattress was looking very tempting and I was soon on it wrapped in a sleeping bag. I tried to keep my word and be silent. But it appeared to me that every time I drifted off into contented slumber, with a slight burble, Sam the head tracker was shaking my foot to silence me. I gave up at about 11pm and sat in the camp chair.
The full moon had risen by then and everything was lit in a glimmering grey silvery light. I am positive that with a good pair of reading glasses I could have read by it. It felt that I could see every star in the constellation. At that moment I also felt sorry for all the people who have never witnessed such beauty. I even saw a shooting star and as tradition dictates I made a wish.
That wish was answered at 4am.
Wayne and I had already decided that after my first shot he would back me up with his .458 Lott. I knew where to put my shot, up the back of the front leg to the crease and 8 inches in from that.
The hide was split by a tree and after being summoned by Sam I went to the right hand side of it. Wayne grabbed me by the left shoulder and propelled me to the left hand side as that was the way the Bull was coming from. The bull stopped then he moved onwards from left to right along the path and was coming into the designated kill zone. Wayne whispered to me could I see him ok or did I need the light. I looked through my Swarovski Z6(i) 1-6x24 scope and replied “light please”. At this point I saw the Bull raise his head and look in our direction. Did he realise something was “up”. The world froze. He shook his head and moved forward into the zone where I would get a perfect broadside shot. “Now” hissed Wayne and the torches clicked on. The Bull looked up in confusion, I looked through my scope and a wall of grey appeared in front of me. The scope was only on 3 power but a moment of confusion reigned in my head. Was I aiming at the right spot? I saw the line of the front leg, I moved up it and then in and fired. Wayne fired beside me as I was reloading, then again and as he shot his third I came up for my second. All I saw was the backside of the Bull turn left into some bushes. Well I say that is what I saw because all I could really see it was only but a merest outline. What was obvious was a cloud of dust particles hanging in the air as if we had all shot black powder and it had been a front row salvo at the Battle of Waterloo. It was then that I noticed that a predawn mist had descended upon us and all the dust we had kicked up with the muzzle velocity was just hanging there.
I looked over my rifle and could not see the elephant. I was shaking. It had all happened so fast. Did I hit the right spot? Did I ensure a clean kill or were we now following up a wounded animal. I looked round and all I could see were happy smiles from all the trackers and the scout. Did I get him and is he down was the question and five nodding heads was the response along with a gurgle the other side of the bushes where the Bull had run. After handshakes and a hearty slap on the back from Wayne we went to the beast. He had run just 10 yards before he expired digging his right tusk into the sand.
So on the first hunting night of my safari (although technically it was 4 hours into my second day) I had my quarry.
We went back to camp to have a celebratory cup of tea (English euphemism for a nip of something a little stronger if you catch my drift) and returned at first light. We were greeted by some early locals who were already there for a share in the spoils. Later on in the day we were able to confirm that my shot had been spot on and had gone straight through the middle of the heart. Wayne had connected with lung shots.
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That and the next day was dealing with and preparing the hide and on the third night I went along, as an observer, with Wayne who had been called in on a PAC lioness who had killed two donkeys two nights before. She did not return to the kill site that night.
The next night we were asked to help resolve a Hyena problem. They answered the caller but all the action was on Wayne’s side of the hide. He managed to harvest a very large bitch with a superb snap shot.
Of the next five days one was spent shopping in Bulawayo, well Courtney’s are made there so it would be rude not and the rest travelling to and from and fishing on the Zambezi above Victoria Falls.
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On the last day I went to Matobo Game Park the gravesite of Cecil John Rhodes the first person in Africa to give the indigenous population the vote. This is an area where they have a recovering stock of white rhino. However, on average the guards have contact with poachers 20 times a month. These poachers are paid $1,000 to get the horns which sell on the black market at, and this is not a misprint, $100,000 per KG. So a 10Kg horn equals an instant millionaire.
They need help so if any reader would like to donate for fencing, radios, vehicles, tents etc please contact Ian Harmer on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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@Nyamazana Safaris supply Bull Elephant hunts at a very reasonable fee. Please remember it is not a beauty pageant safari. It is either a mature bull or it isn’t. You do not get many multiple chances on crop raiders.
As much as I can applaud Wayne and company, and it is true I came as a client and left as a friend; my most enduring memory is of Sam, the head tracker, who took my hand looked me in the eye and said “thank you for coming back”.