Glad you had another great hunt Cal. Your telling of the story was fantastic also. Have a safe trip home many more hunts to write reports about!!! Stay safe!
Great report! Enjoyed reading it.Zimbabwe 2017
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Here's a rundown of my elephant hunt with Wayne van den Bergh, July 16-25, this year. Actually, I'm typing this in camp as, for the first time in Africa, have internet service at the camp!
Wayne van den Bergh is a born Zimbabwean and a PH for 27 years, beginning in 1990. He is based in Bulawayo, has a lovely bride, Jenny, and two teenaged sons. This is my second consecutive year hunting with Wayne and he has shown himself to be an excellent product of the most stringent professional hunting school on the planet--Zimbabwe. I recommend Wayne highly. He is self employed, does his own bookings, and his busy schedule attests to his reputation. Google Nyamazana Safaris. A few days after I depart, a mate from Alaska is coming to hunt buffalo with Wayne. Wayne's rates--both daily and trophy fees--are the best "bang for the buck" in Zimbabwe.
We all have been in fine tented camps before so I was not expecting to write much about the camp. Last year's camp was just fine with Wayne in the traditional style. This year, however, I just about fell off the Land Crusier when we pulled into Malindi camp. Originally set up for photographic safaris, the camp also caters to hunters beginning in 1994. The accommodations? Vintage wooden passenger cars, set on railroad tracks, from the Rhodesian Railway! The name plates and original lights added to the decorum. Each car was divided in half with each room having a oversize English bath tub or shower, toilet, and a large and comfortable bed. Having been a rail fan since a kid in the 1960s (and still having a pickup load of Lionel post war trains at my home) it was delightful to be here. Cornelius the cook, Cloud the waiter, and the lady who cleans the rooms and does the daily laundry added to the ambiance.
Both here at Malindi and on the Gwai Ranch (an hour's drive) game is plentiful. Elephant, buffalo, giraffe, kudu, sable, roan (no hunting them), impala, bushbuck, leopard, warthog, duiker, grysbok, lion (not on quota), civet cat, baboon, and crocodile. Hippo had moved down river during this, the dry season.
What makes the hunt for me is the rifle I use. For this hunt I decided to leave my vintage .600 nitro by Wilkes at home (after 4 Africa and 2 Australia hunts) as I'm too old to lug a 16-pound boat anchor on long walks in the African sun. Rather, I'll take a .500 nitro in its place. The .500 is a new acquisition and I have not taken any game with it to date so it was the first candidate of choice. Made in 1907 by Watson Brothers, the .500 is a best quality double, fully engraved with side clips, 24-inch barrels, and weighing just shy of 12 pounds. I like to find the history of my doubles but the original owner is a mystery as is the rifle's early years. I do know, however, it was Jack Lott's rifle in the 1950-60s. When he passed it on, the next owner shot elephant and buffalo with it. I have a letter from Lott and the photos of the big game in my files.
I use only Woodleigh bullets in my doubles (unless I cast) and I brought both solids and softs on this trip. 106 and 110 grains of IMR 4831 (solids and softs respectively) regulate to a 2 1/2-inch group at 50 yards over a rest.
There is plenty of game to be found here, but Gwai Ranch is the thickest bush I have ever hunted! The thorns ripped my high quality $4 Wal Mart t-shirts to shreds and also turned my lower legs into hamburger, taking away their youthful appearance. We saw elephant each day early in the hunt and bumped many other critters whilst walking, stalking, and tracking. We spooked elephant in the thick and they would run off, perhaps 30 feet away, and we would not see them! Sometimes the jumbo would cross the road ahead of the vehicle or when we were on foot. All this when carrying a vintage double--it does not get any better.
Early in the hunt, beginning tracking at first light at 6 am and about 40 degrees F (a bit cool even for this Alaskan in shorts and a t-shirt). We followed the tracks of a few bulls for two hours. Staling to within 40-50 feet, they smelled us or heard us and took off. We waited a half hour to let them calm down and began the stalk. At 9:30 we were on them again and came to 30-40 feet where they were feeding in very thick bush. I believe there were four bulls, but I could only see parts of three of them. Wayne positioned me for a shot at a bull on the right but it was not a good shot for me so he moved to the left a bit. As he did so, a bull on the left raised his head and Wayne gave me a silent thumbs up for me to take the shot at him.
I must digress here a bit. I have seen many photos of elephants and their potential brain shots. The elephant is facing straight on for a frontal brain, or side ways for a shot through the ear hole. However, I was a bit befuddled at the scenario that I was confronted with here. The bull was quartering on to me. The shadows in the low sun did not illuminate the bull well for the shot. As I was trying to calculate in my brain the proper shot for the brain at this angle the bull lifted his head a bit and looked at us. I pressed the rear trigger.
Wayne fired a split second after I with a high shoulder shot. The bush was so thick we could not see any of the elephant behind mid-shoulder or below mid shoulder. Only the top of his shoulder and his head were visible.
The bull ran off so my shot missed the brain. We followed quickly and it was an easy track as a distressed elephant shits his guts out. After the droppings ceased the trackers picked up drops of blood but the tracking was very difficult in the hard and rocky ground. When the track was lost (remember, there were three other bulls here, too) there was no doubt my bull was covering more ground than we were. Bottom line, we followed his tracks to the Gwai River by last light.
In the am the tracks were located and the bull crossed the river into a neighboring tribal council. Wayne phoned the council chair to let them know we were in pursuit of a wounded elephant. It was our moral duty to do so, and our legal duty to do so, also. It is an expected courtesy among land neighbors to allow such trespassing. But, Zimbabwe is Zimbabwe. The council chair said sternly and rudely, "No" and proceeded to tell Wayne (I could hear the phone conversation) we could come on the property to kill the bull for a fee of $10,000. If the elephant was found dead we could recover it for payment of the same fee. If not, the tribal trust would claim the bull--meat and ivory.
I could see Wayne beginning to steam a bit. He proceeded to tell the chair (while holding his temper) they could not legally keep the ivory as it was not on the quota of their land and that it was both common courtesy and a legal obligation to let us recover the bull. Long story short--we were told to vacate the land!!
Wayne spend the remainder of the day phoning Parks officials, higher up council members, the gent to holds the hunting rights to the land, etc., to make some headway in the situation. Now, a few phone calls in the states is one thing, but in Zim phone lines go dead, phones are switched to use another carrier, folks don't return calls, they are not in, etc. All this is called "Africa time" but we had a wounded and dangerous bull to recover. Who would be responsible if the bull killed someone?
By the day's end it was worked out. We would offer $1000 to the council so they would "get something." But we lost a day and we had to get a game scout for that concession if we were to hunt that land. Damn! The scout was not on the land but somewhere in Wankie and we had to wait until the next day for him to arrive on a bus. He would join Wayne's staff, Sam and Cowboy, and some locals from the Gwai Ranch, for the continuation of our pursuit.
The next day the scout arrived and we were off. We offered a $200 reward if the bull was located to add incentive for some locals who joined in the search. This was now in the third day and who knows how far the elephant had gone? The trackers followed the bull's track back across the river to our concession so the scout was not needed anyway (but we didn't know that yesterday). Later in the day the bull was located, dead. In a straight line he went just under 3 kilometers but walked several times that distance, I'm sure. He died the first day but we could not catch him. No vultures were seen even though he fell fell in a small clearing. The sun bloated him so photos were not taken for publication but were done to document the hunt's ending.
The shots? Wayne told me, "You must be the unluckiest hunter, ever" and called me over to the skull. My bullet passed just under the brain and exited the other side of his head (Woodleigh's are the best!). Wayne's shot was indeed high on the shoulder and he bled out but very slowly. I don't know if my shot caused any fatal internal bleeding. The tusks weighed approximately mid-30s. My shot was very close to the brain but it did not stun the bull. If I had used my .600, would John Taylor's theory of stunning the bull be validated (as it was on one of my hippo kills a few years go and published in the African Hunter magazine..
The local council got the meat but it was stinking badly. They said when it is cooked the smell will go away. No thank you! I have the ivory, front feet (stool and dust bin), and skull in the hope the ban will be lifted and they will have a place in my Alaska log home.
An excellent experience, no doubt. My only complaint is a 3:30 am wake up call to get on tracks at first light. At my age, I prefer to begin hunting at 8, break at 9 due to the heat, and resume hunting at half-4 to last light. Seriously, I will hunt with Wayne again, I'm sure. Next year it is off to South Africa to hunt buffalo with Mark Sullivan after a two-week vacation in Zimbabwe. In 2019 a three-week tour of Zim is planned to see all the tourist and natural sights in today's Zimbabwe and the old Rhodesia. Perhaps I can schedule a hunt that year with Wayne.
Thanks, all, for reading.