ZIMBABWE: Leopard & Buffalo With Mbalabala Safaris

Discussion in 'Hunting Reports Africa' started by Riksa, Nov 11, 2017.

  1. Riksa

    Riksa AH Veteran

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    I have learnt a lot reading this forum and altough I am not always showing my respect to the reports and info here I feel that it is my obligation to return the favor and write my own report when I get the chance to go to Africa. And yes, if you go once, you will go again :). For me this was my third trip with the 2 previous ones in Namibia.

    Hunt was booked with Mbalabala Safaris (Lindon Stanton) and my PH would be Pierre Hundermark. Area is Chewore South in Zimbabwe. Main species to be hunted were Leopard and Buffalo.

    Days prior to hunt

    I booked the hunt through a special in Africahunting.com. I was not in the market for a hunt in 2017, but just exploring opportunities for 2018. But then I found an offer I could not ignore. Mbalabala Safaris had a nice offer for a Buffalo and I asked what other species could be combined with the hunt. When Leopard was available in Zimbabwe for an unusual rate together with the Buffalo I simply could not say no. And that’s how my trip started.

    I did less than my usual background checks as the hunt was only 2 months from finding the offer. I contacted a reference, checked web for stories about Mbalabala Safaris and checked other offers from Zimbabwe for 2017 and this one really stood out. So I booked the hunt. Hunt was agreed to take place from Friday 20th of October until Thursday 2nd of November. 14 days in total + arrival and departure days. I felt that was a good amount of days to maximize my chances on both Leopard and Buffalo. Additionally I was mainly interested in Hyena, Bushbuck and Kudu. Plan was to take my own rifle (.338 WinMag) for Leopard hunting and use camp gun for Buffalo. Hunt was to take place in Chewore South, an area of 1 Million Acres of wilderness: Chewore borders Mana Pools national park and has no fences whatsoever. That was one of the key things for me when booking the hunt. I wanted to hunt in wild, original Africa. And I wanted to hunt hard.

    I found good deal (only 1500€/1700USD) on flying with Ethiopian Airlines so I booked their flights from Helsinki to Harare and back in business class. I also found the info posted by other members about the weird gun checking process in Addis Abebe. That info was very helpful as it really made a difference in being able to catch all the flights. My lesson learnt in this case was that I should always take several extra copies of my gun permit, passport and other relevant papers with me. But like someone wrote earlier, just pull out new papers when asked and be kind. At some point one of the papers is enough and everything is fine. To me the trick seemed to be a document with my signature and the serial number of the gun (prefilled gun import permit for Zim). Then everything was fine.

    In Zimbabwe the immigration and customs processes were very fast and simple. My only moment of concern was that my bag (with ammunition) arrived with everyone else’s luggage, but the gun case not. I started to get worried, but then noticed a buy standing beside the carousel with my gun case. So all the luggage arrived and I was out of the airport with no further issues. The PH Pierre Hundermark met me at the exit and the trip to Chewore was long but uneventful.

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    Chewore has a few different available camps, but we were to stay in Chenje camp. It is a tent camp, but very nice overall. Hot water was warmed with fire, good toilet and shower, open bar with cold drinks and internet (working sometimes, sometimes not). Electricity was produced with generator and power was available when needed. The company operating Chewore camps will change after this year, so please don’t take these as a guarantee that everything will work in the future. But this time, I was happy with all the things and especially food and the company of staff and fellow hunters in the camp.

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  2. Riksa

    Riksa AH Veteran

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    Friday 20.10

    Waking up a little later than normal. We were not in a hurry and the first thing (after malaria medication and breakfast) was to head to shooting range and sight in rifles. After that the rest of the day would be spent on putting up baits, plenty of them. I was confident that my own rifle would be fine and as the camp gun was recently used in a successful Buffalo hunt I didn’t expect any issues there either. I like having a good rest for my cheek while shooting so I had brought a detachable cheek rest for the camp gun.

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    I shot my own rifle and there were no issues. Not a perfect shot, but good enough to know everything is OK. As usual, my heart rate was high and the crosshairs jumped more than in my usual trip to shooting range. That might be because of early morning (coffee) and/or shooting in front of almost total strangers who all want to find out how I shoot. Anyway, everything was fine.

    Then I took the camp gun. 375 H&H Winchester M70 with a Swarovski Z3 scope. OK set with the first impression. I would be shooting Norma factory loaded African PH ammo. I took the first shot and hit 40cm (16 inch) up with the first shot. WTF??? I thought the shot felt good so I said that the shot felt OK. I took the second shot and it hit within an inch from the first shot. Something seemed wrong so we started adjusting the scope. Adjustments really didn’t work out as after 4 shots we couldn’t hit our target at all. At that point we started looking the gun and scope a little more carefully. The scope had been knocked off since the previous hunt. So no hunting with that rifle on the first day. No problem, we would anyway spend the first 2 days to hang baits for Leopard. Anyway, it was good to notice the problem before trying to shoot the Buffalo with the gun.

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    During first day of hunting we put up 5 baits and drove a lot in bumpy roads. When returning I took my rifle out of the soft bag for the first time since the range to remove the cartridges from magazine. While doing that, Pierre gave me a screw and said I had dropped it. I thought that he was joking, but no. My rifle was actually missing one of the 2 screws that hold the gun together. Another WTF? moment for the first day of hunting. So before taking the first beer of the day I was performing maintenance to my gun. I really hope that this is not going the be the theme for the next 14 days.

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    Overall it was a nice hunting day. 41 degrees of Celsius (105F) in shade and I had 8C degrees when I left Finland. It was slightly warm to pull the baits up the trees and all movement seemed much more challenging compared to doing them in my “normal” temperatures. I certainly got what I asked (hunt hard). During the day we saw a nice heard of elephants, a Kudu, some impalas, warthogs and a bushbuck. Also a herd of waterbucks were close to Chenje camp.
     

  3. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN AH ENABLER SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR LIFETIME TITANIUM BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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    Been waiting for this one.....
     
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  4. dory

    dory AH Fanatic

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    Lucky bugger !!
    I remember their special hunt offer .
    Great hunt for a good price .
    Looking forward to see how you got on .
    Love the photos , gives us a good insight of the whole trip .
    Cheers Dory .:D Pop Popcorn:
     
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  5. reedy0312

    reedy0312 AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    Looking forward to more!
     
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  6. gillettehunter

    gillettehunter AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    This is one of those that we all wish that we were able to do. Great start. Bruce
     
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  7. Redruff

    Redruff AH Enthusiast

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    Keep’er coming you lucky bugger!

    R.
     
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  8. johnnyblues

    johnnyblues AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    Cmon.........
     
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  9. CEO

    CEO AH Veteran

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    This is a pleasant surprise because yesterday I was looking through old deals and came upon this one. Almost brought it to the top to see if we could get a report. Looking forward to the rest.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2017
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  10. rinehart0050

    rinehart0050 GOLD SUPPORTER AH Elite

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    Great start. Looking forward to more...
     
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  11. enysse

    enysse AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    Looking forward to the hunt report:E Excited:
     
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  12. LivingTheDream

    LivingTheDream AH Elite

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    Dude, I saw this report last night and put off reading it till this morning so I could read it with my coffee...and now I am left hanging, haha. Great start so far look forward to the rest.
     
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  13. Riksa

    Riksa AH Veteran

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    Thanks for all the kind comments! I'm working on the story and will publish as soon as next day is ready.
     

  14. Riksa

    Riksa AH Veteran

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    Saturday 21.10

    “How far would the baits usually be from the road”, I asked from Pierre. Usually not more than under 100 meters was the reply on the first day. Then we got to day number 2 and our first bait…
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    There was a spring in rough terrain and we could see Leopard tracks on the road heading to the spring. The spring was easily half a kilometer from the closest road and so would be our bait. On the way to the spring we threw the bait down from a cliff (as it’s easier to climb down without dragging the bait with us). The bait fell a few feet away from a Porcupine and scared the s*it out of it. My wife asked me to try to bring home some Porcupine needles. Wouldn’t it be convenient to actually kill a Porcupine with your bait to get the needles… That didn’t quite happen but I still had a nice laugh. So Hank, next time you want to crack the skull of the Porcupine, don’t shoot it. Just wait on a cliff for the Porcupine and throw a quarter of a Buffalo on top of the Porcupine when it arrives. That is likely to do the trick.

    Anyway, the location for the bait was a beautiful place. Remote and quiet with plenty of cover. We put up the bait, cut some bush away and build a nice shooting lane. And as this was the place the farthest away from any road, I got the feeling that this would be the place where we would get the Leopard. Positive thinking…
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    On second day of hunting we got up 4 additional baits (total 9 baits up). Our main concern was how long the baits would last in the extreme heat so we tried to get a lot of them up to make sure we find the cat as soon as possible. We spent a lot of time driving to the selected locations. Majority of bait places were selected prior to my arrival. All where remote and nice places with all of them having water (spring) close to them.

    After the baits were up we went to look for Buffalo. We had seen fresh tracks on a road and now returned to the scene. Time was roughly 15:30 so there was plenty of time left to do some tracking. I grabbed the .375, Pierre grabbed his .458, ranger grabbed his semiautomatic rifle and trackers (2 of them) were carrying water and shooting sticks. This would be my first stalk and boy did I enjoy! Putting baits up is needed, but in no way is it my favorite hunting activity.

    We bumped a sleeping warthog and passed him from 10 meters without him noticing us. We continued tracking and after only a few kilometers the trackers saw movement some 200-300 meters in front of us. Also I could see it. These were the first Buffalo I had ever seen. There was a large herd spread in a large area with some cover. Pierre waved us to stay low when he carefully glassed the herd to see if there were any shooters there. I did my best to keep calm and tried to relax. Wind was in our favor so everything looked promising.

    The Buffalos were just getting up from their mid-day siesta. First the herd couldn’t really decide where to start heading, so we tried to sneak closer. Pierre continued checking the herd. So far we couldn’t see if there were good males there, but we hadn’t seen the whole herd. Some of the buffalos walked closer and were maximum 100 meters from us. Then suddenly they all turned and continued walking away from us while feeding. Time was getting close to 17:00 so we would still have over an hour before it comes dark. We decided to try to get ahead of the herd so we retreated and increased speed to get in front of the herd.

    We reached the front of the herd as they were climbing over a hill. Pierre waved the ranger and trackers to wait while we continued closer. Pierre set the sticks up, told me to get up slowly, take the safety of and wait for his instructions if a mature bull would present itself. I did as asked, but felt the sticks were not in ideal position and started to adjust the sticks. As soon as I had made my first movements, Pierre told me to stop moving. Well, the sticks would need to be in the position they were and I just continued looking the Buffalos through my scope. The Buffalos were walking in a line some 80 meters from us. Terrain was quite open but there was enough bushes to make me concerned of the branches especially as the herd was moving.

    Every now and then I would see a big buffalo and I expected to hear Pierre’s “take him” any moment. The line of Buffalos seemed never ending. There were probably close to 200 buffalos in total. But none of them was a shooter. After the herd had passed we hauled ass and returned to the bakkie. Later I learnt that usually the Buffalo herd has a few older cows checking any movement or threats and that was also the case when I decided to adjust the shooting sticks (thinking no one will see me). Luckily the movement was not spotted, so no harm done and an important lesson learnt for me. Buffalo eye sight was definitely better than I had expected.

    During the first days there were also other surprises compared to my expectations. Chewore was very rough terrain, but still there was water available to the animals. There could be miles and miles of dried up or even burnt terrain, but frequently you could find green trees, grass and water. Additionally there where hills so walking certainly took some effort in the hot temperature. Highest temperature today was 42C in shade. Needless to say, cold drinks taste pretty good at that temperature.
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    Another surprise came in amount of game. I had previously hunted only in Namibia and there you could see game everywhere. In Chewore that was not the case. It’s a big five hunting area and although you can see plains game every day, it’s not the same as the huge amount of game everywhere that I got used to in Namibia. Does that mean that there is no good quality game available? Hell, no! There is plains game, but not in numbers that was available in Namibia comparing to my previous hunts. So it’s different. If you want to see a lot of plains game, this is not an area for you. If you want to see wild Elephants, Lions, Leopard, Rhino, and especially Buffalo, this is a place to go.

    Now the majority of baits are up, so tomorrow we will focus on Buffalo and start checking baits. Very much looking forward to that!
     

  15. Royal27

    Royal27 AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    Very much ready for this report!
     

  16. MMAL

    MMAL GOLD SUPPORTER AH Enthusiast

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    Keep it coming. Where did the baits come from. Did you shout any of them?
     

  17. Riksa

    Riksa AH Veteran

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    The baits were Buffalo and were shot before my arrival. Later we used also Zebra. I would have loved to shoot my own baits, but as we wanted to maximize the success rate for Leopard, we didn't wait.
     
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  18. Riksa

    Riksa AH Veteran

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    Sunday 22.10 (3rd hunting day)

    Started 5:00AM and went out to check baits and look for Buffalo spoor. On the way to the first bait we spotted tracks of buffalo. We went to check the first bait (not hit) and then returned to the buffalo track. The tracks were spotted at a dry riverbed and where headed towards a spring. We left the bakkie and proceeded towards the water by foot. We reached the water shortly and could tell the Buffalo had just been there. The tracks were fresh. We continued to follow the tracks and just after 100 meters we could see the Buffalos. Some of them were still in the riverbed and we quickly looked for more cover to remain unnoticed. The clock was 7:00.

    We returned on our tracks and got around the Buffalo to a nice vantage point on the opposite side riverbank. We could see that there were a lot of Buffalos and they slowly wandered in the bush while feeding. Pierre carefully checked them and said that there might be a good bull in the herd but he only saw it from the side. That said we continued our stalk and got them ambushed when the herd hit the riverbed again. The river made a turn and gave us a good opportunity to get closer to the herd. Pierre took the sticks from the tracker and we crouched closer. We were only some 50 meters away from the Buffalo and the bull that Pierre wanted to check was among the Buffalos in the riverbed. The set up was perfect.

    Then the sticks came up. Pierre couldn’t judge the bull as it was facing away with its’ head down. Pierre instructed me to stay on the bull while he carefully judged the bull. I could see the bull turn broadside. Magic words “take him” came. I squeezed off the shot immediately. I had taken aim before the command and felt that everything was ready. Recoil threw me off from balance and I couldn’t tell how the bull reacted. Upon the shot the riverbed and nearby bushes came to life. 100+ Buffalo were making their escape from the scene. Among them was the bull I had shot. Pierre asked me how the shot felt and I said it felt good. I asked how did the bull react and the reaction had been OK. So hopes were up while we took the “one cigarette” break to let the things calm down. Shot had been taken roughly at 9:00.

    Then we went to the place where the bull had climbed up the riverbed. I was expecting to see a nice blood trail but to my surprise there was no blood that I could see. The more experienced team members had the same conclusion and they spread out to see where to find blood. Soon we could spot a drop of blood, but there was not much. We continued to follow the tracks and it became evident that the bull was not badly wounded. It had remained with the rest of the herd so for the next hour and half we followed the herd and occasionally we could spot blood on the ground, but not on any branches. Where did I hit the bull? While walking and letting the trackers do their job, I was focusing on beating myself for the bad shot.
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    Then suddenly the herd was in front of us again in a thicket. Luckily there was an opening and some of the Buffalo were standing there. There was a bull among the Buffalo we could see. Pierre said that he can’t see any blood but he is sure that it’s the same bull. So I’m on the sticks again with plenty of time. Pierre instructs to take my time and squeeze of the shot. I ended up pulling the shot badly. I have now had 2 perfect chances to shoot my buffalo. The team had been putting me in great place to shoot my first Buffalo and I can’t do my part. I tell to Pierre that I didn’t feel good about the shot. The sound of his voice reflects disappointment when he says “Why?” Talk about feeling down…

    We go to the place where the bull was standing when I took the second shot. To my surprise I notice a drop of pink blood. Was the shot good after all? Hopes go up, but then the trackers say that they believe it has been a throat shot because there is water mixed with the blood. Back to feeling like a zero again. I’m asked to wait until the team finds out where the buffalo went. Sitting there not being able to do anything was probably the worst part of my hunting life so far. But the bull has been hit and it’s our duty to try to find it. So on we go. I can’t imagine what Pierre must be thinking. And he should still hunt a Leopard with me… Yeah, good luck with that.

    We continue tracking and become busted by Kudus. There is a really nice Kudu bull, but that’s not our focus at the moment. The Buffalo herd pushed on with us in their tail. We catch up with the herd again when they are crossing another dry riverbed. We can only see the last dozen Buffalo as the first ones had already crossed the river when we reached them. At this point we have been tracking the Buffalo for over 4 hours and many kilometers. Pierre checks the Buffalos and says that the wounded one is not in the back of the herd. So it can’t be badly wounded as it’s keeping up with the rest. The Buffalo head to some really thick stuff on the other side of the river. The team has a short discussion and Pierre calls of the search for the wounded bull as we can’t proceed to the thick stuff. So this is it. My first chance to get a Buffalo ended to a disaster.

    During the tracking we drank a lot of water so Pierre sends one of the trackers to get more water from a nearby spring. The tracker heads off and follows the dry riverbed while the rest of us take a seat. Suddenly the tracker starts waving to us. He has spotted the herd again. They did not head to the thick stuff but actually turned and are wondering along the riverbed behind a corner. We run to catch them. Pierre is glassing them again. The herd is some 200-300 meters from us. He can’t see the wounded bull so we run on the other side of the river to catch up the herd. We catch them and Pierre continues glassing. I set the gun on the sticks again. 100+ buffalos is a lot. And we need to spot the one bull that has been hit. The herd is partially on the dry riverbed and partially on the river banks with some cover. So it’s not easy to spot the one we are looking for. None of the buffalo we can see is clearly wounded. But the bull has to be there somewhere.

    Then Pierre shouts out the words “Found him, he’s got a bird on his back”. I don’t see the bull (nor the bird) immediately so Pierre takes aim and takes a shot at the bull. Then I also notice where it was standing. It was quite close to the front of the herd. Upon the shot the bull buckles and we can see blood spraying from its’ nose. Pierre takes another shot, but that misses the bull. Again all the buffalo make their escape and disappear in the bushes. Again we have the one cigarette break. Soon we can hear the death bellow. So that’s what it’s supposed to be when you take the shot. You shoot and then there is death bellow :)

    We follow the trail and see the bull laying under a tree. Pierre asks me to shoot it once to make sure it’s down. I have some challenges to see the bull, but I can see its’ horn and aim to right and down of the horns. I hit the bull and it doesn’t move. It’s done. It’s a bittersweet moment. I’m happy that the bull is down and we don’t need to leave wounded animal behind, but at the same time I’m really sad as I didn’t do my part. Pierre asks me what I want to do with the trophy. Honest answer is that the trophy belongs to the shooter and in this case it was not me. It was Pierre who shot the bull, and I’m happy that he did. It’s a great bull, just sad that I can not call it mine. Trophies are earned and I didn’t earn this one. The team did great job at putting my in good positions, following the wounded bull and finally Pierre taking the necessary shot and making sure the wounded bull didn’t escape.
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    My shots had taken the bull to the center of the neck (probably the second shot) and the lower part of the throat (first shot) just like the trackers had guessed.
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    When we get back to the camp, I ask Pierre to take me to the shooting range. I want to try my own rifle from the sticks and prove myself that I can shoot. All 3 shots are good. So why was my first shot at the bull so bad? Usually I’m pretty good at noticing when things go wrong, but this time I clearly wasn’t. Luckily tomorrow is a new day. Things can’t possible get any worse than this.

    And anyway the sunsets in Africa are always nice!
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  19. reedy0312

    reedy0312 AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    Glad you were able to find the herd again and take the bull! Those marginal shots happen to us all from time to time, I know how you feel. Its a nice bull!!
     
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  20. Riksa

    Riksa AH Veteran

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    It was a nice bull. And it was good that we got it in the end. We certainly did that the hard way :) Things don't always go as you expect, but now all those are good memories.
     
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