ZIMBABWE: Zimbabwe 2023 - Mbalabala Safaris


AH enthusiast
Oct 27, 2009
Reaction score
Shelton, CT
Hunting reports
Member of
SCI Life Member, DSC, NRA Life Member
Canada, RSA, USA, Zimbabwe
Outfitter: @Mbalabala Safaris
PHs: Lindon Stanton and Brian Ellement
Booking Agent: Arjun Reddy, Hunters Networks
Dates: May 1-10, 2023
Location: Hwange Communal Land, Zimbabwe
Camp: Sidinda Conservancy
Species Hunted: Non-Trophy Elephant Bull (2)
Species Seen: Elephant, Cape buffalo, kudu, klipspringer, duiker, crocodile, baboon, bushbuck.

Preface: This hunt started its planning phases at the 2022 SCI Convention. My hunting partner and I were looking for a hunt in Zimbabwe which could accommodate an elephant for myself (originally planned as a tuskless cow) and a Cape buffalo for my hunting partner. This quickly morphed when Arjun introduced us to Lin Stanton of Mbalabala Safaris and started a discussion of non-trophy elephant bull. This was something I’d never considered/knew existed, and presented a rather economical means to hunt a bull elephant. Dates were booked a few weeks after the convention and planning began. I had a CZ 550 in .458 Lott sitting in the safe which was sent to Matrix Gunworks (in the sad absence of AHR no longer taking conversion work) for an Upgrade 2 package. As much as I wanted to do this hunt with open sights, I know I shoot better with some variety of single plane optic and settled on a red dot set up (Kahles). Greg got set up with a Winchester 70 in .416 Rem Mag with a Trijicon 1-6 scope. Loads were worked up by me with Cutting Edge solids for the .458 Lott, .416 Rem Mag, and .375 H&H (an AHR converted CZ 550 which has accompanied me on every other hunt).
The next year was consumed with podcasts and instructional videos and every piece of historic and recent literature I could find on elephant hunting. I watched Buzz Charlton’s elephant DVD no less than 20 times, focusing on shot placement and elephant behavior modules.

Travel: Travel plans were made through Patrick at TWG starting in late 2022. We booked Ethiopian Airlines out of Newark to Victoria Falls. Due to the odd destination and my desire to travel with two guns, myself, we were limited on airline options. A few months after booking, we learned of Patrick’s departure and TWGs restructuring. Needless to say, we were quite underwhelmed by the service offered and will be utilizing another travel agent in the future. Our flights were relatively uneventful, with a few small hiccups in the gun checking process in Addis Ababa due to our overnight layover. We laid over in the in-terminal Skylight hotel at Addis and I would certainly recommend that for anyone transiting that route. Arrival at Vic Falls was very smooth and off to camp we went.
Sidinda Camp was a very comfortable location right on the Zambezi river about two hours downstream of Vic Falls. The conservancy is currently 10,000acres (with active movement to expand to 40,000) with a reintroduced heard of about 100 Cape buffalo roaming free on the property. Accommodations were elevated platforms with thatch roofs, open walls, comfortable beds, and permanent bathrooms attached. The dining area/bar was riverfront with a nice fireplace area and great views of the river. Electricity was solar primarily with generators for freezers and battery top offs. Wifi was available to keep in touch with home.
The first night in camp we had a lovely brai and drinks around the fire. Three buffalo bulls decided they wanted to dine on the grass between the bar area and river, giving us an up close show.

May 1: We woke around 5 and enjoyed a nice coffee around the restoked fire. We quickly checked our three rifles, and satisfied with their holding zero loaded the trucks and headed about 2 hours north to check out the movement on the furthest edge of our hunting area (approx 1.2m acres). We returned to camp that evening to a comfortable dinner and cocktails.

May 2: My 36th birthday. We headed to an area the PH called Chikondakupia (sp?), or the Golden Triangle. We immediately found tracks of two large bulls crossing the road into and out of a dam. We offloaded the trucks and our rather large (11?) person party loaded up and took to tracking. The terrain was relatively flat in this area with thick jess. It was warm (high 80’s) with a decent breeze, so comfortable. We tracked for about 6miles in the next 3.5hours. We were coming across fresh droppings which were progressively warmer.
After a quick water break, we pushed another 15 minutes and we’re on the two bulls. We were closing on the bull immediately in front of us when JB, our tracker, froze and pointed out a bull immediately to our right and about 20yds away. Lin and I had a quick chat, noting the bull was fitting of non-trophy criteria with about 20lbs of ivory per side and mature. He was facing to the right and presented a clear side brain shot. Lin prompted me forward through a narrow alley and as I stepped forward and flipped the safety off, the bull turned towards me and rushed us. I placed a frontal brain shot which dropped him and immediately reloaded, stepped to the side and followed with a lung shot (a little further back than I wanted). The second bull mulled for a few minutes, confused, and fled the scene. I was a little numb at this point, despite the back slaps, high fives, and hand shakes.
We walked up to the bull and I had the surreal privilege to put my hands on him. I made a very conscious effort to commit to memory how his skin felt, his ivory, his ears, his feet, his tail hair. Being a non-trophy hunt this would be my only chance. The remainder of the party was way more aware of the charge situation than I was, apparently, as it hadn’t quite hit me yet. I was just happy to have placed an ethical and effective first shot without collaboration required from the other three guns in our party. I cut the tail and claimed him as mine. Of note, we found a large, indurated lump on the base of his trunk with a wound that appeared to be a bullet entrance. It was not blended, but not quite yet granulated, so I’m assuming it was only a few days in age. The entrance looked small-caliber.
Shortly after the shot the trackers began making calls to local villagers they knew to come recover the meat. This turned into an incredible experience watching the giant bull carefully skinned by staff before being absolutely dismantled by the local villagers. Knives were flying and meat was piled onto brush mats. After the ivory and skin panels were removed, the free for all truly began as meat was distributed and carted away in grain sacks, 5gal pails (African Tupperware?), and over shoulders. There were men, women, and children that looked to be as young as 5 carrying meat. It was an amazingly humbling experience for me, thinking about my kids at home and never having to worry about where the next meal is coming from.
We returned to camp to a great meal (including some chicken fried elephant cheek), topped off by a birthday cake baked in a wood oven, and finished off around the fire with cocktails and cigars. This is a birthday which will be very hard to top.

May 3: Today was a bit of a reset day, as we still had 8 days to get Greg an elephant. We decided to put out some of the elephant (trunk, a leg bone) as hyena bait for entertainment in the coming days. We returned to camp in the afternoon to do a bit of fishing from the bank. At this point Brian realized he had packed rods but not reels. No problem, however, as we rigged up some hand lines with empty cooking oil bottles and line that Brian had in his bag. We caught, I believe, 8 maramba (catfish) that afternoon on corn crickets. We enjoyed some fresh fried catfish for appetizers before another evening around the fire with cocktails and great conversation.

May 4: Lin and Brian decided to switch to a fly camp (Chocamella camp) on State Land V to look for a bull for Greg. The camp there was more rustic, but massive. It certainly could use some updating, but beds were comfortable, showers were hot, drinks were cold, and we had an awesome view of a dry riverbed.

May 5: We split the two trucks up to cover more area trying to find fresh bull tracks. We saw a ton of cow herd tracks crossing the various dry river beds we drove. We converged by the Gwai-Shangani copper mine and proceeded to drive down the dry riverbed. As we rounded a curve, we saw a herd of about 10 cross in front of us, including a good bull. We dismounted and followed them up the bank and into the bush. It was incredibly thick in this section of bush, and the decision was made to pull out and see if they crossed to the other side where it was more open. We stopped for a drink by the trucks and about 30 minutes later they began to cross. We snuck up to the point of the curve and Greg’s bull was the last to cross. Greg and Brian began up the far bank after him as Lin and I posted up on the bank they originated from for a little better vantage point. As they were climbing the bank, the bull presented a side brain shot. Greg’s shot hit the bull and knocked him to his knees, with a series of follow up shots from Greg, Lin, and Brian to the body as it regained its footing, turned and fled. We heard him crash about 40 yards away after a solid blood trail. A brain shot to finish and Greg enjoyed the same sensory experience I had a few days earlier.
We were approximately 13km from the nearest village, and that took a bit of time for the villagers to come for meat recovery. We took the trunk and about a 10kg portion of meat to the local chief as a customary gift after a lovely lunch under the shade of trees in the dry riverbed from roughly where Greg shot.As we drove out of the riverbed and down the dirt road there seemed to a a constant stream of locals walking with their empty pails and grain sacks to go collect meat. I had a bit of an emotional lapse (read: cry) as I saw an adult male and a roughly 4 year old boy walking up the road with buckets in hand, again thinking that my kids have no idea what others in the world go through to get the next piece of meat on the table.
We had a great evening in Chocamella Camp with another brai and cocktails and cigars around the fire to celebrate Greg’s bull.

May 6: We departed Chocamella early that morning, with Brian and Greg heading back to Sidinda and Lin and I heading to Hwange Main Camp to drop off our Zim Parks Rangers. We saw a sizable bull just inside the Hwange main gate that Lin estimated in the high 50’s.
We spend the afternoon in Sidinda Camp fishing (now with reels, thanks to a rendezvous Greg and Brian made on the way back). We caught three sizable vundu at 35, 45, and 55lbs. We ate elephant tail soup with sadza for dinner. I will take a moment here to talk about elephant meat: I was under the impression from numerous individuals that elephant meat was near inedible. The two ways we experienced it certainly dispelled that. While it was a little chewy in larger bits in its fried form, the flavor was not at all off-putting. The tail soup was very nice on both flavor, with the texture a bit tougher than traditional ox tail soups I’ve had. I’d certainly eat it again in the future.

May 7-8: We spent the mornings fishing with a short break for gin and tonics for lunch with a quick siesta before resuming with a catfishing competition (loosely….) in the afternoon. We were joined for the next few days by another client of Lin’s (hunting with PH Dean) who was also finished with his hunt for elephant in an area outside of Bulawayo. They joined us for a few days of fishing which produced a number of vundu, squeakers, pink ladies, and even a 14lb tiger fish.

May 9: A quick trip to Vic Falls was put together by Lin and Brian to break up our fishing expedition. Brian and his wife own and operate a butcher shop in Vic Falls, which I was very happy to go visit given having grown up in a butcher shop as a child (my grandfather’s). We broke out to the Victoria Falls Hotel for a few drinks on the porch, and then 3 Monkeys for lunch. Lin, Greg, and I went to the Falls for a walk through the various sight perches and headed back to camp for some fishing in the evenings.

May 10: Our last day in camp, we went to the Matetsi River to look for elephant tracks to scout for an upcoming hunt Lin has booked. We packed all of our gear and took our photos with our (now cleaned) tusks. My bull had a large defect in the inside base of his right tusk, likely caused by the same bullet wound we found on the base of his tusk. There was a large portion of ivory blown out from the inside of that defect which I’m assuming was quite irritating to his nerve root, further explaining why he was so cantankerous upon seeing a human.

Travel Home: We had an uneventful, but quite long flight home. It took us just shy of 48 hours door-to-door. We again overnighted in Addis at the in-terminal Skylight hotel. Clearing customs in Newark was a breeze with Global Entry, but getting CBP to clear our firearms was a very painful and slow process. The agent who finally processed our paperwork was insistent that the 4457’s were no longer the valid means and that we should have used an automated, online process. I was in no mood to argue, and she “kindly” allowed us through with just the 4457’s.

Final thoughts: I’m ruined in terms of hunting wild places versus hunting ranches in the future. My last two hunts were in RSA on (albeit large) fenced properties. Greg and I are in the early discussion phases for a buffalo hunt for 2025, plus or minus a lioness?? We had a great trip with Mbalabala and would recommend them without hesitation to other hunters. Lin and Brian both hunted hard and provided a very comfortable camp with friendly staff and good accommodations. I look forward to further planning and discussions at the 2024 SCI Convention. I am having tusk replicas of my elephant done by TCI in Bulawayo, with pedestals to be determined. I’m looking very forward to placing them on either side of my desk in my home office/trophy room so that I can be continually reminded of this wonderful hunt.
Last edited by a moderator:
Sounds like a great hunt in a wild place. Hard to get much better than that. Good shooting. Thanks for the report.
Facing down a bull elephant charge and executing a well place frontal brain shot! Well done! You had the kind of hunt many of us dream about, and you lived to tell about it.
Wow, sounds like a great hunt and I suspect you and Greg are now hooked on hunting elephant!

I find hunting elephant the greatest adrenaline rush in hunting.
Congratulations on a hunt most of us dream about! Did you have a videographer with you? I’ve considered a Tuskless or Non-Exportable hunt and videotaping it so I could have something a little more to remember the hunt by.
Thanks for taking us along on to share a little bit on your adventure. Congrats on a great hunt and experience.
Congratulations to you both, what a birthday indeed. I like the idea of getting tusk replica's made, it is real enough, you got your bull.
Congratulations and thanks for report. I hope you’ll at least add some photos of camp and landscape. I can fully understand holding back trophy photos.
Congratulations. Thank you for sharing your hunt.
Congrats to you both and thanks for telling us about your safari. A dream trip, for sure. Great job on your research and shooting!
Sounds like an adventure!
Congratulations on a great hunt and hunt report. Nothing like a safari in the wilds of Zimbabwe. This is the first I’ve heard about an on line 4457 form. Is this something new or have I not been paying attention?
Congrats. Nice report. Thanks for sharing it.
Congrats for a great hunt, and thanks for sharing :D Cheers:

Some pics would be great !
sounds like an awesome hunt! thanks for taking us along for the ride.

Forum statistics

Latest member



Latest profile posts

cold and windy day in NW today may catch a rain!
James Friedrichs wrote on Garrett89's profile.
beautiful reel. do you have some room in the price? James
just posted an Buffalo and sable package on the deals page, please have look!

I'm trying to obtain an Australian Visa, but I was arrested over 10 years ago and the government is requesting a state police clearance letter and character declaration letter. Do I need to provide an FBI criminal record check as well?

This is the most difficult place I have ever tried to get into.