Safari Hunting On The Zambezi River

As a first time Buffalo hunter eager with anticipation of my first dangerous game hunt, I asked my professional hunter Nathan Askew what to expect. He answered me with a smile and said you can expect two thing, cookies & Tsetse flies. The cookies were the best I've ever had after walking for hours in the bush. As for those Tsetse's well let's just say words can't explain it. I thought of my self as physically fit, mentally ready, and a pretty good shot. I soon found out that Mozambique was going to challenge all of these things.

I was already 8 days into my 14 day Safari and by now had mastered the everyday routine of being up at 4am. Ever prepared, Nathan was already up and working with John his long time tracker. They had completed packing the car with our supplies. There was time for one quick cup of coffee, a light breakfast, and we were off. We were headed back to a water point where we had tracked a lone bull on the second day and came up empty handed. Hunting in the wilds of Northern Mozambique was proving to be very challenging! Buffalo were few, but the trophies were worth all the effort.

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It took us about 3 hours to get to the area we wanted to hunt. At first light we already had those Tsetses's keeping us company. We chuckled and agreed it was far too early for those damn flies. Needless to say we pressed on, parking the vehicle and walking into the bush checking the known water points in the area for fresh spoor. After a rather slow start to the morning with no fresh tracks we decided to drive a short distance to a little koppie a few kilometres away. There was a good water source near the bottom of this koppie, which Nathan had named 'Snake River' due to the large African Rock Pythons that lived near the water. Come to think of it Nathan had a bit of a reputation for naming things in the bush, which often proved to be quite funny as he associated the strangest of things to remember an area, a pleasant relief to have a good laugh when we stopped for a break in the walking.

We were very close to the koppie, which was about 1 kilometre from the dirt track; Just as we were about to stop Nathan pointed out fresh Buffalo dung on the side of the track. By now the sun was already beating down on us it was around 9.30am. Nathan jumped off the vehicle and had a closer inspection of the dung, he had a big smile and gave us the thumbs up, and it was fresh, very fresh. Within 5 minutes we were ready. John had his backpack with all our water, cookies, energy bars and the shooting sticks, Nathan was carrying his 458 Lott and I was carrying my .375 H&H. My scope was turned all the way down and that feeling of excitement began to well up in my stomach. Nathan turned to me and said the Buffalo were going to the water and because of the long grass (Over 6ft tall) we would have to move very slowly so we fell into single file, John taking the lead followed by Nathan, myself, and the military game scout who accompanied us everywhere (Part of the rules when hunting in Mozambique).

It wasn't 10 meters before we found more dung in the grass making it a lot easier to follow the trail. We walked the kilometre up to the Snake River very slowly stopping regularly to check wind and sounds. The dung was green in colour and still warm wherever they were they weren't very far ahead. At the river we could see where they had taken water, the ground still wet from where they had crossed. The water was still cloudy from mud stirred up by the buffalo. We thought that there was between 6 and 10 of them. We could see where they had entered the water but because of the amount of tracks in the mud around the area. Finding the correct path to follow on the way out was going to be tricky. John turned to us and politely asked us to sit under one of the trees on the side of the river. He did not want us putting our footprints all over the place as he was trying to decipher the tracks. He took a radio and off he went to work his magic & trust me it was pure magic. I have been hunting for a long time around 15years and have hunted with many trackers, but I have never seen or met one who ever comes close to John. He has a sixth sense and the ability to see things that are not always visible, even to the most experienced hunters. We could see him from time to time walking in the bush following different tracks and very quietly talking to himself almost as if he was communicating with something we could not see. About 30 min passed, I sat in silence watching and listening to everything that moved the tension and excitement ever increasing waiting for that radio call. We heard a click on the radio and a quiet but very excited John on the other side, "Nathan, Nathan come in for John! I found them they are right in front of me." Nathan had to slow John down, as he was talking so fast & so excited he was not making sense. My heart started to pound and my stomach was in a knot. Was this going to be the day?

The message became clear, he had found the Buffalo, and they were lying down & had not seen him. He was on his way back to fetch us. A few minutes later the game scout appeared to guide us back to John. As we walked I could see that Nathan was just as excited as I was, he pointed at my scope asking me to double check everything and whispered "This is it!" The game scout stopped and pointed, about 100m ahead was John standing behind some tall grass and trees. He indicated to us that they were still lying down and that we should approach slowly. The wind was perfect right into our face. They game scout stayed behind and we made our way to John who had already set up the shooting sticks for me. Nathan indicated to me that I should immediately get into position and wait for his instruction. He glassed the buffalo and whispered into my ear asking if I could see the bull lying down looking at us next to the tree. There were about 10 animals all on top of each other, even with the scope right down all I could see was Buffalo. A tree was obscuring my view of the bull and they were only 40-50 meter away. Nathan grabbed the sticks and moved us about 10m to the left to try another position. No tree this time but too many buffalo behind and next to each other. I stayed in position, Nathan moved back to the original spot. Slowly the buffalo started to stand again still unaware of our presence, suddenly Nathan waved frantically at me to bring the shooting sticks and come across to him. I positioned myself right next to him ready for anything. Again he whispered in my ear "the bull is on the right standing just behind the cow, can you see him?" Just as he said that the bull nodded his head Nathan whispered "the one who nodded." He was standing broadside 40m meters away, I finally had a shot. Nathan again whispered in my ear "on the shoulder, take your time and breath." There were some small branches just in front of the Buffalo and I was using 300gr Swift A Frames soft's.

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We had agreed beforehand that Nathan would not back me up unless I asked him to or he felt that the situation required it, he whispered to me one last time "have you got the shot?" Yes was the reply. He indicated to the branches in front of the Buffalo and said, "I'll wait for you but I think a back up is best just in case." I agreed. The obvious thing is to never shoot any animals through any form of branches especially dangerous game, however sometimes opportunities are limited and I was confident that I could see the shoulder clearly and had a steady rest and could place a good shot. Never the less I thought a back up shot just in case was a good idea.

Safety off, cross hairs on the shoulder, dead rest and the shot was off, followed up immediately by the 458 Lott. The sound of the buffalo running and the dust in the air and pure adrenalin, wow what a feeling! My hands were shaking and my mind was so clear about everything, I knew the shot was good. We looked at each other smiled. We spoke about the shot and the animal ensuring that I had indeed pulled the trigger on the right one. I was rather anxious as I listened intensely for the so called 'death bellow' Buffalo make when they are on there last legs but I heard nothing. Nathan reassured me that you don't always get to hear the animal die, and that going in to find the Buffalo was half the fun. John looked around for the spoor and after about 15 minutes we got ourselves together and set off. We found the spoor of a loan Buffalo breaking away from the rest of the herd. A few paces on and there was blood, John smiled at me and said "you got him", I felt a sigh of relief but by no means was it over. The blood was dark red in colour at first but then quickly turned pink with lots of pieces of flesh and bubbles in the blood indicating a lung shot. Good news we thought, walking shoulder to shoulder we all expected to find the Buffalo a few paces ahead, we walked very slowly both of us locked and loaded ready for anything. Again myself and Nathan spoke about such a situation if we had to follow up on the Buffalo, agreeing to stand together, me on his left side and once we found Buff and he was not down to keep shooting until we were both empty. As Nathan jokingly put it to me 'when there's lead in the air there's hope!'

At first the trail was easy to follow with plenty of blood and spoor this however did not last long. John found a patch where the Buffalo had laid down, there was blood everywhere. We had walked only a few hundred meters since the start I thought to myself 'not long now'. Suddenly there was a rush ahead of us it was the Buff he was off, the bush was so thick we didn't even see him but we now knew he was not down and we could possibly expect a charge. I glanced at Nathan and I think the look on my face said it all, I certainly felt it deep inside me; I thought to myself 'oh boy I fluffed the shot and now I have to put everyone in harms way to find this thing'. Nathan came straight out and said 'he won't go far you hit him good we know he's hit in the lungs just a matter of time'. I think I repeated the shot in my mind a thousand times, I knew deep down it was good but it's very easy to doubt yourself in this type of situation. The one thing for sure was that the shot missed the heart so it must have been either slightly high or just behind the shoulder.

Now that the situation had changed from looking for a downed Buffalo to one of tracking a wounded Buffalo, everything got a whole lot more tense. To top it all off the Buff had moved off into the thick long grass, which made following the spoor impossible. The only way forward was to follow the blood or by John's sixth sense. We walk at a snails pace inspecting every shadow looking under every tree for that illusive black shadow that moved. Just before 12:30 we found another patch were the Buffalo had laid down, again with large sums of pink blood and bits of flesh. We knew that we weren't far behind him and this made us even more alert to all movement. John was truly amazing, he stuck on the blood trail sometimes taking short cuts through the bush to ensure we had the wind in our favour or moving us away from potential risky areas where the Buffalo could ambush us. This gave us the advantage all the time to check these areas and still he kept us on the trail.

By now hours had passed. We were constantly pushing the Buffalo and he was staying just in front of us all time. Everyone was tense and fatigued. Nathan called for a break; the rest was welcomed by all. Nathan Explained "You can only stay sharp for so long, then you start to make mistakes, on top of that we are pushing this bull too hard and he's sticking to the thickets." Not much talking took place, we just drank some water had the last of the cookies Nathan had stashed in our pack. John just quietly sat and watched as Nathan surprisingly managed to squeeze in 15 minute nap. I must admit I was mentally shattered and the slightest movement got me very nervous. Nathan must have felt even worse as he not only had the Buff to worry about he also had rest of us. I had now convinced myself that I had ruined my chances as no Buffalo could go this long with lungs shot, I also began to deal with the fact that we may not even find this animal and that made me feel even worse. Thirty minutes passed John stood up and said lets go find your Buffalo, with that we were off again. It was now about four in the afternoon and following the blood spoor was becoming even harder as there were fewer spots and it was drying up. Again John totally amazed me with his ability to keep on the track he was thinking like a Buffalo, talking to himself very softly. We lost the track here and there but with out fail he put us right back on course.

It was approaching five in the afternoon and no one said a word but I know we were all thinking the same thing, we weren't going to find him. Yes we had pink blood and plenty of it but this buffalo was not giving in and the trail was harder to follow. Suddenly this 6 foot grass cleared we had walked in a half circle almost back to the car where it all began. John looked at Nathan and myself and said 'he is dying'; when I asked how he knew he replied by saying that for the past six hours the Buffalo he made three small circles on us while working his way back to the area we had wounded him from. Nathan pointed out that each time the bull was coming back perpendicular to his back trail. Each time he stood or laid down in thick cover. Each time facing the direction we would approach from. So we pressed on, another half hour passed. The sun was starting to set and all hope had started to fade away for me and I began to accept the fact that I must have made a bad shot and we weren't going to find this Buffalo.

Suddenly John stopped and showed us fresh dung and blood, Nathan went off to the left to some rocks where he could see over the long grass. John and I stood not making a sound, Nathan suddenly turned to me and said 'there he is'. I scrambled to the rock and stood on Nathan's left; 50m in front of us slowly staggering away was the old dagga boy he was swaying from side to side as he slipped away. Nathan looked at me as if to say 'what are you waiting for shoot'. I lifted my .375 and free standing took two shots, my PH backed me up with simultaneous shots from his .458 Lott. I hit him between the shoulder blades with one bullet and the next struck the buff just behind the base of the boss right in the centre. Nathan put his two shots in the rump area which anchored the buff. I turned to Nathan and said I can't see him anymore, before he could answer there was this spine chilling death bellow that came out of the grass and then for the first time I knew I had got him and he was down. I tried to reload my rifle but my hands were shaking so badly I just couldn't, I eventually got it right on the fourth or fifth attempt. We regrouped and walked up to the fallen buffalo. Initially I had no emotions and there was not the usual whoops and shaking of hands all of us just kind of stood there in amazement as to what had just happened and how physically and emotionally drained we all were. Slowly we started to come around to the fact that he was down and we began with smiles all around. I think John was taken back when I gave him a very hard hand shake followed by a huge hug, he was truly amazing and I firmly believe that if it wasn't for John we would never have found that Buffalo. To me he is the unsung hero in this story and it would take someone of exceptional quality to ever better his abilities in the bush.

The Buffalo's horns turned out to be over 40 inches wide, with a body of exceptional size. Both Nathan and John indicated that to date it was the best all around buffalo they had ever taken in the bush. I was anxious to get him upright and see where my first shot was, to mine and I think Nathan amazement my first shot was good, on the shoulder slightly back missing the heart but going through both lungs ending up just under the skin on the opposite shoulder, Nathans first shot had been in the neck virtually severing its throat. How he ever went for so long is truly amazing. Buffalo are tough animals what you see on T.V. or in DVD's is not a true reflection as to their character. Yes some people do have easier hunts for Buffalo and some do go straight down but I expect that this is not the norm and personally I would not have wanted my hunt to be any different.

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First of all, I was physically fit which is essential when hunting Buffalo particularly in very wild parts of Africa where you have to do one hell of a lot of walking. Secondly I thought I was mentally ready and I was, but I learned the value of true persistence. No matter how tough it got we always moved forward and stayed mentally sharp. Lastly practice your shooting it helps to be confident in your ability to place tactical shots as hunting Buffalo you have to take what opportunities come your way. There is one last thing that is essential to a good Buffalo Safari, your Professional Hunter, make sure you communicate and he should discuss all aspect of the hunt with you. Be honest and don't bull dust about your abilities! Sure we would all would like to be 100% ready and wish we could shoot bulls eyes free handed at 100 meters; but this is seldom the case. Know your capabilities and trust your Professional Hunter, he's there to get you in the right position and make your safari a true hunting experience.

Written by: Trevor Hicks, Client

 

Client References

Chuck Cage

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Dr. Spalten

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Gary Bartels

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Gary DeWitt

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Dr. Luckett

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Chris Gouras

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Jamie Pollock

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Charles Avera

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Jeff Kelley

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Bill Palmer

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Chuck LaBerreare

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Pemble Davis

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Jim Bucher

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Dr. Flowers

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David Hyde

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Robert Blum

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Dr. Chouinard

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Jim Lightsey

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