So there we were… My son and his buddy Werner, Marius and I – all armed and ready.
We were going to hunt buffalo that day. It was early in the season and my son was also in camp at the time, taking a break from his final stretch at med school.
As your kids grow older, these moments become precious as they become few and far between, so cherish them when you have the chance.
Since I got my new William Douglas 470 double rifle a few weeks earlier, that was obviously my rifle of choice and I couldn’t wait. We set course for the floodplains, where the buffalo herds live. To a place the locals call Chirundi. Chirundi has good buffalo, but they are alert, skittish and sometimes very hard to hunt. Early in the season the place is lush, beautiful and green – with lots of grass. And bad papyrus thickets. And razor grass. And some water in places. And lots of water in other places.
It is a wild place. We travelled by vehicle up to a point where we found some good tracks and set off on foot from there. The trackers – Bichote and Marco – in the lead, Marius and I following. The rest in quiet single file behind me. We must have covered about 2 miles or so but it took almost 2 hours as it is very heavy going following in the Buffalo tracks through the swamps. Buffalo love water and mud and move well in there. We don’t.
Walking sometimes hip deep in the swamp and trying not to drop your precious new double rifle in the muck while trying to be quiet, makes for some interesting footwork at times, I tell you! I heard a few muffled curses as we moved along. At long last, Bichote turned around and his wide-eyed face gave it away as he whispered “Nyati!” while pointing over the next clump of reeds and grass.
We moved forward to have a look. The Buffalo were resting on an island just up ahead. That initial glimpse of the black bodies is something else. It is always exciting and your world suddenly becomes very small. Heartbeat up, check the rifle, recheck the wind, make sure extra ammo is where I want it, and it is game on…
Marius and I crept forward on all fours, taking cover behind some small reeds. We took a while glancing them over – patiently taking stock. It was a small herd of about 50 animals about 60 yards away, with a bunch of bulls off to the right. As usual, there was one stupid cow with a calf out of place on the left looking straight at us from about 40 yards away. We had to watch her as she could mess it all up for us at any moment and I really didn’t feel like another 2 hour stalk.
There he was – a big bodied, black bull obviously past his prime and covered in mud, regally standing out in the group of bulls on the right. Marius turned to me and I nodded in quiet agreement. He was the one. I lifted myself up onto my knees and waited for a good shot – at the same time keeping an eye on the cow on the left. I wanted a nice broadside shot. The bull was strutting around, oblivious of us. Then he turned…
The safety was pushed off and I dropped the bead into the sights, and lived that special moment when time seems to stand still. I let rip with a barrel to his shoulder. The shot hit a little high on the left shoulder with a load bang. Damn it! I should have aimed a little lower, I knew it. The herd started milling around not knowing where we were and what was going on. This was a very dangerous situation and we were all on full alert. About four bulls trotted past the cow on our left and turned towards us, heads up, looking straight at us. That was my chance. Second shot coming up. More care this time, on the nose, “one thousand, two thousand”… and I squeezed number two. The bull took it just below his left eye and spun backwards, head over heels. He ended up in a heap croaking out the famous Buffalo death bellow. What a sensation! The 470 really hit him hard and beat him back. He was down. Marius looked at me, holding out his hand. I shook his hand, smiled back and pointed at a lone young bull about 20 yards away looking at us while I quickly reloaded. This was right down the centreline of adrenaline alley. The young bull was on the verge of very serious trouble – as he was deciding whether we were in his comfort zone or not. We sat tight and stayed low, very low, for what seemed an eternity. He snorted and turned, and galloped away after the rest of the herd as they were crashing away through the papyrus and reeds, away from us.
I approached my Buffalo to make sure he was dead and that it was safe. You cannot be too careful with this. I gave him a little while, that moment of dignity that such a superb animal deserves. The bull was down and there were smiles all ‘round. Lots of meat in the village tonight. Shooting the 470 at a target worthy of such a magnificent rifle is special. Hunting Buffalo is special. Hunting a Buffalo over open sights with an English double rifle is very special. Having your son there to share the moment makes it extremely special.
No wonder people paid us to do that.