By Tom in Oregon
As a person of the gun, I learned about shooting and gun safety starting at about six years old. At the time, dad was an instructor for the US Navy, stationed at Miramar Air Station, across the highway from the famous top gun school. Shooting became a natural thing to do at about any time. Besides shooting, I was an avid reader and would become absorbed in a good book. I regularly borrowed books from the library about hunting adventures. I read about Teddy Roosevelt’s safari adventures, Karamojo Bell, Robert Ruark, and a host of other writers who hunted on the “Dark Continent”. I was also hooked on shows like, Mutual of Omaha’s ‘Wild Kingdom,’ Bill Burrud’s, ‘Animal World,’ and ‘Safari to Adventure,’ ‘Daktari,’ and of course, John Wayne in ‘Hatari’ . . .
As I grew older, the lure of Africa didn’t leave me. Quite the contrary, the siren song, that is a safari would taunt me at any given time of the day. Even a Crosby, Stills & Nash song that mentions seeing the “southern cross for the first time”, would trigger a day dream.
As middle age hit me, local hunting for deer, elk, bear, cougar and upland birds became part of who I am. And the want of an African safari would cause mini day dreams while stalking local game. I became a collector of books by Peter Hathaway Capstick. While reading his books, the hair would stand up on the back of my neck. I could smell the veldt. At the same time, the shooting sports held me firmly in their grasp. I competed in 3-gun shoots and became a sponsored shooter. My best placement at the Soldier of Fortune International 3-gun Match, was 7th.
In early 2012, a friend and fellow shooter invited me to a Friends of the NRA banquet dinner and auction. On the list was an all-inclusive safari for two for seven days. The safari included three animals. I was excited at first. But then a $30.00 Kershaw knife went for over a hundred dollars. A $600.00 Benelli pump shotgun sold for $1,500.00. While realizing the proceeds went for youth shooting sports and other worthy functions, I quickly became disillusioned, expecting the safari to go for 10 to 12 thousand dollars. Out of reach, again.
But it didn’t. The auction started going backwards. When it got down to $800 with no bids, I started bidding. When it was all over, I was the high bidder of an all-inclusive, seven day, it’s-really-happening African safari for $1,000.00 U.S. dollars!
After talking with friends who have been before, talking with references and staring at maps, my best friend and I picked our time slot. Mid June. I started preparing on many fronts. Walking to get my legs in shape. Changing my diet to get healthier. Planning, planning, and more planning. Our one week trip became two weeks, and then stretched into three.
I also needed a new gun. I knew it would be something in a .375 H&H – to me, the classic African cartridge. I wanted a double rifle in the worst way. But with saving money for the trip, buying a $10,000.00 rifle would have set me back a little too far. Air fare alone runs $2,000.00, from Portland to Johannesburg.
So I settled on a black coated, Stainless Remington 700 XCR with synthetic stock. I found a great buy on a used one on gun broker.com. Before it even arrived, I bought ammo, reloading dies, powder and bullets. I studied ballistic charts for the various weights. After the Remy arrived, I spent a lot of time at the range. Shooting from various positions. I quickly discovered I didn’t like shooting sticks. I was as confident off-hand, as I was in high school with my Winchester 52-D.
The one downside to the trip was the lengthy plane ride. Spending the better part of a day sitting in a metal tube getting leg cramps, eating cruddy food, paying five bucks for a soda, watching some lame movie. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Then the flight happened.
The long legs were at night, the food was pretty darn good, the sodas were free and the movie selection was great. Upon arrival in South Africa, we were met by our new best friend Eli. (pronounced Eely). This kid is a 21 year old PH (he has a Professional Hunters license). Besides having a great personality, he had a cool accent, too. We made the four-hour trip to our concession, had a terrific dinner and promptly conked out. Jet lag caught up to us.
We were awakened the next morning at 6:00. A nice breakfast awaited us in the main lodge. After eating, we followed our PH to his truck where we would drive out to the range and check our bangsticks to make sure they were on. Sean and I were able to take our first game. A fairly common plains game animal, the Blesbok. The stalk was short once we spotted the herd. The shot was an easy one at about 100 yards. Time for a wild game dinner!
The next morning, we resumed our drive to game areas and spotting herds to stalk. As we were driving, I tapped the roof of the truck as I spotted a really nice caracal cat. The old black farmer sitting with us, (rolling cigarettes with newspaper) was hissing at me, “Skeet, Skeet, Skeet!”. I’m watching this cat at about 20 yards through my scope thinking, “cool, too bad it’s probably endangered or something”.
The joke at this point, whenever we saw an animal, was to ask Eli, “How much”? We hadn’t bothered to memorize the price list for the various species. I do know what the truly expensive animals are though. So I’d ask, “how much”? There is confusion as the black farmer with us is talking really fast in Afrikaans to Eli, I’m yacking at him in English.
As I watch the caracal wander off into the brush, Eli is asking me if I’m sure it’s a caracal. The goat farmer and I both reply yes. Eli yells, “shoot it”! “They are free over here”! Apparently, a caracal had been killing this guy’s goats and sheep on an every-other-day basis. He wanted it dead in the worst way.
After we returned to the lodge, Even the head of operations asked me why I didn’t shoot the nuisance goat/sheep killer. (I had looked it up on the price list by this time). I reply, “because it’s a thousand dollar cat, and not on my wish list”. They all shook their heads. I make a mental note to apologize to the fella for not shooting the cat and not knowing that “skeet” means “shoot”. Sean got his Impala, I got bupkis. I wanted a really nice Impala.
Day three, we go to a two story blind/viewing platform near a watering hole. Impala are known to congregate there. As are wart hogs and just about everything else. We spent the morning ogling at kudu, blesbok, sable, and a host of other big game animals.
A rather large, minding-my-own-business, cape buffalo arrived. He scraped out an area with his horns in the mud. He looked like a cross between ‘holy shit” and “do they all looked that pissed off”? Or in the words of Capstick, they “look at you like you owe them money”
Here is the before and after the fact, before the event…
Oh, him? Two days prior, our guys were going to drop off a truckload of oranges at that watering hole. The buff charged them, gored the truck, and tipped it over, sending it to the body shop. The next day, the owner paid him a visit. It charged him. He shot it with his Beretta 92 twice in the forehead (i.e., how to anger a cape buff with an already bad disposition).
The next day we arrived. Mr. Black Death does NOT like us being anywhere near him. Every now and again, he looks up at our blind. His eyes are blood red.
After a few hours of looking at animals, I’m into a good book, trusting that Eli will surely let us know if a shooter animal shows up. Sean hears a noise and hisses, “Zebra”! He knows I want a rug, and we need the meat for baiting some leopard blinds. As I glass the herd, I pick one out, and get the OK from Eli.
I mil out the range as I have a 200 yard zero and the zebra is out between 250 and 275 yards. Sean has the camera. I pull the trigger. My mind tells me it was a good shot. As I come down out of recoil, I see the zebra getting up and running off. We wait about three minutes and hear the herd making peep noises. Eli tells us that’s the herd calling for the deceased animal and congratulates me.
As we leave the blind, the zebra is at our 12 o’clock. The ‘now not dozing’ 1,800 pound creature from hell with horns bigger and badder than a Toyota land cruiser 4WD truck, is at our 3 o’clock, about 100 feet away. Our truck is at our 8 o’clock, quarter mile out. I strongly encourage our departure in a way that keeps us out of sight of Mr. Black Death and go to the truck first.
As we exit the blind, the “go-away” birds tell every animal within ear shot that the humans are here.
At first we are keeping the blind between us and satan. Then we veer towards the zebra. I object. Sean and Eli give me a hard time and call me unkind names relating to a small house cat. As I glance back towards the watering hole, I occasionally see Mr. Imo Killyu through the brush. He is staring at me. Not Sean or Eli, me.
I exchange the mild A-Frame soft nose rounds for dangerous game solids in my rifle. Then remember a couple things. First, you shoot it, you bought it. That likely trophy bull back there has an $18,000 price tag on him. Second, Eli has left his rifle in the truck. I hand Eli my rifle, loaded with the safety off. I again voice my extreme displeasure at walking to the zebra and not the truck.
We find the zebra with no problems. The shot was a good one. I keep glancing towards the blind. Yup. The hairy monarch of mayhem has picked up a friend and they are trotting, not walking, directly towards us. Cuss words fly from my mouth faster than the bile rising in my stomach.
I look for a tree to climb. Nothing with limbs larger than my arm. More cuss words spew forth. Time slows down to sub-light speed. I regret reading Capstick, because I know how Syncerus Caffer likes to turn humans into dirt jelly.
I resign myself to the fact that this may hurt for a couple of minutes. As the bull has slowed to a walk, I remember a couple more things. Instructions in the event of a buff “encounter”. One, don’t run. You will become the primary target. Two, if he lowers his head and grunts, he WILL charge.
As Beelzebub-with-oversized-horns gets to about 20 yards, Eli fires a shot over its head. As Eli is racking another round into the chamber, the bull stops. During the next few seconds, (seconds on the GoPro, about a half an hour in my head), the trees still haven’t grown enough to climb. I now want to grab my rifle back and beat Eli and Sean with it. My bowels suddenly feel different.
I hear Eli say, “the next one’s going in him”. Then time slows again. The buff does a number two. No, not that number two, the number two above. He lowers his head, and let’s loose with a grunt that I feel in my soon-to-be-crushed, bones. I can only watch in a state of mind I haven’t felt in quite some time.
Eli fires another shot over the buffs head. He is now at about 10 yards, stopped. He mills about, trying to decide. I watch in horror as Eli causes a jam with my rifle.
I check Sean. He’s got his 300 Win Mag up. He’s asking what happened because Eli said the next one was going in the bull. Caliber wars are running rampant through my brain. Is a 300 enough gun? I taught Sean the “zen of extreme accuracy,” I know he can shoot.
I grab the rifle from Eli and clear the jam in a record time of an hour and a half and hand it back. As Eli re-focuses his attention on the bull, I realize Eli has a walkie talkie on his belt. I remove it and call for help.
Naturally, I get the one guy back at base camp who doesn’t speak English. My Afrikaans is limited to “Skeet, skeet”!
Eli gets the walkie talkie from me and summons help. I grab Eli’s binocular straps and guide him backwards through the brush as we make the three day journey back toward the safety (?) of the smaller-than-a-Land Cruiser truck.
We make it. I check my Depends. Somewhat dry. Eli informs us that some people pay for that experience and that he has shit and came in his jeans at the same time. Sean is giggling like someone who just escaped an asylum and informs us that his GoPro was on for the event. I’ve reached my 55th birthday, 5 months early.
A few minutes later, help arrived from the lodge. With much honking and fake charging with the trucks, we manage to scoot the buff back towards the watering hole and recover my zebra.
While not the only highlight to the trip, it was the highlight of the visual cortex. While on a road trip fishing and photographing, we got to experience other highlights that may not have been quite as extreme, but were as memorable as this. (Mostly because it was at night, we were unarmed and had lion tracks around our tent).
And yes, as a very amateur astronomer, I did get to stare at the southern cross constellation. It’s beautiful.
Next stop, I have been offered a job as a PH in South Africa and Mozambique. We are still hammering out the details, but I may be pulling a Capstick.