It has been a fantastic 15 days. Superior Safaris has been amazing. Eli’s concession is about as wild as it gets and the amount of game we saw was incredible. What we didn’t see is easier to list than what we did: elephant, leopard, And cheetah. We came well armed and with a wish list of our desired animals. I came wanting to test RF’s Bighorn spike driver in .500 S&W. It tested well. From Jackal to Nyala. I also brought my Sako in .375 H&H for any long range work . . .
My friend Bill came with his Blaser R-8 in .416 Remington and an open mind. He wanted a tsessebe and a klipspringer. He was able to bag those and a record class duiker. He also took two animals of opportunity — a supremely nice impala and an equally nice waterbuck.
My friend Jeffrey brought two custom guns. One in .375 Ruger and another in .300 WinMag. He harvested giraffe, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, cape buffalo, nyala, and a tsessebe. A target of opportunity turned up in the form of a mature warthog with a broken leg. One shot on the running vlakvark from the .300 was enough…a perfect heart shot. The wartie tried to slide home, but the ump called him out.
The buffalo hunt was about as scary and exciting as they get. Now I know why some people get hooked on it.
Our new friend from Idaho, Mike, brought his Blaser R-8 also in .416 Remington. He bagged a gigantic 62 inch kudu and the 13 foot man-eating crocodile.
Needless to say, we stayed busy hunting. And shooting. The rifles and their ammo performed mostly well. On Giraffe, I might suggest a .50 BMG with Raufoss rounds. OK, maybe a Four-Bore?
We ate equally well. The chef at Rhino Lodge is very good at what she does. The bacon-wrapped, stuffed nyala tenderloins were over the top. My favorite of the trip.
But selfishly, I was still lacking….
As we came to the last day, I still hadn’t gotten my gemsbok. The wrinkle in the hunting was the arrival of a full moon. That dramatically changes the animals’ behaviors. They feed more at night and bed during the day. A late afternoon hunt is best.
Eli and a newer professional hunter Jacques and I load up in the Land Cruiser and head for an area we had seen them three times before. We park the truck and begin the stalk. The afternoon sun is a soothing elixir. Both warming and ominous. We know that within 10-15 minutes of sunset it will be pitch black. There really is no dusk. And the temperature drops a good 20 degrees.
We come to a tee in the road and look both directions. Off to our right are two gemsbok maybe two miles or more out. This is going to be tight. We back into the bushveldt and start walking. We are zig-zagging like crazy trying to avoid having to crawl to stay on the game trails. After about a mile we pop back onto the road to take a peek. Still there, grazing. Still over a mile off.
Back into the scrub we go. Now we are kind of jogging as much as the bush will let us. Every branch has claws, thorns and spiderwebs that have the tensile strength of a winch cable. I’m in shorts and sandals and getting trashed. But I notice I’m not the only one. Both Eli and Jacques have to stop and un-hook from the brush. Even though we are a ways off, I’m starting to get concerned over the noise we are making. Good grief, three tromping – what’s that?
Holy crap. We have just run into the middle of a herd of cape buffalo. Now, I really, really try not to cuss. I don’t think it adds to one’s vocabulary. But I started cussing as I switched out the 235 grain TSX rounds for 300 grain solids.
We are stopped and on high alert as they mill and stomp away from us (I guess we stink from sweat by now). Thankfully, they run away, not over us. I’m sweating way more than I should be.
I don’t care what these buff cost, I will shoot the first one that charges in the brain. We are miles from camp, a couple of miles from the truck, and I’m the only one with a rifle. Eli is giggling, suppressing laughter. Where have I heard this before? Jacques is grinning.
They love this. Me? Well, it’s taking hold. I still don’t like it, and I tell him and Jacques so using more cuss words.
We continue farther into the bush to close the gap between us and the gemsbok. After about another hundred yards, we veer left to the dirt two-track road. Double shit. There is a cape buff standing in the road, staring at us about five yards away. Eli starts giggling again. Now I’m really not happy.
I tell myself not to look into the eyes of that huge horned, behemoth brute, but I can’t help myself. That look. They look so pissed off. It really is like staring death in the eye. It’s just not a natural thing to do. I’m reminding myself to aim for the tip of his nose if he starts a charge.
To my relief, (I’m not sure about grinning Jacques or giggling Eli), the bull doesn’t grunt, snort or charge. We slowly back away, back into the bush a good 50 yards. We never got to check to see if the gemsbok were still there.
The light is getting dimmer as we hustle north again in the crazy weave to avoid the worst of the cat claw bushes. What now gets us are the tiny branches we can no longer see with peripheral vision. I keep taking them across the face as I’m looking down so I don’t snap twigs or step into a thorn bush. Where are my boots?
Eli says we should slow down to catch my breath to be ready for shooting. After what seems like another couple of hundred yards, we veer left and slowly creep into the dirt track. Eli does a quick scan and steps back to me. He asked me if I’m comfortable with a 200 meter shot. I tell him I am. The 235 grainers at 3,000 fps are pretty flat at that range.
He steps back out and sets the shooting sticks up. While I’m not truly comfortable with them, I’m glad he did. The bush takes one last stab at me and steals my hat. The light is so dim I can’t make out horns on either of the two gemsbok as I bring the scope up. Just like a video camera, the light gets even dimmer when you look through the lenses. I can see two, with the one on the left clearly the larger of the two. I confirm with Eli that I’m shooting the one on the left and he says yes.
I settle the crosshairs on the left shoulder as it feeds with its head down, take two calming deep breaths and pause on the half-exhale while squeezing the trigger. I register the recoil at the same time I see a bright orange flash through the scope.
A split second later I hear the bullet hit. That unmistakable sound of a high speed projectile hitting skin, bone and muscle. We watch as the left buck dips, does an about face and makes a run for the thick bush with the other smaller one. We listen to them as they hit warp drive, crashing and thrashing away.
Eli turns on the walkie talkie and calls for our driver, Shavalalla. He and Jeff are sitting in the Land Cruiser, back at our starting point. It’s now almost pitch black as we see the headlights way off in the distance. Wow, we walked a far piece.
As the truck gets nearer and we don’t see any cape buff in the headlights, we walk the two-track to about where the gemsbok were. We stop short to not disturb any of the tracks. This will be a job for Shavalalla and Javoo, two of the camp’s best trackers. Eli makes a radio call for torches, (flashlights) and another PH with a rifle. They arrive shortly and the tracking begins.
It doesn’t take long before heads are gathered to make a plan. The tracking will be too difficult with headlights and flashlights. Best to let the animal settle down and die. We will leave and the trackers will come back at first light, while Jeff, Bill and I are packing for the lengthy trip home. Our flight leaves in 24 hours. We have to take all the skins and skulls to the taxidermy shop north of Johannesburg, then head to the airport.
I feel a sense of foreboding. While the eternal optimist in me is hoping the animal went a hundred yards into the bush and collapsed dead, something is nagging at me….
When we get back to the lodge, I went to make my rifle safe as I enter my room and pull out solids. I forgot to replace the solids after the buff encounter and curse at my forgetfulness. A solid instead of an expanding bullet. Great.
After a very fitful night’s sleep, I went to the Lapa for breakfast, only I didn’t have much of an appetite. I’m having coffee as the PH, T.J. and the two trackers leave to find my gemsbok.
We finish packing all of the skins, skulls and suitcases ready for a long day of travel. As we are set to leave, T.J., Shavalalla and Javoo return. They tracked an older and younger gemsbok hundreds of yards into the bush. No blood, and no letup in their running pace. I ask them to let me know if it’s found. Maybe, just maybe.
I settle into a depression. Not only am I leaving new and old friends, I failed as a hunter. My first time. As hunters, we strive for a quick and ethical kill. It’s my ultimate goal when hunting…that my quarry should not suffer. Call me a softie or too sentimental, but I suffered during the whole trip home. The whole fantastic 15 days of hunting and fishing was tainted by that last hour because of my error. I let those buffs rattle me.
P.S.- A week later, nothing. No buzzards, and no gemsbok found by the camp staff. A sigh of relief as I head out for some spring turkey hunting.