Dream Hunt (image courtesy JWT, all rights reserved)
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Cornered in a small clearing, he squared his shoulders, picked up his head, and looked me right in the eye.

Judging me.

I was close enough to watch him sneer.

My rifle raised, I traced a line through the gap between his front legs, up to the center of the black mass of muscle that formed his chest.

Behind two feet of muscle…his heart and malice. Mine was filled with fear.

I touched the trigger, and woke. I had no idea where I was.

My heart was a drum in the darkness. I first thought maybe I was back in the employ of my rich uncle in D.C.  But he never gave me a king-sized bed and these soft pillows and sheets were surely unknown to him.

As the pounding in my chest slowed, the full moon illuminated the valley off the bedroom balcony. Shadows of springbok near the watergat. I was in the Free State of South Africa, and I was hunting buffalo.

The Black Death has been my dream hunt for as long as I can remember. But not like this. Before, I was dreaming of hunting Cape Buffalo. Now I was dreaming of this hunt, in this place. Not just hunting a buffalo, but hunting him.

This wasn’t the first time. His unconcious appearances had been increasing ever since I arranged for the hunt with Jaques Jordaan at Ndlotti Safari Adventures. Each night the dream came back, and each night the same. Following down a dark trail. Tired, anxious, doubting myself, and then him, full of scars and scorn. A shot. Do I miss? I never knew.

The previous evening, a few days into the hunt, I asked Jaques to go over frontal shot placement from a slight downward angle. He flipped through his photo book, each time asking me to point to where I thought the shot should go. One particular photo stood out; shoulders squared, head up, slight downward angle, close.

I pointed.

“Perfect.”

We stared at that photo a little longer, and had another drink.

Image courtesy JWT. All rights reserved

I knew this morning would be a challenging one. Leaving the bakkie behind, we headed up into the hills I’d fallen in love with when I’d hunted the property the year before.

Bordering the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, we were already higher than Denver, and climbing. The plan was a familiar one — get high and glass, find the herd, and hope to sneak down to within a hundred yards of them.

We ran into the herd long before we reached the top. They were tightly packed, a solid darkened mass moving from the water below up into the safety of the tight mountain valleys above. Well within range, we stopped to see if our bull was among them.

Jaques whispered, “Jon….”

Glued to my binoculars, I was entirely unaware of the herd, spread out below and now making their way up, headed right through where we were standing. The main group, now as close as 20 yards in front of us, paid us no mind at all. Their heads were down as they headed up. The smaller, more sporadic group to our back had an eye on us, but kept a wider berth. Within minutes, we were quietly surrounded by 100 horns.

Coming around a thick bush in front of us, a lone cow turned in our direction and stopped cold.

“Don’t move”, Jaques said, immediately on my right shoulder, his rifle up.

As the herd moved around us, the cow remained perfectly still. Like Jaques, the buffalo cow didn’t seem particularly concerned, just cautious, and she wasn’t moving either.

Minutes passed.

Materializing from behind the bush, a soft calf stepped between us, not 10 yards away, and changed everything.

The cow’s eyes went wide as she raised her head and shook her horns. Dozens of massive black heads turned toward us, heads and horns alike. The air went thick.

The calf stayed still. The calf’s mother took a single step forward.

“Click….” The safety of Jaques’ .458 Win Mag pressed forward.

“Don’t breathe.”

It had been a long time since I was this close to death. Gored by a big bull in its death throes, I could appreciate…but murdered by a mommy and ground to jelly by her giant angry relatives wasn’t part of my dream at all. Not a single part of this was.

As still as the stone fence posts that marked the land, we remained.

The wind shifted to our face. Behind us, hooves skittered on shale. The cow’s vision shifted up and to our right. The calf turned and ran up the hill. The cow followed. The rest of the herd, and death itself, trotted up and away.

We looked back to see our saviors.  A small family of warthogs had been lying low until they winded us and blindly took off in the opposite direction, breaking the spell.

Image courtesy JWT. All rights reserved

We exhaled, and when the shaking had almost stopped, Jaques said, “We have to move now to get in front of them.” I thought we might just call it a day.

Straight up, Jaques set off. I followed.

For the rest of the day, hours on end, we powered up. Legs burning and chest heaving, we raced to top one rock formation after the next hoping to spot the herd.

Image courtesy JWT. All rights reserved

Our perseverance paid off. No longer climbing, but headed westward toward the Lesotho border, we were catching up on the herd. They’d spread out, and now we were regularly seeing small groups of younger bulls, cows and calves. And him.

The big bull was on the farthest western edge of the herd, still several hundred yards away and moving slowly towards the canyon that marked the border of South Africa and Lesotho.

Jaques relayed the simplest of plans. Climb higher, run faster, up and around to catch him before he dropped into the canyon.

“If he gets in there Jon, he’s irretrievable. It’s too steep to get down and out with him, and too tight and windy to get a helicopter in safely. We’ve got to make it to him before he makes it there.”

Once again, young legs drove Jaques upward. Again, still, old legs gave stubborn chase.

I prayed a thanks to the Almighty when Jaques finally stopped his ascent and began to work at a diagonal downward.

Jaques came to an immediate stop and crouched low. Remaining low, he began a quiet creep into the thicker bushes below us. Without a word between us, I moved up to his side.  We were beyond speaking terms.

Only a few hundred yards from Lesotho, a familiar trail emerged, darkening with heavier and heavier brush as we continued downward. Giant shapes shifted just beyond, in the light. To our left, a stair step of boulders beckoned.

Obliging the gift of an elevated perspective on the edge of the clearing, we stepped up.

Right then, from the moment I stepped on those rocks, I knew exactly where I was. I’d been here dozens of times, in fact, almost every night.

He was 40 yards away and looking right at me.

He was turned broadside as I stepped up, his harem and a few younger bulls spread out in the small clearing just below us. Boulders and trees formed a tight ring around the group, with the narrowest gap on the opposite side of the bull where he’d entered. If we had continued downward just another 20 yards, we would have been caught in the worst of traps.

The bull turned his massive body to face me. Nobody needed to tell me the size of his horns. No one needed to tell me if he was fully mature. I didn’t need to be told he was The One. I’d been hunting this bull since before he was even born, and I think he knew it.

He squared his shoulders, picked up his head, and looked me right in the eye.

Judging me.

Close enough now to watch him sneer.

My rifle raised, I traced a line through the gap between his front legs, up to the center of the black mass of muscle that formed his chest.

Behind two feet of muscle…his heart and malice.

I touched the trigger.

He shook with the impact of the bullet. I watched him exhale, every muscle in his chest and shoulders tensing. Well over 4,000ft/lbs of energy had just pounded into his heart. He gave but one step back.

The herd ran for their escape and, perhaps for the first time in his life, terror filled the monarch’s eyes. I put another round into the center of his right shoulder as he turned, and watched as the massive limb curled up into his body. Huge knots of muscle formed uncontrollably at his side and all I could think was “My God…the strength.”

He spun on the unspoiled front leg and I put one more bullet behind that same shoulder, crisscrossing the path of the previous round. He drove forward, crashing only a few body lengths from where we first met.

Image courtesy JWT. All rights reserved

Walking down from our perch, we cautiously approached as he bellowed, a rumble we felt well after the sound was gone.

Kneeling with Jaques, our hands on the bull, Jaques led a prayer of thanks. It was an earnest one.

Image courtesy JWT. All rights reserved

This bull, this hunt, was everything I’d ever dreamed of.

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32 COMMENTS

  1. Them cameras never do justice to a rainbow.
    Dont know about Cape buffalo but an Angus,Herford, Charlay(?) Bull will close his eyes before he hits, a cow wont.
    Feeding cattle it was the cows with calves that gave me the most trouble, I’ve been tossed around a bit by a bull though.
    Nice story, I’d like to go to Africa. But that ain’t going to happen.

    • Back in screw-worm days, the new-born calves would need antifly treatment as soon as they dried, to keep the maggots away from the umbilical scar. Talk about making mama cow mad!

    • 1960’s range cattle momma cow in Arizona, my brother and I on foot 100 yards from the fence around our property, 50 yards from cow.

  2. I’m glad you had a great time. And a successful hunt. Congratulations! And thank you for doing a great service for the African people. From what I’ve read the “black death” kills around 200 people a year there. Mountain lions and bears kill only a handful of Americans every 10 years or so. Culling the herd is important everywhere humans live.

    And I’m sure the locals really appreciate having their pockets filled with all the money it costs, for people to travel to Africa to hunt there. And I’ll bet the locals really appreciate getting free protein as well. Good job sir.

    I was going to include a section about wildlife animal conservation in my college paper entitled, “Teaching the Second Amendment in Kentucky, in grades kindergarten through High School.” Unfortunately that part ended up on the Cutting Room floor. My advisor told me I had to limit the size of my paper down from 600 to 80 pages only.

    I was going to use your hunts as one of my source materials.

    • Thanks, not included in this article, but included in other print articles published about hunting with Jaques, is what he does with the meat. Specifically, he cuts it up, prepares it, and delivers it via cooler to the elderly care homes in the area. He sent me pictures of his family members delivering the meat, and the recipients are extremely grateful. On this particular hunt, we took 13 animals total and Jaques was able to provide quality protein, measured by the ton, to those facilities.

      • That’s wonderful news. When I tell people I took “a deep dive” into the Second Amendment that is not an exaggeration. My goal was to be able to teach the 2A in all the subject areas, that students are taught in schools today.
        English grammar, Literature, Art, Science, History, Math and Physical Education. I provided examples for each.

        And to my surprise I found articles about preparing meals using the meat from several African animal species. Maybe the “Sporting Chef” on the “Sportsman cable channel” could add some of these to his wild animal cooking episodes???

  3. Excellent storytelling too! My heart was pounding as I read it, sentence by sentence. Thank you for sharing this experience. Someday I’ll do a hunt like this…

  4. There is some herd thinning needed in South Africa… and it is not the buffalo… it’s the red berets…That should be a dream hunt..

  5. @JWT

    Congratulations! Looking forward to reading more of your African hunts.

    I’m curious as to how long it takes for the hide and head mount to clear Customs. Are you using a taxidermy in SA or here in the States?

      • Sadly, you have to wait quite a while to see the fruits of your hunt.

        Your reply made me chuckle…was thinking of what my LGS tells people purchasing a suppressor…”the better part of a year”.

        “The better part of a year” has become the new “42” as a universal answer.

  6. Jon, is that a hole in the stock of the #1? It looks like it has been shot!

    Glad you got to use that rifle. it seems you had practiced your reloading!

  7. Jon, did you grow up reading Capstick?

    My 1st edition of ‘Death in the Long Grass’ is one of my most prized books.

    For the others, you need to check out the books by that author.

  8. Gheyest article written in the history of TTAG… and that’s including the kweerest of the kweer of Faragoe’s articles, and the fhagiest stuff they let Michael Arnold publish here.

    You spent big money to go shoot a cow with a rifle. Cool story, bro. Your flowery language fhaggery doesn’t make it into some heroic task, no matter how much you’d like it to be. There’s a big cow in a stockyard somewhere in Stockton that you could go shoot, and it would just as much be “Him, the one I was hunting since before he was born…”

    FFS, you make Hemingway look like a straight, cisgender male….

    • Stockton Mo?
      they wont let possums with gunms on the property, they dont even like possums without gunms on the property. They keep hauling us off to the lake in a gunny sack.

      • In my opinion, the Cape is the most impressive animal on the planet, from a hunter’s perspective, and 375HH is a little bit light. Especially in a single shot. I would want a jeep-mounted dual 50, personally.

        Congratulations.

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