Hunting Stories from Buck Africa
THE BLACK DEATH
Soup plates in the sand
I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and a chance to sacrifice myself… Leo Tolstoy
What better feeling to hold a double rifle in one’s hand, loaded with five hundred grains of pure stopping power in each barrel, what better feeling to prepare oneself to go into battle with one of Africa’s most dangerous animals… They are any hunter’s true adversary, a beast with sheer willpower like no other and with endurance second to none. These widow makers look at you as if you owe them money, they have unbelievable strength, no mercy and they take serious convincing to stay down.
My heart feels at home every time I enter the district of Steenbokpan in Limpopo. It is a very flat area, absent of hills and valleys where I so much enjoy hunting, but still truly beautiful. It is an area with an annual rainfall of less than 450mm but holds a lot of sweet grass high in nutrients and feeding value for the game. The sunsets on this concession that closely boarders the beautiful country of Botswana are breathtakingly beautiful and its game well managed and in abundance. We arrived at our hunting destination as the darkness of night was overpowering the final efforts of day. Just before we reached our lodge a vision of a black ton of muscle appeared in our headlights crossing the bush road, its head held high, nostrils flaring, filled with a force of warning in its eyes, a great old phantom with one horn worked down completely, a bull that any ethical hunter will dream of, a bull that fuelled my heart with passion and excitement, a bull that looked at us in a way that said “stay away or I will end you”.
My chosen professional hunter (PH) for this dangerous game hunt was Pieter, a true child of Africa. The excitement and adventure I have experienced with this outfit is enough to fill nine lives and then some. Pieter has proven himself on many occasions and aided in protecting my life as if his own.
We hunted long and hard for this mighty bull with no luck, outsmarted time and again. After our 5am hand-baked rusks and coffee ritual we loaded the hunting vehicle with our lunch and water for the day. Morale in the camp was at an all-time low, fatigue and lactic acid was overpowering our muscle groups in our fit and well-trained legs. It was day fourteen of our Safari with many great trophies ticked off the list but still no buffalo and to make matters worse it was our final day booked. We covered ten to fifteen miles on foot daily for the last two weeks in search of this old buffalo worrier without any luck. Every set of tracks ended in a non-shooter bull, mature but not the ancient dagga boy full of character and battle scars that dreams are made of. Not that one horned patriarch that presented itself on our arrival.
Our mood lifted with the rise of the sun as our Zimbabwean tracker found a set of fresh soup plate sized tracks in the red sand, crossing the road just after we left camp. We parked the hunting vehicle under the shade of a big marula tree and loaded our double rifles for battle. This buffalo hunt was my second big five hunt, and after staring death closely in the eye on my first big five hunt, I decided to purchase a second double rifle as a gift to my PH for when adventure takes us down these dangerous roads. Research educated me to shoot a bonded soft bullet from our right and first barrel to deliver the maximum foot-pound energy possible, into our adversary and to load a solid bullet into our left and second barrel for ultimate penetration. In most cases a bull will run away after the first shot is administered and a second shot would have to penetrate the bull from the back and still reach the engine room. A second shot is also often fired through bush vegetation and for these shots a solid will always prove superior.
We soon noticed a second and third set of tracks roaming through the sun filled patches of the bushveld country. Could this be three dagga boys trying to warm up from the cold winter night passed? The tracks indicated no different. We bumped into a big kori bustard bird that broke into flight as our neck hair was suddenly standing at attention, saluting each other. Tension levels are definitely a lot higher when hunting dangerous game. We found our first pile of fresh dung after two hours of tracking spoor, still wet but ice cold. Our tracker informed us that we should find them somewhere around midday. We also stumbled onto the grey ghost of Africa, a big kudu bull with spiral horns towering towards the sky with illuminated bright ivory tips. A trophy sure to run into the SCI record book of but when on buffalo business…
As the midday sun was beating down on our exposed necks, Thaban our tracker started walking slower, bending down around every corner, looking for Africa’s black death. The spoor was slowly heading towards a very dense and thickly overgrown area of the concession. The perfect place for three grumpy old gladiators to take an afternoon siesta. It was not long and the smell of herbivore filled the steady wind blowing straight into our faces. My eyes locked with those of my PH for a split second as both our faces lit up with big smiles, filled with excitement and life. We were hunting dangerous game, we were following in the footsteps of great hunters and mentors such as Sanchez-Arinno, Percival and Selby. We were hunting buffalo, not in hunting books but in real life.
Thaban suddenly dropped to the ground as if struck by lightning, waving us down and pointing into the thickest of cover I have ever experienced to date. I used my Leica binoculars and could see nothing more than the slightest whisp of a tail to repel the small devilish flies buzzing about. We needed to crawl closer, we needed to find a shooting lane fast. With our tracker in the lead we slowly crawled forward, uncertain of the whereabouts of the other two buffalo, oblivious to the events that were about to happen. As our tracker crossed the fifteen-meter mark a loud high-pitched squeal noise filled the air as a large puffadder came flying over my head. Not an everyday occurrence for me… A sudden thunderous explosion surrounded me as big black buffalo bulls where crashing through dry brush and trees from every direction. Pieter jumped up and shouldered his rifle trying to defend himself and those around him as the closest bull ran past me at a distance less than fifteen yards. We were literally in the middle of the bachelor herd when Thaban our tracker unknowingly placed his left hand on a snake while he was crawling closer and uncontrollably flung the snake in my direction… We were so close, fourteen days of hard walking and ethical hunting, and no buffalo.
We decided to take an hour of rest to allow the bulls to settle down and to gather our emotions and slow our heart rates. The sandwiches so lovingly packed and prepared by the wonderful chef truly hit the spot but we were running low on water and our hunting vehicle was miles away, the perfect situation to lower morale once more. It was not until after four that afternoon, steadily following the spoor of the three bulls, that we found wet but also warm dung. We were close once more… Without the assistance of these amazing African trackers many of my hunting successes would not have been possible. The essence of Africa flows in their blood. The way they follow a spoor through the thickest of brush, hardest of rocky terrain or tall tick invested grass is an art-form worth experiencing. Armed with nothing more than courage and trust in his hunter’s ability to handle and shoot a rifle.
Thaban spotted the horns of one of the three bulls as the sun’s last rays were reflecting from its prominent bosses. Time was running out and we needed to act fast. Our targets were steadily grazing in an easterly direction, putting the sun at our backs, the perfect scenario to obtain success in the field. Dianna goddess of the hunt smiled upon us for the first time in days as the bush opened up ahead of us, with a strong and steady wind blowing in our direction. Perfect… With our minds focused on one thing and one thing only we silently rushed forward to gain ground on the bulls ahead. Thaban staying behind to decrease our chance of detection and to direct us in case we lose sight of our bulls. As Pieter and I reached the final brush cover the three bulls were standing broadside not more than thirty yards ahead, in the open, as the sun disappeared behind the mighty African horizon.
Hunting natures debt collectors is certainly life changing, a journey worth experiencing. An ethical hunting and conservation mindset, is not a mindset where horn size is always the main objective. The real hunter will appreciate the ancient bull and see him as the better trophy. Harvesting the bull living his final winter, with worn down teeth and character, is truly rewarding.
I can still remember every detail of that wonderful hunt like it happened yesterday. The bull grazing on the right-hand side was exactly everything I had visualised over the past two weeks, the phantom that presented itself upon our arrival. A grey old face with severe hair loss over its body due to age, thick hard bosses and a worn-down horn on its right side. The open sight bead of my double rifle found the black and grey shoulder of my buffalo as my heart was racing out of control. I took a deep calming breath to focus my mind and tried to slow my heart rate down… Slowly but surely I started squeezing my front trigger, hardly feeling my rifle slamming into my shoulder in full recoil force, due to the adrenalin rushing through my veins. The once peaceful day suddenly filled with the deafening thunderous sounds of our doubles roaring towards Africa’s cape buffalo. My first bullet found its mark perfectly, penetrating the beasts heart lung area and my PH’s bullet dropped the bull in its tracks by breaking the shoulder. The smell of gunpowder filled the air as we both reloaded our rifles and watched the other two bulls disappearing into the winter bush. I placed an insurance shot into the bull’s spine after the sweet sound of its death bellow filled the surrounding tense air.
Experiencing the last breath of any animal as beautiful and as old as my trophy buffalo is very emotional to say the least. We placed our hands on the bull as his fading eyes entered the green fields of the afterlife, waidmannsheil. A humbling experience that filled my life with more tales to tell my children when Africa fills their dreams
When one spends time in nature every sunrise represents a promise of adventure. It’s a time of excitement, filled with dreams of what may be. Make time to cherish these beautiful moments. Waidmannsheil!
YOUR MAJESTY – THE LION
The essence of courage is not that your heart should not quake, but that no one should know that it does… -E.B.Benson-
The tension is rising thunderously fast, like an explosion the king of beasts is bolting towards us, with nerve shattering growling noises filling the once peaceful air. The cat is now reaching full charge, with wild mane hair blowing in the wind and with yellow soul piercing eyes focussing directly on me. I need to take a stand, with each thrashing motion of his paw hitting the trembling earth below me a deafening sound shocks through my brain, death is coming like a freight train straight at me and it is not stopping…
I have been dreaming about my upcoming hunt for weeks, reading all the books and articles I could possibly find on lion hunting. This animal was very high on my trophy list and as an ethical hunter I needed to do a lot of soul searching before embarking on this journey. All my paper work was done, permits approved and my dream was hastily becoming a reality. As my hunting outfitter and backup shooter, I would have nobody but Pieter from Buck Africa standing next to me when approaching my lion. He is an excellent marksman and I trust him with my life. He stood strong in the past and proved himself true. I did a lot of research on different professional hunters and their respective techniques on hunting lion. It was important to me to hunt this tenacious animal on foot if at all possible. Choosing a rifle for this hunt was also two-fold. I packed my .375 H&H Mauser rifle equipped with a quick detachable Leica Magnus scope, in magnification 1-6.3x24i. If a blind needed to be built. Leica’s crystal clear high-quality glass and illuminated reticle makes it a must have for those early morning or last light shootings from a blind with lions on bait. I also decided to pack my more adventurous 470 NE Chapuis double rifle, shooting a 500 grain Hornady softs nose bullet at 2150 feet per second as an option to hunt my cat on foot, with open sights, the old way, the African way.
As rule of thumb I wake up an hour or so before my alarm goes off on hunting days due to my excitement and love for this sport but this time it was different. I found Pieter sitting by the camp fire with a hot coffee in his hands just after 3am,immediately relating his tale of a restless night with very little sleep. Preparing one’s mind for the magnitude of the event of walking on a male lion’s spoor without any platform of safety as protection, no steel bars, no vehicle for support, nothing, just you and him in the wildest part, Mother Nature has to offer is never easy. These amazing Simba’s sees mature buffalo bulls merely as food and not as Africa’s black death. They can weigh over 250 kg and cover a hundred metres in about 4 seconds. Their instinct is all about dominance, all about killing. One coffee became two and with more and more caffeine in our systems we entered the dawn of day to hunt. Not just hunting a grasser or a browser as we have done so many times before, but this time we hunt a carnivore killing machine.
The time spent on the shooting range or should I rather say heap of sand acting as back stop with an empty milk carton as target stilled the nerves and reassured me that I knew my rifle and knew how to use it. My 470 NE is a lady very close to my hart, she is like an extension of my arm. I love her very much and have taken many a buffalo with her by my side, some standing perfectly broadside, some running away and some running towards me.
The bush was absolutely teeming with life. Due to the early September rains in the area we experienced the transition of dry brown winter bush into lush green paradise. Francolin’s were breaking into flight around every corner, impalas were seen jumping around with an invigorating energy which almost made me think I was experiencing their annual three week long rut typically occurring in May at the end of the wet season. It is amazing to see life around you being affected in such a positive manner by the refreshing rains. We bumped into a beautiful roan bull, spotted by our seasoned Zimbabwean tracker. These large antelope woo me every time with their proud presence and scimitar horns they truly have a royal appearance. Not wanting to disturb the tranquillity of all the early morning bush routines occurring around us we decided to wait undetected for the roan bull to go about his business. Curious and slightly agitated grey louries or go-away birds were hovering above us making sure all nature’s bush inhabitants knew that we were intruding on their habitat. Crocodiles where bathing in the sun on the water’s edge while the scene was perfected by the sound of a fish eagle’s call. The next glorious animal to make an appearance was an old blue eland bull towards the bottom of the valley at 270m away. He was busy working down his thick and elbow length horns against a giant Marula tree, a trophy very difficult for an eland lover to pass by, but when on lion business…
We were very fortunate to stumble on a fresh male lion spoor when passing one of the watering holes and our tracker recommended that we follow it immediately since it showed all the characteristics of a mature male lion’s track. November is well known as suicide month in most hunting circles around Africa. Temperatures can easily run past 104 degree Fahrenheit and this end of October day was no exception. Seven kilometres later according to my Garmin GPS watch a strange phenomenon occurred, a second pair of male tracks crossed the spoor we were following. Was this the same male walking in loops, was this a second male? Our PIeter and his tracker had a quick discussion in Tswana and we where advised to stay on our current tracks, due to a slightly deeper imprint into the sand it appeared heavier, or so they said. The sun was truly beating down on us as the day matured and after reading in so many articles that male lions sleep all day, I was starting to doubt my own research.
Fresh tiny drops suddenly appeared on the spoor, first one or two, then suddenly it became a constant and our tracker explained to us that it was saliva dripping from our lion’s mouth. He was closer than anticipated and he was hungry, he was hunting. The grip on my double rifle suddenly tightened as all my senses heightened: “Am I ready? Did I choose the right rifle? My .375 H&H is a scoped rifle, would that have been a better choice?” The games one’s mind plays when confronted with the unknown.
The bush was opening up slightly to our right-hand side and front and I remember thinking that this would be the ideal scene to encounter my lion. Not so dense and it provides more visibility and suddenly the Zimbabwean stopped dead still and pointed ahead. Gordon Cundill describes what I experienced flawlessly in his book “Some Lions I Have Met”: “Approach a male lion on foot and you will feel the force of his presence rising through the soles of your feet to confirm why he is hailed the King of Beasts.”
I saw a sudden wisp movement of a tail above the long grass about 150 meters ahead of us and then before me a sight that left me in awe, a mature lion slowly strolling away from us. The wind was blowing steadily in our favour and not a word was said. As if equipped with a fully functional 6th sense, the cat turned around as I was taking a step forward to stand next to Pieter. The tension was rising thunderously fast. Like an explosion the king of beasts was bolting towards us, with nerve shattering growling noises filling the once peaceful air. The cat was now reaching full charge, with wild mane hair blowing in the wind and with yellow soul piercing eyes focussing directly on me. I needed to take a stand, with each thrashing motion of his paw hitting the trembling earth below me a deafening sound shocked through my brain. Death was coming like a freight train straight at me and it was not stopping… The tracker disappeared in front of us, vanishing into thin air and time was suddenly slowing down to a standstill. The lion closed the gap of 150m between us in about 6 seconds. If felt as if he entered my personal space and ripped my heart out with no effort at all. I remember my PH Pieter’s words as I was shouldering my rifle: “you know what you have to do…”
The cat’s head was bouncing up and down as the distance between us decreased dangerously fast. With it the front bead of my double rifle was shaking all over the place. By some small miracle I was able to convince myself not to aim at the moving brain but to steady my rifle and time my shot as the head came into and out of view. With my brain concentrating fully on this cat running towards me, I vaguely heard our PH shouting: “shoot it now…!” With my double rifle shouldered offhand, my instinct took over and I squeezed the front trigger of my 470NE… Thunder filled the air.
I stopped that lion at 12 metres away. My shot was true, the 500gr soft smashed into the top of the scull and disintegrated most of the cat’s spine. My second barrel rang to place an insurance round straight through its heart.
I wish I could claim the situation as if it was a walk in the park, something I do all the time, hardly stressful at all, I wish I could call myself Mark Sullivan the second and that I could pull that shot off over and over but the truth stands differently. The truth stands that I was completely humbled by this amazing animal, it put me in my place and made me realise how small we truly are and that without His protection the situation could have turned out very differently. Thank you, Pieter, for standing strong next to me to stop Simba. We faced death in the long grass and celebrated life into the early hours of the next morning!
When adventure comes knocking at one’s door one realises life is a beautiful masterpiece bound together by different experiences.
Everyone has a story – appreciate life!