By Stefan Fouché


AFRICA’S SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE’S Stefan Fouché with the buffalo he hunted with Karl Stumpfe,
PH and owner of Ndumo Safaris (right)

I was corrected by my host, Karl Stumpfe, professional hunter and owner of Ndumo Safaris in Namibia, when I spoke about the Kwando area. He told me that we were in the Kwando Core Area in the eastern part of Namibia. To me, however, this was the Caprivi – as a boy, that horn on the right top part of Namibia was the Caprivi Strip, and our South African heroes spent decades there fighting one of the many forgotten wars Africa has seen over the last few centuries. The stories told by men, hard men who fought there, was the stuff that real dreams are made of: thousands of elephant, buffalo and hippo, lion and leopard roaming the bushveld and the plains. The people who live and work here, such as Karl, also still call it the Caprivi, although the correct term is the Zambezi Region. Now, in 2019 I am here, living that same childhood dream, looking to take a big old buffalo bull.

The first time I became aware of Karl was when he published an article about the .450 Rigby bolt action rifle in a well-known South African hunting magazine, Man Magnum. I was so intrigued by Karl’s love for this calibre that some years later I built my own .450 Rigby. I then looked up Karl and contacted him regarding reloading data. Over the next few years we became friends and some time back he planted the seed of my hunting a buffalo with him in the Caprivi.
I booked the hunt and my very good friend and regular hunting companion, Ronald Nel, decided he was not going to miss out on this opportunity and he booked a buffalo and hippo combo as well. I have hunted some buffalo cows myself and accompanied many clients and friends on their buffalo hunts but this would be my own first hunt for a buffalo bull. Over many, many years this had been one of my biggest dreams. In fact, I would guess that for more than eight out of ten hunters this is an ‘ultimate’ dream – that first buffalo bull somewhere in remote Africa …

The trip started in Johannesburg, South Africa, where we met our cameraman, Ricardo Salvador, at OR Tambo International Airport. From there it took an hour-and-a-half’s flying to Kasane in Botswana, and then a three-hour drive in the Ndumo Land Cruiser to the Susuwe camp in Namibia, close to Gondola. The Kwando Core Area would be our hunting grounds – our concession a whopping 280 000 hectares, or close to 700 000 acres, of unspoilt and unfenced wilderness. After a few (or maybe a bit more than a few) St Louis beers, we reached the Susuwe camp, where Karl was waiting for us next to the mopani campfire. He had some clients in camp who had successfully hunted buffalo with him, one from Austria and one South African,

Janus Joubert hunted this beautiful old bull with Ndumo Safaris the week before the AFRICA’S SPORTSMAN MAGAZINE team visited the Caprivi

Janus Joubert, also a good buddy of ours. Janus had taken a smashing bull with Karl and he told us all about it around the campfire. After a rib of lamb and a few more cold ones to battle the November heat and humidity next to the Kwando River, we hit the hay and slept until the alarm woke us up just after 04h00.
After some rolling around and shooting almost a hundred buffaloes in my dreams, we were up, sipping some very fine coffee made on the fire. We were greeted by a herd of red lechwe, no further that 80 yards from the camp, feeding in the reeds next to the river. Karl explained that this was one of the last few areas where you can find and hunt red lechwe in their natural habitat. Namibia, and also South Africa, has many success stories of red lechwe being introduced and doing extremely well. However, the Kwando Core Area is one of the few places where they still occur naturally. We boarded the Ndumo Land Cruiser, ready to take on the day looking for some lone bulls in this huge area.
With my new Verney-Carron .500NE still in the factory in France waiting for the final paperwork, I decided to use one of Karl’s doubles. He himself hunts with a Verney-Carron in a .577NE, shooting 700 gr solids. I would be using his Verney-Carron in a .450NE, shooting Hornady factory rounds (500 gr DGX softs) at 2 150 fps. Ronald brought his newly-acquired Verney double in a .450-400NE, shooting his own hand loads, the 400 gr Woodleigh Hydro solids. Each hunter was equipped with a decent set of binoculars and an ammo belt with some extra rounds. We were good to go.
Believe it or not, no more than 10 minutes out of camp, we spotted two buffalo standing in the thickets about 60 paces from the road. We drove past and then decided to go and have a look – the chances of finding two females on their own were quite slim. We stopped and walked back. I silently hoped that it would either be females or young bulls as this felt a little bit too ‘easy’. Little did I realise that the saying: “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it!” would come back to haunt me 36 hours later.

Coffee early morning next to the Kwando River in the Susuwe camp

We stalked to within 80 yards and there stood a magnificent old dagga boy with worn-off tips and a tank of a body! He was feeding away from us but to his left was a much younger bull, which meant sharper senses. Karl took one good look at the bull and he told me this was it – a very good, huntable bull. We approached cautiously but within a few seconds the wind made an awful swirl and immediately the two bulls took off without even looking at us. As we walked back to the Land Cruiser, the memory of that broken-horned bull became etched deeper and deeper into my memory …
We spent the rest of the day looking for spoor or solitary bulls but only found big herds of buffalo. The target of our hunt was old bulls that were no longer part of any herd, so we kept on looking. We saw hundreds (yes, hundreds) of elephant. We filmed big kudu and sable bulls, one close to 45”, if I had to guess, within 100 paces of us. We saw roan antelope, hippo, crocodile, impala, waterbuck and steenbuck. This place was an absolute paradise – much more than I could ever have imagined.
At one stage we had to stop and clear a tree which an elephant had pushed down onto the road. We had time for a drink of much needed water in the baking summer sun, and I asked Karl how far we were from Botswana as the Cruiser was pointing south. About 6 km, Karl answered and explained that we were on our way there, as it formed the border of the concession. Elephants had torn down the border fence between Namibia and Botswana long ago, which meant that animals roamed freely between the two countries. I realized now how big the area really was that we were hunting. The first fence would only be found many hundreds of kilometres to the south. The same applied to the north. Angola was some 40 km north of where we were, with the Zambian border also not too far to the east. There were no fences at all. In fact, you could probably go north for a couple of thousand kilometers and still not find a solid working fence. Although hunting concessions are divided up and separated by roads in this part of the world, the animals do not keep to any borders. In South African most of our country is privately owned; we have nothing that comes close to this. It is truly free, open, wild Africa …
That night in camp spirits were high – good mates joking around the fire, teasing one another about stuff that should have been forgotten a long time ago but somehow Jameson whiskey won’t let that happen! Hunting stories were shared and brands were compared relating to bullets, optics and guns. For me, such camaraderie is as memorable and precious as the hunt itself – finding out what makes a fellow hunter tick, what his ‘fix’ is, what drives him and why. What dreams must still be realised and what are those that will never ever be forgotten? We had an early night again, setting the alarm for 04:00.

We were out early looking for tracks crossing the road, and before 06:00 we found six to eight sets of tracks coming from the river, crossing over the road and into the thickets. Karl decided to follow them and we kitted up. About 30 minutes later we caught up with the herd, feeding away from us into the wind. We disregarded a few smaller bulls and then identified a big bull – hard bosses, nice and wide as well. We estimated him to be more than 10 years old and decided he was the one we wanted.
After another 15-minute stalk, trying to get into a shooting position with the buffaloes still feeding at a slow pace away from us, we got to a small clearing. My bull was feeding at the back of the small herd, which meant no confusion between PH, hunter and cameraman as to which animal we were targeting. Karl called out and the bull stopped and looked back. I was already on the shooting sticks with my left hand firmly grasping the front end of the Verney and resting on the shooting sticks. The front trigger sent the DGX bullet out of the right barrel, and I saw the bull crunched as the bullet hit him on what I though was the shoulder. I had played this out in my head so many times and also executed this on plains game so well in the past, that when the shot presented itself, I fired off the bullet out of the left barrel as well. But I made a classic mistake – one that Craig Boddington warns inexperienced buffalo hunters like myself against: never admire your shot! As soon as I realised this, I took a snap shot a second or so later at the bull, which was still at the back of the now scattering herd. With no visual effect I assumed it was miss and I was so annoyed with myself that I wanted to shout out loud. Nevertheless, I was very confident of my first shot and we listened until the sound of breaking branches subsided.

The minutes ticked by slowly and in whispers Karl and Ronald asked me about my first shot. The reply was very positive – 50 yards away over shooting sticks at a perfectly still buffalo, piece of cake! At this point I still did not realise the massive mistake I had made … We slowly approached the spot where the bull had stood and was greeted by the welcome sight of a drop of deep red blood. We followed the blood trail and within a hundred paces found more drops of blood. I suddenly realised that I hadn’t heard the death bellow yet. We kept on following the blood trail and although the clock only showed 07h00 it was stinking hot and humid. Thirty minutes later, still on the blood trail, I could see that the track joined up with the other bulls again and I got that sinking feeling … I had wounded the bull!
Another hour on the spoor and Karl gave me the horrible news: the buffalo was bleeding on both sides. Although I had shot him on his right shoulder, he was bleeding on the left side as well. Blood was dripping onto the soft Kalahari sand, as well as being smeared on the bushes and grasses about two to three feet above the ground. This meant only one thing: I had shot too far forward.
After another hour of tracking, we found the herd standing in the shade. We had passed the 10 km mark now and we were feeling it. We left the trackers and Ronald underneath a tree and very cautiously covered the thirty to forty paces. We came to within fifty paces again from the bulls but we could only see five shapes and only three of them clearly. We looked for blood but it was difficult to spot on the animal’s dark skin in the grass and thick bush. Those who have been in that horrible situation of wounding a buffalo, sable or black or blue wildebeest would know exactly what I am talking about. We had to go closer but at the first crack of a branch that we climbed over, they were off, crashing into the bushes. I looked back and could see the hope draining from the tired faces behind me. Then, to our great relief, our sweat-soaked PH called for a 40-minute water break. He intimated that the buffalo had not seen us and would not go far. However, I think what he meant was: “Take a break and drink enough water; you are going to need it!”
The next four hours was absolute torture – 44°C and humidity that felt like 200%, and each time we bumped the bulls, the pace would pick up. The wounded bull was still amongst the herd, with the blood trail confirming the dreadful situation I had put us all in. We walked more than 25 km and it took us more than seven hours. I had done some hard hunts before but this escapade at this pace in the soft sand was beyond awful. Everyone was feeling it, sweating and swearing and gulping at the water the tracker dished out from his backpack.
That is when Karl looked at his GPS and made the call: We had to try and get in front of them. They had the wind behind them and they were running now without stopping, smelling us all the time. These buffalo had to drink and they were heading in the direction of the Kwando, the only water source in the area. Because of the severe drought, all the water holes and pools were dry. We would radio the Cruiser, eat lunch and then try and head for the road close to the river and hopefully see where they had crossed. We didn’t have any option ­– on tired legs and with burning lungs, we had to walk the 3 km to the nearest road …
We made a fire and had some very nice and welcome kudu steaks. We had enough water and had a 30-minute nap – me under the Cruiser, Ronald under the table and Karl and Ricky in the shade of a tree trunk, all trying to hide from the scorching sun. Even the heat from the V6 petrol engine above my face was pleasant compared to the relentless sun.
After the break we drove in the direction of the river, which was still about 10 km away. We found the spoor where the buffalo had crossed the road and, getting out of the Land Cruiser, confirmed that the wounded bull was still with them. At that stage the sun was already heading towards the western horizon. The buffalo were in the dry riverbed, and the last cover we had was about one hundred paces away from the herd. I swopped guns with Ronald as his double had a Trijicon RMR fitted and zeroed at 50 m. Karl confirmed which bull was the target, and as the third buffalo from the left turned, I fired at the middle of the shoulder. I fired a calculated second shot that was a solid hit. This time, with the right shoulder broken, the bull only managed eighty paces before going down. We approached with caution and I put a shot through the spine to end this horrible day. It was finally over.

Ronald Nel (left) with professional hunter, Divan Labuschagne, from Ndumo Safaris and his tracker, Johnny, all looking for signs of hippo and crocodile in the Zambezi River.

I will never forget that moment for many reasons. One of them was a feeling of relief, that it was finally over. As I sat down next to this beautiful bull with his hard bosses and perfect shape, I felt very small. I thought about the hunt and the first significant part of it – that first shot almost twelve hours ago. I made a mistake. I had taken the shot too far forward. The buffalo had been quartering away and inexperience led me to think that he was broadside. The main reason for this was that the neck area of a buffalo is so big that it is easy to be misled and shoot too far forward. This is a lesson I learnt the hard way and I am pretty sure I will not make that same mistake any time soon.
On the way back to camp with the sun already gone, that horrifying feeling turned into one of gratitude and appreciation. I had been granted the privilege of hunting my first buffalo in the special Caprivi Strip, and what a gruelling hunt it had turned out to be. The camp staff welcomed us with beating drums and singing and a festive night around the mopanie fire with cold Irish whiskey awaited us – a celebration never to be forgotten!
The next morning I accompanied Ronald and Karl setting off once again looking for Cape buffalo. Ronald hunted a beautiful old dagga boy with mud on his face and a broken horn, signs of a true warrior fighting off other bulls and predators to become one off the most feared animals in this vast piece of wilderness, hidden between five countries. The next day we hunted hard for a red lechwe and Ronald made an awesome shot with Karl’s scoped .375H&H, taking down the bull at 280 yards. Measuring over 24″, it was a beautiful bull. Ronald also claimed the rare bragging rights of having hunted a red lechwe in an area where it occurs naturally.

Our last two days were spent in a different camp close to Katima Mulilo, called Sikunga. Ronald was still looking for an old bull hippo and Karl had one crocodile available as well – but with no luck. We saw a many animals but none worth taking. Two full days on the Zambezi River was an experience on its own. The bird life here is remarkable. I recorded 10 species which were new to me, most of them only found in this area.
In closing, I want to pay tribute to the extraordinary tracking skills of the Ndumo Safaris team. Staying on that blood track for 25 km in the scorching sun and high humidity was almost beyond human endurance. Karl and your team, I salute you! Thanks for making my first buffalo hunting experience so memorable. I wouldn’t exchange it for anything in the world. See you in 2020 again! ASM

Ronald Nel’s old buffalo with one broken horn, which he brought down with his Verney-Carron .450/400 NE.

Big red lechwe bull hunted by Ronald Nel