In 1960 Tim Braybrooke and I were two young game rangers stationed at Main Camp, Hwange National Park, in what was then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). In December of that year we were sent to Ngamo in the Tjolotjo Tribal Trust Land just outside the game reserve’s south-eastern boundary. Our task was to eliminate whatever elephant and buffalo we could find. When it came to hunting big game animals, I was then a complete greenhorn. Tim was my mentor.

On the first morning I killed an elephant in a heavy teak forest – one of a herd of seven bulls. Tim killed another two. We set off resolutely on the tracks of the remaining four.
Whilst following the elephants, we cut the fresh spoor of two buffalo bulls. My allocated Bushman tracker of the day, Sumbe, immediately pointed out an extensive smear of blood on the bushes they had brushed past.
“One of these buffalo is bleeding heavily,” Tim said. “I think we’re going to have to follow this one up and sort it out.”
“You think someone has shot it?”
“Either that,” Tim replied, “or the lions we heard roaring last night had a go at it. Either way, I think we must kill it before it takes out one of Mazaai’s people.” (Mazaai was the charismatic local Ndebele headman.)
“So, we leave the jumbos?”
“We’ll pick them again up tomorrow,” Tim assured me. “From the amount of old spoor we’ve seen, I’d say they have been around Ngamo for some time. I don’t think they’ll have gone very far by tomorrow.”
We took up the buffalo spoor. Tracking the buffalo was easy. The ground underfoot was soft Kalahari sand and it was damp from recent rains.
We had not gone far when we heard the swoooshing alarm snort of a buffalo not too far away up ahead. I looked at the thick undergrowth all around us and immediately felt uncomfortable. The Bushmen call the understory teak forest thicket ‘sinanga’.
Tim extracted an ash bag from his shirt pocket. Holding it at arm’s length, he gave it a quick shake. A puff of white dust escaped through the fabric and drifted off on the invisible air. It told us we were downwind of our quarry. We now knew the buffalo had not smelt us – but they had heard us.
Tim turned to me and Sumbe. He put his finger verti-cally across his lips – they pursed in a shushing gesture.
Japan, Tim’s Bushman tracker, looked at his master. Tim flicked his finger forward. It was a silent instruction to the tracker that he should keep following the spoor.
It was impossible to keep quiet in the sinanga with its multiple saplings and its interlacing hook thorn and Chinese lantern sickle bush. We did our best but that was not good enough. We hadn’t moved another ten yards before we heard the buffalo crashing off into the forest ahead of us.
We followed the tracks and came to the spot where the two big bulls had been lying down, and found a large puddle of blood on the sand. Following the deep-running hoof marks did not prove any trouble but we were unable to close with our quarry. Each time they stopped, the buffalo stood and waited for us, listening for our approach. Then they galloped off again. We flushed them four more times before Tim called a halt.
“You know,” Tim said, speaking more to himself than to me, “old Mazaai has some dogs in his kraal. Maybe he’d like to lend us a hand?”
Two hours later we were back in the thicket with five mangy village curs at our heels. Mazaai joined our entourage.
The trackers took up the spoor again. I looked at the dogs skeptically. Inwardly I felt Tim had degraded the hunt. I disapproved. My icon had disappointed me. It made me realise that Tim Braybrooke was, after all, only human!
It wasn’t long before the trackers informed us that the two buffaloes had parted company. We were following the unwounded buffalo, they explained, which was running away in a straight line ahead of us.
“Go look for the blood,” Tim instructed the trackers. “We’ll stay here and wait for you.”
Mazaai, Tim and I then stood silently in the heavy teak forest. The dogs stood around, or lay around, idly panting at our feet. We said nothing. We waited. We became a mute island of humanity in a sea of green leaves, each of us lost in our own thoughts.

The Bushmen backtracked along the route we had followed. A hundred metres behind us they discovered where the wounded animal had sneaked off to one side. They summoned us by mimicking the soft whistle of a lost guineafowl. It was a quiet, innocuous sound in the heavy teak forest.
We took up the tracks following the blood spoor. We had progressed another half-a-mile when suddenly the dogs whipped off past our heels and disappeared into the undergrowth ahead.

They had smelled something, or they had heard something, for they were now intent upon hunting. Presently there came the sound of bushes being thrashed. The dogs barked furiously.
We stopped our tracking and listened.
The rumpus was coming from our right front. The dogs had bayed up something in the dense undergrowth about fifty yards from our position! I heard the sound of a big animal blowing air heavily and angrily through its nostrils. This was followed by a series of heavy grunts. The dogs had tagged our injured buffalo!
The next thing we heard was the sound of pounding hooves as the buffalo tore through the heavy brush towards us. Nobody had to tell me we were being attacked. Nobody had to tell Mazaai or the trackers either. One moment they were standing with us. The next they were gone!
I was petrified. I also felt strangely cross. The trackers had abandoned us! Then I realised I was being unfair. The trackers understood that they could not help us, so they had dived for cover. My mind was awhirl with all these strange thoughts – it was the first sign of panic.
Sumbe was lying flat on the ground under a scrubby teak bush right at my feet. He was doing everything he could to make himself disappear. I could not see Japan or Mazaai.
The Bushmen’s survival instincts are strong. They have many ingenious ways of avoiding injury when big game animals attack. Evaporating into thin air seemed to be one of them!
In a flash Tim and I were standing alone. Just five yards separated us. We both turned to face the invisible but obviously charging buffalo. Neither of us was feeling very confident but we had no other choice. We had to stand our ground.
There is no getting away from a charging buffalo. Running doesn’t help and rarely is there a suitable tree close at hand to climb. There was no time to climb a tree! What was happening was happening at an incredible speed. Tim and I were, at that moment, both faced with one of only two options: to kill or to be killed. And that is the essence of buffalo hunting. That is what makes buffalo hunting so exciting, so dangerous and so compelling.
I was standing in an old elephant path. It was barely two feet wide, the width of an elephant’s foot. It was bordered by heavy-leafed teak scrub. On either side of the path the sickle bush grew thick amidst the heavy shrubbery. There were sprawling hook-thorn bushes everywhere.
Just behind where Tim were standing, there was an open glade. It didn’t help us much. The buffalo was charging us from the other side, from seemingly the densest patch of sinanga in the forest.
Tim was ahead of me, in the same elephant path. He was facing to our right front, accepting the buffalo’s challenge. My own attention was also focused on the rapidly advancing and clearly angry buffalo. The moment was charged with fear and malevolence.
The buffalo was charging us on sound alone. It had heard us coming and it was rushing at us in a speculative manner. It knew it would see us or smell us when it had closed the gap. I listened to the advancing tornado and tried to assess where and when it would come into view. I was considerably relieved when I realised the buffalo was not coming towards me. It was charging directly at the point of our caravan! It was going straight for Tim!
Very soon the pounding of the buffalo’s hooves swamped our thoughts. There were splintering sounds of bushes being snapped off. There were intermittent shushing sounds, the noise made by the animal’s big and racing body, as it forced itself through the heavy sinanga.
Then we saw the jerking, shaking bushes as the buffalo smashed its way through the last of the intervening undergrowth. With each pounding beat of its front hoofs on the ground, the buffalo expelled loud snorts of breath from its nostrils: pfuusss … pfuusss … pfuusss … pfuusss.
My suppressed panic lifted several notches up the scale. I could smell my own fear. My mind was awhirl with bizarre imaginations but my deep-seated sensibilities were stoic. I had my fear harnessed on a short rein. Nevertheless, it took all the will and determination that I could muster to stand my ground and await the arrival of that angry buffalo.
Tim stood like a rock. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what was going through his mind! My own mind raced on. I fantasised about all the conceivable things that could be happening, that I imagined were happening. I thought about the terrible damage this buffalo would do to our puny bodies if we failed to kill it. If Tim failed to kill it!
Our salvation seemed to rest with Tim, and with Tim alone. In my dislocated mind I was out of the equation. I had become a mere spectator! It seemed in those few short moments as the buffalo was closing the gap that I was not in any way connected to what was happening. It was all an illusion! I was in denial!
The closer it got the more obvious it became that the buffalo was going for Tim. It was definitely not coming at me. This made me feel much, much better! Nevertheless, I was frightened for Tim just as much as I was frightened for myself.
The big bull broke cover. There was a flash of shiny black horn tips. Its head was up high – high and bouncing. Its black eyes were blazing as it searched ahead for a sight of its adversaries.

This animal was looking for trouble. There was no doubt about it. And it was bringing that trouble to the hunters who were pursuing it.
I saw the flash of head and horn before Tim did as I was looking at it from a different angle. I prepared to fire the moment I had a clear target but the buffalo submerged back into the greenery.

The seconds flashed by as though time did not exist. What happened over the next few moments are still indelibly imprinted on my mind. It all happened so fast, so quickly, yet, at the time, it all seemed to be happening in extreme slow motion.
Tim was waiting for the buffalo, waiting for a target that he could fire at. The butt of his rifle was on his shoulder. His cheek was pressed up against the stock.
For several long seconds all Tim could see were shaking and shuddering bushes as the buffalo raced towards him. He needed a target. He needed a good head shot to kill the buffalo cleanly, instantly. It was the only way he was going to come out of this encounter alive. And he knew that to place a snap bullet accurately into a charging buffalo’s brain, under these conditions, was going to be well-nigh impossible.
He would have but one or two seconds to place his shot before the buffalo hit him. Its head would be bouncing up and down, fully two feet at a time, with each galloping stride. Tim had but one chance. There would be no time for a second shot. If he did not hit the brain with that first shot, the impact of the bullet alone would not stop the buffalo’s charge.
Tim saw a flash of horn. Then he saw the buffalo’s head. Instantly, the buffalo’s rage-filled eyes focused on the waiting game ranger. The contact was now fixed. It was visual both ways and very tangible. The buffalo’s terrifying charge had become very personal.
Life hung in the balance now for both Tim and the buffalo. One or the other was about to die. For both of them their moments of truth had arrived.
Tim focused his sights on the bouncing horns and then, when the buffalo’s huge head burst through the last of the heavy leaf cover, he targeted those menacing eyes. The buffalo’s nose was high. Tim squeezed off his shot at point-blank range.
The buffalo was no more than ten feet from him when Tim’s bullet hit it high on the heavy boss. His aim had been true but by the time his bullet left the barrel, the buffalo’s head was already falling. Instead of smashing through its brain the bullet passed through the buffalo’s boss. It harmlessly continued through the animal’s upper skull, a fraction of an inch above the vital organ. The small 300-grained solid .375 bullet passed through the buffalo’s thick neck and lodged in the heavy muscle and bone of the shoulder behind. The impact of the bullet did not even cause the buffalo to flinch.
Tim leapt backwards and to one side – away from the buffalo’s angle of attack. And he became even more entangled in the hook thorns. In that split second I knew he had not killed the buffalo. It was now up to me to pull off the impossible.
Tim had backed off the elephant path to my left. That gave me a clear line of fire directly along the path in front of me. I could see Tim standing backed into the hook-thorn bush. He was working the bolt of his rifle furiously. I had about one foot of space between the edge of the path and Tim’s body, and about two feet of space across the pathway itself. I just had to wait for the buffalo to cross the gap. I aimed down that open avenue and waited for the buffalo to appear.

Incongruously, Tim’s wide-brimmed bush hat was hanging from the outer branch of the hook-thorn tree that held him tight. The hat was poised five feet above the elephant path and it swayed about with Tim’s every movement. It was a serious distraction from the grim task that I now had to perform. The hat distracted me when I should have been concentrating on something infinitely more important.
Then I saw Japan. He was curled away inside another hook-thorn bush beyond where Tim had been standing on the path. He had been in front of Tim, tracking the buffalo, when all the action had erupted around us. His instinctive reaction had been to run forward and he had immediately become entangled in the hook thorns. There he now stood, waiting for what seemed to be the inevitable … still … silent … brave to the last moment. The Bushman had walked this kind of path many times before.
Japan was in my direct line of fire. I was actually aiming at his midrib when I saw him. If I had pulled the trigger at that moment, I would have hit him in the stomach. I swung the weapon marginally to the tracker’s right, into the middle of an eighteen-inch gap that existed between Japan’s body and the spot where I expected the buffalo to emerge.
All these impressions, sightings, evaluations, calculations and miniscule alteration of plans occurred in a flashing brief instant of time. And time had run out!
The buffalo’s nose came into view. Then its head! Its enraged eyes were focused on Tim standing helplessly now right in its path. Tim, with a new round up the spout, was frantically trying to bring the rifle to bear on his target. It was a forlorn hope.
As the buffalo dropped its head to smash him, Tim threw himself further backwards. This pushed him even deeper into the hook thorns. There was nothing more he could now do to get himself away from the racing, raging embodiment of death.
Time had now really run out. There was no time to think. No time left to consider the consequences.
No time to do anything but pull the trigger. I pulled the trigger.
The buffalo’s front legs collapsed the instant my bullet hit it. It had miraculously mangled the animal’s spinal cord at the base of its neck. It had been a lucky shot – a complete fluke!
The big black bull did a nose dive right at Tim’s feet, its chest hitting the ground with a heavy thud. Its back legs careered upwards. Its huge body did a full somersault in the air, catapulting into the thorn bush that was holding Tim down. It brushed just inches past the ranger’s body. The buffalo took the bush with it, ripping the hook thorns from Tim’s flesh, freeing him instantly from captivity. Its heavy carcass hit the ground and came to rest ten feet beyond where Tim was standing.
The buffalo disappeared from my view. Tim ripped himself roughly from the last of the hook thorns and he fired into the clearing behind him, where the tumbling carcass of the buffalo had come to rest.
One … two … three … four shots rang out. This emptied Tim’s rifle.
As Tim was firing his salvo, I raced towards him. I reached him just as he fired his last round. A great gouge in the soft sand at his feet showed just how close the buffalo had been to him when it hit the ground. It had tumbled past him within a hair’s breadth.
When I saw the buffalo next, it was lying just inside the open glade that had been at Tim’s back. Its stretched-out carcass was not moving. It was clearly dead.
I stood at Tim’s side and looked down at the dead buffalo. Suddenly my whole body began to shake. I had absolutely no control over the heavy convulsions. My face flushed with heat; the next instant it was icy cold. The danger was over but the nervous tension hummed with a vibrancy that had a life of its own.
The charge of that buffalo was one of the most dangerous that I have ever experienced. It ranks amongst the top ten most dangerous and most exciting hunts of my entire big game hunting career. It happened on only my second buffalo hunt. It was thus a baptism of fire and it taught me from the very beginning to have the greatest respect for this great beast. ASM