We walked an average of 25 km the previous three days and everybody was tired. We were hunting in the thick stuff and the buffalo had the edge. We weren’t given anything for free – if it wasn’t the ground with dry leaves betraying our presence, it was the wind. Most of the time the wind turned on us, giving the buffalo our scent. It was very frustrating but I did not want to focus on it. We were still on the ground with rifles in hand; there still was a chance.
The fourth day arrived, our last day in the bush. Thunder-storms and the rain showers during the night and morning had erased all tracks. We searched for spoor at all the pans we had tracked the previous three days, but found nothing. Desperate, we drove to a new location, but still nothing. After a short 5 km walk through one of the blocks to search for tracks, we gave up and headed back to camp and lunch (the first time we had lunch in camp the entire trip).
On our way back, we saw a big warthog lying under a tree. He was bedded down after scraping off the topsoil to find cooler ground to lie on. We stopped the pickup and I jumped off. I put the bead of the .500 NE in the centre of his head and squeezed the trigger. He dropped like a stone. The distance for my free-hand shot was exactly 50 m. This not only boosted my confidence but also that of the entire team. We walked over to the warthog and I realised how big he was – a full 80 kg! The bullet had impacted vertically exactly between his eyes, although a bit high. It did not matter much, as the brain was scrambled. Like any other pig, the warthog’s body does not know the brain is no longer working, so he was trying to run out of habit. I gave him a second shot straight through the back into the spine. The twitching stopped immediately. After taking some pictures, we loaded him onto the vehicle and drove to camp for lunch.
The mood around the table was relaxed but I felt the need to close the deal and get the buffalo in the salt. After a solid lunch, we got on the pickup and drove into a new area. We came to a water pan we had not tracked before and Roberto soon picked up a good track. All other tracks had been washed away by the rain that morning, so we immediately knew there was a good chance of catching up with the two buffalo. It was 14:20, so we had 3,5 hours of light left.
During the first 150 m of the stalk, we all realised these two buffalo were very close. We saw it in the tracker’s body language. We separated the group into two, one group staying 30 m behind to keep movement and sound to a minimum. Now we were moving into really thick stuff and the leaves on the ground were a real challenge. Luckily the ground was sandy, so there were small patches of sand we could step on. Everyone was in stealth mode and for once we had the wind in our favour. We came to a very small clearing in the bush and could clearly see the buffalo had lain there just a few minutes earlier. My heart started to race. Was this our big chance?
Hancke turned to me and whispered, “They are very close. Are you ready?”
“Yes,” I whispered back. “Are there still two buffalo?”
“Yes, I will judge them quickly this time, so you can shoot fast. I have seen you shoot with that double and I know you can do this,” Hancke said.
We had only stalked about 150 m when Roberto stopped in his tracks, signalling us to drop to the ground. Hancke walked on and glassed with his binoculars. He turned and gestured to me to come. “Do you see it?” he asked. About 40 m ahead I saw the shape of a head through the bushes and one clear black spot. The buffalo was facing us with his body quartering towards the right. “Place your rifle on Roberto’s backpack and shoot him!” Hancke whispered urgently in my ear. He was sitting on the ground in front of me.
The next few seconds seemed to pass in slow motion. I was praying that the buffalo would stand still … We had experienced this situation several times before – these animals did not hesitate to run off. I lined up the Verney and put the front bead on the black spot half a metre from the shape of the head. The corridor I had for the shot was three-quarters the size of a clay pigeon. I knew my rifle was accurate, I have trained extensively, and now all my focus was on squeezing the trigger.
The silence was shattered by the shot, my right barrel delivering a 570 gr Hornady DGX to its target. I was pushed back by the recoil and saw the buffalo turn and run. I felt good, knowing I had not jerked the trigger. “I think it was a good shot,” I told Hancke while breaking the rifle open. The case ejected and landed 2 m behind me. Then I loaded a new cartridge from my belt, closed the rifle and put it on safe. That was when the doubt started creeping into my mind. Was it really such a good shot? Was it not too high or too far back? I started picturing a long follow-up on the last day. We had to leave early the next morning, so I was worried that I would never see the buffalo again. They are the toughest animals one can hunt, and when the adrenaline kicks in, almost nothing can stop them.
“Come!” Hancke shouted. I snapped out of my brief daydream, full of doubt. It was back to business! We were on the spot where the buffalo had stood but there was no blood. We followed the track for 10 m and I was looking for any sign of blood. Then I looked up and saw a broad smile on Roberto’s face. He was gesturing for me to come forward. About 20 m in front of him lay a big black buffalo bull. I could not believe it!
All fear vanished as I quickly walked over to Hancke. We approached the buffalo from behind. I knew this was a dangerous part of the hunt, as it often is the “dead” buffalo that kills people. Hancke poked him with the barrel of his double rifle near to root of the tail; there were no signs of life. Then he walked over to the animal’s head and did the same with the eye – still nothing. Hancke turned and he had the widest grin I had seen in a long time. The buffalo bull was ours! I gave Hancke a big hug and said, “Thank you for helping me fulfil a lifelong dream.” We were so happy, I could barely hold back my tears. Never in my life had I hunted so hard to get an animal in the salt. The rest of the group caught up with us and there were hugs all around. It was a team effort and everyone deserved praise.
It was time to look at our hard-earned quarry. He truly was a monster. The old bull, his white face covered in battle scars, was past his prime and had started losing body mass. We were pleasantly surprised by the horns, which measured 46″! An average buffalo measures 36–38″, and a very good specimen 40″; very rarely do you see a 42–43″ buffalo and this beast was 46″! He was everything we had discussed earlier around the bonfire: an old, over-the-top bull that was no longer breeding – the perfect bull, and in this case with massive horns.
I believe the hunting gods challenged us on this trip. It was the first time I had a chance to line up on a buffalo and they gave us this beauty. I will never forget that feeling of walking up to that beautiful animal.
Needless to say, the party we had when we came back to camp was a wild celebration – endless toasting with all kinds of drinks, beers and cigars for all. The next morning we slept in until 7:00 (we normally got up at 4:45), had a good breakfast and loaded our gear onto the pickup. The trip back went well.
When I sat on the plane back to Amsterdam, I fell asleep while we were taxiing out to the runway. I only woke up when they served breakfast before landing. I was exhausted but I also came home with a great story to tell everyone.
I with to thank everybody who was involved in this amazing trip but especially the following people: Hancke Hudson, Marco van Niekerk, Albie Morkel, Werno Drink-water, Jerome Lanoue, Rob O’Brien and Roberto. ASM