Hunting buffalo With Zambezi Hunters and PH Collen van der Linden.
Videographer/Photographer Sean Herbert.
After nearly three years of yearning to re-visit Zimbabwe, the time had finally come for me to reunite with this beautiful country.
The journey took me from Frankfurt to Johannesburg where I boarded another SAA flight for Harare. Normally I’m an aisle person, but I had specifically asked for a window seat on this leg of the journey, in order to sit with my eyes peeled out the window and take in the spectacular scenery.
Which I did, but it hadn’t really been necessary, because shortly after, I boarded a single engine Cessna where I got the co-pilots seat and now that is a seat with a view.
Savé Valley Conservancy was to be my roaming ground for the next ten days. I’d been on the cruiser for less than half an hour and already elephant, lion and large numbers of antelope had been spotted. The baboons were barking right and left, the ever present hornbill honking their special Africana tune and upon arrival at Sango Tented Camp, I knew right away that this was a special place. Located in the heart of the Conservancy, situated on the banks of the Msaize River, this classic tented camp had the entire atmosphere one could hope for.
Having hunted Africa quite a few times, I know how important it is to have a truly Professional Hunter who, coupled with his trackers, will give you many intense, instructive and exciting experiences in the bush. Teamed up with Collen and his two trackers, Kapadsai and Gabriel, I quickly realised that I was in prime company. The first day of hunting also convinced me I was in prime buffalo land. Huge Dagga- boy tracks were found and the hunt could begin.
With the sun up, the temperature quickly rose as did my excitement. Following the trackers who in unison were doing what they do best, with their own sign language indicating we were getting closer, my PH glassing more and more frequently. But the wind doesn’t always play fair and suddenly we heard the thundering of hooves taking off.
Many hours later, still on their tracks, having crawled and bum scooted to get closer and closer. They were a restless bunch, the 8 or 9 of them and had us running at one stage to try to keep up, get past and get a chance of a shot. The rifle was up several times, but every time something got in the way. Like another buffalo or a tree. Late afternoon we picked up their tracks again, having to avoid large groups of zebra and wildebeest. The place was teeming with game. An hour before sunset, we’d caught up with the group. The old bull was lying down with only a bit of his head visible. The rifle came up and the waiting game began. He did get up and his body began to fill out my scope, but so did a couple of striped sentries and meanwhile it was getting darker and darker.
As if he suddenly realised someone was looking at him, he turned and stood facing me, allowing for the perfect shot. Unfortunately the light was failing and the crosshairs were not visible on the big black chest. So I lifted the rifle off the stick, we said our goodnights to the bull and walked back to the cruiser. What a perfect day.
The next morning we got on the group again, following the tracks for hours. Joining us at one stage is a civet, meandering in front of us for a long time. The pace picks up and suddenly we are very close. They are lying down, but attentive, so we bum scoot closer and closer. Slowly we move into place and my PH and I stand up and get everything ready. The rifle resting on the shooting sticks, we start what turns out to be a very long wait, for the old bull to get up. There are two very interesting bulls in the group; one is clearly visible through the scope. Two hours pass, it’s hot. Every time he moves the slightest I grip the rifle, ready to let it roar, but when he gets up it’s only to turn around and lie down again, necessitating adjustments in our positions. I’ve just sat down, ready to bum scoot again, when he suddenly stands up and offers me a good view and broadside shot. I aim as I’m told, just behind the shoulder and let the bullet go. The group takes off as quick as lightning and as loud as thunder. Instantly I feel something is very wrong, feel a little confused and have the shakes badly. Suddenly one of the trackers sends me a smile to die for; a death bellow rings out far away.
It was a bellow all right, but perhaps one of rage, because we do not find him, not that day, or the next. The first hour we track him in the herd; there is blood, so it is still fairly easy. A minor obstruction, some 30 elephant, does not deter the professionals, even though we need to detour. Suddenly the tracks show he is on his own and a slight optimism, if not huge grins, spreads. In the last light we spook him, he’s laid down, he is sick and hurting and it is the saddest moment to hear him thunder off, knowing there will be no more tracking today.
I find it hard to be cheerful back in camp. I’m embarrassed and constantly fighting the urge to go off to my tent, but I know everyone probably feels as bad as I do and there really is no need to ruin the mood completely.
The next day we walked and we walked. Herds of buffalo obliterate his tracks, the blood has stopped, but there is hope he is on his way to water. Again, it is late – a huge kopje is climbed, maybe he can be spotted from there. He is not and the day ends in despair.
The next morning, the third day, the mood is good. One tracker claims he dreamt today is the day, where we will find him and put him out of his misery. My PH, Collen, appears more optimistic, my
cameraman, Sean, claims he is sure we will find him and I find it hard to remain pessimistic, sort of at a stage where I’m ready to drop hunting for ever, and kick myself mentally into believing the same.
And it is. Shortly after 9.00 am, with some pretty hair-raising tracking behind us, spooking him at some fifty meters and then sitting down for ten minutes, in order to let him settle down again.
It cannot fail. We track a little off his, the bush is too thick, we don’t really want a charge, but then again, you never know with buffalo. There are three rifles on hand and suddenly he comes out from under a bush, not towards us, but trying to get away. Five shots later, he is dead. Tears, always tears when I hunt buffalo, I thanked the guys for their help, their courage, their determination, stamina and unbelievable skills. My buffalo is a beauty with a history; he is full of scars from lion attacks, long grooves along side his large body and I honour him and apologize for letting him suffer.
Emotional ups and downs are part of hunting and I don’t think I will give it up, but I do think I will return to this amazingly beautiful country and area, full of game. During the ten days I saw it all. That includes black rhino, white ditto, leopard in daylight feeding, lioness on a fresh kill, loads of buffalo, elephant breeding herds, lone bulls and a large variety of antelope. Big kudu, eland and wildebeest. Thousands of impala, some very large warthogs and the ever present and beautiful zebra. On one afternoon alone, we spotted 41 giraffes. The birding is great, the ground hornbill thrives in the area and the camera hunting is as good as the rifle hunting..