By Andrew Buchanan
The conversation around the campfire swirled amongst us just as the wind had done only hours earlier when the crack of Billy Coopers 416 had sent the herd of over 300 buffalo stampeding off.
Why was there no death bellow ? Why had the buffalo not succumbed to the 400 grain soft nose Jerret ? The bull had moved into a broadside position only 30 yards away as the small splinter group huddled together in the thick bush as they winded us. Billy took aim and was confident his shot was good. For the past three days we had waited patiently for the herd to leave the thorny Mpangara thicket , but to no avail.
The ground was still moist from the last of the rains and the otherwise tall, thick grass had been trampled down by the hooves of several hundred buffalo, allowing a breeze to move through. This provided an ideal environment for the herd to bed down in the heat of the day and safe from the ever-present prides of lion. The buffalo were venturing out under the cover of darkness to feed and drink.
On the evening of the fourth day the wind felt a little more constant and we could hear grunting and see bushes thrashing as the animals grew restless readying to move.
We had to move quickly as it was dusk when PH Peter Creighton led us quickly and quietly into the buffalo's den. Stopping, listening and watching for movement, the buffalo stirred all around. The pungent smell of dung infused dust filled our nostrils on its way into our lungs to fuel our rapidly pounding hearts.
We eased into a bush from where we could see only the raised heads and backs of the spooked buffalo as they caught our scent. Suddenly A bull presented himself, his wide spread and front shoulders visible above the thick grass.
It was immediately evident that this was a good bull and Peter wasted no time in talking Billy into the shot.
"You see him there on the right with the big horns?"
"Yeah I see him."
"Ok you can see his shoulder?"
"You're too High , come down to the level of the grass"
And as the bull turned his head to look directly at us
"Take him! "
Both Peter and Tsongora where happy with the beasts reaction as he hunched his shoulders and stampeded off (fortunately in the opposite direction from us) in a cloud of dust with the rest of the herd.
As we sat around the fire I noticed a look of disappointment mixed with anxiety in Billys eyes as he stared into the dancing flames. Within him was a kind of feeling felt by many an experienced hunter after returning to camp having left an unanswered blood trail at last light.
On retiring to our tents we took comfort in the fact that the blood we left behind contained lung blood. The morning air was still and the mist hung low and smothered the thick bush that hid our dangerous quarry. With the added assistance of fellow Zambezi Hunters PH Collen van de Linden the hunters moved forward careful not to leave the trackers exposed as they followed the signs of the wounded buffalo.
With thumbs on safety catches and trigger fingers at the ready. Slowly and carefully we moved forward ,eyes bulging with intensity.
Collen caught our attention with the click of his fingers, gesturing into a nearby clump of scrub mopane. Just then we heard what was a lone buffalo crashing away sending a small flock of redbilled ox peckers into noisy flight. Now we knew he was still alive, well and ready to fight.
It was at this point that both peter and Colin recommended we stay behind at the base of an easily climbable tree. This would make it far easier for the two professionals to sneak up on the aggravated bull, undetected.
We listened intently for any sound, which might indicate what was going on ahead of us. It was a long thirty minutes before we could breathe a sigh of relief after hearing two shots , then the death bellow before a final "insurance" shot.
On arriving at the scene we where told of how the ox peckers had given the animals location away and how Colin had climbed into a tree and let fly with his 500 grain round from his 450 Ackley bringing to an end a very dangerous situation.
After examining the initial wound and looking over the video footage, the bullet had split into three pieces after connecting with a small branch of mpangara on route to the buffalo. Only one of the three pieces had penetrated the animals' rib cage and raked through the top of the lungs.
We stood admiring the power and endurance of the magnificent 42 Inch bull, celebrating the wonderful trophy taken. We spoke of the often-debated soft vs solid saga and bullet failure due to external circumstances.
The bush had been thick and the hunting hard but exciting. We where all very happy to be safe in the type of brotherhood that forms between men after experiencing dangerous situations together. What a hunt it had been and what a Trophy Billy had taken on his first ever dangerous game safari.