|Firearms - Rifles/Guns|
As dangerous game, elephants tend to command respect, make you quiver with awe and force intense emotion once a person is exposed to their presence, especially in a hunting situation. They know they are the biggest force on four legs and wear their brutal reputation with confidence. With nothing but some scrubby brush, a bullet and dust separating who is who. Face to face as it comes for you while you wield your seemingly pitiful rifle hoping for a one shot stop. That's when it sinks in you are on their turf and not yours.
This is an account of my tuskless elephant hunt, which was my first successful dangerous game hunt. The elephant population in southern Africa is at an all time high and uncontrolled. There are more elephants than the environment can handle. The loss of vegetation affects all species living there.
My elephant cow hunt was best described as up close and personal. A combination of the elements of Africa, her sights, sounds and scent, it was fascinating and perfect. The wind was perfect, the bush was perfect, the elephants were perfect, the staff was perfect and my shot was perfect.
I flew into Harare at 2100 hours August 15th and was cheerfully greeted by my Professional Hunter Buzz Charlton and his apprentice Shaun Buffee, who was also our videographer. I also had the pleasure to meet African Hunter magazine editor Don Heath.
After a bit of chat I was whisked off to Buzz's for the night. I had absolutely no travel problems or troubles from Zimbabwe Customs personnel. I was the only traveler with a firearm and everyone was real friendly, quickly clearing me through the customs process.
Early the next morning we packed up and left Harare for a long drive over the Zambezi Escarpment to the Zambezi Valley and into the Chewore North safari concession. This concession is run by Ian Gibson’s Big 5 Safaris.
Getting ready to go, Shaun on the cruiser and Royal's wife assisting with packing our supplies.
I was driven to Chewore North with Buzz Charlton and our crew which consisted of the two of us plus Shaun and Buzz's talented and dedicated staff consisting of Royal, Criton, Tino and later the government game scout. An amazing amount of people and gear were carried on that lone Land Cruiser. It was a long but beautiful ride through the Zimbabwe countryside and up the Escarpment on the way to the Zambezi Valley.
The valley was hot and very humid, despite that; the glinting sounds of birds greeted us everywhere. Inland were hordes of Tsetse flies, which resemble our harmless houseflies. These guys give a very painful bite! They were not present at the river’s edge, just in the dry interior.
My first sighting of elephants on the way to camp, they were drinking from a pool in the mostly dry Chewore River bed. There were also baboons and impala here.
We would be hunting out of one of the spike camps away from Big 5’s beautiful main lodge. This camp was along the Chewore River and set up on the high bank overlooking a small pool in the mostly sand river. The opposite bank belonged to the Sapi Safari Area. There was a beautiful gorge cutting through the rock just down river from the camp. This was the scenic Mariatsoro Gorge, which held an abundance of large and small game. We saw a group of three nice old dugga boys one evening there. They were none too happy we had found them.
Camp was set up with large comfortable tents with in suite showers and baths. A real bed awaited there was plenty of room for hunting gear. Discussions of shot placement and elephants took place over our first dinner together. After supper, we settled in around the glowing campfire continuing our eager chat with great anticipation on hunting for a tuskless elephant cow.
Early the next morning we set out on the cruiser to look for fresh elephant spoor crossing the track. About twenty minutes out of camp we reached the high edge of a ridge and in the valley below we spotted a herd of elephant cows. They did not see us so we backed off and began to look them over. We noted that there were two tuskless cows in the bunch. A tusked female was scraping bark off the large baobab on the left side of the road. The herd proceeded past the tree and went on feeding, walking and crunching into the broken and thickening jesse.
The large tree at the bottom of the hill is the baobab. Here is another view of it and you can see the scraped bark, which extended about 10 feet up the trunk. Elephants need tusks to eat tree bark. In the dry season tree bark is a main staple of an elephants diet. Tuskless elephants must steal food from their tusked relatives and are as a rule, known to be much more bad tempered than their tusked sisters. Elephants are extremely dangerous to humans; they will not hesitate to attack anyone.
Spoor of our elephant herd on top of our tire tracks from the day before.
We closely followed the herd through the very thick jesse keeping on their down wind side. Of the two tuskless, one had a young calf. We had to make sure she was not mistakenly shot. Tuskless cows that are caring for dependent calves are not hunted so they can care for their young. The other one did not have a calf and this was our target. This was difficult in the thicket but with patience and skill, Buzz made the call. Once we singled our target out it was time to close the distance.
Buzz had me follow closely and we approached the cow, as she stood broadside to us with her body in the open pathway of a game trail. A trail no doubt made by the passage of many elephants over time. The area was very dry and heavily over grazed with a short level of brush (jesse) and over shadowed by tall Mopane trees. There was no intermediate tree growth due to elephant over grazing.
Unbelievably the winds stayed steady with us, strong into our faces. Buzz set his shooting sticks up for me while the cow was busy; it's head not visible due to the thick brush. Tsetse flies bombarded us in the early morning heat but we never lost our concentration.
As I put my rifle up I asked Buzz to position the sticks higher. It was then the cow backed up and quickly turned and looked right at us. In a second she realized what we were and shifted her weight to come forward. Since we were so close you could see her eyes register that she recognized us as being within her comfort zone.
So the cow was now facing me head on with ears spread wide and her glaring focus upon me as she came. I was lined up on the level of the eyes and fired. As soon as the resulting smoke and dust cleared I could see the cow's head up in the air and then she fell from the rear quarters forward, collapsing on the ground. I readied the rifle for a second shot but the .375H&H had found it's mark and Buzz pulled me off saying she was finished. We retreated as the rest of the herd was now alerted. Shaun got the whole thing on video. I never sensed him just over my right shoulder.
The cow was dead but Buzz thought I should put an insurance shot into the front of the chest. I moved a few yards forward to do so when a tusked cow came from behind the dead cow. She didn’t see me but was looking for what made the noise. Again the wind was in our faces so she was not able to detect our presence. We backed off again and took to a high termite mound, still remaining down wind. The rest of the herd amazingly went back to feeding quietly, as they had been when we found them and then moved off in short order.
I shot the cow at thirteen yards with a .375 H&H and used a hand load of 300 grain Woodleigh Solids. Below you can see the dead cow as we waited on the mound for the rest of the elephants to leave. If you look very carefully you can see some of the other elephants in the jesse, but they are very hard to see.
We were able to approach in short order. I could not believe the size of the animal. Even in death they command respect. My first elephant hunt seemed like it was over as quickly as it started.
In the photo above you can see the entry point on her trunk. That's how high she held her head as she came. It was an instantaneous death, over almost as quickly as it started.
Getting ready to claim the elephant. A hunter claims their elephant by cutting the tail off. This alerts anyone else who comes across the carcass that it is already owned. This is a respected African tradition.
This was an exciting hunt; I would certainly encourage anyone considering such a hunt to do so. We ran into many tuskless elephants during my short 7 days. Since they are a genetic abnormality and that elephants are very over populated in southern Africa these are readily available to hunt. The meat was cleaned from the bones and the remaining carcass would serve as hyena bait for my hunt.
I was highly impressed with Buzz and his staff, I can't say enough good about them all. They were very dedicated and highly motivated. All were a pleasure to be hunting with.
For further information about this or any African hunt please feel free to contact me.
© March 2006
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