My Second Safari and My Second Cape Buffalo
|Firearms - Rifles/Guns|
From my Journal "August 3, 1997"
Preface: The following is my account of Sunday, August 3, 1997, Kubu Camp, Okavango Delta, Botswana. This was the third day of my safari which was primarily for leopard and Cape Buffalo. My PH was Ronnie McFarlane from Johan Calitz Safaris.
I slept pretty well until about 3:00 am, and then I coughed and blew my dust-congested nose until 5:00 a.m. I was certain I had kept the entire camp awake, but in reality my husband, Bob, was the only one who could hear me. We had our normal light, cold cereal breakfast and departed camp in the mocuros (dug out canoes) shortly after 7:00 am.
We glided through papyrus, reeds, and lily laden channels in our dugout canoes. Ronnie and I were in the larger mocuro polled by Mombo (the camp drummer), who Ronnie says is his best buffalo hunter, and Shorty, my favorite and ever smiling bushman. Bob was in the smaller mocuro polled by Patrick and Boyas; both had been with me last year when I took my first buffalo.
About 8:45 a.m. we spotted a Qwatali (single lone bull who no longer runs with the herd). He was about 1000 yds away and although he had not seen us he had already caught our scent on the wind. He was attempting to evade us while slipping from the cover of one small palm island to another. In this particular area, the palm islands are about 50 ft. in diameter and are covered totally in thick palms and dense brush (you cannot see into or through these islands at all). The distance between islands varies from a few hundred feet to several 1000 yds. They are surrounded by 2-3 ft of clear, fresh water. This landscape is breath taking and appears to repeat itself almost infinitely.
The buffalo, weighing 2,000 lbs, was making incredible speed, considering he was running in almost waist high water. He appeared to be headed in the direction of the only large, open, dry savanna island on the distant horizon, a place he would be able to outrun us for sure. So the Bushmen poled our mocuros to stay out of his view by putting an island between his path and ours to avoid his line-of-sight detection of us. The mocuros now seemed like stealth missiles rather than the Cleopatra barges of earlier this morning. We were silently skidding across the top of the water on a very direct course. The bushmen were poling furiously now, crouched down on their knees, rather than the normal standing position. Ronnie, Bob and I were all bent over, our heads between our knees, trying to lower our profile against the background of water, reeds and lilies. We still had another 500 yds to go before we would be within shooting range.
Ronnie whispered to me, “This is an old bull, do you want Bob to take it?” He was politely trying to indicate that this bull’s horns were worn down and wouldn’t be the trophy quality of the other bulls we had seen thus far, or even the bull I had taken last year. I quickly responded, “No, I want this buffalo.” (I envisioned my unsuccessful stalk yesterday, being clumsily pushed to the top of the termite mound by the bushman after running through hundreds of yards of thorns and trying to remain quiet all the while!) Then Ronnie countered again, “Are you sure you don’t want Bob to take this shot, this one isn’t as large as I thought you were looking for?”--Well, maybe he wasn’t humongous, I rationalized to myself, but I’m already clutching Louise, our .416 “Buffalo Gun.” And to continue my mental whining, Bob had already said he preferred not to shoot from the mocuro. Besides, I was already too much into the thrill of this chase that I didn’t want to defer to anyone else, even Bob!!! My Bull!!--So I whispered back to Ronnie, “I’m more concerned about making a good shot, than about trophy size.” Immediately Ronnie told the bushmen to stop the mocuros where we were behind cover. He then whispered to me to practice standing up in the mocuro. With my left hand I was to grab a hold of Mombo’s pole about shoulder height after he plunged it deeply into the muddy river bottom. Then I was to use the intersection of the poll and my hand as a rifle rest to steady my shot. (The real trick is to remain centered in the mocuro while standing up in this 1 foot wide 12 foot long floating tree trunk.) Hopefully, I wouldn’t fall out as a result of the recoil Louise would surely report. So after this one quick practice session, we resumed our chase and the buffalo immediately came bounding out of the palm island in front of us crossing our path at about 70 yds. I stood up, did the practice drill for real. Because of the water depth, I had no sight of the buffalo’s front legs, which I had planned to use as my guide to his heart. His legs were totally submerged, plus he was not offering me a broadside target, but rather a quartering away view. The only option remaining; and, of course, the one that had been mentioned in the book Ronnie had instructed me to read two nights ago- –Kevin “Doctari” Robertson’s Perfect Shot-- was a undesirable shot through the left side rumen (a hay bale sized quantity of digesting grasses) angling into the heart and lungs. This type of angled shot substantially slows the bullets path and velocity. The bushmen now whistled and hooted in an attempt to turn the buffalo, but my options did not change, only the increasing distance. I took my first shot. It angled well into his lungs with the soft point bullet. He was well hit but as he turned away again, I rapidly fired a second shot (a solid) which also hit well. We could clearly see he was mortally wounded as blood was now coming from his nose and mouth. But the incredible ability of these animals to withstand massive damage before going down is no myth. He struggled to turn towards us, ready to take us head on, but unable to completely rise from the water. My next shot finished him and after a few minutes his head sank below the water.
My adrenaline was flowing! I can’t believe that I actually immediately remembered to pick up the video camera (because I had it in the mocuro with me, Bob had the print camera) and with my rifle in the other hand, I attempted to capture what was happening on video tape. I could not steady the camera, my hands were shaking and my voice was quivering. I tried to get Ronnie to talk, but after later checking this portion of the video, I am sure, I am the only person who will ever understand what was going on. We approached the huge bull floating head down in the water. It had been very exciting, but the real work was yet to come.
The consensus was to float the carcass to the nearest island for photos, caping, and butchering. So the bushmen poled the mocuros to the island, then they waded back to the buffalo, and easily floated it to the shallows near shore. We all helped roll the carcass over, and over, until we had it well on shore. Ronnie estimated the old bull was at least 15 years old. He was covered by leeches and had been leading a very solitary life. During the video commentary on shore, Ronnie remarked that, “This old bull didn’t want to be bothered by women any more.” My rebuttal was, “Well, he ‘was’ bothered by a woman, wasn’t he!"
My first shot was fired about 9:00 am and it was nearly noon before we had all the meat, cape, skull, and back hide loaded onboard the mocuros and set sail back to camp. The vultures, storks, and other scavenger birds were already circling above by the hundreds. They looked like a black tornado, just waiting for us depart so they could compete for the remaining gut pile and bones we left behind. The trip back to camp took about two hours.
We had lunch in the dining tent about 2:30 pm (Lechwe burger patties, fresh warm bread, tomatoes, corn and beets).
After lunch I napped and relived the excitement of my Cape Buffalo hunt in my dreams!!!
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