20 September 2021, 21:52SCLawyer
Zimbabwe with CMS & Keith Wall September 2021
Charlton McCallum Safaris
PH Keith Wall
Buffalo & Plains Game (8 days)
Dande North (Mukanga & Matombo Camps)
Sept 6-13 2021
Guns Taken: Matched pair of Ruger RSMs .375 H&H and .416 Rigby both wearing Leupold glass and shooting Swift A-Frames
Guns Actually Used: Alan Shearing's very fine Winchester M70 .416 Rem with a Leupold 1x5
Animals Killed: Buffalo, Warthog, Impala, Grysbok, Duiker, Klipspringer, Baboon
Animals Seen: Elephant, buffalo, leopard, hippo, kudu, zebra, impala, grysbok, duiker, waterbuck, Klipspringer, warthog, baboon, Bushbaby, Bushbuck, rock rabbit, francolin, doves, grouse, guineas, vervet monkeys, and I am sure I am forgetting something.
Ethiopian Cola, SC-->Dulles-->Addis-->Harare.
At long last, I went to Africa. I've been dreaming about this trip since I was about 9 years old after reading the usual Ruark, Capstick, etc. It only took me a quarter century to pull it off. So, at age 34, leaving my amazing, beautiful, understanding, patient, and perfect wife, four young children (5, 3, 3, 1), my law practice, and my very empty bank account back home, I took off for Zimbabwe with my father-in-law accompanying me as my observer. I chose CMS largely because of their excellent reputation (here and elsewhere) and because I really wanted to hunt the Zambezi Valley. I was not disappointed.
This probably deserves a separate thread in the travel forum, but in the interest of brevity...I booked through Ethiopian and flights were fine; however, my guns and bags did not make it with me from Dulles. I did not hang around to wait on them; so we proceeded to Zim without. When the guns did arrive in Addis a few days later, customs refused to send them on to Harare unless they were allowed to cut the locks and verify serial numbers. No thanks. Alan Shearing, who was in a nearby camp, hired his rifle to me and it performed admirably. In fact, my buffalo was in the salt before I knew anything about it. I will also add that Myles McCallum did the Lord's work in trying to cajole ET into sending them on. In fact, I think Myles might have missed his calling to be a lawyer because that gentleman knows how to effectively advocate in writing. It made me feel very much at ease knowing I was on his team. Myles really went the distance and to his credit, he raised enough Hell that when I did pass through Addis again, there was a manager of some sort waiting to greet me who already had printed copies of all my paperwork. He was very apologetic, and I had a bit of personalized trip back down to the guts where he quickly approved my guns, etc. There is no question that had Myles not gone above and beyond, my guns might not have made it home at all. Thank you Myles.
I hate to have put this at the beginning of this report which makes it seem like it really bothered me, etc. It did not. My hunt was amazing with or without my guns, and if anything, it taught me that traveling with them really isn't worth the hassle until I buy that double.
Also, thankfully, somewhere along the line, I read to wear your hunting boots on the plane and carry on a change of hunting clothes. Thus, even though my luggage never made it, I had two changes of hunting clothes. Moreover, in what I now know to be typical CMS customer service, Myles and Kay gave us (me and my father in law), multiple CMS Tag safari shirts each, TAG safari pants, and a nice pair of shorts. Similarly, another hunter named Scott who is a member here, very generously gave us bug spray, a pair of pants for my father in law, shampoo, etc. He also kindly and reasonably sold me a bunch of .416 Rem bullets to replace what I used from Alan. My thanks to you Scott.
Once in country, things went smoothly. I really enjoyed the CMS guy in the airport and our charter to Chenje strip was great...except for the turbulence which resulted in horrific airsickness on my behalf. When we finally landed, I've never been so thankful. I washed my mouth out with an ice cold Zambezi from Keith's cool box and was good to go. The charter pilot, Adam, was great. It was just an afternoon flight in the heat. Its happened to me before and will happen again.
After test firing Alan's .416, we were off looking for tracks. Not far down the security road we cut fresh sign from a herd. We got out of the truck and immediately heard a bellow and knew they were close. Over the next few hours, Keith and his team (esp. lead tracker, Gari) put us within 50 yds of the herd of somewhere between 50-100 buffalo on two occasions. In the thick stuff. It was an amazing experience for a first timer. However, we never had a clear shot at anything with a hard boss. I could have left that day and the 37 hour trip over to Zim would've been worth it. So exciting. That afternoon, we had to run by the Pedza camp (where there is wifi) and send a couple emails about the bags. We also hunted a bit through the DSA.
That night, we returned to camp for a damn fine dinner. PH Mark Vallaro was in camp guiding Scott, and they had a funny story to tell. While out looking for bushbuck, they had seen a nice dugga boy from the truck. Knowing that I was on the hunt for just such a specimen, Mark stopped and got out to tie a piece of toilet paper to the tree so we could pick up the spore the following morning. When he got down to where the tracks were, the buff wasn't very far away. Seeing Mark on foot, it charged him. Mark was without his double and had no choice but to scurry up thee tree. (Scott can relate this story better as an eye witness). Anyway, when the buffalo charged by the tree, Mark noticed its tail was "shriveled". Later, we also heard a bull matching this description was charging Bongi's DAPU scouts near the same area/spring.
We were off after buffalo seen by Mark and Scott the day before. We picked up its tracks as described and tracked it over very rocky ground (Ward 2, near Guadwarizi (sp?) spring. We were on its track for roughly 5 hours over all and about 5 miles. The buffalo knew we were behind him. Every two or three hundred yards it would turn around and watch its own backtrail from cover. This made even the valiant Gari nervous and he asked Keith to stay very close.
After one or two of these little hooks, Keith took out his solids and put in softs. (He was carrying a .500NE). Even I knew what that meant before Keith helpfully added that he expected a charge given the bull's conduct toward Mark and his behavior that morning. From then on, it was no more double held by the barrel over the shoulder. Rather, Keith (and I) stayed at high port. The buff continued to duck into cover and make broad circles. We finally got to some open ground and spotted him. He was about 150 yds off and moving slowly up a slope, we went below a rise and the wind and virtually ran to gain ground. When we broke the little rise, the bull had stopped in the shade under a small baobab and was watching his backtrail again. Keith put the sticks up and I got him in the crosshairs, but was relieved Keith he told me "this is too far, but I want you to see what he looks like in the scope". We were still 150 yds away.
From there, the bull headed up a small mountain and cut a large but nearly exact circle. Interestingly, we saw him again on the same open ground at the same distance just in reverse. (circle now complete). As he walked over a rise and out of view we could clearly see the "shriveled" tail. Here, Keith gambled and we turned right off his tracks to cross the open ground around the bull and below his wind. He got to the crest of the hill about 75 yds down from where the bull disappeared. Over the crest of that rise there was a belt of scrub then it fell away in an open trough or small valley. The buff was not visible, so we began crossing the open ground when Gari looked to our left and slightly behind and saw him. The bull had topped the hill, gotten into some brush and turned around to watch his backtrail again. Had we followed his tracks over the hill, we would have come face to face at very, very close range. No telling what might have happened.
However, as it were, we could see the buffalo and he hadn't a clue we were there. Up go the sticks and I'm on him. He's in cover, so no shot, but we wait. Finally, as he had done all morning, he gave up on the ambush and turned to continue his walk. As he did, he came out in the full open offering a clear broadside shot at 75yds. Keith gave me the word and I put the first shot right through the heart. Perfect. I reloaded from the shoulder as the bull started to run and let fly again slightly too far back and high. I reloaded again from the shoulder, took my time, pulled through his neck and head, slowed up, and I let his jaw clear my crosshairs before I pulled. Perfect neck shot. He dropped as if poleaxed. Keith took off running and I followed reloading as I ran. I paid the perfectly unnecessary, but always wise insurance. We had our buff. https://ibb.co/tM3mXHM
After an appropriate amount of Zambezi lagers, we completed the recovery and headed for home. It was an amazing hunt with a lot of tension. I really expected a charge, which made it very exciting. This bull had been cut up really bad by a lion which accounted for the severely damaged tail, scratched hide, and bad temperament. Funny that after miles and miles in thick jess, heavy cover, we caught in the wide open for a 75 chip shot.
I teased Keith and Mark afterwards that this bull this was one of the toughest bulls on the continent having survived an attack from full-grown lion and had even run a legendary PH up a tree. Naturally, it required a South Carolina turkey hunter to bring it to heel.
We took the buffalo into Angwa the next day to the communal office for distribution to the populace. I enjoyed seeing "town" and a couple trackers got the vaccine from the clinic while there. Neat experience.
We were after plains game from here on out. (I'll admit that I did consider adding another buffalo). Like most of you, I heard that the Dande "is not great for plains game". Bullshit. There was plains game everywhere or maybe I was just lucky.
The third day, we saw a bunch of stuff and made a few unsuccessful stalks, but only ever got a shot at a little antelope I'd never really heard of - a Sharpe's Grybok. We saw it from the car and put on a stalk. I wasn't really sure I wanted it, but after we finally got into position and it got the in crosshairs, the decision was made. A solid from Alan's .416 proved good medicine. It was a wonderful trophy and I'm told very elusive. Keith had another hunter there before me who spent six days looking for one and finding nothing. Ultimately, I will treasure this trophy most for the delicious meat. https://ibb.co/Cm12qvj
Day 4, we really turned it on with a baboon, warthog, and an impala all with about 2 hours. We were tracking some impala rams who busted us and took off. They had been traveling alongside a big baboon troop, one of whom, a huge old outcast dog, made the mistaking of climbing a rock. He was about 175 yds and I'm a rookie on African game and shooting sticks....but as would become standard, Alan's .416 delivered.
The warthog was about a half mile down the road. We managed to get in very close without spooking him and he offered a tight quartering away shot in heavy cover. No matter. Alan's .416 put one through its shoulder that lodged in its lower jaw.https://ibb.co/1rN7pg7
No far from there, we jumped a small group of impala rams. After a fun stalk, Keith got me on the sticks at about 50 yds. That animal was a more familiar shape to a gringo like me; and it dropped like rock.https://ibb.co/dBm11Br
What a day. Out come the crispy Zambezis (Keith now knows he has to put more than usual in his cool box for these hunters). Head for camp and another great meal.
Somewhere along this time, I hear that Ethiopian won't release my bags until I let them cut the locks. Yea right, not only do I not trust ET, but I don't want to risk changing any luck by giving up Alan's .416. I am having so much fun, I didn't even care it I lost the damn things forever.
Day 5, we hunt hard in the morning driving around, nap mid-day, and walk the Mukanga River in the afternoon. We see some stuff, but no shots. Really good day though. I passed on another very large warthog and more impala. Both were very tempting, and I slightly regret not taking a second hog. We also put in a long stalk on some zebra and Keith got me into position on the sticks. He cleared me to shoot just as a foal materialized from nowhere. Understandably, we can't shoot the mare over a foal. We saw some really pretty country during that stalk though. We went a good many miles.
Day 6, we head toward the Mahonda River. On the way we shoot a duiker. We stalked it from the road and it was really hidden down in the shadows, but the .416 located it just fine. https://ibb.co/C0qGxc1
We then walk the Mahonde River from a spring way down the cliff paintings, met the truck at the road for a bush-lunch, then keep going down through the gorge. This was one of my favorite things we did the whole time. To start with, we caught a few fish poachers in the morning. A nice family with (we think) no snares and just some nets. Keith and the Scout let them go and send them home (with their fish). A bend or two later and we creep up on a female Klipspringer basking in the sun. We look for the male and she bolts. When she did, the male stood up, climbed the same rock, and took a peak. Bad mistake. Keith anticipated his actions and had me on the sticks. Alan's .416 roars again.https://ibb.co/x3fCNtc
This is a hell of a good trophy. I forget the exact measurement (not that I care), but Keith was stunned by the size.
We proceed down the river as we hadn't even gotten to the cliffs yet. The trackers jumped a big bull elephant not far from there. I took off almost straight up the face of the gorge and was gone before Keith and I came up. Hard for me to believe an elephant could have climbed were they said he went. Impressive.
Another bend of two and the trackers freeze (they were 25 yds ahead). There is a large female leopard fast asleep under a rock! She woke as we came up and bounded straight up the rock face. I got a good look and was stunned. Easily the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. (I teased Keith that he had them trained to perform to hook first timers into coming back for Spots). Anyway, we walk up to where she had been and were looking at her tracks when there is a sudden commotion right above us, including a hoarse growl! We all swing our guns up thinking she is coming down, only to see TWO MORE leopards flying up the rock face!
Once we took a breath (and changed our shorts), we realized what happened. Momma Spots was sleeping in the shade on the sand under a rock overhang. Her two half-grown cubs were sleeping on top of the rock overhang (not more than 12 feet over our heads). The young ones must not have woken up as fast or until we got under them. Anyway, we saw three leopards at very close range in broad daylight. Unexpected to say the least. The Dande is certainly WILD Africa.
I was stunned that the elephant and leopard would have hung around after my shooting at the Klippy. However, Keith pointed out that these was a strong wind in our face and the curves of the river, etc. muzzle the sound.
We enjoy the cliff paintings and a nice lunch of Grysbok sandwichs and Castle lagers.
Downstream through the gorge was incredibly beautiful. We saw lots of sign, including where a leopard (prob the mother we'd seen) had very recently executed a Klippy. We also saw a huge heard of impala. Baboons and two young warthogs.
All in all, that stretch of the Mahonde was about ten miles and was incredible. When (not if) I go back, I will certainly do that walk again!
On the way home, we "make a plan" (common parlance for Keith). We've shot plenty and might as well head to the river and Matombo camp. We stop along the security road where Keith has service and phone Kay in Pedza to make arrangements. Head home slipping castles to a great dinner and bed.
We head to Pedza on the way to Matombo to drop off some things. Then onto Matombo. There, PH Ross Johnson is guiding an American from NM for buff and croc. The guy is, like me, a trial lawyer and get on well. He is over 80 and had already shot both a huge buffalo and a monster croc. I HOPE I am doing the same at that age. Awesome. We spend the after noon cruising up the Zambezi drinking Zambezi and manage to avoid getting a line wet. What an amazing place. I've been all over the world and can't think of a spot that is more aesthetically pleasing.
Keith was planning to hunt with me down towards the DSA for a kudu or zebra. However, when I woke up, I decided that the hunt was over. I'd killed plenty, and driven those roads to my full. So we spent a very relaxing morning in camp just enjoying the scenery. Napped on the couch waiting the Zambezi drift lazily by. https://ibb.co/x2gYBh1
In the afternoon, we load up some more Zambezi's in the cooler and head back out on the water. Game was everywhere. A huge buffalo cow here, a heard of elephants there, crocs over yonder, hippos everywhere...It was great. We did toss a line, but no luck. Still, just an amazing experience to ride way up river and see the sights.
It was a perfect end to the trip.
The next day, we split a charter back to Harare with the old man and have a pleasant (read: no turbulence) flight. We had Adam as a pilot again and he was really great. We were in a '73 210 Cessna both ways. Nice plane.
At the airport, Myles picks us up and heads to covid test site that he assures us is known for their timeliness and consistency of negative results (t.i.a.). From there, Tracey takes me and my father in law for a trip to an outdoor market to buy some stuff for my kids and then back to test results. I wanted to go to see Mavros, but we did not quite have time. Tracey then took us to lunch a great restaurant in Belgravia called the Bottom Drawer. I really enjoyed meeting Tracey. She was very charming and a great ambassador for CMS and for Zim, generally. We then head to the airport - negative test in hand. CMS's guy (who will remain nameless) takes over; and we're in the plane before we know it. What a great service that is.
On arrival in Addis I am greeted by a gentleman who is expecting me, I do the dance down to the basement, clear the guys and my luggage. This guy, a perfect gentlemen, then escorts us all the way back through security and literally puts us on the plane. Thanks Myles.
We get home in one piece, guns and all.
This was incredibly amazing. It was a perfect first safari. What a team. Everyone...Keith, Myles, Kay, Bongi, Tracey, Owen, Dave, staff, etc. I really enjoyed meeting other hunters in camp and seeing other PHs, including Mark Vallaro, Alan Shearing, and Ross Johnson. Kay (or "Auntie Kay" as Keith knows her) rules the roost and was delightful. Buzz checked in on me during and after the hunt.
Keith was excellent in every way. He and I are very close to the same age (with a year or two) and got along exceptionally well. He was extremely patient, attentive, and helpful in the field. He worked very to get me into a shooting position. It is entirely his credit that Alan's .416 never missed. There is no question that when I go back, Keith will be my PH. He was great too with my father in law and did everything he could to take good care of us....including making sure our cups were never empty. Absolutely a first class human-being and one hell of a hunter.
His trackers, Gari, Matseko, and Ford were all excellent. They are truly professionals. I was especially impressed by Gari. The guy is a magician and obviously worships Keith. One of the more special memories for me was that after we killed the buff, all the trackers and scouts took turn getting pics on their phones of themselves with the bull. Gari was last, and when he got down behind it, he asked me to get in the picture with him. It made me feel like, at the very least, I hadn't done it wrong.
The whole trip felt easy because we were so well-taken care of. From the guy in the airport through the baggage problems, CMS makes you feel like family as soon as step off the plane (and long after you leave). The food was great. Our chef in Mukanga was Vincent. His soups were as good as anything you might expect anywhere in the world. For anyone interested, the Grysbok was the best thing I ate. Its leg was close to lamb in color and consistency, and the flavor was out of this world. We had it as a roast with dinner one night and on sandwiches the next day. Other favorites were buffalo tenderloin and sable (a guy in Pedza killed one and we had lunch there one day). I also enjoyed the biltong. Breakfasts too were great. Fried eggs and "bacon" that I would've called country ham. They had good South African and Zimbabwean wine and a full bar. Lots of g&ts and scotch died on this safari as well. I prefer Zambezis over Castles, but they were both great.
I have been home nearly a week and have been thinking of some constructive criticism, but there is nothing to say. I wouldn't have changed a thing. It would have been great to have my own guns, but can't complain about the outcome. I hunted with Keith Wall using Alan Shearing's gun to kill a buffalo that ran Mark Vallaro up a tree. Hard to beat!
I will be back to hunt Mr. Spots and another buff with Keith in 2023 or 2024 good Lord willing. Until then, its back to whitetail, doves, quail, and turkeys.....
I hope these photos work. If not, I made need some further assistance from someone more tech-savy than I. Further, I cannot begin to write down everything interesting we did and saw. This barely scratches the surface. I encourage anyone reading this to drop what you are doing and email CMS to book a hunt. This was life-changing.