10 August 2012, 00:18Orvar
Trip Report : Safari in DSA with Thierry Labat
Date: 30 July – 8 August 2012
Outfitter: Zambezi Hunters
PH: Thierry Labat
Team: Mudini (Tracker), Nyati (Tracker), Ishmael (Driver) and Martin (Ranger)… and of course Ernest “Elephante”
Location: part of the story… Dande Safari Area, Zimbabwe (D.S.A.)
Rifles: 300WM Blaser R93 & Rigby .375 H&H
Species Taken: Buffalo, Elephant, Klipspringer, Baboon, Civet Cat, Impala, Hyena and Sable
Species Not Taken: Bushbuck
Last year in July, my then girlfriend and I went to Namibia for a bit of plains game and relaxation… and came back engaged! We were then married in February of this year, and our honeymoon was scheduled for this summer in Zimbabwe at Sango Lodge, with Thierry Labat, hunting for Buffalo and plains game. I’ll spare you the details, as most of you are aware of the recent / current issues facing owners / operators in the SAVE Conservancy, but let’s just say, they threw a spanner in the works. Alistair, Thierry and the ZH team were awesome and worked hard to ensure we still had somewhere to come and hunt, and still had an amazing time! So we “made a plan”… We would be conducting our safari in CMS’s Dande Safari Area (D.S.A.) looking for Buffalo and Elephant (previously something I had not considered hunting on this trip… but you gotta stay flexible
), and we’d see after that… to make a new plan.
We flew Air France from JFK to CDG, and then on to JOH without any issues at all, including the firearms and ammunition (please do take note of the new form that needs to be filled out – much easier if you have copies already filled out to hand to any / all that ask, I recommend at least 2 copies per flight). From there we flew COMAIR to HAR, which as usual was crap and stressful. On arrival in Harare, clearing guns and ammunition was a breeze, and we were off to stay with our friends the Mavros’s for a few days before the safari started. The Patrick Mavros shop is a must-see when staying in Harare, and a little something brought back to the Mrs will surely go a long way to helping “understand” the long absence on your safari
The day before the hunt was to start, Gilles flew us into the D.S.A. strip at Pedza, where we met up with Thierry and the CMS camp manager, and moved into our new home for the next few days in a camp to the west, Moruru:
The camp is simple and comfortable in all respects, from the cabins / sleeping rooms, to the open-air dining room / lounge, and fire pit for drinks. The food is varied, and as we asked for game-meat, it was primarily focused on that for all our meals. The packed lunches were fine as well. And of course, our 2 requests were met: a) lots of fresh biltong and b) Savannah Cider (which unfortunately, they have confirmed not to be able to distribute in the US… for the time being, but hopefully not long). The staff in camp are absolutely first-class, warm, caring and attentive, and really make the stay enjoyable and relaxed.
We spent our first night in camp with a lovely couple who were ending a successful Buffalo hunt with Alan S. They mentioned to us that they had shot their Buffalo in a nice herd, and that there were at least 2 more shootable bulls in that herd. Also, that they had after shooting theirs, seen a very nice 41” dugga boy close by.
On the first day of our hunt we started the day with a reconnaissance drive through the area, as D.S.A is not Thierry’s hone ground, and had a great walk through the hills, running into about ten elephant in the morning, including one young bulls. However we found no fresh sign of Buffalo, and the plains game was quite sparse. But after a quick lunch in the field and a quick nap in a dry riverbed in the shade, we were off for another walk across the bush to look for fresh sign of Buffalo or Elephant.
At the end of a long days walking, and ending less than a mile from camp, we had less than an hour of light left, but decided to take a short drive down another unknown road. For no particular reason, Thierry decided at one point to stop and wanted to glass on the right side of the road into a small gorge. Well, a short 50 yards in, we spotted Buffalo down at the bottom of the gorge less than 750 yards away! And we were off, running to get closer and look for a bull in the herd. As Thierry says “Diana kept smiling on us”, as the first buffalo we made out once in position, broadside at ~90 yards was a nice bull! A soft to the shoulder, and two follow-up solids, only went about 30 yards, and we had our Buffalo! A nice old boy, he was a great way to start our safari on day 1!
The following day, it was time to focus on Elephant, which I had not planned on hunting until only a few days prior, and not without a small amount of trepidation. Early morning, we first went to turn the buffalo carcass into a Hyena bait, as I have always wanted to hunt one.
While driving the roads looking for fresh elephant bull tracks that might have crossed during the night, we came across a nice Klipspringer; and after a short stalk and a quick shot, we have a very nice second animal for the safari, and some amazing tasting meat for dinner the following evening. Not much later, my wife made a stunning shot with her new Blaser on a massive old Baboon at >150 yards, stone dead.
The next day we were up way before dawn and sat at the Hyena bait, but with no success. We only saw a small civet. We spent all days walking through various parts of the blocks, hoping to cut fresh elephant sign, and did track one promising track for ~1.5hrs before the wind shifted and the elephant tracks showed them to have caught our winds and taken to the hills. Otherwise, we found loads of tracks, and sited elephants a few times, but only cows and calves. But, on the drive home, while crossing a dry stream bed, I spotted a civet looking up at us from his meal of a nice guinea fowl… amazing, in daylight!
The fourth day of our hunt, again we woke early, and sat on the Hyena bait but with no success. We were going to spend the rest of the day looking in the east, around Pedza camp. We went back to the block to look for the bulls from the previous day, but with no success. Until… at around 10:45am, we ran across a promising track on the road, which Nyati and Mudini believed they could track… we were off. As a hunter, this is one of the most amazing experiences of my life, to have watched these 2 guys tracking two elephant bulls > 6 miles, in thick jess, on dry ground with almost no real tracks. We lost the tracks a few times, but the duo always came through finding new tracks. At no less than 3 occasions cows / calve tracks mixed in with the bulls, or crossed them, but without fail Mudini and Nyati found our quarry and carried on. The hunt really goes to these 2 guys and Thierry!
We finally made massive leaps (2), as the bulls sat under some trees to enjoy the shade, allowing us to make up considerable ground on them. In the end, we caught up to the when they had slowed to feed in the shade. From then on things went very fast: we came into a patch of jess that was not as thick, and Thierry heard the distinctive “plops” of the elephants, giving them away their location. But, we could hear them moving, so we sprinted to get into the right wind and hopefully get a look at these two bulls. Thierry and I both spotted the first one as he was moving, not running – but quickly, through some tress, and he had nice long curved ivories – a shooter bull! Thierry told me to give him one on the shoulder, and I fired my first shot at the elephant at about 35 yards. As he moved through some more trees, we were able to follow-up with more shots to anchor him, a few, and finally get into position to deliver a finishing shot maybe 75 yards from where I initially shot.
It’s very hard to express how I felt at this moment; I had shot an elephant, for many hunters the Everest of a lifetime of hunting. But, I had not been planning and thinking about it for months or years, not even a week; but, it will forever remain an extremely powerful emotional rush. Thierry, Mudini, and Nyati, along with my lovely wife of course, were instrumental in making this happen, and that’s very special to me.
Now, no elephant hunt would be complete without Ernest “Elephante” (as he’s known at home), and he was definitely there to share in the emotion, work, and fun during our hunt.
Of course, hunting elephant only really begins once the massive animal is down, as then starts the recovery, which in our case took the better part of the following day. However, it’s a ton of fun, and work. But, everyone had a special treat for me, as they cooked elephant cheek kebabs, which are awesome!!!
We decided to abandon our old buffalo hyena bait and use the elephant carcass to create a new one, so after all the meat and parts had been recovered, a new blind was built for us to sit the following day for hyena. We would move camps that night, to Pedza, to be closer to the bait. Pedza is much like Moruru and is the main camp for CMS in the DSA. Again the camp staff were wonderful and made our stay comfortable and fun.
The next morning, we were up early and at the bait for hyena, but it was not to be. In fact, Thierry and I were surprised to only find one set of hyena tracks at the site. We later decided to move the carcass a few miles (yes, miles…) to a dry river bed, where there were many hyena tracks.
We were hoping to find bushbuck in that same dry river bed, and would walk it once a day for the rest of the time. We did see 2 in fact, although I never saw the first one, but were unable to ever get a shot at one… for the next trip I hope. However, my wife did manage a very nice shot on a superb impala ram, of which she’s very proud.
The second morning sit on the new bait site was to be the right one, and I made a solid shot on a very old hyena bull (we think).
With the hyena in the bag, we had only the bushbuck left to find, and continued to do the dry river bed walk periodically, but also went looking for tracks of other animals on the roads. We a huge eland bull track one morning and again had the pleasure of watching Mudini and Nyati do a great track over ~1.5-2kms for a few hours, but had to abandon the tracking as the eland moved into Mozambique We never did sight them, but the track according to Thierry was massive!
On the final evening before our departure, while driving along the far boundaries we spotted a very fresh set of Sable tracks along the road, and for no reason other than the enjoyment of the whole group, decided to follow them… the game was on. We were going to try and walk them down, before the sun set, which would only give us about 2 hours at the most. The team really set a fast pace, and as we were tracking over fairly open spaces, with nice dirt, the duo of trackers was going as fast as we could really walk behind them, an amazing site to watch. After about 45mins, the herd was spotted on the far side of the rolling hills, and the sticks went up, but unfortunately no shot was available. So, after the herd slowly moved over the crest of the hills the entire team went for a “silent run” across on dip and up the next rise. We found the herd in the next bottom, about 100 yards away – a herd of between 12 and 15 animals, with only one mature bull. The sticks went up, and the bull who had been walking away from us with his head down, for some reason turned broadside and lifted his majestic head, presenting the magnificent profile of the sable in the setting golden sun – will stay forever etched in my memory – a perfect opportunity. He was walking and up a slight rise, so I applied a lit lead in most axes and squeezed the shot – it looked good to me. At the shot, the entire herd ran, and we all lost sight of them in the small trees. The team was convinced they went up the rise on the right so we went looking there for tracks and blood spore – we found the tracks, but found no blood. This was disheartening, and both Thierry and I were silently worried about leaving the recovery til the next day, as the hyenas would surely find it before we did, not something we wanted to contemplate. But, as the light was fading, we decided to circle back, and in doing so, stumbled on the big bull laying only 80-90 yards from where I shot, stone dead.
After the requisite picture session, we took the bull back to Good-Fun (the skinner) at Moruru, and got to show the Sable to Buzz who ever the gentlemen offered a nice whiskey to celebrate an amazing hunt.
We’re now off to Sango for the few days we have left in Zimbabwe to relax and enjoy the hospitality of Nevin and Lindsey and the team. It’s been a roller-coaster of a ride, with highs and lows along the way, but in the end everyone involved worked super hard to ensure we had the fantastic safari we did! Buffalo, Elephant and Sable in an eight-day safari is amazing in any book, and as the “new plan” made in quickly on arrival, it’s amazing. Alistair, Thierry and Zambezi Hunters really made this a fabulous trip. We both look forward to the couple of trips we discussed, as I have been informed that the above was only Part 1 of the honeymoon and I need to make good on Part 2 (its tough being me, I know
); now I only need to listen to her talking about her leopard for the next 2 years…