29 August 2011, 06:08Sevens
Nyati with Mashambanzou Safaris
Safari company: Mashambanzou Safaris – Grant Taylor
Booking agent: Greg Brownlee – Jeff C. Neal Inc.
Area: Muanza, Sofola Province, Mozambique
Date: August 15-21, 2011
Animals seen: Baboons, Common Duiker, Reedbuck, Warthog, Hartebeest, Eland, Oribi, Cape Buffalo, Impala, Bushbuck, Bushpig
Animals hunted: Cape Buffalo, Duiker, Reedbuck
Rifle: CZ-550 375 H&H, upgrades by Wayne at AHR and a custom stock built by me
Ammo: Federal Premium 300 gr. TSX and Hornady 300 gr. DGS
Like many others on here, going on a hunt in Africa has been a dream of mine for a long time (and I have wanted to go on a photo safari since I was 8 years old), but it was always put off as something I would do when I was older and had more money. That changed though when my grandfather was put on hospice last year and a surge of emotions I hadn’t experience since my father died when I was eight came rushing back. Death can be one heck of a motivator, so when a good family friend asked me “If I died tomorrow, what would I wish I had done today,” “shoot a cape buffalo” came spewing out of my mouth. About a week later, I sent out some inquiries to various outfits and elected, after calling many references, to go with Mashambanzou Safaris via Greg Brownlee of Jeff C. Neal, Inc. My buffalo hunt was booked for August and now the 8 month waiting game began.
Grandpa passed in February and went to join his 3 sons in eternal life and about a month after that a drunk driver ran over a cousin of mine and left him to die in an ally. My family stopped giving me flack about my buffalo hunt after that. Aside from those two events, life just strolled along and I kept myself busy with work. Greg handled all the nitty-gritty for the safari, which was great because I would have had no idea what papers and permits I would need to get.
My safari continued to grow closer and everything was going smooth right up until the morning I was supposed to leave. I had checked my flight the night before and everything was in order, but when I checked again at 5am the day of, my flight into South Africa was now 10 hours behind schedule. A frantic call to my travel agent, Barb Wolbrink, informed me that a plane leaving from Dulles the night before had experienced fueling issues and that that plane was probably the one I was eventually supposed to get on. I had a connecting flight to Beira, so the 10 hour delay would not work. Barb said that if that was indeed the plane and since my ticket was all booked under one code, the airline is required to get me onto all my connecting flights. She said she would handle it and a couple hours later I learned I was going to Germany for the first time too thanks to SAA and at no cost to me. Thank god for Barb!
With my fresh and clean passport in hand I set off for Germany, then down to South Africa, and finally on to my final destination of Beira, Mozambique. After two days in an airport/airplane, a few different countries, and total time-zone confusion, I arrived at the little 3rd world airport in Beira. Grant, my PH, met me at baggage claim and helped me get my visa and hunting license and off we went on the 3 hour drive from Beira to Muanza Camp. Having never been to a 3rd world country before, it was quite the culture shock to see the run down, sheet metal roofed huts people call homes, to hear of the corruption at places like the gas station and grocery store, and to see how the further from the city you went, the poorer and more simplistic people seemed to live.
We arrived in camp just a tad before the sun went down and Grant quickly had me check to make sure my rifle was on point. One shot with my soft and one with my solid landed right below the bulls-eye and could have been covered with a quarter – all set! A quick dinner of chicken, potatoes, butternut squash soup, and pudding then it was off to bed. A frog had decided to join me in my hut, so I put him outside, took the first shower I had had since leaving home, and went to sleep.
I awoke a 4:30am, had a quick bite of eggs and toast then loaded up onto the land cruiser for hour 1.5 hour drive to the “low end.” The hunting area around main camp has a healthy supply of plains game, including lots of sable, but the buffalo prefer to live in the tall grass and thorny bush found in the low end on the other side of the concession. On our way to the low end we passed several small mud huts and their respective owners sitting with their children and dogs to keep warm by the fire. I was thoroughly taken aback by how happy the children seemed despite the fact most of them wore just a single tattered garment (while I was freezing my butt off wearing pants, a sweatshirt, and a coat on top of that)!
We arrived in the low end and proceeded to drive along until we found a fresh set of tracks. The way the trackers can distinguish how old a track is based upon the imprint and the surrounding grass truly amazed me. When we found a track deemed to be from late last night/ early this morning we set out on pursuit. For a couple hours we followed the tracks (I got entangled all the while in about ever thorny bush and vine possible) until alas we spooked the herd in some thick brush. It was a great experience to at least hear some buffalo trudging around (although I didn’t like as the sound of them crashing through brush grew louder as they ran passed our location). Our luck with the buffalo remained much the same that day, so we headed back to camp yielding day one as a victory for the buffalo.
We had a lovely dinner of prawns, bacon and cheese stuffed pastries, and an apple crisp. Our plan for the next day was to head back to the low end and try again while Kevin, the apprentice hunter in camp, would setup a fly camp so we could avoid the long drive every morning and evening.
Day two went much the same as day one except today we actually saw some buffalo. The thick brush can make chasing buffalo very problematic so Grant likes to employ a technique whereby once a piece of brush where the buffalo have holed up is located, he and I would climb on top of an anthill down wind. The trackers would then circle around to the other side of the thicket and beat the brush to try and scare the buffalo our direction, much like an enlarged version of pheasant hunting. We managed to see 4 cows and 4 calves this way, but alas the bull we had been chasing had split from the herd and gone some other direction. We continued on our expedition of tracking and chasing buffalo for the rest of the day without much luck. Defeated, we headed back to the fly camp Kevin had erected for us and, to add insult to injury, it began to rain. We had a lovely dinner of lasagna and fresh baked garlic bread made in the bush, which I elected to finish off in my tent to avoid the downpour. I got a nice chuckle watching Grant and Kevin standing outside eating their dinner sopping wet. A quick bath in a bucket of warm water refreshed me and it was off to bed.
Day three began with the usual driving around the low end in search of fresh tracks. Much to our displeasure, we spent the whole morning looking for tracks only to find fresh tracks about 200 yards from fly camp. If only we had turned right instead of left that morning. Since we were so close to camp, we decided to recharge our batteries with a hot lunch and start refreshed for the afternoon.
We regrouped and headed to another section on the concession about an hours walk from where the “old man” lived. This old man, whom I do not know his name, was one of the few guys Grant trusted for information and had told us about a lone dugga boy on our first day hunting. This lone old bull had been living in close proximity to another villager for about 5 years and, I guess, had finally become a nuisance to the local who lived around the bulls stomping grounds. Since the bull was rumored to stay in a rather small area, we decided to give it a shot. An hour later had us chasing this old bull employing our anthill/beater technique. The bull had some massive hoof prints, one of which showed he had an injury that caused one of his hooves to not hit right. We also learned that since this bull had lived near people so long, Grant’s usual techniques did not work. This bull was familiar with humans and had very little fear of us. We also learned he really did like to stay in a small localized area and that he would rather charge past the trackers in retreat to a familiar area of brush then run away from the oncoming beaters. Day three ended with the buffalo being victorious again. At least it didn’t rain on us that evening in fly camp. Our plan for tomorrow was to go back, now educated, and shoot that old lone bull.
We began day four with the hour long walk to the old bulls home area. I managed to slip off a log we used to cross a creek and soak one of my shoes. When we got to the old bulls home range, the trackers (who had been joined by a couple villagers eager to help us) split into two groups to try and locate where this bull now was. Meanwhile, I sat down and took my shoe off to try and dry one of my socks and fell into a sort of half asleep state. The trackers were back after about 30-45 minutes and we set off in the direction they had seen the tracks heading. What ensued was another long day of education by this lone bull, who, despite having a bum leg, managed to always stay just slightly ahead of us, running right when we expected him to go left. As the sun set I figured we must have been miles from where we started, but the lead tracker, Albano, informed me (via translation through Grant since my Shona is non existent) that we were actually back in the same field we started the day in. It was a long walk back to the cruiser but I was at least pleased to know we were going back to main camp tonight were I could have a real shower and no more elephant jaw bone toilets!
Day five brought a nice change of pace. Grant decided we would try our luck around main camp. There are a few large herds of buffalo that lived around main camp, none of which had been hunted this year. There was also plenty of plainsgame, so we might have an opportunity to break our bad juju. The day started with us seeing a large group of sable, then a consistent parade of oribi, duikers, eland, hartebeest and baboons. At this point, I think Grant could probably sense that all these failed buffalo stalks were beginning to take a toll on me emotionally. Somewhere around 9:00 am we came around a bend and up onto a lone duiker male. He was feeding about 150 yards off and unaware of our presence. Grant grabbed the shooting sticks and instructed me to follow him. We stalked up to about 70 yards away and Grant told me to shoot him so we could break our bad juju. A solid through the shoulder and a common duiker laid claim to my first Africa animal and my first blood with my 375 H&H. He was a nice old male, horns about 3.5” long and well worn. A quick round of photos, some palm tree leaves to shelter the duiker from the sun in the cruiser, and off we went towards camp.
I was in much better spirits at this point and I was joking with Grant if anyone ever had shot an animal only to shoot one right after. About 5 minutes after I uttered this sentence, we turn another corner and the trackers pointed out some animals in a brush. Grant says “reedbuck” and points them out to me, a pair sitting off in the shade of a tree. Reedbuck had been on my secondary list, so I didn’t immediately jump to action. Grant however said to me, all the while looking back and forth at my rifle, “Alan, if ever you wanted to shoot a reedbuck, this would be it.” I’m no fool to know what a PH looking at your rifle means, so with the hood of the truck as a rest, I shot my second animal in Africa. For those curious, his longest horn is 12.75 inches, not that it made a difference to me. Another round of photos, some more palm tree leaves and the second animal of my trip was loaded into the back of the car. Two things I clearly remember about reedbuck, they leave a very nasty oil on your hands and they have one of the wettest noses I have ever seen. I later asked Grant if he would have shot it if I didn’t, he said he would have.
We pulled into camp, watched the animals skinned out then headed for a bite to eat. I was pleased to know that tonight I would actually get to eat game meat from an animal I had killed.
The afternoon was spent chasing buffalo, but no luck in getting up on a herd. Buffalo began to remind me of a ghost, no matter how well we tracked and stalked them, they were always 50 yards ahead of us. We could see tracks, trampled grass and steaming piles of dung, but, alas, the buffalo were invisible. Oh well, duiker appetizers and reedbuck steaks made for an enjoyable dinner, but we were all off early to bed. Grant felt that the low end still was our best odds at getting a buffalo.
Day six started at 4:00 am with us barreling down the rickety road to the low end. I tried to sleep, but an African dirt road isn’t quite conducive for catching some shut eye. At this point in the hunt, anyone who had half an idea about how to find and track buffalo was now out helping us. Grant had brought every tracker he had and had split them up into three groups. One group chased the old lone bull, another group was left in an unburned area a decent sized herd was known to live, and the remainder of the group came with us. We managed to glimpse 2 cows and a calf during the day, but after one final blown stalk, we called it a day and headed home.
I was pretty much emotionally drained at this point, especially considering our luck all the days prior. While I took a quick shower to wash the dirt off, Grant talked with the other PH and learners PH in camp, Henry and Frik Prinsloo, and decided we might as well take the cruiser and go for a quick drive around camp before we call it a day. I don’t think anyone really expected anything to happen at this point. I was already in my pajamas and had taken my contacts out, Grant left his rifle in camp, we took two less experienced trackers, and Frik said he would drive (I joked with him that hopefully he was a good luck charm). Well, good things happen when you least expect it because not 15 minutes outside of camp we turn a corner and there is a herd of 30 cape buffalo staring right at us. I threw a round in the chamber while Grant hastily instructs me to shoot the big bull in the middle. To my eyes, the herd stretched from one side of the road to the other, so the middle was a little vague. The buffalo had now begun to trot off, so I rapidly scanned the buffalo directly in front of me, found the one that had bosses and shot it. I lost the buffalo in the recoil and, since it was getting dark, I figured we would follow up the next morning (this is also why Grant hadn’t bothered to bring his rifle). What a surprise it was to me when Grant tells me to shoot it again and I realize the buffalo had dropped at the shot and was now laying on his side squirming in the ground. While he never got back up, I put 3 more shots in him before we got a death bellow. Upon hearing that, I was ready to run over, but Grant grabbed me and, sure enough, a few seconds later another death bellow was let out. (I could see how easily an overeager hunter could be killed by one of these.) Since everyone except me was unarmed, we opted to approach the buffalo in the land cruiser. I loaned Grant my rifle as he jumped off the truck, kicked the buffalo a couple times then poked its eye before pronouncing the buffalo dead. At that moment, all the miles walked, bug bites, scratches, and failed stalks from the prior days were forgotten. After 6 days of hard hunting, I had realized my dream to take a cape buffalo and scratched item number one off my bucket list. The sun was gone by the time I finished hooting and hollering, so we left the buffalo until morning to take some better photos in the sun.
I slept quite peacefully that night and enjoyed the much later wake-up call at 6:00 am. I found great irony getting dressed that day knowing I could wear my most dapper safari outfit. It was a wonderful sight driving down the windy road, turning a bend and seeing my buffalo all nicely posed for me from the night before. He had a lovely 38.5” spread with a very classic sweep to his horns and hard bosses. He was a beautiful bull and, I feel, well earned. This had been one of the most exhausting hunts I had ever been on, but seeing that bull there made the long trip all worth it.
(Domingo, Albano, me, Armando, Francisco, and Sabado)
The rest of the day was split between taking photos and butchering the bull as well as having a relaxing day touring the concession on a “photo safari.” It was a great end to my first safari and a lovely way to rest up before my long trek home.
I must also say thanks to Grant Taylor and his team for all the hard work the put into this hunt to make it memorable and successful. They really gave it 110% to find me a magnificent dugga boy!!! Also, Greg Brownlee was amazing at taking care of all the details of the hunt, everything was handled promptly and left me with little to stress over. Lastly, a big thanks to Barb for getting all my airlines fiascos sorted out, without her I very well may have never made it to my hunt.
*** I appologize for any misspellings or bad grammar ***