BUFFALO HUNTING … more than half of my life

BUFFALO HUNTING … more than half of my life

by Jofie Lamprecht

Edited for print

Namibia and Zimbabwe: 1991

“You may kill the buffalo easily with one bullet,

but if you don’t, the next fourteen .470s serve mostly

as a minor irritant.”

Robert Roark: “Use Enough Gun”

 

Many months before my 12th birthday my father asked if I wanted to hunt a Cape buffalo. Can you imagine my response? I was jumping up and down inside, but then knowing him, I asked – “Really?” With my father, a challenge was always ahead of a reward, and this was a fantastic motivator to a young man like me. He simply said, “The condition for the buffalo hunt is that you must be able to handle a big-caliber rifle in a dangerous situation. You never know,” he continued in Afrikaans, which is what we only spoke together, “what could go wrong, and you need to be able to handle a big caliber with confidence.”

 

The challenge – when I was ready: I had to shoot five rounds with my father’s rare Mannlicher-Schönauer .458 Winchester Magnum off shooting-sticks at a 100 yards.

 

That next weekend found me dragging my father to the range, my small sweaty hands clutching five massive .458 rounds. At stake was a buffalo hunt, my reward for handling the punishment of the big rifle. My father had an almost complete collection of Mannlicher-Schönauer rifles. These precision Austrian rifles are some of the finest, smoothest bolt actions that you could ever lay hands on, and they are deadly accurate.

 

Nothing could stop me now. We put up a target and, taking the .458 Mannlicher-Schönauer, I proceeded to load all five rounds in the unique revolving (spool) magazine. Ready. Load. Fire! I was expecting recoil, but I was not expecting that level of a pounding! The big rifle pushed me backwards and I had to catch myself from falling flat on my back. What a rush! Again, I shouldered the Mannlicher, worked the bolt and found the target over the sights. Four rounds later I put the rifle down, having successfully put all five slugs somewhere on the target. In the glorious morning light, the sun no less vivid, nor the colors less vibrant, it was almost an anti-climax – the heart had gone out of this 11-year-old contestant. All the rounds had been fired and my father was convinced I was capable.  He scheduled our Cape buffalo safari for the following year.

Traveling with firearms even in 1991 was a challenge. We were planning to drive north to the town of Grootfontein (Big-fountain) and then veer northeast, crossing through all the diverse habitats that Namibia has to offer until reaching the Caprivi Strip (now renamed the Zambezi Region), Namibia’s famed wildlife-rich and only sub-tropical region.

 

A short history of the ‘Caprivi Strip’

 

The Caprivi is a narrow strip of land in the far northeast of Namibia, about 448 km long. Germany exchanged this area with the United Kingdom for Zanzibar in 1890. It was named after the German chancellor Leo von Caprivi, who negotiated the acquisition of the land. Von Caprivi arranged for Caprivi to be annexed to German South-West Africa in order to give Germany access to the Zambezi River and a route to Africa’s east coast. This would give the Germans access to their colony Tanganyika (modern day Tanzania) and the Indian Ocean on the east coast of Africa.  

What the Germans neglected to account for was the fact that mighty Victoria Falls stood between Namibia and the Indian Ocean. Victoria Falls proved a considerable barrier to navigate on the way to the coast.

 

During WW1 the Caprivi Strip again came under British rule and was governed as part of Bechuanaland (modern day Botswana). In 1990, with the independence of Namibia, the Caprivi became part of the Republic of Namibia.

The challenge was to get our rifles through 64 km of Botswana by road before entering Zimbabwe, our final destination. Namibia and Zimbabwe have the shortest international border in the world – only 100 meters (300 feet) of swamp with no bridge. Traveling in Africa is challenging and frustrating at times, and we could not obtain permits for this 64 km of then gravel road through that country. Our rifles had to stay behind.

 

We spent a night at the elegant Elephant Hills Hotel, in the historic town of Victoria Falls.  Listening to roar of the Falls that the locals call ‘the smoke that thunders’, we ate delicious beefsteaks and had a good night’s rest before our adventure continued.

We drove into a hunting site on the shores of Lake Kariba, and stayed in a comfortable chalet-style camp. My memories are of beautiful purple bougainvilleas and a huge green floodplain with the very low lake several hundred yards from camp. It was October and it was hot – extremely hot – and humid. So hot, in fact, that we got up several times during the night to take a cold shower, and then went back to bed soaking wet to try and cool ourselves.

 

It was time for the main event. The contestant’s heart had returned. We had to use rented rifles supplied by the hunting camp.

 

Although the rifles were of the same vintage as my father’s Mannlicher-Schönauer collection, these rifles had seen too many safaris and had doubled as hammers, doorstops and shovels… Held together with fencing wire, they left a lot to be desired. At the range, we fired at a tragically pockmarked baobab tree and had to take a hammer to the open sights to get them to match the line of fire.

Our family is of the opinion that Zimbabwean PHs have the most stringent qualification exam in Africa. Not only is their theory intensive and all-encompassing, but the practical test that they must endure far surpasses any other professional hunting standards in Africa. However, our PH left it questionable as to whether he had attended this rigorous process. He was terrified of elephant and made several bad decisions, frustrating my father no end. Two PHs on the same hunt is, as a rule, not a good idea!

 

The mopane bees were already thick when we took up the tracks of a bachelor herd of buffalo bulls. After a hellishly long and wearisome time on the track we found a bachelor herd of Dagga Boys in the bottom of a ravine. The Zimbabwean PH would not let me shoot, as the border of the hunting area was right across the dwindling steam and the sun was threatening to slip behind the horizon. I was frustrated at the chance of losing ‘my’ bull.

 

My father started arguing with the PH, and all 12 years of my worldly experience stepped forward and I simply said, “I will kill the bull where he stands.” And kill him I did. The shooting sticks went up, the wire-wrapped, battered old .375 H&H ready to go. With the open sights I drew the bead on the bull’s shoulder and started to squeeze. Having grown up with the European style of ‘double set triggers’ similar to the aforementioned M-S, where the back trigger finely sets the front trigger and you barely have to touch it for the shot to go off, this squeezing thing was a whole new concept for me.

My father stood huffing and puffing behind me, video camera in hand, whispering in my ear, “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!”

“I am shooting!” was my response. Finally, the shot broke the silence in the otherwise tranquil ravine. The bull fell forward, even closer to the trickle of water forming the boundary of the hunting area.

“Shoot again,” was the command, as I jacked in another solid and shot again at the shoulder of the downed buffalo. A quick 30-yard movement to our right put us above and behind the now barely moving bull. After a quick shot to the spine, we cautiously approached my prize, and with disbelief the PH shook my hand. The two shoulder shots you could stick your index and middle fingers into with ease, and the spine shot had gone exactly where it was supposed to. We had no still camera, so after a brief inspection, the skinning knives came out and we caped the animal where he lay. A long branch was cut, and with trouser belts we secured the skull to the branch, still attached to the cape, and we took turns carrying the load for the long trek back to the truck. With no flashlight (a tool permanently on my hunting belt now) and roaring lions in the vicinity, it was close to midnight when the triumphant hunting party rolled into camp. Sleep was not a problem that night.

What a wonderful memory.

 

In closing – two sad notes. The shoulder mount of this buffalo and the video of the hunt were burnt in our Rooikraal Main Lodge fire in 2000. Destiny was at work, and that dreadful fire was the main catalyst that brought me home after completing hotel school, to the hunting life that I love so much. Thus, starting my PH career, my destiny was planned out for me. The only memory I have left of the hunt is a photo of me in the skinning shed at midnight, grinning from ear to ear in front of a blood-covered buffalo head and cape

On the 1st of September 2015 my father, Joof Lamprecht, moved to the new hunting fields of the ever after. I miss him. We will hunt again.

But not yet. Not yet.

 

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE MANNLICHER-SCHÖNAUER  

Walter “Karamojo” Bell and Ernest Hemingway (Papa), both held the Mannlicher-Schönauer in high regard. Bell used the original 6.5mm Mannlicher (.256 Mannlicher) effectively on even elephant, and ‘Papa’ praised it as a lion gun. The Mannlicher-Schönauer (sometimes anglicized as “Mannlicher Schoenauer”) is a bolt action rifle produced by Steyr-Mannlicher with Monte Carlo-style stock, double set triggers (this option was popular in Europe), flat “butter knife” bolt handle, with cartridges being fed from a Schoenauer spool magazine, hence the name Mannlicher-Schönauer. All screws were indexed throughout the entire production life of M-S rifles and carbines.

 

The rifle continued to be manufactured in various forms (full, half-stock and take-down models) until 1972, and although production was interrupted during the Second World War, it eventually began again in 1950. The most significant modification to be made to the rifle during this period of manufacture was the 1925 introduction of a magnum-length version in .264 and .458 Winchester Magnum for the U.S. market. Although no longer in production, the rifle remains popular due to its aesthetic qualities, compactness, smooth action and precision and quality manufacturing.

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Photography by: Jofie Lamprecht