By PH Jofie Lamprecht
It sounds like a horse eating corn. We were not in horse country, nor was there any corn around. We found ourselves in buffalo country with many agitated clover tracks under our soles. And buffalo hunting we were. In the glorious anticipation of the adventure ahead and how it would all play out. If I chose any place in the world to be – it would be where I was at that moment.
It is difficult to explain the emotional state when buffalo hunting to someone that has not done so. There is a different level of psyche when you are pursuing that which can kill you back, or even worse leave wounds that will haunt and hurt you forever.
This day had commenced like many others, starting well before the sun had irradiated the country around us. Twenty minutes before sunrise we were already deep in the national park and on our first buffalo. For the photographic tourist, Waterberg National Park is not a park to visit if you want to see animals. Giraffe being the staple, with a scattering of other species – to drive around all day and not see action and wildlife is not acceptable in today’s Africa for pilgrims. Wall to wall game is expected at arm’s length while sipping a perfectly chilled cocktail. We do cocktails, chilled and all, but this usually has to wait until the work has been done and you get to the camp fire.
It is however paradise if you were after the before mentioned.
We were half way though our allocated days and had passed on many buffalo. Starting to look for good shade to put out the chairs for lunch we came across the track of a big buffalo bull a couple of miles from the closest water. His hooves leaving distinctive ‘drags’ in the red Kalahari sand of Waterberg. “Fresh”. The idea would be to track this bull and then break for lunch. Just that morning we had already found and passed on 12 bulls – waiting for Mr. Right to present himself at the end of the tracks.
We set off, with Gideon in the lead, myself, Michael and the game scout. The bush was not very high, but what it lacked in height, it made up for in density. Most places one could only see a few yards. It was going to be tight finding this bull before he sensed us. My experience hunting in this park has taught me that if you don’t find them feeding early morning or late afternoon your chances are very low of spotting or hearing them, assessing and deciding if this is the bull that you want. Most of the time the thunder of hooves is followed by a few choice words and the lowering of heads – with a long trudge back to the truck and road to look forward to.
The thick bush of Waterberg
As fast as we could walk through the sand, Gideon was leading us closer to what we sought to see. After about 20 minutes the track started to weave, and we slowed to “sneaking” speed. We had been sneaking for a few minutes when I saw a shadow grow behind the bush in front and to our left. Busted. I grabbed Gideon by the shoulder, and we all froze. 15, 20, 30 minutes passed? It was a long time that this standoff took place.
Using my 8-power Lecia binoculars I focused through the bush. This buffalo was close. 25 yards, but behind dense brush. After a few minutes I mouthed to Michael. “Shooter. If you can get a shot, take it.”
Our standoff ended with the buffalo sauntering off into the thick brush at a walk. The buffalo was unsure – we had deadly intent. On our next meeting this feeling would be mutual.
Michael and I left Gideon and the ranger behind to reduce noise as best we could and waded through the brush. It had been a long morning already, and I had to use all my concertation on the task ahead. We crept for an unknown amount of time and I quietly whistled for Gideon to join us.
We picked up the tracks again and walked slowly through the thick sand. The track went through a patch of short but dense stand of yellow-wood bushes, pink grey leaves hanging dry with a crunch of corn-flakes. Gideon emerged first on the other side, head down on the track. As I scraped through the brush, there were two horn tips above the green bush ahead of us. I instinctively pushed Gideon to the right, reached back and pulled Michael forward, while stepping out of the way to the left. The 13thbull was waiting for us. As he got up he came in one movement. Low and fast. Intention apparent. As I started falling backwards Michael’s .375 Rigby H&H went of beside me. Rifle off my shoulder, pulling the trigger for first right and then left barrel before I hit the deck. Gun was not on my shoulder, but in the direction of danger. A flash of blood is all I could see from what I think was my right barrel on the hump of our assailant who then turned to flee to our left. The .500 had turned him at 3 yards.
Wide eyed and reloading, I was dusted off and then we regrouped. The game ranger had evaporated. Our team of four now three, when three was all we needed.
In the shadow of a wide brimmed hat my eyes and mind were tired. It had been a long day. The adrenaline levels were running low and my eyes swam in and out of focus. This was not the way to go into a wounded buffalo situation. “Let’s get back to the truck and decide what we wanted to do” I told Michael.
And we trudged back to the road.
Well after the anticipated lunch hour we met the truck on a two track. I decided valor would be needed, and an additional big stick would not hurt would be the better decision. On satellite phone I reached Brian, a young upcoming PH in Namibia’s hunting industry. He was hunting close and could be at the park entrance inside an hour.
Our team enhanced, two hours had passed when we returned to the scene of the action. Blood, not much, and very watery at that was traced on the track. A slow labored walk. Moses, one of my Bushmen trackers, plucked a leaf off a bush on the track examining it for blood. “You have hurt this buffalo. And now he is angry. We need to be careful of this buffalo” – he then proceeded to drop the leaf and carry on unarmed on the track.
It took 30 minutes of slow work. I would lead the group into thick bush, and we made big swings around this thick bush before going through it, often leaving the track and picking it up again on the far side.
Movement caught my eye in one of these thickets. The lifting of a head, and I knew it was on. I fired right and left “in the black”, successfully convincing our quarry that retreat would be a better option. Brian to my right started sending hate, rapidly. And in a cloud of dust it was all over.
We approached our now felled attacker to admire his size and age. The perfect buffalo – and exactly what Michael was looking for.
If you follow Africa’s most dangerous – there will be close calls. In these close calls we rely almost entirely on our equipment, instinct and reaction. There is not much preparation you can do for these situations, other than continuous practice and having a good solid team around you.
We eventually also found the game ranger too…
Several days later we went with Michael to drop his prized trophy at a local taxidermist for dipping and packing. To our amazement, the member of staff that helped off load the buffalo was wearing a “Lucky 13” jacket…
It was certainly Lucky 13 for us.
Photography by: Jofie Lamprecht