After my great hunt with Karoo Wild Safaris in South Africa (see my separate thread), my wife and I flew to Livingston, Zambia, and hunted with Balla Balla Safaris from June 13-21. It was a great hunt too! I took a buffalo, sable, puku, common duiker, and impala.
I kept a journal of both hunts, and have already posted the hunting stories with Karoo Wild. Here I'll post the buffalo and sable stories I have from hunting with Balla Balla Safaris.
6-15-16 – We got up at 5:30 am to begin the buffalo hunt. Charles, the cook, woke us by saying, “Morning, morning.” He said that every morning to awaken us, and in a day or so we adopted that expression too, saying, “morning, morning” when we first saw each other. My wife and I said it to each other before we got out of bed. Even Shawn Bird (PH) and Etienne (Assistant PH) started doing it; or maybe they’d been doing it all along and it just took a while for me to notice it.
After a quick snack of toast and coffee, we loaded onto the bakkie, a converted Toyota Landcruiser with just driver and front passenger seats inside the cab, a truck bed in the rear, and an open bench seat just behind the cab. Dene Bird (Zambian PH, required for dangerous game) was driving, my wife in the passenger seat, Shawn, Etienne, and I in the top seat, and the tracker Abraham standing in the back end. It was cold. I hunched my shoulders and stuffed my hands into my jacket pockets as we drove. We drove around from waterhole to waterhole looking for fresh tracks or dung. Each time we stopped I was grateful for the respite from the wind of the bakkie’s movement, and I hoped we could get down and walk soon. I was cold in my thin pile jacket, but I was determined not to show it in front of a bunch of Africans who had probably never seen natural ice in their lifetimes.
Abraham and Dene checked every waterhole we passed, but found nothing made more recently than the previous night. “They’ve probably gone miles since then,” Dene said to me, as he climbed back into the bakkie.
Around nine o’clock Abraham found fresh spoor made that morning. We all got out and began following the tracks and piles of fresh wet dung, Abraham leading the way. Dene was carrying a .458 Winchester Magnum, and Etienne a .470, both of them as back up for me on the buffalo. It seemed a bit unfair to the buffalo, but my wife was along, and I didn’t mind the additional arms. Shawn was armed with a video-camera.
We traveled through mixed miombo woodlands, large trees separated as if in a park, with scattered stands of acacia and other thornbush, with dead, dried grass in the low spots where we mostly walked. I stumbled repeatedly as we went. The dried mud in the low ground was uneven and rough with the footprints of buffalo that were left in the rainy season and since baked as hard as concrete in the African sun. The buffalo had left their tracks on every piece of ground except where there was dense bush and under the trees.
“In the rainy season, this ground was underwater,” Dene said.
We followed the buffalo this way and that, walking a couple of miles over the hard ankle-twisting ground. The sun was climbing up the sky and beating me on the head and neck. My feet and ankles were killing me by the time we came up on the buffalo at about 11:30. Abraham and Dene crouched and crept forward, the latter motioning for me to follow. At first, I couldn’t see a damn thing. Eventually I caught sight of the herd, their black forms as still as shadows and legs like the trunks of small trees. The wind was swirling around, and I felt its cooling touch on the back of my neck. The wind moved back to quartering away, but it was too late. The buffalo spooked, their hooves thundering away on the hard ground, raising a cloud of dust.
We circled to get downwind and come at the buffalo from their flank, but the wind swirled and gave us away. The buffalo thundered off again. This happened twice more, locating the buffalo, coming in from the flank, and the wind or some false movement betraying us each time. In the end Dene and the tracker somehow knew the herd was in a thicket beyond a clearing.
“Over there.” Dene pointed to the thicket, where I saw nothing but shadows. Then an oxpecker bird fluttered up from one of the shadows and betrayed the buffalo to me. Another movement, the flicking of a long black tail, and other tails, and the trunk-like legs; and my eyes followed them up to the dark shapes I knew must be the bodies of buffalo. I could see them now, standing out from the shadows.
Dene motioned the rest of the group to stay behind a large termite mound, and he and I moved forward, crouching low. I couldn’t imagine how I would ever get a shot at one of these animals, in the thicket as they were, to get a shot clear of the others, so you didn’t have to worry about wounding a second buffalo. Before I could see any of them clearly, the nearest buffalo began peeling off, and then the whole herd was thundering away. I looked at Dene and he shrugged, checked his watch. I figured he was about to call it quits for the morning.
Just then a bull separated itself from the group and trotted into the clearing, fifty yards away. “Get ready,” Dene said, and set up the sticks.
Alaska’s Inupiat Eskimos are said to believe that you don’t really hunt an animal down, don’t conquer it in the Western tradition. You don’t take it to hang on your wall. Instead, if you are worthy, the animal gives itself to you. This buffalo was giving itself to me.
I still didn’t trust the sticks, and found a tree clear of underbrush and braced my rifle against it. My rest felt rock-solid and I tracked the bull at 2x in my scope, holding on his shoulder, where you want to shoot a buffalo to break him down.
“Wait ‘till he stops,” Dene whispered. But the buffalo didn’t stop, looked ready to break into a run and turn back to the main herd at any moment. I wanted to shoot.
“Shoot him, if you ca—“
Dene’s final words were drowned by the boom of my .416 Remington Magnum. The bull flinched, its leg stuck out at an odd angle, and the animal began to run. I worked the bolt and fired again at the same place. The buffalo dropped to his knees. Side-by-side, Dene and I approached the bull from an angle. The buffalo turned its front-end around, saw us, and struggled to get his feet under him to come at us. You could see the intended charge in the bull’s eyes; he had the will, but not the strength left.
“Be careful of his horns,” Dene said.
The buffalo was turned back, glaring fixedly at us, and you could see him dreaming of sticking the horn in and tossing us, each of us, then goring and stomping us into the ground.
“Reload,” Dene reminded me. “Shoot him again, right up the arse.”
I fumbled two rounds into the rifle and worked the bolt. I was shooting off-hand now, none too steadily, and my shot missed the tail-pipe and went into one enormous hindquarter. The buffalo rolled on to its side, but still struggled to rise. We were facing the bull’s belly now, less than ten yards away, and Dene told me to shoot it right between the front legs. Boom!
“Again,” Dene said. I reloaded again. Boom!
“Damn,” I said. “These animals can really soak up the lead.”
But with my last shot the buffalo’s head dropped and he let out his death bellow. The rest of our hunting group collected behind us, and we all inspected the kill. My buffalo was an old warrior. On his right hindquarter and flank were three long thin scars, which Dene said had come from fighting lions years before.
“Your first shot was perfect, it broke his front shoulder, perfect. And the second too, I think,” Dene said.
“Wow, he’s big. Bigger than any moose.” A moose had longer legs, but everything else about the buffalo, from his ears to his huge barrel-shaped body, and on down to his hooves, was larger.
“A real dagga boy,” Dene said. “He was hanging around the edge of the herd.”
“What made him walk in front of my rifle like that?”
Dene shrugged. “Maybe he got curious to see what we were. And to take care of us, whatever we were.”
“It’s almost like he just gave himself to me,” I said.
We couldn’t set up for photos because there weren’t enough of us to roll the bull over onto his belly. Dene decided to go for the bakkie. He took a look at Abraham, and the tracker pointed with his straight arm in one direction, and the two of them were off. Before the tracker had pointed I didn’t have a clue which way was back to the truck.
The sun was getting to me, and I felt empty and tired, so I found a tree in the shade and just sat there while we waited. I knew it would be a while. They would have to walk for more than a mile, by the straight line, then find their way by truck to the kill site through thick trees and rough terrain.
Imagine my surprise when Dene and Abraham appeared less than an hour later, not only by themselves, with the vehicle, but also with a truckload of game scouts and camp assistants standing in the back end of the bakkie. Together they rolled over the buffalo so we could take pictures, then all nine of them, plus Etienne, tried to lift the bull into the bakkie. Their problem was that most of them couldn’t get enough grip to lift. One of them used a machete to cut down a small tree and he whittled it into a three-inch-diameter pole. They levered the pole under the buffalo’s hindquarters and, with much effort, and counts of 1-2-3, they managed to lift that end of the buffalo into the bakkie. From there it was a matter of pulling and lifting the massive forequarters into the bed. I couldn’t believe it would fit, but it did. The springs sagged, but the Landcruiser held not only the buffalo, but also the original hunting party, with the rest of the men being left to walk back to camp.
We ate buffalo tenderloins for dinner, and afterward, while I was smoking a Cuban Partagas cigar and having a quiet talk with my wife and studying on what was so special about the Southern Cross, we heard some distant singing. Soon we saw the headlights of the bakkie approaching and the singing grew louder. Women’s voices mostly, and drumbeats. Singing in an unfamiliar tongue. The inhabitants of the fishing village, members of the Siyakabiya tribe, had come to celebrate the killing of the buffalo, the women in their colorful dresses and wraps, one with a baby on her back. While the men beat on drums or danced in place, the women and children sang and danced in a circle behind a fire built up by the slough. The million frog chorus from the slough played in the background. The first song had a repeating verse, “(Something) (something) poro-poro.” Dene said that poro-poro meant bullet, and they were singing “the bullet has won.”
Afterwards the villagers lined up for the candy we handed out. Shawn said they got sugar so seldom it was a real treat for them. We announced the candy was for the kids, but the adults lined up too, and we had enough to give to everyone, so we did, placing a piece of the wrapped candy into each pair of cupped hands of the celebrants. We had enough candy in the bag left for a second round, so handed them out until it was gone.
My wife was moved by the display of happiness and celebration, as was I. These were people who barely had a pot to piss into, yet they were full of happiness and good will. Their example reflected poorly on all the disgruntled, disaffected people back in the US, of whatever race, who on average probably threw away enough food to feed a family of these Siyakabiya for a day. I told Shawn I hoped they would get a share of buffalo meat, and he assured me they would.
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