Barefoot Buffalo Hunt
Thursday, 8th August 2019
We spotted them on the morning of the third day. The three dugga boys filed into the acacia lined riverbed to bed down for the remainder of the day. There was little point in following them. Such was their habits that they'd bed down until sundown when they'd emerge again to graze the grassland. After a late lunch we drove to a spot approximately 1000 yards "upriver" from them. We began our stalk from there. Mynaard, myself, Forest the hunter and Kosie, the tracker. Tom, Forest's daughter and Mitchell stayed at the truck. Not knowing exactly where they had bedded down we had to approach carefully. The acacia surrounding the riverbed was thick and visibility was limited to twenty yards. A little further down we elected to de-boot. Hearing is a buffalo's best defence and the fine riversand was making a squelching sound as our boots compressed it. From previous experience barefoot buffalo experiences I knew there was little point in keeping my socks on. Acacia thorns burst through them and they get filled with grass seed to the point that it's not worth the amount of time it takes to pick them out. I value a good pair of hunting socks. Bootless now, it was slow going but totally inaudible. The fine riversand massaged our hunt weary feet and it was surprisingly soothing. We were closer now. We thought perhaps three hundred yards but we didn't know for sure. Could be thirty yards. We left the comfort of the riverbed and climbed the left bank, treading much more carefully now as we moved along a path strewn with acacia thorns. Every 10 yards we stopped, Mynaard and I glassing the bush ahead and across the riverbed to the opposite side. There they were, the glint of a horn betraying the buffalo's position on the opposite side of the riverbed. We could make out the shape of only one bull lying in a thicket. The other must be close. We crouched down and leopard crawled to a position almost opposite them. I ranged it at 42 yards. It was only 3pm and we knew a long wait lay ahead.
We waited it out patiently. A family of monkeys noticed us and began chattering at us. I keenly observed the buffalo's reaction. He gazed in our direction for a few moments and then went back to his resting position, satisfied that the monkey calls were arbitrary. We had set Forest up in a sitting position. Using the sticks to rest the rifle, he had a small triangular opening in the bush ahead that looked directly at the buffalo. Suddenly another buffalo emerged behind our buffalo. He had an obvious skin condition which is normally an indicator of age. He never revealed his horns. He turned and disappeared into the thicket. Two hours later, a few moments before sundown, we knew the time for action was nearing. Sure enough our lead buffalo stood up. Soon another buffalo also emerged and they moved off into the thicket. We had to follow, but we had to do so carefully. We descended the first bank into the riverbed and stalked to the base of the opposite bank, peering upwards to see which direction they had gone. They had simply vanished. Our best option was to move "downriver" as we knew this led to a grassy plain which they were likely moving toward. Twenty yards later we spotted them. They were in the open on the edge of the riverbank. We were tucked tight against the same riverbank which curved towards them. No shot without totally exposing ourselves first. We waited. They surveyed the area. At this point I was sure they had seen or sensed that something was amiss. Slowly they walked behind an huge acacia on the edge of the riverbank. We were below them and needed to follow and get a shot as they emerged from out behind the acacia. We were directly behind the same acacia now. Peering through the tangled mass of branches and white thorns I could make out their shape on the opposite side. At fifteen yards they were well within the fight part of a buffalo's "fight or flight" zone and my heart was truly pumping now. Suddently the rear buffalo turned away from the group and came around the acacia to our right. I was the furthest on that side and I couldn't move abruptly left without knocking the others over. I crouched down, my finger slipped to the safety off my 416 and I aimed into space above me at a spot directly above the riverbank. I could only see the tops of his horns and felt truly exposed. Mynaard had Forest on the sticks quickly and the buffalo began emerging. Bang...the buffalo spun and bucked. The others burst round the front of the acacia and faced us briefly, snorting before thankfully running away. Our bull was wheezing heavily and crossed the riverbed twenty yards ahead. Bang! The second was good as well and then a third...bang. I was reloading Forest's 375 and as soon as I had one in, he chambered it and fired again. Another reload...bang and the bull went crashing down. It was all over. We were stunned at how fast it happened. Three hours of barefoot stalking culminating in 20 seconds of mayhem. So much could have gone wrong but we were so thankful it went right. Forest had the buffalo hunt of his wildest dreams. He unknowingly joins the Karoo Wild Barefoot Buffalo hunting club and the the clubs membership doubles to two barefoot buffalo hunters. So very happy for Forest and proud of our team for delivering the hunt of a lifetime.
Forest, his wife and daughter and family friend Tom had arrived from the US three days before for a three week vacation in South Africa. They had planned a ten day hunt with us for plains game and cape buffalo. Forest was an experienced bow hunter but hadn't hunted with a rifle for many years. This was to be Tom's first hunting trip. Both Forest and Tom hunted with my CZ 7x64 loaded with 162gr Hornady ELD-X. Forest used my larger caliber 375 Ruger loaded with 270gr GS Customs for his buffalo hunt. The first morning we stalked gemsbuck. The terrain was open, the cover sparse and it was difficult approaching to within 300 yards. We tried getting closer but were busted by an unseen bull, sending a large herd of gemsbuck filing up the mountain. Early that afternoon we used the now heavy wind to good use to get within one hundred yards of a majestic sable bull. This was Tom's first ever animal and I wanted to get his fledgling hunting career off to a confident start. What an animal it was, a 45 inch sable bull!
We returned to an evening meal of kudu sirloin, baby roasted potatoes, green beans and malva pudding for dessert. It was a warm evening and the beers washed down well. Tom had enjoyed his first hunting experience. I mostly hunt with relatively experienced to very experienced hunters and it was fantastic to see someone get truly excited and nervous again.
The next morning we left at first light determined to sneak up on some gemsbuck. We took it slowly once we spotted them, determined the direction they were grazing towards and then outflanked them to lie in wait. Forest's shot the lead bull with a heart shot. He had thick horns and was well past his prime. Tom's gemsbuck was a little trickier. We located another group and used the jacket plum trees to get closer but it was obvious we weren't going to get as close as we'd like without being spotted. A cow saw us and moved behind some trees. I set Tom up on the sticks and when she emerged she paused briefly giving us a small window to fire. The shot hit her solid in the neck, she stumbled 20 yards before crumbling in the dirt. Tom was overflowing with shooting confidence.
We were out looking for kudu that afternoon when the trackers spotted a nyala herd browsing above us on a ridge. It was a short stalk. Forest's first shot hit low on the neck but his second was spot on sending the bull down, dirt flying as he flayed in the dust. He was a beautiful nyala.
The following morning saw us searching for waterbuck for Tom. At around mid morning we spotted some young waterbuck bulls and cows peering down at us from a ridge above. We sent Mitchell along with the vehicle and we stayed at the spot, waiting half an hour before moving closer. We were hoping there would be a trophy bull among them. The terrain left us unsighted from them until we were extremely close. I could see the tops of a waterbuck's horns sticking out behind the younger bulls in front. He was definitely a shooter. There was no way of getting a clear shot without being seen so we just waited it out. We'd done the hard work, we just had to be patient now. After what seemed like an eternity the herd began grazing again and the bigger bull stepped out. Tom was ready and waiting. The shot hit hard and the bull ran a short distance, his foreleg lame and dangling on the side of his body. He slowed, leaned back before tumbling down onto the steep mountain slope. The following day we travelled a few hours north to a game reserve for Forest's buffalo hunt.
With the buffalo successfully hunted, we went out in search of a sable for Forest. We spotted a small bachelor herd early in the morning. There was a larger bull on the peripherary of the herd and it took us some time to manouvere around them unseen. We had Forest set up nicely at 150 yards about to shoot when I noticed something amiss and whispered loudly to Forest not to shoot. He withdrew his trigger finger mid-squeeze. The sable had the last two inches of his left horn missing. Around mid morning we saw the black shape of a sable ahead in the distance, 600 yards out. He was a beautiful beast, the best sable bull we'd seen all day. The wind was perfectly in our face, we had plenty of cover and it was a textbook stalk. Forest made another terrific shot! It was Tom's turn that afternoon. We spotted a lone lechwe bull grazing on the edge of an erosion ditch. We got into the ditch and stalked to within 150 yards opposite him. Tom's shot was true and he'd hunted a fine lechwe bull. The hunt going nicely, we'd been extremely fortunate and lucky also. The only snag was, we still had to hunt the grey ghost...and two of them!
We spent the night at the lodge and returned to Karoo Wild Lodge the next day, taking in some sights along the way. The rest of the day was spent catching up and regaling our hunting adventures to the ladies at the lodge. The following day was a family day and we travelled to Port Elizabeth to visit our taxidermist there. We then drove through the Addo Elephant National Park from the coastal side to the main camp in the north. We had terrific sightings of elephant, buffalo and plain game. After a big lunch at the park restaurant we returned to the lodge. The next day was kudu day and we'd have to be at our best. Two days of hunting left.
It was another early start and we bumped into a nyala close to the lodge. He was lurking in a dry riverbed as we passed by. We got out and Mitchell kept driving as we stalked back. It was a quick shot which hit hard. The nyala dived into the acacia on the edge of the riverbed and we found him expired. On the drive to the skinning shed on the other side of our property we saw cows on a ridge catching some early sunshine. The mating season had well and truly passed but we've seen big bulls here before so we had a look. There was a big bull amongst the cows. We dropped Siya off to skin the nyala while we drove to a hidden point below the ridge. It was a long slow stalk, one foot at a time up the spine of the ridge. When we saw a kudu cow at 200 yards I knew we would just have to wait for the bull to emerge. We were on the other side of the ridge and the bush was much thicker. Awhile later, some more cows emerged and then the tips of the bull's horns came into sight. Forest fired when the bull came into view but the shot flew high. The herd took off along the ridgeline running directly away from us. Momentarily they paused and Forest fired again as the bull turned to peer back. There was an unmistakeable thud as the bullet hit flesh. Slowly we walked to the spot. Ready to fire again if needed. We found him expired. He was a beautiful cape kudu bull. It was 10am and our hunting luck was reaching now ridiculous heights.
Later that afternoon we sat in wait for kudu to emerge from a line of bush on a mountain slope. At first there appeared only cows and young bulls. Later, at sunset, two big bulls appeared and walked a line directly below us, pausing only to jump a 4 foot fence. We got Tom set up and when the lead bull paused again he fired. The shot hit but not as solidly as before. The bull took off and there was a cloud of dust as he ran and crashed to the ground. Tom tried to get a second shot off but the dust was literally shrouding the scene like a smoke grenade. When it lifted moments later the kudu was gone. We were sure he was lying there somewhere and walked down to the position. Nothing...he was gone. No blood trail, only marks where he'd fallen and then all sign of him was obliterated by a hundred other kudu tracks that littered the well used path. It was dark now and we had no choice but to leave him and return in the morning. It was an anxious evening, no one likes to potentially hurt and lose an animal but we did a good job of reassuring Tom that we'd find his kudu.
At first light the next day we returned. There were too many kudu tracks to track him and there was no sign of blood. We widened our search area. An hour later Mitchell found a single drop of blood crossing a dirt track 400 hundred yards from the spot. It led to a narrow valley with low ridges along each side. We followed what we suspected was his tracks for a short moment before we saw a kudu bull on the top of the low ridge to the left. We watched him closely and although he didn't appear wounded, he did appear to be the same bull. The mere fact that he wasn't fleeing the scene was convincing enough for me. It was a tricky shot and Tom asked me to take it. My shot got enough of him to drop him and we climbed up to the spot. We were relieved to find he was the same bull. Tom was elated to find his kudu.
Our time together had come to an end. This was an epic 10 day adventure with so many amazing stalks and hunting moments. But like everything in life, it's not what you do but who you do it with that makes it special. Forest, Tom and family, thanks so much for the terrifically interesting company.
Guest Comments -
Hunting with Victor was amazing. Over ten days we stalked and killed kudu, gemsbok, sable, warthog, nyala, leche, and Cape buffalo. At one point we were worked up a dried riverbed in our bare feet to sneak up on three buffalo bulls. On another hunt, we observed kudu grazing along a hillside for over two hours until the big (and older) bull got close enough to shoot. Victor and his guides worked around the clock to make the hunting so successful.
The lodge was elegant and a perfect winding down area between hunts. We ate too much of the lovely home-cooked food, including a lot of wild game (including ostrich steak, springbok stew and so on), and shared drinks around the campfire every evening.
There were two non-hunters in our party. My teenage daughter came along with the hunters to participate in "pacifist hunting" by taking photos of game. She loved it. My wife spent several days writing at the lodge and then went for a "shopping hunt" and town tour in Graaff-Reinet with Lindsay. Victor also took us through the Addo National Park, one of the best wildlife parks in South Africa.
The amount of game in the Karoo is amazing to see, and it was a real pleasure to discuss how South Africa is rewilding to support hunting with Victor. The trophy processing was really interesting to see from the skinning shed to the taxidermy workshop in Port Elizabeth.
I have been planning to come to Africa to hunt kudu ever since reading Hemingway's Green Hills of Africa over 30 years ago. The trip with Karoo Wild Safaris was even better than I dreamed. Thank you!