We headed out of camp heading south and east, away from the Matusadona National Park boundary that sits on the northern bank of the Chifudze River that forms the northern boundary of Bulembi Safari’s Omay South hunting concession in western Zimbabwe.My Professional Hunter, Pierre Hundermark has been hunting on the Omay concession for the last 5 years or so and easily guides the Toyota Land Cruiser through the long grass that has grown over two meters tall between the wheel ruts.
We leave the truck on the road and walk the half of a kilometer to the edge of a steep bluff overlooking a large area of intersecting valleys. “Nyati” (buffalo) says Steve the tracker, while the other tracker Farunga points them out to me. Pierre has his glasses out surveying the herd and says “Look at all those buffalo.” There’s easily over 100 buffalo grazing about a kilometer to the east over the next small brushy ridge and working their way north, up a valley. We make a quick plan to drop off the bluff and hurry up a small valley that intersects the small ridge that buffalo are feeding behind to get set up in front of them before they reach the top of their valley. Steve and Farunga lead the way followed by Pierre, then me and the government Game Scout brings up the rear.We slip and slide our way down the steep, rocky hillside and reach the narrow section of long grass at its base. The long grass grows in 20 – 40 meter wide bands in the lowest areas of valley floors broken up with scrub and trees on the higher ground. As we push our way through the first section of long grass, Pierre comments about not wanting to meet a buffalo in this stuff as the visibility is less than 2 meters and I agree thinking that meeting an angry bull in this stuff would be one of the fastest ways to become strawberry jam.
We start up the south side of the intersecting valley where we hope to reach the ridge top before the feeding buffalo get there. A quick glance at my wristwatch says that it’s 3:30 PM just as Steve hisses us to a stop. Pointing to his left there is another herd of buffalo slowly feeding in this small valley also. Pierre motions for everyone to freeze and we all sink to a crouch as we look over the herd. Farunga motions to me to move up in front of him so I creep up next to Pierre. We stay this way for a long time as Pierre uses the binoculars trying to find a good bull in the herd.
We start to hear even more buffalo further up the valley so seeing no shootable bulls we cautiously start moving up the hill.We move about 200 yards until we come to another herd of buffalo spread out in the long grass at the bottom of the valley and on the far hillside 100 yards away. We reach a small bench with a screen of brush and trees on the edge that hides us as we look over the buffalo.
Pierre glasses the herd spread out on the far hillside and the indistinct black blobs feeding in the long grass 20 feet below us.Suddenly the first herd of buffalo that we had passed earlier caught our scent and thundered out of the valley below. For some unknown reason the herd only runs about 100 yards up the other side of the valley then turns to come uphill towards us. The herd that we’re watching now starts fitfully but doesn’t take off. They start to slowly drift down the valley with more and more animals coming out of the long grass and walk up through the brush on the other hillside. Pierre says “Bulls!” and sidesteps quickly to his left as Steve puts up the shooting sticks. I slide my Winchester into the “V” of the sticks and put my thumb on the safety. I see a bull on the hillside to the left of a tree with three more buffalo below and behind him. Pierre says “There’s a great bull just coming out from behind the tree!” I put my crosshairs low on the bull’s shoulder and something prompts me to ask “The highest one, out in front of the other three?” Pierre quickly says “No, lower down. His head is just coming out to the left of the tree.”I move my scope down and think that I see a buffalo’s face just coming out from behind the tree. The bull steps forward and I see the wide heavy boss on the bull’s head come into view. The bull takes another step forward and suddenly turns to stare in our direction from 70 yards away.“He’s looking directly at us. That’s a good bull” Pierre exclaims, “Mooshy bull, shoot him!”Confident that I’m now on the right bull, the bull is quartering toward us with his head turned to the left staring at us. I put my crosshairs on the point of his left shoulder just as the bull suddenly decides that we’re a threat and steps forward aggressively with his head up, rocking left to right. I squeeze the trigger and lose the sight picture with the recoil from the .375 caliber, 300 grain TSX that goes down range. At the shot, over 100 buffalo suddenly explode in different directions throughout the valley. Pierre yells “Shoot him again!” I see buffalo running in all directions but one large bull is running low down in the valley about 100 yards to my left. “Is it the one running low down in the valley?” I ask and Pierre answers “Yes,” he’s just turning up the hill.” I center the reticle on the black body as he runs up the hill to my left and send another bullet at him.“You hit him!” Pierre exclaims, “His rear end collapsed but then he got back up.”The bull disappears into the brush on the other hillside and Pierre asks “Where was your first shot?” I said, “On the point of the shoulder, one third of the way up.” Pierre looks at me and asks “Did you see that the grass was covering the lower part of his body?” Shocked, I said “No, I didn’t even notice that.” Even with that, we figured that I couldn’t have shot any higher than mid way up his body and should have got the left lung solidly and probably the rear of the right lung also.Pierre lit up a cigarette and told me to reload with all solids. My hands are shaking with the adrenaline rush as I fumble with dumping the magazine of the remaining softpoints and I refill the magazine with the 300 grain banded solids. Pinching the last round under the extractor I slide the bolt forward and flick the safety all the way back. Pierre says “We’ll give him five more minutes to settle down and hopefully he won’t get into the long grass.” I look at my watch and see that it’s 5:05 PM and figure that we have less than hour of shooting light left and say, “Peter Capstick wrote a book about that called “Death in the Long Grass”. Pierre just looks at me and says “Yeah”Steve and Farunga lead the way across the valley and soon locate the blood trail of the bull. There are quarter sized drops of blood on the trail and blood is staining the brush and grass stems from thigh height down to the ground on the left side of the trail. We follow the trail for about 100 yards and it leads directly into a 30 meter wide band of 8 foot tall grass.“%^&*” Pierre says, “He’s in the long grass.”We can plainly see the path of flattened grass the bull has made going directly through the area but everyone is suspicious of it. Steve and Farunga converse and Farunga picks up a fist sized rock and heaves it to the far edge of the grass where the path leads. Suddenly 10 meters to the right of and downwind of his trail the bull pops up charging directly at the sound of the rock. “There he is!” Pierre yells.Trying to locate the bull in my scope I yell, “Shoot him!” and Pierre snaps off a quick round The bull thunders off and Pierre says, “The bastard was waiting for us, he went through the grass and then circled downwind waiting for us to follow him.”I asked, “Did you hit him?” and Pierre says that he doesn’t think so.We push through the long grass to where the bull had been hiding. On the ground there is a fist sized puddle of blood that had dripped from him as he laid in wait for us.
Steve and Farunga quickly sort out his trail as the shadows lengthen and moving cautiously forward Pierre says to me, “When he charges, step to your right to clear me before you shoot, Steve and Farunga will get out of your way. He’ll come in with his head up until he gets close and will drop it just before he hits. Don’t try for the brain shot, aim just below his chin so that you get the spine where it dips in the neck. If you shoot high you’ll still get the spine or the brain.Oddly this calms me, knowing that Pierre has a plan, that he trusts me to shoot and that he had confidence that his team would all the do the right things.Following the track the bull has cut through a dense patch of brush I constantly look left and right since Steve and Farunga had to watch ahead and Pierre has to keep one eye on the trackers and one eye looking in all the other directions. Steve leads the way around the right side of the thicket instead of cutting directly through it and I warily watch the thicket as we pass it.Pierre suddenly hissed loudly and said “There he is!” I side step quickly and see Farunga dive to the ground to my right as Steve goes to ground right in front of me. I bring my gun up but neither of us gets off a shot as the bull thunders off. The bull had circled around on the back side of the thicket and because we had came around the right side instead of directly through the brush he was out of position for his ambush.We move quickly now pushing the bull hard as the light is fading fast. The trail veers to the right and then starts a wide arc to the left. Pierre suddenly indicates with his hands that he sees the bull. Steve steps back to him, setting up the shooting sticks and I slide over into place just seeing the black bulk of the bull skulking in the shadows of the trees watching his back trail again. We had moved through the area where he had taken the sharp right hand turn while he was making his big arc to the left and passed through the area of the trail that he was watching before he got set up. The second that the forearm of my rifle touches the V of the sticks I touch the trigger sending the 300 grain solid through his left shoulder. Instantly with my shot I hear Pierre shoot and see a small tree shatter in a spray of white bark. The bull lunges forward and I hear him crash to the ground. My elation is quickly crushed as we hear him scramble to his feet and run off into the growing darkness.We rush quickly to where the bull was standing and Pierre asks me “Where did you hit him?” I said “Shoulder, how about you?” He says “Mine was further back. I saw a little tree shatter at the shot. I couldn’t see it in the dark with open sights until it exploded in white.” The trail led directly into another patch of long grass and Pierre stops us there saying, “I can’t see my sights, it’s too dark.” Standing in a clearing next to a lone Baobab tree I look at my watch and see that it’s already 5:50 PM and the sun is down. “We’ve got to get out of here” Pierre continues, “We’ve got the get to the top of the bluff before dark so that bull doesn’t find us.”We quickly skirted the thicket of long grass passing to the left of the Baobab tree travelling north along the path for about 50 meters before making an abrupt left and heading directly for the tall bluff. With every step my heart sinks lower and lower, my biggest fear was coming true. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than leaving a wounded bull in the field. Steve set his usual blistering pace as we walked by the light of the ¾ moon the half of a kilometer to the base of the bluff and start up it. Everyone climbs up it and I slowly lose ground to them as the physical pain in my bad knee soon outweighs the emotional pain of leaving my bull wounded in the bush. Just as I think that I’m not going to make it to the top of the bluff the ground flattens out and everyone is waiting for me. This was the same bluff that we had spotted the herds of buffalo from earlier that afternoon. On the ride back to camp Pierre tries to cheer me up saying that the bull is hit hard and won’t make it through the night. He was sure that we would find him dead in the morning there in that thicket.It was a long miserable ride back to camp. In camp I showered and then went out to the fire pit where the apprentice PH Ian, was sitting by the fire trying to get warm in the 5 degree (40 degrees F) evening chill. He asked me how the hunt went and I had to relive the whole ordeal again in telling him. Ian tried to cheer me up telling me the story of having to strangle a duiker with his bare hands when it had attacked him in a hunting camp in Mozambique when he was a young a first year apprentice but even that didn’t cheer me up. I suffered through dinner and turned in early to spend an almost sleepless night replaying the day’s events in my mind.