Zimbabwe, Matetsi: 2016
Buffalo 2 Sable 1
By Emmett Reagan
How did it all begin? My wife Cristy and I were striding up and down the numbered rows of exhibitors at the 2015 Las Vegas Safari Club Convention, when we happened upon our good friend and PH Bill Lemon. I had hunted with Bill in 2008 and had a great time. Cristy particularly enjoyed that time because he constantly picked on me! Anyway, we were excited to see Bill, and I told him I wanted to book another buffalo hunt with him, and to add a sable. We agreed on the date, money changed hands, and preparations began.
Cristy and I traveled in November 2016 to hunt Cape buffalo and sable. The Falls are magnificent, even in the dry season. Then on our second day there we were notified that my wife’s father had passed away. Now all of sudden, our two-week adventure with Bill was going to be cut a week short.
Bill and PH partner Barbara picked us up at the Victoria Falls Hotel and took us to the hunting area, and we explained that our two-week hunt was now one week. We enjoyed a very nice breakfast in camp and then set off to the shooting range to familiarize myself with Bill’s rifles that I was going to use on this hunt. From the recoil of my first shot, I ended up with a severely scratched lens on my prescription glasses. However I was still able to use them, and Bill was satisfied that I was ready to hunt. We then set off to find some buffalo. Within an hour the trackers spotted a large herd of buffalo, some feeding and others resting in the shade of mopane trees.
The wind being in our favor, Bill parked the Land Cruiser under nearby mopane trees. We disembarked, loaded up with numerous bottles of water, secured our rifles, and Bill told me to load up with 500gr soft nose bullets. Soft nose bullets should always be a hunter’s first choice when hunting buffalo.
The temperature was a scorching 105°F although it was only mid-morning. Bill emphasized that we needed to get onto the buffalo as quickly as possible as they would shortly be heading for the shade in the gusu (a local word to describe teak forest on Kalahari sand with patches of commiphora, a haven for elephant, buffalo and sable.) Otherwise, we would have to abort the stalk and return later in the afternoon when the buffalo would begin to graze and start their trek to water.
We managed to reach the herd in time to plan a stalk on five bulls that had bedded down to the right of the main herd. The cover was perfect and the wind was still in our favor, which helped make our approach swift and precise. We got to within 50 meters of them, but after glassing them for several minutes, Bill decided that there were no trophy bulls in the group.
We immediately backed off, and Bill decided to approach the herd from the rear. Hunters can often find small pockets of bulls taking up the rear of large breeding herds. We hastily made a second stalk which failed to result in anything positive. Once more we retreated, regrouped, and drank copious amounts of water to quench our burning thirst. Bill then decided to attempt one more stalk from the front. He instructed two of his trackers to remain with the herd and told them to keep our hunting party visual and that we would be heading for the high ground in the gusu. Once we got there, the trackers were to slowly start pushing the herd toward us. Our plan started to fall into place. We had found a near-perfect position in the gusu, and Bill radioed the trackers to start the slow drive of the herd. The point buffalo began to move directly toward us. Bill and his head tracker Phillip were working overtime with their binoculars trying to locate a trophy bull for me. As the buffalo were closing in on us, Bill and Phillip spotted a trophy bull. Unfortunately it was not in a position to give me a shot. By this time the point buffalo were a mere 50 meters away. I could see the flies resting on the sides of their moist noses shining brightly from the fierce mid-day sun. The herd was getting too close for safety and comfort, and we also did not want to spook them and lose our opportunity at the trophy bull. Bill hollered at them and they immediately stopped, lifted their heads, and looking over the bridges of their noses scanned the gusu ahead, trying to locate what and where this noise came from.
“Keep dead still,” Bill said. The wind was still very much in our favor. We stood there for what seemed like an eternity. The buffalo, seeing nothing, relaxed and started to move off to our left, exposing our trophy bull. This bull must have been the hottest bull in the herd because he was surrounded by a small group of cows that did not want to leave his side. The cows’ behavior was proving to be our nemesis. Every time I got a window of opportunity to shoot, a cow would move in front of some part of the bull’s anatomy. After what seemed like hours on the shooting sticks, I finally had a clear shoulder shot. Much to my amazement, I hit him. Most of the herd ran off, leaving him there. He turned to face us as though he was going to charge. I shot a second time, he went down. Game over! This was early afternoon on the first day, and I already had my incredible trophy buffalo.
Bill and the trackers went to get the truck. Once they got back, we took several pictures and then the work began. Buffalo are large herbivores, and getting them into the bed of a pick-up is no easy task. With the help of a winch and everyone lifting, we got him loaded.
Temperatures were still over 100°F. We showered, then gathered on the patio for “happy hour”, and I was still very excited about our early success. The patio overlooked a large open area where we watched game go by to water. Later in the evening we heard lions roaring on both sides of the camp. Welcome to Africa!
The next morning we were up early and ready to start the quest for a trophy sable. We hunted waterholes, saw lots of elephant, lion, impala, zebra, reedbuck, roan, Cape buffalo, and baboon – but no sable. We hunted hard, covered lots of countryside, saw some sign of sable, but no sightings. The third day we packed a picnic lunch and sat by a waterhole. This was good, because sitting in the back of a safari pick-up is not the most comfortable, and my butt was sore from the day before.
Again, we saw a large variety of animals, but no sable.
The fourth day we covered a large area still looking for sable, and still no success. Just lions and an ostrich. My enthusiasm was waning.
Day 5 began with us hunting in a higher area. Bingo! We found a herd that had just bedded down. We got comfortable and waited for them to head for water. After a couple of hours they moved, and guess what? We were not in position to get a shot!
So off we went, chasing them toward water. Barbara picked us up in the truck and rushed ahead to get in place for an ambush on the trophy bull. I had about a 200-meter head-on shot, and missed. They ran parallel to us and we were able to get in position for a second shot at 300 meters. I shot, and the bull went down with a broken spine, and a third shot finished him. I had my sable bull with two days left before we had to leave.
Bill offered me the opportunity for a second buffalo because not all of the permits had been sold. I jumped at the opportunity. We got up early on Day 6, and found a herd of approximately one thousand animals, and identified a bull that we wanted to stalk, but we could never get close enough for an open shot. We tried for the rest of the morning, but again to no avail. We returned to camp, had lunch, got some rest, and went back.
Bill spotted a large bull with mud on his back. We had to wait until he was in the clear. I shot him, but too far forward. We had a lot of blood, but no bull. He had gotten back into the herd.
Then the fun began. We were trying to find a wounded bull in this very large herd. A wounded buffalo is a very dangerous animal and we hadn’t yet located him. And on the other side of the herd was a pride of lions stalking the same herd! Finally, we saw my buffalo on the opposite side from us, and we had to approach very carefully so as not to spook the herd. The mud on his back was the identifier. We waited and watched until an open shot presented itself. I took the shot, but we couldn’t tell what happened because the herd ran. We began our approach cautiously, and there he was lying in a ditch.
As we approached the buffalo, Bill told me to shoot him once more time to ensure he was dead. Fortunately the bull was dead, because in all the excitement I had not chambered a round. Bill will never let me live that down.
Day 7 was strictly sightseeing and picture taking. We got some great pictures of the animals and the Zimbabwe landscape. Zimbabwe is such a beautiful country and has so much to offer to the outdoorsman,, hunter, fisherman, and photographer. It’s something to be experienced. This hunt was a true African adventure which I shared with my wife Cristy and our good friend and PH Bill Lemon and his PH partner Barbara Blaylock.
The next morning we started our long journey back to El Paso, Texas. I can tell you it is much easier to travel back into the States if you are not traveling with guns. The return trip came off without any problems.
I am hooked on Africa. I love the scenery and all the amazing animals that you see. Bill and Barbara are perfect hosts. This was my third safari, and the second one with Bill. It was tremendous fun. I would truly recommend it to anyone that is looking for adventure. There is nothing like it.