By Darby Wright
“We must go into the jesse and search for our buffalo,” said our PH Ian Rutledge.
If you’ve never been to Mozambique, you’d be amazed. It’s a hunter’s paradise! Villagers live in mud and grass-thatch huts, solely in subsistence mode, surviving mainly on mealie meal porridge, and meat provided by visiting hunters. Dugout canoes are still commonly used for water transportation and fishing. Drums are often used for communication between villages and during celebrations. This million-acre concession borders the shores of Lake Cahora Bassa that dams the mighty Zambezi River. Every year many villagers are attacked, mauled and killed by marauding lions and elephants, and often villagers are snatched by crocodiles from the river bank while washing clothes or obtaining drinking water! This is wild Africa almost as it was a hundred years ago.
Countless days of driving innumerable roads in this huge concession, searching for buffalo tracks, was the order of the day. Once tracks were found, the trackers would read them like a book and tell us if it was a big herd or not.
Sometimes, “It’s a small herd of Dagga Boys,” they would say. Our driver Jabo would stay with the truck, and off we’d go on foot, walking endless miles in some of the thickest bush known to man. Most of the vegetation was covered with long, short, and hook-shaped thorns, and often we would emerge from the bush bleeding from head to toe. The shooter on this hunt would be my 23-year-old daughter Kayleigh, she being the veteran of several other buffalo safaris. Our outfitter was Simon Rodger with Safaris de Moçambique.
Simon Rodger has always been very accommodating, providing excellent, well-maintained tented camps, spacious and comfortable, and top-notch PHs. He even brought in a hostess/chef, Christine, to make sure we were well taken care of as we moved from camp to camp during our hunt. Often we returned after dark, ravenous, and were greeted with sundowners and marvelous hot meals.
Day after day we would locate tracks, park the truck, and take off into the thickest of jesse. Plenty of crunchy leaves and swirling breezes made it very difficult to approach buffalo in this thick bush. Once we got within 25 yards of an old Dagga Boy, when we realized he was blind in one eye. We watched him for quite a while until he finally ambled off. From the sight of the claw marks on his back, it looked as though he had lived a tough life.
Another time we got within a 100 yards of a small herd that had several nice bulls. But as we got on them, they had just finished watering and were starting to file out away from us. Ian told Kayleigh to get ready on the sticks – he was going to blow a predator call and, hopefully, make them stop in their tracks. But to our surprise, at the sound of the squealing, all hell broke loose, and the whole herd ran out of sight. We marched back to the truck licking our wounds! This went on day after day.
One morning our PH Ian, two trackers, the game scout, and Kayleigh and I were scouting along a huge backwater swamp bordered with vegetation, as well as some nice-sized crocs sunning on the banks. We were walking single file when we came to a large tree that had fallen across the game trail. I diverted to the right uphill to walk around it, and everyone else walked to the left closer to the water to get past the huge tree, when I heard shouting and yelling. Then I saw everybody running in all directions, and one of the trackers kept yelling, “Mambas! Mambas!” Apparently we had interrupted two quite large black mambas that had come down for a drink! We later found their tracks where they had crossed the dusty road up above the watercourse. Once our hearts stopped racing, we decided to head back to camp early and regroup – so far, the buffs were winning!
We were all exhausted, weary from days and days of tracking and stalking buffalo. Long, fruitless tracking hikes were starting to take their toll on us. Our legs and feet were sore, and our backs hurt from driving miles on back roads. Kayleigh’s a trooper and loves the thrill and excitement of buffalo hunting. She took the numerous days of not getting a shot all in her stride. Up an hour before daylight, (mornings in central Mozambique are cold), black coffee, breakfast, then off to the bush and back to camp well after dark.
One day we tracked a large herd up and down steep hills covered with thorn bush so thick we could only get glimpses of parts of buffalo. As we were glassing the herd, Kayleigh and I felt a faint breeze on the backs of our necks. As the wind swirled the herd picked up our scent and bolted – cows, calves and bulls all pounded out of sight. Then it was the long trek back to the truck.
Our head tracker Willy never gave up hope – he always held his head high and kept a positive attitude, and his determination to succeed was obvious. He basically had our chance of success riding on his back. Day after day, mile after mile, he planned and plotted, organized and schemed and formulated a plan for us to follow. Our PH Ian was just as obsessed with making this safari a success. His relentless persistence and positive attitude kept us all in the game. We discussed our strategies every evening over dinner. Eventually we chose a new plan of attack and decided to give the thick jesse areas a rest.
We would look for buffalo in the thick reed beds closer to Lake Cahora Bassa. If you’ve never been in the reed beds, you’d be in for a big surprise. Each plant has hundreds of needle-sharp points on the end of each leaf, which puncture your skin repeatedly – ouch! These reed beds are full of buffalo and hippo trails that lead into overgrown vegetation tunnels. We often crawled through these tunnels not knowing what kind of “freight train” might be waiting at the other end! Hippo tracks were everywhere, and we could hear hippos snorting in the distance.
Finally we got within 30 yards of a herd of buffalo, some grazing, others lying or standing, but we couldn’t see the bull we wanted. Quite a few younger bulls were visible. The wind was blowing in our faces and the reeds were swaying. Willy kept manuevering us around the herd, constantly shifting and repositioning. After moving 12-15 times, we were all huffing and puffing, continually glassing.
We settled down in the reeds, still glassing. Ian had Kayleigh place the .375 H&H on the short sticks because we were down on the ground. There were at least 20-30 buffalo coming in and out of the reeds, interacting with each other. Several decent bulls were seen, but Ian was holding out for something special. We must have been hiding there for 15-20 minutes watching and waiting, when out of nowhere suddenly loomed a larger-than-life magnificent bull, that was by far much larger and mature than any we had seen for days! Ian whispered for Kayleigh to shoot. At the sound of the blast, buffalo stampeded in all directions. The big bull ran straight into the thick reed beds at the shot. Everything happened so fast, but now all was quiet. After waiting for a while we all cautiously proceeded towards the area where the bull had gone into the reeds.
“Where did the bull enter the reeds?” Ian asked Willy. Willy pointed towards a slight opening, about 50 yards away, and we could see the vague shape of a downed animal. Ian asked Kayleigh to shoot at the shoulder outline as we all stood in anticipation. At the shot there was no movement. The massive bull was hers!
Once the reeds were chopped away from this monster buff we became aware of what an amazing animal it was. It had huge, widespread bosses with heavy mass all the way out to the tips. Ian and Willy both said it was the best buffalo of their combined 45-year hunting careers. The whole team was dancing with joy, Kayleigh was ecstatic, and she gratefully shook hands with everyone.
After days and days of tracking, the hard work had paid off.
Back at camp several days later we found the bull to have a 47″ spread and scored SCI 138.
Our thanks to Simon Rodger and everyone who made this hunt possible – Thank You!
Darby and Kayleigh Wright live in New Braunfels Texas and have hunted in Australia, Argentina, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mexico They have also outfitted and enjoy self-guided hunting and fishing in Alaska .They’re always ready for the next adventure!