On safari with Grant Taylor

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AHG: When and where were you born?

Grant Taylor: I was born in 1980 in Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare.

AHG: How did you get into hunting – what was it that influenced you?

GT:  I was raised on a farm and started hunting at a very young age like most farm kids. My father had always hunted and was very influential in teaching us gun safety and how to hunt properly. I was never in any doubt as to what I wanted to do in life after my first few early experiences.

AHG: With whom did you train, apprentice and learn from?

GT: I worked under Pete Fick of Mokore Safaris at the time, and with Russ and Geoff Broom before going on my own. They were all hugely experienced and giants of the industry.

AHG: The early years of professional hunting – any embarrassing and interesting experiences?

GT: Embarrassing stories are too many to mention all in one article. One that does come to mind was following a wounded old buffalo bull in the thick coastal forests in central Mozambique. After several hours on the tracks and having jumped the wounded bull several times we were a little mentally drained and maybe lost a bit of our sharpness. I saw at very close range in the thick forest what looked like the wounded bull lying down facing away from us. I put the client in position and we both shot in quick succession only to find it was a dead tree stump that looked like a buffalo in the low light of the forest.

Another was before I opened up my own business as a PH. Working for another company I had a client that had wounded a large bushbuck that we were following up with very little blood to follow on baked dry ground. We were not making much progress so we spread out 10 meters abreast and combed slowly through the bush in the direction the wounded bushbuck had ran off. As we came over a slight rise no more than 10-15m in front of me was a big bushbuck lying down facing away from me. I was the only person that had seen it and I tried to get the attention of the client who was on my left hand side, but he wasn’t catching my hand signals. Fearing the bushbuck would spook and we would lose the opportunity I decided to shoot the animal, only to find that my bullet was the only bullet in the animal. Fortunately in both cases the actual wounded animals were both recovered, but that night on the radio when breaking the of my mistake to the boss, thinking that I would be let off the hook, I was told that I had to pay full trophy fee for my bushbuck mistake. I still have the shoulder mount of that bushbuck in my office to remind me not to be too quick on the trigger.

AHG: Anything you learnt about what not to do?

 GT: I learnt very quickly that a visibly nervous or excited PH’s energy rubs off on the client, who then tends to get excited and make mistakes. Even if the PH is excited/nervous inside, he must portray a cool, calm demeanor on the outside which will in turn keep the client calm and ensure that he makes a good shot or, better still, hits the right animal.

AHG: Which countries/areas have you hunted?

GT: I have hunted in many areas throughout Africa including Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Mozambique which is our home base and country of primary operation. There are too many specific areas to name within these countries. Most of the areas have been great to hunt but not all hunting areas are equal, that is for sure.

AHG: What were some of the interesting things that happened there?

GT: Hunting Lord Derby eland was always something that I had wanted to do, and no doubt it is a truly fantastic animal, but I will never forget walking up to the first bull I ever took with a client and being somewhat disappointed by the body size compared to a big Livingstone eland bull.  Like a sable, they stand very proud, and with the size of their horns and huge dewlap it makes people tend to think they are a lot larger than they are.

One of the most gut-wrenching moments as a PH was on my first safari in Ethiopia having wanted to guide a mountain nyala hunt all my life. Finally I had made it happen and the client missed a huge nyala within the first hour of the first morning. But Lady Luck smiled on us and we got a second chance at an even bigger bull two hours later at 80 m, and unfortunately we wounded and lost the bull. After several hours of follow up and jumping the bull once, the rain came down and it was impossible to follow afterwards, and we never managed to find that bull.

AHG: Where do you currently hunt and what makes your area and your hunts special?

Nice herd of buffalo on the floodplains of the Zambezi Delta

GT: I predominantly hunt in Mozambique now as that has been the base of my operation for the past 16-plus years, but on special request with repeat clients I do often still hunt in other destinations. What makes Mozambique so special to me is that the country is so diverse in terms of the different habitats. One always has variety in terms of and terrain to hunt in, from the floodplains and palm forests of the Zambezi Delta to the miombo woodlands and granite inselbergs of the Niassa Reserve, to the mopane and jesse bush of the Cahora Bassa region. Also, the hunting itself is challenging but the numbers of game are there, and if you put in the time you will be get the reward. Often in some of the areas that I have hunted in like South Africa, you can shoot several animals a day, and although it’s great fun every now and again, it would be something I would get bored with if it was always too easy.

AHG: Client hunts, experiences and memories – Was there a most annoying, funny, etc., experience?

GT: Funny stories, again too many to detail, in one article, but this was funny for everyone else in the hunting party but not so funny for me. We had a client who requested a crocodile trophy but didn’t want a huge trophy as he didn’t have the space to mount it and would be happy with something in the 10-12ft range, which is not a request one typically gets. We started the safari in an area of ours for buffalo and other which we finished pretty quickly, but this area was not renowned for many crocodiles. However, we had seen in an oxbow lake that there was a croc in it that would meet the client’s criteria, so we went to take a look at it. The whole lagoon was covered in heavy weed and papyrus and we couldn’t see anywhere that the croc came out to sun himself where we would be able to get a shot. He would sun himself on top of the papyrus making it impossible to stalk him. We had 7-8 days left in the safari, and the lagoon was only about 50mx50m, so I suggested to the client to take the shot at the croc in the water as there was no current for us to lose the croc in.

We discussed all the possible scenarios and agreed that this was the best and only way forward. The client took the shot and the croc rolled over and sank to the bottom of the lagoon which was expected. What we weren’t too sure of was how many days it would take for it to float, as water temperature and other factors play a significant role in this. So we left and came back every day for the next two days looking to see if it had floated, but nothing. We tried grappling hooks but with the reeds and papyrus it was impossible to try and snag it. Obviously we were all getting a little anxious about it, especially me as I had suggested to the client to take the shot while it was in the water. On the third day we went back with some rope and a tractor tube, and I was fairly confident I would be able to convince one of my trackers to retrieve the animal for me with a financial incentive, but we had absolutely no takers, and I was left to go in and sort it out myself.

Now if there is one croc in there, then there can very easily be another or more that you don’t see. Anyway, I got into my underwear, put on a brave face, and with the rope around my waist paddled out to where the croc went down. Everyone had strict instruction that if I got taken by a croc to shoot me not the croc as I wasn’t overjoyed with the idea of being eaten alive by a croc. Anyway, I jumped in and it was a lot deeper (and colder) than I thought, but in the murky water I finally felt the horny back on the top of the croc’s spine with my feet, and cold shivers ran down my spine while I waited for a bite to follow. After a few seconds nothing happened and I was convinced it was dead, so dived down and tied a rope to the croc and we got it out. But that was the last time I will ever suggest shooting a croc in the water.

AHG: What about any interesting trophies – where they took place, how the hunt went.

GT: In 2019 I had a good Russian client of mine, who hunts with me every year, come for an 18-day safari for lion, leopard, buffalo and everything else we could offer in our concession in Niassa, northern Mozambique. We have hunted together several times and I know him well enough to know that he never stays the full duration of any safari, so I got started on prebaiting prior to his arrival. Fortunately I did, as when he landed in the charter plane he told me that he would be going home in seven days, which meant we had a monumental task ahead of us. He was also not his usual enthusiastic self, and for the first three days of the hunt he seemed very lethargic and disinterested in the hunt, which meant we missed several opportunities at he was after. That night we had a sit-down together along with his cameraman and the next day he was like a completely new man. We had only shot one trophy the first three days and the next four days we got a beautiful old male lion, lovely leopard, buffalo and all the possible plains game we had in the area. It was just one of those hunts that everything came together.

AHG: Which is your favorite trophy animal to hunt, and why?

GT: Got to be elephant, closely followed by lion. hunting is like a love/ hate relationship. When you are midway through an elephant hunt with long hikes every day, sore feet, dehydration, dust and bugs, only to find the elephant is too small or has broken ivory, you have to turn around and start again. You tend to ask yourself why you are doing this to yourself, until you find the right bull, then all is forgotten and you can’t wait to do it all over again. Lion hunting is tough, with many long days and nights trying to formulate a winning plan, often with a lot of driving between bait checks and replenishing of baits, but the adrenalin one feels when you check a bait and find that a big male has fed, and then setting up and watching him come into the bait makes it all worth it.

AHG: What is the best trophy animal one of your clients ever took?

GT: In 2012, with a good client friend of mine, I was fortunate enough to take a single-tusk bull that tipped the scales at 102 lbs. We had heard from some local villagers of a large elephant with only one tusk, but like many of these reports of big elephants, one tends not to give them too much notice as they very rarely turn out to be truthful. A day later we picked up tracks of 10 elephant bulls and caught up to them late evening. A brief scan of the herd, and we could see a very nice 50-55lb bull with nice symmetrical ivory as well as the big single-tusked bull which at the time I thought was in the 80-90lb range. The client was adamant that he didn’t want the single-tusked bull, so we had a bit of an arm wrestle back and forth over the matter until he decided that it was the right animal. Fortunately there wasn’t any ground shrinkage when took the tusk out, and everyone was super happy when we got the official weight of the tusk a few days later.  This is something I doubt I will ever have the chance of doing again.

AHG: Tell us about a most memorable hunt, without naming names.

One of the three big bull’s tracks in the sand. Note the large pronounced cracks in the center of the track

GT: Probably my most memorable hunt was with a good Canadian friend of mine who came for his third hunt in 2016. We had a pretty slow start to the hunt, and midway through we got from one of my PHs who was doing a leopard hunt, of three big bulls that had drunk in a riverbed in an area of the concession where we had little or no roads. We shot across there and checked the tracks which by then were 24-36 hours old, but they indeed were three very nice, so we decided to start tracking them.

It was early season and the marulas were still bearing fruit, so we hoped the bulls wouldn’t head off cross-country and would stick around the area for a few days, but we knew we were in for a helluva walk regardless. About three to four hours in on the first day of tracking we found where they had rested up against a termite mound, and we saw the tusk marks against from one of the bulls where he had lain down – it showed at least 4ft of thick, heavy ivory sticking out, which meant that at least one of the bulls in this group was definitely north of 60lbs and worth pursuing. This gave us the energy we needed to keep going.

We walked 11 hours that first day without seeing or catching up to the bulls. Because of the lack of roads in this particular part of the concession we had to mark the last tracks on our GPS and come back the next morning and pick up where we left off. This continued for the next three full days with 10-12 hour walks without ever catching up to the bulls. We did find several times where the bulls had played in mud and a tusk had accidently gone into the mud, so we would stop and measure the depth of the hole and the diameter of the tusks, and it looked like all three bulls would be shooters.

Late on the fifth day of following them, we caught them in some thick shrubs moving back to the marula groves to feed. I quickly got the client ready while I looked over the three as they were getting ready to move, and the wind wouldn’t hold for very long. I nearly blew the success of the hunt as all three bulls were spectacular, with the smallest being easily 60 lb a side, but the biggest-bodied bull was standing behind the other two and was considerably bigger than the others. But I couldn’t see his ivory, so we quickly manoeuvered slightly and saw that he was indeed the best of the three and I motioned to the client to take him which he did, and dropped him right there. He was a tremendous bull with just under 80 lb on the one side and a little over 55 lb on the other, but he was an ancient old bull and we were thrilled to have him.

AHG: Have you ever had a disaster of a client?

GT: Fortunately these are very few and far between but, sadly, they do happen from time to time. One of the toughest I recall was a group of three overseas clients who came in by private charter from South Africa direct to the camp, one for an 18-day full bag hunt, and the other two guys for leopard, buffalo, sable, and plains-game hunts.

The first alarm bells went off when the King Air landed and the three guys could hardly walk out of the plane carrying enough empty whisky bottles to euthanize a horse. Second alarm bells were when we needed another whole Land Cruiser just to offload the extra alcohol that they had brought in for the hunt, and then they informed me without any prior warning, that the plane must collect them in nine days as they would have to return home early.  We started well with two guys getting great leopard the first night, and then the partying started. The guy who hunted the hardest left camp with a total of 4½ full hunting days out of nine, and thankfully managed all his species. The other two guys made it three days out of nine and got pretty close to achieving their goals. The rest of the time was spent consuming industrial quantities of alcohol in the camp, day and night. At the end of the hunt two of them were absolutely perplexed as to why they hadn’t quite succeeded with their goals for the safari. Anyway, thankfully 99% of the guys are great and enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

AHG: What are your recommendations on guns, ammo, or equipment for hunting in your current camp(s)?

GT: It’s hard to beat a good scoped .375 H&H for a one-rifle battery with a 3-9 power scope with good, quick detachable mounts. I haven’t used the .375 Ruger much, but there are not too many places in Africa that you won’t be able to find .375 H&H ammo or a spare rifle if things go wrong with a .375H&H. If you have a budget to spend on a rifle setup, rather spend the money on decent optics than spending everything on a high-end rifle then end up scrimping on the optics and ammunition. Also, I have yet to find an outfitter or PH who doesn’t like Swift ammo, so if your gun shoots this ammo well, then stick with it.

AHG: Which guns and ammo are you using to back-up on dangerous or wounded game and tell us why?

GT: One of my many addictions in life is double rifles. I have always been fascinated with them and have been lucky enough to build up a small, unimpressive collection of them. I have two double .500NE – one is a Heym and the other a Ferlach, and I’m equally fond of both and use them regularly. I use reloaded ammunition with Swift A-Frame softs and Woodleigh Solids and both have proved perfect numerous times.

My Heym .500NE and all the necessary items for a PH to carry

AHG: What was your closest brush with death? If more than one – go for it and explain!

GT: Like with all PHs there have been many close shaves, but I am fortunate (touch wood) to have never been mauled or knocked over by anything other than a wounded warthog several years ago that ran me over in some thick brush while trying to get away. Probably one of the most frightening experiences I’ve had was facing a wounded lion’s charge that fortunately we stopped within a few feet of us. Thankfully, I have only had to do it once but that certainly cleared any blockages in the arteries. The closest I have come to death was a client’s accidental discharge with a .458 Lott that missed me by inches while following up a wounded after he had assured me his rifle was on safety.

A lot of the time as a PH if you are alone on a follow-up or with a single client, it’s much easier to control a situation. Last year with a big family of clients we were on tracks of a small group of about 20 buffalo in some thick, swampy papyrus. We had bumped them several times in the hopes that we would push them out of the papyrus and then begin to hunt them conventionally again. As we approached the herd with the wind on our backs hoping to push them out, they jumped and started to run again. As is usual when a herd stampedes it takes several seconds to ascertain which direction the herd is moving. This time, strangely, we saw the oxpeckers flying over our heads, which meant the buffalo were not running away, but in our direction. We couldn’t see anything other than a wall of papyrus, and the noise the stampeding buffalo made in the water meant they couldn’t hear our shouting. We had nowhere to go, with no trees to get behind or any cover. With four clients behind me I tried as best to shield the family and waited for the buffalo to break cover, and fired a shot in the air to turn them, which, thankfully, they did at two paces. The clients had two very high quality old Holland & Holland double rifles that went for a bath in the mud that day, but thankfully no one was hurt and no damage to the weapons.

AHG: If you should suggest one thing to your hunting clients to improve their safari experience, with you, or with anyone else for that matter – what would it be?

GT: Practice shooting from unconventional positions such as off the side of a tree, off shooting sticks, offhand or over your backpack, as this is most likely what you will need to be able to do in the field. Also learn to shoot with both eyes open regardless of whether it’s open sights or not. Another is quick target acquisition, getting yourself into position quickly while you wait for the PH’s instructions. Rather have your rifle set up, and try and locate the animal with your scope than using your binoculars, especially if the game is close and moving through the brush, as you may only have a second or two to make the shot. All too often clients try to locate the animal with the binoculars then put them down, take the gun out of the bag and then try and locate the animal again through their scope, by which time the game is usually long gone.

Client setup looking over a herd of buffalo in our concession in the Zambezi Delta. From there if the right bull gives us a shot he is in position to take it before the bull is lost in the herd again.

AHG: What would be your dream safari if you have one last safari to go on?

GT:  I would dearly love to explore Southern Sudan or Southern Angola. It’s unlikely that hunting will ever reopen in these two countries, but they have fascinated me for a very long time. Southern Sudan still, after many years of war, has some of the largest migrations of animals on the planet, and I have it on fairly good authority that there are still very big found in the Sudd swamps.

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