By George Gehrman
The drone of the Cessna 206 was getting monotonous. We’d been in the air for some time on a flight from Arusha in Tanzania to Wengert-Windrose’s camp in the South Moyowosi concession, far to the west of the country. PH Natie Oelofse was in the process of learning to fly, and was at the controls getting in some flight time. Three hours after departing Arusha, the plane dipped down over a broad, green plain bisected by a wide river gleaming in the sunlight – the Moyowosi in the remote west central region of Tanzania.
“So what do you think about this Africa?” asked Natie with a broad grin.
“Pretty impressive,” I replied. As we descended to the landing strip, herds of buffalo could be seen, along with vast numbers of topi and zebra. A line of gray toward the horizon was a herd of elephant filing along to the river. We weaved and bobbed a bit as we lowered towards the ground. Turned out Natie was quite adept in the air, but he still needed some practise on his landings!
Natie had been after me for some time to get away from the southern Africa countries where I’d been hunting, and see his “real” Africa in Tanzania. I had to admit that what I’d seen so far in the Masailand was impressive enough, but the wildness and remoteness of this area could take one’s breath away. Camp lay about one hour’s drive into the miombo forest away from the airstrip. Game of many species stood watching, or sometimes bolting off into the cover as we drove by. The camp was typical East African style – sleeping tents with an en suite toilet and shower facility on concrete slabs covered with thatch roofs and surrounded by reed walls. There were hard-packed walkways between the various sections of the camp which consisted of a kitchen, large open-air dining area, and, of course, a fire ring surrounded by chairs. The camp itself was situated under trees around a natural spring which attracts numerous animals, including elephants from time to time. Everything out here is BIG: the Moyowosi South hunting concession covers over 1,200 square miles.
The order of the day was Cape buffalo, and not just any buff. I’d already taken one over 40 inches, and wanted a true old Dagga Boy with character to show what kind of life it had lived. At this time of the year, early October, just as the rains start, the huge herds of buffalo on the flood plains start to break up, some with the old bulls heading off in the miombo scrub.
After a great dinner of roan steak, it was time to make a plan. The resident PH of the Fish Eagle camp, Wayne Hendry, suggested that we follow a trail along the edge of the flood plain of the river and check for tracks of the bulls as they moved off the open areas. And so, early the next morning Natie and I headed out along the track we came in on the day before. We’d hardly gotten a good start when Natie braked to a halt. Warthog! It stood still as a statue in the middle of the track ahead of us – difficult to see in the deep shadow of the forest and the gloom before sunrise.
“Want him?” Natie whispered. “He’s huge.” He was indeed the largest warthog I’d ever seen and I did want him, but declined the shot since I didn’t want to take a chance of alarming any buff that could be nearby. I’ve regretted that decision ever since! We broke out of the forest just as life on the river plain was waking up. We stopped and glassed for a bit, but no buff, and so we continued on the trail along the edge of the flood plain. It was only a short while before the trackers spotted buffalo tracks – three bulls crossing our trail and heading into the bush. The hunt was on!
It was vintage buffalo tracking. The going was slow as there was still a lot of dead grass in the bush – the trackers would lose the tracks in the grass in the open areas, then pick them up again as they moved through the scrub across bare patches of ground. Every stop for a suspected glimpse of our quarry heightened the tension. An hour passed and the sign became increasingly fresh.
Then the adrenaline rush as the lead tracker dropped to a knee and pointed ahead – he’d seen them. More accurately, he’s seen bits and pieces of them, just a black spot there and there in the brush ahead. And they know where we are, as the breeze in the trees is squirreling around every which way. Natie used his binoculars to try to sort them out, but we were pinned down where we were. They moved away a short distance and we sneaked into a new position, but I still hadn’t got a look at them.
“They’re all good bulls,” Natie whispered, “but we won’t have a chance to pick the best under the conditions we’re in.” He checked again then whispered urgently, “There, crossing ahead of us, take the last one!”
“What last one? I can’t see them!”
“Just there, 30 yards out.” At the very last moment the scene jumped into focus and I saw a buffalo moving to my right across a short opening in the trees. One fast shot from my .375 H&H and they were gone, disappearing into the thick brush.
“How was the shot?” asked Natie
“A bit high and too far back, but was definitely a hit into the chest area,” I told him. The trackers confirmed hearing a hit that sounded solid. We waited for a good 20 minutes, then headed off toward where we’d last seen the buff. We came into an open area and moved slowly ahead towards another grove of trees. We hadn’t quite reached the edge of the trees when Natie froze, and we saw that my bull was down. But a second bull had stayed with him and stood guard. The guard bull broke, and my bull was on his feet and off on a run.
Natie threw “Baby”, his .470 Nitro Express double, into action and I added my .375 into the fray. We took off running after the bull, dodging through the thorn bush and trees in a manner that would do a pro running back proud. We slammed on the brakes as he came into the clear for a moment and got off a second volley toward him. He disappeared into some thick stuff for a moment, and when he reappeared, he staggered and went down. We approached, and after the obligatory insurance shot, we went up to him. My first shot was right where I called it, passing through the top of the lungs. He would have died from it eventually, but it would have taken a while.
He was a splendid bull and exactly what I was looking for. His horns spread nearly 44 inches and carried heavy, thick bosses. But it was upon closer examination that we discovered what a tough life this old boy had led. His ears were tattered and torn from various scrapes with lions and sharp horn tips of younger buff bulls. On top of his back was a large scabbed-over area, still with an open wound in the middle, signs of an attack by lions some months earlier. But it wasn’t until he was being skinned that the final passage was written about him. Noisy chatter from the normally silent skinners indicated that something unusual was going on. The head tracker came up to Natie and me, carrying a soft iron ball which they’d dug out of his neck, evidence of a poacher’s failed attempt to kill him many years earlier. Measured back home I found the ball to be .75 inches in diameter and it weighed an even one ounce.
Truly, this bull was a mauler.
George Gehrman has hunted in nine states in the western U.S. plus Alaska, British Columbia and Saskatchewan in Canada, and Sonora in Mexico. His African experience includes 13 safaris spanning 34 years in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. He is the owner/operator of the safari consulting and booking agency – Tracking Africa. George is a long-time member of the AH Guild, now known as the African Hunting Gazette Life Membership program.