Zambezi Delta Safaris, Mozambique
by Kelly McMillan
Oct 10-19, 2012
My luggage did not get on the flight from Phoenix to Atlanta, and as a result it didn't arrive in Johannesburg until a day late. It then missed the flight from Joberg to Beira, and of course, our charter to the camp. So I started out the safari with three-day-old underwear and no ammunition. Fortunately, each of my three rifles were duplicates of at least one of the other hunters, and they had enough ammunition to allow me to get my rifles sighted in and have a few rounds to hunt with.
We spent the first morning at the range sighting in and making sure each of the rifles performed as they should. After a hearty lunch, we all took off with our own PH (professional hunter) to see what the afternoon would yield. I had a very specific list of trophies that included Cape buffalo, sable and Selous zebra. Each of these animals needed to be hunted in a particular way in a particular place, each of which would be better started first thing in the morning. Since it was 3:00 p.m. I suggested we just get the lay of the land to see what we might find.
As we covered quite a bit of territory, we saw a tremendous assortment of animals both large and small. Hartebeest were the most plentiful followed closely by reedbuck and warthogs. We saw the occasional nyala and bushbuck, but being true to their nature they stayed close to the tree line in small numbers and didn't venture to far into the open spaces.
As we were driving, Mark Haldane, the owner and operator of Zambezi Delta Safaris (ZDS) and my PH, stopped the truck and whispered, "Grab your rifle!" I had a 7mm Rem Mag and a .338 Win Mag with me so I asked which would be appropriate as I had not seen what Mark was excited about. "7" was all he said so I grabbed the McMillan Prodigy in 7mm and climbed down from the back of the truck.
Craig Boddington who was hunting with us and sitting in the front seat of the Toyota Land Cruiser with Mark whispered excitedly, "That is a monster bush pig!"
Since Craig has hunted in Africa some 40 times and has hunted with ZDS and Mark several times, I immediately got excited even though I still had not located the pig. Finally we stopped, Mark set up the sticks and pointed to a slightly reddish brown pig about 170 yards away and instructed me to take him. I set the forestock of the rifle in the "U" shaped cradle of the shooting sticks, held the crosshair directly on the spot where I wanted the bullet to land and squeezed the trigger. The rifle recoiled and I lost sight of the pig. Before I could find him in the scope again, Mark exclaims, "Fine shot Mr. Kelly, well done!" Almost simultaneously came a slap on the back and congratulations from Craig. Because the rifle was zeroed in at 200 yards, I knew that all I needed to do was control my breathing and excitement and I could hold directly where I wanted the bullet to impact. As a result, the pig went straight down and was finished immediately.
Since Bush Pig was not on my list, frankly I had never seen one before, I asked Mark why he wanted me to shoot the pig. "Kelly, they are great eating and this is a fantastic trophy, you just can't let a pig like this go by." Craig continued, "I have a thing for pigs and I would have surely shot him if you hadn't. He is a terrific pig." Well that was good enough for me. I now have a trophy bush pig to add to my list.
We dropped the pig at the skinning shed and returned to camp for the evening to find my suitcase had been delivered with all contents still inside. I rushed to the shower, dried quickly and for the first time in almost four days put on a fresh clean pair of underwear.
Dinner consisted of nyala tips in a light red sauce with local vegetables served with rice, salad, steamed veggies, and for dessert a pudding pie with strawberry sauce on top. As always in a hunting camp, the conversation centered around what each of the hunters had done and the trophies taken. Bruce Dunn was the big topic with his taking of a very nice Cape buffalo in the forest. The fact that they were not specifically targeting a buffalo, and found a small herd in the forest was as unusual as it sounded. In this area, COUTADA 11, the majority of the Cape buffalo forage in the swaps, but there are the odd small herds that find their way into the forest and find the grazing quite plentiful.
Since it was listed as a Cape buffalo hunt, the staff wasted no time in getting right at it. Each hunter was paired with the same PH and headed out in different directions looking for the 1,400 lb buffalo. I had watched Craig's video "Boddington on Buffalo 2" in preparation for the hunt and had decided that I wanted to shoot a "Dagga Boy." That is what the natives call the oldest of the male Cape buffalo because of its habit of rolling in the mud to protect itself from the flies and parasites that like to feast on the big guys. In English it refers to the old males, usually 10-11 years old that have lost the ability to compete with the younger males for dominance and have been pushed out of the herd. They usually are either single males or small herds of the Dagga Boys that travel together. They are usually ornery and aggressive as you might imagine of any male that has been cast out and can no longer mate.
I was a little disappointed to find that in the swamps the older males hang on the fringes of the herd, but are not usually found as singles or bachelor herds. It would make the scoring portion of the hunt much more critical. To spot these old Dagga Boys among 100 or 200 buffalo in a single herd takes a keen eye and experience in hunting. I was elated that Craig Boddington, Gordie White and Mark Haldane would be there with me to sort this out.
We had driven an hour and a half to Selone Camp the evening before to save time on the long trek to the swamp. We loaded our gear and a lunch into the BV02's, a Swedish vehicle made specifically for rough terrain that can manage the swamp with little problems. Before we got 20 minutes from camp, we saw a very large warthog. As with the bush pig, I had never given any thought to shooting a warthog but Mark assured me this was a very large pig and would make a great trophy. I missed a shot at him at about 220 yards; no excuses just rushed the shot because they don't stay still long. We chased him for quite a ways until I got another shot and this time I made it count. It was indeed a trophy. Both Mark, who has been in this business for 27 years and Craig who has been hunting Africa for almost 40 years said it was the largest warthog they had ever seen. Though it wasn't on my trophy list, I was happy I shot this particular warthog.
The trip resumed and we quickly saw why these odd-looking vehicles are needed to negotiate the swamps and its terrain. The ride was rough and at times we felt as if we might tip over, but we managed to get within about a half mile of the herd we were seeking. A half mile in the swamp was not a stroll in the park. We walked through water up to our knees on top of about 10 inches of mud that hung onto your shoes like quicksand. We managed our way through, and finally stepped-up onto dry land within 70 yards of the large herd. Just as we lifted our binoculars to our eyes a large male buff stand up in the deep grass less than 10 yards from us, take two charging steps toward us to show us how tough he was and peeled off and joined the herd. I personally didn't have time to get frightened, I noticed the bull veer off before I realized that it could be dangerous, but once I had a second to realize what had happened, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
The respite didn't last long because we were facing a herd of at least 100 buffalo not more that 90 yards in front of us. Mark sat up the sticks, I chambered a round, put the safety on and mounted the rifle on the sticks. Mark, Gordie and Craig began glassing the herd for a suitable bull while I did the same through the Swarovski Z6I 1-6x24 I have mounted on my McMillan Prestige in 404 Jeffrey. I had turned on the illuminated reticle with the circle dot, which I have found makes it almost impossible to put you shot anywhere other than your targeted spot.
Mark had found a good one. He began directing the rest of us to the correct bull. It is absolutely critical that you have excellent communication between PH and hunter. Thinking you are looking at the bull he is looking at and finding out you were not is a sure way to a disappointing hunt. Mark pointed, counted and describe in an effort to let all of us know exactly which bull he had pick out. Once each of us had located the bull and agreed it was an old bull with hard bosses and several battle scars. I took the safety off and took two long cleansing breaths. Controlling your breathing and heart rate is essential to accurate shooting of any kind.
The bull was facing directly at me. It is very common for the entire herd to face a hunter once they realize they are there. It doesn't make for the best shot but it is often the only shot you will get. I had chambered a McMillan ADG .404 round loaded with a heavy for caliber 430 gr North Fork Semi-Spitzer soft point with two 430 grain solids in the magazine. I was too afraid of the bullet exiting and hitting another animal which is always a concern when shooting into a herd like this, but this soft point will expand and reek havoc the entire 8 ft of this 1400 lb Cape buffalo and will not have the energy to exit.
I placed that red dot on the center of his chest 7" below where his neck ended. Comfortable with my hold, I squeezed the trigger and sent the round. The bullet struck the bull with a whack, he jumped, spun and galloped directly away from us. I rack a solid into the chamber and readied myself for an off-hand shot. After recovering from the recoil of the first shot, your second shot is likely to be at a moving target so I made no attempt to get back on the sticks. Taking a follow up shot in a herd like this is difficult at best. You often have mass chaos with buffalo running every which way. The last thing you want is to take a second shot and wound another animal that suddenly appears in your sights. Also identifying your wound bull may often be impossible without a lot of blood, and in my case there was almost none because of the location of the sot and no exit. The main reason we all had loaded rifles is because you can never predict what a herd of nasty angry buffalo will do at any given moment and you must be prepared at all times to defend yourself from a charging bull.
We were lucky and the entire herd ran in the opposite direction and stopped after about 40 yards. Craig was hunting buffalo as well so we slowly inched our way closer to the herd to put him in a position to take a shot. He chose an old Dagga Boy with horns worn at the tips and a boss nearly 16".
He made an excellent shot at the bull, which was quartering towards. The bullet was a McMillan ADG .404 loaded with a 400 gr North Fork soft point, delivered from his left-handed McMillan Prestige in .404 Jeffrey. It entered just on the point of the left shoulder, passed through both lungs and lodged in the ribs on the opposite side. I saw blood from the entrance as he spun and ran; we all knew it was a good shot.
The buffalo ran another 50 yards and again turn to face us. There was much more milling around within the herd and only those in the front stayed focused on us. It was impossible to determine which two were the wounded buffalo, but we expected it would only be a matter of minutes before they would show the effects of the North Fork bullets.
Less than a minute later Gordie says "Bull down" and sure enough right in the middle of the herd there was a buff on the ground.
We focused our attention on the rest of the herd to see if we could detect any signs of the second wounded buffalo. We didn't want to spook the herd for fear of the running off and this time not stopping as they had done twice previously. Also depending how hurt Craig's bull was, it may be able to travel quite a distance before giving out. We decided we would allow the buffalo to move off when they got ready.
It was not long before the herd started to turn and walk off. As the last of the herd turned to leave, we saw one loan bull walk slowly to the reeds in a different direction than the herd. We suspected he might be Craig's bull, he walked slowly with his head down, which is uncharacteristic. However, we could not be sure because we could not see any blood. We watched for a minute but soon turned our attention to the bull on the ground as we slowly approached the animal. Just because a buff is on the ground and has been there for several minutes it doesn't mean he is dead, so you must be very wary when approaching them. In this case, he was indeed dead. We confirmed this with a stout shove with the muzzle of a rifle followed by the proof positive cornea reflex response test, touching his eye with the shooting sticks.
After a close look and a little conversation, we determined that this was indeed the Buffalo I shot. Shot placement was the main indicator but once you have judged a trophy, you can pretty much recognize it again. While looking at my bull we all had lost track of the buff that wandered into the tall grass. We decided it was time to go look for it, as he was no longer visible. It was a good bet he was Craig's bull and he has lied down in the grass somewhere. As we approached the grass, Mark instructed us to make sure we had a round chambered, safety off and to get shoulder to shoulder not more than 3 feet apart. As we approached the grass, we moved slowly and cautiously. We had no sooner gotten the edge of the grass when 8 ft in front of us, the wounded buffalo raised his head, saw us, and made a valiant effort to get to his feet. As he did so, Mark and Craig both shot almost simultaneously, Mark with his .470 Wesley Richards Double rifle and Craig his McMillan Prestige. Almost immediately afterwards, Craig fired what would be the final round as we heard the classic "death bellows" and his last breath. I had not shot though I was shoulder to shoulder with the other guys. It was Craig's buff and Mark was his PH so unless it was a matter of life and death, I was willing to let them finish the job they had started.
Every animal that is shot in COUTADA 11 and 12 is skinned, quartered and hauled back to camp. Some is kept for use in camp, then the rest distributed to the locals as part of an agreement between Zambezi Delta Safaris and the local chiefs in the area. In an effort to control poaching, any community that has one of their villagers caught for poaching will lose their ration of meat for one month. The Game Management Bureau of Mozambique also gives Zambezi Delta Safaris a quota of animals to harvest and distribute to the community leaders throughout the year. Personally I am extremely happy that every morsel of meat from every animal taken is used to feed either the hunters at the camp or the local villagers.
After the skinners had done their job we loaded up the BB and started the long trip home. Just after crossing the largest river in our path, the machine over heated and we had to have the other BB take us, and the buffalo back to camp. Having brought only enough food for a small snack before we got to the buffalo, we were quite ready for dinner when we got back to the main camp. We shared our stories as we ate, and then headed straight to bed for some well-deserved sleep.
Having completed the main task of this hunt yesterday, Cape buffalo, we decided that Selous zebra would be next.
When Mark took over this concession 27 years ago there were about 20 of these beautiful equines living in the flood plane and the forests. Today there are over 300 zebras roaming COUTADA 11 and 12. It has been a long journey but it is showing that the effort was worth it. This is the largest herd of Selous zebra left in the world. As a result they only issue two permits per season. I was ecstatic to learn that Craig Boddington and I had secured the two licenses for 2012. However, they did come with some conditions.
Because Mark has put so much effort into growing this herd, and wants to preserve these animals, he only allows clients to shoot old or wounded males. He selected a stallion for me that was fairly large but was not the leader of the herd. 27 years of experience watching these herds has given Mark and uncanny ability to gauge the age of these sables. He was certain mine was an older male and probably close to the end of his life. I used my McMillan Dynasty in .338 Win Mag with a .225 gr Barnes TTSX and a Swarovski Z3 4-16. It was an ideal combination and by using two sets of sticks, one for the front end and one for the rear of the rifle, I was able to make a solid setup. The stallion stood at 351 yards as I clicked my scope 14 clicks to adjust my elevation. There was about 3-5 miles an hour right to left wind so I held 2 inches to the right and let the bullet fly. The wind apparently had died down just as I squeezed the trigger because the bullet landed exactly where I had marked my elevation, but about two inches to the right of where I had intended it to land. Fortunately on an animal this size 2 inches is negligible and the zebra reared, rolled, and ran directly away from us. The shot was just behind the front shoulder and about half way up the body. It penetrated both lungs and possibly a portion of the aorta. He ran about 40 yards and fell to the ground motionless, a clean shot and truly a humane kill.
A second smaller herd had been a ways off when I took my shot and did not bolt as the group I shot into did. Craig and Mark stalked quietly about 65 yards where Craig was able to use a termite mound that seemed as though it was made for a left hand shooter. It had a small protrusion where Craig could lay his torso against and steady the rifle against the rest of the mound. His zebra stood exactly four hundred yards away as we ranged him, and he said, "Good I'll use a back line hold with no wind." I quietly said, “Craig I read about 6" of right to left wind." to which he said, " I think you’re right, I will hold 6" to the right.” His McMillan Dynasty bucked as he squeezed the trigger and sent the 185 gr Berger VLD screaming toward the animal. I could immediately see the blood from the exit wound as the zebra turned and ran directly away from us. He lasted about 50 yards on pure adrenaline because the shot had pierced both lungs and his heart. It was a perfectly placed shot. One that a man having spent the better part of his adult life hunting all over the world made it looked easy. He admitted that there had been a few longer shots he has made in Africa, but none for a number of years.
We all went to where my zebra lay to have a closer look. Mark immediately pointed out that this stallion was about 12 years old. He pointed to the severely worn teeth as the confirmation of zebra's old age which he already knew. After taking photos and running some videos of my zebra we moved to where Craig's zebra had fallen. As we approached we noticed that one of its legs was swollen severely at the ankle. Mark pointed out that the stallion had been caught in a snare at one time not too long ago. The snare is the favorite tool of poachers. It was obvious the animal was quite hobbled. Mark suggested that this might have eventually caused the animals death because he struggled to keep up with the herd. Again Mark was right on in choosing the perfect animal, one that was not likely to survive much longer.
Having listed only three animals that I wanted to add to my collection, Mark pointed out to me that often when hunting a particular species you have opportunities to take other nice trophies. He wanted to know if there was anything other than the sable that I might want to take. I told him that I have a steenbok and wouldn't mind combining him into one life size trophy with a couple of the small animals found in the sand desert. This area is known as one of the premier places to hunt red, blue and gray duiker as well as the very best place for suni. These animals range from about 8 inches at the shoulders (blue duiker) to about 12 inches (red duiker). In addition there is the oribi that is about 16" at the shoulders. "Unfortunately" he says, "These animals only live in the sand first and about the only animal we see there is a bushbuck." I let him know that I would like a nice bushbuck and that was all it took. Now I have several animals to hunt to fill the remaining 7 days. Now we could target a sable and not be left with nothing to do if we got lucky and shot one the first day.
Since we had a plan we headed out in search of a sable, a magnificent animal with long horns that curl back over the shoulders and form a crescent. They are dark brown to black and have a main and tail similar to a horse. I have to say they are one of the most striking animals I have ever seen, which is why I knew after my first trip to Africa to hunt, I was coming back for one of these beautiful creatures.
COUTADA 11-12 may have the largest herd sables in the world. The war took a toll on them as with most other animals, times got tough and soldiers kill indiscriminately for food with little thought of the impact on the herd. Since the war ended the sable have flourished and along with the efforts of ZDS there is a very stable community of sable in Mozambique. We headed out toward the flood plane to check on a particular herd that was seen recently with an extremely large bull.
Though we found the herd we were looking for, we did not see a bull that met our expectations. There are many different ways to view a sable. Some are very large bodied, but do not have the length horns desirable. Sometimes horns lack the thickness or the spread at the tips. The curve also is a variable, those with a nice crescent shape is more desirable than ones that are straighter. Needless to say we did not find the right bull.
We continued a little farther along the same road we had seen the herd on and surprisingly saw a lone bull that had all the attributes that make a perfect trophy. Mark theorized that this may be the bull they had spotted in the herd a few days earlier and explained an old bull may look like he is the main bull, one of the younger bulls may have challenged him for dominance and ran him out of the herd. If this indeed was the case, it makes it better for us to choose this one as our trophy.
Sables are not particularly as wary as say the bushbuck or nyala, but they are very observant. He was about 190 yards when we first stopped him. He was partially obscured by some tall grass so we moved very slowly to a position that would allow me to take a clear shot. We got to about 120 yards from him when Mark set the sticks. I set the .338 Win Mag on them and got a good sight picture, put the crosshairs just behind the front shoulder just less than half way up his body and let that Barnes TTSX fly. He wheeled around on his hind legs and ran about 40 yards and then fell. We waited a few minutes to make sure he was down for good and then proceed to where he lay. It was indeed a phenomenal animal and will make a spectacular trophy.
The afternoon hunt took us to the Sand Forest. They call it the sand forest because almost this entire region is completely sand. There isn't a rock on the 1,000,000 acres of this concession. It is nutrient rich because of all the bio decay trees, vines and shrub grow extremely fast. It is a huge undertaking to keep the roads clear as the trees and vines make a tunnel through the forest. The tiny antelope inhabit the forest because the brush is so thick it gives them protection from larger predators on the ground, and eagles and vultures from above. Suni, gray Duiker, red duiker and blue duiker scurry about under the low vines and brush. The leaves that have fallen a few months earlier still line the floor of the forest and gives us the only indication anything lives there when we hear them running around.
I have to be honest, I was able to spot only one in five of all the animals Mark spotted. But we were fairly fortunate that a very nice suni gave me an opportunity to put the red of the front sight of the Benelli 12 gauge on him long enough to pull the trigger. I was very excited as Mark shouted, "That was a great shot Kelly, nicely done." With horns about 4" long it was truly a trophy and will make a great addition to my life size small antelope trophy section.
We continued to hunt the little ones; the next up was a red duiker. They live in the same forested area as the suni and were almost as plentiful as the suni. They are slightly taller but considerable more strict than the suni. They may stand an inch or two higher at the shoulder but look like they might weigh a third again as much. Both males and females have horns so you have to be real careful to properly identify the males, which have much larger horns. The females have a tuft of hair between their horns and will usually obscure the horns completely.
We hunted the red duiker with a rifle. I used my 7mm Rem Mag and Berger bullet. Because they are so small it is important you have good bullet placement. Any shot that strays too far fore or aft can hit the shoulders or hips and do so much damage to the cape it makes it difficult for the taxidermist.
When Mark spotted a nice one, I stepped quietly down off the truck with my rifle. I loaded a round in the chamber and began inching my way around the truck to get behind Mark. We only took ten or so steps before he pointed out the duiker under the brush about 20 yards away. I put the crosshairs on his rib cage just behind his shoulder and squeezed the trigger. The bullet passed cleaning through and the duiker fell where he stood. Hotel, our tracker, ran into the woods and soon returned with the little guy. Mark pointed out that this guy was really old. It looks as if he had been under a lot of stress, there were patches of hair missing all over his body and his face was scarred from fighting. He didn't think that the cape would hold up through the process of tanning and suggested we may need to use another cape to make the life sized trophy I was planning. I told him I was happy with it the way it is, it shows how old and tired he is. But I would leave it up to him if he thought we would lose the cape completely and we should use a different cape. We decided to wait a few days to see how it did during the salting process.
It was still fairly early morning so we decided to look for a bushbuck. We didn't have to go far to be where they were living, and when we got there we looked for them in the brush and around the edges of 'pans' that held water. I was told that bushbuck are probably as hard to take as any of the plains game. It's not that you can't find them or see them. It's that you won't see them very long because they almost always see you before you see them. Part of the plan was to spot them and then hope they stop at some point allowing you a good shot. Unfortunately most times they don't and you have to find another subject. The forest is way too thick to try and stalk them, and with the dried leaves on the ground you would never be able to sneak up on them.
We spotted several bull bushbuck but never got a shot off so we headed back to camp for a good lunch, and a little r&r, and then we would hunt again around 3:30. The time passed quickly, we loaded our gear and made a plan to head back to the Sand Forest and look for an oribi in the open spaces between the trees. The oribi is the largest of the little guys and is taller than a suni though they are similar is appearance. They are a light tan/orange in color and are about 14 inches at the shoulder. We have seen many in this area, it just wasn't the right time, but this evening he would be the focus of our attention.
We saw several orib that weren't quite what we were looking for so we continued out of the Sand Forest to the edge of the flood plain. As we crept along we spotted one at about two hundred yards. Mark put the binoculars on him and said this was the one. We decided to sneak as close to him as possible, the small bodies make a good shot imperative. At about 90 yards we felt that it was as close as we were going to be able to get so we set the sticks. I shouldered the 7mm and took the shot. It was a good shot, it hit mid chest and dropped him in his tracks.
We thought we would use what was left of the daylight to look for a bushbuck. The first spotting was a bull sitting on a termite mound about 20 feet off the road. We drove by about 400 yards down the road and stalked back toward the termite hill.
Termite mounds here are the Trump Towers of anthills. They are thousands of years old, can be as tall as fifteen feet and a diameter of twenty feet. It is obvious they are old, there is often trees that have grown out of the mound that is 40-50 feet tall and 8 feet around at the base. The bushbuck like to get on top of the them and take advantage of the breeze, as well as having a vantage point to see any predators that may venture close.
The sand in the road made it fairly easy to walk quietly, the occasional dried leaf in the rut required your attention. We got within about 120 yards of the large bull, but just could see a clear bullet path through the trees. We decided to try and get closer and Mark warned me that I might have to take a shot at him on the run. I wasn't really comfortable with that, I had not practiced running shots and the one thing I wanted to avoid was wounding an animal with a poorly placed shot and not being able to find him. As we crept closer the Bushbuck jumped up and took off through the brush. I shouldered the rifle and tried to find him in the scope but was relieved when he was out of sight and I had not pulled the trigger.
Light was fading and it was a couple hours back to camp so we decided we would head back and if we saw anything we would shoot it, but Mark wasn't driving like he expected to see anything on the way back and sure enough, other than a few duiker and suni scurrying across the road we drove straight to camp.
Zambezi Delta Safaris has made an agreement with the National Game Board, and as part of their license to operate they have agreed to a quota of animals they are to harvest and supply to the local community. Not only does every scrap of meat not used by ZDS for the clients and workers go to the locals, there are a specific about of animals each month that are taken and given to the communities in COUTADA 10 and 11. Imagine how much food that is for these people who basically survive on subsistence farming and have no source of income. Our hunters on this trip alone shot 8 buffalo, 6 warthogs, 4 nyala and other smaller game. We probably ate less than one fifth of everything but the buffalo and far less of them. I am guessing but I would say we supplied enough meat to the locals to feed 400 people for a month, and we hunted for 10 days and ate every meal from the animals we had taken.
Today was community quota day. We were to shoot 12 reedbuck and 12 warthogs for the community. Reedbuck and warthogs are the most plentiful game on the COUTADA and it is not difficult to find them in numbers that would make the cull predation quite easy. We headed out to the flood plane where we could see as many as 100 of each of the species at any one time.
Craig Boddington, Gordie White and JC Bell came with Mark and I, and another PH and his trackers joined. As it turns out we needed both trucks to haul the animals back to the community where we were to drop them off. The morning effort was 8 Reedbuck, spread evenly between the four of us hunters. There were warthogs in the field, but we decided to concentrate on the Reedbuck first.
The experience was in some ways rewarding and in others not so much. I have come to terms with my hunting and am very settled with shooting animals for trophies, especially because I make it a point to shoot only the older males that are in most cases no longer breaking and are on the downhill side of their life. I also like knowing that we eat what we take. I currently have elk, mule deer, nilgai, tuna, mahi-mahi and yellowtail in my freezer, which I harvested all personally. We rarely buy meat or fish from the grocery store.
What I didn't like about the experience though was we were providing a service, a humanitarian service, but it was more of a harvest than a hunt. There was not much hunting or stalking. We were not choosing the older males, but the younger ones. We did this for two reasons, the herd had grown so fast because there were few predators on the Coutada, and the younger males are voracious breeders. Secondly it was easier to divide up the small animals among the communities and they do make better fare.
In order to keep the populations balanced so that the habitat will support the herds, we must help do what nature is not doing at this time. Mark is unsure as to why the lions have not come back like all of the other animals. The hyenas and the jackals have not flourished in the area either. They have a few small packs of each but not enough to keep the balance of nature. The cheetah would be the perfect predator for the antelope that live on the flood plain, but because of the heavy rains during the rainy season, cheetahs have never been found in Coutada 11 and 12. Leopards have flourished in this environment, but they hunt almost exclusively in the forests feeding on suni, duiker and bushbuck with an occasional small nyala.
Why the unbalance in nature in the area is a mystery according to Mark Haldane. Though he has been managing these animals for 18 years and all of the other species have made huge strides toward returning to numbers before the war, lions, jackals and hyenas have not. Mark and the biologists in Mozambique are trying to find clues that will help them understand.
After lunch we decided to give another shot at the elusive bushbuck. This time we would take a different approach. We would drive to within about 300 yards of the edge of a pan and walk quietly to the edge.
We would then glass the edges under trees hoping to spot a big male bushbuck. A pan is a natural depression in the ground that holds water for long periods of time after a rain. After the rainy seasons these pans may appear to be large ponds or small lakes some measuring a half mile across or more. Because they hold water for such a large portion of the year the only vegetation in them are seasonal grasses and water based reeds. This provides good grazing but little protection from predators so animals of all kinds come to drink in the center where the water usually is, but do not stay any longer than they have to satisfy their daily water requirement. Most graze along the outer fringes so that if something out of the ordinary appears they can dash into the trees that line the pan. Smaller animals such as warthogs, oribi, reedbuck and birds feel pretty safe and roam the tall grass throughout the day looking for the best spot to feed. Reedbuck will lay in the tall grass motionless as danger approaches counting on their tan coloring and tall grass to camouflage them until the danger gets too great and they bolt for the nearest stand of trees.
We were able to make the edge of the pan without any commotion. The animals in the pan were not spooked though there were no bushbucks out in the open. We spent several minutes searching the tree line to make sure no bushbuck lay in the shadows. No luck on this plan. As a matter of fact, we repeated the process 4 or 5 times and each time the result was the same, no bushbuck. As the sun dropped we headed back to camp.
Craig was in search of the holy grail of nyala, a 30 inch. He had been sitting at pans during the previous couple of days waiting for the trophy to appear with no luck. He told us he had seen many animals, including nyala, but none of the quality he wanted. He had even seen a very large bull bushbuck. We decided I would go to the pan with him and sit the morning, hoping that same bushbuck would come back to the pan.
I wasn't keen on this type of hunting. I don't have a lot of patience and sitting anywhere for 5-6 hours is as close to torture for me as I want to experience. But if Craig Boddington thinks this can produce a great trophy, then I will sit with him. Fortunately we had a large mango tree that provided plenty of shade and in a location that gave a great view of the entire pan. We set up our chairs behind the trunk of the tree so as not to stand out like something that did not belong. I had brought my iPad though I wasn't sure it was appropriate, but as soon as I saw Craig pull out a paperback I knew I was going to get some writing done.
There wasn't a lot of action at the pan. A couple of adolescent warthogs wandered out of the clearing to our left about 35 feet away. With nose to ground looking for any morsel they could find they walked right in front of us, just on the other side of the trunk of the tree we were sitting under. As they both looked up at the same time and noticed they were only about 5 feet from something that definitely looked scary, me, they "hightailed it" back to the long grass. As I watched I imagined it might be this very scene that inspired the term "hightailed it." I have herd warthogs referred to as remote control pigs because when they run they hold their tail straight up over there rear end like an antenna found on a toy remote control car.
Craig, his PH Poen, and the videographer took footage through the tall grass stalking a nyala they had spotted on the edge of the pan. They figured their best bet would be to use the long grass, which was almost as tall as they were, to give them cover as they moved into a position to get a better look and possibly a shot. As they crouched a bit during their stalk they disappeared completely from my view. As I focused on the hunters another family of warthogs approached from the back round the large termite mound that was behind me. As had happened earlier the warthogs got very close before they realized I was something that shouldn't be there. About 12 feet away the father, mother and three piglets saw me and headed back to the tree line. It was fun to watch the chaos as the five of them all wanted to be in the same place at the same time and they managed to get out of sight after bumping and banging into each other a few times.
Shortly the hunters returned. They never did get a real good look at him but they surmised it was not the trophy Craig was looking for so they returned to sit for another 45 minutes before we headed back to the camp for lunch. I will always defer to Mark's experience when it comes to hunting, but I thought after three humans had walked through the middle of the pan on a day where the wind was definitely not in our favor; we had probably seen all of the animals we were going to see. As it turns out that was the case and when Craig stood up and started to gather his things I was right there with him. A sore tail bone and some annoying bug bites told me I had done all the "pan sitting" I was going to do this morning, and for the rest of the hunt if I had my way. Back to camp for lunch we went.
After lunch Mark suggested we sit at another pan for the afternoon hunt. I suggested to him that we had actually seen more bushbuck while driving from pan to pan than by sitting so we agreed we would look at a number of pans rather than just one. "YES!" I would have sat without COMMENT, but I wouldn't have liked it so I was happy we had made the decision we did.
We did see a few females. Bushbucks most often are seen in pairs, or if you see more than one female, there is sure to be a male around somewhere. Strange as it seems, the male uses the females as cover and protection. We almost always saw the females first. In most cases the male was behind the female almost as if to say, take her, but you aren't getting me. Mark explained that it was a defense developed for the continuation of the species. If all or most of the males were killed, the herd would soon dwindle. When females die there are always other females to breed with and the male make sure it happens right away.
When we got a glimpse of a male, we either decided he was not a "shooter" or we didn't get an opportunity to close the deal. And though we did not get a shot at a bushbuck I enjoyed the hunt. I also enjoyed having the choice of whether to shoot or not based on the quality of the trophy. Saying "Nope, he's not the one," was almost as rewarding as actually pulling the trigger.
The light slipped away quickly and our hunt was done for the day so we headed back to camp to hear the tales of the other hunters and have a great meal of some game meat or another.
4:30 a.m. came early; we had breakfast and made a plan. Today we were going to target a blue duiker. They are the smallest of the duiker in the area and would make a great addition to my "little antelope community." Besides, Mark explained that bushbuck are difficult and are often taken while hunting other species. So I figured if we were hunting blue duikers and I had a chance at a bushbuck I would take it. So it was back to the Sand Forest, or the "Suni Forest" as they often called it.
Hunting the blue duiker was different than any of the tiny antelopes I had targeted. We set some custom made bumper chairs on the front of the Toyota Land Cruiser and sat out in front of the truck with the Benelli and a pair of binoculars. We would not be needing the binocs to see animals far off, we needed them so we could peer in through the vines, trees and bushes to determine the sex of the little things. Both male and female have horns so the only way you can tell the sex is to be able to see the "button" on the stomach of the male. Not having seen one and not knowing exactly what to look for I depended on Mark to do that, I would just look for festivals, which are fairly large and easy to spot for a small animal like the blue duiker. The second biggest challenge was to make sure not to slide off the vinyl seat cover on the bumper chair or the "Texas Quail Throne," as Gordie White from Austin, Texas called them.
Once seated in the vehicle we idled in first gear and moved slowly down the road, looking deep into the brush. We did spot a couple but only for a brief moment and never long enough to even determine the sex. Though it sounds like it should be an easy proposition, finding and identifying these little guys was very challenging. So far blue duiker one, Kelly zero.
Mark had some hunters staying in another one of his camps not too far from where we had finished hunting in Coutada 12 so he asked if we minded stopping by to check in on them for a minute. Of course we all said we did not mind, Craig and Gordie knew the hunters and the PH and most of the staff working at the camp so they were anxious to see old friends. I wanted to see the camp, I have heard it was really cool, so we stopped.
Those who said it was a great camp were right. Though it had the same type of amenities we had in our camp, it was unique and the difference made it cool. There are 5 camps on Coutada 11-12 each to host a number of hunters. I had seen four of the camps and found some things unique about each one, and I would not be disappointed to be housed in any of them. Mark explained that it is unusual to get a large group like we have, and he never puts two sets of hunters in the same camp unless there is a circumstance where the hunters know each other and agree to share the same camp. In most cases hunting is fairly solitary. Rarely do more than two, three hunters at most plan a trip together. Two of the three camps occupied in the concession had only two hunters in them.
We met one of the hunters at the camp! The other was out hunting. We talked about our hunts and exchanged a few stories and said our goodbyes. Now it's back to camp for lunch and a new plan.
Mark had an idea. He wanted to go to a place we had not hunted yet. It was on the edge of the flood plain about two hours from camp. There was a river that flowed during the rainy season and still held water in several places. He was sure since this particular area had not been hunted for quite a while we could find a bushbuck. There was one in particular he had seen several times not far from a large pool.
As we were navigating along the riverbank, actually in what will soon be the river, running bank to bank from the heavy rains, we came upon some locals. Mark grabbed his rifle, Craig his and headed toward the men. Gordie joined them as well. As Peon, a PH, and the trackers ran ahead of them only Jane, the videographer and I were left at the truck. I knew what these men were, poachers. I also had been told what would happen to them when Mark and the trackers got to them. I didn't want to be a part of it. I figured it was for Mark and his staff to sort out. I didn't ask him, but I am certain that Craig being a Marine naturally felt he wanted to be there in the event he was needed. The rifles were only for self defense in the event the men had rifles. It is uncommon for poachers to be armed, but it happens from time to time. Mark would also use his rifle as a power play. If they were not armed, the men would not try anything stupid.
Within minutes a shot rang out. I recognized the sound of the 300 Win Mag Mark was carrying and knew he had fired a warning shot in the air. Almost immediately we saw our men and the two poachers heading toward us. Jane got in the drivers seat and drove toward them shortening the distance and time between them and us. The closer they got the more talking I could hear. The tracker we had with us had originally been hired by Mark as a member of the anti-poaching team that he developed and employs. He was talking loudly and shaking his finger at the two men. It was explained to me that they claim they were only finishing, however, they had no poles and there was not any water near. As things quieted down it was decided that Poen and the two trackers would accompany the poachers to their camp and confiscate anything they found that would implicate them as poachers.
The rest of us jumped in the truck and continued the hunt. Though we were not successful at spotting any bushbuck, we did spot a herd on Livingston eland. They were truly magnificent. It may have been the highlight of my hunt up to that point. There must have been close to 100 female eland. Eland is the second large land mammal on land second only to the elephant. The females are between 700 and 900 pounds and stand 4 and a half to 5 feet at the shoulders. There is only ever one male in the herd, and he is the master of all. In this case it was the most awe-inspiring sight I can remember. The bull stood a full two feet taller at the shoulders than did the cows, and Mark estimated he weighed at least 1,600 pounds. To put his size into perspective, there was a small herd of zebra very close to the eland. Next to the females eland the zebra looked like a pit bull standing next to a bullmastiff. The zebras were 400-500 pounds and 4 feet at the withers. In comparison to the bull they looked like a pit bull next to a Morgan horse. It was difficult for me to give my okay to leave our vantage point so we could go pick up Poen and the trackers. Just looking at these impressive animals was an experience I was not ready to end, but we finally turned and drove toward the rendezvous point.
By the time we picked up the rest of the crew it was dark. We headed back to camp as Poen explained that there were others at the camp as well. They found bags of meat from game they had already poached along with wire snares and spears. The only thing they could do was to confiscate the meat and tools of the trade, give them a few whacks with a switch to drive the point home and then let them go. The police are 40 miles away and not inclined to help much. Poen said if they took them to the police their punishment would be 5 pounds of meat, which would encourage them to go out and poach to pay the fine. It is a difficult situation and one I personally don't see a solution.
Blue duiker, that's what we'll do, this time it will be different. We found ourselves in the Suni Forest with the Texas Quail Thrones on the front of the truck and my butt getting sorer by the minute. While the first 5 days were filled with adventure and new experiences with lists of rewards, the last four have been pretty much the same thing as far as hunting goes. Either we were driving from pan to pan, sitting at a pan, or sitting on the front of the truck, this type of hunting obviously required a lot of sitting. Both morning and evening was more of the same. We saw a few duiker and bushbuck, but didn't get a shot at either.
It was really okay with me. I had actually taken two trophies and I had no intention of taking the warthog and the bush pig. Both were tremendous trophies and will be a nice addition to my collection, but until Mark told me to shoot each one, they had never been on my list. And though I wanted a bushbuck, which would add to my spiral horn collection along with my kudu and my nyala, I had not given much thought to building my small antelope community until I got here. Along with my three musts, Cape buffalo, Selous zebra and sable, I really had all the trophies I wanted from this trip. So when I went three days without taking a trophy I was happy and not disappointed in the least. As a result when Mark started to tell me of his plan for the morning of Day 10 I asked him how important it was for him to hunt tomorrow. He replied that my success was his main concern and if I didn't really want to hunt that would be fine with him. We had earlier decided only to hunt the morning because there were several things I wanted to accomplish with all the other hunters and the videographers. We needed at least half of Day 10 to accomplish the interviews I needed.
There was no hunting scheduled for Day 10. I had all of the trophies I wanted and had some interviews to do so I decided not to hunt, and leave some animals for my next trip to Africa.
Everyone was extremely happy with the way the hunt turned out. Craig asked me, "Do you know how many gun manufacturers hunts actually go well?" I told him I did not, and he said "Almost none. They are usually disasters.” Craig continued, “You are very lucky this one went as well as it did. With seven people who did not know each other very well there is almost always a personality conflict at some point." Everyone got along well. There were no scrabbled or hurt feelings, and everyone interacted with each other.
For me, it was an experience of a lifetime to be able to hunt with one of the greatest big game hunters of all time. Craig was always patient and helpful. He is a consummate professional and really made the hunt special for everyone of the hunters.