By Don Rickards, (eldondo) Team HuntingLife
That may not mean a lot to some, but for me it means I have a place in history now.
Sometimes things happen for a reason. My wife and I had purchased plane tickets (last fall) for the beginning of the 2009 hunting season in Africa, but our plans were to spend more time visiting than hunting this trip. In December, our dear friend and remarkable PH, Pieter Potgieter of Motsomi Safaris acquired the hunting rights in a new concession in Mozambique. It is about 60 miles into the Gaza strip and north of Chicualacula bordering the Gonarezhou National Park in Zimbabwe.
Because we have been hunting with Pieter for years (and he is the only person I would ever willingly trust with our lives in Africa), he was comfortable with us going to the new place before the lodge was totally finished. And he wanted to go and see the progress since there were delays in the building because of the record level heavy rains this year. What a great side trip!
The fun part of knowing Pieter is that he always has surprises. The first year I hunted with him he arranged for me to go after a Macnab. I not only achieved a Macnab, but a Gold one at that. (A Macnab is shooting a gold medal animal, taking a sporting bird, which was a Francolin over a hunting dog with a shotgun, and catching a sport fish (in this case a Rainbow trout) with a fly on a fly rod all on one property. A Gold Macnab is when it is done in one day, Silver in 2 days and so forth. (See SCI’s Safari Journal of Big Game Hunting July/August 2007, page 54)
This year’s surprise was in cahoots with my wife for my birthday. I was to have the opportunity to shoot a Cape Buffalo, it would be the first animal ever to be taken in that whole area of Mozambique. Re: Tag #1. It was a dream I had had for many years. Never had I thought that we could have ever afforded it or even more, physically do it. I was elated and scared at the same time.
Because of the rainy season (extreme rainy season this year) we could not cross the Limpopo River directly into the area of Mozambique we would be hunting. Instead, we were crossing Krueger Park in the south of Mozambique, driving many extra hours instead of the 6 hours that it would normally be. We were on something that they called a road and with all the bridges out and no signs to tell you so. It was some trip. I recommend sitting on a pillow.
While we were on the road to and from nowhere, Pieter received a call on his satellite phone from the Mozambique’s Gaza Strip, Conservation Officer who wanted to know if the party he had (meaning us ) were able to go after a problem elephant in an area we were going to drive through. Pieter asked us if we were up to taking out a rogue elephant, he said it wouldn’t interfere with our quest for the buffalo. It took my wife and me all but a glance to both nod our heads while trying to not smile tooooo much. Now before Pieter was off the phone getting directions to meet the officer in charge, Mr. Sekwela, Ginny and I were like little kids bantering back and forth as to who was going to shoot it. There were a hundred reasons on both sides, and I was even going to give up a few joke prenuptials that I always said I had. We decided we should act like adults to settle this: rock, paper, scissors. She won… I think she cheated. But she wouldn’t bend. She would take the elephant and I would film it.
Pieter called ahead to our original destination at his new camp up near Chicualacula. He told Boet, the resident Mozambique PH, to meet us somewhere along the road and make up a tent site for the night. We all met up a half hour before dark at the only crossroads in hundreds of miles. Not that this was much of a cross roads, in fact we doubled the population for the half hour we were there while Pieter, Sekwela and Boet discussed the plans. We all got into our perspective vehicles and off we went to our very first spike camp along the road somewhere in the middle of nowhere Mozambique. We arrived at our makeshift camp around 9 pm and were surprised to find our camp had a table with a table cloth and our tents were all set up with cots and fresh white sheets. We had some starters, (appetizers) great wine, and spaghetti bolognaise, complete with garlic bread and a salad. Not bad, not bad at all. We got some well needed sleep on something that wasn’t moving before the craziness began the next day. We were off at day break to find that bad boy elephant. We arrived at the village and began by talking to the Chief of that area. You can’t just start hunting without greetings and formalities. Pieter and Boet went off to find new tracks, leaving Ginny and I with Sekwela to wait and see. Talking with Sekwela was an eye opening experience.
We were very fortunate to have had the time to talk to this fine man and learn about the problems people living in these extremely remote areas have. It could be the occasional elephant that gets hooked on robbing their vegetable gardens that the people need to survive or the old lion that starts killing their cattle or the herdsman because it’s too old to hunt wild game. And we think we have a deer problem back home. After some wild goose chases and some month old elephant tracks, finally an old woman showed them all fresh tracks that were hours old. The hunt was on. Quickly we were out of the truck, loaded up the rifles, and began the stalk. Just a side note, my whining or begging wasn’t getting me anywhere. Ginny was determined to shoot this elephant. I was impressed with her fortitude. We followed this elephant with his piles of spoor laced with watermelon seeds for what seemed like days but was only 4 hours and time ran out for the day.
We headed back toward the truck and back to our new tent camp in what seemed like a school grounds. Another great dinner by our bush chef complete with a wonderful dessert. As the dark came on us yet another problem reared its ugly head. Seems that woman don’t hunt in this chiefs eyes. Well Pieter and Boet and Sekwela, said this one does and the negotiations around the camp fire was on and heated. It took awhile and some money and the theory that this Golden Haired White woman was a special woman, very capable of hunting this elephant. Well Pieter came and explained the situation to us and told me a hundred times not to laugh for fear of loosing our heads because the people believed it, and they were calling in a black magic priestess to bless my wife with the skills she would need to find and hunt this bad elephant.
Here we all were sitting at the base of a “sacred tree”, in the light of our fire and she preformed her ceremony (for a charge) of using her challis (a cut off 1 leader soda bottle sitting on its cap propped up against the tree) and throwing tobacco on the ground along with some bones and spitting some wine on the tobacco that WE had to buy for this special occasion. Everyone was chanting around the sacred tree and we had to clap our hands 3 times after she chanted something that I’ve seen in old Tarzan movies. So after the ceremony was done we all celebrated and Ginny was aloud to hunt the watermelon eating elephant.
We cleaned up the best we could in our improvised shower area. Then off to bed (exhausted). We were up and ready before dawn with some bush coffee and rusks. We were off elephant hunting again. (is this all a dream ???) Back on the tracks of this ‘Beast’ as Boet would drop back to my position and say to me. He was definitely a beast, evident by his 22inch footprints and the areas where he put his head down and plowed his tucks into the ground to show his anger and size. Boet was happy to be going after this beast.
The happiness wore off as the sun came up, the humidity got thicker, and the terrain got denser. Everywhere were plants called cat’s claw, razor grass, and a thousand other man eating plants that ripped and shredded as we wove our way through. This guy was taking us through the worst area he could go. On and on we went. When we stopped for the occasional break I was told that this old beast had a plan. He knew where he was going. He had passed food and water and was on a mission to someplace we couldn’t go. He’s been hunted before they said. As the sun got higher and hotter they were hoping he would stop and take his nap in the heat of the day. That is what elephants normally do I was told.
By mid afternoon, we were closing in and thought that within the hour we close the deal. He was there – fresh mud and fresh tracks that lead off with the mud on leaves that were still wet. They handed the rifle to Ginny and we slowly walked forward. Yes he had stopped there and he had already took his nap and left. So we were asked if we could make it farther. Ginny by now was cherry red and I was popping pain pills every 2 hours. We were beat up and blood was running down both arms and legs from the nice plants. “Let’s go!” Ginny said. If I die I’ll die while elephant hunting, not on Route 80 while commuting back and forth to work. That a Girl!
She had a little of the water that we were now rationing and we were off again. It got hot(103+ degrees, which to us folks heading out of northeast US winter was kind of hot). With no air stirring the heat was impenetrable. Pieter and Boet were getting worried about us wimps as I called myself a thousand times an hour. So when we stopped for another break, Pieter and Boet had a pow-wow and gave us their thoughts. Pieter said we were close, just how close he didn’t know. Could we go another hour and a half and if we didn’t catch up we would have to turn around and head back for the day? We had already been walking and stalking, bending and running for six or more hours. He would send Sederick, one of our trackers, back from here and have him bring the truck closer to us. YES, let’s give it all we can.
Within an hour the lead tracker stopped dead in his tracks. Nowhere on earth can things change so fast. You could smell him – he was so near you could smell his musk. Ginny was armed again and we were warned not to make a sound. Step by step, closer we got. It was the hearts in your throats and pounding in your ears kind of silence. Then Boet and Pieter grabbed Ginny half picking her up and they took off on the run. They sighted him! Pieter put Ginny on the sticks and he and Boet brought the rifles up. To me it looked like they were aiming way up at the sky. Trees snapping, limbs breaking and in a split second he was gone. It appeared he double backed on us, Boet said. He was right there one second and gone the next. A ‘Beast’ of 14+ feet at 30 yards and they couldn’t see enough of him to get a safe shot off. Yep, he was gone. We all just looked at each other. Over, this hunt is over. “He not going to stop now,” Boet said. “you just don’t run down an elephant like him, he’s been hunted before.”
We turned around and headed back on our tracks, disappointed but happy for the experience that few people in the world ever get a chance to do. Did we get an elephant? NO, but were we elephant hunting in Mozambique? You bet we were!
It was a long way back. Remember, by now we had tracked for 7 ½ hours. Drinking water was running out, the air was hot, and we were getting close to heat exhaustion. We ran across a pool of water. I don’t want to get graphic, but it was not pretty, and nothing I thought we should set foot in. But we were dangerously HOT! OK, let’s cool our feet. I turned around and Pieter and Boet had emptied their pockets and were in up to their necks. It didn’t take long to decide to join them. It was better then any spa waters or pool I’ve ever been in my life. While we were sitting in the mud and laughing, some of the young locals were catching fish using their internationally donated mosquito netting. I was hoping that they wouldn’t invite us to dinner. After a half hour of cooling down we redressed and headed back on our tracks. Within a few miles we heard voices, and out of the bush came Sekwela and the chief with a plastic bag of bottled water. That was the best tasting water I ever had….
We finally got back to the truck, then back to the camp. We quickly cleanup up, enjoyed another fine dinner in paradise, and drove through the night to our original destination at Motsomi Mozambique. We couldn’t afford to wait daylight traveling. We still needed time for the buffalo hunt. The road (again, I wouldn’t have used that word to describe the ruts and track) went on and on. But we made it to the new camp in the wee hours and everything was ready for us. The staff had worked so hard and was so proud to have us come that they pulled out all the stops. Remember we were the very first guests to ever come. When we pulled up the generator went on and the lights lit up the two gigantic Baobab trees with the new main lodge in the middle of the two. It was breathtaking. The table was set in fine china with silver candelabras. We had a small nightcap and a wonderful meal while our luggage was put in the outer fly of our safari tent.
I’ve seen them on TV, but none were as nice to us as the one in our eyes at 2:00 am in the morning. With the white bed linens and zebra rugs, it was out of a magazine. My wife said she didn’t want to mess it up after the long travel. But after a nice shower in the new bathroom, we feel asleep as soon as our heads touched the pillows.
Pieter let us sleep way past 6 am. More like 6:04 am, Rise and Shine, we’re here to get you your buffalo. And you’re not going to get it in bed. I lay there thinking, if they are truly free ranging animals, wouldn’t it make sense that they could wander into camp? No one would listen to my logic. So I rolled out of bed to get ready for a day of hunting.
As I had said Bush coffee and rusk again is the staple in Africa. And I needed it. Pieter was busy talking Afrikaans, waving his hands all over the place and talking to this guy and that guy, pointing here and there. Getting the new camp to his liking. When he saw we were finished with our breakfast we went to sight in our rifles. After that ride from hell it would be suicide not to. Everything was fine. I had sent over a New Leupold VXIII 1.5×5 with the lighted reticles just for this hunt. And it was looking great, dead on.
Off we went. We drove around for a few hours checking the new water holes they had put in with bore holes and generators that would keep the pans full for the game during the dry seasons. Elephants galore, that’s what they should call the place. Just looking at the first stop our tracker Sederick said “elephants working” meaning when they eat they just push the trees down and eat the tender tops. It looks like a D-10 bulldozer went through… go figure, with all the green grass up to there bellies.
We picked up some tracks that were a little old, but promising. I don’t know how they do it. They find one track and follow that same animal day after day, unbelievable. Later that afternoon, Boet, our Mozambique resident PH and his tracker who is a reformed poacher, split from us to see what they could pick up before sunset.
When we first met Boet I introduced myself as fair game and to have some fun. But the only caveat was I had a really bad back. So there will be some things I can not do. But all else was fair game. Big mistake with these seasoned pranksters! They wrote the book on playing with clients who think they know something because we have read all the right books and watched Craig Boddington and all the other 30 minute TV shows. Boet and Pieter played with me the rest of the evening and into the next morning until I didn’t know what was the truth or lies. The only times I got a hint of the truth were when I asked Pieter directly and all I got was the answer I deserved, the sacred words “Trust YOUR PH!!!!”
So off we go again… still on this big Buffalo track with a second track of a smaller buffalo. Hopefully it is a younger bull Pieter said, not a cow that will make the old bull keep moving when he would rather stop a take a nap. This old dagga boy did stop. He stopped here and there to play in the mud. That’s when you know you’re getting closer to him by the mud that drops off of him as he’s walking away and the leaves are still covered with wet mud. You find a whole new source of energy when this happens because you’re making up ground.
One second you’re walking with your head down using what we called my Poppa stick to probe the ground in front of you and watching where you’re putting your feet because of the elephant foot print holes. The next second the rifle that you can’t carry any more is shoved back into your hands and the tracker points, drops down and takes off. He did his job, and I don’t blame him. He doesn’t have a gun and he’s seen Cape buffalo up close and personal.
We’re now down on our hands and knees crawling toward a fallen tree. Pieter slowly brings his head up and sees the Bull. Down he comes and whispers “he’s a monster bull on the right and big bosses, but I didn’t see the left side.” I don’t care I said, he’s an ol’ dagga boy. That’s what counts. Not the inches. Pieter and I have had this same philosophy for years now. We both agree that a trophy Buffalo is not the inch spread, but the age of the bull. So many hunters take soft boss bulls just to achieve the inches so they can claim ‘trophy’.
He told me where he was and I started up with the new scope turned on. Just as I did the second buffalo took off and the Bull followed. I never saw him, a day done in a split second. I would have been upset except of the positive attitude Pieter had. It seems this is Old Dagga Boy hunting and we were very lucky to have gotten this close this soon. Ask my body that and it would have given a different answer. So we back out and we make a mile or two circle to see if he continued in that direction or if he was still in that dark thick wooded area.
After making the couple hour circle we picked up the tracks, (amazing) of the same two. It was getting closer to dark so Pieter pushed the button on the GPS to mark the spot and we started to walk towards the truck. We were done for the day. And will pick up from here in the morning.
I have to throw in a little comment about the GPS. Our reformed tracker Michele had never seen one of these before. And through translating three or four different languages, some without the indigenous words to explain it, Pieter was able to tell him this little ‘thingem’ of a box talked to the sky and told him where we were and which way the truck was. Michele the tracker pointed one way and Pieter pointed another and since Pieter was the Boss he listened halfheartedly. Within an hour Michele realized the box that speaks to the sky was right, and every now and then he would ask Pieter where the truck was and was very happy when we walked up a small hill, there was the truck. So every time we stopped and started in the remainder of the hunts he wanted to see what the box said first. How fast new technology is excepted.
When we arrived back a camp a shower and clean clothes were the first order of business. Soon after were sundowners and starters. Our bush chef named Zak was fantastic, fixing 5 star meals in the middle of nowhere. Every meal was better then the last. My wife and I started making plans to sneak him home with us. Lets see, we could build a second story over the garage for him.
10 pm already, and our bellies are full and our pallets satisfied from some great wine. We found our pillows and off we were till the 4:30 am wake up call. Are we having fun yet? The thoughts of going back to pick up the tracks and follow him again were too much for my wife Ginny. But we convinced her to at least try the morning walk. Pieter and Boet were convinced that because of all the rain there was food and water everywhere so the buffalo we were after didn’t have to travel far to eat.
We picked up the tracks from the night before with the tracker now liking this little box that talks to the sky. But unfortunately nobody told the two buffalos that they didn’t have to walk any farther.
So by 10 am my wife Ginny was done (it wasn’t the physical strain on her body, it was the 100+ degree heat and high humidity that got her). She was VERY upset she couldn’t continue. I’m such an ass – I’ll never learn to keep my mouth shut. Guys, this is a big HINT for you, it is NOT the time to joke by saying that she did a real good job up until now for a girl! Good thing she didn’t have the gun. I know that look, and I tried to back paddle. But it was too late. Way too late.
So we left her at the truck with the radio and a knife and a book. And off we went again. I did mention I have a very bad back. And I do. But I was not following Dr’s advice by popping pills every 2 hours. But it was the only way I could do it. This was really a do or die hunt for me. We rested only a few times, because we were closing in and there was only a few hours left of this long day. Pieter asked me how I was doing for the hundredth time because he could see I was going downhill. He said if we hurry a little we just may catch up to him today. Was I able to do it? A quick flash went through my head: I thought that I could give all I could today and hope for the best. But tomorrow just didn’t think would happen. So let’s do it.
An hour went by of watching out for elephant track holes, still probing with my papa stick, and vines that were now dragging around my feet because I couldn’t pick them up any longer. Then, like a bolt of lightning things changed again. At an edge of a thick dark wooded area Michelle stopped, pointed, gave me my rifle and took off. Pieter was pointing out in front, but I was a few steps behind a bush. There was no pain now, the game was on. I heard the buffalo run, oh no not again. As Pieter and I ran out to a small clear spot there he was. We had disturbed his nap and he wasn’t used to something disturbing him.
It was, and still is in my memory that everything went to slow motion. I had turned on the scope and in the darkness of the canopy there he was, where he wanted to stand his ground. All I could make out was the massive light gray of his horns and his eyes. Ruark said it and I’ve read it. But not until you’ve been eye to eye with him do you really know what that means. He was done running. I had my papa walking stick in my left hand and I put the CZ 375 on my thumb. Pieter yelled “Can you take him? He’s facing us, come down his head and take him right in the chest.” From the millisecond it took for his voice to go in my ears, through my brain and out to my finger to pull back on the trigger, and the rifle went off and spit out the Barnes Triple Shock bullet as the buffalo started to turn. When I looked back up after I reloaded the Bull was gone. Pieter yelled “Where did you hit him?” I said I don’t know, he asked was he in your scope when you fired. “YES”. The new scope with the lighted reticle was right on his chest where it was supposed to be when I pulled the trigger.
We took off running – I was on the left, Pieter on the right. Again, what back problems? I’ll pay for this. What vines around my feet? I was on such an adrenalin rush I could break trees. Pieter yells “Don’t follow him, come over this way, circle him.” At the last step before I turned his way I saw the massive splattering of blood. I had to have had the heart or lung shot. I didn’t have time to even tell Pieter when I caught up to him when we heard it. The sound I’ve heard on TV. The death bellows. What a sound! I saw him piled up and there was a big cow standing over him. I looked back over my shoulder after I heard a noise and it was Michelle hiding behind a bunch of trees watching what was going on. This was probably his first look at a live buffalo down and bellowing like crazy. It lasted about 40 seconds and while he was bellowing we were dealing with the cow who was very upset and mock charging us. I also heard lions roar at the same time. I have never felt so alive. We yelled, we screamed but the cow was determined to get us.
Finally the Bull quieted down and I started yelling at her again. I threw my hat at her and with a lot of reluctance she left. We put Michelle in charge of watching the cow while Pieter and I slowly approached this massive beast. Pieter had me put another shot in him, just in case. An anchor shot he called it and I was happy to do it. While still holding my nice red lit crosshairs on the bull, Pieter checked his eyes. The beast was dead and then adrenalin ran out. Now I know why good friends hug in these situations. If we hadn’t hugged I would have fallen to the ground.
Are you alright Pieter asks? I don’t know. But slowly real time started to come back and we’re at normal speed. I can’t believe it. I got a buffalo, a real Dagga Boy Buffalo. Tag #1 Buffalo, and I was still alive… Pieter patted me on my back and shook my hand and congratulated me, and then it started. Now most men wouldn’t admit this part but I’m secure enough to do it. I started to cry. I don’t know why – I couldn’t stop the tears going down my face. And you know what…….. I didn’t care. I was with the greatest guy I’ve ever met and I know he would understand more then I did. My only regret was the best hunting partner and Love of my life wasn’t there to see it. But I’ll be telling her over and over for many years to come, step by step I lifted my gun, there he was…..
We returned to Pieter’s home lodge in the Limpopo province of South Africa where his family is and we were glade to see them. Once you go with Motsomi you become part of there family. There motto is come as a client and leave as a friend has been the most truthful slogan I have ever encountered.
Ginny having only shot an old wildebeest cow for the workers meat supply and finally her Guinea hen after 3 year quest, she was having an itchy trigger finger and wanted to shoot something, but something off the usual plains game list. Pieter always loves a challenge and I could tell from his grin he had a plan. Once you’ve met Pieter, you will come to realize he always has a plan. Trust your PH.
“Ginny,” he said, “How would you like to go after a Tsessebe?” Her eye’s opened wide. Are there some around here? Pieter responded that while hunting last season he had ran across a herd of them a few miles from his lodge here and he didn’t think anyone would have disturbed them. But it would be fun to look for them anyway. There she was, my cute little wife up on the back of the truck, looking like a sporting dog on the first day of small game season. It wasn’t long before we were at the area where he had last spotted them. After Pieter and the trackers had found some fresh tracks we got off the truck and started walking. This was a beautiful area and we saw lots of game. I saw my first big mature male Roan antelope. I couldn’t talk at the moment but etched in my brain that day that was the next critter on my never ending list. Wow, was he beautiful!
They spotted some Tsessebe bulls and as the day went on it seemed that was the easy part. Because of the heavy rains and it was early in the season, the grass was extremely high everywhere. When the biggest bull was broadside Ginny couldn’t see him good enough to shoot. And of course, when she had an open spot the bull was behind something or running. That’s something Tsessebe do very well. They have keen eye sight and they are the fastest of all the antelopes in Africa. Well after a few hours the big bull made a mistake and gave Snookems a shot. Well to be honest a few shots. But she got the job done and she had another fine trophy to add to her growing list. I have to watch out, she’s catching up to me.
The next day I was to go looking for my big impalas that I am so hooked on. Not ‘just’ an impala but that one out of a hundred you glass on. I was looking for the one with the real wide spread and big shelf. Well, it rained and the mud was too thick to hunt and so I enjoyed playing with Pieter’s kids and teaching them games, such as a money tossing rocks game and I took their money. Bad man, Bad bad man. But I did let them win it back.
I hope you enjoyed my recount of my Buffalo hunt and time with Motsomi Safaris. I know I enjoyed writing it.
(the world 2nd greatest)