Big Five. The toughest of gangs in the toughest of
neighbourhoods. The primal world of raw Africa. Well deserved
reputations for their ability to bite, stomp, crush, squish, gore,
trample, run over, slash, rip and claw literally the living
daylights out of you.
Simba and Chui are the designed killers of the Big
Five and killing to live is the name of their game. Cloaked in
bush camo and built for bloody business, lean and mean explosive
bundles of quick-twitch muscle fibres, sinew and tendons. Armed with
a wicked array of fangs and claws it all comes together for perfect
deadly packages of stealth, sizzling quickness and reflexes. And
don’t be fooled by the ambling dim witted nature of Mr. Rhino.
Pea-brained and at a couple of tons of armoured hulk, a flesh and
blood battering ram an angry Rhino likens to a two year old throwing
a temper tantrum at the wheel of a cement mixer. Elephants are the
brains in the bunch and at seven tons if the jumbo brawn behind that
brain get pissed off there will be hell to pay.
Super-sized and smart with a stomp to end all stomps
the worlds largest land animal is surely not one to be trifled with.
Tough guys, all of them.
But the verdict is in. Buffs are considered by most
to be the toughest of the tough. Baddest of the bad. Brutes
built for battle. A beaten and battered hide covers three quarters
of a ton of gristle and brawn. Helmeted with bosses and horns forged
of pig iron and Arizona asphalt sweeping low and turning up into
brutal gutting hooks that look to have been hand hammered by the
Grim Reaper himself. Ears hang in tattered scars, mouths in a
foul grimace of disgust framing black eyes with the glare of an axe
murderer. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul.
When those smouldering black embers gaze upon man that soul becomes
a dark and hateful place.
Black Death and Bad attitude.
Buff had been a lifelong daydream that seemed to be
reserved for those with deeper pockets than mine. To a boyhood
dreamer with a wanderlust crippled by the distance I could pedal my
Stingray bicycle and yearly hunting trips with Dad in the family
station wagon. The gritty tales of danger, death and razor edged
African adventure put a deep hook in me. Some dreamed of
climbing Everest, being a Rock Star or playing in the Big Leagues.
I wanted to hunt Africa. Hunt Buff.
The "I think I can pull this off" finally came
together in Kosovo where I was in charge of a group of cops
from all over the world. I always knew high dollar hunts were
out of the question for my shallow pockets and wondered if guys in
Africa simply went hunting like back home in Colorado. Yobe, one of
my best men, gifted with a million dollar smile and a Police
Commander from Zambia told me of a fellow tribe member who was a
hunter. After a bit of communication it looked like it was a go. It
was going to be nothing fancy for sure. Sounded like it was going to
be a gang of guys and a Landcrusier packed with gear. Right up my
After arriving in Lusaka, a string of sleepless
nights, a few hot and sweaty days in the burnt diesel clatter and
confusion of town I was feeling a bit murky. One afternoon my "I
think I need to sit down", quickly turned into a "I think I’m gonna
puke" to feeling like I was gonna pass out which I did shortly after
sitting on the curb. I hadn’t passed out since I was a kid and was
a day of indecision of the wisdom of heading deep into the wild bush
of Africa where my imagination had me spastic and delirious sprawled
across a dirt floor, foaming at the mouth and lathered in sweat.
Visions of a loin clothed rattle shaking doc in a jerky dance
spitting fresh hyena blood on me to scare out the evil. That little
voice that told me a year in Baghdad, job choices where half my pay
is in hazard-danger bonuses and long solo wilderness trips were bad
ideas was chattering away.
Feeling a bit better and weighing the risk of
becoming vulture chow than think the rest of my life I was hours
away from hunting Buff and had played it safe. We were off. I was
One of the local merchants was going to outfit the
trip. My first impression was spot on. A grinning snake oil
salesman with an overly friendly handshake and a don’t worry answer
to every question. The Land Cruiser and gear looked beat and tired.
The promise of a 375 HH ended up being a 300 Win-Mag. An Elk
Gun. Although skeptical, I was assured by all many a Buff had
hit the dirt courtesy of the 300 Win-Mag. The gun looked to be
solid; it was the loose spin on the vintage 3x9 scope that worried
me. Trying to pick up a Buff full of hell fire in a thundering
charge in a scope that had switched from three to nine power would
liken to looking through the front door peep hole and shoot a
pick-axe wielding madman trying to smash his way in.
The well worn box of bullets looked as if they had
been kicking around the back of a Land Cruiser for a decade or so.
I opened the box and a few lead tips of the tarnished mismatched 180
grain copper jacketed rounds were smashed and misshapen. I
thought of some of the lengthy articles I had read about the merits
of monster rounds the size of ballpark franks and discussion of
solids, foot pounds of energy and velocities of bone breaking slugs.
I wondered if Teddy R’s "walk softly and carry a big stick", was
inspired by one of his African hunts for dangerous game. It made
perfect sense to me. I was going to be walking softly for sure, the
big stick, well, I had thought about bringing my bow and whatever
punch these old bullets packed had to be more than a flying razor
Buffs have a legendary ability to take a beating and
keep coming in a land where legend is not spoken of lightly. Legend
of "dead on their feet" with pulverized hearts and flattened lungs,
absorbing barrages of the heaviest of bullets. That last
bitter defiant, "I’m dying and I’m taking you with me" kamikaze
blitz. But like all good ring savvy sluggers, it’s not quite
are clever and have a deadly bag of tricks. Known to circle
unpredictably when wounded setting their trap in the thickest thorns
and foulest of bush, likely down-wind where your scared stink will
betray your approach. Lying in wait with one thing on their mind. To
kill you. They move in bursts of deep thick power which
deceptively might look muscle-bound and slow. Careful: it is
an illusion. Sure, Buff lack the nimble footwork and flashing speed
of the Big Cats. But don’t be fooled, they can sprint to 35
Considering Carl Lewis topped out at about 23 mph,
and I’m no Carl Lewis, leading to the chilly reality that in a blink
a snot slinging rage of hooves and horns could turn yours truly into
a stew of splintered bone, blood, gore and dirt. Brains, brawn
The toughest, smartest and most deadly African
muscle around is being flexed by big Buffs.
Our gang consisted of Uncle Briss, Ennis and Toby,
my local connections and a few barefooted hired hands. Briss
was the long-time hunter, sort of the leader of the bunch and a
veteran of dozens and dozens of Buffs.
His repeated advice was to "Break them down", on the
first shot - adding that if you don’t you will have to deal with a
20 litre adrenaline surge. I joked back: "me or him?"
As we left the sweaty clatter of town behind the
African bush laid before us. Adventure awaited. The
air became rich, smooth, warm, clean and smelled of life. As
we travelled deeper into the bush the centuries quickly fell away.
Scraggly chickens pecked about a few scattered villages of mud,
straw and dried sticks. Bright eyed barefoot kids played with
handmade toys, quick with a smile and wave. Women at work were
wrapped in bright joyful colours and in the fields stick straight
boys tended goats with rods and well thrown stones.
Humans became rare wanderers as wildness ruled the
As we made our long journey the sun was finishing
its work and settling across the low hills. There was a raw
energy in that setting sun I had never felt before. That
beating solar heart cast a golden web of life across the land. The
glint of rivers through the trees, blood red dirt and the thick bush
were woven together by God’s hand in a timeless breathtaking
vibration of life.
Lean and clear eyed Fabien would be our bush guide.
A notorious poacher from the old days who had turned from the dark
to the light was now the area’s assigned hunter. A timeless soul
with a velvet smooth voice of melted chocolate from a lifetime of
whispering in the company of dangerous game. Sliding his
fingers down the oiled wood of his Bruno 375 HH simply saying "This
is a strong gun." I sensed I was in good hands.
Fabien said we would look for groups of bulls or
boys. Pugnacious gangs of rouge outcasts or lone drifters. There is
no such thing as the Golden years for old bulls.
Spending the best years of their lives running hoss
on the herds taking on all comers. They lose a step, get a little
creak in the joints, maybe wounded defending the herd and what’s the
thanks they get? Banished to a lonely loveless life wandering
the bush alone or hooking up with a few other betrayed cranky
Before leaving for Africa I ran across an internet
clip of an old bull being taken by a pride of lions. It took
them two hours to break him down and kill him. Think about that.
Any one of those lions could turn you or I into a bag of Cheetos in
seconds and it took six of them two hours.
On the 1-10 toughness scale that’s a solid 16.
Taking the buff
Wandering the bush for days, an impala and Puku in
the bag, it happened quickly. There….Ngati…this way! Fabian’s
smooth voice took a quick keen edge as he made a sharp tug at my
sleeve. In a short stepped trot we ran ahead. In a low
hiss "There." About 50 yards away in shadowy hollow I could see the
grey shoulder, hulking back and horn sweep of a bull in a tangle of
thorns and branches. "Break his back….sit him down".
The moment of truth
As hunters, there are moments seared deep into our
minds. Your scope filled with a full curl ram, full draw on a
rut-crazed herd bull deep in the wilderness, the low woof of a
grizzly at twilight with a pack full of moose meat, your first
pheasant. Moments that change us.
moment I had waited for my whole life was here. My gun was up
and down two or three times, clearly seeing the Buff with my naked
eye. But the cheap scope turned the Buff standing in the tattered
shadows into a grey blur. With an added urgency Fabien kept
whispering "Shoot! Shoot now!….Break his back…Sit him down…he won’t
wait". I saw a small yellow leaf hanging where I thought his
spine was aimed at the leaf and fired. There was a crash of
running animals and the bush was dead quiet.
Fabien ran ahead in sweeping circle; I followed in a
stiff run. There he was, head slung low in a tangle of bush. All
thoughts of diagrams and wisdom of precise bullet placements were
gone, my mind was on instinct. The cross hairs locked on the
sweet spot behind the front shoulder I had been shooting at my whole
K-Boom! The bull simply turned and was
gone. Fabien ran ahead. I was committed to his lead. Fabien
slowed cautiously, whispering "He will try and trick us look for us
following his blood, we’ll circle ahead, we’ll fool him, come."
We looped ahead another fifty yards, there he was,
broadside in an angry stare. Fabien hissed "He is giving you a
proper shot. Sit him down." I dropped to kneeling; let
the breath sigh out of my lungs. The frantic last few minutes
seemed to pause.
The cross hairs settled in. The surprise
recoil of a good shot and he simply turned, dropped over a small
ridge and was gone.
I have taken my share of big game and when hit they
show some sign of the bullet impact. No flinch, no
stagger, no shudder, no knee buckle.
it the gun? Was it the Buffs tough makeup? Had I missed?
I was a cop for ten years and cops have nightmares that at the
moment of life threatening truth their bullets just fall out the end
of their guns. I was getting that sick feeling of wonder. Fabien was
off again in a fast trot.
The ground had been a mudflat during the rainy
season was now filled with foot deep elephant’s tracks the size of
waste paper baskets now sun scorched and rock hard. It all was
happening quick and was turning into a running adrenaline dump of
thorns, Buff and slinging brass.
After a stumbling run across this ankle-breaking
flat we had to cross the ditch. Over the top of the ridge somewhere
was an almost surely wounded bull. It was an unavoidable choke
point, the fatal funnel I knew of as a cop. If he doubled back and
decided to come over the top in an angry avalanche he would be on us
before we knew it.
cresting out of the ditch there he was about 40 paces away down on
his side with his crap- crusted rump facing our way. He had taken a
beating that was clear. Like a downed boxer who had taken a flurry
of haymakers he was trying to get his feet back under him to get
back in the fight. I did some quick math; three shots would leave me
one in the pipe and one in the clip. Still didn’t seem he had seen
us or was going to make the count. One more shot would either be
lights out for him or a wake-up call from hell. He was down and out.
me there are moments of fascination when I first approach and touch
a downed animal. To feel, touch and smell its wildness for the first
time. He was a beast. I was in awe of his sheer size. But it was
some of the small details that caught my eye. Clues of its life,
dried mud from the last wallow, chunks out of it bosses, sand, sap
and bark smashed into the crevasses of its horns. Deep wrinkles of
wisdom, ripped ears, scars and scabs testament to the toughest of
animals in the toughest of worlds.
The Win-Mag had done its job. Double-tap in the
sweet spot you could place your hand over. The first "yellow leaf"
shot whereabouts unknown. 500 grains of this or that would not have
done a number on his lungs and heart any better than that 300 had.
Just took a few minutes for the Buff to realize he was dead on his
feet. Those few minutes can turn into a dance with death and makes
Buff hunting the legend it is.
I am not the first Africa has called to with the
dream of adventure. That call has made its siren song to those with
incurable wanderlust for hundreds of years. Africa moves hearts and
passions with the lightness of life to its sometimes Heart of
Schnackac is an avid rifle- and bow hunter. He spent
a decade in the police force and is currently an
International Police Command Staff instructor.
As the crowded bus rattled down the dusty ruts on
the long trip back to Lusaka and my flight home, I knew the call of
Africa would echo and call again.
Until then my daydreams will be filled with warm sun and warmer
smiles, the haunting moan of a lion on a moonlit night and the
chance to once again meet Black Death deep in the tangled bush.