We were eight days into a ten-day hunt and Michael
had shot a sable, but no buffalo, so we returned to camp early that
day to rest and regroup.
As we approached camp I spotted two black specks
across the grassy plain, but they barely registered with me—probably
just wildebeests—and I looked away, toward camp and a soft bed.
Michael slowly climbed down from the Land Cruiser’s
raised observation seat.
"You doing OK?" I asked.
"Sure," he said, "But should we have come in so
early? We haven’t seen a decent buffalo since the first day."
"It won’t hurt to take a little break and rest up,"
I said. "Let’s have some dinner and turn in early."
I hoped another day without success hadn’t
discouraged my son. On our first day a cheeky but immature bull
charged the Land Cruiser. A great start—followed by many days of
pursuing herds only to find no shootable bulls, and then all buffalo
seemingly disappeared overnight.
We’d seen lion tracks within a mile of camp. Graham
said the tracks belonged to a big male. Michael wondered if we
should have included lion on the license, but I told him we needed a
buffalo before discussing the high cost of lions. Our lion track
discovery brought us to the eighth day, another of searching without
I had just laid the Steyr 458 Winchester Magnum on
the spare bed when Michael burst in, followed by tracker Albert.
Kuntu , our other tracker, had remained with the Land Cruiser to
help unload. Michael wore his brush-proof pants but was bareheaded
and had traded his hunting shirt for a college T-shirt, his boots
for a pair of soft elk-hide camp moccasins.
"Quick, give me the 458! Kuntu saw two buffalo by
the waterhole, and Graham wants to go after them."
I handed over the 458 and mentally kicked myself—the
two black specks I had seen when we drove into camp were the buffalo
Michael was on the run to overtake.
"Are you coming?" he asked as he headed out the
pulled on my clothes but by the time I made it out the door Michael
was nowhere in sight. A couple of hunters and their PHs were already
firmly ensconced around the fire ring, nursing their first
sundowners. One, a doctor from New Jersey, looked up as I
"I saw your son and Graham and the trackers tearing
out of here. What’s going on?" he asked.
"Buffalo," I answered. "They’re going to try to get
close enough before it gets too dark."
George Parkin and fellow PH Monty Wilkinson
approached, libations in hand. "Not to worry," Monty said. "Graham’ll
put him on that buff if it’s a good one."
"Right," agreed George. "They’ll sort it out in
short order. Probably be back before dinner."
Moments later—Ca-ra-wong! —a gunshot rang
out, closer than I’d expected.
"Sounds like your boy got his buffalo," the New
Jersey doctor said. "Hope it’s a good one."
Out of the stillness that pervades African twilight,
there was another Ca-ra-wong! and almost immediately, a third.
"Well, that ought to do it, I expect," George Parkin
offered, and we heard the familiar eerie death rattle that marks a
Cape buffalo’s final moment. Then all was quiet.
was spurred to action. "I say, shall I run you up there in my
‘Cruiser? You’ll want photographs, won’t you?"
We traveled the well-worn trail out of camp and
stopped just around the first bend when we saw headlights bouncing
in the off-road growth. It was Kuntu, working Graham’s vehicle into
the bush, while Albert chopped small trees ahead of the hunting car.
We walked ahead and soon came upon Graham and Michael, standing over
a very dead Cape buffalo.
"Quite a fine buffalo your son’s killed," Graham
said. "He’ll go thirty-eight or thirty-nine, I should think. Has a
good drop and I think Michael is happy".
I looked over at my son, who was kneeling beside the
buffalo, examining its boss. "So, is that true—you’re happy with
I turned back to Graham. "What happened?"
"We followed the road to the point the two buffalo
crossed, then pursued them on foot. They doubled back, we got within
about thirty yards, and the better of the two turned—he was about to
charge. Michael dropped the buff with one shot. A nice piece of
shooting, by the way."
I surveyed the scene. "You know, I outfitted you in
the best safari gear I could afford, including made-to-order boots.
You walked for days, and now you shoot a perfectly fine buffalo five
hundred yards from camp in a T-shirt and a pair of bedroom
me a break and just take some pictures, will you?" Michael replied.
I decided I had teased him enough.
Two days later we left for that incredibly long trip
back home. During the flight I pulled the stereo headphones off
Michael and asked him how he felt about his accomplishments.
"You’ve graduated from college to law school, and
from plains game to buffalo," I sagely observed. "Will that hold you
for a while?"
"Maybe," he said. "But I still want some other
plains game. And then, there were those lion tracks . . . ."
"You didn’t spend all your money on this
trip, did you?"
I settled back in my seat and made a mental note: Push
retirement back another five years.