When things go right
of yesteryear • Adventure Sport • Africa: The Good News • Book Reviews •
Any experienced hunter will tell you that there are a number of ingredients necessary to ensure a successful hunting safari in Africa. Obviously, operating in a well populated wildlife area, with the right equipment and the help of experienced and hardworking staff are major factors, but in addition to this, every safari requires a healthy dose of good luck to ensure overall success.
Recently I had the privilege of hunting for the second time with Clanton Lindsay from Kosciusko, Mississippi. Clanton had hunted with us five years previously when Rob and Barry Style of Buffalo Range Safaris put together a hunt for him in the Chiredzi River Conservancy, South Eastern Zimbabwe. Clanton’s first safari was a success and he left having secured most of the animals that he intended to shoot. On his return home, he immediately set about planning his next hunt with us and decided on booking an elephant bull hunt for 2009. His plans however, all fell apart when he seriously injured his back and was no longer able to walk without suffering excruciating agony. Although the injury was still a major problem, after two years of recovery he felt that he had to give it a try, and once again made plans to come to Zimbabwe.
I have to admit I had mixed feelings when I met Clanton in Victoria Falls, prior to driving out to our hunting area in the Kazuma Forest to start a 15 day elephant/sable hunt in October, 2011. It was good to see him again, but I wasn’t too sure how easy it was going to be to find a decent elephant bull at that time of the year, without the ability of tracking them on foot for some distance. Clanton had already resigned himself to shooting the first 40lb bull he saw, a real shame considering there was the potential to shoot a much bigger bull in this prime area.
Setting out the first morning, we decided to drive the boundary roads to get an idea of what movement there was coming in from Botswana and the nearby Kazuma Pan National Park. Water was the major factor in bull movement with the heat at this time of the year and there were several waterholes in the hunting block that traditionally attracted big bulls. It was not long before we bumped into our first group of seven bulls along the Botswana boundary. A quick look at them satisfied me that there wasn’t anything to get too excited about, the biggest carrying ivory about 30lbs/side.
We continued our drive and after a few hours picked up tracks of another group of bulls crossing the road. A couple of these bulls had enormous feet, well worn on the outside of the back pad, indicating older animals with the potential of carrying some good ivory. They had come up from the Matetsi River, crossed our boundary approximately ten hours previously and were walking in a north westerly direction back towards the Botswana boundary. I was concerned that they had already passed through the forest because it wasn’t much more that 8 kms to the opposite boundary, but since they weren’t walking directly towards it, I decided to try and cut their tracks again by driving every road in that direction.
It wasn’t long before we picked up new tracks on the next road we moved down and it soon appeared that they were walking in a specific direction, making it easier for us to anticipate which road they would cross next. As we leapfrogged each block we soon started to see signs that we were catching up to them. It was uncanny how they appeared to be walking towards the exact area we saw the seven bulls earlier on that morning.
On the last road that ran parallel with the Botswana boundary however, we were unable to find any further sign and I was beginning to feel that we had lost them. By now it was after midday and very hot, and seeing that the road we were on headed towards camp, we decided to drive back and take a break for a few hours. It was then, as we rounded the next corner, that the trackers frantically started tapping on the roof with excited whispers of "ndlovu, ndlovu". Looking around I noticed to our left a group of about 5 bulls, already moving out from under the shade of a large pod mahogany tree and walking away from us towards the Botswana border.
At a first quick glance, there appeared to be nothing big and at this stage I was sure that it was the same group we had seen earlier in the morning. Not knowing when we were next going to get another opportunity to approach a group of bulls so close to the vehicle, I suggested to Clanton that we try follow them on foot for a short distance to ensure we had seen them all.
With the wind a little unpredictable at that time of the day I decided to walk a wide loop around them and come in from the Botswana side where they would least likely pick up our scent. After about a km or so, I felt Clanton would soon reach his limit so we started angling back towards where I thought they would be. It wasn’t long before we came across a large group standing in a clearing under the shade of another grove of mahoganies.
Leaving the trackers behind, Clanton and I slowly and quietly approached to within 30 metres of the group and this time we were stunned to see at least 20 of them, all bulls and all in one place! It was then that I realised that the two groups must have joined together and we had the potential of finding a good bull if we were patient enough to pick out the best one there, and lucky enough to have the wind stay in our favour.
Very slowly Clanton and I crouched down and moved to within 20 metres to a spot where we would try and assess all the ivory – not easy when so many of them are huddled together in one place! We immediately saw two bulls that stood out, their backs and the top of their heads rising above the others. Initially both sets of tusks were hidden by other animals, but after a few minutes one of the big bulls on the edge of the group and to our right moved his head and stepped out from behind a smaller bull. Instantly, Clanton and I looked at each other.
No words were necessary. This magnificent animal had two thick shafts of ivory stretching out 3 feet or more from the edge of the lip. A quick estimate, I said to Clanton that they would definitely go 55lbs per side, quite possibly 60. The dilemma I was now faced with of course was the time factor – we still had 14 and half days to hunt elephant and with this sort of movement, could well bump into something bigger. I said to Clanton that we still needed to look at the other big bull in the group, mainly as an excuse to stall for time while I pondered on our chances of finding a better trophy.
I could see Clanton was more than happy to walk away with this bull, but any PH will tell you that 14 days can be very long time to hunt one sable! We waited for a while longer until the big bodied animal in the middle of the group shifted his head and exposed 2 very short but thick tusks – 50lbs a side.
Clanton immediately pointed out that the first bull was bigger and it was about time we shot it because he had a problem with his walking. He was absolutely right of course, so we quickly moved into position for a brain shot. I had seen this man shoot before and knew that the bullet would land where he intended it to. Because he was shooting a .470 double, I instructed him to use the second barrel on the shoulder if there was any indication of the animal not immediately succumbing to the brain shot. The big bull stood quietly, every now and then shifting his weight from one foot to another, drowsy in the midday heat, the absolute silence broken only by an occasional deep stomach rumble and the sound of ears flapping.
The heat, dust and silence seemed to intensify incredibly in those few seconds that it took Clanton to lift his rifle and take a bead on a point just in front of the ear hole. I lifted my .458 as insurance in the event that something did go wrong. The last thing we needed was this bull rushing off in a cloud of dust, surrounded by 19 other bulls! With the retort of the .470, pandemonium broke loose and out of the corner of my eye I saw bulls pushing each other in a desperate scramble to get out of there.
My focus however was on Clanton’s bull and I was relieved to see on impact, the animal’s back legs collapse before the rest of his body crashed to the ground – a sure sign of a brain shot. Not taking anything for granted however, Clanton quickly put in an insurance shot before we gave ourselves the luxury of walking up to the magnificent animal to admire his tusks.
As it turned out, Clanton’s elephant had tusks that weighed 59 and 62 lbs respectively. There was no question that we were very fortunate to secure such a good bull on the first morning of the safari, particularly in light of the dilemma we faced with walking long distances. Little did we know however, that this was just the beginning and that Clanton would go on to have the safari of a lifetime.
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