Mbogo at Last
My entire life I have dreamed of hunting Cape Buffalo in the African bush, lured by stories of great African explorers and hunters of the past and of pursuing the legendary Mbogo by the likes of Peter Hathaway Capstick, Ruark and others. In 1981 I was close to going, but the realities of working in a tough economy forced me to park my dream for many years. I was fortunate enough to win a plains game hunt in Namibia at an outdoor show in 2015 and enjoyed one of the best weeks of my life hunting with my wife, daughter, and son in law. We had a very successful hunt, taking some incredible trophies. However it left me even hungrier for a Buffalo safari, and this year with the assistance of Ian Hay at Blue Collar Adventures (Canada), I was finally able to secure the hunt I had always wanted, with Ross Lange Safaris in South Africa.
Buffalo in the Thicket
I was picked up at Kruger Mpumalanga Airport by Ross and after clearing my rifle, and waiting for the next flight to re-unite with my luggage we were on our way to our hunting area – Thabu-Thollo Game Reserve near Lydenberg. The 15000 acre Reserve was steeped in history, having once been the private hunting reserve of former South African pioneer and President Paul Kruger. Buffalo had been re-introduced to the reserve about 10 years ago, and if I was successful, I would be the first to take a Buffalo on the property in more than 50 years. I was immediately struck by the rugged beauty of the area which ranged from flat river bottoms, to high mountain peaks, mostly covered in cinder block sized rocks , and thorny brush. After a 45 minute 4x4 trek we arrived at our camp – a beautiful house set in the upper end of a canyon. We spent the remainder of my first day recovering from a bit of jet lag, relaxing around camp, making plans for the rest of my week. We talked at length around the campfire in the evening about the strategies for approaching a herd of Buffalo on foot, and shot placement for clean, ethical kills. I fell asleep early to the sounds of nightjars singing, and was awoken at first light by the howling of baboons.
Home Away From Home for 10 Days
After a hearty breakfast we were met by our Bonney and Balti, our tracker and driver and set off for some “Spot and Stalk” hunting. We saw a ton of game – several small herds of Zebra, a very nice Waterbuck, several Sable, Klipspringers, Mountain Reedbucks, Eland, Kudu and many others. Early in the afternoon we saw a small herd of Zebra heading down into a canyon as we approached. We were able to work our way around the canyon and into position about 120 yards above them where a quartering away shot put a beautiful stallion on the ground. On our way back to camp we saw a herd of Buffalo feeding in a valley bottom and took some time to look them over from a distance. As it was too late in the day to attempt a stalk we did our best not to disturb them and hoped they would be in the same area first thing in the morning.
My Mountain (Hartmann’s) Zebra
I woke the following morning full of anticipation, hoping the Buffalo would still be in the area where we had left them and going over scenarios in my head, knowing that I may have to make the most important shot of my life in a few hours. Luck was with us and we spotted the Buffalo as soon as we came around the mountainside above the valley where we had left them. They were bedded down about a mile or so up the valley. Entering the bush downwind of the herd we made our way slowly and as quietly as possible towards them, but they spooked and moved away from us before we even had a chance for a good look at them. Fortunately they did not go far and we found them again standing in a tight group in a small clearing in the brush. After working our way to within 50 yards of them we waited, hoping they would separate a bit as a shot would be impossible otherwise. My heart was pounding while Ross scanned the herd looking for hard boss bulls, when in my greatest stroke of luck, the largest mature bull moved off to our side, clear of the herd and presented a perfect quartering towards shot. At Ross’s signal I sent a 300 grain Barnes TSX through his front shoulder, reloaded and put a second shot in the chest. I heard a back-up shot from Ross, and my Buffalo was on the ground, 20 feet from where I first hit him.
My Life-Long Quest Finally Achieved
While we were waiting a few moments to ensure he “stayed dead” all hell broke loose. The herd returned to pick up their fallen comrade and another big bull charged in between us and my Buffalo pushing us back away from him. We were forced to retreat as Ross made sure I understood that we could not afford to shoot the aggressive bull and needed to stay out of his way. After a brief wait the truck arrived and forced the bull back, but just when it seemed all was good he returned and putting his head down began to push my bull across the clearing at full steam. At one time the entire 800 KG animal was bounced completely off the ground and just when it looked as though he might push him over the edge of a gully Balti and Bonney ran at him yelling and throwing rocks. This seemed to do the trick as he disengaged and left the area.
We were finally able to get to my downed Buffalo – an absolutely impressive beast with 39” horns and 17” bosses, taken “up close and personal”, exactly the way I had always wanted. I couldn’t have been more impressed by the whole experience and the raw power and beauty of the Cape Buffalo.
All that was left on my list was an Impala, and although there were several in the area it proved very difficult to find a mature ram. Fortunately Ross is a tenacious hunter and we worked hard for 2 days spotting, sitting in stands, and stalking through the brush looking to find them in their bedding areas. Eventually we came on 3 ewes with an old mature ram that stopped for just a few seconds, while moving away from us. A quick shot off the sticks, through a window in the brush and I had my Impala – not huge, but a nice old ram that I was very happy to take.
My Old Ram
Our last evening in camp was one of celebration around the campfire. We feasted on buffalo tenderloin cooked over the coals of our fire and seasoned by being place directly on the coals by the owner of Thaba Tholo, Alan Watson. As we enjoyed the company of some guests around the fire Alan spoke about his passion for the land and the Buffalo he had worked hard to bring back.
My experience on this adventure was second to none – the area we hunted was rugged and beautiful, the camp clean and comfortable, the food so good that it might be the only hunting trip I have ever been on where I gained weight. Game was plentiful, with great trophies available in most species. I thoroughly enjoyed hunting with Ross, a kindred spirit and consummate hunter who really focusses on personal service.