My Big Game

“Who could ever complain about two buffalo, a suni, a Chobe bushbuck, a huge croc and a hippo in nine days, as well as spending five days on the mighty Zambezi River?”

– John Berry –

First journal entry: 

It all started almost as a disaster. I had booked a business class ticket from Dallas to Johannesburg on Emirates. I thought I had made all the preparations to transport my firearms on the plane, but I missed one form and was not allowed to board. Emirates was kind enough to refund my fare. After scrambling, I was able to book on Delta and arrived in Johannesburg almost on schedule. I cleared immigration and firearms inspection and checked into the City Lodge at the airport. I met Gerard Erasmus, owner of Sumsare Safaris in Namibia, when he arrived at 8:00 PM for a light dinner and a couple of beers. We proceeded to our rooms for a short night’s sleep, as Gerard’s friend, Werno, was going to pick us up in front of the hotel at 1:30 AM. 

Second journal entry: 

Second journal entry: Promptly on time, Werno arrived, we crammed our gear into his truck and drove to his home to repack and load some additional gear before

starting our 13-hour drive to his concession in southern Mozambique along the Zimbabwe border. After a beautiful drive through Kruger National Park and a great lunch, we exited South Africa and entered Mozambique through the Pafuri outpost. There was a small mix-up with one of my guns, but the border authorities were kind enough to lock the gun into a safe and hold it for our return. As a side note, I relearned to check and recheck all serial numbers on firearms and verify with the outfitter multiple times.

We then drove along and across the Limpopo River, down a number of dirt roads through some beautiful Mozambique wilderness, on a short stretch of highway to the town of Malvernia, then up the border road to the beautiful wilderness lodge of Mbabala Safaris. After a refreshing cocktail and a delicious African dinner, we retired to our rooms for some much need rest.

Third journal entry:

The next morning after a hearty breakfast, we headed out to check the water hole for fresh buffalo spoor. It was almost 10:30 AM before we found our first sign. We grabbed a quick lunch, and the trackers we off. I have seen some great trackers on my trips to Africa, but these gentlemen were in a class of their own. We followed a bull for almost nine miles, and at 5:30 PM, we were still more than an hour behind him, so we called it a day. Again, a nice shower, some refreshing cocktails, a delightful dinner, an after-dinner drink, and the old man (me) in the group was ready to retire. 

Fourth journal entry:

The second morning started the same as the first, but upon leaving the lodge, we cut fresh spoor within fifteen minutes. After a short track, we were eyeing a beautiful unsuspecting old dagga boy. After some observation and inspection from Gerard, we decided to take him. It seemed to take hours for him to present a good shot, but in truth it was only a few minutes. I have no problem with my PH backing me up on dangerous game, so Gerard was ready. My first shot found home, and I felt really good about it, but the buff broke and ran. Gerard fired a backup shot, later found in the stomach, and then we both fired simultaneous shots, neither of which hit. After about twenty minutes of waiting, we proceeded to the spot where the bull was grazing when I shot him and started following the spoor. About one hundred yards later, we started to find a lot of blood. Two hundred yards later, we found a beautiful, very old, dead bull. After another evening of a delicious meal and camaraderie around the fire, we prepared for an early start on day three traveling to the north end of Werno’s concession.

Fifth journal entry:

Day three started early, a quick breakfast and we were off for the ten mile drive to the northern end of the concession. We found fresh spoor from two dagga boys at the second water hole and began tracking. Two miles, and about an hour later, we heard cows calling a few hundred yards away. We approached with caution and a favorable wind. We spotted a bull laying beneath a tree about the time that a cow spottted us. She was wary, but since she had not winded us, she did not spook. Gerard examined the bull through his binoculars and immediately asked me if I could shoot him in the head. I could tell this is a really nice bull, but when he asked me if I could make the shot, it made me realize that this was the bull of a lifetime. Placing my gun on the sticks, I just didn’t feel comfortable trying the shot. We moved about seven or eight yards closer and placed the sticks again. I set up and decided that I could make the shot. Werno asked if I wanted them to back me up. I am not too proud to take a shot into a heard without backup, so I told him I would appreciate that. I got back on my gun and was almost ready to squeeze the trigger when I moved. I don’t know what I did, but I was able to pull out of the shot and gather myself. I reset and felt really solid zoning in on the center of his head right between his eyes. I gently squeezed the trigger on the Blaser R-8 375. I did not see the impact of the bullet, but I watched the head of the bull flop to one side as the gun dropped back onto the sticks. Gerard and Werno both made their shots. Buffalo stampeded all around but luckily none of them closer than fifty yards. The ten-minute wait seemed like an eternity, but Gerard finally decided that it was time to approach the bull since there had been no sign of movement since my shot. We approached carefully, ready incase of a charge. When we got to him, we could see my shot had hit within an inch of my aiming spot, and we began to admire an absolutely magnificent bull. The day was topped off by a nice Suni ram as we returned to camp. I must admit, the evening probably had a little too much celebration, but who can pass up the opportunity to enjoy some libations with another delicious meal after two great bulls in two days?

Sixth journal entry:

Day four started leisurely with a drive looking for Reedbuck, but a radio call from Werno changed things. The next group of hunters were coming in a day early, so we returned to the lodge, packed, loaded, and started the drive back to Jo’berg. Again, we had a nice lunch in the Kruger Park and viewed much of the beautiful country on the return drive. Gerard had booked us into the African Sky Guest Lodge. A wonderful place with impeccable grounds and tremendous service. We had a day to kill. In six previous trips to Africa, I had never done anything but a quick overnight in Jo’burg so it was fun to spend the day Uber-ing around and seeing the city. The evening was spent at the Emperors Palace Casino dining in a great restaurant and enjoying some time at the gaming tables. 

Seventh journal entry:

Day five led us back to the airport for a flight on South African Airways to Lusaka. The next leg of our adventure would be through Zambia and into Northern Mozambique at Russell

Seventh journal entry:

Lovemore’s Chawalo Safaris Lodge near Zumbo on the bank of the Zambezi River. We had to overnight in Lusaka at the Pamozdi Hotel. This was a nice hotel where we enjoyed a great dinner and were entertained by a local music group during our meal. They even played the old hit “Blueberry Hill” on my request. .
Eighth journal entry:

The next morning, we met our driver and proceeded on the five-hour drive to Luangwa, where we would depart Zambia, and boarded a boat to Zumbo in order to clear customs and declare our firearms in Mozambique. This was followed by another half-hour on the boat downstream to the lodge. We settled in for an afternoon snack and then were joined by Kennedy, our local guide, to scout for a huge Nile crocodile. We found several interesting locations and decided on one to build a blind and put out a bait. The evening was capped by a short walk and my dropping a gorgeous Chobe bushbuck

Ninth journal entry:

The next morning, we proceeded to use the bushbuck ribs for bait (the only bait we had) and boated to our selected spot to set up our blind and bait. This turned out to be a bad move. The second croc on the bait simply tore the bait off the post and left with it. When we returned to the lodge for lunch, we modified our plan. Russell gave us a piece of hippo hide to use. This proved to be a good move. We had as many as ten crocs around the bait that afternoon, but nothing bigger than about twelve feet. As we were returning to the lodge late that evening, Gerard spotted a huge croc on an island bank. We found a perfect place nearby to set up a bait and a blind, so that became the plan for the next day.
Tenth journal entry:

We settled into our blind and watched our bait all morning, only being visited by a couple of hippo cows sniffing around. I managed to lean over and break the plastic chair I was sitting in, and after Gerard stopped laughing, I told him we might as well go back to the lodge for lunch and a rest. It was getting quite warm, and between the noise I made and his ten minutes of laughter, we had probably scared off anything close by any way.That afternoon we returned and settled back in, and it did not take long for the action to start. At one point we weren’t even sure how many crocs we had, but we were really interested in the one that was larger than the rest. Then, all of a sudden, a huge croc came out of the water, went straight to the bait and began eating. It was obvious he was the bull of the area, because all the rest backed off, even the large one we had been eyeing. The big croc was not much longer than him, but he was much larger bodied. It was almost twenty minutes before he presented us with a good shot. Gerard advised me to shoot in the neck, since this would also anchor the croc and is a larger kill zone. I took careful aim with a very good rest, gently squeezed the trigger of the R8 and heard Gerard’s back-up shot and his command to keep shooting. We both emptied our guns, but the croc was anchored on the first shot. I never even saw the other crocs leave, but when the dust settled, there was nothing left. Of course, six quick shots from two .375s should scare off almost anything. In a matter of minutes, Kennedy arrived with the boat to take us across the small stream to the island my dead croc lay on. We still approached with caution and loaded guns, but he was dead. Gerard and I were judging him to be at least twelve feet while Kennedy informed us that he was closer to fourteen. He proved correct as the croc finally measured 14’-1”.

Final journal entry:

With two more days left to hunt, we made a concerted effort to find a Sharpe’s grysbok, but our efforts failed. We did get a surprise though. There were no more exportable tags for hippo, but the nearby village needed a hippo for a party the chief was giving for a government official. We were asked if we would kill a problem bull that had been harassing the village and would fulfill their need for “party” meat. Wanting to take a hippo, I was glad to oblige. With Kennedy at the helm, it did not take us long to locate the bull. We managed to find a sandbar about a hundred yards away that Kennedy could stand on to stabilize the boat enough to give us a good shot. After some discussion between Gerard and myself–he was not pleased that I was not giving him warning before I was ready to shoot–our two .375s barked and the bull disappeared. Kennedy said my shot was good. As it turned out, I hit right behind the left ear and the bullet exited just in front of the right ear and Gerard’s follow-up shot hit in the jaw.

It took over two hours for the bull to float, but when he did, he was only about one hundred yards from where we had killed him. We were both amazed at how efficiently the crew managed to tie him under the boat and get him back to the lodge. It was worth the trip just to watch them get him onto the shore. It was also amazing to see the proficiency with which they butchered him and how pleased the people of the village were to have the meat. That evening, we made one more try for the Sharpie, but it was not to be. The next morning, we started the return trip to Lusaka to catch our flights to Jo’burg for my return to the States and Gerard’s return to Windhoek. It was fifteen wonderful days, with nine days of hunting.

I am thankful to Gerard, Werno, Russell and their staffs for the hunt of a lifetime. I am especially thankful to Gerard for being a great friend and hunting companion and for arranging my incredible adventure. At my age, this may have been my last trip to Africa, although I certainly hope not.

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