We had walked only 50 yards down the elephant trail when the tracker pushed his outstretched hand back at us to stop. That same moment, the huge Dagga Boy who had been sleeping in the dense bush stood up only 10 yards from us and when he stood up he was facing directly at us.
Eight years ago, my local Safari Club International chapter had an informal gathering for people to meet a Professional Hunter from Zimbabwe, Mr. Terry Fenn of Chinanga Safaris. He was approaching 50 years old and spoke with such authority about hunting dangerous game that I could not help but pay attention to his contributions in the evening’s casual conversations.
I got along with Terry very well and when I left that evening, told myself that if I were ever fortunate enough to hunt Cape buffalo, it would be with Mr. Terry Fenn. Thus was the beginning of an eight-year quest to hunt my dagga boy.
Over the next few years, I kept in touch with Terry and, as I completed building rifles for clients, managed to find time to build myself a .338 Winchester Magnum on a Montana Rifle receiver. I was aware that the minimum legal caliber for dangerous game was .375, but .338 is much more versatile and when I started the rifle I was only half convinced that I would be able to put aside the necessary funds for a buffalo hunt.
About a year after the rifle was finished, I started to work with Nelson Concept Rifle Company that uses a patented process to convert actions into specialized break-down rifles for ease of transport and to allow the use of multiple calibers in the same rifle. After a short time, I convinced Nelson Wait to transform my .338 into a Nelson break-down conversion with the addition of a .416 Ruger barrel as the second caliber. He would do the metal work and I would complete the stock. That combination gave me the perfect rifle for Africa.
With the rifle completed and having the good fortune of making a positive business move in 2010, it seemed as though the stars were lining up to book my buffalo hunt with Terry. I communicated my intentions to him in an email, stating that I was ready to hunt my buffalo, and that I was not interested in anything else. This may be the only buffalo I would ever hunt, and did not want a “representative” trophy — I wanted MY buffalo.
Terry described the optimum shot on buffalo as 40 yards, so while I kept my 3-10 Shepherd scope for my .338 barrel, I purchased a Trijicon 1-4 with a glowing green triangle on a post for the .416 barrel. By mounting these with Talley lever lock rings, I could change barrels and scopes and the rifle would not be off zero by an inch.
Soon, the rifle was ready and the deposits were paid. I would arrive in Victoria Falls on June 6, 2011. Finally, after eight years, I was ready for the hunt of my life.
The day I arrived in Zimbabwe, we had a two-hour ride to the spacious lodge where I had a guest cottage to myself. While at breakfast the first morning, we heard two lions outside the lodge catch something to eat and then argue over who should eat first.
This was different from hunting in South Africa or Namibia. This was like what I had read in many African novels — this was “Wild Africa.” We saw multiple elephants every day including a heavy tusker at less than 50 yards. Several times the trackers and scouts had to chop trees out of the way that elephants had knocked across the “roads.” Mind you, these were not roads, just pathways that at some time in the past had been taken by vehicles, elephants and other game animals.
One hour into the second morning, we walked a short distance to look for buffalo in a ravine. As Terry was walking back to the Land Cruiser he went to step over a small hole in the rock and looked down on a sleeping puff adder. Later that same morning, we rode back down a trail we had come in on just 90 minutes earlier, and the tracker found where three large lions had crossed our tire tracks.
We regularly saw 54-inch kudu, and sables close to 40 inches, but I did not want to lose track of my sole purpose — finding and taking a great buffalo. The afternoon of day three produced a single herd of buffalo that saw us before we saw them, so no time was offered to evaluate the possibilities of a single mature bull at the back of the heard. Two hours later, we stalked into the herd as it napped on a kopje to see if we could get a look at one particular bull we briefly saw at the back of the herd.
We tried to position ourselves to view the herd as it moved off the kopjes, but were busted at the last minute by a cow buffalo that alerted the herd so they exited the area. Day number three had come to a close and I had not looked through my scope or binoculars at a single buffalo.
The fourth morning we found tracks from the herd we had seen the day before. It had split up with half heading off the concession and the other half heading toward a watering hole about a mile away. As we left for the watering hole, the grass we were in was three feet high. As we walked farther, the grass was five feet high, and then seven feet high. We walked in single file with Max, the tracker, in front, followed by Terry and then me. I kept wondering how would we be able to see a buffalo or a lion in the tall grass.
By the time we stopped hunting on the fourth evening, I was beside myself. More than half the hunt was over, and I had not looked through my scope or binoculars at a single buffalo. Terry remained confident, but realized the concerns that were growing. Upon returning to the lodge, Terry was able to secure the opportunity to hunt in a new area for day five.
The new area was a two-hour drive on back roads that were only dirt paths in some areas, but the promise of a better opportunity would be worth the extra early wake-up and the rough terrain to get there. Terry was so convinced the new area would provide an opportunity that he brought Max, the lead tracker, a game scout, Scott Jurgens, the video cameraman, and even a skinner in the Land Cruiser with us.
The terrain in the new area was mostly bushes four to seven feet high and so dense that it was impossible to travel with the Land Cruiser unless we stuck to elephant trails. After four hours of bone-jarring travel, Max suddenly motioned to stop the vehicle. I could tell he and Terry were very excited as they looked at fresh buffalo tracks heading down the elephant trail away from us. Terry whispered that we were on the very fresh track of a few dagga boys.
With the big bores chambered and checked, we went into stealth mode. Max was in the lead, then Terry and then me as we slowly and quietly followed the fresh tracks along the elephant trail. I stayed as close to Terry as possible without touching him. I stepped where he stepped, and stopped when he stopped.
After traveling only 40 yards, Max slowed and motioned to stay quiet. My heart was pounding. We walked only another 10 yards down the trail when Max froze in his footprints and pushed his outstretched hand back at us to stop. At that same moment, the huge dagga boy who had been sleeping in the dense bush stood up 10 yards away facing directly at us! Lucky for us he did not run forward, as surely three of us would have been dead. Instead, he chose to turn and run directly away, then stopped after just 25 yards to look at what had been so daring as to wake him from his nap.
I looked over Terry’s shoulder through a hole in the bushes and thought I heard him say, “Shoot.” The buffalo was standing broadside at 35 yards. His horns looked gigantic to me, but I wanted to make sure of my judgment so I asked Terry, “Did you say shoot?” Terry turned his head directly toward me and only one foot from my face, with eyes the size of dinner plates, said for a second time, “Shoot!” The short rifle pointed quickly and I fired the instant the glowing triangle in the scope stopped perfectly on the bull’s right front shoulder. I do not remember pulling the trigger or the recoil of the rifle, but I knew the shot was right on target.
After the shot, the bull exploded into the bush and we ran after him as I cranked another shell into the big bore. We could see much farther in front of us by crouching down as we ran and looking under the thick foliage. Just at the far edge of our viewing distance, I could see the buffalo as he started to fall onto his left side. That side gave way and then he fell onto the right side. We cautiously quartered toward the rear of the buffalo and approached to within 10 yards. He was not going to get up, but Terry told me to place an insurance shot just behind his shoulder. At the second shot, two smaller bulls that had been traveling with the big bull decided it was time to leave and disappeared into the bush. The huge bull bellowed several times, then we waited an extra five minutes before going in to check my trophy.
Terry backed me up as I made my way toward the head of the 2,000-pound animal to check his eye for any reflex action. There wasn’t any. As we would later discover, the 400-grain bullet of my first shot had entered the right shoulder, traveled through the top of the heart, the left lung, broke the left shoulder, and stopped just under the skin on the off side.
This was an old bull with a full boss and horns that spanned 44 inches wide. His age showed in the
textured wear on his deep boss, the battle scars from fighting for breeding rights, and the gray in his face. The scars on his hindquarters from the claws and teeth of lion gave insight to his fortitude to survive in this harsh environment. He would provide necessary meat over many months for many people who lived in the local village.
During my 40 years of hunting, I have been fortunate to have hunted in other countries. But to hunt any of the Big Five is so vastly different for many reasons. One is the fact that they can also hunt you.
Prior to my going to Zimbabwe, we hunted for eight days with Wild African Hunting Safaris. During our time in South Africa, my wife Sally and I went with our traveling companions, Baughn and Linda Holloway, along with Heinrich and Ximena Obermoller and their daughter, Sabine, to distribute our Blue Bag of humanitarian aid and a few hundred pounds of game meat.
We worked with Sophia Brits who oversees the Christelik-Maatskaplike Raad Christian Social Council facility in Musina, South Africa.– Scott Hutchinson