Editor’s Note: This week’s story from the archives follows Luis De Lamar on his first safari to Africa and his very close encounter with a Cape Buffalo. This story originally appeared in the March/April 2005 issue of Safari Magazine.
My professional hunter Con van Wyk and I moved ahead of the trackers as we made our way through the long grass. We
had been tracking the wounded Cape buffalo for an hour or two when suddenly, a huge, black shape launched itself at us from 15 feet away! Con swung his .500 NE and fired. The horns struck him a glancing blow as the heavy rifle’s recoil propelled him away from the buffalo.
I was only two feet behind Con, and he was in my line of fire so I couldn’t shoot. I just had time to take a step to the right and brace for impact as the bull hurtled toward me.
Short months earlier, I had not the slightest idea I would ever be on the receiving end of a determined charge by a wounded Cape buffalo, but these events were set in motion when my wife Cristy looked into booking my first African safari for my 39th birthday
in March of 2004.
Cristy knew I had taken a few serious looks at taking a safari – a lifelong dream of mine – but something always got in the way. So she took matters into her own hands and contacted Jack Atcheson & Sons who booked a seven-day buffalo hunt for me in Tanzania with Con van Wyk.
Equipping myself with the necessities of a safari was part of the fun. As my birthday neared, I created a “safari registry,” the hunter’s equivalent of a wedding registry. It generated all the clothing and cartridge carriers I needed and definitely helped me offset some of the costs.
Soon the big day came, and I was on my way. Upon arrival in Dar es
Salaam, I was met by a customs agent, who made quick work of all the bureaucracy. I was very happy to see that the second piece of luggage out of the airplane was my rifle. I spent the night in Dar at the Sea Cliff Hotel. The next day I met West, one of the trackers,
and we headed to Mikumi Park.
Luckily, we were the only ones in that part of the park and saw a great deal of game. The next day, we headed for camp, some eight hours away.
The Toyota 4Runner is a nice truck, but I came to know every bump on that road intimately. Five hours into the ride, we came to the town of Ifakara. We crossed the Kuloberro River by ferry and turned onto an old logging road for the final two hours to camp.
The 4Runner strained to negotiate these mud roads. We were now in a tsetse-fly zone. I was very glad to get out of that truck that evening.
Con’s partners, Cap Homing and his wife, were in camp to meet me. Each tent was set up with electric lights and flush toilets, and the shower consisted of plastic bags filled with hot water every night after we arrived from hunting. Dinner was prepared by Dingy, a hotel – trained chef , and he can cook. The food throughout the hunt
There was buffalo meat in camp from the previous hunters, and it drew hyenas into camp that first night. They woke me at 3 a.m., and I decided to assemble my Blaser R93, load it, and put it on safe in case a hyena decided to pay me a visit – though Con had assured me that these creatures would not enter an enclosed tent.
Seven days of Tanzania buffalo hunting stretched ahead of me, and
things got started very quickly. Soon after I sighted in my rifle, we spotted a hartebeest, but it saw us and took off. On our way back to the Land Cruiser a buffalo jumped out of the grass no more than 20 yards away, but it turned away without incident. It was a nice
“dugga boy,” but Con thought we could do better, especially since this was the first day.
A few days passed with no comparable excitement, but on the fourth day, we went after another herd, which kept moving away. I had a chance to shoot, but a tree limb was in the way and I held off. Finally, we were able to catch up and found two buffaloes alone. The
PHs pointed to the hulking target, and I fired. Immediately both bulls charged from about 50 yards. Both PHs fired, turning the animals toward some high grass. The game was on again!
About an hour or two into the tracking, Con and I moved a bit ahead of the trackers. As we made our way through the high grass, a huge black head appeared. Though I had not heard a thing, what looked like biggest, blackest, meanest freight train was suddenly charging us from 15ft away! In that instant, I saw Con swing his.500NE and shoot. His thumb actually appeared to get jammed between his rifle and the buffalo’s horns. The blast from the heavy rifle and the huge animal’s momentum threw Con back and away. But the shot turned the buffalo straight toward where I stood no more than two feet away. I had time only to take one step to my right and hold on for dear life. I was sure I was going for a ride.
I had solids in my .375 and Con was right in the bullet’s path, so I couldn’t shoot. The unstoppable locomotive barreled past on my left, so close I could have run my hand along its backside. Once it passed, I spun around and saw Cap put one or two shots into the buffalo. He yelled for me to shoot, and when I finally got the
buffalo in my scope, I fired twice. The animal went down, still kicking, so I put a couple more into him.
We had to be among the luckiest people on the face of the earth as we tracked that buffalo that day. Somebody should have been gored
that day, at the very least. As it was, no one was hurt because no one ran. If anyone had lost his nerve and run, that would have been it.
After we’d relived the commotion and the charge countless times, a few things became clear. First, both PHs and the trackers heard
the buffalo before it charged. I did not hear a thing. Second, everyone behind us was sure Con had been killed by the charge. Third, everyone agreed it would have made an unforgettable
video, but would any cameraman have held his ground?
It took the Land Cruiser an hour or more to get to us, but then the trackers made quick work of the buffalo. They cut the animal in two, cleaned out the stomach, cut out the heart, and loaded that surly beast into the back of the truck. As soon as we drove away, the vultures flew in to feast on the remains. On the way back to camp, we saw a nice hartebeest, which I took with one clean shot to the heart. Later, we all enjoyed some great-tasting Kilimanjaro beer and
buffalo steaks in front of a nice fire, and retold the story more than a few times.
The meat was hung to keep it out of the reach of the hyenas, but late
that night, when the generator and lights were off, some lions came into camp and made a meal of the buffalo and hartebeest.
Plenty of excitement was still ahead of us. Stalking a huge, 4S-inch buffalo produced a couple of heart-pumping episodes. Once, we were glassing the herd of some 300 animals from not more than 100 yards when the animals turned and started our way. With only two guns, things got exciting, but at about 30 yards, the herd spooked off in another direction.
Another day, we got within 60 yards of that monster buffalo. I was all set up to shoot him, but again the animal was partly hidden by grass. As I tried to maneuver for a clear shot, he faded away. By this time it was getting dark, and we had to walk in high grass through a large buffalo herd. Twice my heart nearly jumped out of my chest
when the herd got our scent and started stampeding. All we could do
was watch the grass to see which way it was bending, for we could not see the buffalo. If the grass had bent our way, we’d have been in deep trouble. There were no trees to climb, and we would have had to make a run for it. Luckily, both times the herd stampeded away from us.
In the end, I took one surly buffalo, two hartebeest, one warthog, and about 150 tsetse flies. I doubt I will ever have another experience Like this safari. A buffalo charge at 15 feet might be
more excitement than anyone needs. However, we all survived untouched, and I have incredible memories of my first safari.–Luis De Lamar