The Number Three crossing of the Umi River in Zimbabwe

Flashback Friday – Blackpowder Bushbuck

Safari Magazine Cover Sept/Oct 1996Editor’s Note: On Friday we comb the Safari Club archives to bring you a story from our past. This week, we follow Don Kettlekamp on safari in Zimbabwe using muzzleloading rifles. This story originally appeared in the September/October 1996 issue of Safari Magazine.

In 1994 I was in Zimbabwe with Butch Coaton of Buffalo Range Safaris, hunting primarily for lion, sable and waterbuck. I really like hunting bushbuck and hoped to take a really big one should the opportunity occur. I was hunting with my custom .60 caliber, English-style muzzle loading sporting rifle, hoping for as much success as I had experience two years earlier. After a successful hunt for what turned out to be a very large lion that had been preying on local goats and donkeys, Butch suggested we move to one of my favorite places…the Number Three crossing on the Umi River.

The bushbuck is a challenge to hunt due to it's habitat and its agressive nature.
The bushbuck is a challenge to hunt due to it’s habitat and its agressive nature.

Butch carefully guided the Land Rover upstream, carefully judging whether the sand was solid enough for the vehicle. About 50 up the riverbed we all seemed to see it at the same time as it ran into the bush – a monster bushbuck. The largest any of us had ever seen!

For a moment we were all speechless and then Butch exclaimed, “Did you see those horns? He’s like a small nyala!”

And so it was … the kind of bushbuck one sees only once in a lifetime and then only if one is very fortunate.

Butch, our tracker Lisenga and I soon started up the bank in the direction the bushbuck had run. The ground was rocky and very poor tracking but Lisenga is a master tracker. I didn’t really expect to see it again but we had time and after all we were at crossing Number Three.

As quietly as possible, we stalked through the semi-open bush. Much of the ground had small rocks so the going was slow. Then Lisenga stopped and motioned ahead. Both Butch and I looked the direction

The Number Three crossing of the Umi River in Zimbabwe
The Number Three crossing of the Umi River.

Lisenga pointed. I’m sure Butch, who is six inches taller than I am, could see the bushbuck well but I could see only its head and the reddish-tan of the neck and front of its shoulders.

“Do you want to use my shoulder?” Butch whispered.

I shook my head and raised my .60 caliber. Smoke momentarily blotted out the bushbuck and then we could see it running. A miss! A once-in-a-lifetime chance and I blew the shot. Disappointed and irritated with myself, I reloaded the muzzleloader while Butch and Lisenga continued slowly in the direction the bushbuck had gone.

About 15 minutes later Butch and Lisenga again stopped. The bushbuck was following a female and occasionally throwing its head as though something was bothering it. Again it stopped but this time, it was about 120 yards away. There was no way to get closer. Again Butch asked if I wanted to use his shoulder for a rest. Again I declined. We were on a little knoll, so I sat down, took careful aim and held above the bushbuck’s back. At the shot, it jumped and ran off. The round ball had passed low between its legs. Given a second chance at the trophy of a lifetime, I had missed again. The disappointment showed on Butch’s face and on Lisenga’s, too, but neither said anything as we continued on.

Once more Lisenga stopped. Ahead of us, perhaps 80 yards away, a female bushbuck stood in a grassy opening. To her right and slightly downhill in a patch of brush was the big male. There was no chance for a shot into the brush. We would have to wait. This gave me time to catch my breath. When Butch asked again if I wanted to use his shoulder for a rest I quickly nodded assent.

The male again tossed its head now and then. Minutes slowly ticked by. Would it follow the female into the open? The range was good. Concentrate, just hold dead on and squeeze when and if the chance

The author (l) and his guide with his monster bushbuck, taken with a .60 English-style sporting muzzleloader.
The author (l) and his guide with his monster bushbuck, taken with a .60 English-style sporting muzzleloader.

comes again. The female moved up the slope and out of sight. Then the male slowly walked into the clear patch of grass the female had just vacated and stopped. The time was now!

The rifle already was resting on Butch’s shoulder. He held his breath as I steadied the sights on the buck’s chest and squeezed the trigger. Momentary loss of view and then the smoke cleared to reveal a vacant patch of grass where the bushbuck had been. Lisenga, who had been standing to the side, had a smile on his face.

“Did I get him?” I asked.

“I think so,” Butch said as he and Lisenga started for the patch of grass.

I reloaded as they went forward and then saw their smiles. “He is a ‘jaws!’” exclaimed Butch, and so it was. Its longest horn measured 18 inches and the shorter one 17 5/8. The .60 caliber ball had put the bushbuck down where it stood. The tossing of its head that we had noticed was explained by a bullet crease across its neck from my first shot. It had been close but not close enough.

The beautiful, lyre-shaped horns, like a miniature nyala’s, grabbed one’s attention.The reddish-brown, white-spotted coat was beautiful, as were the prominent white chevrons on the face.

Minutes passed as we admired the magnificent antelope. Then it was time for photographs. Butch carried the buck back to the truck on his shoulders to avoid damaging the cape and skin. On the sand of the stream that flows into the Umi near crossing Number Three there were many more pictures.—Don Kettelkamp

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