Armchair Safari – Adventures with Buffalo

Chadwick-title-page-111715W. S. Chadwick was a popular and prolific author, probably because he hunted so much. He authored numerous books, each one more popular than the preceding one. One of his first books, Man-Killers and Marauders, is very rare. Here, we join this hunter on some of his adventures with the African Cape buffalo.

Wherever big game hunters gather to exchange reminiscences, the argument as to whether lion, elephant, buffalo or rhino arises sooner or later. The controversy shall likely continue as long as these continue to be hunted. I personally would pick the buffalo by day and the lion by night. I have been in graver danger from elephants than from buffalo, but for sheer fighting courage and implacable determination to kill, the wounded buffalo stands alone. I except man-eating lions and rogue elephants, although I credit the buffalo with a terrible vindictiveness, which even those degenerates mentioned before, can equal.

The following instances will provide proof of his courage, cunning and determination.

Some years ago two young men went hunting in Northern Rhodesia about 100 miles north of Broken Hill. One morning they came upon a herd of buffalo in a long vlei. When they first saw the herd, it was about 300 yards away in the open. One man had a .358 Magnum and the other a .318 Express. The one with the larger bore selected a fine bull, and his companion a large cow a bit farther away. By agreement, they fired simultaneously.

Chadwick-illustration-111715At the report of the rifles, the herd stampeded for the bush on the opposite side of the vlei, but before they had gone 50 yards, the bull fell and remained motionless, while the cow, with a broken shoulder, limped along at the rear of the herd. Eager for a second shot, the young men ran after the herd, forgetting to reload their rifles before doing so. Intending to have a look at the dead bull, they headed in his direction but continued watching the herd, which had halted under some trees. When only a few yards from the supposed dead animal, one of them glanced towards it and shouted to his comrade, “Look out! He’s getting up!”

Remembering their failure to reload, the pair bolted with the bull in pursuit. The fastest man tripped and fell over a tuft of burnt reeds. Like a flash, the buffalo headed for the fallen man, catching him with the bosses of its horns as he rose and hurling him several yards. He then went down beside the injured man, and, twisting its great head sideways, tried to get the point of the horn into the man’s stomach. Fortunately, it only went under the waistband on the trousers, ripping them and the shirt off the man’s body. Meanwhile, his hunting partner hastily jammed another cartridge into the breech and put a bullet through the bull’s heart. Had this cap been hunting alone, it would have been his first and last buffalo.

This misadventure was due to inexperience. Any old hand knows that a buffalo is never dead until its throat is cut; the novice is deceived by appearances. Note the vindictiveness and cunning the animal displayed. He was shot through the lungs, but could have risen and followed the herd. What other animal would fake death in the spirit of revenge until the hunters reached him?

Chadwick-natives-and-buffalo-111715Another instance is also typical. I was in the Kafue headwaters one afternoon, while my partner went out with his terrier dog to hunt for meat. After dark, a native came in to camp to report that the man was treed by a wounded buffalo. The place was eight miles away so I had to wait for morning. When I arrived, the man was still perched in the tree, 12 feet above ground, having fastened himself there with his belt. A few yards away the bull lay dead and stiff. Twenty paces away was the torn and mangled corpse of the dog and under the tree was the man’s rifle, trampled into the ground.

The man explained that he wounded the buffalo the prior afternoon and followed it into the bush for three miles. Being a novice, the fact that the bull had left the herd to travel alone meant nothing to him. He kept on the spoor, the native and dog following. Under the circumstances the dog would have been more useful in front as a scout, but the young man feared missing a second shot if the bull stampeded by the dog.

When he arrived opposite the tree, the young man, startled by a crash, looked around to see the buffalo 30 yards away in full charge. The bull turned around and waited for the hunter in thick bush. The young man, too rattled to shoot, raced for the tree and dropped his rifle while climbing. He would have been too slow had not the native released the dogs, which dashed forward to threaten the bull’s charge, though the dog paid for his pluck with his life.

Then the buffalo tried to knock down the tree. After a couple of hours, the bull apparently collapsed. But the young man remained in the tree, distrusting the bull even to the dawn. Knowing the native had gone for me, he decided to wait. The wounded buffalo died in his endeavor to satisfy his hate. It is this deadly singleness of purpose that makes the buffalo an animal to be feared.

Chadwick-buffalo-down-111715My very first buffalo was shot in the dark by mistake as I thought he was a lion. I was travelling with two ox wagons when one suddenly stopped. Nothing happened so I went forward to inquire and the other driver whispered, “Lions, master.” Immediately I ran for my rifle and then, in the starlit background saw three forms moving parallel with the road, one moving toward an anthill. I was ready to fire when his bulk emerged from behind it. I could not see the rifle sights in the starlight, so when the forequarters loomed black on the forward side I fired.

A crash, a snort, and three forms raced madly away. Hearing the pounding hooves, the driver shouted that it was not lions but buffalo. And buffalo it was. While I realized this, the animal was already back on his tracks, heading back for the wagons, and he came to a halt (coughing and gasping) abreast of the rear wagon. I could tell he was badly wounded, so climbed on the wagon, told the front diver to move on and leave investigation until morning. But, as the lead driver called to his cattle, a 1,400 pound red eyed fury came at the wagon, striking it with such force that he raised it off the ground, almost sending me overboard. Then he raised himself on his hind legs and placed himself on the rail. I was ready with my .405 Winchester and a bullet through the head caused him to collapse in a heap. The first shot had gone through the lungs. Again, although mortally wounded, he preferred revenge to escape. The size of the wagon was no deterrent.

The first time I actually hunted buffalo in daylight, I was accompanied by someone of experience. Late one afternoon we came upon a herd of 50 animals. Selecting two of the largest, we fired together and both animals dropped. The herd dashed off and we went to examine our bag. Suddenly the bull I had shot jumped to his feet and headed back into the bush from which they and we had come, about 50 yards away. We decided to instruct a native on how to skin the one lying in the open and that apparently dead animal jumped up and charged. We fired simultaneously again. The bull pitched forward on his head but was up again and coming as fast as a broken shoulder would allow. A third round of simultaneous shots, this time to the brain, brought him down. He had been shot through the stomach, liver and leg but he continued his charge. What pluck.

grey-ghost-capebuffaloI proceeded after the wounded animal, following the actual blood spoor, with a native on my right and my friend to the left. We hoped to take the bull in the flank if he were lying in ambush or at least to locate him before a charge. After two miles the native shouted, “Look out master, he is coming!” And there was a black figure racing to me. My friend yelled, “Run to your left, I have him covered.” I ran for all I was worth, stimulated by the pounding hoofs and grunts behind me, when I heard the rifle crack and then a stumble, a grunt, and a deep gurgling, and yes, still hoof beats but less certain ones.

On reaching a tree, I discarded my rifle and climbed up in time to see the black form rush by. Another shot made his end certain. I am convinced that at the distance from which he broke cover, I could never have stopped him in time to prevent his doing me mortal injury. Nor could I have outrun him save for my friend’s two shots. Since then, when following buffalo into long grass or timber, I have dogs and or plenty of natives to give warning or distract attention.

Once, during my early police days I came across a herd of buffalo and decided to try a shot. Luckily, the horse I was riding was the one we rode when shooting antelope so it was steady and easy to handle. The grazing herd of 60-80 animals, with the largest some distance away on the outside, was calm. I aimed behind the shoulder, fired and the bull fell to the shot. As I walked to him, he jumped up and charged. As I was quickly trying to decide whether to mount or fire, he suddenly pitched forward, and lay, to all appearances, dead. I approached, but at 10 paces I saw his eyes blinking rapidly and glaring at me. So I raced for the saddle.

My horse started to run, but not five paces behind was the bull, his wicked eyes glinting like live coals. I rode for all I was worth. Meanwhile, the herd of course vanished. I looked back to see the bull again apparently dead. I circled back, dismounted at 100 yards and placed another bullet behind the shoulder. The gallant animal struggled to rise, only to fall sideways. To make sure, I fired again at the head and from 20 paces. My first bullet perforated both lungs and the soft nosed bullet tore the lungs. But he still managed twice to try a charge, and even pursue the horse. A steady horse is perhaps the most useful auxiliary a buffalo hunter can have.

Buffalo know how to fake death and to turn on their tracks in order to mislead their intended victims. Although both the lion and the elephant can be turned by luck, the buffalo is also the one animal on the veld that cannot be stopped when it charges, except by death.–Ellen Enzler Herring Trophy Room Books

One thought on “Armchair Safari – Adventures with Buffalo”

Leave a Reply