An early morning haze covered the sky as we hiked over the savannah to the next salt lick. It doesn’t take long for the sun to burn through the mist and well before lunchtime the heat cranks up unmercifully.
It was Day Five and we were hoping to find fresh buffalo tracks. The first salt lick was barren of any spoor. A death march-like pace ensued on the way to another source. Suddenly Christophe stopped abruptly and threw up his binos. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There in an open area feeding on lush grass was a herd of fifteen or so central African savannah buffalo. Could this be our lucky break?
Using sparse clumps of brush, we eased our way forward. When we stepped inside of one hundred yards, one of the trackers spotted a calf lingering behind the herd. We couldn’t risk any chance of this little guy seeing us, as he was only fifty yards away at this point. The bull was slightly on the left side of the herd. You could see his reddish coloration shinning in the early morning sun. A beautiful sight indeed!
Christophe let out a call as the bull turned broadside. We were around eighty yards and I already had the handgun resting in the cradle of Bog-Pod’s shooting rest. The hammer now cocked, I squeezed the trigger despite wobbling crosshairs. At the shot, we were all a bit shocked!
This was my third trip to CAR. The previous trips focused on Lord Derby eland. After wearing out a pair of tennis shoes in nineteen days, I finally got lucky. And luck was surely on my side when I took a yellow-backed duiker. I guess you could say I was lucky losing fifteen pounds on that hunt. In my experience, the hunting in CAR has always been extremely challenging. I wasn’t expecting this hunt to be any different. With this in mind, I kept my “wish list” fairly short with the top two priorities being giant forest hog and buffalo. If possible–red river hog, sing-sing waterbuck and harnessed bushbuck would be most welcome. Those animals are in CAR, and I was ready to put in long, hard days.
My wife and I were hunting with Eric Mararv’s Central African Wildlife Adventures. The enormous, remote area is located in the southeastern part of the country and covers two million hectares. The hunting area is best described as a mosaic of equatorial rainforests blending with the vast, rolling plateau of woodland savannah. Fresh water streams meander through forest galleries contrasting with dry, burnt landscape nearby. Due to the contrasts, savannah species such as Lord Derby eland, roan, hartebeest and warthog live in close proximity to forest game like bongo, red river hog, Weyn’s and yellow-backed duiker and giant forest hog. This is a unique ecosystem indeed. Our camp was situated on the banks of the Kocho and Siriri Rivers in a picturesque setting. This is wild Africa–and hunting is both difficult and rewarding.
Searching for tracks at various salt licks consumed our time during the first few days. We picked up sign early one morning and followed a herd of buffalo for several hours, but it just wasn’t in the cards that day. Long walks in extreme heat are the norm. The trackers are incredible and I’m impressed at what they are capable of doing. We were entertained when a red flanked duiker come racing across the road, followed closely by two wild dogs. They all flew past us a mere twenty feet away. The duiker made dive in some of the thickest stuff imaginable. Even though the wild dogs were persistent, the duiker won that round.
After our early morning search for fresh buffalo tracks, we turned our attention to giant forest hogs. Our PH, Christophe Morio, is one of the hardest working, dedicated professional hunters in central Africa. He has an impressive background with giant forest hogs and I felt confident we would score. Christophe had a keen sense for locating these big pigs. Several times we ran across a sounder of fifteen or more but they all turned out to be females and young.
Sneaking along a small stream in the late afternoon, we bumped into a couple of big boars. Unfortunately, the wind was our nemesis. We had seen enough swine along the stream to spend some time there as our luck was bound to change. I’m pretty sure a fairly large number of giant forest hogs are taken as targets of opportunity–encountered while hunting other game. We were specifically focusing on these unique creatures. The area sustains a healthy population to reasonably attempt this goal.
Late one evening we were meandering along the stream, hoping to find a giant forest hog, bushbuck or buffalo. It was a quiet afternoon without wind–only the sounds of bird life could be heard. The trackers were in the lead, looking along the stream. As luck would have it, Karen just happened to look behind us in a slough that jutted out from the stream. She tapped me on the shoulders and pointed. Sure enough, a lone giant forest hog was feeding on the lush grass near the water. I couldn’t believe it!
At first, it looked like a dark rock as his head was completely hidden by the tall grass. But the moment I saw his tail swish back and forth, I snapped my fingers gaining the attention of Christophe and the trackers, and pointed toward the big porker. Christophe took a quick look through his binos and immediately set up the tripod. I rested the Freedom Arms revolver and tried to hold the Leupold crosshairs steady. At the shot, the hog flinched and disappeared. We waded across the steam and took off in pursuit. After a little excitement, we had a giant forest hog on the ground. It was a perfect ending to another wonderful day in Africa–we all were ecstatic!
During the hunt, we accidently bumped into a group of red river hogs but just couldn’t seem to seal the deal. Another evening, right before dark, we ran across another sounder but they, too, were clever and disappeared before any shot materialized. Then, early one morning shortly after daylight, we ran across some fresh sign of rooting. The trackers followed the sign as Christophe thought we would catch up with the hogs in short order. Sure enough, we did. One of the trackers spotted the hogs feeding leisurely–totally unaware of our presence.
Christophe and I slipped a little closer. A big sow was feeding to our left. Eventually we spotted the boar vigorously rooting up ground behind a tree. I took a rest and executed one of the biggest blunders I’ve managed to pull off in quite some time. When poor shot selection converges with a rushed opportunity, the results are predictable. The bullet struck the tree and the hog disappeared into the forest. Why I took that shot at that moment is beyond me! A total screw-up on a prime opportunity that left me thoroughly disgusted! Unfortunately, we never had another chance.
The hunting in CAR can best be described as excessive walking in extreme heat. That’s part of the program. We drank plenty of water and kept going. Don’t expect to see game around every bush. But when you do get lucky, it’s always a treat.
Late one morning after spotting a harnessed bushbuck hiding in the bush, we quickly determined the lone male was a warrior. The old guy had a broken horn on one side and a chunk out of the other. Christophe set-up the sticks and I laid the .375 JDJ in the cradle. The beautiful ram was close to one hundred yards. Before I could squeeze the trigger, he turned and slowly walked away. I picked out an opening, settled the crosshairs and tugged the trigger. He immediately disappeared. The trackers and Christophe all heard the bullet strike home.
As we were following tracks, no blood sign was visible. I didn’t like what I wasn’t seeing. A few long minutes later I heard one of the trackers say, “Here he is!” Boy was I glad. The harnessed bushbuck is the smallest of the species and one of the most beautiful of the spiral horns.
When the buffalo mentioned previously was centered in the crosshairs, subconsciously I knew they would vanish in the blink of an eye into the thick, tropical rain forest nearby. I could see the gauntlet of jungle-like growth through the scope. When the shot interrupted our early morning solitude, the bull dropped in his tracks like a ton of bricks. We were all in somewhat of a shock–but nobody was complaining! It was a thrilling moment and everyone was elated. As we walked up to the buffalo, he wiggled his ears and Christophe told me to shoot again. After administering the obligatory coup de grace, it was time to celebrate. Buffalo Bore’s 305-grain ammo performed flawlessly. Before the photo session was over, sweat bees by the millions swarmed around our faces. They don’t sting but will enter your nose, mouth, eyes, ears and ultimately drive you insane. But I wasn’t going to let insects distract my exhilaration. The horns of this central African savannah buffalo are not the biggest taken in CAR, but I sure did admire the coloration. He was a beautiful bull and I couldn’t be happier.
Hunting in CAR can be very rewarding. In the end, you appreciate a hard day’s hunt and hard-earned game. It’s part of the appeal–hunting wild Africa. I would be remiss not to mention the negative impact on wildlife from Sudanese poaching. Add an influx of cattle filtering down from Sudan by armed Sudanese herdsmen, perhaps some from Chad, and you have problems. Erik Mararv has co-founded the Chinko Project to address these issues. To learn more about this endeavor, go to www.chinkoproject.com. I hope to return someday–I have a score to settle with a red river hog. Redemption will be sweet.–Mark Hampton