Pre-Ban Elephant Safari


Author's dagga boy
Author’s dagga boy

Little did I know when I booked an elephant hunt that it could be one of the last Zimbabwe elephant hunts where the ivory could be legally imported into the United States.

A fellow hunter, Dr. Bruce Brown, planted the seed for this hunt in my mind during a Scotland red stag hunt in 2012. He had recently returned from a successful elephant hunt with Wayne Jardine of Zim-Africa Safaris and on his recommendation, I contacted Wayne and we began a dialog on a possible elephant hunt.

My wife, Judy, who had accompanied me on the red stag hunt, also expressed interest in going to Africa and working with a charity there while I hunted. We decided to book a 14-day elephant and Cape buffalo safari for November 2013 and to make our first trip to Africa a humanitarian and safari combination.

Since I had never been elephant or Cape buffalo hunting, and did not have an appropriate rifle, I asked Wayne’s advice. He said if I was a good shot, a .375 H&H would be the minimum caliber. Being 69 years old, having hunted all of my life and having killed many species of North American big game, I figured I was a fair shot; so I followed his advice and purchased a Ruger Model 77 in .375 H&H Mag. and topped it with a 1.5×5 Leopold scope.

Our adventure began with a nonstop flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa and then on to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. There, Judy began her humanitarian work with African Impact, and I went into the bush with my PH, Heath Jardine, Wayne’s nephew. Our safari camp was located north of Hwange Park on a high bluff overlooking some of the most beautiful country in the world.

From the beginning, I realized that Heath put our safety first and knowing that put my mind at ease. Although I’d had extensive hunting experience, I asked a lot of questions about bullet placement, particularly the elephant brain shot and frontal shots on buffalo. I told Heath that I had always admired long ivory, and, if given the opportunity, would like to take an elephant with long tusks.

PH Heath Jardine (far right) with Zimbabwe Game wardens
PH Heath Jardine (far right) with Zimbabwe Game wardens

After making sure my rifle was still zeroed and proving to Heath that I could shoot accurately from shooting sticks, we started hunting. I had brought my fancy, adjustable shooting sticks with me but Heath quickly told me we would be using his “lucky” shooting sticks, which literally were three long pointed pieces of wood tied together with a large wrapping of rubber near the top ends.

Our typical day consisted of three excursions into the bush. The routine worked very well and most of the game was seen early and late. In the middle of the day, both man and animals sought shelter from the heat and sun.

From the first day of hunting, we saw many elephants and Cape buffalo. We focused on taking an elephant first, but the Cape buffalo did not follow our plan and while returning toward camp the third day, our tracker, Frank, spotted a small herd with a really good bull in it.

They were feeding and completely undisturbed, so Heath, Frank and I approached from down wind. The big bull was in front, walking and feeding slowly from our left. Heath set up the shooting sticks, and I got ready to shoot. As the big bull topped a small rise at about 45 yards, I shot him behind the front shoulder with a Federal 300-grain Nosler Partition cartridge, which knocked him down.

The author's elephant was taken just before the import ban went into effect.
The author’s elephant was taken just before the import ban went into effect.

To my surprise, he jumped to his feet. Heath grabbed me by my shirt, and we ran quickly about 30 yards away. He was looking straight at us. Heath whispered that he didn’t know if the buffalo was going to charge us or run, and told me to shoot him again–just under the chin.

I rested my rifle on a tree branch, aimed under the chin and fired. The buffalo dropped immediately and did not get up. My Federal 300-grain Sledgehammer Solid had struck him in the nose and killed him instantly.

What an adrenalin rush! The “dagga boy” was a mature herd bull whose horns were 39 inches across with huge, hard bosses. Heath estimated he was about 12 to 13 years old and weighed about 1,800 pounds–a truly incredible trophy of a lifetime. The meat was given to a local village, and the people there were so very appreciative to have this source of food for themselves and their children.

We hunted elephant the next two days and saw probably 30 to 40 each day. Judy had the weekend off from her African Impact work, so Wayne went to Victoria Falls and brought her into camp. Saturday morning we (including Judy) arose at 5 a.m. and continued our elephant hunt. Judy rode up front in the Land Cruiser with

Heath, and I rode on top with Frank and the others.

I discovered that one sees so much more territory from topside. For Judy’s enjoyment and delight, I was glad we were seeing all sorts of game that morning–elephant, giraffe, kudu, rhinoceros, wild dog and others.

About 7:30 that morning, we saw four large elephants at about 1,000 yards. After glassing, Heath was of the opinion the largest elephant with the longest tusks was the elephant I was seeking. I agreed and we started our stalk but soon discovered that the wind was fickle. One instant it would blow one way and the next instant the direction would change.

Frank had a simple and reliable piece of equipment for determining wind direction. It was a small, plastic bottle about three inches tall with a tiny hole in the top of the cap. Inside was fine ash from a campfire. When squeezed, the ash is forced out of the hole and is blown by the slightest wind showing which direction it’s blowing.

After some discussion, Heath decided the prudent course of action was to withdraw from the stalk and return to the tracks later in the morning when hopefully the wind had settled down. By midmorning, the wind had settled and Heath, Frank, Oscar (my gun bearer) and I started tracking the elephants again.

After tracking for about two hours, we found the four elephants. They had stopped moving in the noonday heat and were fanning themselves with their huge ears under several gigantic baobab trees. Oscar and I stayed behind while Heath and Frank got a closer look.

Author poses with one of the tusks and the cape buffalo
Author poses with one of the tusks and the cape buffalo

Heath returned and said we were in luck; the big tusker was off from the others by himself. He had earlier told me about being careful shooting solids as the bullet can penetrate one animal and strike another animal on the other side. I was fully loaded with solids and ready.

We stalked within about 50 yards of the elephant with the longest tusks, and Heath set up his shooting sticks. The elephant was almost broadside facing to our right. For a high, double lung shot, Heath had instructed me to follow the fold of skin on the back of the front leg until the fold ends behind the shoulder and shoot there. I took my rifle from Oscar and put it on the sticks, found the right spot and squeezed the trigger.

The world exploded! I bolted another solid into the chamber as the elephants shook the earth while thundering away. We took a few steps forward and I looked at Heath. He had a huge grin on his face and motioned that the elephant was down. We found him about 60 yards from where I shot him and put another solid to the brain. Heath’s “lucky” shooting sticks really had been lucky for us. One can’t argue with the incredible successes we had.

We went to camp and got Judy to celebrate and what a celebration it was! I think the whole village came out. Thanks to the elephant, they had food to feed themselves, their children and others who were hungry. Judy and I felt very good that we had contributed to the health and well being of these people who may not have had food otherwise.

Heath estimated the age of the elephant to be about 45 years and the weight to be about seven tons. I was really awed about how enormous he was. Around its outside, the longer tusk measured 5 feet 7 inches, which, coincidently, is also Judy’s exact height.

On April 4, 2014, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service imposed the import ban into the United States on ivory from elephants hunted in Zimbabwe. Because my elephant was killed on November 2, 2013, before the ban was imposed, I was able to legally get the ivory into the United States through the Port of San Francisco.

Special thanks go to Rebecca who shepherded the ivory and the Cape buffalo through her African exporter to get them on U.S. soil as quickly as possible; but even with her extra efforts, there were still some doubts whether I would ever get the ivory home.

As a retired civilian and military judge with more than 35 years of judicial experience, I was and still am shocked and outraged by the USFWS ivory import ban. It is one of the most unjust and cruel political decisions that I have ever encountered. This decision is completely without scientific justification. Hunters are the saviors of wildlife; in this case elephants.

Author and his wife pose with his pre-ban ivory.
Author and his wife pose with his pre-ban ivory.

Without the dollars of hunters to combat poaching and to finance research and conservation efforts, wildlife populations suffer. Historically, this truism has been proven over and over. And, imagine the human suffering this decision has caused and will continue to cause through lost jobs, disruption of families, and a deterioration of the health and general welfare of a significant number of people.

Governments sometimes make arbitrary and unwise decisions, which is the case with the ivory importation ban. Safari Club International is to be highly commended for its efforts to overturn the ban. Let us join forces to accomplish that worthy goal.

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