We hadn’t been following tracks twenty minutes before we heard the crashing sound of the buffalo taking off. That didn’t come as any surprise. The thick, jungle-like rainforest made tracking difficult. Trying to be quiet was almost impossible and I couldn’t wrap my head around just how we were going to pull this off. Baby, our head pygmy tracker, continued following the lone bull tracks. At least they were fresh tracks.
The heat and humidity kept sweat flowing constantly in my eyes. Slowly we continued – I should say the pygmy followed tracks. I couldn’t see any sign of spoor most of the time! Baby kept his eye on the ground moving slowly along. I was looking ahead. You were lucky if you could see beyond twenty yards. When I saw the buffalo looking at us I really couldn’t believe my eyes. In a split second, the bull caught Baby’s movement and in a blink of an eye, disappeared in to the jungle once again.
Patrick, our PH, had a brief discussion with Baby. I didn’t understand the dialog, but I could detect the body language and one-sided conversation pertained to Baby not looking ahead with his eyes focused entirely on the tracks. With no better options, we continued. Deep down I really thought we were just going through the motions.
Twenty minutes later, my flawed thinking changed quickly. This time, Baby spotted the buffalo and I couldn’t for the life of me see him! Patrick pushed me forward a few steps and there he was – facing us about twenty-five yards away. Wouldn’t you know it – a small tree was directly in the path where I wanted to send a chunk of lead. Slowly moving to one side ever so slightly, I lined the crosshairs up and cocked the hammer.
Cameroon is not exactly the destination for first time safari enthusiast but sooner or later it hits the radar screen. The biggest draw is obviously Lord Derby eland and bongo, but the country holds a variety of sought-after big game. The country is diverse with semi-desert savannah in the north to luxuriant, jungle-like rainforest in the south. With a multitude of game available to the adventurous hunter, Cameroon has monumental appeal.
Like many reading this article, I love attending the SCI Convention for many reasons. The only downside is it’s never good for my bank account. While strolling down the aisles during the past convention I stopped in the booth to visit with Arjun Reddy of Hunters Networks. Before leaving his booth, I found myself headed to the rainforest of Cameroon for one of my “bucket list” animals – dwarf forest buffalo. Arjun was http://www.huntersnetworks.com/african-hunts/#cameroonhonest and upfront when he told me this was not going to be an easy hunt. I accepted the challenge and packed one of my favorite big game handguns – a T/C Encore in 375 JDJ with Cor-Bon ammunition.
Karen and I were met in Doula by our PH, Patrick, and worked our way through formalities without issue. When we arrived in camp the next day after a nine-hour drive, we were impressed. The newly built camp had nice accommodations, running water and shower with comfortable bed — a welcome sight after traveling from the U.S.
Early the next morning we began looking for fresh buffalo tracks. Patrick told me ahead of time we would take it easy the first day and give us time to get acclimated. We didn’t locate any buffalo sign, but the pygmies called in several duikers. There are a variety of forest duikers in this area and I was hoping to get lucky with a few.
I was using the camp pump-action shotgun with rifle sights. At first, I thought this would be fine. Once inside the canopy of the jungle, things get dark even if the sun is shining brightly. I had difficulty seeing the iron sights. At least that was my excuse after missing two duikers that came running in to see what was going on. The pygmy uses his mouth to imitate a wounded duiker and it’s not uncommon for the little guys to come in at full speed. I know what you’re thinking – how do you miss with a shotgun? Well, I can make it appear fairly simple.
The next day I changed shotguns and went with an over and under. With a rib, I was able to point shoot much better, so I didn’t have any excuses. Lucky for me, a Bates pygmy antelope came in on our first call and I redeemed myself. This was definitely one of the forest duikers I was hoping to take. We continued looking for buffalo tracks to no avail, but during the course of this hunt we saw three yellow-back duiker which was pretty amazing!
On the fourth day we ventured to a marsh and found a variety of tracks including gorilla, forest elephant, yellow-back duiker, buffalo, sitatunga and more. The natural salt licks definitely drew the game. The trackers finally lined out on some tracks and we followed. These buffalo went through the gauntlet of jungle and had us on our hands and knees many times. I couldn’t believe buffalo would go through such thick stuff!
We had followed the tracks for quite some time and periodically stopped to take a break. After four hours or so we had circled around and found ourselves back in the marsh, upstream from where we originally started this pursuit. The marsh provided difficult walking conditions as we often sank down in the mud and mire.
Baby stopped suddenly. He could hear buffalo walking through the water ahead of us. We tried to be quiet but that wasn’t possible. When we finally got in position to see, it was two females and a young one. They took off immediately and disappeared. I never could figure out if we were following their tracks all along or they just happened to be in the path we were traveling. At any rate, it was a long day.
The next morning while calling for duikers I saw one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in the wild. As the pygmy was calling he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed behind me. As I slowly turned to look, a gorilla was about twenty-some steps away. The gorilla caught my movement and peacefully turned to walk away. A few steps to the right stood a large male and when he turned to walk away – you could clearly see the silver on his back. It was an awesome sight! And it scared the daylights out of the pygmy!
Every morning we started off looking for buffalo tracks around salt licks and roads. We usually ended up calling duikers sometime during the morning. Karen even got involved and was intrigued by the experience. After she walked out of the rainforest one morning she looked at me and said, “It’s a jungle out there!” Indeed it is and a special, unique environment. Several times I carried the Encore hoping for a decent opportunity at one of the duikers. As we were traveling down the road one afternoon I managed to take a Peter’s duiker with the handgun. Patrick was somewhat surprised I was able to take a duiker with the handgun, especially after I had missed two previously with his shotgun.
Trying to hold the crosshairs steady on the dwarf forest buffalo, sweat was pouring off my forehead. Looking at the bull through the Leupold scope was a view I’ll never forget. I eased over to my right in an attempt to clear the small tree blocking passage to the bull’s vitals. You would think a twenty-five-yard shot would be easy, even if I was shooting offhand.
When the hammer fell, Cor-Bon’s 270-grain DPX bullet found home. The bull dropped instantly. I ran up a few steps as Patrick and I both put a couple of insurance rounds in the bull. These buffalo are nothing to mess with, especially in the thick stuff. The trackers were elated and so was I! Upon returning to camp we were greeted by a celebratory staff. It had been a great day for all of us.
There are a couple of other methods employed when hunting these buffalo; for example, dogs and sitting in a high seat overlooking a salt lick. For me, tracking with the pygmies through the jungle is the ultimate challenge. I have been hoping for a dwarf forest buffalo for quite some time. This hunt was very challenging and most rewarding. Seems like the difficult hunts are the ones most memorable.
Since returning home, I have already been communicating with Arjun Reddy for a return trip to Cameroon. The country is blessed with an abundance of game and I’ll be back for more. Africa does that to people – you simply become addicted.–Mark Hampton