When Things Go South

The day was wearing on me.  Lots of walking over the parched savannah in 110-degree heat tends to work on a guy.  The sun dropped behind the tree line as we made our way to the vehicle.  It was finally cooling off a bit.  My mind was wandering off somewhere when the tracker stopped abruptly.  Not eighty yards away were two korrigum.

I had never seen one before so I wasn’t really sure what we were looking at, to be perfectly honest.  Patrick, the experienced and somewhat eccentric PH, whispered excitedly: “korrigum!”

Korrigum are the largest member of the topi group. This unique trophy is found in only certain areas of Cameroon.

The tracker set-up the sticks quickly as I immediately placed the firearm in place.  The fading light wasn’t our friend.  Patrick didn’t waste any time telling me to shoot – in an almost scolding demeanor.  Trying to place the black crosshairs on a dark animal in low light conditions was challenging at best.  I tugged the trigger when I thought everything lined-up correctly.  At the shot, both animals took off running.  I distinctly heard the bullet ker-thump, so I know the animal was hit.

We pulled out a couple of torches and found traces of blood immediately.  By now it was dark and most challenging to follow tracks or blood.  After about 10 minutes of difficult tracking we decided to back away and return at first light.  Did I make a bad shot?  Did an unfamiliar rifle enhance this possible blunder?

My wife and I arrived in Yaounde, Cameroon for a hunt in the savannah.  The firearm – one of my favorite handguns by the way, made the trip from Paris just fine.  Unfortunately, the luggage carrying my ammunition was not so lucky.  I hate it when this happens!  For those of us who are emotionally attached to a particular firearm, the last thing we embrace is borrowing a firearm.

A “working rifle” like this Blaser in 375 H&H makes a fine choice when your ammo doesn’t show up. Compact Leupold binos were an asset during long hikes in the heat.

Being the eternal optimist, I thought our luggage would show up the next day or so, and could be transferred to Ngaoundere – where we would be hunting in the northern part of the country.  Well, that did not happen!  So, what are you going to do now?  Luckily we had all of our clothing and hunting shoes in carry-on bags.  My camera, Leupold binos and other related equipment were in my backpack.  We could let this mishap ruin our hunt or we could make the best of the situation and enjoy another adventurous safari.

If you have never experienced lost luggage or firearms, consider yourself very fortunate.  I must be the unluckiest person in the world because I’ve had this occur several times.  It sure helps when you prepare accordingly.

When we arrived in camp I explained to Patrick our situation.  He informed me this is not uncommon and immediately walked to his bungalow – bringing back a Blaser in .375 H&H topped with a Zeiss scope.  It was definitely a “working rifle” and with Barnes ammo, it shot exceptionally well.  A 10-day hunt in the savannah with a borrowed rifle is not the worst thing that could have occurred.

Hampton and his wife enjoyed the adventure in Cameroon. This nice sing-sing waterbuck was taken with a Blaser in 375 H&H with Zeiss optic.

The area is best known for Lord Derby eland, one of Africa’s most prized trophies.  Also running around the area is western savannah buffalo, roan and a variety of other species.  Since I had taken several of these species on previous hunts, we were searching specifically for sing-sing waterbuck, Central African cob, red river hog, Nigerian bohor reedbuck, western hartebeest and korrigum.  I really wanted a korrigum – the largest member of the topi group, and would hope to see one in the crosshairs.  This is truly wild Africa and the hunting can be both challenging and rewarding.

During the first three days hunting was a bit slow.  We saw game but nothing to write home about.  You could hunt until noon when the temperature would reach 110 degrees.  We would take a lunch break, siesta and then resume hunting later in the afternoon when the temps were bearable.

One evening the head tracker and I took a long hike by a creek bed.  On one side of the creek was a huge bamboo field as thick as sand on a beach.  The side we sneaked along had grass burnt previously.  The leaves were dry and even trying to walk in somewhat of a stealth-mode – sounded like you were walking on corn flakes.  Just before dark we heard a noise in the creek.  We couldn’t see due to the thick vegetation.  All of the sudden two red river hogs come busting out of the creek on our side.  You could hear more racket in the creek as the remaining sounder hid under the gauntlet of cover.  The Blaser mounted to my shoulder like a well-fitted trap gun and the dot in the Zeiss scope quickly found its target.  One shot later we had a red river hog to carry back to the vehicle.

Shooting off sticks is common practice in Africa. Like any other method, it takes some practice.

The morning after our encounter with the korrigum, we headed back to the scene of the crime, hoping to follow-up and recover our game.  On the way a Central African cob was spotted.  A lone ram that stood a little too long in one place.  Once again the Blaser delivered a well-placed shot and the Barnes bullet did its job as expected.  After hero shots we headed to the last place where the korrigum was shot.

Immediately the trackers spotted dried blood and begin to follow.  Thoughts kept racing through my mind – especially after following the tracks for over one hundred yards.  I didn’t like what I was seeing.  A well-placed shot would have resulted in a dead animal by now.  Fortunately, a short while later I spotted the korrigum lying flat.  We were all thrilled!  This is a unique animal found only in specific areas with few permits.  I was very fortunate.

And speaking of fortunate, on the way back to camp we stumbled across two sing-sing waterbuck bulls – sometimes referred to as West African defassa waterbuck.  They were running along the edge of the woods and stopped momentarily to check us out.  The shot was somewhere around 130 yards as the waterbuck stood broadside.  To be perfectly honest, shooting off sticks is not the easiest thing for me.  It may look like a solid rest but it’s not perfect.  Granted, it takes practice shooting from this method.  Heck, I wasn’t expecting to use a rifle in the first place!

Patrick told me to shoot the first one.  When I finally got the dot on target the bull turned his head and started to move.  Luckily the Barnes bullet dropped him instantly before he departed.  Now we have three animals making the trip to the skinning shed.  Things have turned around pretty quick.

Trackers play a crucial role in the success of hunting Africa. Here the tracker and Hampton are all smiles with this western cob.

During our hunt we observed several different species of game.  A few herds of buffalo were found, including one lone bull.  This guy was a monster and if I hadn’t already taken one in CAR, I would have pulled the trigger for sure.  We also saw a surprising number of roan, which is always a treat.  Other game encountered included red-flanked duiker, bushbuck, Grimm’s duiker, colobus monkeys, baboons, oribi, warthog and more.  It always makes the hunt enjoyable when you see game, even if it’s not what your hunting.

The reedbuck was playing hard to get.  We saw a few but they were always high-tailing out of sight.  As we hunted different areas, Patrick wanted to burn the high grass in certain places.  This is a common practice in the area as the tall, dead grass offers little food for wildlife.  Once the dead grass is burned, a few days later fresh, new grass begins to grow and this provides much needed food for game.

Several times when we would burn an area, reedbuck came racing out as they were hidden in the head high weeds.  Our perseverance finally paid off one morning.  The tracker spotted our ram hidden behind some brush.  Some of these trackers have amazing eyes for game.  He tried to point out the reedbuck but I was having difficulty seeing the darn thing.

Finally I spotted him some 75 yards away, tucked behind some brush.  Once again, I struggled with the sticks.  Trying to hold the dot steady on a small animal was a chore!  As I was squeezing the trigger – I saw the dot drift around the shoulder.  Luckily the bullet found its home and we had a bohor reedbuck headed to the salt.

Western hartebeest are fairly common in Cameroon’s savannah. This dandy bull was taken with a well-placed Barnes bullet from sixty yards.

Toward the end of our adventure we located a lone hartebeest.  We had observed several hartebeest in passing days – just nothing worthy of pursuit.  This male was a dandy.  We were ready to call it a morning when the tracker spotted this bull in the savannah woodlands.  A short stalk found us within 60 yards.  As the bull heard our presence he turned – facing directly toward us.  The Barnes bullet performed flawlessly and we had just finished taking all the game on our “wish list.”

While I was greatly disappointed from not having my own gun – our hunt was a success.  We could have let this unfortunate circumstance ruin our experience.  After 29 hunts in Africa, if I’ve learned anything I have learned to roll with the punches.  Once in a while things are not always going to end up like planned.  Hope for the best, prepare for the worst and enjoy the adventure.  Life is too short to do otherwise.  –Mark Hampton

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