Tag Archives: hunting buffalo

My Eight-Year Quest

The author and his Dagga Boy.
The author and his Dagga Boy.

We had walked only 50 yards down the elephant trail when the tracker pushed his outstretched hand back at us to stop.  That same moment, the huge Dagga Boy who had been sleeping in the dense bush stood up only 10 yards from us and when he stood up he was facing directly at us.

Eight years ago, my local Safari Club International chapter had an informal gathering for people to meet a Professional Hunter from Zimbabwe, Mr. Terry Fenn of Chinanga Safaris. He was approaching 50 years old and spoke with such authority about hunting dangerous game that I could not help but pay attention to his contributions in the evening’s casual conversations.

I got along with Terry very well and when I left that evening, told myself that if I were ever fortunate enough to hunt Cape buffalo, it would be with Mr. Terry Fenn.  Thus was the beginning of an eight-year quest to hunt my dagga boy.

Nelson Concept Rifle on a Montana Rifle receiver, stock of French walnut by author.
Nelson Concept Rifle on a Montana Rifle receiver, stock of French walnut by author.

Over the next few years, I kept in touch with Terry and, as I completed building rifles for clients, managed to find time to build myself a .338 Winchester Magnum on a Montana Rifle receiver.  I was aware that the minimum legal caliber for dangerous game was .375, but .338 is much more versatile and when I started the rifle I was only half convinced that I would be able to put aside the necessary funds for a buffalo hunt.

About a year after the rifle was finished, I started to work with Nelson Concept Rifle Company that uses a patented process to convert actions into specialized break-down rifles for ease of transport and to allow the use of multiple calibers in the same rifle. After a short time, I convinced Nelson Wait to transform my .338 into a Nelson break-down conversion with the addition of a .416 Ruger barrel as the second caliber.  He would do the metal work and I would complete the stock.  That combination gave me the perfect rifle for Africa.

With the rifle completed and having the good fortune of making a positive business move in 2010, it seemed as though the stars were lining up to book my buffalo hunt with Terry. I communicated my intentions to him in an email, stating that I was ready to hunt my buffalo, and that I was not interested in anything else.  This may be the only buffalo I would ever hunt, and did not want a “representative” trophy — I wanted MY buffalo.

Terry described the optimum shot on buffalo as 40 yards, so while I kept my 3-10 Shepherd scope for 8yrquestbuffherd121713my .338 barrel, I purchased a Trijicon 1-4 with a glowing green triangle on a post for the .416 barrel.  By mounting these with Talley lever lock rings, I could change barrels and scopes and the rifle would not be off zero by an inch.

Soon, the rifle was ready and the deposits were paid.  I would arrive in Victoria Falls on June 6, 2011. Finally, after eight years, I was ready for the hunt of my life.

The day I arrived in Zimbabwe, we had a two-hour ride to the spacious lodge where I had a guest cottage to myself.  While at breakfast the first morning, we heard two lions outside the lodge catch something to eat and then argue over who should eat first.

This was different from hunting in South Africa or Namibia.  This was like what I had read in many African novels — this was “Wild Africa.”  We saw multiple elephants every day including a heavy tusker at less than 50 yards.  Several times the trackers and scouts had to chop trees out of the way that elephants had knocked across the “roads.” Mind you, these were not roads, just pathways that at some time in the past had been taken by vehicles, elephants and other game animals.

8yrquestbullelephanthnt4evr121713One hour into the second morning, we walked a short distance to look for buffalo in a ravine. As Terry was walking back to the Land Cruiser he went to step over a small hole in the rock and looked down on a sleeping puff adder. Later that same morning, we rode back down a trail we had come in on just 90 minutes earlier, and the tracker found where three large lions had crossed our tire tracks.

We regularly saw 54-inch kudu, and sables close to 40 inches, but I did not want to lose track of my sole purpose — finding and taking a great buffalo.  The afternoon of day three produced a single herd of buffalo that saw us before we saw them, so no time was offered to evaluate the possibilities of a single mature bull at the back of the heard. Two hours later, we stalked into the herd as it napped on a kopje to see if we could get a look at one particular bull we briefly saw at the back of the herd.

We tried to position ourselves to view the herd as it moved off the kopjes, but were busted at the last minute by a cow buffalo that alerted the herd so they exited the area. Day number three had come to a close and I had not looked through my scope or binoculars at a single buffalo.

The fourth morning we found tracks from the herd we had seen the day before.  It had split up with half heading off the concession and the other half heading toward a watering hole about a mile away. As we left for the watering hole, the grass we were in was three feet high. As we walked farther, the grass was five feet high, and then seven feet high. We walked in single file with Max, the tracker, in front, followed by Terry and then me. I kept wondering how would we be able to see a buffalo or a lion in the tall grass.

By the time we stopped hunting on the fourth evening, I was beside myself.    More than half the hunt 8yrquestgiraffehnt4evr121713was over, and I had not looked through my scope or binoculars at a single buffalo. Terry remained confident, but realized the concerns that were growing. Upon returning to the lodge, Terry was able to secure the opportunity to hunt in a new area for day five.

The new area was a two-hour drive on back roads that were only dirt paths in some areas, but the promise of a better opportunity would be worth the extra early wake-up and the rough terrain to get there.  Terry was so convinced the new area would provide an opportunity that he brought Max, the lead tracker, a game scout, Scott Jurgens, the video cameraman, and even a skinner in the Land Cruiser with us.

The terrain in the new area was mostly bushes four to seven feet high and so dense that it was impossible to travel with the Land Cruiser unless we stuck to elephant trails. After four hours of bone-jarring travel, Max suddenly motioned to stop the vehicle.  I could tell he and Terry were very excited as they looked at fresh buffalo tracks heading down the elephant trail away from us. Terry whispered that we were on the very fresh track of a few dagga boys.

Stalking thru the tall grass.
Stalking thru the tall grass.

With the big bores chambered and checked, we went into stealth mode.  Max was in the lead, then Terry and then me as we slowly and quietly followed the fresh tracks along the elephant trail.  I stayed as close to Terry as possible without touching him.  I stepped where he stepped, and stopped when he stopped.

After traveling only 40 yards, Max slowed and motioned to stay quiet. My heart was pounding.  We walked only another 10 yards down the trail when Max froze in his footprints and pushed his outstretched hand back at us to stop.  At that same moment, the huge dagga boy who had been sleeping in the dense bush stood up 10 yards away facing directly at us! Lucky for us he did not run forward, as surely three of us would have been dead.  Instead, he chose to turn and run directly away, then stopped after just 25 yards to look at what had been so daring as to wake him from his nap.

I looked over Terry’s shoulder through a hole in the bushes and thought I heard him say, “Shoot.”  The buffalo was standing broadside at 35 yards. His horns looked gigantic to me, but I wanted to make sure of my judgment so I asked Terry, “Did you say shoot?”  Terry turned his head directly toward me and only one foot from my face, with eyes the size of dinner plates, said for a second time, “Shoot!”  The short rifle pointed quickly and I fired the instant the glowing triangle in the scope stopped perfectly on the bull’s right front shoulder.  I do not remember pulling the trigger or the recoil of the rifle, but I knew the shot was right on target.

After the shot, the bull exploded into the bush and we ran after him as I cranked another shell into the big bore. We could see much farther in front of us by crouching down as we ran and looking under the thick foliage.  Just at the far edge of our viewing distance, I could see the buffalo as he started to fall onto his left side. That side gave way and then he fell onto the right side. We cautiously quartered toward the rear of the buffalo and approached to within 10 yards. He was not going to get up, but Terry told me to place an insurance shot just behind his shoulder. At the second shot, two smaller bulls that had been traveling with the big bull decided it was time to leave and disappeared into the bush.  The huge bull bellowed several times, then we waited an extra five minutes before going in to check my trophy.

Terry backed me up as I made my way toward the head of the 2,000-pound animal to check his eye for any reflex action.  There wasn’t any. As we would later discover, the 400-grain bullet of my first shot had entered the right shoulder, traveled through the top of the heart, the left lung, broke the left shoulder, and stopped just under the skin on the off side.

This was an old bull with a full boss and horns that spanned 44 inches wide.  His age showed in the

Lion track
Lion track

textured wear on his deep boss, the battle scars from fighting for breeding rights, and the gray in his face.  The scars on his hindquarters from the claws and teeth of lion gave insight to his fortitude to survive in this harsh environment.  He would provide necessary meat over many months for many people who lived in the local village.

During my 40 years of hunting, I have been fortunate to have hunted in other countries.  But to hunt any of the Big Five is so vastly different for many reasons. One is the fact that they can also hunt you.

Prior to my going to Zimbabwe, we hunted for eight days with Wild African Hunting Safaris.  During our time in South Africa, my wife Sally and I went with our traveling companions, Baughn and Linda Holloway, along with Heinrich and Ximena Obermoller and their daughter, Sabine, to distribute our Blue Bag of humanitarian aid and a few hundred pounds of game meat.

We worked with Sophia Brits who oversees the Christelik-Maatskaplike Raad Christian Social Council facility in Musina, South Africa.– Scott Hutchinson

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Really Big Buffalo

The really big buffalo

On our last day at his Elcho Island area we finally saw the “really big buffalo” Greg Pennicott had been telling us about. He was living in some thick forest not far from camp, not out on the open floodplains like a lot of the buffalo in that area, so we’d seen his tracks along the road, and both Greg and guide Mark Daddow had seen him—but we hadn’t. At least not until we were done, which is sort of the way these things work, right? Hunting partner Jason Morton and I both had our buffalo—and then there he was, standing alongside the road, 500 yards from camp.

At first glance he was just another buffalo—in that area you see enough that you learn how to judge them, but you also see so many that you get somewhere between jaded and confused. This was just another big bull, lots of curl to his horn, and I didn’t tumble that this was one of the bulls we’d been looking for until Greg asked, “So, how big is that bull?”

So I took a closer look. He was with several cows, but he towered over them, so no ground shrinkage from lack of body size. Figure 10 inches for ear length, and you could put the ears against the horns nearly four times—but not quite. So give him 38 inches on horn length. All the bulls in that that area have 17-inch bases, but the extra-large ones are 18 or better. So that was the range, minimum 110, probably a bit over 112. Wow!

The South Pacific water buffalo go into our book at 80 inches based on simple measurement of length of each horn plus circumference of each base. Depending on where you are, anything in the 90s is a really good bull, 101 3/8 is “gold medal,”

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CZ USA’s Jason Morton & Boddington with Jason’s exceptional 2013 buffalo

and anything over 110 is spectacular. That will not, by the way, get you into the Top 10. In that measurement methodology, length quickly overpowers circumference and, over the years, there have been some really long water buffalo taken. The world record is a shocking 157, but it goes down quickly. Of 755 entries, only the top 40 are above 112, and you get below 103 before you get out of the top 100. So, by statistical definition a water buffalo anywhere in the 100s is awesome, and above 110 just plain huge.

We watched this bull until he tired of the game and drifted off with his cows, and then we drove away. How often does that happen? You’re all done, and then you see the big one. Sometimes you can take it—if the quota is available and you can afford it—but most of the time such things get chalked up as just one of “the big ones that got away.” This time it was a little easier. Depending on what you like, this magnificent bull that we walked away from was no bigger than the buffalo that we’d taken—which is saying quite a lot.

Jason Morton, of CZ USA, had never hunted in Australia or taken a water buffalo. He was playing with a hunting (vice tactical) version of a .338 Lapua, so we were hoping to get him a big buffalo—maybe at a bit of range out on Pennicott’s wide-open floodplains. Me, well, I just like buffalo, and I’m kind of equal opportunity. I would be unlikely to have another water buffalo mounted, so I was hoping for a “cull” bull, with wo

rn-down horns or a broken tip. The buffalo on that floodplain have pretty soft living, good grass and few rocks, so while I was pretty sure we’d find a big one for Jason, I knew looking for a genuine cull for me would be a lot more difficult.

That big floodplain is funny. Greg and Mark hunt it all season and know it well, but they also know that the buffalo situation can change every day. Sometimes you see the same bulls over and over…and sometimes you see a good bull and never see him again. The floodplain is huge, several hundred thousand acres, but only a tiny percentage of a six-million-acre hunting area. So every time you pass a really good bull looking for a better one there’s a risk…and sometimes it pays off. Water buffalo aren’t easy to judge—length depends more on curve than spread, and circumference also isn’t easy—but that first day we hit the jackpot, glassing a half-dozen awesome bulls that we figured were somewhere north of 100 inches.

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Despite the broken horn, this old bull scored higher than expected

We walked away from every single one of them. We accepted the risk, and it paid off. The second morning, a half-hour from camp, we were glassing a fine bull when Greg said, “Better look at that one,” pointing out a bull nearly lost in mirage. Yes, this one was distinctive, a cut above. Of course he was on the wrong side of a channel that couldn’t be crossed, so we backtracked. Two hours later we found him again and Jason made a lovely shot at long range. This bull was everything we’d hoped for—and easily bigger than anything we’d seen.

Although I wasn’t really looking for a trophy bull I have to admit we looked around for the “camp bull.” We couldn’t find him, so I don’t know what I might have done if we had. Instead we found exactly what I had hoped for: A massive old bull, perfect on one side, broken off 10 inches on the other. On the one hand, I succeeded: He was a nasty old bull that, chances are, nobody but me would have wanted. On the other hand, I failed miserably: Even with the broken horn he makes “gold medal” with a couple inches to spare. Pretty good place to hunt buffalo!– Craig Boddington