The hour-and-a-half charter flight from Pemba was uneventful yet revealed evidence of an unspoiled, remote landscape. Eventually we flew over the pristine Miombo woodland of the Niassa Reserve operated by Jumbo Moore’s Kambako Safaris.
As the aircraft made its descent over the meandering Lugenda River, a pod of hippos could be seen enjoying the afternoon sun. One could clearly see the varied terrain from typical woodland with dispersed rocky ridge tops to open grass savannah – stretching in to lush riverine belts. The diversity of this biosphere was intriguing. As the plane circled in position to land, a herd of buffalo was spotted not far from camp. This is Africa – wild Africa!
I’m not exactly sure how this hunt came about, but Jacques Hartzenburg, Jumbo’s partner in Chapungu-Kambako Safaris, had somehow convinced my wife that she should hunt Cape buffalo. The next thing I knew, we were making plans for a classic, traditional, buffalo hunt in Mozambique. You never know what might unfold during an SCI Convention.
The Niassa Reserve has good numbers of buffalo, elephant, big cats, plus many other endemic species including Niassa wildebeest, Roosevelt sable, eland, red duiker, bushpigs and more. The ongoing conservation efforts have paid huge dividends with game populations. With buffalo, only dagga boys are pursued – no bulls within a herd are sought--and there are plenty of old dagga boys running around alone or in small groups. Karen was a bit apprehensive as this was her first dangerous game hunt, but was more than ready to accept the challenge.
I was hoping to get a crack at Niassa wildebeest or Roosevelt sable, if time allowed, but Karen’s buffalo was first priority. She was borrowing a camp rifle, a Sako .375 H&H topped with a superb Schmidt & Bender optic. Due to her concern with recoil, a PAST shooting shield was acquired to help dissipate recoil and life was good. I was experimenting with a .338 Federal cartridge in a T/C Encore. After the obligatory sight-in upon arriving, both guns were ready.
Between jet lag and the elephant feeding next to our chalet, we didn’t get much sleep the first night. Our experienced PH, Ryan Cliff, and his keen trackers were ready to search for fresh tracks along the road and nearby water sources.
Early the first morning, it wasn’t long until we located tracks and the tracking began. Three hours into our pursuit we snuck up on four bulls, one really good one, but things just didn’t work out for a shooting opportunity. We took a well-deserved lunch break and got back on their tracks for the afternoon. As buffalo hunting sometimes goes, it’s not always easy. Deep down inside, I’m glad it didn’t work out early-on as Karen may not have appreciated the experience. According to Ryan’s GPS, we tracked almost twelve miles the first day, including an hour jaunt back to the vehicle in the dark. Welcome to buffalo hunting.
Each morning our modus operandi was the same – look for fresh tracks near water holes, hoping to find evidence of a few dagga boys. The second morning we accidently bumped in to a herd of sable with one really nice bull. Kambako policy does not permit shooting bulls from a herd, only those big males who have been kicked out are taken, so we passed and continued looking for buffalo sign. Luckily, we never had much of a problem finding fresh tracks.
Putting all the pieces of the puzzle together was a different matter. In mid-October, the temps reach 100 degrees by lunch. The trackers did an incredible job of following spoor in terrain where 99.9 percent of the population can’t see tracks. Karen was a real trooper, following the team for hours on end in unmerciful heat without complaints. And she was experiencing a real buffalo hunt in the process. Our second day ended up empty-handed – we got close, but no cigar.
If you read the pages of reasons why buffalo hunts go south, we were working our way through. Wind changing directions constantly, too much noise in the thick jess and an array of other causes played out. The good news was, we never really struggled with finding fresh tracks. It was when they led us in to the extremely thick bush that things never seemed to pan out exactly how we hoped. Two other hunters in camp scored on buffalo the first day and Karen began to think she was jinxed. If we continued getting on bulls every day, sooner or later our luck was bound to change.
On the fifth day, as we were checking for tracks shorty after daylight, we spotted a sounder of bushpigs. Neither of us had fired a round yet, and my trigger finger was getting antsy. It was back in 1983 when I took my first bushpig and I haven’t seen one since in twenty-seven safaris! I couldn’t pass up on an opportunity and told Ryan we must give this a go.
The pigs had meandered in the canopy of jungle-like growth, feeding leisurely and unaware of our presence. Eventually we caught up with them, but trying to pick out a big male proved challenging. Finally, Ryan spotted a big boar and set-up the sticks. I found a small alley for the bullet to pass and from 35 yards the .338 Federal dropped the swine, thanks to Nosler’s 180 grain Accubond bullet. We all felt this broke the ice – so to speak.
A short while later we came upon a single buffalo track crossing the road. We loaded our stuff in packs and began to follow. Karen whispered, “Here we go for another ten miles.” To everyone’s disbelief, we didn’t make it much more than three hundred yards from the truck when the trackers hunkered down immediately.
As we were easing up a little ridge, one of the trackers spotted a black object thru the thickest jess. Ryan took the sticks as Karen put on her hearing protection. Ever so slowly and meticulously, Ryan crept up for a better look. A lone dagga boy was lying in the shade except you couldn’t make out much of his outline. As Ryan inched gradually forward, he finally eased the sticks into place. Karen rested the rifle in its cradle and took the safety off. The trackers and I were down so we couldn’t see exactly how this was all playing out. Karen found a small opening through the bush as Ryan pointed out exactly where he wanted her to hit the bull. It was so thick Karen had difficulty determining exactly where Ryan was describing. The entire animal was impossible to see, only certain parts of his body were unobstructed by thick bush. Finally, it all came together and Karen touched one off – sending a 300-grain solid into the bull’s shoulder.
The bull never got up. A couple more insurance shots and it was a big celebration! Everyone was drenched in ecstasy! When we walked up to the bull, we couldn’t believe our eyes – the bull was huge. Karen really didn’t care if it had one horn but it was icing on the cake when the tape revealed 45 inches! It was an experience she will never forget – a highlight of her brief hunting career. Regardless of the measurement, this was a bull she had definitely earned – and couldn’t have been happier.
The next couple of days we looked for an old sable bull. On the drive from camp, we saw a herd of elephants and several herds of buffalo. Shortly after daylight, we walked to a water hole and stopped by a huge rock outcropping. The baboons and a female kudu continued to bark frantically. They couldn’t have possibly seen us or caught our scent.
Ryan motioned me to come forward as he was standing next to this big boulder. I peeked over his shoulder and couldn’t believe what I was seeing – a leopard walking directly toward us! At thirty-five steps, the cat stopped and noticed something was out of place. He stared at us briefly before running off – pausing once again to see what was standing by the boulder. It was one of the neatest things to see in broad daylight. We saw a few sable later that morning, but mostly young males and females.
Our last day in Mozambique found us still hoping to find a good sable, and we did -- a lone bull all by himself. I thought we’d struck gold for a brief moment. Unfortunately, when Ryan scrutinized him through the binos, he didn’t have any secondary growth. Another policy implemented at Kambako – thus eliminating the possibility of shooting immature bulls. Late in the evening, we bumped into a herd of Livingstone eland with one really old bull. He was almost black. I told Ryan we should give this bull a good effort – he was a buster.
Crawling for fifty yards or more on hands and knees, I was beginning to think we’d run out of daylight. The bull, along with several cows, were feeding and always looking around. I really didn’t think we could get in position for a shot due to the heavy cover, but we did.
Ryan set-up the sticks as I rested the Encore. The bull turned to get a better look at us, offering a broadside shot. The .338 Federal hit him slightly behind the shoulder and eland scattered everywhere. Luckily, the bull didn’t go fifty yards. The entire experience in Mozambique couldn’t have been better.
Before returning home, we spent a few days in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa hunting at Kalahari Oryx, a huge 212,000-acre concession also operated by Chapungu-Kambako Safaris. I continued to be impressed with the .338 Federal cartridge as it accounted for five more trophies, including oryx and hartebeest. Stalking game in the red sand dunes of the Kalahari was challenging. Diverse habitat and lots of game, including black and white rhino, provides a unique environment for any hunter and wildlife conservationist. What a great place for families or dedicated hunters to experience Africa.
The lodge was 5-star, had an excellent PH and plenty of game to keep us focused. We didn’t want to leave. Now I’m curious what will unfold during the next SCI Convention? Who knows, but I’m willing to bet it will be something good--Mark Hampton