African hunting news - January 2009
Hunting in Africa - Buffalo vs Ford Focus!
No one ever wants to be hit by an angry animal - that's why we professional hunters are there, to firstly stop our client from being taken out by a bulleting beast yet in that split second situation it is also us that shoot to stop, dead in it's tracks an oncoming avalanche. For many of us, and I'm talking about those that have grown up in the bush - not the nitro express brigade from across the sea - being in a situation where an angry wild animal is bearing down on us with intent to do grievous bodily harm, is often very rare.
You see the PH world in Africa varies greatly, mostly by country because of the many different hunting conditions and styles each calls for, yet there is a constant that identifies those who have a true affinity for the African wild and those that are there for the glory. In the days of old, those golden days when travel to Africa took forever and they wore pith helmets to shade from the sun, PH's were not fresh out of an academy or fresh from the wintering grounds of another continent, they were more often than not born here, they worked as game wardens and crop controllers, or had lived off the land hunting elephant to sell the ivory. The key however was that by their time spent in the bush they knew the one rule of the African bush that is not learnt from a book or through the stories at the bar counter - respect for the beasts they pursue!
In this lies the very essence of what it means to be a 'professional hunter' and unfortunately for many, both client and PH, this is often learned at a cost. Hence my observation that for many of us hunting a full season each year, facing the large predators, the mega beasts and the belligerent buffalo, a headlong fury filled charge is rare. We take care from the outset, even before a rifle is loaded and when the situation arises, when one of the big boys is wounded, extreme caution, not self inspired bravery, takes over.
Of course most PH's have an over inflated perspective of their ability, a huge measure of self belief mixed with a very relaxed and over elaborate tongue. This is common across the board yet some excel at it and even go to great heights turning their stories into great literary real life events. So when you come from Africa, to a country whose most dangerous animal eats berries and sleep for half the year, you tend to think, this is a breeze, I can handle it man - I'm a PH from Africa.
The African Buffalo manifests itself in various forms across the continent, mostly dependent upon habitat, like the great swathes of rainforest that separate our continent north from south, forest and savannah, yet despite these differences they all have one trait which has made them stand alone and totally apart from the Asian water buffalo they so often are confused with. They have within them a vindictiveness which manifests itself when threatened or in mortal danger. Weighing in at close on a ton, buffalo make a formidable sight in their resting state, never mind when they are possessed with inflicting pain on their attacker, and despite this size are incredibly good at merging or disappearing into their natural surroundings.
Early in 2008, the first hunt of the season, I was standing behind a old mopani tree watching a herd of buffalo at rest 40 yards away, waiting for a bull with a great set of bosses to stand up and shift his place amidst the sleeping herd. We stood like this for at least an hour, my trackers shifting impatiently while my client fretted and twitched on the shooting sticks, wanting to take the neck shot - but we waited and then as the bull stood and stretched the .375 soft nose took him perfectly behind the shoulders in a swirl of dust and hooves.
My tracker Bonniface pointed at the wounded buffalo lying half obscured by waist high grass about 15 yards behind a wide mopani tree. I could make out the crests of the bosses and the tips of the horns and saw a slight sparkle of red beneath this, probably a lung shot. Next to the wounded bull stood an old matriarch facing us with a arrogant stance, her head cocked to one side revealing a blind eye. The rest of the herd mingled behind her, some pushing forward while others ran a little way off, spun around and came trotting back to the safety of the herd. In their eyes there was a predator around and the bull we had shot infused blood into their wet nostrils making them search for the enemy.
I brought my rifle up halfway and motioned to Simon, my client, to follow in my exact footsteps - slowly we approached the bull with the mopani tree as cover. As we neared the old cow shook her head a few times then took off towards the herd, she knew the shape of man and realised there was no chance against this form of predator. I stopped and glassed the bull again, his head was now resting on the ground which made me hasten our pace. As we reached the tree I motioned to Simon to slowly bring his gun up and sneak it along the tree's side and take the shot at the buffalo, now only 15 paces off.
Simon had not quite understood what I had meant and as we traded places he stepped out from behind the tree, obscuring my view momentarily but also catching me off guard. As time started slowing I knew what was about to happen and started moving towards an opening to get a shot off. What started out as a perfect stalk now turned into what buffalo do best, a soft almost childlike grunt and the bull was up and coming across the 15 yards - Simon had already lined up and pulled the shot off which hit the bull smack on the left boss but off center.
For me, things always slow down when something is coming at me and it is always without purpose that I take the actions I do, almost as if I never really intended them to happen but they followed through never the less. I fired an instant after Simon's shot hitting the bull on the side of his face beneath his eye - Simon's shot had turned his head slightly, and the bull crashed to the ground in a full flip. He still tried to struggle to his feet yet my shot had paralyzed him somewhere in the neck and now he lay there thrashing and grinding his teeth in fury and frustration - Simon walked up with me and shot him in the back of the neck!
Almost a year later I was in the same situation again yet this time I did not see anything coming, I did not have the time to know what would happen next and I certainly did not expect to be hit. Time did slow down once I knew there was no escape and as I flew through the air in a headlong flip it gave me a split second advantage to brace my fall. I got hit on the left side of my body, low down, about knee height and a split second before this I heard the noise of the oncoming culprit, an angry whining sound which didn't slow as it hit me but carried through with intent.
I remember thinking to myself, bones are going to break, my left leg must already be gone below the knee and my right hip, as I landed on a stone, felt as if it was drilled into by a jack hammer. I felt the impact through my right shoulder as I braced myself for the fall and then my vision turned gray, the kind of fuzzy white noise you see on a TV, yet only momentarily. My breath was slow and steady but pain engulfed my legs and thighs - I realized the longer I lay like this the worst it would be and counted slowly to myself... OK get up you need to do this!
The most striking thing to me about living in the United States is how organized things are, how everything works and how, in typical American fashion, speed and time is everything. Before I braced myself and started lifting my body up with my left arm, I heard the sirens, not close but wailing never the less! I vaguely remember hearing a voice giving directions to the scene of the accident, but that was a few bare seconds ago and now as I lifted myself to my feet to the shock of bystanders, a fire truck pulled up and 4 guys clad in blue jump suits were upon me.
When I met my wife and promised her I'd try and live in Denver, she looked at me and asked a question - do you think you can handle the city life, you're an African, you grew up in the bush? True to PH form I looked at her with a sort of frown and comical gesture - trust me I said, I'm a PH, if I can survive in Africa I can survive here! After 3 years of Denver living I had, in my mind, adjusted and was almost invincible on my mountain bike - nothing could stop me on the iron horse. Seriously, I had faced charging elephant, buffalo and lion so what could Denver throw at me that I would not be ready for?
The driver of the Ford Focus hit me as he pulled out from a side street, taking out my legs and my bike beneath me, throwing my body into the air and onto the sidewalk where I crunched down on my right side. There were no brakes or sounds of screeching, all I heard was the angry whine of an engine and then I was lying on the pavement bracing myself to get up. The driver stopped, he was half crying in anguish and kept apologizing, saying he just didn't see me. Of course being hit by a fancy SUV at a great speed would have been more fitting considering my background and I took some flack from my brother in law and friends, some even asking if I'd been wearing a political supporters shirt perhaps!
Anyway, nothing was broken, I didn't even get into the ambulance and when all the paperwork was said and done I was left standing on the corner of a busy street, bruised and beaten, with a mangled bicycle waiting for my wife to come and fetch me! As I stood there watching the cars speed past me, and uninterested pedestrians glancing nervously at my torn up appearance, I realized that most of us have a place in the world where we thrive, where we are at our best and think nothing of it, taking for granted our comfort zone. You see, for me there is no thought that needs to go into snapping off a shot at an oncoming buffalo or elephant, it flows smoothly and feels right. Yet here, 9000 miles distant from the place I grew up in, I never even heard the beast coming at me, I never saw it and amidst all the lawsuits you read about these days, I certainly never expected to get hit by a car!
This made me think about all those fancy non-African PH's you see and hear about, those that come to Africa once and are suddenly the ultimate authority on all things African, the ones that have fancy TV shows and write How to Guides. You see, to me these guys are more at home on the streets of Denver, of Chicago or Casper or Miami! They didn't grow up in the bush in Africa where you have to watch your step and carry a rifle most of the time, much like I didn't grow up and get street sense from the city of Denver! In my mind this is what sets us apart, the ones who genuinely care about what we do, about our heritage and conserving it and then those that are there just for the glory, for what they can make out of it as profit and more importantly for the image it bestows on them - the hard, bronzed double gun toting man of the African bush!
OK, I'm always against the guys that come to Africa, get a few seasons of hunting under their ammo clad belts and call themselves African PH's. Sure you can be a PH in Africa but to be an African PH takes more than what you get from a book and what you hear around the bar at the Safari Arms pub - it takes the form of a birth right, a genuine concern for the well being of the game you hunt no matter how dangerous or fearsome they may be, knowing this is their domain and we as hunters are privileged to pursue them as quarry - they are not there to be portrayed as menacing thugs that hang around every acacia thicket leaping at the chance of taking down a white hunter from across the sea! This is demeaning, it is pure sensationalism and it is not African!
Pete Swanepoel jnr
Next newsletter - Next week you'll read here, some useful advice and anecdotes about hunting our continent. Hopefully it will be useful and may spark you into taking the swim across the ocean.