Buffalo in Chirisa (Zimbabwe)

A buffalo hunt is exciting and exhausting for the hunter. In the Chirisa area, northern Zimbabwe, we found a lot of buffalos, straying around in large herds. They live side by side with elephants, lions and a lot of plains game. The area covers almost 200.000 hectares of African wilderness. The Chirisa has been one of the best areas in the world for big game hunting. It reminds you of the Luangwa valley in Zambia. I went there a week in August together with my new mate, a Mauser .458 Lott. I had chosen the time carefully. It’s dry and you easily track the animals from the few water ponds. It’s still a comfortable temperature. End of September it’s already hot – around 40 degrees – and it’s getting even warmer.

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Each day I load my rifle with five cartridges. “African PH” from Norma is a dream for an African hunter. It has a great reputation. Unfortunately it often remains a dream. To many Africans this first class ammo is too expensive. However, my Zimbabwean PH remarks: “It’s simply the best…” First of all I load with four solids and top up with a soft nose in order to get most effect. That’s the rule: The first shot must deadly hurt the animal, cause a lot of damage inside. The second shot – if necessary – should penetrate the body and cause a lot of blood.

The first hunting day in Zim we start looking for tracks. The only result we get is a small herd of running buffalos of either wrong sex or wrong size. In the afternoon we start looking for them from a top position on a small table mountain. We find the buffalos – a whole bunch of them – on the other side of the dry river. Around 4.30 pm we start chasing them. Now it’s a bit cooler in the air and we still have day-light for another two hours.

Several times we are close to the animals, walk slowly through the bush, carefully checking the wind. My PH is named Lawrence (Lorry) van Aswegen. He is professional hunter since the 1960-ties and third generation Zimbabwean. His paternal grandfather, a German engineer, arrived in Southern Rhodesia before the First World War. From political reasons – Rhodesia was a British colony – he changed his German name to ‘van Aswegen’. That sounds more of Afrikaans. The black tracker Edward is fantastic, like many from his people – Shona. He finds and follows the vague tracks like were they glowing paths in the landscape. Immediately he decides sex and size of the animal. However, today we only find cows, calves and a few young bulls, too young to shoot. They are quite wide, but if we leave them a few years they get old scarred “Daga Boys”, beautiful trophies…

Lawrence – or Lorry, as he’s normally called, since he was born 63 years ago on a lorry – can’t find any “hard bosses” in this herd. The bulls we see, we could easily have shot. But Lorry says they are “last day buffalos”, the ones you shoot the last day of your hunt, if you haven’t been too successful… He says I must wait. We shall get more possibilities. We’d better save the young bulls for the future.

Day two. We’re looking for tracks. In the afternoon we start following a promising track. Unfortunately the animal disappears before we have time to see it. Lorry asks if I am interested in shooting something else… “No”, I answer. “Let’s focus on buffalo”. Caliber .458 Lott feels like a bit overkill, if you use it on plains game. This second day ends up with nothing. Can’t help that I feel a bit disappointed…

The third day. We find fresh tracks already before seven in the morning. The animals can’t be far away, since we found fresh excrements in the path. One hour later we find the herd – including three nice, old bulls – downhill, by a water hole. We stand on the slope looking down on them. We see all of them - completely! This is too good to be true. The distance to the chosen bull is not more than 140 meters. He comes closer... Slowly… I aim a bit higher than normal and wait… A few seconds before I can shoot him, the wind turns and so do the buffalos. They quickly run away.

It was too good to be true.

We are running down the hill, up the next hill, down again and up another one. Finally we find a rock big enough for us to hide behind. We follow the buffalos. They are now approaching us again, but from the opposite direction. Time is around nine and we are tired after the quick march. The buffalos can’t see us. We are sitting to high above them. But they have a keen sense of smell… The wind turns again when I am about to shoot.

We follow them the rest of the morning, the herd splits up and around lunch time both the animals and we slow down. It’s getting hot. We sit in a hide behind some bushes and trees and wait, looking at a small herd with cows and an old bull in the middle. They have stopped 30-40 meters in front of us and lay down. We remain in our positions and look at them for a while before we mark the place and the path and carefully leave them.

We lunch some hundreds of meters away from them. We rest in the shade of a giant Baobab tree, the biggest I have ever seen. A few hours later we start the hunt again. The small group is gone now. Likely we made them worried when we approached them. So we follow them a couple of hours, up a hill. It’s quite exhausting. People with more experience of buffalo hunt than me, like Lorry and Edward, think that the buffalos will stop in the heat. They won’t make it, they are big, black animals, can’t just walk and walk… But today they can. They keep a distance to us of about 60-70 meters. Then and then we see them, and we hear them all the time.

Our plan proves a failure. Around five in the afternoon we have to stop and turn back. We have more than an hour of quick march back to the car and around 6.30 pm it’s almost dark.

Time is 5.30 pm when Edward all of a sudden stops and shows me a fine Chobe bushbuck grazing between some trees. I have a bushbuck trophy from before, but that’s a Limpopo bushbuck. This one is more of a white spotted red cape. It’s a beautiful animal with a good trophy. Lorry estimates it’s around 15 inches. I shoot with a solid bullet in order not to tear the small animal. The heavy bullet goes straight through the buck and it falls down a few meters from where I shot it. That’s it! We are tired after a long days walk.


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The fourth day, Sunday the 26-th of August, will likely just repeat the day before. So I think. We go out in the early morning, have lunch in the bush to save time... We start hunting around 7.30 am. When passing a grazing elephant in some 50 meters my stomach reminds me of the breakfast. I have to go behind a bush… “Don’t chase him”, Lorry says pointing at the elephant. No risk, I think, walking slowly into the bushes. And there I am, sitting quite uncomfortably but with my rifle within reach. I look at the elephant and can think of a nicer situation than unarmed being chased by an angry elephant – literally with my pants down…

We continue the hunt. It feels like we just walk on without goal. But we are not. Edward and Lorry know exactly what they are doing. Two hours later we have a small buffalo herd in front of us. We see cows and a nice old “Daga Boy”. Nice, hard boss but the size is average. It’s a good bull, not excellent, but good enough. The animals lay down some 45-50 meters in front of us. But the old bull is suspicious. He remains standing, looking in our direction. He knows that something is going on behind the bushes but he can’t figure out what it is…

We wait a bit behind the bushes. It’s hard to see the animals and I can possibly shoot from one angle – if I try to avoid a tree in front of the bull. This is going to be difficult. But I mustn’t miss this opportunity, and I must do something quickly. I creep under a big branch thinking that the buffalo must be deaf and blind – and even without sense – if he is still there when I get into position. Well, he might be, since he is still waiting… The wind is right and he can’t understand what’s happening. It’s a bit past ten o’clock in the morning.

I sit on the ground, aiming with help of another branch. The buffalo is turned diagonally towards me with his right side in my direction. He is partly hidden by a tree. I aim a bit to the left of the tree, pull the trigger and – it shows – place the bullet correctly. I hit the animal. The guys behind me can see it clearly. He rushes away. You seldom have a second chance to shoot directly, when the bush is thick like this…

We can hear his wheeze and Lorry nods at me. He understands that the lungs are hit and that the big animal is dying. If you suspect that the animal is badly hit, you have to wait for another 20-25 minutes before you follow him. Lorry isn’t worried. He knows I use a powerful caliber and that the first bullet hit right. We go directly and find the buffalo some 50 meters from the place he was shot. He fell down by a tree and he’s finally passing away. I give him a solid bullet in the spine to finish him. The heavy bullet goes straight through the mighty body. The first shot, that actually killed him, trashed his right shoulder and damaged his lungs and liver. The heart is not hit. We never find the soft-nose bullet, but Lorry thinks it’s hidden somewhere in the back of the animal, to the left, stopped by the bones.

Lorry and Edward are relieved, and so am I. All of us prefer a hunt where the animal goes down directly, not a dangerous blood tracking for hours… Moreover, we know that the poor animal would be suffering a lot. Lorry has the same caliber as I. He says that .458 Lott is the best to use when hunting buffalo and elephant.

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Unfortunately, I never find the cartridge case from my first, killing shot. It’s still there, under the branches in my African hide. I leave it there and for me – and Norma - it remains a bit of a “monumentum aere perennius”… I give the rest of my Norma-cartridges to Lorry. He gets very happy for them. For me, they represent a high value. It’s a part of my tip to him, since I am happy for a successful and professionally arranged hunt.

Christopher Jarnvall

Chirisa, Zimbabwe, August 2012