This is a friends hunt report.
Bulls in the Rain
By Robert Borsak
Well here we were Cheryl & I, in Bulawayo for the start of our two week trip into the Omay on Lake Kariba, northern Zimbabwe. Two bull elephants were on the agenda as we headed up the road north, through the rain, donkeys, cattle and goats that surrounded us in the Toyota Landcruiser.
Our Professional hunter on this trip was Deon Pistorius, a veteran PH, with 15 years hunting experience, just another day at the office for Deon.
Our original plan had been to fly by charter flight up to the Omay block, landing on the strip next the croc farm. No such luck, we faced a 10 hour trip by road, 6 hours on tar and the last 80 klms in 4 hrs, along rough dirt roads. The late season heavy rains, low cloud and generally untidy weather prevented the charter from flying.
The ride though uncomfortable at times was very interesting, as we sped through the morning, dodging & weaving around donkey carts and stray cattle. We hit the Bulembi Safaris camp at about 5.00pm, stiff and a bit sore, but ready for anything. The camp is located at the confluence of two rivers, the Ume & the Metaya, that then run north for a short distance to Lake Kariba. To the east over the Ume is the vast Matusadona national park, green & verdant, a dozen elephants already visible, as if taunting us.
The first hunting morning opened wet & dull, getting up for breakfast at 4.30 am, we were gone down the rough road by 5.15am. It rained hard on & off during the day, it turned into a real wash out. This was the story for the next two days, dark & wet, all tracks washed out and impossible to follow. We did several abortive tracking efforts as we hunted through the jess looking carefully for the elusive bulls. Several hunts ended in disappointment as we either lost the tracks or ran out of day light. Six and a half hours on the trail one day, ended up dry, as we gave up due to loss of light.
Several times what with being bogged to the axles & losing the trail, the tension of the hunt built. It was only a matter of time until we caught up with a nice bull. This happened on the fourth day out, we hooked onto his trail after a tip off in the maize from a young local. Shorty & Jumana our two expert trackers were veterans of the hunt. Neither smoked or drank, fit Shona?s, Shorty at least 65 & Jumana about 50 years of age. These two guys were amazing, true professionals, in the game their whole lives.
The bull lead us a merry chase through the thickest riverine jess, crossing the river a total of 5 times, each time causing me to remove my boots, whilst watching for the ever present crocs. As the crow flies, we did not cover more than 5 or 6 kilometres, a long arc that at first left the maize fields, then headed back. We trailed him for some three & a half hours, huge piles of droppings the size of soccer balls, greener and warmer as we got closer. They were flecked with corn & sorgum, the odd melon seeds interceded, bright yellow green. We were close.
Deon called us to a quick & silent halt, as he strained to listen, desperate whispered words were exchanged with the trackers as they moved ahead. Next a thundering crash as Deon passed me heading in the opposite direction, the bull was coming! I turned & dodged behind the largest tree I could find some 10 metres away, then nothing. The bull was not headed in our direction, but away from us, phew!! We had frightened him just as much as he had frightened us, we were about 5 metres from him when Shorty saw him and the bull took off. Apparently he had not winded us, but was frightened away by the small noise that we made, on the wet grass and sand.
Whatever he thought we were, after his initial dash, he ran along the river and again crossed at a rapid pace. We followed, catching him again some 30 minutes later, in the thick stuff. Deon again heard him breaking branches and feeding, he motioned me forward beside him, on all fours we crawled up to him. There looking up some 20 metres away I first saw a leg, then tail and arse as he fed in a little break in the jess. ?Get ready Robert? Deon whispered, ?he may feed up to us?, the bull turned slowly and revealed a tusk, I stood up.
I took a deep breath to settle my nerves & let it out slowly, it looked like he was going to walk right up to us through the green screen of bush. Mentally I went through the routine, rifle ready, safety off here he comes. In a matter of 5 seconds he was there, not walking straight up, but angling to my left, a great huge head with a small hazel eye stared down at me, clearing the jess, as I swung the Heym onto him. My reflexes took over as the rifle fired the right barrel at 6 paces from the brain of the giant, he went down, as if in slow motion. Deon on my left whispered ?fire again?, I put the second barrel into the top of his head and it was all over. He flattened a vast area of jess as he hit the ground, as silently as his approach. It was awesome, he did not know what had hit him. I started to shake, this hunt was over.
Four days into the hunt I had taken the first of my two bulls. The 500 grain Woodleigh solid had found its mark, above the left eye, angling across the skull, through the lower brain, cleanly and instantly killing the bull. The fun was now only about to start, there in front of me lay 4 tonne of elephant meat, with tusks weighing in at about 45lb a side. It was 4.30pm, 12 hours since we had got up in the dark in quest of a shootable bull.
We headed foot sore and weary back toward the truck, 30 minutes in, we met the first of the locals heading with uncanny direction right to where the bull lay. A few short words from the PH, put them straight, the skinning and meat distribution would take place in the morning, on the morrow.
I had time to quietly contemplate what had happened there in the deep jess, as we bumped back toward camp. Days & days of anticipation, hours & hours of legging through the thick jess. Time & again straining myself to hear the tell tale sounds of the elephant in the bush. Wondering if he would wind us, hear us or sense us? Then all too soon it was over, in a flash, 37 years of shooting and hunting experience brought to bear with a shot at the bull just on a trunks length away. I could still see that small hazel eye, looking at me, without recognition, before the bullet put out his lights forever.
The following morning, after an early breakfast we headed back to the downed bull, over tar road & rough potted dirt tracks. Upon arrival we were greeted by over 200 local subsistence farmers, wives, children, young and the very old, all now ready to join in to the feast.
The process of skinning, chopping out the ivory and butchering of the bull took all day. Organised chaos accompanied us to where the bull lay, and the whole process ran from about 9.00am, until 4.00pm. We dropped dog tired back at camp that evening at 6.30pm, the events of the day before now a slowly fading memory, held forever in my mind and in the digital files of the cameras I used to take dozens of pictures. This is what I had come to Zimbabwe again and again for, the call of the hunt, the rhythm of the wild.
Now for the next hunt, I had just over one week to scout around for my second bull. I was really having a great time, the rain continued, but I didn?t care a bit.
"I hope i have these photos in the right place." ??? ???
The bull flung his head up as I touched the front trigger of the Heym 458 Win Mag, the jess obstructed him thoroughly, I couldn?t see a thing. I waited what seemed like an age for him to drop into the red ochre coloured wallow that he was knee deep in. It didn?t happen! The bull spun on the proverbial American dime piece, and rapidly headed for the hills.
Shooting with both eyes open, handling the Heym as if it were my Barretta 682 12 guage, the barrels flicked after him as the Brno 375 H & H carried by my PH Deon, barked out loud. Seeing no change in the passing pace of the bull I consciously swapped to the second trigger whilst locking onto the appearance of a side on huge red ochre rump, of the rapidly disappearing bull, with my left eye. The Heym barked again at a range of about 25 metres, placing the 500 grain FMJ Woodleigh though the hip into the spine. He crashed down immediately, skidding to a halt in amongst some obstructing branches of surrounding Jess.
As he came down there was an unearthly scream as the full weight of the falling bull collapsed his heaving lungs, expelling through the trunk and sending an involuntary shiver through me. On the ground now, on bended knee the ochre coloured wet bull thrashed around with its trunk, paralysed unable to move. I reloaded as the empties flicked over my shoulder & the PH yelled to drill him again. As I approached I moved in quickly, not being sure at all exactly at that time what had happened. As I approached with some caution he lunged as far forward as his trunk & position allowed, trying to grab me. At this I placed two frontal brain shots into the now almost defunct bull and it was all over.
All this took approximately 30 seconds of seething action, I had to literally reconstruct the events as I replayed them in my minds eye, to try and understand what I had just done! We had made the final stalk to this second bull on day 12 of my hunt to within 10 metres, again at an awkward three quarter angle, obstructed by the jess. The bull was wallowing & spraying himself with muddy red ochre coloured water in a knee deep (for the elephant) pool of fetid rain water. He stunk like a wet old billy goat. Muddy water sprayed all around, some even splashing on my shirt has he hoisted his trunk in preparation.
Crouching in awe of the bull, watching for an opportunity at a shot, he didn?t know we were even there. Standing almost directly in front of him, in his shadow, Deon whispered, ?take the shot when you see his fore head?. That is exactly what I did, I waited what seemed ages as he moved, spraying & swaying behind the screen of obstructing green foliage. The bull moved into what I took to be a good position, I ideally would like to have moved even closer than the ten metres where we crouched, but to move now may have caused him to flee or charge.
Hoisting the Heym as his right eye & forehead appeared, I took the shot as carefully as the short window of opportunity would allow. The rifle barked, but as I have written the bull didn?t fall, this was not supposed to happen. The text book says even for an angling side brain shot the bullet should traverse the skull transversely taking the brain out as it penetrated through the skull. No such luck, this time, my later investigation showed one major problem, he was standing lower than I had realised. I had not made allowance for him standing knee deep in the muddy wallow. The angle, penetration & flight of the Woodleigh was good, what was not good was that it did not angle upwards any where near enough. The bullet passed harmlessly through the skull, under the brain, exiting in front of & subsequently through the left ear. So much for tall elephants and shooting from a semi crouching stance, through a peep hole in the jess!
As it turns out the saving grace of the second barrel of the double, along with plenty of two eyed wing shooting practice on quail & ducks with the 12 guage, kept the rifle swinging, eyes watching and mind ticking over. Without the instantaneous second barrel the bull would still be running the hills of Omay today, relatively unscathed, to wallow another day. The use of the old bolt rifle would not possibly have allowed the automatic reflex shooting afforded the hunter using a good quality ejecting double.
My PH Deon flung what could possibly have been a good neck shot at the fleeing bull, but it missed the mark. He fired almost immediately I did, before I had a chance to recover from the recoil & realise what had happened. The bull had continued on his way until I put the left barrel into his rear spine. Deon complained that the short barrelled Heym was a little noisy at close quarters. It should be, the 500 grain Woodleighs were leaving the barrels at just over 2,250 feet per second, hand loaded by my old mate Garry Lendich so that he couldn?t get another grain of powder into those short stubby 458 cases. The most I could take on the Silverdale 50 metre range was 10 shots off the bench, as I regulated it before leaving for the Zambezi Valley. Even those left my shoulder black & blue. Yet as always with these things, in the heat of the hunt, one rarely hears or feels a thing, all senses strained at the quarry, not at all thinking about that heavy, noisy extension on the end of your arm!
The build up to this retrospective lesson in hunting followed from another 5 days wet grinding hunt, though the rutted roads of the north Omay concession. As with the first 7 days hunting many a kilometre was spent on the track of bulls & cows looking vainly for opportunities at a likely bull. As described in my previous article it was much the same hairy encounters with cranky old cows, not willing to take no for an answer. When they step out of a wall of jess onto the track in 15 metres in front of you, ears three metres wide, trunks extended, **** can very rapidly become trumps! This happened on the morning before we got onto the trail of the second bull.
We cut his trail on the sandy intersection of the fishing village road (loosely called a road by the mugs who drove it), about 5 klms from where we had seen them 2 days before. Deon insisted it was the same bull, his foot to my untrained eye seemed a little smaller then the big foot I had shot on day 7. Who am I to argue, I said to Deon ?there?s a bull out there today with our name on him?, so it turned out to be. He had become a little dejected by all the rain, and false starts, I was revelling in it!
The bull weaved his way back toward our main camp, though offcourse in practice he never really got anywhere near it, as he veered off to the north long before we would have taken the road down the peninsula to our camp on the river junction. He walked & we trailed him over 10 kilometres that day, parts of it on the road, at other times cutting across the bush, heading toward the thickest jess in the area. To our luck, he veered his course, away from the impenetrable tangle into more hunter friendly surrounds.
In what had become now familiar procedure Deon first heard him breaking branches & feeding in the jess at a range of about 100 metres. The wind being right, we closed the gap to the aforementioned shooting position, all the time pin pointing him in the jess by his gastronomic pleasures and bowel movements! Here and there also, steaming piles of still hot droppings, twisted broken branches, and chewed clumps of discarded grasses and fetid pools of bubbled yellow & white urine, strong in odour of it seemed to me ammonia and salt.
The rest of the action has been here already described, the hunt was great, this second bull a little smaller on the ivory front about 35 ? 37lb a side, not to shabby, a fitting end to an excellent two weeks hunting in the Omay! I?ll be back, to hunt the bulls again, possibly March of 2008.