Combined diary entries by Carl van Zyl & Paul Brisso
Day 1 – September 10th
A 3am rise to catch the early bird express to Johannesburg(JHB) from Port Elizabeth. Upon boarding the flight in Port Elizabeth, a friendly welcome on board by a smiling African and the ever impressive South African Airways magazine, Sawubona. It feels good to be an African this morning, proud of its vibrant spirit, colorful heritage and exhilarating future. You’ve got to love the slogan on the side of the plain “diversity”. That’s Africa for you!
Arriving in JHB I meet my friend, Paul Brisso. Paul’s back again after his first hunt with John X Safaris two years ago. Our hunt will be Paul’s first Cape Buffalo hunt, there seems to be a first for me too – I’ve been beaten to our next destination by my client, not very often that you’ll see that. Paul’s travels started on September 8th from Eureka, California, he’s been at it for three days. All our luggage, guns, and ammo reached JHB without a hitch – we’re set. Mozambique here we come!
Then onto Beira. I love the anticipation of the doors opening on Beira’s tarmac; it feels like a freight train colliding with your senses. If ever you’ve been to the tropics in Africa, you’ll relate to the smell, the heat, and the hustle and bustle of busy Africans – all trying to forge out an existence in their tiny world. The hive of activity can be astounding.
An enjoyable one hour flight above the forest canopy and meandering rivers, flying adjacent to the Indian Ocean and the warm Mozambican current saw us arrive at Mungari International.
We checked into camp and headed out to the range to check the rifles – as per usual, Paul was spot on.
What will tomorrow bring? Will it be everything I hoped it to be? I could see hundreds of thoughts running through Paul’s mind, amazement my friend, but that’s not for me to tell you. There’s only ever once a first – your first Cape Buffalo hunt will open a new world like you’ve never known before.
Day 2 – September 11th…..Our first hunting day…..
Coutada 11, located in the Zambezi Delta, central Mozambique, forms part of the Marromeu complex, bordering the mighty Zambezi River in the north and the Buffalo reserve in the east. The area covers approximately 500 square miles of vast wilderness extending from swamp to vast grassland flood plains into palm savannahs and thick forest. This diversity offers a broad-spectrum of game ranging from the tiny Livingston’s Suni to the mighty Elephant. Buffalo roam the open flood plains and swamp in herds of several hundred, while experiencing large herds of Sable is not uncommon.
Over the course of the past 20 years the area has flourished under the visionary leadership of Mark Haldane. Mark and his team run a first class operation with an emphasis on education, most notably educating the local community about the sustainability of hunting and the need to preserve the sustainable resource.
Their anti poaching team is one of the most dedicated private teams in Africa, boasting a 22 man squad, including 5 motorbikes, allowing patrols to head out further and faster than ever before.
Over a quick cup of coffee we met up with my old friends, Poen van Zyl, and tracker, Gotchi. We discussed our plans for the day and headed out in a westerly direction in search of Cape Buffalo, Sable, and Chobe Bushbuck.
We spent most of the morning showing Paul around, before picking up fresh Buffalo tracks at mid morning, a follow-up was out of the question. A futile exercise, considering they’d entered the Suni forest. Past experience had proved a swirling wind combined with too much dried plant foliage on the forest floor made for a less than perfect combination, more than likely one that would only push the Buffalo further away from the water they were frequenting.
The remainder of the afternoon saw little action, but the wildlife proved to be a treat…
Day 3 – September 12th – Paul’s chance for a bird’s eye view….and an introduction to one of Africa’s most unique animals. One of my addictions!
Our morning started with the usual 5am coffee call from our camp butler, Zackeria. Zack takes his job seriously, or at least the concept of starting ones day on a buzz – with half a gallon of raw Mozambican honey added to a strong cup of coffee, it’s one way to get going!
We spent the morning in search of Chobe Bushbuck and Red Duiker, saw a bunch, but nothing worth getting too excited about.
A quick bite for lunch was enjoyed by all at noon, and then an unexpected opportunity for Paul to enjoy an amazing view while doing a bit of scouting. What a view…..
By sure coincidence Mark was in camp preparing for the annual foot and mouth test on Buffalo, it’s an initiative led by the Mozambican Government to regulate the spread and control of the disease.
Upon their return to camp later that afternoon it was my turn to introduce Paul to one of my favorites, the Livingstone Suni. Suni, the smallest of the Tiny 10, inhabit the sand forests of Coutada 11 in abundance. Nowhere else in Africa have I herd of or seen a population as dense as here. Many hunters have traveled to Africa in the hope of bagging a Suni, only to return empty-handed and extremely frustrated.
Suni are tough to hunt, they require patience and an oversupply of luck, but here they require a cool head. At times it can be overwhelming, especially having 10 -15 Suni in the space of 40 yards run circles around you and your hunter, keeping a beady eye on the same ram seems to be the biggest challenge of all.
Hunting for Suni here is a privilege, one that needs to be earned by long endless days in lesser areas.
Day 4-September 13 – Follow the birds……
Friday the 13th was a lucky day for me, and in a way a lucky day for an old Cape Buffalo bull.
Our destinies intersected in the swamps of the Zambezi Delta. I was on my first Cape Buffalo hunt and he was in the last stages of his life. He was blind in one eye, missing most of his lower front teeth and probably 200 pounds lighter than he should have been. I would like to think a quick death by a well placed shot was a fairer option than the brutality of nature that can be an essential element of Africa.
Our day started early towing an Argo ATV before day light for an early start across the floodplain and into the swamp. We reached a predetermined area with recent Buffalo sign and waited for the fog to lift; hoping bird activity would disclose the location of the herd.
With lifting fog we set off following the tracks of the herd while watching for birds to betray their location. We had gone no more than five hundred yards when a sudden grinding sound brought our Argo to a halt.
Our chain guide had worn through and snapped, we were seven miles out from the nearest chance of getting the Argo fixed. If we couldn’t get it to the truck, we would have to walk out and walk back in with the necessary parts. And then, thank goodness, Poen turned into a mechanic for an hour.
By mid morning we found the herd and moved into position by using a screen of papyrus. The water was narrow but chest high as we moved into position.
Within 70 yards was a great bull over the 40 inch mark, but his bosses were still soft. He had a couple more good years in his prime and his genes would definitely benefit the herd. About 110 yards out was a bull definitely a lot narrower, but older and past his prime. We chose him. When he finally stepped into a good position Poen raised the sticks and signaled me into position. At the crack of the shot the herd milled and then took off for a short distance.
We heard our bull give the death bellow and knew he must be down.
The vultures were already circling as the bull was caped and the meat taken. They landed about 75 yards away and engulfed the remaining carcass when we were barely 30-40 yards away.
We arrived back to the truck just before sunset and back to camp about 15 hours after we had left. What a day!
Day 5 - September 14….. Time to kick back and let reality set in…
“Paul, you’ve got him my mate”, I said. Paul stopped, turned and looked around; “you bet I have, and then some. “ It was time for Paul to savor his Cape Buffalo. He had researched, mailed and called me on countless occasions, he had enjoyed the preparation leading up to this Cape Buffalo hunt, and most of all – he had done it the hard way. He’d earned it.
With that in mind we chose to take it easy on day five. There was plenty of time left for what was still to be hunted.
Deciding a day in the forest, below the canopy and out of the sun would be a good option after the previous days 100 F in the swamps, we headed out after Red Duiker, Chobe Bushbuck, and Suni.
Day 6 – September 15 – An early start, no lunch and even less luck …..
It was a hard , hard day. That’s why they call it hunting, you have to earn the hard yards to savor the good ones. We left camp at 6am with a plan of heading out into the more remote areas of the concession. At first we saw very little, but as the miles sped away beneath our trusty Toyota Land Cruiser, we started finding pockets of game.
We enjoyed very little luck in finding a Sable, but saw plenty. At midday, just as our heads started dropping in the blistering midday heat we found a bull. He was a beauty, the renowned jet black striking appearance and towering horns lay resting in the shade of a palm tree no more than 80 yards ahead of us. With a light breeze swirling at the best of times he winded us, burst for the open pan to our right and came to a halt at 200 yards, Paul touched off his shot.
At the crack of the shot he lunged down and took off into the forest. None of us were sure. Was it a hit or not? The trackers got on his track immediately and stayed with it for at least a mile, then called off the hunt. If the bull was hit, we would’ve found the tell-tale signs of a wounded animal, but there was nothing.
Knowing Paul the way I do, he was disappointed, and even harder on himself. Nobody likes missing, but rather a clean miss than a wounded trophy we all agreed as we headed back to the truck.
With the truck insight we rounded the last bend, and there he was again, as fit as a fiddle, running off into the distance. We gave him his dues, tipped our hats and let him run to fight another day. Surely he deserved it, he’d beaten us today.
With all the excitement we’d forgotten about lunch and were about 3 hours out from camp. There was no reason to head back once we’d found the game, none of us would starve to death, so we continued on with a good supply of water.
During the late afternoon the trackers spotted a Chobe Bushbuck standing on a giant termite mound in the forest. We continued on with the truck before stopping 500 yards up the road and headed back on foot. Cautiously we moved in for a closer look. “There he is;”Poen whispered, we could hardly see him in the fresh forest growth. We looked over him, Poen and I discussing the merits of the ram. From the front he looked good, but he gave the impression of a flat horned ram. Rams of a flat nature usually look impressive from the front, and that’s where it ends. You have to see them from the side.
Just as he turned, I knew I had waited too long, we had our chance, the call was mine to make, and I pondered too long. One minute he was there the, and the next he was gone.
This time it was me kicking myself, apologizing profusely to the team. It had been a long, hot, and hard day with very little to show for our efforts. The crew was hungry and tired. We stumbled back to camp. Tomorrow would surely be a better day.