It was late afternoon, early evening in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley. As I remember, we weren’t out hunting for any particular animal; just enjoying the afternoon. Shortly after lunch that day I almost passed on an animal that today I’m so glad I took. We were stalking some zebra for leopard bait when suddenly my professional hunter (PH) set the shooting sticks up and said, “Shoot that wildebeest.” I stated without hesitation, “I don’t care anything about shooting a wildebeest. I have taken several.” My PH looked at me and said, “Listen, this is a giant cookson’s wildebeest and the only place you can take a cookson’s wildebeest in all of Africa is here in Zambia’s Luangwa Valley.” When I looked at my PH and smiled, he had this look on his face like a wino on a busy street corner begging for money! I knew I’d better take this wildebeest and my .375 roared. As wildebeest shot low in the front shoulder often do, he dropped his head, spun around in a couple of circles and down he went. Mr. Cookson’s still adorns my African Plains game trophy wall today!
It was very hot that day and we had returned to camp to offload the cookson’s wildebeest as every bit of the delicious meat would be consumed. Now as many of you know, a drive back to camp in one of Africa’s hunting concessions can often consume two or more hours. Shortly after off-loading the Wildebeest, we were back on the truck and moving again. I remember thinking how good it felt as we drove through the cool shade of a mopane forest. My PH and I occasionally pointed and spoke in low hushed tones as a bushbuck, puku or impala trotted or ran away. All of a sudden the trackers hissed “buffalo,” to the driver and our land cruiser came to an abrupt halt. Instantly the trackers were out looking at the fresh tracks of a large herd of cape buffalo. Since we had traveled this road less than an hour before the herd of buffalo had crossed over, it was quickly decided we would follow the tracks. Amazingly we hadn’t traveled much more than 300 yards from the truck when we could see buffalo. The wind was checked with the ash dust bags and a stalk was planned. Due to the wind direction, it was decided that we should move to the right of the herd and use the long grass to circle ahead and wait to ambush a trophy bull.
I will never forget as we flanked the heard and moved in close. I was thinking, “Dang man! This is close enough! Haven’t you read any of Peter Capstick’s books?!” I was a nervous wreck when we finally stopped. The herd was less than 20 yards from us. My throat was so dry all I could do was gulp. My PH told me to just stay still. The old bulls would be at the back of the herd. As I knelt there I began to calm down and tell myself I was going to live through this when all of a sudden part of the herd came our direction and buffalo were passing by at 7 yards! Now this old Georgia boy had about all his nerves could stand! Meanwhile, my PH was whispering to me, “Just stay still; they do not see or smell us.” Soon the bulls began to show themselves grunting and jostling their horns at each other. “No, no, too small, immature boss’, don’t shoot, don’t shoot.” Believe me; I had my .375 shouldered and my safety off! All of a sudden a buffalo with big boss’ was less than 10 yards from me. My PH said, “Take this one if you…” BOOM!! With that buffalo exploded all around us. I worked my bolt as quickly as possible with my PH running ahead of me saying, “Come Wes, come!” He spotted the bull in no time; set up the shooting sticks, pointed and said, “Hit him again!!” I will never forget seeing my second round, a solid bullet, skimming across the ground after it passed through the bull’s front shoulders. I bolted another round and hit him again. That solid passed through him in an instant and I bolted my last round, a soft point. How many of you remember the old school…load a soft in the magazine, then two solids and drop a soft in the barrel for the first shot. By that time I remember thinking…“Why doesn’t he fall down? I have hit him through the front shoulders and heart area 3 times.” The buffalo turned and faced us. I was told to shoot him low in the center of the chest. BOOM! I ripped the bolt open and with hands shaking dropped another round in the chamber and closed the bolt. My PH told me he was going to charge. “Shoot him up the nose now!” With that shot, the buffalo collapsed and it was over.
Approximately three days after I returned home, my PH was near fatally gored by a cape buffalo; something that could have just as easily happened to me. After his long recovery he and I went on to hunt lion, leopard, cape buffalo and many other species of African trophies together prior to his death. Some of these I will share with you here in days to come.