Following-Up A Wounded Buff On First Hunt

by Matt Mckeown
(Isle of Wight, England UK)

This was my first time to Africa though I have dreamt of hunting buff since a teen. I chose a package hunt from these guys:
at a special rate which was very reasonable and was to include a Cape Buffalo cow and 2 warthog.

The buff hunt was to take place in the Mpumalanga province on a 500 Hectare concession a few miles from the town of Nelspruit. A certain amount of spice was added to the fray when we were told there was also a Black Rhino on the concession. The terrain was mostly flat with numerous dry river beds and very thick thorn so visibility was mostly poor although most of the leaves were down.

The technique was to ride around in the observer seat on the back of the Toyota until we made contact with a herd and then jump out of the vehicle and get ready for a shot. On the first day we had plenty of contacts but the buff were happy to keep on the move. On the second day I was getting a little fed up with the vehicle and although the temp was pushing over 35 I convinced the PH we should actually get out of the vehicle and do some real hunting.

The PH actually seemed a little surprised at this, but to give him is due he took it up with relish. We had a terrific mornings stalk with a couple of close contacts and the thought of the Black Rhino never too far from my mind, but no shot presented itself. I would dearly have loved to hunt a bull buff in free roaming Africa but this was all I could afford, I know the fenced concessions of South Africa have their critics and with good reason, but this hunt seemed if anything, a little more dangerous than free roaming as there were buff who were a little more used to humans (less willing to run) and the Rhino was always somewhere in the area.

We stopped for a bit of lunch by a waterhole and noticed a lot of fresh Rhino poo, but that was all we saw of it. We then started to drive round again, which due to the increasing heat of the afternoon I was quite pleased. Shortly after this we spotted the Cow I was after, one of two old big matriarchs past there breeding years and as big in the body as many of the bulls. Jumping out the truck the PH passed me my rifle, a CZ602 ZKK .458WinMag, and one of the trackers set up the sticks. I could see the cow slightly quartering towards as it glowered at me. She was about 20 yards away but partially obscured by dense thorn. I was glad I had decided to scope the rifle and I could see the shoulder clearly through the Leupold 2x scoutscope. The big rifle roared and all hell broke loose, I worked the bolt as fast as I could but there was no chance of a follow up solid and the PH never shot.

I had asked the PH before the hunt if we could buy some softpoint 458 at a gunshop, (as they are illegal in this calibre in UK) I had my heart on the Barnes X 450gr, but the PH said he had some Winchester 510gr and they would be fine. My solids were Hornady 500gr homeloads over 72gr of 2230.

To begin with we found a great blood spoor, big globs of nice arterial blood, we forced ourselves to hold back and wait, and I was secretly hoping to hear its famous death bellow somewhere in the tangle of thorns but that was not to be.

The PH decided it was time to go, Jerum the Zimbabwe tracker first, then the PH Jannie, followed by myself and the other tracker John from Mozambique. I had removed the safari 'ching sling' from it's Millett flush QD swivels to better carry it in the thick stuff as I had read this was a good idea. It is; it stops you getting tangled in the almost impassable thorn and the rifle is in your hands when you need it. It soon became bloody heavy though, the heat becoming quite oppressive in the interior with no breeze and no water.

I lost count of how many times we lost the spoor, probably between ten and a dozen, and each time the trackers would double back to where they could see it clearly (at least to them) and eventually find it again. It was slow, hot, thirsty work. I battled with myself with thoughts that I had mucked up the shot and put everyone in danger, it had felt good though, I knew exactly where the reticule was when the striker hit. I figured it had maybe hit some vegetation or the angle was greater than I thought and I had hit the beast too far back. I also consciously realised, this is it, this is what all the stories you read are about, and also what you really don't wanna be doing. I figured some guys may go on ten buff hunts and never get this experience, so I told myself to soak it up and fully appreciate the situation. Well I figured whatever happens I better do it right!

I tried to carry the rifle at a kind of high-port position, butt on hip, right thumb on safety and muzzle in line with my eyes ala Jeff Cooper, being bloody careful not to muzzle sweep anyone. The safety on the CZ 602 has its detractors, you must thumb it back to take it off instead of the usual forward motion. I have heard it opined that in moments of stress you will push instead of pull with messy consequences if hunting dangerous game. However I find it is similar to cocking a revolver and it caused me no issues.

After two hours my concentration was starting to falter, the trackers and PH were intensely doing there role while I was constantly scanning the sides and sometimes behind as I had read too many stories of buff boiling out the bush from behind or blindsiding the unwary. If the truth be known I was getting to the end of my endurance, being completely unfamiliar with the heat and thirst.

The trackers had just found an area where they said the beast had been laying down but had moved on, it was quite unnerving to realise that it was completely aware of our efforts every step of the way. I was just hoping it was getting sick and finally stiffening up, I know these things are meant to be tough but Jesus! I was feeling I was the victim in a Capstick anecdote.

Shortly after this the moment came as we all knew it would, Jannie gave a shout, about a dozen yards in front of us up a slight rise was a large dark mass. Jannie must have had a clear shot as just as the buff was launching he fired his iron sighted 404 Jefferies and it lost its footing. We all started running towards it, I remember thinking I was not even sure if it was the correct animal. Jannie and myself reached it about the same time, trying to rise and flailing it's head. Jannie yelled in his thick Afrikaans accent 'Shoot it in the base of the neck'! I fired a 500 gr solid breaking the neck and killing it. Jannie touched the eyeball with his muzzle just to be sure, he then picked up the solid lying on the earth under the buffs chin, it was still hot and hardly deformed.

'It was a perfect shot' said Jannie pointing to the half inch whole on the right shoulder, 'smack in the middle of the heart but bullet failed to penetrate'. I was pretty gob smacked, the Winchester soft had not even broken the bone. A solid would have gone through both shoulders and brought it down in short order, but may have hit another animal behind it. Well I took the shot at 13.30 and we finished the beast at 15.40.

I know the 458 has its critics but I believe this was purely related to bullet performance rather than calibre. However I am tempted to get it reamed out to 458 Lott for the next time. Next time? You better believe it baby, it was awesome!

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