Murphy's Buffalo Hunt

By PH Jason Van Aarde

There is only one law that counts when hunting....Murphy's Law!

Doug was the hunter, I was the guide, Tumo the tracker. But we were not in charge! Oh no, we weren't....Murphy was. I do believe when Murphy gets bored, he goes looking for me, just to have fun. To be honest, I don't mind. We always pull off and to top it all, it is those games that he plays, that makes for those special memories.

Let me explain more. It was the first hunt of the season. Winter was in full force. But, and a it's big but, it was raining! It is not supposed to rain at Comre in the Eastern Cape in the winter! And to top it all, we were hunting our second buffalo of the hunt. Doug Prince took a beautiful 42" bull a couple of days before, but now he wanted to take another bull using my .550 Magnum. I was more than happy to lend Doug my .550 Magnum as I swapped back to my old faithful .458 Lott. Bullets of choice were 650 grain hollow point from Cutting Edge Bullets, travelling at about 2300ft/s. Now that is somewhere around the 7636 foot pounds of energy - enough to make any buffalo want to climb down a warthog hole.

Now there are two ways to find a buffalo on Comre. First, one may climb a hill and glass. Second is to find a track in the fun old way. Well, with the rain neither method was working. The buffalo weren't keeping to the thickets, the rain kept washing the tracks away and I was doing my best to keep positive.

42 inch Buffalo
Doug's First 42" Buffalo

We were reaching the last day of the hunt and things looked grim. Only Murphy was having a blast. I, by now, did what I do best...go that extra mile, and go where no one usually goes. I was now willing to go pull the buffalo out of the thickets, by the tail if I had to. I picked a very thick patch of reeds and asked Doug he would be happy to follow me in there. Doug looked at my .550 and smiled, saying "oh yeah!" So in we went, step by step....slush, slush, slush.... It was all good and well because we were all brave men then! It did not take us long to reach the lair of mister buffalo full of the fresh smell of steamy, bovine dung. That's when reality kicked in. I was now trying to act all cool, but man, were my pants shaking. I was thinking, what the hell am I doing here and what was I thinking to even want to go in there? There was not even a lady to impress with my idiotic bravado!

That was where Murphy started to enjoy the show more. He just sat back and appreciated the situation even more. BOOM, CRACK, BANG, CRASH!!!!! The bull took off no more than a few feet from us. I took it well, I thought, being prepared for this happening. Strangely Doug did too. I thought to myself, trying to boost my own ego, that it must be the .550 giving him confidence. I was the brave Professional Hunter after all. However, if I have to tell the absolute truth, it is that Doug is actually a very controlled hunter. A man any Professional Hunter would want with him in this type of scenario.

I was all smiles now, for luck was now on our side. Firstly, the buffalo was going in the other direction. Phew!!! Secondly, the rain had stopped! I looked at Doug and smiled, and said, "We will find him now". We quickly followed and saw the big tracks in the mud just outside the thickets. Even mister Buffalo decided it was safer out in the open. I radioed Tumo to come over where we were and the tracking started. The tracks the bull left in the mud were easy to follow, with Tumo in front, me just behind, keeping an eye on the front and Doug ready just behind me.

Well, it was Tumo who saw the bull first. He was twenty paces in front of us, down a slope and feeding back our way. How lucky can one be? He just could not resist the green grass that he had just run past. The cold weather must have helped too making the bull really need food.

Murphy's Buffalo Hunt
Murphy's Buffalo

We could have shot him from there but the terrain allowed for a much closer approach. What is more fun than getting close? At about 8 paces I told Doug to shoulder his rifle and slowly stand up, taking a shot if it presented itself. When Doug stood up the bull lowered his head, still feeding. It was a good thing that he was still slowly moving in our direction feeding and all his attention was on the green grass in front of his nose. Doug whispered to me that he could take him over his head into the chest, hopefully also breaking the spine. This is definitely not a textbook shot, but one I have done before and it does work. All this time the mighty 11.5lbs .550 Magnum was at Doug's shoulder and all he needed to do was to squeeze the trigger. I gave him the nod to go ahead, preparing myself for the scenario playing out around me. I'm now the observer, it was Doug's hunt and for me, a perfect hunt when I don't need to interfere. Missing the spine by centimetres, the bull did not drop, but the energy did temporary paralyse the him. Once again my respect for buffalo comes to mind. He just pushed forward in our direction. Not knowing where we were, he took a path that put him no more than 4 paces from us. And Doug, being the hunter he is, was ready with a second shot, putting another 650 grainer into his shoulder as the bull ran past.

Murphy's Buffalo Hunt
Murphy's Buffalo Where He Fell

That was enough for the bull! It was just momentum that took him a bit further. A mighty warrior was down. It always saddens me to see a worthy animal dead after a good hunt. I took my hat off, showing respect to the hunter and more so to the buffalo, put my hand out to Doug saying, "Well done Bwana!" Also to Tumo. I was just about to put my hat back on when it started to rain again! Murphy just had to have the last word...

Technical Notes

The .550 Magnum was developed by Neal Shirley by blowing out the .460 Wetherby case to accept a true .550 calibre bullet. Similar to the .458 Lott from a .375 H&H case, it is designed to shoot a 700 grain bullet at 2300ft/s out of a 1/18 twist barrel. This helps with fast stabilising of the bullet at close quarters for better penetration. My rifle was built by Kevin Healey of Bloemfontein Custom Rifles using a 21.5 inch Pac-Nor barrel and a Brno 602 action. It weighs in at 11.5lbs with 4 rounds in the magazine. I use a ghost ring back sight and the rifle has a palm swell pistol grip for better control of the firearm. Despite popular belief, cases and bullets are easy to come by. Neal has literally thousands of both. Recoil is surprisingly very mild in my rifle with full loads.

The 650 grain Hollow Point, Cutting Edge bullets I used in this article were specially designed to lose all the petal in the first 15 inches, acting like shrapnel. The back part of 600 grain bullet then carries on penetrating in a similar manner to a solid. The first shot from the front completely destroyed the right lung and pieces were stuck on the ribcage. The second shot as he ran past at 4 paces blew the offside heart chamber completely off! Overall, after 4 years of using the .550 Magnum, I can say that penetration is on par with my .458 Lott.

Jason van Aarde

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