QUEST TO FULFIL A DREAM
The look of hatred, red eye love, the one that burns into your mind as, “Hey, you owe me money and now it’s time to pay up!” - Black Death.
The Cape buffalo represents one of the Big 5 hunts in Africa and the experience and challenges are highly sought after by hunters across the globe. Their sheer power, aggression, and herd structure, coupled with their living habits in tall cover is enough to heighten your senses while raising the hair on the back of your neck.
With the opportunity to work in Accra, Ghana Africa, this was the first animal that I wanted to add to the list of hunting adventures during my time off. Working through the logistics with Jakes van der Merwe, Professional Hunter (PH) and owner of Hunt Safari, knowing which type of hunt suits my style, we set off to “hunt the tag” as I wanted to hunt for inches rather than pay for inches. In South Africa, there are numerous nature preserves that derive revenue through auctions that inevitably will be awarded to the highest bidder. With back and forth discussions, Jakes decided to pursue one of the two coveted permits at the Tussen die Riviere Nature Preserve located in the Free State province of South Africa. With three months of planning underway, Jakes, along with Willem Gertenbach, the backup PH and owner of Jabula Safari’s, made the 600 mile trek to attend the auction on April 11th, where the gavel dropped on bidder 42 for the first permit of the first lot, signaling the start to our next round of preparations for “hunting the Buffalo”.
Airline flight booked with arrival to Johannesburg on Thursday, August 21st, put us ahead of schedule with a few days to burn before heading after, “Black Death.” With fire in the eyes, cold gun barrels, pockets full of shells, and plenty of clean arrow shafts, Jakes made some planning adjustments and had us lined up for Sables, Copper & Black Springboks, Guinea Fowl, and a bonus Caracal Lynx night hunt.
A 42” Sable Bull taking an arrow shaft at 15 yards, marked the start to a trip that would soon prove to be one of the most memorable hunts of my life. One I will forever remember until the day I die. Two days to burn before the Buffalo hunt, I delivered a 500 yard blow to the boiler room of a great Copper Springbok Ram, took out a Black Springbok Ram on a cull hunt and spent an afternoon chasing Guinea Fowl with an old time South African Farmer.
I also added a Caracal Lynx to the bag denoting another milestone in life as I had a better chance at winning the lottery than connecting with this stealth predator.
With trophies in the salt, blood under the finger nails, and smiles all around, it was time to depart for Tussen die Riviere in search of one of the Big 5 opponents.
As Sunday evening arrived, August 24th, the setting of the sun amongst a valley of water and tall reeds interspersed with herds of buffalo’s created a visual of conservation at work that I was proud to be a part of. Sounds that are only heard while partaking in the outdoors, breathtaking views, and relishing in God’s creations and capabilities, set the tone for an epic adventure with lifelong friends.
Monday morning’s sunrise highlighted a pair of bulls as they made their way towards a block of thick reeds, disappearing to never be seen again.
Anticipation, drive, and determination were in order as we made our way through the thick reed banks, utilizing the “buffalo tunnels” to progress along the Orange River. With the sweltering heat bearing down on us, our first close buffalo encounter was marked by an array of footprints in a cluster as the bull appeared at 50 yards, eyes piercing the invaders, sending the message that we were not welcome on his turf. With an estimated spread of 34” and soft bosses, we passed on the opportunity but lived the moment to the nth degree as we snapped some pictures, watched him head down to the river to replenish himself, and soon to vanish amongst the reeds. The setting of the sun brought a close to the first day in buffalo camp as we exchanged stories over a campfire and passed around the beer cooler while grilling buffalo steaks amongst the open flames from one of Jakes past hunts.
As the alarm clock struck 5 am, it was time to put our game face on as we took on a new day of “Playing with the Buffalo’s in the reeds” - Willem Gertenbach. We headed back for the two bulls that disappeared the morning before, Jakes spotted them close to the same reed bank, soaking up the early morning rays as the cool air sent steam raising to the heavens. With the plan of attack assessed, we set off on the stalk just to watch the two bulls join up with four other bulls and swim across the river right in front of us.
Crossing over to the other side of the river was our only option. Another quick plan and we were off. Working our way down the reed line, much like a pride of lions, we had the group of bachelor bulls at 100 yards, 80 yards, and finally at the 60 yard mark where we looked them over. One bull was well over 40”, probably closer to the 43-44” mark, but once again had soft bosses. We enjoyed watching them, snapped a few more pictures, and slipped out undetected. Frustration yet enjoyment all at the same time is what drives the inner desire for the outdoors, one that must be experienced as words will not do the experience justice. As we rolled down the dirt roads, optics pierced into each and every reed bed just hoping to find a glimpse of the ‘black ghost’ that fueled the temporary adrenaline high. Setting off through the reeds, we quickly took note that a few bulls had to be using an area that we had yet to explore. Spores and fresh sign from that morning held our curiosity even though we didn’t encounter a Buffalo.
With a long day in the books, we set up on a vantage point to capture another African sunset and watched as the Buffalo’s made their way from the reeds to their night-time feeding grounds. Laughing, sharing memories, drinking a cold beer, and capturing the last rays of God’s majestic outdoor lighting capabilities concluded the second day of the Buffalo hunt. To be continued…