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Tyrone Milne owner of Chumlet Safaris based out of Dundee in South Africa had promised me a hunt to remember when I had booked with him at the March 2018 Wild Deer Expo held in Myrtleford. Tyrone came across as completely genuine, no fuss, no bull just up front and honest.
Come October my first impressions were well founded as he certainly delivered what he promised – and more.
The dual cab utility nicely equipped with rear viewing seat and climbing steps – tyres hummed on the tarmac as we raced through the South African township of Pongola toward an adventure that would unfold over the next ten days.
Leeukop Game Farm attendant bustled out from his office to sign us into this 56,000 acre game reserve where once cattle grazed contently now only African game animals roamed the vast spaces of this wild abundance of land.
Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Rhino, leopard, Giraffe, Kudu, Wart Hog, Hyena, Nyala and many more animals grazed and hunted here as nature intended. Animals that were only kept here because they had a dollar value – more value for hunting than viewing.
Tyrone drove through the 1 kilometre no shooting area to our 5 star accommodation. My eyes soaked in the wonders that surrounded us, camera working overtime. Giraffe, Zebra, Wart Hog, Impala, Nyala grazing peacefully within only metres of the vehicle, barely looking up to gaze at us. Obviously no shots fired here within the game viewing area to make the animals wary.
Unpacked, with bino’s and camera in hand we drove to sighting range to allow me to be confident the 375 H&H 300 grain and the 300 Win mag 180 grain projectiles were shooting accurately. Yep they were punching holes in the target at 100 metres just where the projectiles should land.
Head tracker – Moosa was away for the day so instead another dark skinned Zulu – Mumful – accompanied us to “go for a look,”. Mumful perched on the high seat where he could have a better view sat comfortably, his eyes darting here and there searching for animals to point out. Cape Buffalo, (Nyati, Mbogo, Syncerus Caffer) were my number one species to hunt so the other game were safe for the time being.
Piles of White Rhino dung were encountered regularly but no sightings. Other plains game animals – much more wary than the first encountered ones in the no shooting zone darted away at the approach of the hunting vehicle.
Bumping over uneven ground Tyrone braked to a halt at a watering trough to check for Cape buffalo sign, he undid his trail camera from a tree to check for images of the Nyati.
Mumful indicated in Zulu that this was day old sign, possibly 5 bulls, the Dagga boys (bachelor herd) had drank here last night. Even I could see the huge cloven footprints in the dust. My pulse quickened as I peered at the massive prints. How big are these animals I wondered? Dung pats like spilled concrete looking just like cows pats at home just more volume.
Mumful tapped on the roof after only kilometre from the trough. We climbed out to look in the direction he was pointing. A breeding herd of buffalo were grazing more than 600 metres across the U shaped valley below us, cows, calves and one big horned bull. He stood out within the milling animals with his massively muscled body and heavily bossed horns. Tyrone peered at him through his bino’s.
“He is a good bull but this late in the afternoon it would be dark by the time we got there and besides with the number of wary cows eyes (just like hunting a fallow buck amongst his mob of wary girlfriends) it would be very difficult to get close enough for a shot.”
First day. First sighting of what I had travelled so far to encounter. Reluctantly I put the bino’s back in their chest pouch and turned my back on a huge Cape Buff.
Second day I met head Zulu tracker, Moosa, happy, smiling man in his 50s, greeted me with his sparkling eyes and very white smile. Mumful and Moosa climbed to the high seat then we again retraced our steps to last night’s watering point.
The sharp eyed trackers found no sign that bulls had visited for a drink. Only conclusion, they had moved to another watering place. Moosa indicated with his hand where he expected the bulls would go.
Back into and onto the dual cab we again drove high tracks on the opposite valley from the water trough for better view in search of Nyati tracks. Finally Moosa called to Tyrone, he braked to a halt. The trackers climbed down and discussed the hoof prints outlined in the bulldust like powdery soil. 5 bulls heading down hill indicated Moosa, same bulls as yesterday. Dagga boys. Bulls by themselves.
We wound our way along the two wheel road, keeping high for better view of the slope below us. A whistle from Moosa, again we braked to a halt. There 500 metres below us were the bulls 3 no 4 no there were 5 leisurely heading directly to the concealed waterhole, just as Moosa had said they would. I was beginning to understand the almost magical ability of the Zulu trackers to know where the animals will be.
“OK. Get the 375, chamber a round and safety on.” Said Tyrone.
Moosa and Mumful stepped down hill off the road and almost immediately were swallowed by the prickly thorn with lime green leaves that had sprung out of the previously bare branches a direct result of heavy rainfall a week ago.
I followed closely behind Tyrone as we pushed through the ripping thorns, stepping carefully around loose rocks. Ssssh from the Professional Hunter made me concentrate more. Fresh, bright red blood trickled from where thorns had tried to hinder my progress on arms and bare legs. Moosa held his hand up, then pointed with his hand toward where the bulls could be heard “talking” to each other. Then waved us on again. Again his hand came up. He waved it about indicating that the wind was not being of great assistance, we would have to go directly downhill and come at the bulls with the errant breeze more in our faces. The finely statured Zulu waved us on again.
Directly downhill we carefully stalked, rocks threatening to twist an ankle, finger long thorns grabbing clothing and skin. I noted that if I became lost I was leaving a pretty good blood trail to find my way home.
Stumbling and pushing through the entangling bush I suddenly stepped out onto a vehicle track, the claustrophobia feeling of dense bush evaporated now I could see for at least a few metres. Moosa said the track was here now I hoped that this track would lead us close to the bulls either near the water or at the water.
Single file we crept along the red, dusty soil. Moosa with the three legged shooting sticks, Tyrone carrying his .450, myself with the .375 then Mumful armed with his antipoaching pump 12 gauge. Moosa pointed with his hand, fingers straight and thumb tucked in to where the bulls could be heard making quiet calling sounds to each other, again we were waved forward, the tempo of the hunt began to slow to a take a few very deliberate, cautious steps, then halt. A few more vigilant steps then pause again. Moosa indicated rocks, crunchy leaves and sticks that if stood on may give the game away.
My mouth was dry, I felt the need for oxygen and found that I had been holding my breath. My heart was pounding. Try to break the opposite front leg. Don’t bugger up the shot. I reminded myself.
Hand up, again we halted like an eight legged centipede, statues in the South African bush. Close, very close indicated Moosa. The thorn bush foliage still too dense to see more than 4 metres. Again the eight legged centipede moved in unison, this time a number of metres gained. Below us a manmade dam half filled with red, muddy water from last week’s heavy downpour started to come into view as the bush thinned. Waved forward again. Hand up, stop. A few more cautious steps. Stop.
Moosa pointed again and set up the sticks, Tyrone whispered, “There he is. Take him.”
One huge bodied bull stood a few metres from the muddy water not more than 90 metres away, quartering away to the right. I slipped the safety to fire and peered through the low powered scope set on 4x. He just stood there oblivious of us while two of his mates were laying just inside the bush line to his left, the other two bulls hidden somewhere.
“Take him” urged Tyrone, “just behind the shoulder.”
I could see the still wet, glistening red mud smeared bull, fresh from his slimy wallow quite clearly across the open expanse of red coloured water, the rear of his heavily bossed horns showed me the angle of the big bull, a thorn bush partially covering his hind quarters. I had hoped for a simple side on shot but it is what it is. Where to hit the bull standing at a 45 degree angle. There must be the spot. The X hairs of the scope settled nicely on the bulls ribs standing motionless at 90 metres.
The solidly built bull, lurched and tucked up to the shot. Reload give him another. “Stop don’t shoot,” yelled Tyrone as the other two, unseen bulls that had been wallowing in the muddy water blocked the shot. Noise of breaking branches and logs and pounding of huge cloven hooves gave us an idea of the direction the animals had taken.
“Was the shot good?”
“If anything it was a bit far back,” I replied.
The 15 minute wait felt like an hour. The picture in my mind’s eye replayed the movie over and over. Big animal, angled away to the right, see the back of his horns, 45 degrees. I wasn’t that sure of a lung hit but I hoped that the bull was down.
Finally Tyrone said it was time to see the sign.
We all strode around the muddy water to where the great bull had been standing. Blood. Tick. Minced up liver pieces. Hard hit. Bone fragments, some lung tissue. All agreed he was hit hard, liver meant a high shot and a bit far back. Nothing can live with a liver blown out can it? Good blood trail to follow that’s something.
“Got to be really on our toes now, if he is not dead no telling what he may do now. His mates hopefully have left the area and he is by himself because that will make the tracking easier. Follow behind Moosa and watch him he will see the bull before we do, be ready there won’t be much time for a shot.” Instructed Tyrone, looking in my eyes.
This was real. Was I up to this?
Following Moosa with rifle held at high port across my chest, thumb on safety. Watch Moosa then scan the bush.
Moosa followed the tracks and blood for 50 metres. Up goes his hand to halt. I nearly bump into him. Moosa squats peering forward. We wait. Moosa listens, dark brown eyes darting here and there, his nostrils flaring as he sniffed. We move forward again. Again he squats and sniffs and peers into the leafy thorns. Barely ten metres is all I can see in front of us then a blank wall of green.
Moosa indicates that he can see something, but not the bull. We watchfully creep forward, pool of bright red blood, flies already buzzing. “This is where he waited for us.” Stated Tyrone.
Another 50 metres of very wary, vigilant tracking, Moosa suddenly stopped in mid stride.
Again he squatted, peering into the green curtain in front of us. Wave of hand some more steps, observing, watching. Moosa points with his left hand, “he is there.” “I can’t see a thing but green leaves.” The tracker nimbly scurries out of the firing line.
Suddenly the bush erupted with a crash, an ear bursting snort at 10 metres and the wounded bull was on the move. I remember thinking, shoulder the rifle, only time for one shot each, and make it count. I heard Tyrone step to my right to get a better angle. No time for a shot only a dark blur when the big animal smashed the bush with his bulk and then turned to disappear like a ghost to our right.
“Did you see him?”
“Only a blur and shaking trees and bushes then silence.”
“He can’t be a really angry boy, that’s twice he could have been on us if he wanted to. If you see anything that could be the bull, shoot.”
Another darkening pool of fly landing zone showed us where the big fella had been waiting for us. Why hadn’t he charged? He must be hurting. Will he come at us next time? Thank goodness for the sharp eyed tracker otherwise we would have wandered, unwittingly within horning distance.
A crack of a stick breaking makes us all freeze. Again I wait, adrenalin pumping, then a Nyala breaks cover, false alarm. Everyone around me visibly relaxes. Another very cautious 30 metres and Moosa again held up his hand. He shook his head and waved Tyrone forward. “The other bulls have joined him again, tracks everywhere, all over the blood trail. Will need to sort this out?” He said in Zulu.
Tyrone and I waited for the two trackers to fan out and zig zag and circle for any sign. Some blood but too many animals. “Take Gavin back to camp for lunch and bring us some water and food in a few hours and we will see what we can find.” Stated Moosa.
Tyrone handed Moosa his .450 and I handed over the 375 to Mumful. Tyrone and I worked our way back to the dam then on a roundabout trip uphill to the dual cab.
3 hrs later we returned to the toiling trackers where Moosa came on the radio to say they had bumped the wounded animal with two others, he was lying down, Mumful wanted to shoot the one lying down but had to make sure it was the correct animal, eventually the bull climbed to his feet and walked off, “we went to where he was lying and there was plenty of blood. There is a good trail now and he is on his own.”
Delivering food and drink we met up with the skilled trackers, at least 30 degrees now, no air movement and stifling still within the enclosing thorns.
How they can follow and find tracks in rocky, grassy country I could only wonder. Away we went on the blood trail again, occasionally I found a track on soft sand when we had lost the sign. Then finally Moosa and Mumful agreed that it was too late to do much today, time to call it quits and come back tomorrow.
A wounded killing machine was something that no one wanted to hunt in daytime let alone in darkness so reluctantly but sensibly we headed home.
Second day, morning coolness made the searching more pleasant than 30 degree Celsius yesterday. Moosa and Mumful fanned out while Tyrone and I waited. Moosa waved us over, “He has found his buddies again, and tracks everywhere.” The trackers followed sign for a few hundred meters then Moosa saying, “somethings not right.” And back we went to the last blood sign. Again and again this happened. Back to the last blood then move forward. The trackers were skilful alright, each time something was not right back to the last positive sign, slow work but always gaining meters. If only the fit bulls would leave the area.
The trackers continued their unrelenting, methodical search. Follow sign then with shaking heads back to where the last lot of blood. Time and time again the trackers worked the buffalo sign.
A soft whistle called us to Moosa, pool of blood, he had lain down for a while, and he is in pain and possibly weakening. Bush very thick. Tyrone understandably recognising the need for safety for us all, but the Zulus still insisted on following the good sign through the thickest of thick while Tyrone and I skirted around the worst places.
“Tyrone let’s call this off someone is going to get hurt or killed. Let him die, the poacher patrols will smell him in a week or so, we know he will die let’s just leave him. I am very fearful of Moosa or Mumful being badly hurt.” I pleaded.
Tyrone whistled the two trackers they all had a talk, Moosa shaking his head. Pointing at the good sign Tyrone pointing at thick bush Mumful waiting quietly.
“Moosa says that they must find this bull for you, he says to leave him now and come back tomorrow, let him die and we will find him then.”
I was certainly relieved that this decision was made. Let this big old boy die. He can’t possibly live with a wound like he is carrying.
Back to the vehicle and home. An early day but 34 degrees late-afternoon, conditions within the airless confines of the greenery was uncomfortably warm and sweaty.
Third day saw 7 of us drive again to the last sign that was there yesterday. PH Phanase and two other trackers volunteered to help out, everyone agreeing that most likely the dead bull would be found quickly. Tyrone took me aside, “I want you to stay with the vehicle, the bull is very possibly dead but if he isn’t dead too many people will be more of a hindrance than a help. We are going to split into 3 groups and comb the bush where Moosa thinks he is. Will you stay at the vehicle for me?”
“Will I be in the road if I come?” “Yes.” Stated Tyrone. I could see he meant it, he was not just protecting the client.
“OK I will wait with the vehicle. I would still feel more comfortable to call this off and find him by smell in a few weeks.”
“They won’t leave it, it is a matter of pride now, and they want to find him today.”
Concerned, I waited at the dual cab an hour went by then 100 metres further down the track Moosa and Mumful stood on the track, then Tyrone, Phanase and two trackers joined them. Tyrone walked up to me. “Moosa has found and followed two sets of tracks that have crossed the road, there were three bulls yesterday together he thinks your bull is still in this thick stuff to the South either dead or very sick. We are going to split into 3 groups go back to where Moosa had the three bulls and start again from there. I need you to stay at the vehicle. OK?”
Again I waited, some noise in the bush to my right, Buffalo? No, only Nyala, the antelope scampered across the vehicle track, must be someone close to push them my way.
Crash, crack only 80 or 90 metres away. Boom… Boom. I thought I heard a projectile buzz away to my right. Again Boom. Silence. No screaming. No one hurt. Boom again then silence again Boom then two more thunderous shots. Silence. Loud talking. What has happened? Should I go down? They are so close.
After what felt like an eternity Tyrone emerged from the bush. “We got him.”
“Is everyone alright?”
“Phew. Thank goodness.”
The two of us walked down to the place where the action had happened. Mumful smoking, Phanase and the trackers laughing and talking, Moosa smiling with the gentle teasing he was copping from his near death experience. I hugged Moosa with relief. No one was hurt.
My sense of foreboding had, fortunately been ill-founded.
Tyrone and Moosa showed me the first patch of blood they had found, flies buzzing, grass flattened, the bull had risen and moved on again. They showed me another more flattened patch a few metres further on with flies and blood, footprints showed where the bull had stood again when the two men had found the first blood, then sign showed the bull had silently moved a few more metres then stood ghostly still, watching, listening.
Here is the story as told to me by Tyrone.
Tyrone and Moosar found where the bull had laid down amid densely entwined, almost impenetrable thorn trees. Thorns 100 mm long and needle pointed with lime green, leaves that only a few days earlier had sprung densely from growth buds, seemingly by magic after the recent heavy rain.
Congealing blood still bright red and covered with flies, pooled in a steadily darkening puddle where it had seeped from the gaping wound from the 375 H&H 300 grain projectile. Moosa had sniffed the lymph blood and could smell the corruption that the infection was causing.
Mumful pushed through thorns minus his paired mate to join Tyrone and Moosa, he also agreed that the sign was very fresh and the huge bodied Cape buffalo bull was close by.
The three men stepped back from the bloody sign. Totally ignorant of how close the sorely wounded buffalo bull really was.
“Hey Mumful where is Temba he was with you a while ago?” Queried Tyrone.
“Should be here soon he was with me just a while ago, the bush is so thick it is hard to keep together now.”
The two Zulu trackers and the white PH focussed on the sharp crack of a stick front left only metres away.
“Is that you Temba?” Called PH Tyrone.
No reply came back. Moosa slapped at what he thought was a fly crawling on his ear only to find it was a moisture seeking honey bee which took exception to the hand slap sending a red hot sting into Moosa’s ear lobe. Moosa held his throbbing ear and complained of the stinging pain loudly.
Both Tyrone and Mumful showed no sympathy – only humour- to the Head Tracker as he rubbed his ear to alleviate the pain while he complained bitterly and loudly of his discomfort.
PH Phanase and his tracker were nearby somewhere, “Hey Phanase, over here we have found good fresh blood sign.” Called Tyrone.
Moosa still complained of the pain of the bite.
Before Phanase could reply another stick cracked loudly from the same direction that the first crack had come.
Suddenly the almost impenetrable bush shook and parted as a severely wounded, enraged, huffing, puffing tonne of red eyed, sharp horned, locomotive erupted into view from mere metres. Spear sharp, wickedly curved, mud covered, heavily bossed horns seeming more fearsome with each thrusting step. Huge cloven hooves thundered beneath the massive animal.
Black Death came at Moosa, nose up with murderous intent. The bull had obviously had enough of these two legged tormentors.
Only Mumful got off a shot, he fired one shot from his pump 12 gauge with SG’s into the head of the enraged bull, the jarring impact of the shot smacking into his right horn didn’t even make it shake its head.
Moosa fell back with the bull almost on top of him, losing his rifle but fortunately tumbling behind a 100 mm thick thorn bush that made a fragile but effective barrier between him and Black Death. The bull butted against the bush trying to spear Moosa as it hooked its horns left then right tearing bark from the skinny tree. Moosa stared death in the face so close he could have poked the bull in its eye without any stretching.
“Shoot him Tyrone, shoot him.” Yelled Moosa, his eyes wide and face slack with fear as he stared Black Death in the eye.
Tyrone fired a shot less than a metre and a half away squarely into the bulls left shoulder. The animal flinched noticeably from the impact of a 500 grain solid whacking into him. The bolt from the .450 slid back and then pushed another fat round into the breach.
Moosa rolled behind another tree to his left that was slightly more robust and the snorting bull hooked at him again and again ripping bark from the second tree as it tried to get at the Tracker.
Tyrone consciously recognised that he had to be careful not to shoot the tracker as well as the bull because the solid projectile would go straight through.
The bull staggered slightly and backed off his murderous intent on the Head Tracker and again received another 500 grain pill into its left shoulder. Now the bull swung its head and body toward the tormentor with the rifle and took steps towards Tyrone. The PH went for a brain shot that took the bull just below its left eye. The rifle was empty now Tyrone slid the bolt back plucking another big 450 round from his ammo belt – knowing that before he could get another shot off the angry beast would be on him.
The bull stood still after the last shot, it wavered slightly then appeared as though it had had enough punishment, then swung its armoured head and huge body, then unsteadily moved with some difficulty directly away from Tyrone. Slamming the rifle bolt he sent another round into the retreating beast.
Again and then again Tyrone fired finally putting the bull down, the bull breathed a final mournful bellow.
Moosa jumped to his feet retrieving the lost 375 he shouldered the rifle as he rushed toward the dead beast. Intent on killing it again.
“Moosa, Moosa he’s dead man.”
The Head tracker stared at the dead bull and turned to Tyrone hugging his PH in gratitude.
The adrenalin started to disperse from the two Zulus and Tyrone as they contemplated what could have happened, Moosa and Tyrone holding each other and Mumful smoking a nerve relaxing cigarette.
Thirteen steps away the badly wounded, dying bull had stood watching, listening, hidden completely by three metre high thorn bushes, almost impenetrable by humans with thorns as long as a man’s finger and needle sharp.
Was it his last show of muscular power? Was it the bee bite and raised voice that made him pick Moosa out as the one he wanted? Perhaps these two legged tormentors had just pushed him too far.
No one will ever know.
Tyrone Milne from Chumlet Safaris had promised me a safari to remember. South Africa delivered.
I often think about that shot a mere 50mm too far back. Only a small measurement but one that certainly would have had a quicker outcome.
Life and death CAN be measured in millimetres.