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An Unconventional Take on the Cape Buffalo
It’s fashionable to write about Cape buffalo as bovine Hillary Clintons—malignant engines of destruction, filled with cunning and rage, living for the chance to get the horn into something. But the truth is, I feel sorry for the poor bastards. All they want is to wallow in the mud, eat, make little buffalo, and generally be left alone.
But lions pull them down, and we shoot them, and if any survive to old age, they are driven off by themselves without so much a retirement home where they can be warehoused until they depart.
In 1987, I was hunting along the Luangua River in Zambia with PH Abie DuPlooy, and we encountered a French PH and his client who allowed as how the client had wounded a bull, but the client had grown bored with the whole thing, and so the buffalo was still at large with a bullet in him. We decided to find the animal and finish him off.
Abie located the clearing where the herd had found shade from the midday sun, and then pulled off the most stupendous piece of tracking I’ve ever seen. From this herd of perhaps 30 animals, he found the hoofprints of the wounded bull and then followed them out of the clearing. (If you’d like to try and duplicate this, go into a cattle pen and try to pick out one set of hoofprints and follow them.)
We found the bull less than a quarter-mile away, and there was a festering hole in his flank. I shot and broke his back, and he went down on his stomach. His hind legs no longer worked, but his front legs did, and he dragged himself forward, trying to get to me.
I killed him, and then discovered one final sad note. An oxpecker (tick bird) had been clinging to his side, and my bullet killed the bird before it killed the bull. I was actually the third person to shoot this buffalo. In addition to my bullets and the French hunter’s bullet, we found a hammered-iron muzzle loader ball that a poacher had put in him long ago.
He is on my wall now, and sometimes I wish that instead of ending there, he had lived out his life. Probably he does, too.