The look in Willem's face was telling. We were in trouble. Dominga, our Mozambican tracker, had messed up. We had asked him to "nudge" the massive buffalo herd from the flats where they were grazing. Instead, he ran at them yelling. The massive herd of buffalo, numbering in the hundreds, had lots of directions to stampede. Of course, they chose the one that brought them straight down our little funnel.
I had a big bow, Willem had an even bigger gun, but against this many buffalo they were as useless as a rolled up newspaper. The funnel was only 20 yards wide, but the fast approaching herd was 50 yards across. So Willem did what any good PH would do. He ran at the lead cow while she still had enough time to change direction. She shifted north, and the herd followed.
Not bad for our first day. We had survived. Willem and I made a pact never to try that stunt again.
Cape buffalo have a reputation for being nasty. Just watch the body language of a seasoned Professional Hunter. He puckers up tight when moving in close to a herd of buffalo. Not surprisingly, most PH's are not interested in booking spot-and-stalk archery hunts for buffalo. Danger plays some role in that reluctance, but more to the point, buffalo bowhunts are far harder than most people realize. This was my third try for a Cape buffalo. On my first, I hunted for 20 straight days, and on my second, 18 straight days. I never drew my bow on either hunt.
Most bowhunters looking to kill a buff will wait in blinds at waterholes or bait. But that wasn't for me. I wanted to hunt wild buffalo on the ground. And that's why so many safari outfits rejected me.
Still, some outfitters are willing to give it a shot, and one of them has been my longtime friend Dries Visser, Jr. He recommended that I look at Mozambique, "Old Africa" at its best. That sounded great to me, but it came with a warning -- this was a difficult hunt. I would be living in a tent and eating canned food. Most importantly, the hunt takes place in razor grass swamps, where anything other than a perfect hit would require a rifle backup shot to keep the bull from escaping into eight-foot-tall razor grass.
Halfway through the hunt, we moved to a new location more conducive to bowhunting. Our camps were planned for mobility, not luxury, and we ate canned food -- just the way I like it.
"If that happens, visibility is zero and the danger factor is off the charts," Dries warned. "Sign me up," I said.
After months of practice, my bow/arrow combination was finely tuned, and I was ready as the twin engine Aerostar dipped out of the clouds and landed on a grass airstrip just 10 miles from the Indian Ocean. I've hunted Africa many times but had never experienced anything like this. It was tropical, with palm trees and lush green swamps.
The next day we loaded up an Argo, an eight-wheel amphibious vehicle, and headed to an area the locals called Big Swamp, where, from the outset, we were into buffalo. For a rifle hunter this seemed almost too easy.
But getting a bow shot at a mature bull was proving to be difficult. The smallest herd we stalked numbered about 100 animals. As we moved through swamp muck, trying to get close to that many eyes and ears, the buffalo had all the advantage. To make matters worse, wherever we went the vultures would follow. Like a perimeter alarm, the circling buzzards would alarm the herds, which then ran out onto open flats.
On day five, Willem made a dramatic suggestion: He thought we should leave Big Swamp and go back to get another PH. Andre' was familiar with a different area with slightly more cover and smaller herds, although this move involved a risk -- the buffalo move in and out of that area, and we could burn up the last few days of my hunt on an area void of buffalo. However, if I've learned anything about Africa, it's to trust the judgment of my PH.
We used an Argo to negotiate Mozambique's swamplands along the Indian Ocean.
We left Big Swamp.
The next morning Dominga, Willem, Andre', and I headed east toward the ocean in the Argo, loaded with enough gear to last the remainder of the hunt. We set up camp under two trees, and before I could bite into my first canned sausage, the three of them were pointing at something from their lookout in the top limbs of a tree. Willem gave me a thumbs up. They had spotted white cattle egrets. That meant buffalo.
Quickly, we geared up and started hiking toward the egrets, but not until three hours later did Andre' tense up and slowly raise his binoculars.
"There's a herd to the east, a mile away," he said. "Another small herd is lying in the sun just past this little clump of grass. There is a nice bull in there. But the shot will be close!"
Andre' dropped to his knees and began to crawl. The rest of us followed, and for 40 minutes we crawled. Then, even though I could not see any animals, I could tell by Dominga's body language that we were within spitting distance. Andre' motioned for me to stay low and crawl to him.
"Move as slow as death," he whispered. When I'd reached him, we both rose on our knees, and less than five yards away I saw a bedded cow chewing her cud. Behind her lay a smaller bull, and beyond him a mature bull. We crouched back down to discuss a strategy. But before we could do anything the wind shifted and the herd busted!
Almost immediately Andre' said, "Come on, let's find that other herd," and we headed through the swamp until Dominga spotted the egrets. Andre' and Dominga moved cautiously ahead and then motioned for me to join them.
"There's the herd bull," Andre' said, pointing. "He is extremely old, a true giant. He's a trophy for any buffalo hunter. But he has a busted right tip. Do you want to try for him?"
He didn't need to ask. This was the biggest buffalo I had ever seen, and I wanted him more than any "perfect" bull. He was the king. His ears were ripped, and scars marred his enormous gray face. He was massive, and he was ugly. He was everything I'd dreamed of, right down to his huge, hardened bosses that differentiate the old boys from th
e younger trophies.
"I want him bad," I said. Andre' smiled. He wanted him bad, too -- I could tell.Dominga led us away from the herd and into a small area with tight cover. He seemed to know just where they would go, and he was right as the herd began to filter past us. When the big bull showed, we were ready, but cows blocked the shot. In a moment, he was gone.
"Stay put," Andre' cautioned. "There's a younger trophy bull coming our way!"
This was all happening very fast, and all I could see through the tight brush was one continuous black line of buffalo less than five yards away. From my angle, I could not differentiate one from the other.
"Shoot!" Andre' said without warning, but I hadn't even drawn my bow yet. Quickly I identified the bull and hit full draw, but by then the bull had moved through the open lane, and the shot was obstructed. And then the herd was gone.
Not only was my bull the biggest I had ever seen, he was also the oldest my outfitter had ever killed in Mozambique.
Dominga motioned for us to follow as he led us toward an island of papyrus. With the herd feeding along the front edge of the papyrus, Andre' and I sneaked around the back side and took up a position 10 yards from the edge. As I made out a black form heading our direction, Andre' pointed and said, "That's him. Get ready!"
It was the giant herd bull. Adrenaline kicked in as I nocked my 1,200-grain arrow. As he fed, his massive head moved into a clear shooting lane. The bull turned and looked right at us, but we remained crouched, well hidden, and absolutely motionless. The bull's horns were just pure mass, almost freakish. I'd never seen anything like him.
I waited for the perfect shot. The sweet spot on a buffalo is no bigger than a grapefruit. You have zero room for error.
When the bull moved, quartering away, that was my cue to draw. Tugging back the string, I forced myself to take an extra few seconds to aim. Then I released.
The heavy arrow sank up to the fletching. Perfect!
The mortally wounded bull ran a few yards and then turned toward us. Andre' had the crosshairs on his head. One step in the wrong direction and the .375 H&H would come into play. Luckily, the bull turned and ran a short distance away before lying down.
Twenty seconds later, he was dead.
I'm not one to get deeply emotional after a kill, but this one was different. I was overcome with respect, pride, and accomplishment. After three trips to Africa I had made a perfect shot on the biggest Cape buffalo bull I'd ever seen. Best of all, I'd done it the way I wanted to -- stalking a wild, free-ranging buffalo.
When we walked up to the bull, Andre' said he was the oldest buffalo they had ever killed in Mozambique. The fact that this old boy was not kicked out of the herd and still in control was validated by the scars, cuts, and broken horn that decorated him like an old military general.
The PHs later estimated the bull's age at 15-17 years. It's hard to imagine all the things this old bull had lived through, from predators and poachers to floods and famines. I can't imagine a more fitting end to such a worthy old scrapper. Nor can I imagine a better African adventure.
Bowhunter Magazine Contributor Pat Lefemine is founder of Bowsite.com. He lives with his wife and three kids in Union, Connecticut.
Author's Notes: I used a BowTech Tribute bow at 94 lbs. draw weight, Easton 2017 aluminum arrows with Easton Trooper shafts glued inside, and 200-grain Muzzy Phantom stainless steel 2-blade broadheads. My Predator Spring Green Camo blended well with the swamp vegetation. For creeping through the swamps, I took three pairs of Converse canvas sneakers and rotated them each day so I always had dry shoes to start the morning. The system worked great.
This hunt took place in the Coutada 10 concession of Mozambique, which comprises mostly swamp within 10 miles of the Indian Ocean. I arranged my hunt through Dries Visser Safaris. Go to http://www.dvisser-safaris.co.za.