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.375 H&H Buffalo Hunt
by Chris Troskie

A lot has been written about hunting buffalo in South Africa and also about the suitability of the .375 on dangerous game. Some believe that there is no real fair chase hunting in SA – even for plains game – so trying to sell dangerous game in SA hunts to overseas’ clients is not easy. (There are those who claim that the only way to really hunt in Africa is to do so in unfenced areas as are found on concessions in Mozambique, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, etc.) Others believe that the .375 is marginal for hunting dangerous game – something I hope the following article will prove differently.

In my personal view, buffalo hunting is challenging (and dangerous) whether you do so on 200,000 hectares in Tanzania or on 1,000 hectares in South Africa and this article is about a buff hunt that was conducted with a US client of mine on a game reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga.

The hunt was scheduled as a 10 day buff / plains game combination hunt and I was hoping for a nice buffalo within at least seven days. As it turned out, we got the buffalo in the picture on the first day – and no, this was not a “canned” hunt. In fact, as my fellow PH (who coincidentally is a qualified Zimbabwean PH) would remark later, this was as close to a Zimbabwean hunt as you could get…

We started hunting at dusk and were driving around looking for fresh tracks when the scouts in the other vehicle contacted us via radio and told us they’d just come across the tracks of a lone bull. We drove to the spot and saw (still) warm dung and fresh tracks leading into some very thick bush. It was rather early in the year to be hunting buffalo. It was March and because of the late rains that SA had the bush was so thick that one could hardly see more than 15 yards ahead of you in places.

The five of us – the tracker (game scout), my fellow PH (Eric), the video camera operator, the client (Joel) and I were slowly making our way through the dense bush when we suddenly heard a load snort – probably not more than 30 yards ahead of us… Then there was the sound of hooves clattering and breaking of branches as the buffalo bull started charging towards us. The three of us who were armed got ready in a hurry, the client with his .375 made by Dakota Arms, Eric with his Krieghoff double in .470NE and me with my trusty .375 Ruger. I was silently praying that the bull would at least stop and give my client an opportunity to shoot it – not because I was scared of the confrontation– but because I dreaded the idea of having to take down a client’s buff without him having the opportunity of shooting at it first. The bull suddenly stopped about 15 yards from us – probably when it saw us – and I could just make out part of its nose in the thicket but before I could get an opportunity to assess its horns, it took off again – this time away from us. The tracker motioned that we should move back to the road and we quickly yet silently started making our way back. Getting to the road, we could still hear the bull crashing away through the bush and we started running up the road diagonally to the direction the bull was moving in the hope that we might see it as it crossed the road. As we came round a bend in the road we were just in time to see the big black bull crossing the road without stopping to take a look at us.

We tracked the same bull for the next hour plus but each time we got near him, he ran off and we never saw him again. Eric and I deliberated that he might have had an earlier scuffle with another bull which would account for his aggressive behaviour when he heard us in the bush.

We spent the rest of the day hunting hard looking for more fresh tracks. As I said earlier; the bush was extremely thick which made spotting game very difficult. In spite of this we did see a fair amount of game including Blue Wildebeest, Waterbuck, Warthog, Bushbuck and also a young leopard male which was sitting next to the road on a rock in broad daylight watching us. Unfortunately, before any one of us could get a camera out, the leopard disappeared into the thicket.

At about 4pm, the scouts in the other vehicle reported that they’d come across some more fresh buffalo tracks. The tracks found where those of a herd of buffalo that crossed a little stream on the Northern part of the property near the fence line between the reserve and Kruger National Park. Well… streams and rivers usually equal long grass, reeds and snakes and this was exactly where the buffalo were heading. But there was no time to worry about snakes and the hunt was on yet again. We checked our rifles once more and started tracking through the shoulder-high grass. In spite of the long grass it was actually quite easy to track as the bent grass gave us a clear indication of where the herd was going.

We found the herd of about 50 animals strong in the riverbed where some of them were lying down in the mud and others were busy grazing the sweet river grass. The wind was in our faces and they had no idea that we were there but they were all bunched together so it took a while to identify a nice hard-bossed bull. Then began the long and patient wait for the bull to separate itself from the herd or give my client a clear shot. Each time, just as we thought we had a shot another animal would stand up in front of him or move in behind him. After about an hour I decided take Joel closer. We moved up to about 80 yards from the herd. Then, after what seemed like ages our quarry stood up and moved into a clearing on the riverbank. The bull was standing perfectly broadside and I whispered the long awaited words: “Take him”.

I was expecting pandemonium as the shot cracked through the air with buffalo scattering in all directions but quite the opposite happened. Whilst the ones that were lying down all jumped up, they just started milling around and didn’t run away. I can only assume that the reason for this behavior was that the buffalo were unaware of our presence and as such had no idea where the shot came from. I could also hear the continuous bellow of a buffalo – not unlike a death bellow – but because some of the herd members that had been lying down in front of the bull had jumped up at the shot, he was obscured by these animals and we lost sight of him. Eric and I looked at each other and nodded in agreement, we had to wait it out. I finally saw an animal lying down in the middle of herd and it seemed like the other animals were trying to push it with their horns. That had to be the one…

After about three quarters of an hour the sun was setting and we realized that we’d soon run out of daylight so we made ourselves visible to the herd and upon seeing us they ran off. I was relieved to see that the one bull remained lying down and this confirmed my suspicions that it was the one Joel had shot. We cautiously approached it. It was clear that the bull was dead but I asked Joel to put the assurance shot through the bull’s spine and when it didn’t move we walked up to it – from behind of course.

As always, Joel’s shot placement had been impeccable as he’d proven to me being capable of doing on the several other animals hat we’d hunted together on previous safaris. The .375H&H Federal Bear Claw had entered the bull on his left shoulder and shattered the heart without exiting on the other side. It never knew what hit it and had gone down directly after taking the hit – explaining the bellowing directly after the shot and also why we couldn’t identify it amongst the standing ones after the shot was fired. Another successful buffalo hunt!

This hunt just proved again what I’d learnt on numerous previous occasions:

  1. Shot placement is the single-most important factor that determines a successful or unsuccessful hunt.
  2.  The .375, when loaded with the correct ammunition is perfectly adequate for killing Cape Buffalo with one shot.
  3. Don’t show yourself to the animal or herd once you’ve fired the shot. It is adrenaline that causes animals that have taken a fatal shot to still be able to run away and cause for some hairy moments when you don’t know if the animal in the long grass is dead or wounded.
  4. If you don’t show yourself and the wind is right, other herd members are less likely to stampede away and this could give you an opportunity to put in another shot if the first one didn’t go where you intended it to go.

In my view hunting in SA compares very well with that offered elsewhere in Africa. Our country’s sound economy and infrastructure including well-maintained roads and excellent tourism opportunities make South Africa one of the best hunting destinations in the world.

Chris Troskie

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