An intrepid writer armed with a vintage double rifle dallies with danger stalking Cape buffalo.
As a collector of double rifles I had always dreamed of hunting in Africa with one of mine, when in 2007 I had the opportunity to shoot a buffalo in Zambia. There is nothing like Cape buffalo hunting, especially with a vintage double rifle.
We inevitably fell under Africa’s spell and quickly set out to organise another hunt. We were fortunate to get an introduction to Luawata Conservation, in the Luangwa Valley, N E Zambia. The concession is taken by Paul Tudor Jones, who has also funded the establishment of reserves and reintroduction of the Black Rhino, and many other conservation projects throughout Zambia, over the past
eighteen years. The hunting area is between the North and South Luangwe game reserves.
With Professional Hunter Athol Frylinck, who runs the concession, there was no doubt that we would have an interesting time. Any P H whose working rifle is a double Holland & Holland .465 has to be OK. Athol has been on this concession over 25 years and knows it ‘like the back of his hand’. He has had the same head tracker 32 years and his number two 25 years.
I would take my Jeffery double .450/400 x 3″ no. 13111, built in 1903, and previously owned by the Marquis of Aylesbury, according to the crest on the oval. This is, in my view, an “ideal” double rifle. It is a strong boxlock ejector of high quality, probably one of those made for Jeffery by Leonard. It is fully engraved, very accurate and the weight of 10 ¾ lbs makes it ideal to carry and comfortable to shoot. It can potentially handle any game.
The 400 grain bullet has good sectional density which gives solid good
penetration. Indeed this was known as the “all round” calibre prior
to introduction of the .375 H & H in 1912. A claw mounted telescope was set into the rib sometime in its life and, incredibly, it shoots accurately, in the same place, muzzle width apart at 50 yds, both with the telescope on or off the rifle. I had already shot a buffalo with it in Tanzania and found that a telescope certainly helps in thicker cover, even very close in, in allowing one to see more detail, and make better shot placement. Of course a telescope allows one to shoot at longer ranges – it is a variable telescope 1.5 to 4 but
1.5 power is adequate, which is where I keep it set. I shot a Wildebeest at 140 yards with this rifle.
So we set off from London to Lusaka, via Johannesburg, overnight. We stayed in Lusaka and then took an early morning, two and a bit hour light aircraft flight to the strip at Luawata.
During the 10 minute drive to camp we saw a lot of game in the scrub and Mopani areas – Kudu, Impala, Bushbuck, Elephant, Baboons and more. The camp bungalows are pleasantly rustic and situated along the river. Each had its resident population of friendly tree frogs and geckos feeding on insects attracted to the lights. The frogs in particular had their places. One lived on the hanger on which I hung my jacket, another in the shower, and so on. The light brackets were prime space – the frogs didn’t have to move to eat! A moth an inch away was too much trouble – one would fly right by (or into) the frog’s mouth every
It was by then around 8.30am, so after a hearty breakfast, and having shot the rifle, we set out to have a look around the Concession in the hunting car – a Land Cruiser stripped down to the very basics. We were able to get our own feel of the country, so familiar to Athol, and identify some areas in which to hunt suitable buffalo bulls during the following days. The country is mixed Mopani forest, some Terminalia, open grassy areas and more lush parts near the Rivers.
A few isolated large trees here and there and some thicker forest patches. We were in late season so everything was very dry. Many trees were bare and the rock hard ground in many places covered with dry leaves.
On the way back to camp that evening we stopped to let some Elephants cross the track well in front of us, a group of cows and youngsters. When they had gone 150 yards or so at right angles to the track we started to drive slowly on. The lead cow wheeled round and came tearing after us, screaming – of course all the others followed! I have never seen an Elephant run so fast. She came level with the vehicle and while I was thinking that I could not get my rifle, which was at my feet, out of the slip before something might happen, we drew slowly ahead and left her behind. Arriving in camp we saw the two tusk holes in the Land Cruiser tailgate (which fortunately was reinforced) from an encounter some weeks earlier. A piece of tusk had broken off into one hole!
We were chased again later in the week and also ‘confronted’. Always by cows. Elephants are not currently hunted legally in Zambia but they have long memories and are unfortunately being poached. It certainly helped to add “flavor” to our stay in Luangwe.
A cool gin and tonic helped our nerves and jet-lagged bodies relax, and after a wonderful dinner by the river, an early night. Athol’s excellent chef has also been with him many years.
The routine each day was the usual hunting one. An early start after a good breakfast around 6 am, hunt until 11.30/12.00, lunch and siesta and hunt again from about 3.00 pm until 5.30/6.00 pm, when we headed back to camp for dinner. The drives back to camp were wonderfully punctuated with wildlife – game and birds, in particular. Pennant Winged Nightjars with their long streamers swooping past the car. Small animals like Civets running by, or across in front. By the time we left our list of species seen was long. We were lucky enough to see a leopard at a water hole – rare during the day – and lions of course.
We spent the next few days looking for suitable older bull buffaloes. ‘Kaculi’ as they are called in Zambia. As elsewhere in Africa, they live in small groups, especially later in the season. There were single bulls and groups which might be two or three old bulls or up to, say, ten or so with mixed ages.
We also saw herds, which at that season were going to and from the water each day.
The Cape buffalo is a very worthy quarry. We had some splendid stalks, usually in close, to find that there was not a “shootable” bull. Perhaps the group had no really old bulls – or in one case, a lone good size bull who, when he turned, proved to have a broken horn. Or they would get our scent from swirling wind – often a problem in the morning as it warmed up – and run off. All the time we saw plenty of game – and elephants – for which the trackers were on the constant alert – they are difficult to see and it is very easy to walk right amongst a spread-out group whilst tracking.
Post midday temperatures were 40+ – or 100 plus if you think in Fahrenheit.
On the fourth day of hunting, which happened to be my birthday, we were chased by a tuskless cow elephant as we drove to the area in which we would hunt. Soon after that we saw a warthog of suitable size, Athol stopped the car, and I stalked in towards it through some Mopani trees – there were two, rooting in the open beyond the trees and the wind was right. I reached a tree where I could see the boar clearly at about 60yds. Taking a secure brace with my body and arm against a tree, but with the rifle clear, a single shot in the neck dropped him. The 400 grain soft point exited.
Loading the warthog into the vehicle we set off once again to the Fly camp at the other side of the concession.
From there we picked up the spoor of three large bulls in the sand of the dry river bed. It was 8 am. They had crossed and re-crossed the river – so back on our side we followed the tracks on the bone hard ground, very often covered by dry grass and dead leaves. One tracker concentrated mainly on the ground, the other, a young man, also kept looking for some sign of the bulls’ passing through bushes and grass, at which he excelled. His indications helped the trackers to find direction in looking for “spoor”.
After about two hours we saw them. Black shapes in the grass and trees. We got to about 40 yards but couldn’t see clearly. The wind swirled and off they went. We rested for 20 minutes to let them run and settle and started tracking again. After another two hours we suddenly came on them, this time even closer. Carefully trying to get into place and onto the shooting sticks we were again foiled by the wind swirling round.
Same routine, rest 20 minutes and start tracking. This time it took us two and a half hours to catch up. After one and a half hours it was one o’clock, very hot and there wasn’t much water left. I asked Athol “do we stay with it”. “Yes, these are three good bulls” was the answer. A drink of warm water helped shrug off tiredness.
The tracking was spectacular. A bull’s hoof print might be around 6″ x 4 or 5″. On the hard ground we were seeing a slight marks – I remember two, amongst others, a faint impression of around one inch long, partially covered by leaves, and a pebble off which a hoof had skidded leaving a slight mark.
Then we saw the bulls – at around two hundred yards – as faint black shapes amongst Mopani with quite a lot of thick dry grass. The wind was steady and in our favour. After some careful work we got down to about a third of the distance but couldn’t get closer. Foliage was thick and it was very difficult to move quietly. Athol knelt down. “I can see a shot”.
I knelt beside him. We were behind a clump of Mopani and could see through a 6″ gap between two small trees – a bull was standing 60 or 70 yards away looking at us, also between two small trees which were a yard and a half, or so, apart. I could see his shoulder. Bracing against a tree and with the muzzles through the gap, but not touching, I fired. A modern Kynoch round (which the Jeffery likes) from David Little, loaded with a Woodleigh solid.
With Athol’s words “good shot” ringing in my ears, we ran to the bull
who had swung round 180 degrees, run about 50 yards, and as we came up he collapsed. No second shot was necessary. We later found that the bullet had smashed the shoulder, taken the top off the heart and broken the other shoulder.
It took an hour for Athol to get the vehicle and another hour to cut up the buffalo. The meat being distributed in camp, and to nearby villages across the river. The head is now in the UK and a magnificent reminder of a splendid hunt and magnificent animal.
There is much discussion about whether to make the first shot on buffalo with a solid or soft point. I believe that this might vary with the calibre, bullet weight and velocity. Many PH’s to whom I have spoken vary in view but perhaps the general one may be in favour of solids. A double rifle, with two triggers, offers an instant choice between barrels, one with a solid, the other with a soft nose (rather like full choke or none in a shotgun), a bolt rifle does not.
I wonder how many people change triggers and take the bird further out with the left and frequently more choked barrel and then the nearer bird with the right and less choked barrel (the configuration for walked up birds, not driven, and which is so frequently found). I ended up with two solids and feel comfortable that whatever the angle of shot required, or needing a second shot at an oncoming buff, I was prepared. There is a bonus – if you get into difficulty with elephant whilst on your buffalo hunt.
This area is not only good for buffalo. We saw a huge amount of game, including much birdlife. From the camp dining area by the river there was a continuous “cabaret show” to be seen, with game coming down to drink and also interacting. Of particular note was a “crèche” – young baboons, warthogs and impala all playing together.
There is no question that this famous area is remarkable whether you are hunting or taking photographs. In fact we went on to do a walking/photographic safari with Rod and Guz Tether at Kutandala which is not far from Luawata and is close to the Rhino reserve. From there we went on to Shiwa Ngandu of “Africa House” fame and Kasanka, known for its huge and notable colony of Straw Coloured Fruit Bats, before returning to UK. Zambia has a lot to offer!
Before leaving Luawata we booked another hunt in 2011, this time in the green early part of the season.