As I looked down my rifle scope, my heart quickened as I only saw the eyes of a Cape buffalo herd approaching me. They came quickly, until something else spooked them and they ran away. I muttered under my breath. For the last ten days, I had been in these types of situations - standing in the middle of herds, running from them, towards them, or crawling between them. I had developed a far deeper appreciation for this animal than any other I have encountered to this point.
The Cape buffalo are truly terrifying yet beautiful animals. The herds move as one unit, organized, and form a wedge during a stampede (I personally experienced this, as I stood behind a tree holding my breath waiting for them to pass). Heavily hunted by lions, they are extremely sensitive to sound, wind, and movement. Having the ability to stay still and remain calm while standing in their midst was an art I was forced to learn very quickly.
THE DAILY GRIND
Each day, we hiked 10 - 15 miles, carrying our rifles. It was exhausting. The nights provided no relief, as the lions were never far from camp, and their roars filled the darkness. At first, I didn't think I could do it. Then, something changed. I am not sure what. Perhaps it was me. I began to look forward to the chilly African mornings, the walking, and the unknown excitement that each day would hold. I was beginning to fall for Africa.
Every morning began just before 5 o'clock, when the kitchen staff kindly woke me up with the words, "Good morning, madame." I quickly got dressed and headed to the fire, drinking my tea, and catching up with the professional hunter and my father. Then, we jumped on the safari vehicle and began to drive. First, we checked for watering holes. Were there any buffalo tracks? The trackers, including a rather unorthodox group composed of a former poacher, a member of the hunting conservancy's anti-poaching committee, and the cheeriest driver I have ever met, began walking, eyes glued to the ground and any nearby branch. Once the sign was picked up, we made a box with the truck around a specific area, until we were sure we knew where the buffalo were. Then, we began to walk, sometimes crawl, sometimes run, and then walk again.
We repeated this same pattern for ten days. In the bush, we experienced close run-ins with rhinoceros, both black and white, giraffe, baboon, kudu, klipspringer, impala, warthog, wildebeest, zebra, and countless other wildlife, including lions. Though we had been in the midst of countless herds of Cape buffalo, we still had no opportunity for a shot.
The last day, we split up, and I went with a different professional hunter. My father had pursued a a small bachelor herd, and claimed his bull, a true trophy. His .416 Rigby did not disappoint, and perfect shot placement brought the bull down. It was taken just feet from where we had hiked the first day. Meanwhile, I tracked a large herd, numbering about 150. We split them four times, running, walking, stalking. Finally, at a road, the herd began to peek out their noses, and I took the second cow as she was crossing. Shooting the 9.3x62 rifle that my father had made me was truly a priceless experience. Many celebrations were held that day back at camp, though our hearts were saddened that the adventure had come to an end.
Zimbabwe is one of the most incredible places I have ever been. The people, the land, and the wildlife prove to be some of the most resilient. The experience taught me much about myself. I endured more physically and mentally those ten days in Africa than previous adventures had required. Being able to share those moments, both the extreme highs and lows with my father were also invaluable. Africa is not a place for the faint of heart, but for those who dare to venture there, the dark continent will leave you changed. I cannot wait to go back.