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Tim Herald-Back From Africa, Part 3

August 19, 2010 by  
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More from Tim’s Hunt in Zimbabwe…

Day 4: Followed up a group of elephant early and got in to 20ish yards on 9 of them, but no tuskless again. The trackers saw a female leopard in the road afterwards, and we got word Jappie, our camp manager, that we had a female leopard that hit a bait and another leopard hit another, but he wasn’t sure if it was a male or female. We have a trail camera there, so we plan to go freshen the bait and check the camera sometime tomorrow.

We did a 4½ hour walk this afternoon, and got close to two elephants, but the wind was wrong and they took off. We followed for 2 hours and finally called it a day. Our slowest day so far, but still a good hunting day. Lee left after lunch for Dande East to try his luck at elephant and lions that Buzz still has available. I think Skip is sitting for hyena in the morning early, looking for sable until lunch, and then he may head to the East as well and try his luck on hippo and whatever else might cross his path.  We have six days left, and know we will find a tuskless, but I am getting a bit concerned about having a good male leopard feed. We have out 9 baits now, so we are doing all we can. I look forward to checking that trail cam mid-morning tomorrow, and hopefully the cat is shootable.

Day 5:  This morning we tracked up a group of elephants at sunup, took about an hour, and we made an approach on first 6 bulls (one 40 pounder), and then a group of 12 cows. They all had teeth.

We got on another set of tracks and left the road at 8:55 am. We got to the elephants about 10AM, and the first one we see is a 40 lb one tusker. We saw another bull, and I thought, “great, here we go again!” Then we saw a few more eles a little lower in the small drain, so we began glassing. We determined that finally we had 2 tuskless in a group, and we might get a chance.

Buzz and I moved in, and we cut the wind at an angle on the tuskless. She was moving up a little, and we moved a bit closer. Finally she was going to come out past a tree moving left to right, and in the clear, but she looked and saw us. Instead of turning toward us, she took off up the hill and spooked the whole herd. We were all sick. This was about 125 elephants that we had looked at, and now our opportunity was gone.

Buzz said we would follow since we knew there was tuskless in the group, but we were, “in for a good walk”. We tracked, and tracked, and it was all in the very thick jesse. The guys lost tracks, found tracks, and did it all a few more times. Finally we got close, and we found a bull standing perfectly still in the jesse. The trackers determined that the two bulls had split from the cows, so we tried to relocate the cows.

This took another 20-30 minutes, and then we were back on the tracks for a while.  Finally in very thick cover, we heard them.  A few minutes later we saw the group of 10 or so elephants resting in the shade, and we began an approach.

We found the tuskless on the right of the herd, and Buzz said it was so thick, we had to get on a trail that was half open, and just try to walk in. So we did…At about 20 yards, the big tuskless saw us, flared her ears, and Buzz told me that I needed to take the shot before they took off. There was a fair sized tree between us, and I had to drop to a knee and shoot up through a V in that tree. I squatted down, leveled the crosshairs across the eyes, and I squeezed off.

The big cow did not drop, and I must say that I was completely surprised. I wrenched another round in as she cut to the left. Buzz shot for the hip and I shot for the head. He hit her, and on my shot she turned back left. We moved a few steps over, and Buzz told me to put another in her as she was moving with the herd. I finally made the right shot and put one in her ear hole. She crumbled to the shot, and it was over.

I was disappointed that I had botched my frontal brain shot, but it all turned out well within 5-10 seconds, and there was no follow up job. She was a huge tuskless, and we were all very pleased and relieved as we were in the thick jesse, and we could have had a real mess in there.  After 5 days, 125+ elephants, and tracking this group twice for over 4 hours, it was a culmination of an absolutely wonderful hunt.

We had 2 female leopards feed, and then we finished the day hanging two more baits. We have a 6-7 hours of ele recovery tomorrow, and then we are focusing 100% on a leopard. Time is running very short with 5 days left and no male leopard feeding. We definitely need some luck.

I came back to camp to find that Skip had shot a klipspringer, a nice warthog and an impala today. He had had quite a day 5.  We are half way through the trip, and it has been a total success. We also learned that a gentleman from Texas that is in the Mururu camp shot a good buff on his first day. So for the four people hunting in Dande, we killed four good buff in the first four days of hunting.

Day 6: We spent the first half of the day on the tuskless recovery. The guys had to cut in some road through the jesse, and we could only get to a point across a huge gulley from the elephant, so the meat and skin had to be carried over. As anyone who has seen this process knows, it is a very impressive sight.

Buzz guessed the cow at 35-40 years old, and said she would feed about 250 people in the nearest village.

We spent the rest of the day checking leopard baits, re-dragging them, etc. I did shoot a big male baboon in the afternoon. We now have 3 female leopards that have fed, but we can’t catch a break and get a male on a bait. We have 10 baits out, but it is looking slim on the leopard front as we only have 4 days left. Skip shot a hyena off my tuskless carcass in the evening.

Buzz mentioned something today that really sticks out in my mind. He said, “ You know, it is funny that you killed your buffalo only 5 days back, and that feels like so long ago. It’s like it was way in the past, yet this is day six of the safari, and it seems like the trip is flying by.” He is exactly right, so much happens, that an event 4-5 days ago does feel like forever ago, but my time is really short and the trip as a whole has sped by, and is much too short.

Day 7: Out again early to check baits. Skip shot another hyena off the tuskless carcass. We again have a regular female leopard feeding, but after checking all baits, we have 0 male hits. I find out that on morning 3 of his hunt, Dave in the other camp is already sitting on a male leopard.

We do a 2 hour walk in the morning looking for sable in between checking baits. We saw no sable, but it was a nice walk. We re-dragged some baits, and in the afternoon we did another sable walk in the hills.  The trackers spotted a herd of sable about 2 miles off, so we hustled over to where they thought they were. It took a while to work it out, but they eventually found the tracks, and just before dark, the herd busted us fro about 150 yards out. Buzz marked the spot on the GPS because he said they wouldn’t go far, and they generally bed at night. When we came back to camp, we gave Skip and Rich the coordinates, and Buzz is sending Criton with them in the morning to go after the sable. I think their plan is to track those sable in the morning, and head to Dande East in the afternoon to try for a hippo and whatever else they might find. Lee returned from the East after chasing bull elephant for 2 days.

We found out that Dave in Mururu Camp now has 2 male leopards feeding. They have out half as many baits as us, and within 3 days, they have 2 males on bait. Just goes to prove my luck. I have resigned today, that I am not taking a leopard or sable on this trip, and I am OK with it. I got the number 1 and number 4 animals on my wish list for this trip, and I will hunt leopard and sable again until I get them. Every time we pass fresh elephant tracks, I do wish we could follow them. It has only been two days since we took the tuskless, and I already miss elephant hunting. I have never done anything so exciting, and one consolation to not taking the leopard or sable will be that I can save that money and put it toward another elephant hunt with Buzz. I think if things work out in the future, and they secure Makuti when it comes up for bid, I would like to go there.

To be continued…

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