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Tim Herald-Back from Africa, Part 4 Conclusion

August 20, 2010 by  
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Here is the final chapter from Tim’s recent Zimbabwe Safari. Tim will be posting exciting hunt reports from all across North America this fall while filming for TV, be sure to read American-Hunter each week to see what he’s up to. You can also sign up for our email database which will automatically notify you whenever a new post is added. This email sign up is located on the bottom right side of the home page and is titled “Subscribe to Posts”. Thank you!

Day 8:  I have just jumped in the front seat of the Dande Express emotional rollercoaster. I was in complete acceptance of going home without a leopard or sable, and then we have this morning. The bait that Buzz expected a big male leopard to be feeding on the whole safari (because it had been during the past 2 safaris) finally was slightly hit. The best we can construe is that early this morning, he came in and grabbed the baboon we had wired to an elephant skull in the middle of the dry river. He had dragged the bait and elephant skull about 50 yards to the edge of the bank, and he had eaten a tiny bit of one arm when Rex and Lee came down the road on their way to go try for a hyena on my tuskless carcass.

The leopard dashed up the bank and was gone. After we checked it all out, we went on checking baits, and Jappie radioed to say we had another big male hit another bait, and he had eaten a good bit of the zebra leg. So now we are really pumped and decided the latter would be our primary setup.

We get there to find it was a female that had fed (our 4th) and that Jappie had been looking at a big hyena track. So my spirits really fell again as I am just really worried that the big mail was spooked off before he fed at the other spot, and he may be gone for good. It also made no sense to me that he hit the baboon, when only 35 yards away is a buffalo leg and a zebra ham in a nice big slanting tree.

We did go on and build a blind and get a setup ready at the river baits. We put another big piece of buff with the baboon on the riverbed, and then the two baits are still hanging. I am writing this after lunch, and in about an hour and a half we are going to go in and sit. Buzz and Nyati think our best chance is tomorrow morning, but with only this afternoon and 2 days left in the hunt, we have to try anytime we can.

We also got a call from Parks, and they asked us to kill a non-trophy buffalo for a national holiday. I told Buzz to call and let Lee hunt it today while we made our leopard plans, and if he didn’t get one, I would hunt it tomorrow. Lee and Rex were out in the field, and we couldn’t reach them, so I will give the ration buff a try tomorrow after we do our leopard sit. I am telling myself things just aren’t going to happen at this late time in the safari and not to get all worked up, but I guess it is only human to keep thinking it might work out. This really is nerve racking.  Time to relax for a while before we head out again at 3:30.

Day 9: No luck with the cat last night. Trail cam showed him in around midnight and 4:00AM. Hyenas were there all night, and we had one on the bait at dawn. We did hear 2 prides of lions roaring this morning, which is always a treat. We had another female hit another bait, and she was there at 4PM yesterday and 8:15 this morning in broad daylight. Why can’t we get a male like that?

About 8:15AM we headed out on the spoor on some buffalo from yesterday afternoon. They had meandered a lot, but Criton found their beds from overnight. We went in and out of thick jesse and semi open terrain, and we finally got between two herds in the jesse.

We could hear buff on both sides of us, so we closed in on the group that we had the best wind on, and it didn’t take long to spot black forms in the thick stuff. The first one we could see well was a beautiful bull with deep drops and great curl, but he was a couple of years from being completely hard bossed. There was another bull behind and to his left, and then Buzz said there was a cow yet farther to the left. The good-looking bull was staring us down, so we sat still for about 5 minutes. We had made the last 20 yards scooting on our backsides, and I am not crazy about looking up at buff 25-30 yards from my butt with my gun across my lap.

When the bull looked away, Buzz eased the sticks up, and I slowly stood. He stayed down, and told me to shoot the cow when she got in the opening the bull had originally been in. As she entered the hole, walking left to right, I knocked the safety of the .458 off, and I touched off a 500 grain Nosler Partition when her shoulder hit my crosshairs. The herd stampeded off, and Buzz asked how I felt about the shot. I told him it felt good, and he and Criton both thought it looked good.

We gave it a few minutes, and as there was no death bellow, we were a bit concerned. We eased in, and it took a while to find a few drops of blood, and I began second guessing myself. I knew I was on her and steady, but as she was moving and I wasn’t swinging, I was worried I might have hit her back.

Within a couple of minutes the guys found plenty of blood and only a few paces afterward, Nyati pointed ahead in a thick tangle, and we could see her standing there. We glassed to make sure it was the hit cow, and it was apparent that she was our target as her nostrils were pink with lung blood. I got on the sticks again at about 60 yards, and Buzz wanted me to shoot her in the head. I couldn’t because of brush, so I told him I would shoot her I the neck. On the report, she dropped and it was over.  It was 10:15AM. What a fun hunt… Shooting a cow is the exact same hunt as hunting a bull in a herd; you just have a different outcome and no trophy. It was a nice bonus to be able to get the hunt in at the request of Parks with no trophy fee.

Back for lunch now, and we are going to sit on the big tracked leopard again this evening. I am not overly hopeful as I think he is one educated cat and is probably now completely nocturnal as Rich had a client miss him about 3 weeks ago. The hyenas aren’t helping either. We’ll give it a go as it is our only possibility right now, and tomorrow is the last day. We got news that Skip killed a hippo in Dande East this morning, and Lee smoked a big dog baboon for us to throw on our bait pile. Since this cat doesn’t seem to want to climb the tree and eat, we are moving everything into the riverbed 55 yards from the blind.

Day 10: The rollercoaster has really gone out of control. It is 9:00 AM on our last hunting day. The leopard showed last night at last light, and as I was getting into position to shoot, he bolted from the middle of the white riverbed. Buzz told me he stopped on the bank at the edge of the brush, so I swung the gun and could make him out. His head and neck were obscured as he stood facing uphill, right, and slightly quartering away. I pulled up behind the shoulder and let the .300 go. No sound, no nothing. I felt good about the shot, but Buzz said he was worried that there was no growl. We hoped he had been dropped on the spot.

We gave it 10 minutes, I took the .458, Buzz got his shotgun, and Criton and Nyati had axes and lights. Those guys are braver than anyone I have ever known. When we got to the bank, there was no blood, and I was just sick. After tracking him 75 yards, still no blood, but then Nyati found a speck. Over the next 100-150 yards, we found more specks, but it didn’t look good. It was thick with tangles, then high grass, then more tangled thick brush. I kept thinking if someone got mauled because of my shooting I didn’t know how I could live with myself. Finally after what seemed forever, Buzz told me they hate to leave a cat overnight, but he felt it was the smart thing to do. I agreed 100%, so we returned to camp.

This morning we waited on good light, and we were back on the track. The bait had been demolished by 2 big male lions; one with long black mane hair. Within about 5 minutes, I saw Buzz drop his gun from his shoulder and his chin to his chest. I knew it wasn’t good, and there was the cat, half eaten by the lions. Buzz was just sick, and I was definitely disappointed but also relieved.

I won’t have a trophy mount, but no one got scratched up because of me, and we did recover the cat. I am very disappointed in myself for the bad shot that hit the cat back, but in reality, though not perfect, this outcome is better than many scenarios I can think of. I don’t know if I have had terrible luck or decent luck on this portion of the hunt. I guess it is all in how you look at it. Regardless, I had the opportunity, and I didn’t perform as I should have.

We were able to salvage some decent photos, and he was a wonderful cat. He was 7’ long, Buzz told me upon arrival that he had the biggest track he had seen in the Valley in many years, if not ever, and he had a beautiful square head. A magnificent animal, I just wish I had given him a more dignified way to go. It is hunting, and I am far from perfect, and though it will take a while, I am going to have to get over it and look ahead.

We got word on the way back to camp this morning that Skip killed a nice sable bull in Dande East, and Buzz said that is the first taken there in maybe 8 years as no one usually hunts them. It was in a herd of 8 bulls. Skip has truly had an incredible hunt with buff, sable, hippo, klippy, impala, warthog, hyena and zebra in 10 days.

We will spend the afternoon doing a bit more filming, taking photos, packing and relaxing.  Well, I thought that was it…we all went down to one of my favorite river crossings where we had a bait, and had a barbeque n the evening. We had a Zim vs. US .22 shooting contest that we all eventually agreed was a tie, and then we shot a few sand grouse just at dark. The eating, drinking and reliving the hunt began, and it was a super way to end the trip.  CM really took good care of us start to finish.

Retrospect: I have never had a perfect safari, and I don’t know if there is such a thing, but besides the shot/trophy recovery of the leopard, this was close to a perfect trip for me. I was able to take 3 of Zim’s Big 4 in 9 days, I got to experience elephant hunting up close and personal with one of today’s undoubtedly best PH’s who I can now call a friend, and I spent a week and a half in camp with good friends from the States. We all were able to share ups and downs, hardship and celebration. Rex and Rich (Lee and Skip’s PH’s) are both fantastic guys, and I enjoyed their company very much, as was Jappie and the whole CM crew. They all went over and above for everyone in our group, and they have provided us all with one of the best times of our lives. I wish I had 10 more days here in Dande, but all good things must come to an end. There are many memories here that will be carried with me until the day I leave this earth, and that is what hunting is truly about to me. The pursuit of game in wild places is something that we hunters have deep inside us, but also meeting and sharing experiences with good people in different settings is just as important. We all need to take in every moment we are privileged to do these special things, and savor them as long as we can draw a breath.

Hunt Hard,

Tim Herald

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