The Indestructible Buffalo

ime after time we put this huge bull down with well-placed lung shots.

Until midafternoon it had been a pleasant but not exciting day there in the Okavango Swamps country of remote Bechuanaland. I had shot a sassaby, a rather homely antelope closely related to the East African topi and about the size of a large mule deer. It is no great trophy, but the camp needed meat.

We had seen a good deal of game -- some kudu cows and calves, dozens of warthogs, many swamp--dwelling red lechwe, some zebras and wildebeest, and a herd of about 30 giraffes. We spent most of our time looking for lion sign and found the re-mains of some old lion kills -- skulls and horns of antelope, whitened buffalo bones -- but nothing fresh.

"I don't think it will be hard to get them out of there," said John Kingsley-Heath, our outfitter and white hunter. "We'll get out and wait here. Then I'll have Musioka, the gunbearer, drive around on the far side of the thicket, blow the horn and make a noise. When the buffalo come out, you and Eleanor can knock off a couple if they are worth shooting!"

This sounded very simple. We got out of John's hunting car, and Eleanor and John took a stand behind one tall anthill and I behind another. Eleanor had the Winchester Model 70 .30/06 she had used on tigers in India the year before and I a restocked Winchester .375 1 had carried on many hunts in far countries. She was loaded up with 220-grain solid bullets and I with 300-grain solids. John had his life insurance - an old Westley-Richards .470 double-ejector rifle.

In a few minutes we heard Musioka blowing the horn on the hunting car. Then we heard him pound the side of the car with the flat of his hand. The brush cracked, and we saw the vague shapes of buffalo moving around just inside the thicket. But they wouldn't come out. Apparently they knew that if they came out in the open they stood the chance of getting bushwhacked.

So next we tried going into the brush after them. The thicket looked to be a favorite resting place. The ground was tracked up, filled with beds and droppings. It smelled like a corral. As we sneaked along, we occasionally could catch a glimpse of buffalo as they moved away, but it was difficult to make out sex and the size of the heads. It quickly became apparent that the buffalo wanted to stay in the thicket and were moving around behind us.

As we emerged from the thicket, we discovered that two bulls had come into the open. They had crossed the open meadow and were just about to disappear about 200 yards away into the thick brush on the other side. We could have hit them, but it would have been almost impossible to get in a well-placed shot. We didn't shoot. Long ago I found out that a buffalo is hard enough to kill even when he is hit just right.

So we drove on, still looking for lion sign. Around noon we knocked off, found some shade where the wind kept the tsetse flies away, ate our lunch, and reminisced.

My wife Eleanor and I had known John Kingsley-Heath ever since 1959, when he had been a white hunter for Ker & Downey. That year we had a fantastically lucky trip with John and shot lion, sable, puku, zebra, an enormous bull eland, and other lesser trophies as well as a 60-inch kudu, one of the best heads ever to come out of East Africa.

Since then John and I kept in touch with each other. He had spent a couple of Christmases at our Idaho home when he had been in the United States. It was there that we made plans for this Bechuanaland hunt. John had resigned from Ker & Downey and had started another safari company with a partner, Frank Miller, who had also been a Ker Downey hunter. The two hunt part of the year in Kenya, then take their vehicles and crew south to their Bechuanaland operation, known as Safari South, with headquarters in Maun.

We had flown the Atlantic from New York to London on Alitalia, the alian airline, and had picked it up again in Rome to fly to Johannesburg. At Rome we had met our friends Richard and Sarah Jane Harris from Atlanta, Georgia, and their 10-year-old son Boyd. (OUTDOOR LIFE readers will remember Richard Harris' story "The Dam' Bear Ain't There," November, 1964.) When we'd rested a day in Johannesburg, we chartered a twin-motor plane that flew us to Maun, Bechuanaland.

An enormous, dry, and thinly populated plateau the size of Texas, Bechuanaland Protectorate, which has recently become the independent republic of Botswana, is about as flat a country as can be found on this earth. Except for half a dozen or so low hills a few hundred feet high, no part of the country is more than 50 feet lower or higher than any -other part. Located in the north are the famous Okavango Swamps-thousands of square miles of shallow water, low sandy islands, brush, palm trees, and tsetse flies.

There are lions in the Okavango, about the biggest and meanest in Africa. There are also elephants, giraffes, hippos, thousands of buffalo and strange swamp-dwelling antelope called red lechwe, and situtunga, kudu, sable, impala, crocodiles, leopards, and warthogs by the tens of thousands.

The lions in Bechuanaland and just to the north in Portuguese Angola are bad tempered. A high proportion of them charge, and they are difficult to hunt as they seldom come to baits.

The Okavango leopards never come to baits. This new republic of Botswana also contains the famous Kalahari Desert, the home of the Bushmen, some of the most primitive members of the human race, and incredible numbers of zebra, wildebeest, gemsbok, springbok, and other desert animals. It is pretty far off the beaten trail, and until the past few years few people have hunted there.

That particular day there on the Okavango we took a leisurely rest at about noon. We ate crackers, excellent South African cheese, and cold roast from an impala shot a couple of days before, and we washed it all down with some excellent beer brewed by German brewmasters in Windhoek in what once was called German West Africa but is now known as South-West Africa.

It was the last part of August, winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and the nights were generally cold, even frosty. But it was always warm at midday, and sometimes Eleanor and I took a snooze after lunch. Then the vultures would gather hopefully in the trees to see if we would die.

Along about 2 o'clock that same day we put lunch things away in the chop box, got into the hunting car again, and took off. Musioka the gunbearer stood behind with his head out the lookout hole in the top of the car. We saw hundreds of warthogs, and also hundreds of red lechwe grazing in the grassy meadows close to water.

We were at least 30 miles from camp, and for 20 miles we had broken trail through the brush. Now we started to follow our tracks back toward what passed for a road -- simply a track made by hunting cars and trucks used by Safari South.

Suddenly Musioka tapped sharply on the top of the car and said "M'Bogo!" That is the Swahili word for buffalo.

John stopped the car and a moment later said, "There they are, moving in the brush to the right, a whole herd of them. They're coming this way!"

We were on the edge of a little embuga, or open grassy space in the brush. It was about 50 yards wide and something over 100 yards long, but all around it the brush was pretty thick.

Slowly the buffalo started to cross the embuga -- cows, calves, bulls. The wind was blowing gently from them to us. We could smell their cowlike odor.

Presently as the rear section of the herd passed, John whispered sharply: "There's a good bull, Jack-that one on the right. I think you ought to take him!" There were two bulls together, one noticeably larger than the other. I had no particular yen for a buffalo, and I have never been a very enthusiastic buffalo hunter.

I shot my first one in Tanganyika in 1953 with a .450 Watts, the wildcat predecessor of the .458 Winchester. The first bullet went high through the left lung and flattened against the massive neck vertebrae. I shot this "dead" buffalo once more -- this time through the heart. I ejected the fired case and stood up. As I was putting another cartridge into the magazine, I heard Don Kerr, my white hunter, yell at the same time I heard the pounding 'of hoofs.

That "dead" buffalo was coming for us with frothy blood from the lung shot pouring from his nose. Don and I each shot. The buffalo turned aside, staggered a few yards, and fell. I put another bullet into it. My shots were just where I called them -- the first through a lung and flattened out like a silver dollar on massive neck bones, the second through the heart.

The only other buffalo I ever shot was facing me about 125 yards away in Mozambique, a big lone bull. I shot him right in the sticking place with a 400-grain bullet from a .416 Rigby. The handload I used turns up 5,750 foot-pounds of energy, but this buffalo fell on his nose, jumped up, galloped 100 yards or so before he died. I wrote a story about the incident and called it "Buffalo Make Me Nervous" (OUTDOOR LIFE, August, 1963).

I was thinking about all this when I got out of the car, sat down, and switched off the safety on my .375. 1 was thinking that I didn't want the buffalo particularly but that it was a good one and I ought to take him.

The buffalo walked quietly along broadside about 100 yards away. I held the intersection of the crosswires in the Weaver K3 scope right on his shoulder blade about one-third of the way down from the hump, in line with the place his left foreleg joined the body. I hesitated for a second, and then the darned bull started to turn, and I knew that if I was going to shoot this particular bull I had better shoot then. I squeezed the trigger. The buffalo stumbled, almost went down, and started off again, but with the plunging gallop of an animal with a broken shoulder. I quickly worked the bolt and sent a 300-grain solid bullet raking through the buffalo's ribs from the rear. Then the buffalo and his companion, the smaller bull, were in the brush.

"Well," John sighed, "a wounded buffalo! The way he was hit I doubt if he's gone far. Let's follow him up!" He turned around and extended his hand to Musioka the gunbearer, who handed him his old Westley-Richards .470 double rifle. I filled the magazine of my .375 and put another cartridge in the chamber.

We took up the track. Musioka, who was unarmed, did the tracking. John and I pussyfooted along, watch-ing. We had not gone 100 yards from where we had seen the buffalo last when Musioka extended the flat of his hand toward John andbuffalo, and I have never been a very enthusiastic buffalo hunter.

I shot my first one in Tanganyika in 1953 with a .450 Watts, the wildcat predecessor of the .458 Winchester. The first bullet went high through the left lung and flattened against the massive neck vertebrae. I shot this "dead" buffalo once more -- this time through the heart. I ejected the fired case and stood up. As I was putting another cartridge into the magazine, I heard Don Kerr, my white hunter, yell at the same time I heard the pounding 'of hoofs.

That "dead" buffalo was coming for us with frothy blood from the lung shot pouring from his nose. Don and I each shot. The buffalo turned aside, staggered a few yards, and fell. I put another bullet into it. My shots were just where I called them -- the first through a lung and flattened out like a silver dollar on massive neck bones, the second through the heart.

The only other buffalo I ever shot was facing me about 125 yards away in Mozambique, a big lone bull. I shot him right in the sticking place with a 400-grain bullet from a .416 Rigby. The handload I used turns up 5,750 foot-pounds of energy, but this buffalo fell on his nose, jumped up, galloped 100 yards or so before he died. I wrote a story about the incident and called it "Buffalo Make Me Nervous" (OUTDOOR LIFE, August, 1963).

I was thinking about all this when I got out of the car, sat down, and switched off the safety on my .375. 1 was thinking that I didn't want the buffalo particularly but that it was a good one and I ought to take him.

The buffalo walked quietly along broadside about 100 yards away. I held the intersection of the crosswires in the Weaver K3 scope right on his shoulder blade about one-third of the way down from the hump, in line with the place his left foreleg joined the body. I hesitated for a second, and then the darned bull started to turn, and I knew that if I was going to shoot this particular bull I had better shoot then. I squeezed the trigger. The buffalo stumbled, almost went down, and started off again, but with the plunging gallop of an animal with a broken shoulder. I quickly worked the bolt and sent a 300-grain solid bullet raking through the buffalo's ribs from the rear. Then the buffalo and his companion, the smaller bull, were in the brush.

"Well," John sighed, "a wounded buffalo! The way he was hit I doubt if he's gone far. Let's follow him up!" He turned around and extended his hand to Musioka the gunbearer, who handed him his old Westley-Richards .470 double rifle. I filled the magazine of my .375 and put another cartridge in the chamber.

We took up the track. Musioka, who was unarmed, did the tracking. John and I pussyfooted along, watch-ing. We had not gone 100 yards from where we had seen the buffalo last when Musioka extended the flat of his hand toward John and