Bookmark this Page Behind the Next Bush
Behind the Next Bush
by Henry McNatt III
Tampa, Florida

  Page 3

the car towed. Lloyd had one of our crew guard their car against pilfering, I jumped in the back of the 'Cruiser, our passengers climbed in the front, and we drove them to their village about an hours drive away. We dropped them at the clinic and they thanked us for giving them a ride. Lloyd told them that he would keep a man with their vehicle until they came to retrieve it later that day. A short stop by the bakery for our crew, and another failed attempt by Lloyd to get a phone call through to Chiredzi, and we headed back to Niavasha.

The spoor was fresh and very smooth. It measured a full 24 inches in length. Papa, who only spoke on occasion, quietly mentioned that he would very much like to see this old man. So we left the 'Cruiser behind and followed toward the park border. Within a half-hours time it had circled back to the road, and was now heading back into the heart of cow country. We took a short break and sent a couple of trackers down the road to bring up the 'Cruiser and collect the hand held that had been left behind. An auto accident delay and equipment forgotten "just the right amount of chaos to change our luck," said Lloyd. By nearly mid-day we were a bit puzzled that the spoor had not appeared to be getting any fresher. Dung beetles had vigorously worked over the dung piles and the wads of jumbo 'chewin' tobacco' that had been spit out along the trail were only slightly moist. I think we all felt that the old bull should be near. He had walked quite a few miles, but he had meandered around in semi-circles at a seemingly relaxed pace, stopping here and there as he browsed along. We pushed on into some taller trees and found a lot of dung where he had paused, we lost the track and once again split up to search for the direction he had continued. It had become a reflex to look up in Papa's direction whenever I took my eyes off the ground, 'cause nine time out of ten, he would sort it out but when I looked up, I noticed he was walking back toward me. Then from behind me I heard Paul, our very laid back National Park Scout, whisper "He's there boss".

The old, lone bull was maybe 30 yards away and having a high noon siesta just like any sane fellow living under a scorching sun would do. The wind was very good for this time of day. Three different times, we quietly approached to within ten steps while trying to get a look at his ivory. The bull sounded like he was breathing through a huge snorkel which, for all intensive purposes, I guess he was. We could see that one of his tusks was very good, but the other was hidden from view. His head was absolutely huge and covered with dark, dried out mud. The anticipation made my blood boil. Finally, Lloyd instructed our Council Rep., Joel, to break a limb in order to turn the bull, so we could check his other side. The cracking sound had the desired effect and the hidden tusk turned out to be even bigger than the first! The bull stood still listening intently at a quartering angle to me his chest and shoulder well hidden by the bush. I held my breath hoping he would turn his head either way. If he turned a bit left I would have his ear, if right, I could take a frontal brain shot. It was left, but barely enough to get the proper angle I hesitated and Lloyd whispered "Take him just in front of the ear."

I barely heard the cap-like pop of the .375's muzzle blast, but I vividly remember seeing his hind end crumple earthward. 'Yes!' my mind screamed and just as this registered I noticed that his front end was also going down but I quickly followed up just to be sure. When his barn door sized head settled from a slight side to side swaying, it was resting on its heavy tusks and he was still upright!

We cautiously approached his massive bulk with great respect derived from the many mad dashes we had made during the last two weeks. Joel smilingly climbed atop him long before I took my thumb off the safety. After twenty some odd years of reading and daydreaming through the stories of others, it was difficult for me to absorb the true reality of it all. Just as I've experienced many times in the past, I found myself looking at my long sought after prize in a very surreal sort of way. But just like in a lucid dream, I let myself rule; and I hesitantly reached out and felt his dark gray hide. It was harder to the touch than expected, had a pebble like texture, and was deeply crinkled with the occasional stiff black hair. His lovely brown eyes were mesmerizing, their lashes thickly caked with dried-up mud. I carefully removed a glob the size of a silver dollar from one eye to have a better look. Upon close inspection they appeared quite large for such a near- sighted creature. The trunk was softer, heavier and more flexible than I had previously imagined; and his long, thick, earth-coated ivory tusks were so thick at the lip line, that I couldn't fit my hands around them. He was clearly a southpaw as his working tusk was grooved on the underside and slightly shorter with a chisel like point. Lloyd proved later to be spot-on in his weight estimates 65lbs. x 60lbs. of beautiful white gold. The soles of his feet looked like old worn out tennis shoes. The tread was worn completely smooth around the edges in places and they had many long irregularly shaped splits in them. We measured the front foot at 21" and the hind foot was 24". The large smooth ears were coursed with deep veins and in surprisingly good condition for such an old bull, but his tail was nearly hairless. He was a fine old bull indeed.

Somehow, he didn't seem the same to me now that he was down. There is something about being ten steps away from a gigantic bull elephant while he's still alive and standing so tall on his feet, filled with strength, power and potential danger. But as he quietly rested, that bigger than life aura had left him. Papa and the rest of the crew were very pleased and this made me happy. I was happy but with some slightly sad contingencies attached. I'm not the teary-eyed type, but I felt great admiration and appreciation toward Lloyd and his team, a brotherly love you might call it. I quietly thanked the old bull for giving his life to me in the form of such a grand adventure, the memories of which I will cherish and enjoy the rest of my days.

It was still early in the afternoon, when we quietly approached Malapati camp and eased out of the 'Cruiser. Pam Talley was enjoying a little reading time in the shade of the huge trees around camp, while her husband was out on a P.A.C. (Problem Animal Control) hunt. She looked up from her novel at us with an inquisitive look, and Lloyd announced, "He went down!" I was beside myself with all kinds of different emotions, and if there is only one phrase that I ever remember Lloyd Yeatman saying, it will be that one "He went down!" Pam, of course, asked what we had done, so we explained. After a late lunch, Bob Talley joined us for an afternoon photo shoot. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening quietly glowing. Sleep came welcomed and easy. The following day was spent collecting and distributing a huge load of meat to the local people. The entire trunk, as has always been custom, was given to the local chief. During the process a fire was made and it wasn't long before some choice pieces of meat were being cooked over the small smoking blaze. A fine slice of temple was selected for me and dipped in salt I found its flavor to be very nice so I asked for a bit more. The butchering was quite an operation. Unlike the days of the past where dozens of natives hacked away with their axes, machetes and knives in a competitive frenzy, this operation was completed by Lloyd's staff with a methodical, efficient harmony. A town council member even met the meat-laden trailer in town, to make sure it was distributed fairly. A small quantity is eaten fresh, but much of the meat is dried because refrigeration is limited to only a few of the stores.

The elephants are doing well under the CAMPFIRE project that Safari Club International helped organize and initiate. Elephant populations are up from 600,000 just 10 years ago, to over 1.4 million today. In northern Zimbabwe (the highveldt), where the habitat is more arid, they actually need to cull the herd down because of overgrazing. The project was designed to benefit the local people for conserving their local wildlife through a system of sustainable use. As previously mentioned, the villagers getthe meat of any elephant taken by trophy hunters, but they also get a substantial 5-digit fee for each of the hunting licenses allotted. The harvest quota is limited to a little less than one percent of the overall population, thus sport hunting does not have the slightest negative impact on the population at all. In fact, it often spurs growth because old dominant males with poor impregnation rates are taken. This makes the breeding cows available to the more potent, younger bulls. The funds are distributed to the following categories: crop damage reimbursement, schools, and health care clinics, drinking wells and livestock perdition reimbursement. They also have a general savings-type fund for emergencies and/or other projects the community deems worthy. A town council manages the distribution and saving of the funds and the much-needed meat. It was nice to see firsthand the benefits that CAMPFIRE provides. Hundreds and hundreds of native children were seen coming home from school all wearing nice uniforms. Women and children (and a few men) were dipping fresh, clean drinking water from the wells. And until you can see the crop damage these people suffer from up close and personal, see the tears in the women's eyes, feel for the loss their year long labor lost in a single night, you can't fully appreciate the funds set aside for reimbursing these farmers. If it were not for these funds, the locals would consider the elephants a tremendous pest instead of an important renewable resource. The project is largely successful because of its impact on poaching. Additional fees are paid by the hunters which go straight to the National Parks for anti-poaching teams, their equipment, and supplies. Furthermore, the entire community directly benefits from healthy wildlife populations, so the locals do not tolerate poachers. In essence, thousands of people become 'game wardens', thus creating a highly effective anti-poaching force.

With only a few days remaining to hunt and the grass being so high, we decided to hunt buffalo for only a few days. We didn't want to run off to another concession too soon because we had also seen lion tracks along the river and there was that bait which needed checking. The first day out we were fooled by a herd of cows that had moved back into the park just before sunrise. Later during the day, we realized that the bulls had remained in the safari area until later in the morning. We found that both a lion and a leopard had hit our kudu bait two nights before. That's the way it always goes if you can't check your baits every day. Early the next morning, after a short walk from camp, we followed the spoor of two buffalo until Papa found them bedded down maybe seven or eight steps ahead of us- yes the bush was quite thick. It was so thick in fact, that we couldn't tell which way was what. Lloyd whispered that he thought the bull was facing left I knelt down and peered through my 2.5x scope only to see a tail switch at a fly! I looked to the right and saw a short thin horn and that's all I could see. The next thing I knew it was earth-pounding hooves beating it for the park. They successfully made their escape. The big cats had not visited our kudu so I shot another to freshen it. The first was beginning to lose its appeal to even the hungriest of felines - whew ! Another fine day or two found the buffalo and lion victorious. They have to win sometimes, too, you know.

So we pushed on to new territory, namely Banga camp in Nuanetsi, where we planned to slay the great river horse and any toothy, oversized lizard that might be caught snoozing on the shoreline. The first afternoon's hunt was a lot of fun. I have difficulty finding the words that describe the snorting, water-spouting noises the hippo bull and his lady friend made as they popped up from the depths of the river after minutes of holding their breath. It was hard to see the difference between the big female and the bull. The younger ones came up with just a sniffle, mom with quite a spout but there was not much mistaking the ol' man's tone of indignation as he aggressively thrust his head high out of the water. Each time the old bull would show himself, Papa would nod his head and say mkuru. Lloyd would ask him if he was sure that it was the big bull and Papa would politely say yes, but I could sense his slight impatience. So the next time he surfaced I shot him. The hippo hunt had gone quickly, it was maybe all of thirty minutes. A spot-on brain shot (?) - (just below the ear hole) fired off the shoulder of my trusting ph, as we knelt on the riverbank, pulled the beast quietly down into the river with hardly a ripple. It was late in the afternoon the old boy might make his next appearance in three or four hours, and we needed a boat, some rope, and a lot more man power if we were going to haul the three tons of fresh red meat out of this pool in one piece so we called it a day.

It had been a lovely day yes, but I can't remember a more wonderful night. As we pulled into camp I saw them for the first time my ivory tusks just having been pulled earlier that day, and brought to camp by Mr. Kent.

Henry with his Hippo

Happy? yes! I was overwhelmed with happiness. Yuh !! They were beautiful! My heart was filled with joy at the sight of those long, thick, gorgeous ivory tusks. No odd sadness remained, just pure and simple happiness. I felt like a kid on Christmas day. Anyway, it was a good thing that Lloyd asked Kent take them back to Chipimbi for safe keeping, because I was having thoughts of sleeping with them.

We found the hippo properly afloat early in the morning and the mission began. A total mission you might say! It had taken a mere 30 minutes or so to hunt him; admittedly we were lucky. But it took half a day to drag him through the few rocks under the water's surface, build a boat ramp of sorts, double the steel cable through a pulley and snatch block, wire the 'Cruiser to a tree and Warn-winch the hippo onto shore! All other efforts had fallen short.

Big teeth can be found in a bull hippo's gaping scoop of a mouth. I can tell you this without a doubt. As for the other toothy inhabitants of the river, the high water kept all of the bigguns' well hidden. At noontime I saw a lovely 57" Kudu, on the wrong side of the river, while having lunch in camp. Later, we also looked for bushbuck, but it was just too thick. I did get my first-ever glimpse of a bushpig, though, and we had a nice look at a honey badger as he ran across the road. I just love Africa you never know what you are going to see next!

The last day of my safari was a fine one. We moved to Lloyd's Chipimbi camp where late in the morning, a lovely 16.5" Limpopo bushbuck showed us his metal. This tough little man took a raking shot in the center of his chest, from just 40 yards fired from my .375 H&H Mag.. I was using 300 grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claw soft points. He didn't flinch, he certainly didn't fall, and he didn't bleed. He just soaked up the massive lead mushroom and ran off as if it I had missed the mark. I excitedly ran into the bush expecting to see him piled up within 20 or 30 yards, but I unbelievingly found nothing. Lloyd questioned my shot picture and I assured him that it had looked good. Papa and John scoured the ground for any trace of blood, bone or hair but failed to come up with anything. I searched in a big circle. Lloyd took to the thickets further off to the left, with rifle in hand. Lost for any logical next step, I instinctively started to follow Papa ... and within a few minutes ol' Papa Faunie sorted it out and found him stretched out about 75 yards off to the right, with a small piece of gut protruding and clogging the exit hole. How the perfectly centered shot didn't boil him over is hard to comprehend. This is a load suitable for Kodiak Brown Bear, Moose, Cape Buffalo and 2000 pound Eland! Cheeky and gritty describe the handsome little African bushbuck. Shot placement is everything, and this little buck had proven it once again.

We took our lunch and spent mid-day helping the children with their pan fishing. It was wonderful. I baited hooks with wriggling worms and cast little fishing reels. We watched the monkeys overhead and I enjoyed the smiles of well behaved little boys and girls as they reeled in their prizes. After a short snooze we enjoyed our very last hunt. We looked for eland and found zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and warthog. We found lush green grasses, the fresh Lowveld air and another beautiful sunset. When we arrived back in camp for a fresh fish dinner, we were met by a lovely spotted genet stalking about in front of my quarters. Like I said before, when in Africa, you never know what you are going to find behind the next bush.

Special thanks to Lloyd Yeatman for providing me with the finest hunting experience of my entire life. HM III

Ivory, white gold.
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