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

  Page 2

the village crops. They were always happy to share their latest story of the heavily ivory laden bull, which they had watched as it carefully stepped over their fence. Then the sudden thumping came. This time it was followed by the exhortation "Simba!" "Simba mkuru!" When you least expect it, expect it! Here it was, nearly mid-day, and there were lions just off the edge of the frequently traveled road. They quickly melted into the surrounding bush, giving Lloyd and me only the briefest of glimpses. "Why were they hanging around?" we asked ourselves. The villager's cattle on the other side of the fence might have had something to do with it.

Not wanting to shoot bait in our elephant area, we planned to make a rather long drive to Malapati, where we would also have a quick lunch. It was now hot, and the grass very high; and where, I ask, is the bait, when you are in a hurry. Well, the baiting didn't go as planned, and with time being of the essence, a village punda was sorted out as a last minute bait. But that's another story! We only had time for a quick drag and to wire the bait to the base of a tree before nightfall. Elephants and lions in the same day--oh, how I love Africa!

Our confidence was high as we slowly approached the bait early the next morning. I almost couldn't believe my eyes when we noticed that it had not been touched. Closer inspection showed fresh lion tracks we had pushed them off just as they had began to lick the hair off with their sandpapery tongues. They were very close by. I had the pleasure of spending most of the day with the real Coke-a-Cola Kid, a.k.a. Mr. Kent, a.k.a. Bwana Ingwe, and soon to be Houdini, among other names that Lloyd's younger brother, a fine ph himself, had come to be known by. Kent and I 'stood guard' for the trackers while they prepared a tree blind. Lloyd made the drive back to camp and picked up some additional gear in the event we needed to spend the entire night in the blind. It was a fine clear day and Kent showed me a sample of his fondness for Coke. I promise you that lad can put them away. He can easily flatten an entire case in two days. He must have one of those impermeable polypropylene stomach liners! All cokes - I mean jokes aside, he was good company. Lloyd and I began our vigil around 3:00 p.m., but not before we took a little drive and spotted two more elephant. One bull had a broken tusk, and was in the 30-lb. class; and the other was a cow, spotted quite near our blind. I was glad Lloyd instructed the crew to put up a tree blind, but I still wondered how high an elephant could reach with that long, powerful trunk.

It was a pleasant sit. Warm yes, but the blind gave us a nice bit of shade and a fair breeze was cooling to our sweat dampened skin. The hours went by and we speculated as to what time we might have our first visitor. We had just begun to hear a herd of cattle being driven behind us, when we noticed a strange bellowing coming from behind us about 100 yards away. It was a cow, and it was evidently very distressed. We figured it must have winded the lions, but the way it carried on kept us wondering. A chopping sound soon followed and Lloyd radioed Papa to go and investigate. He soon brought the 'Cruiser right to our blind, climbed up the ladder and explained the problem. The simbas had killed a mombe. The chopping we heard was the sound of the owners salvaging what meat they could from the kill. Cattle killers ... no wonder those lion were hanging around the road at mid-day; they had a kill nearby. Lloyd had them collect the remaining innards and drag them to our bait tree. With all of this nice meat around, we were sure to have an appearance as soon as things quieted down a bit. It was well before sunset when a huge, absolutely lovely, lioness arrived. She was very cautious, but in time she and her half-growns had a nice feed. I'll not forget her lying along side of the bait after having a nice drink of blood, gently panting in the afternoon heat with crimson covered canines and chin. Beautiful? Surely! A carnivorous killer? Oh, very much so!

They did as lions do eating and sleeping well into the night. I heard an animal bark quite near to where the lions were lounging; I wondered what a dog was doing way out here in the bush, but Lloyd later explained that it had been a bushbuck. It became stormy and our big male did not come. On our way back to camp for a late dinner and a few hours sleep, we found a small herd of waterbuck bedded down in the deep sand of the Mweneze riverbed. They didn't bother standing up as the Land Cruiser eased by with its engine racing in low gear. It was the same the next morning. It's curious how some animals behave in foul weather. We doubled checked our lions at first light, but upon slowly sneaking into our blind on foot, we found 'Mom', the family provider, still at the bait. Over the next few hours the kids took turns stuffing their bellies a little bit more. It was great watching them, but we had ivory to hunt so we looked up our bush telegraph. The word from the 'vet crew' was as might be expected. "You should have been here yesterday afternoon! He was eating the marulas we gathered right out of our holding bin!" Their arms extended as they mimed the long curved tusks.

It was still breezy and overcast as we slowly patrolled the 'middle road'. Then came that thump on the roof again. This time it indicated a bull elephant as big as a house. The wind rustled bush covered the sound of our 'Cruiser as we drove past him at maybe 75 yards. Lloyd eased us out of sight before parking. My heart thumped with excitement. Without talking, we all began walking in the same direction because the wind was obvious. We were in position atop a termite hill within 10 minutes or so. This was a huge bodied bull with very good ivory, easily 50 lbs. or more, but it was only day five, we had not tracked him up, and Lloyd quietly said he was not the one. Before leaving him, Lloyd routed us directly in front of the old man within 40 yards yuh! his head was as big as a barn door! No charge due to a twist in the wind, just the awesome thrill of seeing this massive creature up close and personal, in his own living room. "Yeah, this elephant hunting just keeps getting better," I thought.

Before the sun gave out, we spotted a trio and a single bull, I passed on a borderline, poor shot at an ol' dugga boy, saw a young kudu bull, another lovely steinbok and the alwaysgraceful impalas loping through the bush. Our waterbuck were still in the riverbed as we bounced across to Malapati. Lions, elephants, buffalo all in one day I hadn't fired a shot and I wasn't complaining!

I don't want this story to be a day-by-day diary type account, but on day six the plot thickened. Our plan was to carefully work for the 'vet' bull we had heard so much about from the fence crew. The first fresh tracks we encountered were of three bulls traveling together. We left them behind. The older, oversized tracks of a bull that had sampled the garden melons of the crew's compound were followed. They started off in nearly the opposite direction that the others bulls had been traveling, but after an hour and several miles, they had looped back around and joined the others. Another careful hour of tracking and we followed onto a deep, well-worn elephant path that lined out toward the park. The sign was not any fresher and I sensed that we were in for a good walk. Enchanting might describe the feeling I had as we worked our way into the heart of their stomping grounds. A lot of elephant were working this area. Some of their dung contained the remains of special treats such as village farmed maize and marulas; other piles had been thoroughly processed by their little partners, the dung beetles. Mopane branches, mouthfuls of well-chewed and discarded grass, and partially munched wild onions littered the path the lingering barn-like smell and the ever present trees that had been strippedof their bark, pushed over and shoved around, indicated where the living bulldozers had passed their most recent dining hours. Our progress was briefly slowed as the trackers worked out the big bull's track amongst the many surrounding the water pans. Another 2 hours of careful following brought forth fresh sign which pumped up my anticipation. We were now a few miles off the main elephant path, but still heading toward and were getting very near the park border.

The top of his back showed in the distance as he shook a tree. Another termite hill viewpoint shared the secret we had been following for nearly 15 miles he was a lovely 30 lb. bull. We quickly agreed that he needed some more time to grow up. We pulled out my little black magic box and decided to walk out to Niavasha Camp verses going all of the way back to the 'middle road' where we had asked our 2nd driver to bring up the 'Cruiser. The pocket-sized Magellan GPS paid for itself in that one day.

The Cokes took a real beating when we finally arrived in camp. Lloyd might not be able to keep up with his brother, Kent, but he sorts out his fair share of 'the Real Thing', too. We were tired with that nice hot, dusty 'we've been following elephant' tired, but our adventures for the day were not over. After refueling our walking legs, we headed back to Malapati, picked up my .300 and a nice fat impala - a leopard favorite - an hour or less before sundown. We confirmed it was down, and proceeded to follow the rest of the herd in hopes of a quick, second bait. I had just noticed an odd-looking termite hill right before Lloyd pointed out the bull elephant's hind end. Boy, did I feel like a rookie. Fortunately, Lloyd was carrying his .458 Lott and I had been raised on open sights. I couldn't believe we had spotted this bull for crying out loud, I had just shot an impala not a hundred or so yards away. We very quietly moved up parallel with the bull. It was thick we moved within the magic 40 yard mark, then 30 20 and 15. At 10 yards, the bull stopped broadside.

Bait Tree Setup
Bait tree for leopards.

We had been frozen for the last few seconds as the walking house trailer came up on us. All was quiet for a moment, before he turned and faced us he hesitated for just a second as he tried to sort out what we were Lloyd and I decided in a blinking whisper that a hasty retreat was in order just as he came to investigate us. Luck was with our chosen route of escape as the bull bored down on our position. With just a step or two, we were able to get out of sight, turn down wind, and poor on the steam until we covered enough distance to feel safe and sound again. Another boring day in the bush, huh? Tomorrow we would get to do it again and hang our first leopard bait.

Day seven, and a bad wind left us at a standstill after a few hours of following a seemingly nice pair of bulls. Elephants could be heard in three different directions in front of us, and in two different directions behind us. We were surrounded. We carefully pushed on against the wind until some angry women started to voice their objections. Papa softly spoke to Lloyd, who then choked back a laugh. Papa then smiled and walked over to me saying, "Mr. Henry, if you want to shoot a nice cow elephant walk that way!". Lloyd sent a tracker up a tree, but his reconnaissance was to no avail. It was time to leave or face the charge of the women folk.

On the way back to the 'Cruiser we spotted a 25 lb. bull moving silently alongside us. The nicely high impala went up in a likely tree next to a muddy pan. A proper drag was made with the mtumbo, and you might say our spotting a leopard on the way back to Malapati just after dark, was a coincidence.

On day eight, a very large chunk of our bait was found to be missing, and a very nice set of paw prints had been deposited in the sandy soil below our bait tree. A little lucky, eh? The blind was built while we went back to camp for lunch and a few important items for the blind. The previous year a wounded leopard had actually jumped and landed in the blind ... yes - in the blind ... where a newly received gift (a .44 Mag S&W) quickly became very much appreciated. Well, needless to say, Lloyd doesn't believe in sitting for large felines without it. After reviewing our hand signals, we relaxed and settled into our leafy hide at about 4:30 p.m. I was reading Tony Sanchez and almost burst out laughing when he described his friend's face turning a 'funny shade of purple' when asked to 'Run faster man!' as they were being chased by elephants. I could well relate after the morning we had just spent, breathlessly saying "No, don't stop! They're still coming!" Yuh! We had been chased by cow elephants! They acted more like a pack of wolves, than any nice, peaceful herd of jumbos you might have ever seen on the television, or in some national park or zoo.

We slowly wiped mopane flies from our eyes and ears, watched ants crawl up and down our legs, all of the usual. I finished the book Lloyd had loaned me well before dark. I found that sitting with such a glutton of an ingwe around, to be very nice indeed. A beautiful red glow was cast against our impala bait as the sun was setting. The bush got very quiet. Then we heard the distinct crunching of canines against bone and we knew that our leopard had arrived. Lloyd carefully peered through the small, dark green, T-shirt covered viewport. He then approvingly gave me a thumbs up. I quietly scooted forward, hoping the tom wouldn't hear any of my movements and that my folding chair would not squeak. I found him standing on the limb, looking in our general direction he was magnificent, but 'now is no time for sight-seeing' I told myself as I deliberately settled the crosshairs just behind his elbow. "Clean through to his off side shoulder," I thought, as I squeezed the trigger of my old, .300 caliber friend. At the shot, the leopard let out a series of growling grunts. He leapt off the tree and crashed onto a termite hill ... distinct rustling came from the brush as he ran in a short semi-circle ... 1st to the right ... then toward us ... and then to our left. There was a moment of silence ... and then a single, elongated, growling exhale. "Well done Henry!" Lloyd shouted, as he slapped me on the back and grabbed my hand shaking it vigorously. The trackers were very pleased to find over seven feet of safely dead, leopard lying right out in the open, just under our bait tree. Big smiles were all around." Mr. One-shot" they sang out as they too shook my hand and patted me on the back. Even the boss appreciates a little pat on the back every now and then. And as I had failed to procure one of these magnificent trophies on three previous safaris, that lovely ol' spotted gentleman was much more than appreciated. A special place, deep in my heart, became nicely warm.

Niavasha was quiet the following morning. We put out bait for a man-eating croc and had a quick look around the Malapati side late that afternoon. A solid 60 pounder, with the help of four of his smaller friends, eluded us until failing light made us give up the pursuit. Let me tell you that after much tossing and turning, my dreams ran rampant that night!

Over the course of the next four days, we repeatedly looked for the 60 pounder and his clan. We baited lions and crocs, followed and passed bulls up to 50lbs., laughed until our sides ached after being chased a bit, and enjoyed some of the most beautiful, game-rich country I've ever seen. Despite the wonderful time I was having, I must make a small confession I was feeling - yes, those primitive emotions were flaring up, just a little bit worried that maybe I had passed up one too many, nice bull elephants. LAte that evening,Lloyd mentioned that things normally improve with a bit of chaos. Up until now, we had been doing most everything properly. As we said our goodnights on the thirteenth night, Lloyd also said "Henry - ... we have to go and shoot an elephant tomorrow." I replied, "That sounds a like a good plan." You might say it was a coincidence.

The thump on the roof at first light had an altogether unusual meaning earlier that morning. It was followed by loud voices and a call for help; there had been an accident. Some villagers had been driving all night on their way home, and not a hundred yards from our turn off, the driver had fallen asleep at the wheel and flipped the car over, smashing the roof right down to the steering wheel. I was afraid to look, but two men and a young girl were standing along side of the wreckage, appearing quite well considering the wild ride they had just walked away from. The child was favoring her arm a bit, and the men requested a ride to their village to make arrangements for having ... Page 3

Leopard and Henry
Henry holding a big leopard.
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