Pursuing the poor man’s buffalo

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We meet our client Tom Wood at Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, in South Africa.

He is a big man, but we are humbled by his soft voice. The flight from the USA went well and he is glad to step onto African soil. His dream of hunting in Africa becomes a reality at last.

I will be responsible for scripting his story, a story that must be so compelling that his offspring will share it in awe.

Tom has bought a Cape buffalo bowhunting package including plainsgame with the rifle. Sable, impala, eed hartebeest, warthog and blue wildebeest are on his list.

He keeps shifting the focus from the Cape buffalo with the bow to Africa’s poor man’s buffalo, the blue wildebeest.

Tom has watched numerous films and read hunting stories about the species – he wants to see what all the hype is about.

The hunt of each species on Tom’s list is worth mention, but I will honour his plainsgame highlight, the blue wildebeest.

He is happy with his Cape buffalo, hunted with bow and arrow; his sable is stunning, and he hunted a warthog with one arrow down. This is the fifth day of his safari and Tom is anxious to hunt his poor man’s buffalo.

Blue wildebeest are probably the toughest plainsgame antelope. The shape of their horns are similar to the Cape buffalo’s, though it is much more affordable to hunt – this is where the nickname originates.

Accurate shot placement and adequate penetration is vital. The heart is situated at the bottom of the chest – much closer to the intestines than that of other South African antelope.

Tough to stalk and requiring precision shot placement, the wildebeest is no easy quarry

Tough to stalk and requiring precision shot placement, the wildebeest is no easy quarry

Only broadside and quartering-away shots should be considered. Tom is going to use an 8×68 rifle. The terrain where we will hunt is fairly open, with sparse shrub cover and rocky outcrops. He has to prepare for a possible longer-range shot.

As we drive to the concession, I tell Tom about the trophy wildebeest that has eluded me over the many past hunting seasons.

We arrive at the concession at the farmer’s house, a fire raging in the fireplace. The highveld can get very cold during winter.

I ask the farmer where he last saw the elusive wildebeest. He laughs and tells Tom about the many times we have tried to hunt this animal. I am not sure if this adds to Tom’s excitement or whether it is just humiliating for me.

The hunt is on and we prepare for the walk to the wildebeest herd. After two hours, we approach the crest of an outcrop, hoping our targets are on the other side.

The wind is in our faces and the sun behind us – ideal as the animals can’t smell you and the sun will be into their eyes when you clear the ridge of the crest.

Tom’s hands are shaking. This is interesting as Tom is fit and the walk up the outcrop was at a leisurely pace. Can a poor man’s buffalo have this much influence on a hunter’s psychology?

He admits that this is the most adrenaline that ever flowed through his body, the moment he’s dreamed of and prepared for. He is ready, and he is going to pull this off.

Tom takes a deep breath, wipes his hands a final time and we peek over the ridge. The herd is there, unaware of our presence. Some are lying down, others are grazing with their tails swishing.

We have the whole day to pull this one off, there is no rush. I start studying the animals one by one. Tom is breathing hard next to me. He scouts the herd through the riflescope.

BlouwildebeesI eliminate the animals from the right and slowly work my way toward the left of the herd. Their brindled backs shine in the sun.

The second animal from the left of the herd, it’s him. I cannot believe my eyes, he is magnificent.

I whisper the animal’s position into Tom’s ear.

He slides his rifle over the bipod to get a steady stance. He sees our bull and it’s like Tom has frozen.

The animal is standing with its rump towards us and I tell Tom to wait for a broadside shot.

I remind him again of the perfect shot, in the bottom third of the body and behind the front leg. Tom nods.

As the bull turns to the left, I tell Tom to be ready. I follow the shot through my binoculars. It is over 150 yards away.

The shot rings and I see the bull pounding up in the air.

As he gives his first stride to run away, I see the blood spurting from his vitals.

A perfect shot.

I have to calm Tom down. He knows the shot was true.

The bull stops and stares towards us; the blood splurges from its heart, but the tough beast remains on its feet.

Disbelieving my eyes, I tell Tom to make ready. The herd is going to leave and if they take this bull with them we will struggle to follow the blood spoor across the grassy plain.

Tom reloads, steadies the bipod and takes a deep breath. The shot echoes over the plains.

Right on the shoulder. The bull goes down. The theory of the poor man’s buffalo is proved.

We approach the animal with caution, but he is dead. Tom is beyond himself.

It is seldom that you see such a big man in tears of happiness. It is a Rowland Ward trophy.

The most magnificent blue wildebeest I have seen in a very long time. I am glad I did this hunt with Tom, a true gentleman who deserved to hunt this animal.

After a fantastic hunt, with all his animals being Rowland Ward trophies, Tom’s adventure is complete.

I am not sure what excited Tom more, the hunt in general or the fact that he could go back home and confirm the hype about Africa’s poor man’s buffalo.

■ Hunt with Mugaba – visit www.mugabasafaris.com.

Patrick de Beer

Happy ending: Patrick and Tom tracked down that elusive bull in the end

Happy ending: Patrick and Tom tracked down that elusive bull in the end

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