Friday, 15 May 2015

2014 Buffalo with Umdende

Gudfinnur is a good client and good friend of ours and he wrote this exciting story on his Safari with Umdende last year.

Please visit his website to see more hunting stories and photos
The Hunting Lounge
The first pose with the Dagga boy
 2014 Buffalo with Umdende

As with so many hunters, when I started hunting big game my dream was always to be able to hunt in Africa.  My first chance to realize that dream came true back in 2009 when I travelled to Namibia, had a great time and bagged my first African animals.
Then back in 2012 I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa and hunt with the Umdende outfitter team.  We (myself, my wife and friend Arnout) had such a great time there that when my boss (wife) agreed to let me shoot one of the big five (buffalo) I contacted Umdende to see what they could do for me.  Of course they were able to help!  So we initiated the paperwork, made travel arrangements and in due course, we travelled once again to South Africa.

12. October 2014:   The day of the metal bird.
Before the sun had fully risen, on that Sunday, we were in a taxi on our way to the Budapest airport.  Arriving there we made short work of checking in for our flights, fortunately being able to check our luggage in all the way to Johannesburg.  Probably checking in went smoother than normally, when travelling for hunting, as I had decided not to travel with my own gun(s) but to rent gun(s) from Umdende.  Our first leg of travel took us to Munich where, due to a screw up by our travel agent (myself), we had to spend 12 hours before we could board our flight to Johannesburg.  Ultimately, we did board our South African Airlines “metal bird” for the almost 10 hour flight to our destination in Africa.

13. October 2014:  The day of shooting the “cannon”.
On arrival to Johannesburg we quickly collected our luggage and exited through customs control.  Clayton from Umdende was there to meet us.  We loaded our luggage in his bakki (his kitted out Toyota Hilux hunting vehicle)  and started the approximately 5 hour drive to the area where we would be hunting.

Arriving at the lodge “ESIKHOTHENI”, just south of the border of Swaziland by the Pongola lake, we quickly unloaded our luggage, had a quick cup of coffee and then headed off to their shooting range to try out the “equipment” I would be using on the hunt.

For the buffalo hunt Clayton had a FN .458 Winchester Magnum gun for me and, if things went well, a Blazer R93 .300 Winchester Magnum to hunt plains game after the buffalo.  Just for fun I snapped a photo of some of the ammunition that we had at hand for test shooting the rifles:

Top to bottom: .308, 300WM, 458 Soft point, 458 Solid, lighter (for size indication)

The primary objective of the trip was to shoot buffalo, so the first gun to be tried out was the .458 Winchester Magnum:

Clayton showing me the working of the FN .458 Winchester Magnum
(I forgot to suck in my stomach)

At first I tried shooting it off the sticks but was shooting consistenly low so we tried off the
bench and wound up bring the crosshairs down a bit to accommodate my shooting

We tried shooting the .458 with both soft point and solids and when we were happy with the results of that, I fired off a couple of rounds using the Blazer .300 WM.

The cartridges came in some pretty nice boxes

Trying out the Blazer for the "non-Buffalo" plains game


Once we were happy with the performance of both guns (and me), we packed up the hardware and returned to the lodge where we met Marius, a young guy who is working for a video filming company primarily focused on safaris.  He was with us for the rest of our trip and was an unobtrusive cameraman and also an energetic and fun addition to our team.  We had an excellent dinner and retired for the night in anticipation of the hunting to take place in the following days.
14. October 2014:  The day of the Black Rhino.
On the morning of the first day of hunting we left the lodge at around 7am.  Clayton drove to an area where some “Dagga boys” had been recently spotted.  We had only driven for about half an hour when we spotted this group in the thick bush.  After glassing them for a while and determining that these were indeed bulls, we moved the car away from the group and proceeded to stalk through the thick bush towards the place where we had seen the bulls.  Going very slowly we managed to get within 70 meters of the group but, unfortunately, something spooked them and they took off on a run through the bush.  Fortunately for us, however, it had rained the previous day resulting in a soft ground and relatively easy following of their tracks.  We followed their tracks for 2-3 hours and finally caught up with the group.  It even got to the point where I placed the gun on the shooting sticks and once Clayton had identified the best bull out of the group of five even put the crosshairs on that bull.   Unfortunately, however, the bull never presented a clear shot opportunity and eventually the wind shifted, they smelled us and, once again, went full speed into the deep bush.  At that time we had reached lunch time so we returned to the lodge for some refreshments.
Glassing the bulls after our first stalk towards them

Second approach to the bulls on our hands and knees.
Crosshairs were placed on a bull but no shoot opportunity

After a hearty breakfast / lunch we then headed out again to where we had last seen the bulls and started following their tracks.  Once again this was made easier due to the rain of the previous day and the track was relatively easy to follow, although through some heavy (and thorny) bush.  It is amazing how these huge animals can move through the bush with thorns everywhere while for us humans the same track can be very difficult to navigate.

The moist ground made tracking somewhat easier
While following the tracks Clayton suddenly came to a complete stop and pointed to the bush.  There we saw our first glimpse of one of the 5 black rhinos that are in the area we were hunting.

Who can spot the Black Rhino in this picture

As the Black Rhino can be unpredictable and dangerous we withdrew a little bit away, thereby losing the buffalo track but we made some assumptions and continued moving in the general direction that the bulls had been moving in.  Not long after that we came on a mud road and Clayton and the tracker told us to wait back a little bit while they walked up the road to try to find signs of the buffalo crossing this road.  They had not gone very far when they suddenly stopped and started backing up very slowly.  Then at about 15-20 meters in front of them the Black Rhino suddenly crossed the road….

Fortunately they had already verified that the buffalos had indeed crossed the road so we continued following what we thought was a parallel track.  After a while, not seeing any more sign of the Rhino, we then ventured back into the bush to try to find the buffalo tracks again and succeeded in finding the tracks again.  We had not followed the tracks for long when Clayton and Robert, the tracker, suddenly came to a complete stand still and started backing up very slowly giving us signs to do the same.  And then, out of the bush, the Black Rhino appeared again about 10 meters away from us staring straight at us.  This was such a tense and potentially dangerous moment that both Clayton and I had our riffles positioned so that if the need would arise we could try firing into the ground in front of the Rhino in case he would decide to charge us.  Fortunately, however, he decided that we did not present a threat to him and he moved on his way.  This time luckily he moved in a different direction than the bulls were moving so we were able to take up the chase after the bulls again.

After a while we actually spotted the bulls some distance away and we went down on our hands and knees once again and made a slow approach to the group.  Once again we managed to get fairly close to the bulls and the rifle was again put on the sticks and I acquired the same bull on my cross hairs.

Crosshairs on the bull for the second time

This was in very heavy bush and while I was able to centre the crosshairs on the bull both Clayton and I (well Clayton called it but I totally agreed) did not see this as a valid shot opportunity so we waited for the bull to present a better opportunity.  Alas that was not to be and eventually the bulls moved into even thicker bush away from us.  We once again took up the track and followed the bulls until it became too late in the day to continue following them and a decision was made to call it a day and resume the tracking the next day.

Time for Sundowners

We made our way back to the lodge, drank our Sundowners, had another excellent meal and then retired for the night (well after consuming a significant amount of beers and a lot of chatting.
15. October 2014:  The day of the Buffalo (and the amorous ostrich).
On the morning of the 15th Garth, Claytons partner in Umdende, joined us as well.  This made us a group of 6 people:  Myself, Clayton, Garth, Marius, Jane (my wife) and Robert our tracker.  After breakfast we made our way to where we had left the group of buffalos the day before.  We quickly found the tracks and started following them.  After a little over an hour we came to a waterhole surrounded by relatively open areas of green grass.  In the distance we saw the group of Dagga Boys.  As the area was so open we had to “hang back” to prevent the buffalo from seeing us and we stayed low and hidden until the buffalo had moved back into the thick bush.  When we felt comfortable that the buffalo would not be able to see us we started moving towards where we had seen them to pick up the track again.  As we started moving we noticed an ostrich in the distance moving towards us at speed.  As the female ostrich drew nearer and nearer, showing no signs of slowing down, I have to admit that I was starting to have some concerns.  I don’t know much about ostriches but I have heard that they can deliver a mighty kick with their feet and cause serious damage.  When the ostrich was only about 10 meters from us, and still approaching, I actually un-slung the gun off my shoulder to have it ready in case we would have to defend ourselves.  That fear, however, proved to be unfounded as once the ostrich was close enough to us it started to preen and prance and I was told that this is the mating ritual of female ostriches.  It appeared that this ostrich saw us as potential mating partners.  Later we were told that an elderly gentleman had raised a group of ostriches from chicks and eventually had to give them up.  They were relocated to the game farm where we were hunting and, unfortunately, only this single female survived out of the group and was now looking for companionship.

A long story short, the ostrich decided to join us for the hunt and followed us wherever we went as if she were are dog that we were taking out for a walk.

Tracking Buffalo with "Ossie" the Ostrich as part of our group.
She stayed with us for well over an hour that day.

After a while we lost the buffalo track and a decision was made to get Clayton’s bakki and drive to a place where it seemed likely that the buffalo might have crossed a road, based on the direction they were heading, and we might be able to pick up the tracks again.  When we arrived to the trail where we thought we might pick up the tracks again, we were lucky and indeed found fresh buffalo tracks.  Then Robert pointed to a distant hill and said “what is that black spot on the hill”?  We all raised up our binoculars and it didn’t take us long to determine that this was indeed buffalo.  So instead of following tracks we proceed to make our way on foot towards that hill.  As we started nearing the spot where we had seen the buffalo we started going slowly crouching and moving on our hands and knees at times

Clayton is in position where he can see the buffalo.
I'm moving towards him and Garth is ready to follow us.

We finally got into position where we could see the heads of the buffalo but they are all laying down with no possibility of a shot.  We settled in to wait for them to get up and silently moved with the gun ready on the sticks in case an opportunity presents itself.  After about an hour we heard a helicopter moving towards the area where we were and this caused the buffalo to get up and start moving slowly towards our left.  I kept my gun on them ready to take the safety off and pull the trigger if / when an opportunity presented itself.  As the bulls slowly moved forward, Clayton whispered to me that the bull we were after is in the front of the group and if he shows himself clearly I should be ready to take the shot.  After a few intense minutes the bull actually did that at a distance of about 80 meters, safety comes off make sure the crosshairs are correctly positioned I softly squeeze the trigger.  KABOOM and the .458 soft point bullet left the barrel of my rifle.  All hell broke loose and the buffalo started running in all directions although, very fortunately, not towards us.  It was clear that the bull I was aiming for was hit and after running for about 100 meters he fell down.

Once we made sure that the rest of the buffalo group had left the area we slowly started making our way towards the dark spot that was the buffalo I had just shot.  When we were about 20 meters from the bull, Clayton put up the sticks and told me to give it another safety shot.  I did that and as the bull did not move we felt more comfortable that it was down for good.  We still approached slowly and carefully ready to bring our guns into action should the need arise.  Fortunately the need did not arise and a beautiful old bull was down and out.

It was a team effort but the end result was a 37.5" old bull down for the count. Pictured left to right:
Robert, Marius, Clayton, Garth, Myself, and Jane. One old beautiful Dagga boy in front
 When we got to the skinning shed and opened up the animal we found that I had gotten very lucky and had gotten a perfect heart shot off.
.458 cartridge, soft point bullet passing through the heart and stopping in the skin before exiting,
the safety solid bullet also stopping in the skin before exiting and
 finally a .300 wm bullet retrieved from a plains game animal

A lucky heart shot
That night it was a very tired and happy group of people at the lodge and, in celebration of the successful hunt, copious amounts of alcohol were consumed (well it must have been as my recollections of that evening are somewhat “hazy”).

16. October 2014:  The day of thunder and lightning.
After the celebrations the night before my body reminded me why I normally don’t drink strong alcohol and my body politely informed me that it would not be a good idea for me to go out hunting that day.  In the end this turned out to be OK as during the day it became quite windy with the start of the South African Spring and a thunderstorm came in with some pretty spectacular fireworks:

We saw some spectacular lighting
Aw, fireworks for my birthday



 As that day was my birthday as well, the team at the lodge presented me with a birthday cake decorated with sparkling candles that Clayton and Debbie’s children had sent along in anticipation of this event:

Happy Birthday to me....

17. October 2014:  The day of the long necked sentinels.
As I had achieved my primary objective of getting a buffalo bull, I consulted with Clayton and Garth and decided that I now wanted to go after Red Duiker, Zebra and Nyala in that order.  Clayton had to leave us for a couple of days to participate in cooking for 400 people in his community’s annual Oktoberfest celebrations, but he left us in the very capable hands of Garth.  That morning, after a quick breakfast, we moved out to stalk for Red Duiker.  After the rains the preceding day the ground was very wet and muddy making stalking somewhat difficult.  Anyway we stalked riverbeds and thick bush that morning, areas where the Red Duiker likes to “hang out” without seeing any sign of these small elusive animals.  At around 11 that morning we returned to the lodge for lunch.   Given the lack of any sign of Red Duikers in this area I told Garth that I wanted to revise our plans and to try to go after Zebra instead.  As with everything else Garth was more than willing to accommodate me and after lunch we left the lodge to try to find some Zebra.  We drove around the area for a while scanning for Zebra and after a while we spotted a group of Zebra grazing amongst some Giraffes.  After glassing the herd Garth told me that the stallion in this heard did not look very nice so we moved on trying to spot another herd.  It was not long until we did spot another herd, once again, grazing close to some Giraffes.  Glassing the herd confirmed that there was a nice looking stallion in the group and we left the bakki to try to stalk closer.

During the drive our friend, Ossie the ostrich had spotted us and followed the bakki so when we moved to stalk closer to the Zebra herd, she followed along.

The "long necked sentinels". Strangely whenever we spotted Zebra they seemed to be grazing
close to Giraffes using them to warn them of approaching danger.

After stalking for quite a while, trying to avoid the gaze of the Giraffes while at the same time trying to get closer to the Zebras we finally managed, with Ossie trailing along, to get close enough to the herd to have a chance at a shot.  While we were lying low in the grass looking at the Zebras, Ossie decided to get playful and took the hat off our tracker and in general started pecking at anything she could reach.  It was a little bit difficult to maintain composure while having this playful big bird in our midst.  Garth glassed the stallion and told me that he was a good specimen so I put the crosshairs on him and squeezed the trigger.  The stallion was clearly hit but took off on a run with the rest of the herd.  We then started following the trail of blood the Zebra left behind.  We followed this trail until it got too dark to continue at which time we reluctantly returned to the lodge planning to pick up the trail once again early the following morning.

18. October 2014:  The day of the Zebra stalk.
In the morning we picked up the trail of the Zebras once again and started following them.  After quite a while, spotting blood here and there, we finally found the herd again grazing amongst some Giraffes.  Glassing the herd confirmed that the stallion was clearly wounded but still mobile.  After some maneuvering we finally managed to get close enough to give him the “grace shot” and he went down.

African animals are extremely hardy. We had to track this stallion for many hours after the
initial shot to be able to finally bring him down.

After bringing the Zebra in, it was lunch time and we returned to the lodge.  Garth, not being one to give up, had found an area about 60 kilometers away where there were a number of Red Duikers so after lunch we drove to that area.  We had just started our stalk when we saw our first Red Duiker, thanks to Garth calling it in with his predator call, but he unfortunately ran away into the bush before we had a chance to judge him.  During our stalk that afternoon we saw more Red Duikers (thanks again to Garth’s skills with the predator call) and actually put the crosshairs on one - hidden within thick bush - for about 5 minutes before we saw it clearly enough to see that it was a female and therefore not to be shot.  Given the number of Red Duikers we had seen that afternoon a decision was made to return to this area the following morning to resume our quest for Red Duiker.

19. October 2014:  The day of the Nyala.
After breakfast that morning we once again drove the 60 kilometers to the area where we had stalked the Red Duiker the day before.  During our stalks that morning we spotted some but these really elusive and small animals always seemed to see us way before we could get into position so by lunch time we had not had any chance for a shot.  As this was my last day of hunting and figuring that getting a Red Duiker was going to take quite a bit of work, I asked Garth if we could readjust our plans and try for a Nyala bull in the afternoon instead.  The game farm where we had gotten the buffalo and the Zebra had quite a number of Nyala but did not want them hunted.  Garth, always resourceful, found another area close by where there were Nyala bulls which we could hunt.  After a very nice lunch in a restaurant close to where we had stalked the Red Duikers, we then drove about 60 kilometers to that area.

On arrival to the area to be hunted we were met by a local tracker and we started out on our hunt.  We had only driven for about 10-15 minutes when we spotted a very nice bull.  Garth put the car in reverse and moved away from the bull’s line of sight and we very quietly got out of the bakki and started stalking towards where the bull had been spotted.  Before long we saw the bull again.  Garth put up the shooting sticks and told me to take a shot when I had a chance.  Ever so slowly I put the gun on the sticks, acquired the bull in the cross hairs and squeezed the trigger.  We could clearly hear that the bullet hit the bull but he took off on a run into the thick bush.

We moved to the spot where the animal had been standing and started following his tracks.  During our tracking we only found two very small spots of blood.  After tracking the bull for about 3 hours, without finding more blood, it was getting late in the afternoon and the sun was about to set.  Garth asked me what I wanted to do, continue tracking this bull or try for another bull?  Given that we had found blood I knew that the bull was hit but there were so many Nyala tracks in the bush that it was very difficult to determine which track belonged to the bull I had shot at with no blood helping us with our tracking.  So I told Garth that while I was sure I had hit the bull I had now started thinking that maybe my shot was bad and the animal was not mortally wounded and therefore we maybe should give up the chase and return to the lodge.  Garth is not one to give up so easily so he said that rather than returning to the lodge we should use what daylight was left and try to scan the bushes where we believed it to be likely that the bull had gone into.  We split up in the bush with me going with the tracker while Garth and Marius  moved to a different part of the bush.  As I stalked with the tracker we heard a distant shot.  We stopped and before long we heard Garth signaling us and we moved towards the sound.
When we reached Garth, there the bull lay on the ground.  Garth had spotted him lying in the bush trying, unsuccessfully, to get up and he gave him the “grace shot”.  Looking at the animal we found that my shot was not bad but about 5 centimeters too far back and passing through the animal.  This was a fatal shot but allowing the bull to move quite a distance before succumbing to it.  Once again this showed me how extremely hardy African animals are.

A beautiful 30" Nyala bull. You can see the exit of Garth's grace shot on his shoulder.

20. October 2014:  The day of return.
Well the last day of our trip dawned.  We had our breakfast, said our goodbyes to the staff at the lodge, Garth and Marius and we started our drive back to Johannesburg with Clayton who had joined us again the evening before.  Arriving well in time for our flight we said our fond farewells to Clayton, checked in for our flight and when the time came boarded the flight bound for Munich, the first leg of our homebound trip.  Getting to Munich we then found out that Lufthansa pilots were on strike and our flight back home to Budapest had been cancelled.  This actually turned out to be a boon as our original travel arrangements had us scheduled for a 14 hour layover in Munich (see bad travel agent, Me) but the cancellation resulted in us being rebooked and actually getting back home 3 hours earlier than had originally been scheduled.

I know that I will cherish the memories of this trip for a long time to come.  A very big part of the success of this trip is the Umdende team.  They are true to every single promise they make, their company is excellent and no effort is spared to make your hunt and your stay pleasant and successful.  There is no question that when I return next time to resume my quest for the Red Duiker the Umdende team will be an integral part of that endeavor.
Gudfinnur Kristjansson