Written by Ted Schnack Jr.
The Big Five. The toughest of gangs in the toughest
turf on earth. The primal world of raw Africa. Well deserved reputations for their talent to bite, stomp, crush, squish, gore, trample, run over, slash, rip and claw literally
the living daylights out of you.
Simba and Chui are the designed killers of the Big Five and killing to live is the name of their game. Cloaked in bush camo and built for bloody business, lean and mean explosive bundles of quick-twitch muscle fibres, sinew and tendons. Armed with a wicked array of fangs and claws are perfect deadly packages of stealth, blinding reflexes and sizzling quickness. And don’t be fooled by the ambling dim witted nature of the pea-brained Rhino. At a couple of tons of armoured hulk a flesh and blood battering ram an angry Rhino likens to a two year old throwing a temper tantrum at the wheel of a cement truck. Elephants are the brains in the bunch and at seven tons if the jumbo brawn behind that brain get pissed off there will be hell to pay. Super-sized and smart with surprising nimbleness and a stomp to end all stomps the worlds largest land animal is surely not one to be trifled with.
Tough guys, all of them.
But the verdict is in. Buffs are considered by most to be the toughest of the tough. Baddest of the bad. Brutes built for battle. A beaten and battered hide covers close to a ton of gristle and brawn. Helmeted with bosses and horns forged of pig iron and Arizona asphalt sweeping low and
turning up into brutal gutting hooks that look to have been hand hammered in the furnaces of hell by the Grim Reaper himself. Ears hang in tattered scars, mouths in a foul grimace of disgust framing burning oil black eyes with the stare of an axe murderer. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. When those smouldering black embers glare at man that soul becomes a dark and hateful place.
Black Death and Bad attitude.
Buff had been a lifelong daydream that seemed to be reserved for those with deeper pockets than mine. To a boyhood dreamer with a wanderlust crippled by the distance I could pedal my Stingray bicycle and yearly hunting trips with Dad in the family station wagon. The gritty tales of danger, death and razor edged African adventure put a deep hook in me. Some dreamed of climbing Everest, being a Rock Star or playing in the Big Leagues. I wanted to hunt Africa. Hunt Buff.
The “I think I can pull this off” finally came together in Kosovo where I was in charge of a group of cops from all over the world. Yobe,one of my best men and team leaders gifted with a million dollar smile and a Police Commander from Zambia told me he thought he could make arrangements through the Department of Minstry where he had the right connections. After a bit of communication it looked like it was a go. It was going to be nothing fancy for sure. Sounded like it was going to be a gang of guys and a Land Cruiser packed with gear. Right up my alley.
After arriving a string of sleepless nights, a few hot and sweaty days in the burnt diesel clatter and confusion of the capitol Lusaka I was feeling a bit murky. One afternoon my “I think I need to sit down”, quickly turned into a “I think I’m gonna puke” to feeling like I was gonna pass out which I did shortly after sitting on the curb. I hadn’t passed out since I was a kid and was understandably concerned. After a day of indecision of the wisdom of heading deep into the wild bush of Africa where my imagination had me spastic and delirious sprawled across a dirt floor, foaming at the mouth and lathered in sweat. Visions of a loin clothed rattle shaking Doc in a jerky dance spitting fresh hyena blood on me to scare out the evil. That little voice that told me a year in Baghdad living in the Red Zone, job choices where half my pay is in hazard- danger bonuses and long solo wilderness trips were bad ideas was chattering away.
Feeling a bit better and weighing the risk of becoming vulture chow than think the rest of my life I was hours away from hunting Buff and had played it safe. We were off. I was all in.
One of the local merchants was going to outfit the trip. My first impression was spot on. A grinning snake oil salesman with an overly friendly handshake and a “don’t worry” answer to every question. The Land Cruiser and gear looked beat and tired. The promise of a 375 HH ended up being a 300 Win-
Mag. An Elk Gun. Although skeptical, I was assured by all many a Buff had hit the dirt courtesy of the 300 Win-Mag. The gun looked to be solid; it was the loose spin on the cheap vintage 3x9 scope that worried me. Trying to pick up a Buff full of hell fire in a thundering charge in a scope that had spun from three to nine power would liken to looking through the front door peep hole and shoot a pick-axe wielding madman trying to smash his way in.
The well worn box of bullets looked as if they had been kicking around the back of a Land Cruiser for a decade or so. I opened the box and a few lead tips of the tarnished mismatched 180 grain copper jacketed rounds were smashed and misshapen. I thought of some of the lengthy articles I had read about the merits of monster rounds the size of ballpark franks and discussion of solids, foot pounds of energy and velocities of bone breaking slugs. I wondered if Teddy R’s “walk softly and carry a big stick”, was inspired by one of his African hunts for dangerous game. It made perfect sense to me. I was going to be walking softly for sure, the big stick, well, I had thought about bringing my bow and whatever punch these old bullets packed had to be more than a flying razor blade.
Buffs have a legendary ability to take a beating and keep coming in a land where legend is not spoken of lightly. Legend of “dead on their feet” with pulverized hearts and flattened lungs, absorbing barrages of the heaviest of bullets. That last bitter defiant, “I’m dying and I’m taking you with me”
kamikaze blitz. But like all good ring savvy sluggers, it’s not quite that simple. Buffs are clever and have a deadly bag of tricks. Known to circle unpredictably when wounded setting their trap in the thickest thorns and foulest of bush, likely down-wind where your scared stink will betray your approach. Lying in wait with one thing on their mind. To kill you.
Buff don’t bluff charge. When they go red rage and come for you they are all in and somebodys not walking away. Buff move in bursts of deep thick power which deceptively might look muscle-bound and slow. Careful it is an illusion. Sure, Buff lack the nimble footwork and flashing speed of the Big Cats. But don’t be fooled, they can sprint to 35 mph. Considering Carl Lewis topped out at about 23 mph, and I’m no Carl Lewis, leads to the chilly reality that in a blink a snot slinging rage of hooves and horns could turn yours truly into a stew of splintered bone, blood, gore and dirt. Brains, brawn and heart. The toughest, smartest, meanest and most deadly African muscle around is being flexed by big Buffs.
Our gang consisted of Uncle Briss, Ennis and Toby, my local connections and a few barefooted hired hands. Briss was the long-time hunter, sort of the leader of the bunch and a veteran of dozens and dozens of Buffs. His repeated advice was to “Break them down”, on the first shot. Adding, if not you
have to deal with a 20 litre adrenaline surge. I joked back “me or him?”
As we left the sweaty clatter of town behind the African bush laid before us. Adventure awaited. The air became rich, smooth, warm, clean and smelled of life. As we travelled deeper into the bush the centuries quickly fell away. Scraggly chickens pecked about a few scattered villages of mud, straw
and dried sticks. Bright eyed barefoot kids played with handmade toys, quick with a smile and wave. Women at work were wrapped in bright joyful colours and in the fields stick straight boys tended goats with rods and well thrown stones. Humans became rare wanderers as wildness ruled the land.
As we made our long journey the sun was finishing its work and settling across the low hills. There was a raw energy in that setting sun I had never felt before. That beating solar heart cast a golden web of life across the land. The glint of rivers through the trees, blood red dirt and the thick bush
were woven together by Gods hand in a timeless breath taking vibration of life.
Lean and clear eyed Fabien would be our bush guide. A
notorious poacher from the old days who had turned from the
dark to the light was now the area’s goverment assigned hunter. A timeless soul with a velvet smooth voice of melted chocolatefrom a lifetime of whispering in the company of dangerousgame. Sliding his fingers down the oiled wood of his Bruno375 HH simply saying “This is a strong gun.” I sensed I was ingood hands. Fabien said we would look for groups of bulls or loners.
Dugga boys. Pugnacious gangs of rouge outcasts or lone drifters. There is no such thing as the Golden years for old bulls. Spending the best years of their lives running hoss on the herds taking on all comers. They lose a step, get a little creak in the joints, maybe wounded defending the herd and what’s the thanks they get? Banished to a lonely loveless life wandering the bush alone or hooking up with a few other betrayed cranky complainers. Before leaving for Africa I ran across an internet clip of an old bull being taken by a pride of lions. It took them two hours to break him down and kill
him. Think about that. Any one of those lions could turn you or I into a bag of Cheetos in seconds and it took six of them two hours. On the 1-10 toughness scale that’s a solid 16.
Wandering the bush for days it happened quickly.
There….Ngati…this way! Fabians smooth voice took a quick keen edge as he made a sharp tug at my
sleeve. In a short stepped trot we ran ahead. In a low hiss “There.” About 50 yards away in shadowy hollow I could see the grey shoulder, hulking back and horn sweep of a bull in a tangle of thorns and branches. “Break his back….sit him down”. As hunters there are moments seared deep into our minds. Our souls as hunters. Your scope filled with a full curl ram, full draw on a rut-crazed herd bull deep in the wilderness, the low woof of a grizzly at twilight with a pack full of moose meat, your first pheasant. Moments that change us. Moments as hunters we live for. The moment I had waited for my whole life was here. My gun was up and down two or three times, clearly seeing the Buff with my naked eye. But the cheap scope turned the Buff standing in the tattered shadows into a grey blur. With an added urgency Fabien kept whispering “Shoot! Shoot now!….Break his back…Sit him down…he won’t wait”. I saw a small yellow leaf hanging where I thought his spine was aimed at the leaf and fired. There was a crash of running animals and the bush was dead quiet.
Fabien ran ahead in sweeping circle; I followed in a stiff run. There he was, head slung low in a tangle of bush. All thoughts of diagrams and wisdom of precise bullet placements were gone, my mind was on instinct. The cross hairs locked on the sweet spot behind the front shoulder I had been shooting at
my whole life. K-Boom! The bull simply turned and was gone. Fabien ran ahead. I was committed to his lead. Fabien slowed cautiously, whispering “He will try and trick us look for us following his blood, we’ll circle ahead, we’ll fool him, come.” We looped ahead another fifty yards, there he was, broadside in an angry stare. Fabien hissed “He is giving you a proper shot. Sit him down.” I dropped to kneeling; let the breath sigh out of my lungs. The frantic last few minutes seemed to pause
The cross hairs settled in. The surprise recoil of a good shot and he simply turned, dropped over a small ridge and was gone. I have taken my share of big game and when hit they show some sign of the bullet impact. No flinch, no stagger, no shudder, no knee buckle. Nothing. Was it the gun? Was it the Buffs tough makeup? Had I missed? I was a cop for ten years and cops have nightmares that at the moment of life threatening truth their bullets just fall out the end of their guns. I was getting that sick feeling of wonder. Fabien was off again in a fast trot. The ground had been a mudflat during the rainy season was now filled with foot deep elephant’s tracks the size of waste paper baskets now sun scorched and rock hard. It all was happening quick and was turning into a running adrenaline dump of thorns, Buff and slinging brass.
After a stumbling run across this ankle breaking flat we had to cross the ditch. Over the top of the ridge somewhere was an almost surely wounded bull. It was an unavoidable choke point, the fatal funnel I knew of as a cop. If he doubled back and decided to come over the top in an angry avalanche he would be on us in a flash.
Cautiously cresting out of the ditch there he was about 40 paces away down on his side with his crap crusted rump facing our way. He had taken a beating that was clear. Like a downed boxer who had taken a flurry of haymakers he was trying to get his feet back under him to get back in the fight. I
did some quick math; three shots would leave me one in the pipe and one in the clip. Still didn’t seem he had seen us or was going to make the count. One more shot would either be
lights out for him or a wake-up call from hell. He was down and out.
For me there are moments of fascination when I first approach and touch a downed animal. To feel, touch and smell its wildness for the first time. He was a beast. I was in awe of his sheer size. But it was some of the small details that caught my eye. Clues of its life, dried mud from the last wallow, chunks out of it bosses, sand, sap and bark smashed into the crevasses of its horns. Deep wrinkles of wisdom, ripped ears, scars and scabs testament to the toughest of animals in the
toughest of worlds.
The Win-Mag had done its job. Double-tap in the sweet spot you could place your hand over. The first “yellow leaf” shot whereabouts unknown. 500 grains of this or that would not have done a number on his lungs and heart any better than that 300 had. Just took a few minutes for the Buff to realize
he was dead on his feet. Those few minutes can turn into a dance with death and makes Buff hunting the legend it is.
I am not the first Africa has called to with the dream of adventure. That call has made its siren song to those with incurable wanderlust for hundreds of years. Africa moves hearts and passions with the lightness of life to its sometimes Heart of Darkness. As the crowded bus rattled down the dusty ruts on the long trip back to Lusaka and my flight home, I knew the call of Africa would echo and call again. Until then my daydreams will be filled with warm sun and warmer smiles, the haunting moan of a lion on a moonlit night and the chance to once again meet Black Death deep in the tangled