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  • Writer's pictureKev Thomas Writes

Always Let Caution Prevail

Myself with my trackers while hunting in typical open mopane woodland. In my left hand I am carrying an ash bag used for indicating wind direction. A flick of the wrist is all that is needed. My senior tracker also carried an ash bag. The tracker in the middle is carrying my daypack with bottled water, my camera, and a basic first aid kit.


The two trackers suddenly dropped onto their knees and silently pointed towards a small thicket about 25 paces to our front. My client and I could barely make out the form of the wounded buffalo bull lying side-on to us. The buffalo, which my client had wounded earlier in the day was inside the thicket, relatively well screened from our view by low-hanging branches and leaves. Although I had more or less established a mental image of the buffalo’s mass, I could see my trackers were tense and waiting for the anchor shot. My client had also seen the buffalo, so acting on reflex alone we both brought our rifles into our shoulders, and fired simultaneously, the two shots blending as if it had been a single shot. It wasn’t as if we were under gunned because my client was using a .416 Ruger, and shooting North Fork 400gr cup point monolithic bullets in front of 73gr of Lapua Vihtavuori N150 powder. For my part I was carrying my .458 Lott and shooting North Fork 500gr Flat Point solids in front of 75gr of S335 powder (South African).   


Unfortunately, and because we had both guesstimated where the vital organs were, our shot-placement was atrocious and the buffalo never stayed down. Leaping up, it took off like an Olympian scalded cat, its tail sticking straight up in the air. My senior tracker, Barnabas, looked at me and made quiet clicking noises with his tongue by way of admonishment, while he slowly shook his head in the negative. He had every reason to be annoyed. The trackers had done an outstanding job until we’d messed up. Having hunted together for a long time, my failing to anchor the buffalo was not something Barnabas would have expected from me.


More importantly though, I had erred. Badly. Not the client. Throughout my safari career I’d always been a stickler for not shooting at the same time as the client when hunting dangerous game. To do so, is unethical in the extreme, because safari clients pay big money, and travel long distances to kill their trophy animals by themselves. They do not want, nor expect the PH to help them kill their trophy, although periodically a client may request a PH shoot at the same time. Under normal circumstances though, the PH’s job is to initially find the species being hunted, select the trophy, and then conduct the stalk, ensuring the client is placed in a suitable position to put in a killing shot. Only if the animal is wounded, and particularly so if it is a dangerous animal, and it endeavours to escape, does the PH have an absolute right to anchor it. Under those circumstances, it is his decision and he doesn’t need clearance from the client before he puts in an anchor shot. However, it is always wise to discuss these issues before the hunt commences to ensure there is absolutely no misunderstanding.


My error on this particular occasion, and one which could have been costly by way of serious injury, or death, was that I had shot simultaneously with my client. Under the circumstances what I should have done was wait for him to shoot, while keeping my rifle in my shoulder and monitoring the sight picture. If the buffalo had started to run off in acknowledgement of the client’s shot (as it did), I would have been well placed, once it had cleared the thicket, to have given it a bit of lead, and then get in a killing shot. More importantly, if the buffalo had suddenly attacked us by way of acknowledging the client’s shot, rather than flee, I would have been in a position to attempt shutting it down while my client chambered another round, and got in a follow-up shot.


We were extremely fortunate the wounded buffalo took off so fast, and away from us in its effort to escape. Had it attacked us at the same speed it took off, and from such close quarters, I honestly doubt either of us would have been able to chamber a second round before the buffalo was on top of us. Under those circumstances only a double rifle would possibly have saved the day. Twelve years on and knowing full well what a wounded buffalo is capable of, I go cold when I think of my lapse in PH discipline on that particular day.

Typically, the females are more alert than the males, and more inquisitive. In this photo, as the herd flees a single female lingers to try and identify what the cause of disturbance was.


Another equally foolish error is running after wounded dangerous game. Granted, not every wounded buffalo will attack you, and most will keep trying to escape the hunter(s), but caution should always prevail. Statistics indicate more hunters are killed or injured as a result of running after a wounded buffalo, than are those who track it cautiously and slowly. Blindly running through thick cover after a wounded buffalo places the hunter at a distinct disadvantage, and for a number of reasons. Humans are noisy things, and if the buffalo has stopped fleeing, the noise of its pursuer will carry to it easily. And then when it suddenly launches an attack on the hunter from extremely close quarters, the hunter will probably be out of breath, have sweat stinging his eyes, and be caught completely off guard, leading to a botched shot. And there won’t be time for a second shot. Try and avoid at all costs running after a wounded buffalo unless in open habitat where who have it visual the entire time.


It’s also wise to keep a reasonable distance between the trackers and the hunter(s) while following the spoor. When confronted by possible danger it’s human nature for inexperienced hunters to bunch and stick to the trackers heels. Fear, if uncontrolled is infectious and it will rub off onto the trackers and make them nervous. If a close quarter charge develops, in a worst-case scenario and if everyone is hugging each other’s belts the trackers will spin around in their attempts to flee, and collide with the hunters standing immediately behind them. You’ll then end up with an untidy heap of panicked humanity on the ground, and the wounded buffalo will have a field day. In 1981 a PH I knew in the East Caprivi was lightly mauled by a lion for this very reason. He was underneath the kicking and yelling trackers when the wounded lion leapt on them. Keep your trackers at least 8 to 10m in front of you, although the spacing will be dictated by habitat.


Remember too, wind direction is absolutely critical to successful buffalo hunting. In many parts of southern Africa, the wind starts to gently swirl from about 11hr00, and particularly so from August onwards. It only takes one slight wind eddy to carry our dread human scent molecules to the buffalo, and before you know it, they have fled. Buffalo cows are normally more alert than the bulls but it takes very little to cause the herd to panic and flee. A fleeing herd of buffalo is a noisy affair and in the combretum thickets found in parts of Zimbabwe the noise sounds a bit like a freight train being derailed. Once a buffalo herd has been spooked it becomes even more difficult to approach them. You may manage it a few times, only to then find if you haven’t been able to select and shoot a buffalo, the herd will swing round and thereafter intentionally stay downwind of you. Their ability to do this may sound strange given they aren’t capable of logical thought process, so it is probably just sheer animal cunning.


If this happens, and I’m talking from experience, my advice is look for another herd or go back to camp and put your feet up. Attempting to hunt the same buffalo group more than three times once you have disturbed them, in an area where they are regularly hunted, can become an exercise in futility. Like most wild animals buffalo don’t like being constantly disturbed and the more they are disturbed the more alert they become. Giving it a break for maybe five or so hours usually gives them time to once more settle down. Another minor point to bear in mind which is related to the above, is late afternoon hunting. It is pointless thinking you may never wound an animal because unfortunately, wounding does happen. Wounding a buffalo at last light may not be the ideal situation because it will have twelve hours of darkness to make good its escape, unless it is badly wounded. Also, if the buffalo runs off and dies at night, hyena or lion may well get to the dead animal before you do. Far better, if you are going to experience a wounded buffalo scenario, to have it happen in the early morning, allowing you twelve-hours of daylight to rectify the situation. Remember too, if you wound a buffalo and it runs off wait for at least 30-minutes before commencing your follow-up.  

 From left, tracker Lingani, me, tracker Barnabas, and game scout Sgt Magocha. This is the buffalo I erred on when I shot simultaneously with my client. Ultimately, on the third day of tracking, and after leaving the client at the vehicle with Lingani, tracker Barnabas, Sgt Magocha, and myself caught up with the buffalo and I was able to anchor it.

The longest period my trackers and I ever tracked a wounded buffalo was for three days. Fortunately, by the end of the second day, my client understood his physical condition made him an encumbrance rather than an asset during the initial two-day follow up. We weren’t gaining on the buffalo because we were having to move at the client’s pace. On the third morning, he agreed to remain at the vehicle with my skinner. This allowed my two trackers and myself to speed up our tracking pace and at about 14h00 we closed with the wounded buffalo and I was able to kill it. At times clients need to be gently reminded sport-hunting ethics are governed by the rule of first blood, and that there is no stigma attached to wounding an animal. What is important is your ability to find and end the wounded animal’s suffering. If this means a client who is unable to keep up, has to stay back in camp, or at the vehicle, so be it, because at the end of the day it is still his trophy, irrespective of who kills it once it has been wounded and flees.


Often, campfire conversation comes round to rifle calibres, and if on a buffalo hunt the discussions will invariably be about what calibre is most suitable for buffalo. My argument has always been if you only intend ever shooting one buffalo, stay with the venerable .375 H&H. In this day and age, I doubt there are any hunters, aside from wildlife managers on conservancies, who will hunt a buffalo on their own, with perhaps one or two trackers. Sport hunters who purchase a buffalo hunt are always accompanied by a licensed PH, and it is the PH who will normally be carrying a .400 calibre which might be needed in the thick stuff. If you have a .375 H&H and intend hunting a buffalo, don’t invest in something bigger, use that calibre as it is proven on buffalo. South Africans have the added advantage of the superb Rhino 380gr solid shank bullet. I have had clients use my 380gr solid shank handloads on buffalo, giraffe, and eland and we never had a failure, or any need for me to put in an anchor shot. It was the perfect bullet for buffalo. In closure, throughout the six years I spent as a game ranger in the then Rhodesia, and before becoming a PH, I shot buffalo for labour rations on a fairly regular basis and always opted to use a .375 H&H with a 300gr solid, also, when culling buffalo. It never let me down.

My trackers, Barnabas, at left, and Lingani at right, with BVC Game Scout Sgt Magocha in the middle. We had just had a noisy joust after being determinedly attacked by this buffalo after it was wounded. Luckily my client and I managed to shut it down although it was an extremely close call.

A 380gr Rhino solid shank recovered from a buffalo carcass. The client had hired my .375 H&H and killed his buffalo with a single heart/lung shot. The bullet was recovered under the skin on the opposite side, and in a straight line from its point of entry.  Rhino are a South African manufactured bullet.    

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Dec 16, 2023

A most informative article giving the do’s and don’ts of hunting buffalo in Zimbabwe.

I’ve been fortunate to hunt buffalo in the BVC in Zimbabwe. An amazing and exhilarating


Buffalo hunting is addictive!!! Thanks Kevin

Kev Thomas Writes
Kev Thomas Writes
Dec 17, 2023
Replying to

Hi Danie - Thanks for your positive comment on my post, it gives me incentive to keep writing and sharing my stories with like-minded sport-hunters. And indeed, yes, the BVC in Zimbabwe is a very special wildlife Eden and always produces an enjoyable, and at times, challenging buffalo hunt. Go well, have a great Xmas and New Year, and stay safe. Kevin.

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