Unexpexted Buff

By Tyler Barnby

June 14, 2023

My journey to the Cradle of Humankind (and by that measure, the birthplace of hunting) began in the third grade. I had a wonderfully inspiring teacher, Mrs. Alicia Williams. She and her husband had traveled to far-off lands, and the stories she regaled me with enamored me. It was while I was a pupil of hers that I read my first book on my own accord, W. Douglass Burden's "Look to the Wilderness". This, along with my teacher's stories, lit an insatiable fire within. Soon I was reading anything and everything I could on Africa, and hunting there.

I was determined to make it to there one day.

The opportunity to purchase a plains game hunt presented itself during a conservation organization banquet one winter. I jumped on the opportunity, and purchased the package. Due to the pandemic, I had to wait a couple of years to go on my trip. This worked out well, as I was able to better prepare, and to save up money for additional days, trophy fees, and taxidermy.

I am a sentimental sort, and while this hunt was only for plains game, there is one caliber that comes to mind when I think Africa. The venerable .375 H&H. I yearned for one, but, being a left-handed shooter, I quickly realized what a task it would be to procure one. It began to look like I was going to take a rifle that I already had. As sufficient as any of my rifles would be, I still wanted the medium bore.

In discussing my plans with my dad, he expressed one desire. He did not wish to join me, but instead had one simple request. He asked that, if possible, he would like me to collect a jackal hide for him. For the man that taught me the love, respect, and skills needed for the great outdoors, I could not say no. For this task, neither my .308 nor my .300 Win. Mag. would do. Yes, they were up to the task of harvesting a jackal, but at the expense of hide damage. It was clear...now I not only wanted a .375, I NEEDED one.

Fate has a funny way of working things out. After endlessly searching all of the typical websites, I found a rifle. A left-handed controlled round feed .375. Turns out a gentleman only 15 miles from where I was working (out of town, mind you) had not one, but FIFTEEN in stock. Better yet, he was willing to trade me for a pistol that I had. Talk about everything aligning!

To feed this rifle, I chose the Hornady 300 gr. DGX and DGS loads. I like the fact that they have the exact same external ballistics, which simplifies things greatly. I figured I would use the DGX for the antelopes, and the DGS for the jackal. These loads proved to shoot very well out of my particular rifle. After months of practicing, I was ready for whatever the bush (and God) would provide in Limpopo.

July of '21 I found me on my first safari. After a lifetime of dreaming about it, and then a couple of years planning it, I was finally in the Motherland. Specifically, the Republic of South Africa. The variety of species, as well as the sheer number of animals, is truly mind blowing. If you have never been, you owe it to yourself to experience it firsthand.

In spite of being a “target rich environment”, the hunting was not easy. After a week of hunting, we had all of the targeted species in the salt, save for one - the nyala. Try as we might, we could just not locate an old bull past breeding age. As such, the decision was made to shift locations.

What a decision that was.

After arriving at this other camp, the Professional Hunter (PH) and I hunted the first day. Again, we saw varietous game, but no mature nyala bulls. There were still several days left, so we were not in the least concerned. Even if we did not manage to shoot one, it was not a loss. Any time spent in the field is a success. Upon our return to quarters that night, the outfitter, Jaco Nel, stated that we needed to talk. Others may see it differently, but whenever I hear those words, "we need to talk", a twinge of the uncomfortable begins to creep up.

"Tyler, do you want to hunt a buffalo?"

"Jaco, there is no way I can afford one this trip".

"Be quiet and listen to me. Do you want to hunt a buffalo? I have hunted with you for over a week now. You are up to it. You have the rifle to do it with, and you can shoot it well enough. Do you want to hunt a buffalo?"

Of course I did. While the complements on my hunting and shooting ability were welcomed, there was still the issue of affordability. As it turns out, it was a non-issue. Because all travel (read "hunting") had been on hold for the previous two years, the price was dramatically reduced. Reduced to the point where an average man of average means could afford to pursue Black Death itself. With a handshake, I agreed to enter the world of dangerous game hunting.

There was a tangible sense of anticipation in camp that night. Plans were devised, scenarios discussed. Upon retiring to bed, I rehearsed shot placement from every angle. I ran through every conceivable scenario I could think of, in an effort to be prepared. I wanted to leave nothing to chance, should things go south. Sleep did not come easy, but I was finally able to catch a few winks.

Sunrise found us in one of those acacia thickets this part of the world is known for. There was a different air about us; whereas before our quarry did not really pose a threat, these beasts CAN and WILL maim you. Or worse. While I did not focus on this, it was certainly in the back of my mind. Not long after we had good light, we found tracks in the sand. There was one in particular that stood out, significantly larger than the rest. The hoof that made it also had a small V-shaped indentation out of the front of it. This is the track we focused on.

We ended up following this particular track for the better part of a week. Creeping, crawling, and picking our way through the never-ending camel thorns. We caught enough glimpses to realize that the track we were on belonged to an old bull, worthy of pursuit. Many times we got close, but not close enough. We could hear their stomachs growling, and smell their musk. The impenetrable brush did not allow for a shot opportunity. Other times, the herd winded us, sending up clouds of dust from beneath their thundering hooves.

Time was getting thin, so we decided to change tactics. We knew where a water hole was, and had a suspicion that this was the preferred place for them to drink. After days of getting bloodied by the thorns, taking sand into every nook and cranny imaginable, and getting sun burned, a change of plans sounded good. My PH, Richter van der Linden, and I decided to sit in some brush at the edge of the pond.

While sitting there in the heat of the afternoon sun, I again ran through all the things Richter and I had discussed. Shot placement. What to do if we were charged. Anticipation was high, as was the pressure. This was not the time for me to fold, or for my equipment to fail. I knew my rifle would put the 300 grain pills where they needed to go. I also knew that my selection of Hornady ammo was a sound one. The DGX bullets do what they were designed to do. Having confidence in one’s equipment is vital for success, and in some cases (as this), safety.

Just as the jackals started their nightly yipping, the dust came. Starting off in the distance, the cloud steadily grew, and was headed our direction. Eventually we could hear the buffalo. At first it was their grunts and bellows. As they drew nearer, we could hear their footfalls. I still do not know if it was my imagination, or if we could actually perceive it, but I swear we could feel the ground rumble. Anticipation was high. I have never been simultaneously so excited, and, for lack of better, nervous. If an opportunity presented itself, it would be the single most expensive shot of my life. In addition, there was more riding on it than any shot I’d previously taken. I had a million thoughts going through my head, yet as the heard materialized, I had one, singular focus – to place the first round where it needed to go, reload, and keep swinging. Keep a clear head, and do what it takes.

Before we knew it, there were buffalo all around. The first to come were younger bulls and some cows. Roughly twenty altogether. And then there He was. We knew He was Him, as He was bulkier in body than the rest. We could also see His thick, wide bosses. As there were so many sets of eyes looking for the first hint of danger, and as many noses surveying the air for the same, we remained stock-still, silently praying the wind would hold. I was already turned towards the bull, but he was intertwined with the others. As soon as his shoulder was clear, another would walk behind him. This continued for an eternity. Finally, at 20 paces, He stepped clear. Lowering His head, He turned and looked right at us. No, through us, really, into the depths of our souls. I felt the predetermined signal, a pat on my knee. With that I drew a bead and squeezed the trigger. At the crack of my rifle, chaos erupted. Working the bolt as I stood, I found the bull once again in my crosshairs, amidst the rapidly egressing stampede. He was quickly enveloped in dust and buffalo butts, preventing a second shot.

Richter assured me the shot was true, based upon the reaction. Shoulder tucked, leg lifted as He ran away. We found good blood, and went back to retrieve the truck. Darkness was now upon us, so we wanted to take every precaution. Just outside the clearing, we came to a stand of trees. In the moonlight we could see the silhouettes of buffalo, milling about. Odd, as this was perhaps 100 yards from the place I shot. Turns out this was a good sign, as buffalo will oftentimes surround a downed comrade, with the subdominant bulls sometimes even fighting their deceased brethren. At this we backed off for a bit, in an effort to let those still living (and clearly agitated) buffalo clear out. Nervous anticipation ensued, as this area is rife with leopard, hyena, and jackals. What a pity it would be to have one of these animals defile my trophy of trophies!

Our party of three went to the skinning shed to pass the time, as well as to retrieve an old Ford tractor. While the Richter and Jaco were convinced we had a dead bull to recover, I was still uncertain. The shot felt good, but part of me still did not believe what had transpired over the course of the last week and last hour. Until I had my hands on Him, I felt as if I might wake up from an incredible, yet cruel dream.

Upon returning to where the rest of the heard had made their stand, we found the area vacant. We could hear the buffalo off in the distance, and knew they had to have crossed the sand road that we were following. We eased the truck along the path until we found where they had passed. What we did not see was the track of the bull I had shot. Another good sign. We backed up a bit, and as it was too dark to see into the dense woods, Jaco fired up the spotlight from the cab. Richter and I were atop the shooting platform. Scanning back and forth, He suddenly came into focus. His head was up, and He was looking right at us! Two shots rang from my .375 in quick succession, both finding their mark on the shoulder. We quickly dismounted, and approached the bull from the rear. “Dead” buffalo are the only ones that kill hunters, so I fired one more shot from 10 paces, placing it between the shoulder blades and into the spine. This insurance shot is standard practice, and prevents any undue charges. Charges can get people slung, impaled, or pummeled into a pink wet spot, and into the ever after.

As the report from this last shot faded, the groaning rumble of the tractor became audible. Turns out we were justified in fetching it! After ensuring that the bull had taken His final breath, I was able to get my hands on it. While the entire trip was a dream, touching this magnificent animal was the fruition of an even bigger dream. A dream that until a few days prior felt out of reach. Not only had I hunted Africa, I had now stood toe-to toe with Black Death Himself. A fine old bull, with teeth worn to the nubs, and horns nearly 40” wide.

When the land owner arrived on the tractor, he patted me on the back and began to weep. After he cleared his throat, Oupa (Afrikaans for “grandfather”, in this case the owner), explained that the trophy fees from this bull would keep his family going. After the financial draught the pandemic had brought about, he had no idea how he and his family were going to survive. These fees would see them through. Additionally, we gave his family all the meat from the approximately 1,700 pound animal. Between the cash and the meat, Oupa was going to be alright. Knowing this, and being a direct part of it, was the best birthday present I have ever received, and likely ever will. This includes the bull. You see, I just so happened to shoot this buffalo on my birthday.

I declined to ride in the cab on the long, dusty trail back to camp. Instead, I perched myself on the shooting platform. I needed to be alone with my bull, the Southern Cross, and my own tears, which freely flowed.

All four shots found their mark, and all bullets performed well. Cape buffalo are such large, tenacious creatures, that additional shots are the rule, rather than the exception. This one did not give up the ghost easily, but thank goodness, it did not end with a charge or a wounded animal.

The next day we were able to harvest a nyala bull that was even more impressive in its own right. He measures well up into the SCI and Rowland Ward books. If it wasn’t for this nyala in the first place, we would have never even been on that particular property, nor would we have had the opportunity for a buff.

Hornady had no small part to play in making this dream a success. From cape buffalo at 20 yards to nyala at 200, the DGX line proved infallible. As for the jackal, the impetus for this chambering and cartridge selection…well, the DGS worked just fine on it.

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