There is an unwritten contract between a professional hunter or “PH” and his hunter client. The PH is responsible for getting the hunter close enough to his quarry to make an ethical shot. The hunter is responsible for dropping the animal, preferably with a single shot. Pretty simple really, until you add in terrain, weather, dangerous game, and venomous snakes.

It was our third day hunting in Limpopo the northernmost province in South Africa. An area known for plentiful game and self-reliant people. It was late in the season and we were one of the last groups to hunt with Louie and his team at Spiral Horn Safaris this year.

Rey, my PH and I had stalked within shooting distance of several herds of Cape Buffalo. Close enough that I had pointed my CZ550 bolt gun at one of the bulls. But Rey told me to hold my fire; he was convinced that there was an older, bigger bull somewhere out there. We were hunting near the Botswana border in an area with open plains measuring miles across. Three-foot-tall buffalo grass covered the countryside, along with just a few scraggly trees. Perfect for the buffalo but the lack of cover made our stalks challenging.

Late that morning Rey spotted a small bachelor herd in the distance. It looked promising, so we exited the truck. I chambered a round of .375 H&H, engaged my safety and we began our slow walk. Rey suggested I remove my sling so it could not get tangled in the shooting stick. I thought it sound advice to eliminate one more potential issue. We traversed over a mile of open ground using every bit of terrain and every tree we could find for cover. There was a chill in the air but the southern hemisphere was coming out of winter and the weather was warming. Snakes were waking from hibernation and emerging from their dens. The day before one of the dogs on the ranch had been bitten and died so we divided our attention between the buffalo ahead of us and the ground around our feet.

It took us over an hour to arrive undetected within three hundred yards of seven buffalo laying in the tall grass, still too far for me to have “acceptable reticle movement” in my rifle scope. Unfortunately, we had run out of trees. I assumed we had also run out of luck, but Rey doesn’t give up so easily. A rugby player turned PH who carries a controlled feed rifle with iron sights chambered in .458 Lott shooting a 500-grain bullet. Rey calls it his “train stopper”. I suspected that Rey’s spirit animal was the Cape Buffalo.

We proceeded to crawl the last one hundred and fifty yards. The grass was filled with tiny “pepper ticks” which we picked up by the dozen as we eased closer to the resting buffalo. As we glassed the herd, we chose the oldest bull. He was a massive animal, the bosses of his horns had merged covering his skull. He had a broken horn from a lifetime of fighting. I have always appreciated the fact that the old post-reproductive bull is of the least value to the herd, but the highest value to the hunter. Rey told me that I must shoot quickly once he sets the shooting sticks. As I stood to fire the bull stood up and faced me at around eighty yards. The first round was a solid hit in his chest. He ran right as the other six ran left. He turned to follow the herd, pausing long enough for my second shot, and then promptly fell and lay still. As we approached Rey told me that sometimes the old bulls are not convinced that they are dead and proceed to take revenge on the hunter and his PH. I took a third shot for insurance.

Rey is cool under pressure and never took his rifle off safe, but he told me later that his wristwatch monitor indicated that his heart rate doubled from 70 to 140. Everyone takes buffalo seriously. My bull was a 2,000-pound, over-12-year-old fighter. In Africa, they say that a buffalo glares at you as though you owe him money. My bull may have had an ulterior motive, the skinners found an old .30 caliber bullet in his abdomen from a prior engagement.

Everyone on the ranch wanted their photos with the beast. We borrowed a backhoe from a farmer to load the one-ton carcass on Rey’s three-quarter-ton pickup and slowly made our way back to camp. We took the afternoon off from hunting game and hunted ticks instead. My 2023 buffalo hunt was over, but the memory is treasured and permanent.

Dan Allford