South Africa: 2013
Abraham’s Grin
By Brian Gallup
I’d hunted South Africa before, but this was my first Cape buffalo hunt and I was excited…

It was early spring and the morning was perfect. Laughing doves were calling all around us, and the bush was thick and green in the morning light. The sun had filled the meadows with warmth but hadn’t yet reached the deep shadows under the acacia trees.

We were walking on fresh tracks in the high bushveld of Limpopo province at my favorite place, African Dawn Hunting Safaris. The local name for this vast farm is Thaba Metsi, which is a Northern Sotho name meaning “Mountain of Water.”

Our own shadows lay out in front of us as we moved quietly through the still air. After a short walk, the tracker stopped and watched from the shadows when the doves went silent. I didn’t get it then, but things were about to happen.

A mixed herd of about 30 buffalo quietly stepped into the sunlight in front of us; they were close and moving closer. My son Russ was videoing it, and he could have used a wide-angle lens.

Our tracker, Abraham, was from one of the Zulu tribes. He was focused and joyful in his work. We’d hunted together a lot at African Dawn over seven years, and I considered him to be one of those exceptional trackers with that heightened sixth sense you hear about. Watching him work was half the fun, and I would keep one eye on him like I would a bird dog. I had learned to thumb the safety on my rifle when his demeanour intensified. When he would point with his eyes and flash his great, big, white toothy grin, it was time to be ready. On this particular morning in the buffalo herd, he was really grinning.

Abraham had mischievously led us to the one spot in the bush where this restless herd would soon pass on their way to water. They came twitching their ears and snapping their tails as they peered into our shaded hiding place. At the front of the herd was a young, dark bull with really good horns, that came within 15 paces before he noticed something was wrong. He couldn’t see us clearly in the shade with the bright sun in his face, so he would drop his head, take a short step, then raise his head up high again and stare some more. He wasn’t happy.

I had my safety off when PH Marius Kruger Junior whispered, “Not that one. Your bull is at the back, behind those cows.” Glancing to my right, I saw that Marius Kruger Senior had this young bull covered with a lot more gun than I was carrying. I made a mental note about hunting Cape buffalo with a “little” .375 H&H before I exhaled and looked around for the old bull we were after. I found him where Junior said, at the back of the herd shuffling towards us, gently pushing his cows along.

Most of the herd walked straight towards us to within 25 yards. Then, catching our scent, they would stop abruptly and give us a dirty look before turning to move past us on both sides. I don’t know how close they were when they walked past; I was afraid to look.

Our old grey bull with his huge boss pushed forward through the herd until he was frowning at me from 22 paces away. He just stood there, like he was in no hurry, facing me with a yearling and a fat cow between us. I kept the crosshairs on him and waited. My new FN Winchester Model 70 Safari Express in .375 H&H was scoped with an old refurbished Weaver wide view turned down to 3x, and the three animals more than filled the scope.

The Kruger men, both professional hunters, were guiding this hunt as an extra margin of safety. Marius Junior stood beside me holding a Remington pump-action 12-gauge shotgun with a long magazine full of slugs. He would whisper calm, deliberate instructions into my ear and it helped me keep my head. Marius Senior, standing several steps to my right, watched the herd over the express sights of his CZ 550 American Safari Magnum in .416 Rigby. I was in the sticks with my .375 H&H. We were hunting buffalo!

My recollection of what happened next is a bit hazy. It was just as hazy a few minutes after I squeezed the trigger as it is today. I figure that means that I can tell it any way I want.

Unis, a big, good-natured kid, was with us as a novice tracker. Abraham had hunted all the Big Five before, but this was the first time on dangerous game for Unis. He crouched anxiously to my right, behind a slender acacia tree with both his large hands around the trunk. I thought he looked a little pale. I also noticed peripherally that the leaves in that particular tree were shaking.

Meanwhile, I was operating on courage borrowed from Marius Junior as the herd milled around us, and I was surprised to hear words rasping from my dry throat that sounded like, “Ooh, crap!” It occurred to me that I might be losing it. Junior chuckled and steadied me with some half-truths.

While I waited for the cow and yearling to move away from the old bull, I took a quick glance over my left shoulder at Russ; armed with his camera, he was steady as a rock. To my right, Senior held true like Horatius at the Bridge. Abraham was still grinning.

My breathing was intermittent at best. It was obvious that I was the only one among us who understood how dangerous this was! Then, I noticed something reassuring. Glancing down to my right, I caught Unis on his knees whispering over and over, “Oh crap! Oh crap! Oh crap!” while jerking his eyes around checking for climbable trees. A kindred spirit!

I got back into my scope just in time to see my bull step into the clear and hear Junior whisper, “Take him!” He was still facing me, and my first shot was a .300-grain North Fork cup point solid loaded moderately to 2500fps. The crosshairs were just under his chin, and the bullet hit him in the middle of the chest, went straight through his heart, and finally stopped behind his stomach. The bullet, as advertised, expanded slightly to a flat tissue-cutting meplate of .384 inch, causing a devastating wound channel.

The great bull reeled to his left and raced through the trees. I missed completely with my second shot, but he didn’t need it and was on the ground in less than 30 yards. Most of the herd must have scattered, but I didn’t actually notice.

Junior had said, “Reload!” and I rushed it, dropping one round into the grass. When I finally got the bolt closed over a full magazine, my old bull let out that haunting death bellow and there, standing over him, was that handsome young bull with the good horns. We watched him without moving forward as he seemed to have a lot on his mind. Junior got us to back off a ways to give him some space. He looked mean as hell and I braced myself for a charge. But, happily, he finally just trotted off after the cows, now their new master. So it goes in the veld.

The skinners were called on the radio and soon arrived full of enthusiasm. It was an important time for all of us; the huge bull was a great trophy and would also feed a lot of folks. There were no pretentious handshakes or high fives, and I liked it that way. It was a good hunt and it went without saying.

Sometimes I think that I can still smell that mid-day walk back to the truck and the ride to camp. But no matter how hard I try, I can only recollect a few isolated images along the way: Gulping down a bottle of water and handing my empty Winchester up to Marius Senior on the back of the hunting truck; the edges of conversations shifted back and forth between English and Afrikaans; thinking that “Oh crap” was a sort of universal Cape buffalo hunting term spoken by all the bushveld tribes, black and white. But I do remember Abraham’s grin.

Brian Gallup started out as a wrangler on a packhorse outfit in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in 1959 and has been an outdoorsman and hunter ever since. After living along the Mackenzie and Laird Rivers in the North West Territories and hunting big horn sheep and elk, careers took precedent over adventure. After surviving cancer 12 years ago, the Gallups started visiting and hunting South Africa several times a year, sometimes bringing the entire family, including grandchildren.

20.3RSACapebuffaloGallup 1530 words Pull-Out “My recollection of what happened next is a bit hazy. It was just as hazy a few minutes after I squeezed the trigger as it is today. I figure that means that I can tell it any way I want.”