A Masai homestead near the Great Rift Valley in Tanzania.  The grass hut is perfect for the climate.

By Terry Wieland


A Tale of Three Buffalo

The things that stick with you

In Horn of the Hunter, Robert Ruark describes two Cape buffalo he took on his first safari, in 1951, in (then) Tanganyika with Harry Selby.  The first was wounded and gave the pair a hell of a time until he finally succumbed.  The second, which had much bigger and more massive horns, was also wounded, and disappeared into a dense thicket.


Selby and Ruark looked at each other, then sat down to smoke a cigarette.  As the minutes wore on, Ruark became more and more anxious about what was to come.  Then Selby invited him to accompany him as he went after the buffalo — a serious compliment as you know if you’ve ever been in that situation.  Ruark steeled himself, checked his .470, and off they went.  The tracking took some time.  It probably seemed much longer than it was, but that’s the way these things work, as they crept along, expecting a charge at any second.


Finally, they came upon the buffalo, dead in its tracks, facing away.  He had died as he fled, and not even contemplated a classic m’bogo ambush.  Ruark noted that his horns were bigger, but “it’s the first one, the smaller one, that I have on my wall.”


Forty years later, I faced a similar situation on a two-part safari that began in Tanzania, hunting with Robin Hurt, and ended in Botwana, hunting with Tony Henley.  In the first instance, Robin and I were waist-deep in the Moyowasi swamps when we came upon a herd of buffalo.  I was carrying a .416 Weatherby, made a lucky shot, and a big bull went down and stayed down while the rest of the herd splashed off.  It’s my only one-shot kill on a buffalo.


A week later, in the sand and thornbush around the Okavango, I wounded a bull with a shaky shot – he left, we waited, then we followed.  Like Ruark, I was steeling my nerve, carrying the Weatherby like a quail gun, anticipating mayhem.  Only it didn’t turn out that way.  After half an hour, we spotted the bull’s hind end through the leaves.  He was about 50 yards away, I anchored him with a shot at the base of his tail that smashed his spine, and I then finished him off at point-blank range with several more.  He certainly didn’t die easily — adrenalized and angry Cape buffalo soak up lead like a sponge — but nor did he try to get even.  I was either vastly relieved or greatly disappointed, depending on the state of my whisky intake, but honesty compels me to conclude it was mostly relief.


But, again like Ruark, there was a feeling of having been cheated of my moment to prove something.


Three years later, I found myself back in Tanzania, hooked up with a new safari company set up by an American and staffed by a couple of professional hunters from Zimbabwe — Gordon Cormack and Duff Gifford.  Gordon is now dead, I’m told, and Duff is plying his trade somewhere in northern Australia.  This was a new kind of safari in a country newly liberated from crackpot socialism and embracing free enterprise with joyous cries.  There were safari camps that could be rented, on concessions that were eagerly snapped up by Arusha businessmen who couldn’t tell an elephant from an elevator.

Original Trophy Bonded Bear Claw, recovered from the buffalo.  It entered the skull through the forehead & smashed through 18 inches of spine before being deflected down into the neck.  The recovered bullet weighs 419 grains — 84% weight retention.

Wieland with his Mount Longido Cape buffalo.  The rifle is a post- ‘64 Model 70 in .458 Winchester, loaded with 500-grain Trophy Bonded Bear Claws.

We decamped from Jerry’s ostrich-and-flower farm outside Arusha to a camp at the base of Mount Longido, put together a makeshift mountaineering expedition, and set out to climb.  Longido is a long-extinct volcano which, I am told, in its heyday dwarfed Kilimanjaro.  Now it’s worn down into a vast bowl with walls hundreds of feet high, a much higher promontory at one end covered in rain forest, with families of Masai occupying the huge crater.


Our expedition included Jerry, Duff, a game scout, the game scout’s two vassals (one to carry his rusty single-shot shotgun, the other to carry his briefcase) and several trackers and camp staff.  We had no real camping equipment, but we were only going to be up there a day or, at most, two.  I was carrying a borrowed Winchester Model 70 in .458, belonging to Jerry.  My ammunition was his hot handloads using the then-new but always excellent Trophy Bonded Bear Claw bullets.  Our other rifle was a .416 Rigby that belonged to Duff’s late father-in-law, Allan Lowe, who carryied it several years before when he was killed in Zimbabwe by an elephant.


We topped the outer wall, traversed the crater, and began a long climb up into the rain forest, where we set up camp.


The thinking was that the crater was known to hold some Cape buffalo, mainly old bulls who had left the herd, voluntarily or otherwise, and now dwelt up here in lonely splendor, contemplating past glories.  Our job was to find one, which was not easy on the steep, rocky mountainsides, cut by dongas and overhung with thick brush.


After a miserable rainy night, we emerged to find our staff huddled around a fire, trying to ward off the shakes brought on by malaria and damp chill.  Breakfast was cursory, to say the least, and since our colleagues showed no eagerness to leave the fire, Duff, Jerry and I took our rifles and binoculars and went to look for a vantage point from which to scan the mountainside.  This was made more difficult by the early morning clouds that shrouded the peak, drifting in and out like thick fog.


I was perched on a rocky outcrop.  Jerry and Duff were down the way, glassing the other direction.  The clouds opened for an instant, just long enough to spot the tail end of a buffalo disappearing into some brush.  Duff and I left Jerry on my look-out and descended into a long clearing, toward where I’d seen the bull.  It had to be a bull, since there were no other buffalo up here.  Duff was off to the right, checking some sign, when the bull appeared out of a thicket 75 yards away.  I sat down and put the crosshairs behind his shoulder.  At the shot, he made a dash and dropped from sight into a donga.  Then all was still.


Duff and I crept toward where he’d disappeared.  What we found was an odd situation.  A thick canopy of brush turned the donga into a tunnel.  A trail led down into it on the far side, where the bull had disappeared, then emerged from the brush to climb up on our side.  Through the brush, we could hear the bull’s labored breathing.  We found a place to stand with a dense thorn bush on one side and the donga’s steep side on the other — just room for both of us, but not for both to shoot, depending on where the bull appeared.  He was not ten yards away, but invisible, and his breathing became harsher.


“We’ll give him ten minutes,” Duff said.  “If he doesn’t come out, we’ll go in.”


We could hear the buffalo.  The buffalo could hear us.  At any time, he could get up and walk down his tunnel – which he surely knew intimately – completely unseen.  He stayed put.


The minutes crawled by — seven, eight, nine — and at ten minutes, almost to the second, we heard the bull heave himself to his feet and begin to move.  He burst out of the brush and up the trail.  I fired one shot into his black hide, then a second as he turned sharply, rounding on me at a distance of a few feet.  Duff was behind me, unable to shoot and no place to go.  I shoved the last round into the chamber, stuck the muzzle in the bull’s face, and pulled the trigger just as I was jumping back, trying to get out of the way so Duff could shoot.


It was not necessary.  The bull dropped, four feet away, and came to rest on the edge of the bank.




African veterans reading this will, undoubtedly, have questions.  Where was the game scout and our trackers?  (Back by the fire, trying to keep warm.)  Why did Duff not shoot when the bull first appeared?  (Problems with his rifle, which I will try to explain in the ammunition column of this issue.)  Where did your first bullet hit the buffalo?  (Both lungs.  He was slowly drowning in his own blood.)


It’s difficult to sum up my feelings about that bull, because he was so admirable.  He could have escaped, yet he crouched there, facing back toward his trail, waiting for us to come in after him.  As his lungs filled up and breathing became increasingly difficult, he came out of that donga with one thought, one plan, and that was vengeance.


We pieced it together later, from the tracks and the pool of blood.  Having dashed into the donga after the first bullet, he left the trail, moved up the donga into a cul-de-sac, turned around and lay down, facing the trail — the only way we could get in.  And there he waited as his time ran out.

For those who care about such things, his worn-down horns measured 43 inches, side to side.  In his prime, they probably reached 48 inches.  But that’s inconsequential.


These events took place almost 30 years ago now.  The skull and horns disappeared in the dissolution of the safari company.  No idea what happened to the rifle.  I have a few photographs and one bullet, the Bear Claw that went between his eyes and tore up 18 inches of spine.  One of the trackers dug it out for me as another was building a fire and putting chunks of the backstrap on sticks, to roast.  It was like eating India rubber.


But that’s not what I remember most.  What I remember is that buffalo’s valor, and how I came to love him.