By Divan Labuschagne


It was April, and the vegetation in Bwabwata was thick. Grass towered six feet tall in some places with visibility mere meters. I love this time of year, up close and personal with some of my favorite species – elephant and buffalo. Bwabwata is a 280 000-hectare wilderness area sandwiched between Botswana to the south and Angola to the north, with elephant, sable, buffalo, leopard, lion, and many, many more. This is truly a hunter’s paradise. It’s normal later in the year to find huge groups of elephant numbering into the high hundreds, with daylight sighting of leopard, African wild dogs and lion.


Erin and Mike had joined me for an epic safari in Namibia’s famous Caprivi. Mike’s focus was a big elephant, and for the next two safaris we were hunting elephant the way it was meant to be – by tracking – while also hunting buffalo and hippo along the way. Erin, from Giving Back TV, was filming. Bwabwata is known for its big herds of buffalo and has produced some of Africa’s very best Dagga Boys. Bull herds with up to 20 in a group were very common, and tracking these bulls into the thickets was as exciting as it gets.


One late afternoon on our way back to camp my tracker Johnny caught a glimpse of a buffalo about 400 yards off the road. We got our rifles ready and started following. The bull was alone and slowly walking in grass taller than the Land Cruiser. I knew right there and then it was going to be close and personal, just the way I liked it. We tracked the bull for about 20 minutes when Johnny suddenly spotted it and pointed. Right in front of us was the bull feeding, totally unaware of our presence. The wind was good and quite strong, thus giving us the chance to get in even closer. I got Mike in close behind me. We slowly made our way forward, eyes fixed on the bull’s every move. The grass was so thick that Mike was struggling to make out the buffalo now standing broadside. We inched forward a couple more steps and put Mike on the sticks, and I whispered to him to make sure before squeezing the trigger.

There was a loud bark from the .416 Rem mag. The bull bucked and was gone before a second shot was possible. As a professional hunter I like to wait some time for the shot to take effect before following. We stood there for about five minutes then slowly walked to where the bull had been. Straight off the bat we found some lung blood. We followed the bull that was now heading into some very thick scrub, and heard it crashing through the bushes a couple of times. Time was ticking and we were losing light quickly.  


On high alert I got Mike in right next to me with Erin as camera man and Johnny following the tracks of the departing bull. We tracked, stopped and listened. At one stage the bush was so thick it was almost dark in there. Then spotting the bull standing in some thick brush facing us, Mike managed to put in another shot, hitting the bull behind the shoulder but a little too far back. We waited a few minutes before following with caution. The bull was heading into some very thick bush, and with daylight fading quickly we continued after it. Johnny spotted it once more, facing us and Mike put in a frontal chest shot. The bull grunted and came straight for us. I fired the first barrel of my .470 NE hitting it in the chest, and Mike followed with a perfect brain shot, putting him down for good. Everyone was relieved at the outcome. Mike got a fantastic bull, and it was a great start to a wonderful safari ahead.


Later that same week we followed another bull close to the Botswana border. It was slowly walking southeast after a nice mud bath, and it wasn’t long before we saw it feeding towards us. This was ideal, and I got Mike on the sticks. The bull was now about 25 yards, coming our way. Then, from our right another bull appeared, a slightly younger one and still soft. We stood motionless trying to hide behind some tall grass. The younger bull suddenly winded us and took off, spooking the first bull that had been unaware of us, and he also took off, seemingly not sure what had just happened.


We followed and saw him once more, slowly walking away into the omuramba (ancient riverbeds found in the Kalahari Desert). Inside Bwabwata, every few kilometers there were these beautiful open omurambas running from northwest to southeast.  In the rainy season they were filled with water, and buffalo just loved visiting the mud pools. We could now see the bull’s back as he moved from one mud pool to the next. Buffalo love to bath in mud to cool down and to get rid of parasites, as this time of the year it was hot, and ticks were everywhere. We leapfrogged to the right trying to intercept the bull. The wind was good, and we had plenty of good cover in the long grass, but it was impossible to take a longer shot because of the grass.


The bull then walked parallel to us, giving Mike the perfect opportunity to take a fatal shoulder shot. It ran about 50 yards before stopping. I could see it was struggling to stay on its feet and Mike put in another great shot. This was buffalo number two for Mike, and what a bull it was. We loaded it, and by the time we were done it was dark. We had about a two-hour drive back to camp in time for dinner and a good night’s sleep, ready to be on the road the next morning at 5 a.m. looking for elephant.

At this stage of the safari we had followed some elephant bulls but none that excited us. Big cow herds were plentiful. We knew it was just a matter of time before finding the right track. Slowly driving the cutline between Namibia and Botswana one morning we found the tracks of a big bull heading into our area from Botswana. We followed the bull that at this stage was just walking, not too fast but fast enough to keep in front of us. We followed the tracks into the omuramba to a pan where it drank. We could clearly see the tracks in the mud, and they looked even more impressive than they had earlier that morning.


After almost six hours of fast tracking, we were still not catching up to it. We cleared another omuramba and saw the bull had changed course, walking north. The sun was setting fast, and we had only a few hours of daylight left. We followed him for another six miles before time ran out. We had to abandon the tracks, as daylight was now almost gone. We had walked about 42 km from 8 a.m. that morning to sunset.


We followed more elephant that safari without any luck of a big bull. We saw plenty of elephant but just couldn’t find the right one. Mike had to leave without an elephant, but the plan was to return later in the year to try and find the right bull.


It was now October and hot as hell. Mike and Erin made their way back to the Caprivi in pursuit of a big tusker for Mike. Most of the pans had dried up and most of the animals were concentrated close to the Kwando River. Hundreds of elephant drank daily, and we were following them left and right. The sun was extremely hot, and walking in the soft Caprivi sand didn’t make it any easier. I had two teams of trackers. If we got on a track and followed it, the other trackers and driver would continue scouting. We came across a very nice track of a bull elephant close to Horseshoe Bend, heading west. The only problem was that every day, hundreds of elephant drank there and tracking was not easy. Once we had found the track again it wasn’t long before the bull joined up with yet another giant cow herd. This made things difficult as we had to maneuver our way between these cows to get to where the bull was. We had numerous close calls in the thickets only to lose the track again.

This bull had an unmistakable front left foot with a very distinctive deep crack, making it easy for the trackers to follow. An elephant’s track is like a human fingerprint, and if you can read a track, you will be able to follow such an animal for a long way. For the next few days we repeated the same process over and over, just to lose his track in the middle of thousands of elephant heading daily to the river and back. On day 10 of Mike’s second safari of the year, we found the tracks of the same bull again, heading west after being to the river to drink. It was about midday and actually very late to start tracking an elephant that had walked there the previous night. But knowing they don’t go too far, we set out to follow once again.


This time we got lucky. The bull was walking along a well-worn elephant path, and every now and then had stopped to feed. Later on he joined a group of cows in a burned area, feeding on some fresh leaves from the cluster-leafed terminalia trees. We could now hear elephant not too far away and we set off at pace. Soon enough we could see elephant here and there. The problem was to find the bull without spooking the rest of the herd. We swung around to the right to try cover the whole herd before they went into the thickets again. As we came close to the end of the burned area, we saw the body of a big bull towering over the few cows that were surrounding him. I looked through my binoculars trying to see his tusks, but the angle was not great. We moved back to the left, zig-zagging our way between some young bulls.

We could now see the elephant clearly. It was him. A bull of a lifetime, with thick and beautiful ivory. I got Mike in next to me and we started walking towards the bull slightly quartering towards us. Other elephants made it very difficult as we didn’t want to spook any of them, as then the whole herd would take off, leaving us to start over the next morning. Slowly Mike and I got into shooting position. Mike was using a .470 NE. We didn’t have too much time left and it was getting dark. We got in to about 30 yards and Mike took aim.

The 500-grain bullet took the bull on the forehead just to the right, missing the brain. As the elephant swung around, Mike put in the second barrel, getting the bull in the stomach. I took a shot with my .500 Jeffery, hitting the bull as he was now running away from us. I knew we had hit him and it was just a matter of time before we would catch up again. We tracked him for a few miles, but we were losing light fast. Then we found blood and realized that bull now only walking. A good sign.


Suddenly my tracker Johnny spotted another elephant walking our way, a younger bull. We detoured to the left trying not to spook it as we didn’t know where the big one was. Then Kenneth, another great bushman tracker, found the bull standing still. We moved into position and Mike dropped the bull right there. What a giant he was, truly a bull dreams are made of. The weight of the heavier tusk came in at 70lbs and the smaller one at 67lbs.


It was a remarkable hunt – by day 10 of the second safari we had walked 139 miles to find the right bull. This is what elephant hunting is all about. It is said that you hunt buffalo with guts; leopards with your brain; lion with your heart, and elephant with your feet. I couldn’t agree more. At the end of a wonderful safari Mike had taken two beautiful Dagga Boys, a hippo, and a big Caprivi tusker.


It was a worthwhile walk!