By Brian Watson


Wato – The Book is a beautiful 324 page hard cover compilation of some of Wato’s hunting adventures in wild Africa and other wilderness places.

The book can be purchased here:

To give you a taste of what’s in store between the covers, here is just one chapter for your pleasure.

The Happy Walk


Perched comfortably in the pointy end of a 747 on the way to Johannesburg, the flight stewards dimmed the lighting for the long hop over the Great Southern Ocean. As so often happens after a pleasant dinner and some equally pleasant drinks, a calm close to sleep overtakes your senses. At this point, most of the other passengers were dozing or wearily staring at some drivel on the entertainment monitor. I looked out the window to the left and watched the icebergs of Antartica bobbing in the sea.


My thoughts rambled and rattled around my brain, flitting between important people in my life to just how this giant flying goose manages to stay airborne, and finally settling on previous exciting or rewarding hunts I had participated in, and of course the unpleasant experience of Kariba. Most notably, was the first Jumbo I had hunted on the banks of the Limpopo River many years ago. Such was the euphoria and heightened sense of self that overwhelmed me then, I vowed then I would pursue more of this adrenaline rush. Accordingly, I undertook a votive understanding that in what was left of my lifetime, I would hunt at least ten of the Africana Loxodontos species before I cashed in my chips.


Up to this point, as well as that initiate Limpopo trophy bull, there have been two non-trophy bulls from the Rifa, two ‘Zambezi Ladies’ from the same district, a non-trophy bull hunted in the vast tall reeds of the Caprivi Strip, a massive bull from Namibia’s Bushmanland, and a scrawny old gent from below the Kariba Dam in Zimbabwe that have been notched onto my hunting stick.


Numero nuevo beckoned somewhere in the huge Hwange Reserve of Zimbabwe. I will be hunting under the guidance of an old mate Marthinus Koch of MJK Safaris. My usual hunting partner, Ian Head of World Safari Expeditions and I had socialised with Tienie (Marthinus) many times in the Rifa and at SCI expo’s over the previous years, subsequently forming a good regard and appreciation of him. After an overnight stay at Joburg and a short flight to Victoria Falls, Tienie is to pick me up at the airport.


After meeting with Tienie and his safari business partner Lindon Stanton at the airport kiosk, and then picking up Lindon’s client Peter from Queensland off a later flight, we went and had lunch at a restaurant overlooking one of the magnificent gorges of Victoria Falls. We then did some shopping for some of the essentials we would require over the following days, like whiskey, gin, and bourbon along with a few bottles of wine to go with our meals, and of course some nice cigars to toast any success we may enjoy. Essentials collected, we then made our way to a fantastic camp on the bank of the Zambezi River, a drive of about one and a half hours from Vic Falls.


Even though this camp was beautifully positioned on the bank of the Zambezi River we were warned not to get to close to the waters edge because of the prevalence of the huge crocodiles. I later saw a croc that had just been shot off this very bank and it was a monster measuring something over 16 feet long. It was creepy when we were fishing, to see several heads lingering just clear of the water nearby, but did put your self-preservation mode into high gear.


Early next morning we drove out in the chill dark dawn towards the Eastern fringe of Hwange. This was the end of an African winter and while I was comfortable in the cab of the vehicle, I shivered at the thought of the trackers huddled in the freezing wind on the open back of the truck. A mental note was made to be on the lookout for a warm jacket to buy for them at a later date. The trip would take us several hours, with a couple of short stops along the way to check known places where Elephant frequent, usually where they came down from the hills to water at the Zambezi before returning for their daily feeding places. Once at the area we immediately contacted a small herd. Sensing a quick climax to my hunt, gun belts were strapped on, rifles loaded and checked and a brisk walk into the bush ensued.


The herd was found close by with individuals spread through the thick vegetation. It was soon apparent that there were only cows in the herd, and, as some had calves at foot, we proceeded with a lot of caution. One large cow unexpectedly approached our position from behind so it was necessary to make a very prudent and nervous withdrawal. Thankfully the cow did not catch our wind and we were able to get back to the vehicle without incident.


Further searching failed to find any more herds or individuals, so we turned back towards camp and checked other trails along the way, seeking information from various natives that had local knowledge of the game activity around their areas. One area adjacent to the bank of the Zambezi held some very large tracks that were 24 hours old. We would come and inspect this game trail the following morning in the hope that these Elephant had come to drink at the same spot.


The next morning, having checked the previously mentioned area without luck, we moved to another mostly dry river system. The day became hotter and many large bull tracks were found, and I was starting to think these animals were the ghosts of Hwange. No animals were contacted. At the end of the river, we had to cross over to get to the truck that had come to pick us up. Crossing the water here was tricky with a particularly nasty form of reed dominating. In order to avoid falling into the water and thereby testing your chances with an unseen croc, you naturally tried to hang on to the reed but it was laced with nasty fine thorns that unmercifully pierced your skin. So, it was take your chances with the slippery rocks, unseen crocs, or grab hold of the needles and put up with the pain. I chose pain.


The area however seemed to hold promise, and as Tienie explained, he tried to take animals out of different areas thereby avoiding make whole herds overly skittish. We decided to visit this same place again tomorrow, but walk from the other direction. A better strategy was used next time however, as the trackers cut some substantial branches that we were able to walk over much more safely. And with no needles! Using the wind, we did a large loop out from the river and back, hoping to find the owners of those huge tracks. In all, we tried this three times but still no animals were detected. Tienie dug into his box of tricks to find a new approach that may reward us with some success.


The following day, we went to a new area, and found fortune after Lindon radioed us after sighting the tracks of five large bulls crossing an old cornfield close to our position. Once on the tracks my spirits were lifted as we now had a real chance of catching these animals. The walking was easy with tracks clearly visible. The day wore on and it appeared that we were not gaining any ground on our quarry. After 31 kilometres, the tracks were lost in a melding with a cowherd. Soon after, we abandoned our effort as the bulls were clearly on an intense quest and had no thought of stopping or even slowing. The Landcruiser was radioed and we returned to camp for another night of frivolity, all fortified by the lovely Scotch supplied by Peter, another Aussie. I supplied the Romeo n Juliet cigars that I picked up for an absolute song while passing through Vic Falls.


We left well before sun up next morning hoping to catch those bulls as they returned to their day resting place. Success; tracks of the same group were found crossing the gravel road at the place where we abandoned the chase yesterday. They were fresh and amazingly, showed that the bulls had continued to their resting/foraging place and then returned during the night to drink. It was now 6.30 in the chill morning as we prepared our gear and ourselves for what was anticipated as a successful hunt. Reluctantly I shed my warm jacket, although the coming day would be hot, but carrying extra clothing was always a bind. Looking out across the veldt, I wondered how long it would take to catch up with these long striding giants.


At the start, the track was easy to walk with lots of sign a novice could read. By 11am, the dung was fresh and hot, indicating we were getting very close. There was only one small problem; the wind was blowing from behind and the inevitable happened, at some distance in front of us, far enough that we couldn’t see them, the bulls caught our scent and bolted. The sharp-eared trackers heard the animals rushing off, so we had no choice but to stop and wait to avoid putting any pressure on them. Most of the party lay in the dry grass and dozed, except for one that amused himself by taking photos of me snoring loudly with a very unattractive slack mouth.


After 30 minutes or so we continued the chase. The rest was therapeutic, so we plunged on with a refreshed effort. Just as well we had rested, as now the trail became harder and harder. We traversed gullies and steep ridges of the increasingly hillier terrain. Halfway along one very narrow path on a sharp ridge-line, I marveled at just how well coordinated these Elephant were, as I was being very careful not to slip and fall off and down the extremely steep sides. My thoughts were answered as the tracks then disappeared over the edge. Amazing…five huge bulls simply turned at 90 degrees and went straight down the steep incline. I would have loved to witness this happening; presumably they sat on their bum and skidded to the bottom.


It was now our turn, so after unloading our rifles we too made the descent. To say it was difficult would be to understate the situation. We had to be wary of rocks the size of grapefruit rushing downhill when the person behind you dislodged one. I never got hit, but one sharp rock crashed into the stock of Miss Rigby, leaving a very nasty dent. Still, I purchased that beautiful rifle to use, not to look at in a glass case. The bottom of the mountain was reached with a collective sigh of relief.


Slowly, but surely the small herd of bulls were overtaken. By now it was mid-afternoon and everybody was beginning to feel jaded. As we started along a well-treed gully I thought, if I were an Elephant, this lovely shaded place would be the perfect place to stop and rest during the heat of the day. Almost immediately, one of the trackers stopped to listen. Inspired by him the other trackers followed his lead and sure enough they could hear the sound of Elephant feeding. My, ‘Useless as tits on a bull hearing sense’, could pick up no recognisable sound, but we continued on with renewed vigor.


The going was now thick and it took another 30 minutes of maneuvering in among the palms and trees before the giants appeared before us in a clearing. The size of these majestic animals was astounding. They were not overly large in the body because of the steep terrain they inhabit and therefore, possessing a svelte Jenny Craig physique. They were however, huge tall rangy animals with thin tusks.


One moved toward our position and started to feed while facing front on at about sixty metres. Tienie and I were stuck out in the open and unable to move without risking spooking the already nervous herd, and having to start all over. My preference would have been to take the risk and try and manoeuvre closer but Tienie calmly lay his rifle on his thigh and put his fingers in his ears. His confidence in my shooting abilities was appreciated but when I shot, the great beast instantly twirled and ran. Another shot at the hip from both of us also failed to bring the target down.


Dean, the apprentice PH, caught all the action on video, which appeared to show that the first shot missed several inches to the right, but this was later, found to be incorrect. We soon found blood on the brush about one meter from the ground, indicating that it was coming off the front of the beast and probably out of the trunk. We took a positive out of this, as the animal should be badly wounded and not too far away. Even when tracking a wounded Elephant and his four large mates it ain’t always easy, so it took the trackers a little time on the hard packed rocky ground to make their way towards the herd. Once again it was the remarkable hearing of one tracker that gave us the vital clue. Even at over 200 metres he heard the heavy gasping of the stricken animal.


The rest of the herd was surrounding him in a protective gesture and with the wind swirling we were unable to get any closer without being detected. After several tense minutes of trying to identify and isolate the constantly milling herd, they suddenly broke cover and ran down the valley. We chased, and when the valley made a loop to the right, we ran up the bank just in time to see them rushing back to the left at a distance of about 60 metres. Tienie was the first to identify the wounded beast and without hesitation threw up his 500 Jeffries and with a great running shot to the head put the animal down in emphatic fashion. We approached cautiously, in case the running herd came back, but their departure was also emphatic. A quick insurance shot and everybody heaved a sigh of relief, with a few wry smiles to cover the anxieties we all felt.


We examined our quarry and found surprisingly, that my first shot was exactly on line, thereby disproving the video footage. Apparently, the bull pulled his head up at the shot and the bullet entered the skull ever so low. Such is the difference between a perfect killing shot and a stuff up.


Relaxed now, the crew gulped some water while a few pictures were taken and the return to camp contemplated. I said to Tienie, “Please don’t tell me that we have to walk back over those bloody mountains”. He answered, “Yeh Wato, but it will be a happy walk”. Happy walk??? By now our GPS showed that we had covered 32 kilometres in pursuit of these Elephant, it was 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and we had to go back over Mt Kilimanjaro then Mt Everest via Mt Fuji.


With roughly 2 hours of daylight remaining the long walk back commenced. In no time at all we were climbing in the twilight. We were up that well known creek in a barbed wire canoe with a ice cream stick for a paddle. I said what every one of us was thinking, “Someone is going to get hurt if we continue, what are our alternatives? Tienie agreed, “We only have one, I’ll radio the truck and the driver will have to meet us at some point on the river, and we must go back down the mountain and walk out via the river”. The climb back down that mountain in the now dark was horrendous, with more scars being inflicted on Miss Rigby’s beautiful stock as I used her as a walking stick, but we finally reached relative safety at the bottom. With no light apart from a rapidly fading battery from my cell phone, we headed off downstream with only a small amount of light from the moon to show our way.


By now we had been travelling for over eleven hours and had run out of water two hours ago. The uneven rocks of the riverside and sharp thorns and reeds made for more unpleasantness. The thought that there could also be unseen dangers lurking along the riverside in the form of Hippos or Crocodiles was also playing on our minds. Two hours later and thirst started to take its toll. Reluctantly, we decided to chance the river water. I asked Tienie if I would die of some exotic parasite if I drank this water without adding the antiseptic Vodka I had left at camp, and he answered, “No, but you might die if you don’t drink it.” I love a cheerful bastard.


Pushing on through the murky night, the time approached midnight. Someone suggested we stop and have a sleep. Dean gathered wood and dry reeds and proceeded to start a fire. Some of the lads lay down on the sand that lined the river. Nope, I couldn’t agree with this. “Get up fellas, lets keep going as we can only be about two hours from the truck” I said. As the next youngest member of the team was only half my age, I’m sure they were only thinking of poor old me by calling a stop. So, with a hoop and a holla we set off once more.


Sure enough, after a particularly tough section of the trek through two meter high reeds we glimpsed a fire ahead. Our driver had reached the reached the riverside along an almost non-existent track and lit a fire to help guide us in. Remarkably, it took another hour to reach the fire, but the heat of the coals warming our bones and the taste of those stale sandwiches meant for lunch some thirteen hours ago screamed paradise. I now state, without fear of contradiction, a hot cup of tea has never before or since, tasted soooooo good.


The one disappointing thing about the hunt was I slept in until about 10am next morning. I suppose that was understandable given the rigours of the day before, but I missed an important part of the hunt process. At daybreak a team of men went out leading seven Donkeys all the way back to where the Elephant fell. They then skinned and butchered the carcass, loaded the lot on to the Donkey’s baskets and walked back out. I would have loved to seen and helped with this procedure, and been able to take what would have been, some remarkable photos.


In all, we had covered 54 kilometres on that hunt over 17 long hours. We got our Elephant and managed to return unscathed even though the rifles were not so lucky. It took some days to recover from the bone weariness and blisters, but Oh!!….what a happy walk.