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Today is July 16, 2018

Outdoors

Suspense in the bushveld

Suspense in the bushveld

Tony Kinton, left, and Louis Steencamp look for Cape buffalo in the bushveld. Photo: Sam Valentine

Situations can quickly get out of hand when hunting Cape buffalo. This possibility is particularly enhanced when the pursuit is conducted in the bushveld, a landscape defined by near impenetrable vegetation festooned with thorns and occupied by tangles that can render the visitor facedown and immobile rather than upright and in judicious retreat. But that is exactly where we were—in the thick stuff and looking for buffalo.

Cape buffalo are magnificent creatures. Ranked among the dangerous game species of Africa, these animals are cunning and infamously unpredictable. They roam about in the hundreds of thousands across much of that continent, and regularly someone—hunter or otherwise—finds him or herself in difficulty with a buffalo. Regrettably, such meetings seldom end well. Still, buffalo are not a lurking menace intent on destruction, but they must be respected in all circumstances.

Three of us, all smitten with a wanderlust for Africa, were along on the trip. Fred Nazary, Sam Valentine and I found it impossible to avoid this adventure, the genesis of which came as an invitation from our friend and African PH, Louis Steencamp of Sofala Safaris. We succumbed to the pressure of that invitation and woke one Friday morning a few weeks back to the sound of bird call and brisk air in Limpopo Province, South Africa. This was not our first safari, but this one was far more complex. We would hunt Cape buffalo, our first endeavor of such magnitude. We were as prepared as we could possibly have been, minus having done this identical regimen previously. A first in anything leaves room for much learning.

Louis always totes his big rifle, a British double chambered to the .470 NE. Fred took a proven and well-proportioned Winchester Model 70 in .375 H&H. I had the rifle I outlined in this column last month, a custom 9.3X62 built on a Remington 700 left-hand action, Shaw barrel, Boyds stock, Timney trigger, Talley rings and bases, and wearing a Swarovski variable scope. In this I would fire 286-grain Barnes TSX bullets I loaded into Norma cases with H4350 powder.

Sam was either the bravest or most trusting among the group, for he had only a Nikon camera. His photos turned out in grand fashion.

Not to diminish the hunt, but please allow me to abandon that element by saying Fred and I took our Cape buffalo bulls, mine on the second day and Fred’s on the fifth.

Now I must move on in this discourse to other matters. The hunt, after all, was why we had come, but Africa is so very much more than the hunting. And it is this more that reverently seeps into the core of any visitor and brings to realization greater specifics that highlight what this haunting and mysterious place is all about:

Vast expanses of wildness. Indescribable bird life. Night skies that draw eyes upward. Assorted cultures and languages and customs. These and other addendums to the hunt make the experience rich and are impossible to imagine without having encountered them.

I recall one particular evening where a great many factors outside the hunt touched every life there present. A bush-willow fire glowed in the pit. A grill sat over hot coals and buffalo back straps sizzled. Crackers and cheese and biltong and dry sausage and fruit were on the table. Talk was jovial but never boisterous.

It was Sunday. There had been no church that day, but Richard Wiman, a Presbyterian minister and Louis’ father-in-law, suggested we have an evening service. He passed out the words to a familiar and potent hymn.

With all seated around the fire, Richard read from the Bible, First Peter, chapter 5, verses 1-11. One portion reminded readers and hearers to be humble and that they should cast all anxiety on God, for He cares. Most appropriate those words were. And then the song:

“O worship the King, all glorious above, And gratefully sing His wonderful love; Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of days, Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.”

We all sang. Some with a Southern accent, others with that marvelous richness indicative of South Africa’s pronunciation. A little fake harmony thrown in by a couple who remembered what the chord structure looked like in the printed music. It was a grand sound drifting across bushveld, while the Southern Cross and Milky Way dangled above at finger-tip height on a chilly winter evening. June is winter in South Africa.  

The hunt was spectacular, something that is common to this environ. But we did much more than hunt. We also worshipped in Africa.

Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. His newest book is “Rambling Through Pleasant Memories.” Order from Amazon.com or Kinton’s website: www.tonykinton.com.

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