African Hunting in the 1980s Part 2 of 3
by Ed H. Edwards, SCI Lansing Chapter Member, avid hunter, and fisherman
Hunting in Botswana with an American Legend in 1984!
A fine mess you’ve got yourself into ran through my mind while aiming the,460 Weatherby at a crippled Cape buffalo holed up and waiting in an ambush less than 20 yards away.
Safaris are like a good potato chip; one is never enough! As soon as my 1st African hunt was finished, I started to plan the next one. Over lunch, with the Chicago-based agent that set up the 1st hunt, he recommended a combination of Cape buffalo and plains game in either Botswana or Zambia. Either destination would require a charter flight to a seasonal tented camp.
Almost two years went by and about the time mounts from my 1st hunt were on the wall the stars lined up for hunt #2. The company I was employed with at the time supplied equipment to Sasol the South African Oil & Chemical Company. Due to plant start-up damage, they requested some on-site service assistance. In 1984 South Africa did not get very good press in the news and no one wanted to go. Not wanting to appear too anxious I volunteered with a sigh just for good measure.
The timing was perfect! My work schedule would be finished just as a group was coming into Johannesburg and proceeding to Botswana for a hunt the following morning and I would be able to join them. The hunt was an 8- day buffalo and plains package in the Kwando River delta bordering the Eastern end of the Caprivi Strip. The flight up from Johannesburg to Maun was uneventful. The Maun airport at the time was a tiny one-counter terminal and hunters gathered at the Duck Inn a dusty fifty-yard walk from the terminal before catching the charter flight to camp. Most of the diners were professional hunters between hunts meeting or seeing off clients and were easy to spot. They were the guys wearing large caliber “culling belts” shorts, and boots without socks.
We were on an end-of-the-season special hunt the outfitter offered to use up pre-purchased tags. Hunters were allowed one each: Cape buffalo, Red Lechwe, and impala and any two of either zebra, wildebeest, or warthog. The price for this hunt including all licenses, tags, charter flights, and 8 full days of hunting was $3,300.00! I wanted a sassaby and was able to purchase a license for this unusual rare antelope that at the time had limited hunting availability. The two 4 passenger charter flights flew at a very low altitude and large herds of elephant, buffalo, and plains game were constantly spotted right up to the point we approached the cut-from-the-bush landing strip.
The camp was set up right in the middle of the game-rich area and consisted of “Kenya” style tents, a bucket shower, an outhouse, and a dining tent completed the campsite. A perfect setup in a game-rich ecosystem. Having plains game close to camp was enjoyable as lechwe, impala, and zebra could be spotted all day long. Elephants eating the leaves off the trees that shaded our tents and the growling of lions fighting over the harvested game bone pile which was quite close to camp made getting to sleep challenging and after dark trips to the outhouse were minimal! We were not allowed to take walks away from camp due to the number of elephants constantly hanging around. Elephants had been off license for quite a few years and were big, plentiful, and had -0- fear of humans.
The group I joined up with was diverse in occupations and hunting experience.
Frank, a surgeon from Louisiana, was on his 2nd African hunt having hunted Southwest African (now Namibia} for plains game.
Dick, an oil distributor from Wyoming with a lot of experience in his home state was on his 1st African hunt.
Ralph, an assistant prison warden from Iowa was on his 1st big game hunt of any sort.
Prior to the trip, none of us had met and the trip was a 2 X 1 so it was decided I would team up with Ralph, and Frank and Dick would hunt together. Clive Eaton would be the PH for Frank and Dick and Willie Phillips would keep me and Ralph out of trouble.
Additional camp members included Paul Merzig the booking agent, Shelia Link a photographer, and Bill Jordan a man with an interesting career in law enforcement, hunting, and journalism. A career Border Patrol Officer with breaks for WWII he served in the Marines and Marine Corp Police duty during the Korean War. In 1965 Bill retired from both; Assistant Chief Border Patrol Inspector, and Major in the Marine Reserves. After retirement from law enforcement, he joined the NRA and had way too many positions and honors to list and became well known as a revolver fast draw and trick shooting expert. Bill also wrote about firearms and hunting for several magazines including Petersons Hunting and Shooting Times. Bill would hunt a buffalo and lechwe and write about it in Shooting Times.
Ron Spomer described Bill “as a crane of a man” in one of his writings and that is a great description. At 6-6 with who knows what sleeve length and hands any NBA player would be happy with he was truly a gentle giant as long as you behaved yourself!
Time spent with Bill at meals and around the evening campfire was a big part of the trip. Accounts of his border patrol work, favorite firearms, and hunting experiences were some of the informative and entertaining discussions we had with Bill.
The story I found most interesting occurred in a Wyoming courtroom in 1979. Bill was called in to participate in a “reenactment” of a law enforcement officer shooting in self-defense. The defense attorney wanted to prove it was possible to draw and fire a double-action revolver before someone holding a cocked revolver could fire. The attorney came up with blanks for Bill and a deputy sheriff that was guarding the courtroom. The deputy was instructed to point the cocked revolver at Bill and to fire as soon as he saw Bill start to draw his gun. After a few moments, Bill drew and fired. The deputy’s mouth dropped open as he stood holding the unfired gun.
The attorney asked Bill how fast his defendant was. “A mite faster than me” Bill replied. (Both Bill and the defendant had competed in shooting exhibitions for years.)
The jury found the defendant not guilty!
It was great to be back in the African bush again and done working at a job site with unfriendly and cranky employees.
My first opportunity of the trip was a fine lechwe ram near dusk that looked really distant through the 4X scope but the professional hunter urged me to shoot and following safari hunting rule #1 I did exactly that. The .270 put the ram down but not quite out so I had to walk + wade across the flat with the trackers to finish it.
Was a non-hunting day for me, Ralph would hunt his buffalo and I would observe. Buffalo was plentiful and herds so large it was difficult to pick out a mature bull before they thundered off in a cloud of dust. After five or six failed attempts we had the wind right on a small herd of twenty or so, that did not notice our presence. Most were directly in front or to the right of our position and the PH and tracker were focused on those. I spotted a single bull to our left that looked good and nudged the PH to check it out and he immediately motioned Ralph to shoot! Ralph smacked him with the .460 and sent a follow-up shop as it galloped away. After giving it about five minutes the MMMMMBAAAAWWW death bellow of the 44” bull sounded! Hunting buffalo did not seem to be that big of a deal but I would find out differently on day #3.
Finding buffalo was still not a problem but picking out and getting a shot at a shooter remained a challenge. In one herd we spotted a big bull that had a stub tail that was easy to keep track of but this apparently was not his 1st rodeo with humans and after we followed a bit, he decided to take off in the opposite direction the herd was moving and did not slow down. Later and well into the afternoon, we were watching a small herd and a big bull moved away from the others behind a thick brush barely visible. I could make out its hindquarters as it faced away at a sharp angle. Taking a quick aim for a raking shot and pulling the trigger a meaty whack echoed from the 510 grain Hornady soft finding its mark. The bull whirled into the thick cover and was gone. The PH was confident the bull would not go far and we would find it dead from the single-shot and took time to smoke a cigarette a common practice in those days to allow the animal time to bleed out. He was so confident he left his rifle in the truck! The path the buffalo took was nearly impossible to walk through with short visibility and after a short walk, we spotted the buff very much alive and standing in the shadows of scrub mopane. An ear wiggle gave him away at less than 20 yards and time seemed to freeze!
I wasted no time in swatting him in the chest and the bullet energy picked him up like a bucking bronc as I cycled the bolt after recovering from recoil and as soon as the bull’s front legs came down to earth his neck was in the crosshairs and I swear my finger pulled the trigger before receiving the brain message to do so. The bull collapsed without any further excitement which was okay with me!
We could not get the truck close to the downed bull and we had to field dress and cut it into six pieces to carry out. Other than having a surprise visit from T. Boone Pickens when we returned to came that ended the excitement for day #3.
Ralph decided to have a portion of his trip filmed by Shelia so it was determined he would continue to hunt With Willie Phillips for the next 3 days and I would switch over to Cecil Riggs those days. Day #4 I was off with Cecil looking for a sassaby a clumsy appearing animal with high shoulders and touted to be the fasted-hooved African animal. Mid-morning, I took a shot at a ram and Cecil called a gut shot and suggested we follow up using the truck after he smoked a cigarette. The shot was not as bad as called and had gotten a lung. We found the sassaby less than 100 yards away standing under a tree and I was able to put it down for good. The sassaby was a good one and measured out in the SCI top 25 at the time and provided the camp with delicious steaks.
I’m down to impala and warthog. We spot a nice impala ram and make a good stalk and I miss by shooting right over its back. “No problem we will find a better one” Cecil assured me and we did exactly that and this time I double lunged the ram and it back-peddled several steps and dropped in a little clearing surrounded by tall grass. Approaching the downed impala, we got a surprise. As we low geared up to the ram three lionesses and a young lion lifted their heads up out of the grass less than 30 yards from the vehicle. After a few seconds staring down the lionesses decided to look for a different place to relax and scooted away. The lion stood up and gave us a really nasty look for disturbing the party. Cecil grabbed his,458, jumped from the truck and screamed “are you a fighter or BS’ER” and ran towards the lion which took off in the same direction as his lady friends. Never a dull moment in Africa.
Warthogs were abundant but a good tusker required a lot of looking around and dismissing many with tusks broken from rooting in the hard rocky ground. Warthogs are a favorite food source for the many lions and leopards that inhabit the area we were hunting which further necessitated a lot of looking around for a good boar. We looked all morning without seeing anything of interest and headed back to camp for lunch.
Early afternoon Cecil released the clutch and we rolled out of camp in a cloud of dust and headed in the opposite direction than we had previously traveled. Soon a sounder of warthogs was spotted in a recently burned area which gave us a few seconds to look them over before they spooked and ran for cover. “Front one!” Cecil screamed. I remember swinging the crosshairs about a body length in front of the chosen one and squeezed off at the same time the warthog disappeared into the tall grass. The sound of the bullet-finding purchase and the warthog jumping up and reappearing before expiring on the spot brought uncontrollable laughter to the trackers who had never witnessed an unseen animal shot!
Not sure if this qualified as my best shot, luckiest shot, strangest shot, or perhaps all three. I do know it is an African hunting memory I will never forget.
Days 6&7 were spent in camp and a little riding around in an area of the concession that had not been hunted for several weeks. We found a dead cow elephant that had a pride of lions feeding on it from the inside. As we approached lions shot out of the elephant body cavity like underground launched rockets!
In conclusion, it was a memorable trip of a lifetime with many new friends made however being so long ago most have since passed but good memories of them live on.
Bill Jordan authored an article for Shooting Times shortly after the Botswana hunt and the article was included in his 2nd published book in 1987, “Mostly Huntin’,” which is a collection of his favorite articles from Petersons Hunting and Shooting Times. It was truly a privilege and honor to spend time with a true American Legend.
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