Into the floodplains of Mozambique for buffalo, nyala, and waterbuck. James Reed, director of BookYourHunt – North America, shares his fascinating story.
Between the sweat pouring into my eyes and the dust billowing out from the herd of more than 200 buffalo, I couldn’t see well enough to shoot. My PHs, Paul and Anton, who were looking through their 10X binoculars, picked out a bull on the right end of the herd, but through my 4X scope and the dust I just couldn’t find it.
“I’m sorry, guys,” I said as the herd thundered off. “I just couldn’t pick him out, and with that many buffalo I wanted to be sure of the shot.”
It was the right decision, but as we stood there in the 120-degree heat with no shade for miles and our last chance of the day apparently blown, we were all disappointed, to say the least.
It was late September when I arrived in Beira, Mozambique, for my long anticipated hunt in Marromeu. We arrived in camp after dark, greeted by beating drums, a welcome dance put on by the native staff, and the friendly smiles of professional hunters Paul Ferreira and Anton Smit. Camp was beautiful, nestled under the lush forest canopy. After getting our gear situated in individual wooden cabins we settled down to some sundowners by the fire and discussed the plan for the hunt.
Camp was surrounded by dense forests, and from the minute we left the cabins the next morning it was obvious seeing game was not going to be the problem. We spotted numerous red and blue duikers, herds of Roosevelt sable, baboons, nyala, Lichtenstein hartebeest, and hundreds of warthogs. After driving an hour and a half we neared the swamp line where the forest meets the floodplain of the Zambezi Delta. There we saw Livingston eland, reedbuck, and hundreds of waterbuck. Waterbuck were one of my main objectives as I had longed to hunt one of these handsome animals long before I ever set foot in Africa. The floodplain itself was littered with game.
Anton pointed far out on the plain and said, “That is where we’ll find your buffalo tomorrow.” The buffalo in this unit number in the thousands; individual herds can range from a few dagga boys to hundreds of animals. Anton has hunted in this area for twelve years now and knows it like the back of his hand.
Marromeu has a very well-thought-out system of roads, camps, and transportation options that allow for flexibility as well as safety should things not go as planned. From the two main camps that serve as the hub of the operation, a system of roads leads out to various spike camps. From the spike camps you can go by Argo or even mokoro dugout canoe, depending on whether you are hunting in the swamps for buffalo and waterbuck or along the rivers for hippo and croc. If you are out too late to navigate back safely in the dark, there are fly camps set out just in case. The system takes the worry of getting back to camp out of the equation and really saves on road time.
Into the Swamps
We were up the next morning at 4:00 for breakfast and then hit the road to Argo Camp, from which we would head out in search of buffalo. The morning was beautiful, with a light ground fog adding to the sense of mystery about what lay ahead. We transferred all our gear to the Argos and headed into the swamps. We hadn’t gone far before it became obvious how valuable these eight-wheeled vehicles were in accessing this remote country. When we came to the first of many papyrus-covered rivers, the Argos dropped in and motored right through even though there was a deep, flowing river under the papyrus. We had numerous crossings like this that without the Argos would have been very wet and muddy at best, or downright dangerous at worst. You can step through the papyrus and just drop into the river below with little chance of clawing your way back up through. It is very similar to falling through and being trapped under ice. I can’t swim worth a hoot, so I was very grateful for these versatile machines.
Each time we popped out of the papyrus, a new vista lay before us. At around 10:00 we emerged from another screen of papyrus and instantly saw a black line stretching across the far horizon a mile or so distant. Buffalo—a lot of them. We grabbed gear and water and headed out on foot. Finding cover for the approach was a challenge and it was tough to avoid the 400 sets of eyes constantly scanning for danger. For a while we walked upright behind a screen of reeds, but that quickly gave way to crawling in a slight depression filled with razor grass. The sun had burned off the fog and was now high in the sky, and the day was getting hotter by the minute. The buffalo saw or smelled us and ran off, splitting into two smaller herds.
We drank some much-needed water and headed out again. We let one of the groups bed down and crawled as close as we could get, which was about 400 yards. The buffalo bed with their backs against the papyrus looking out across the open flats. This strategy leaves no way for predators to approach, even the two-legged sort. We decided to just wait them out. We got as comfortable as we could out in the sun in a draw filled with razorgrass. Paul had brought a big umbrella he had painted black to hide behind as we approached the buffalo, so we tied it to the shooting sticks with razorgrass and set it up like a patio umbrella. We were quite a sight as we all tried to squeeze at least our heads under the contraption for slight relief from the now-unrelenting sun.
After an hour or two and no movement from the buffalo, we decided to try to make something happen. While the rest of us stayed hidden in the razorgrass, one tracker walked out around the herd, angling upwind to let them catch his scent. We hoped this would get the buffalo on their feet and moving toward us. Upon catching the tracker’s scent, the buffalo began getting to their feet and looking for the intruder. Soon they began working their way toward us.
When they had closed about half the distance but were still out of range, the herd broke into a run and hooked to our right. We could see several good bulls in the herd. As they entered the draw we were in, we ran to the other side and waited for them to emerge. I got on the sticks but the buffalo weren’t stopping, so I knew if a bull emerged from the herd it would be a quick shot. They were now in the open, running across a burned area, kicking up billowing clouds of ash and dust.
As the herd slowed and began milling, Paul and Anton spotted two bulls, but I didn’t have a shot through the thick dust. We hurriedly grabbed the big black umbrella and began walking straight toward the herd. This works sometimes, but this time they were already too spooked and they thundered off, disappearing behind a screen of dust.
Nobody voiced any disappointment, but we all felt it. We were hot, we were tired, we were thirsty, and we were a long way from the Argos. Two of the staff were sent back to get the machines while the rest of us tried to find relief from the sun.
The Argos showed up and with them some much-needed cold water. The drivers informed us the herd hadn’t gone far and were bedded down again. Fueled with fresh water and new enthusiasm we decided to give it one more go. We had been after this herd for five hours now and now the sun would be at our backs if we approached the herd from downwind. We decided to line up in single file and just walk straight toward them.
We started walking and soon saw the white egrets marking the herd’s location. We lined up with Anton in the lead, me next, and the rest behind, and began our stalk. We crouched low and headed right toward the herd at a slow but steady pace. It was working! The herd was somewhat restless, but with each step we closed the distance. At 200 yards the buffalo were on their feet and nervous. Finally, at 120 yards, they decided enough was enough and started to move off. I dropped my pack onto a termite mound for a rest and got ready. Anton spotted a nice bull but it was quickly swallowed up by the herd. One of the biggest challenges of hunting these herds is selecting the right animal out of hundreds, and doing it quickly.
Anton and I both scanned left and there, in a sea of buffalo butts, was a big old bull facing directly at us, giving us the “Ruark stare.” There happened to be an egret on a buffalo just to his right and Anton said, “James, the bull facing us, just left of the egret!”
“I’m already on him!”
There was a calf directly in front of his chest, blocking any shot. I got good and steady, and as soon as the calf cleared, Anton said, “Take him.”
The shot from my rifle took the bull square in the chest and he reared up like a stallion. He pivoted on his hind legs and came down facing straight away from us, carrying his front leg off the ground—the classic sign of a heart shot. The rest of the herd thundered off, but after only three or four hops, my buffalo stopped and turned to face us. As he turned broadside, I hit him high in the shoulder and he crumpled at the impact.
As we approached the fallen warrior, old, hard-bossed, and covered in mud, he looked majestic. I couldn’t help but admire his attempt at a last stand as the rest of the herd ran off. I ran my hands over his worn and muddy horns and thanked him. He was magnificent, and now forever a part of my life.
We took pictures and butchered the bull. Every ounce of meat was loaded onto the Argos and we made our way back out of the swamps just as the sun painted us a beautiful sunset. Laden with hundreds of pounds of meat and horns, the Argos rode a little lower in the water on the way home.
Waterbuck and Nyala
The next afternoon we headed out in search of nyala, stalking along the forest edges, glassing as we went. We saw a sounder of bushpigs, as well as warthogs, hartebeest, duikers, civets, and finally, right before dark, we spotted three nyala bulls. Stalking slowly and quietly, we got close but Anton determined they weren’t mature enough, so we slipped out and headed back to camp.
The next day Anton and I headed out to the floodplain again in search of a big waterbuck bull. The numbers of waterbuck in this area are beyond belief. The other PH, JW, and his client reported that they had seen one herd of waterbuck that numbered 167. All bulls!
We climbed aboard the Argos and began working our way out onto the floodplain. Immediately we started seeing waterbuck. We would glass a herd, move on, and glass another. I glanced to our left and spotted a bull on the skyline, maybe a half a mile away. He looked good.
I asked Anton, “What about that one?”
After one quick look through his binocular, he said, “That’s the waterbuck we’re hunting today.”
We crouch-walked into a shallow waterway and began crawling to close the distance. After several hundred yards we were out of cover but still too far away for a comfortable shot. The bull was part of a herd, and they animals could now see us and were nervously moving off. We paralleled them, closing the distance as we went. I ranged the big bull: 350 yards. We went farther and I ranged him again: 347 yards. They were moving as we were moving, and I knew this was as close as we were getting. When the bull stopped and separated from the herd slightly, I rested my rifle on my pack and hit him square in the chest. He turned, and I put in a finishing shot just in case.
We walked up to the bull and he was even more incredible than we had imagined. His bases were so big my hands would only go halfway round and his worn horns spread wide and high above his head. I was ecstatic. I had my long awaited waterbuck! After getting him back to camp, Anton wanted to measure him and he stretched the tape to 32½ inches. It was a truly fantastic animal and made even more special by the effort it took to hunt him in his native habitat.
The next morning, we headed out after nyala again. We walked silently along the forest edges, stopping to glass each time a new opening appeared. We were approaching another clearing when some nyala cows bolted into the forest on our right. We crept on, keeping our eyes peeled for the herd bull.
Suddenly the tracker behind me hissed, pointing to the left. We had been so focused on the nyala cows on our right we didn’t see the big nyala bull standing in the shadows to our left about fifty yards off. I was carrying my riffle again because it was rumored there was a big male lion in the area that had been wounded in a snare.
Anton said, “He’s a good one!”
I swung the rifle offhand and dropped the nyala. He never took a step.
It was an old bull with heavy, ivory-tipped horns in the classic lyre shape. His coat was in prime condition with all the colors and markings that make the nyala one of the most visually striking animals in the world.
In the course of the next few days I took a nice warthog and a big, ancient baboon that was haunting the camp. This hunt in Mozambique was truly one of those adventures that surpassed all of my expectations, and as I write this, weeks after my return, I still have a smile on my face and I am already planning my return to one of Africa’s Edens, to again hunt the bulls of Marromeu.
This Story Originally Appeared in Sports Afield.Find a gorgeous hunt like this one on BookYourHunt.