“I don’t care … about these people who can split a pea at 300 yards. What I want to know about a man is how good he is on a charging buffalo at six feet.”
— Philip Percival
Philip Percival was Ernest Hemingway’s white hunter and considered the dean of East African professional hunters. He was also very good “… on a charging buffalo at six feet.” Elements of danger can change the whole perspective and dynamics of a hunt, and when pursuing any of Africa’s Big Five — elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion, and leopard — always be prepared for the unexpected.
When I think back to some of the greatest shots I’ve made, a few extremely long shots come to mind: on an excellent Dall sheep, a beautiful nyala, a huge gemsbok, and a grand old greater kudu. But even more remarkable was a very close shot I had to make.
It happened in Botswana while looking over a herd of Cape buffalo in heavy cover. My rifle, a reliable Mauser-action .458, was in my hands as I searched the herd for a big bull from the broad base of a termite mound. My two clients and two trackers stood to my right, while the herd of some 50 buffalo bunched up in thick scrub 50 yards in front of us.
Suddenly and without warning, the sound of a cracking branch caught my attention, and I glanced left to see a huge bull burst from the bushes in full charge. With a reflexive reaction much like snapping off a quick shot at a fast-flushing quail, I shouldered my rifle and fired.
I’d be lying to say I deliberately put the front bead below the bull’s boss and squeezed one off — there just wasn’t time for precise aiming as he rapidly closed the distance between us. An unwounded animal coming at you with all of his strength, stamina, and speed intact presents a formidable threat, indeed.
Fortunately, the solid 500-grain bullet found its mark, slamming the brute between his eyes and passing through his brain. His legs instantly buckled and his nose plowed a path in the sandy soil only seven feet from where I stood. It all happened in a flash of movement and reaction — far quicker than the recounting of it.
I recovered the bullet, which retained its original shape, from just under the thick, ropey folds of skin on the back of his neck.
I’ve had to stop a number of wounded buffalo during more than 30 years of African hunting, but having to shoot a previously unwounded charging buffalo occurred only once. When there’s no margin for error, you need to be sure of yourself and your rifle.
“A Cape Buffalo’s Rage” first appeared in the July/August 2015 issue of Sporting Classics. Subscribe today to get more great stories like this delivered straight to your home eight times a year!