Ten years have passed since last I visited Tanzania. We hunted the famous Selous Game Reserve on that particular safari, coming away with a host of great animals, most notably the biggest Cape Buffalo hunted in the Selous that year.
After that initial hunt, things changed in Tanzania, with the dramatic up listing of rates and various tax laws playing the biggest role to why we had not returned to hunt this breath-taking country again. Over the course of those ten years our hunters chose South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Namibia, and Zambia. But then 2016 came around and I received my annual “hunt planning” mail from my great friend, Steve Travis.
“I’m turning 50 buddy! I want to go Tanzania. I’ve always dreamt about it. Can you put something together?”
This was the big 5!0! Soon we had some options on the table and then we booked the hunt with Jaco Oosthuizen from Game Trackers Africa – our hosts in Tanzania.
We planned to hunt the Moyowasi/Kigozi Game Reserve, situated in Tanzania’s north-western corner up against Burundi and Rwanda. Our block would be the Kigozi unit with its miombo forests and central flood plain playing host to both big 5 and plains game. We were booked and now the waiting game began as we ticked off the days and months leading up to late September 2017.
Hunting has a way of picking you up, giving you hope…. and then spitting you out.
We had arrived to Dar Es Salaam on September 15, I had flown in from South Africa, while Steve came via Europe, stopping over in Nairobi, Kenya, along the way.
With plans set for us to catch a charter out the following morning we were thrown a massive curve ball by United Airlines, who had left Steve’s bags and ammo in Chicago, while they sent the rifles along without a hassle in the world. As ridiculous as that sounds, but there we were – stuck in Dar waiting for luggage.
Meanwhile Steve’s wife Haylee was being a champ back home working the airlines overtime trying to speed up the bag delivery. By noon that first day we made a call to fly out commercially to Mwanza, situated on the shores of Lake Victoria.
We finally got in late that evening and woke the next morning to the amazing sights and sounds of the largest lake in Africa – and then caught our charter to Kigozi. The bags would follow in days to come.
The first few days saw us exploring the area and getting to see the various species of game. We spotted East African Kudu, Topi, Roan, Sable, East African Bushbuck, Lichtenstein Hartebeest, Giraffe, Spotted Hyena, Bohor Reedbuck, Honey Badger, Sitatunga, Warthog, Bushpig, Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Oribi, Duiker, plenty of Bush babies on our way back to camp in the evenings, and of course Cape Buffalo.
The place is beautiful with amazing sun rises and sunsets, and is a game rich area compared to many other Tanzanian concessions. Seeing game does however not mean you’re killing game when it comes to concession hunting. By the end of day four we had not bothered the skinners yet. Let’s say we were desperate for action. The entire crew were working extremely hard, trying everything possible to break our run of bad luck.
Most mornings we would rise at 4:30 am, getting back in the evenings between 21-22:00. Sleep was not a priority, but still our luck wouldn’t break.
On day five we decided to give the plains game a break and concentrate on Steve’s all-time favourite, Cape Buffalo. We stuck to our routine, wasting no time on any other game along the way and headed deep into the swamp.
And just when you thought you had been spat out, the hunting gods smile down on you…
We hadn’t spotted much until about noon, when suddenly three old Dugga boys appeared on the distant horizon. Desperate for action we set off on a long stalk.
Soon we were in range and then all hell broke loose. First the bull on the right, then the bull in the middle, and then the bull on the left. In a matter of two minutes Steve had done it again.
He had tagged out with three Buffalo in the matter of twenty minutes on the flood plains of Mozambique, and now had done so again in Tanzania. A feat I thought I’d never see, let alone see repeated again by the same guy.
With the Buffalo firmly in the salt plans took a whole new course. We now had meat, lots of it, and a Leopard suddenly became a hot topic of debate.
With the baits hung we headed back out to the swamps for Sitatunga, giving the various baits time to attract our desired quarry.
It turned out to be a long morning in the swamps with no opportunities on the much-anticipated Sitatunga, it did however provide us with magnificent pictures of these shy, and rarely photographed animals.
Before leaving camp that morning we had made an arrangement with Dennis, the camp manager to clock in at 11am via satellite phone. We had left Baraka and Chumani to check baits.
After only one night we had a hit. Baraka was excited, urging us on to get out of the swamps and start heading towards the struck bait. He on the other hand would start collecting material to get the blind built. It would be a race against the clock. The guys knew this old Tom well. He first came to bait 3 years ago, at that stage he was already a big cat. He had a habit of feeding constantly for the first two to three evenings, but then became sporadic. We needed to get in that evening.
The team pulled together like a well-oiled machine, and by 17:00 we were in the blind.
As the birds went about their business like they do in Africa each evening, getting ready for the night ahead, we sat in silence, listing for anything that may give away the Leopards presence. At first it was the Spur Fowl and then the Guinea Fowl, they sounded nervous, he was here … but we couldn’t see him. We sat in silence, barely breathing as the sweat dripped from our brows in the blistering hot blind.
And then just as we started wondering if he’d be in during the required day light hours, the sound of nails digging deep into the bark of a tree broke the silence around us. He was on the bait.
He paused for a second, looking around nervously, and then confidently lay down and started feeding. There were two cats in the area, a male and female, and while this cat looked like a beast, we still had to make certain he was a legal male, giving Steve the opportunity to enjoy viewing this beautiful animal.
I’m sure it was mere minutes, but it felt like hours, he just lay there feeding, and all this time the sun was setting. Legal shooting time was running out. And then he got up and there was no doubting it was him.
Steve got the go-ahead. At the thunder of his 416 Rigby the Leopard disappeared out of sight, and all we could hear was the sound of the grass breaking in our direction with a few deep grumbles. And then there was silence. We sat quietly giving him time, making sure he was down. A wounded Leopard is no walk in the park, and we weren’t up for a walk with an irate cat.
Steve had hit him two inches back, taking out both lungs, and in the process earning a cat of some magnitude.
A beast well past his prime, carrying the battle scars of a Tom on his way out. Down in condition he still weighed in at over 170 pounds with a tip to tail measurement of 8 feet 9″. A once in a lifetime cat.
With our cat in the back we headed to camp in the chorus of the crew chanting away “Kabubi-Kabubi!” The festivities had begun!
We woke the following morning still in awe at what we had achieved. So much had changed in two days. At the start of day 5 our spirits were down and out, now Steve was back – he had to dig deep inside to really find out how badly he wanted it. He found it. And we went back Sitatunga hunting.
Our efforts once again came up empty-handed, but we did manage to hunt a great Topi on the way back to camp that evening.
With time running out we gave the Sitatunga our all on day nine. Many a hunter has left Africa without a Sitatunga. We weren’t planning on Steve being one of those. Their numbers were excellent in the area we were hunting, we just needed to find the right patch of papyrus.
After two drives we hadn’t seen a big bull, when Triphone, one of the trackers suggested a small patch of papyrus off in the distance. He had a good feeling about it. We went with his gut instinct and Steve literally became one of the luckiest hunters I know.
Our last day was spent looking for a Hippo, with a nice Lichtenstein Hartebeest crossing our path late that last afternoon, but the swamps proved to be too tough a terrain to hunt a weary old Hippo bull. We had used up our luck you could say. And that was fine for all involved. That’s why we hunt. You enjoy the good times when the hard yards had you doubting yourself and the process involved. It was time to catch our charter… western Tanzania had spoiled us for quality in both scenery, wildlife, and experiences.
In closing I’d like to thank Jaco and his crew. You guys were professional and a pleasure to work with in the field. From Suleiman, who met us upon arrival in Dar Es Salaam to Dennis our camp manager and Baraka our Masai tracker, aka the Dugga Boy. Thomas was our driver, come mechanic, come magic man. This guy will put any first world mechanical workshop to shame right in the middle of nowhere with a tool box and a couple of bottles of oil for good measure. Chumani who ran the other truck daily, putting in as much effort as every crew member on our truck, never once stopped smiling, making him an asset to all around. Our senior tracker, Ntacho, aka the boss, as we fondly renamed him, was a man cut from a different cloth. At 62 he could run, climb, jump, drive Sitatunga and Hippo all day long through the papyrus infected swamp, while still providing us with untold laughter and fun along the way. We’re still hoping to convince him to part take in the Senior Olympics – a special guy to say the least. There were so many more to thank who kept the show on the road, but these guys made all the difference daily. Thank you so much.
Then last but not least, to a friend like few, Steve Travis – Happy birthday mate. This one tested us to the point of breaking, but once again we met the challenge head on, coming away with an experience worth a 50th celebration. Thanks for the memories… here’s to you and many more.
For more information and current updates about John X Safaris; follow us on Twitter, connect with us on Facebook, subscribe to our YouTube Channel and visit our Website