Whether you are a Hemingway fan or not, you cannot deny that The Green Hills of Africa are alive and well in the North Dande near the Zimbabwe river. I personally am a fan and Zimbabwe has stolen my heart.
Speaking of my heart, it all started the day that my now husband, Spence, and I exchanged our wedding vows. It was a beautiful Colorado fall day near dusk. We grabbed our vows, our jackets and as we were walking out the door Spence looks at me and then looks at his rifle and says, “well, it is hunting season”. We grabbed the rifle and off we hiked to one of the cliffs on our 35 acre property. It was just us, my old dog, my camera and his rifle. We exchanged our vows and then I asked him to come over the ridge so I could walk him over to the other knoll that he hadn’t been on. When we crested the ridge, yes, you guessed it, a buck. Well, that was my ‘first hunt’ and I was hooked.
Fast forward 2 years and we were in Zimbabwe on what we called our ‘honeymoon’. This of course was not like most honeymoons. There were no sandy beaches, no sleeping in, but in my opinion this was much better. This was a dangerous game adventure and it was OUTSTANDING – even the scorpion bite on the first night didn’t diminish my love for this trip. This was my first safari (I went as an observer) and Spence’s 6th and we were off to claim his first Cape Buffalo. I cannot begin to explain the beauty, the education and the experiences but here’s my attempt.
First of all, a huge thanks to Buzz and Myles for providing such an outstanding experience and hiring some of the best and most down to earth people I have ever met! And a huge thanks to Lance Nesbitt, our PH, and his team – Maloy and Clemente, as our experiences were rich beyond words thanks to them. Also, a huge thank you to the staff and the other PH’s we were able to meet and get to know. One of my fondest memories is sitting around the fire at the end of the day while enjoying drinks and Crispin’s appetizers with everyone sharing stories from the day and previous hunts.
I’ll skip Harare, although the evening there was a delight, and push right on to the day we arrived at camp. Our camp staff was excellent and I’m still trying to figure out how I could get Crispin home so he could cook for me every day. 🙂
Upon arrival at the Maruru camp we went to the range to sight in our rifles. Being a novice and a perfectionist I have to admit that I was a bit nervous, but for Spence it was second nature. Once we were sighted in we were ready for 5 a.m. wake ups and days exploring the Dande. The first couple of days we tracked from the truck and on foot. We saw tracks from elephant, buffalo and other wild game, but no buffalo that were near enough to hunt.
On the 3rd day we came upon our first Dugga Boy and boy was he mad we disturbed him. Between a mix of not having a clear shot and not wanting to shoot the first one we say on only day 3 Spence did not take him, but he provided us one of my favorite days of hiking through the gorgeous land of the Dande.
The next day we had the pleasure of getting on a herd of buffalo and watching them for hours. However the wind eventually switched and they spooked. After the herd ran off, a short time later, we followed. As it turns out, we were the only ones on their tracks, because suddenly as we were trekking through the tall grasses we were approached by the most guttural sound I’ve ever heard in my life. I stopped in my tracks and knew immediately it was a lion, although I could not see one anywhere. Lance was immediately in action, charging ahead and ‘being large’ but the lioness was not backing down. As she kept charging, Lance would charge back. Suddenly a roar came from 90 degrees to the right. Yes, she had a friend. The second lioness was now charging from the right so Spence started charging back like Lance. The lionesses were not proving to back down so Lance fired off a warning shot into a tree and off they ran. I will never forget the look in the lionesses eye. I then realized that we are not the top of the food chain and there is a reason it’s called Dangerous Game. This was not my Colorado deer hunt. We quickly backed out of the situation leaving the heard of buffalo for another day.
Day 5 was a beautiful day. It was a day of wandering the gorgeous land of Zimbabwe. We didn’t get on any buffalo that day, but I almost got a most magnificent grysbok. Right guys? Haa. This was one of the many things I learned. You need to know what you will or will not hunt and at the time I was not cut out for shooting the grysbok. As I was shooting pictures of him resting behind a tree Clemente quickly grabbed my left handed 30-06 (purchased specifically for me from my dear husband for the previous Christmas) and handed it to me telling me to shoot. Well, I realized that I mentally went on this trip as a spectator and I’d listened to Spence say he saw no point in shooting the small antelope, so I hesitated, made too many excuses, etc. and well, he was off in a a few leaps. Now I look at the picture and wished I’d been more certain of my convictions. I would have a nice mount right now. 🙂
Well, as the day wore on we ran out of time and only saw tracks. We were heading back to camp when there was a huge commotion coming from the guard station. Through the course of conversation and then driving to the station we learned there were 3 Dugga Boys down by a spring. One of the guards hopped in with us and we were off. I was excited!! We drove as far in as we could before the Mopane trees and Jezz got too thick then we were on foot. Now keep in mind it was nearing sunset. We hiked following the tracks and the dung. This is where it got so exciting. We were checking the temperature of the dung, Maloy was explaining to me where they would lie down, where they were stepping. Suddenly I knew we were close. You could feel and smell it in the air. Lance, Spence and Clemente went up ahead while Maloy, Thomas and I fell back. The ground was so dry and every step made noise. This was it, I just knew this was it. Before I knew it Maloy was signaling me to come up a little closer. There were shots and I couldn’t see anyone. Then all of a sudden I could see the buffalo turn toward Lance and Spence and I could see his nostrils flare just before he charged. I could see Lance, Spence and the buffalo through a clearing. He was trying to charge because he could not get out the steep cliffs of the spring. More shots and finally he was down. Exhilarating!! Spence got his Dugga Boy! Unfortunately it was late and the sun was setting and after having a first hand experience with lionesses I was very convinced we did not want to be out in the dark night. Maloy and Clemente went fast to work and they propped the buffalo up for some pictures in the morning (my camera had stopped working and we’d forgotten to bring the cell phones). Then they started a fire in the sandy dry spring and hung some toilet paper around all in an effort to keep the lions at bay. Sadly we had to leave our buffalo.
We rose the next day and drove in as far as we could. Then our trackers and our skinner (fun….) started cutting the trail in. Amazing!! Their skill is beyond words. Upon getting to our buffalo we soon saw that the lions had gotten him. Again though the skill goes without saying – they propped him up as best they could and we took some photos before they got fast to work skinning, gutting and taking all of the meat. Nothing goes to waste, which leads me to another beautiful thing about this adventure.
We had the luxury of spending several nights in camp with the guy who led the CMS Anti-poaching unit. We learned so much about poaching and the efforts to stop it, the damage caused to the wildlife and the waste. We also learned so much about the dependencies and interactions of the hunters and the villages. The meat is either eaten in camp, provided to the villages or provided to hunters who are hunting lions and leapards, the game that need bait.
The next half of our trip was spent watching the cleaning process for Spence’s buffalo and then heading up to Matombo Camp on the Zambezi River where we hunted more, floated the Zambezi River while tiger fishing and drinking gin and tonics, and watching the crocodiles and hippos.
Words really can’t describe the beauty of the land, the people and the animals. I feel blessed to have Zimbabwe be my first safari. Yes, it will be my first and definitely not my last. I will someday shoot a warthog, a kudu, a sable (I know I can do that), I have no desire to shoot dangerous game, but I’ll support Spence in that venture, and well, I’m still on the fence about that grysbok.
If you ever decide you want a dangerous game hunting safari CMS, Lance and team are the way to go. I would recommend them again and again!