Poen Van Zyl of Zambeze Delta Safaris stood 15 feet above me atop a vegetation-strewn termite mound and surveyed the abandoned garden through a well-used pair of binoculars.
The local tribesmen, who call the famed Coutada 11 of Mozambique home, practice slash-and-burn farming. They clear enormous areas in the forest and then abandon those areas after one or two years of use. The forest was quickly reclaiming the area with vegetation and the constant hum of tens of thousands of bees signaled that many of the plants in the area were flowering. It was mid-July and the weather had been unseasonably cool and wet, but turned warm and humid, typical for winter in coastal Mozambique.
In addition to bees, the local antelope also visit these abandoned gardens. We were looking for an old mature bull nyala that Poen knew frequented this particular garden. The unmistakable trumpet of an elephant rang out, and Will Fawcett and I locked eyes. In addition to being a friend, Will is a professional hunter with Numzaan Safaris in South Africa and joined me as an observer on this safari in Mozambique. The details of this adventure had been planned at the SCI Convention in Las Vegas. The plan was for Will and me to hunt in Mozambique for two weeks, then fly back from Beira, Mozambique, to Johannesburg, drive down to the Freestate to pick up a couple of species I had missed on my first safari to R.S.A. and then finish the trip with a couple of days in Limpopo.
Will and I smiled at one another nervously. Elephants in the area could spell trouble, and that elephant sounded close. Elephants in Mozambique are survivors of several civil wars and are not particularly fond of humans. In fact, one could say they are downright aggressive. I imagined a scenario in which we found the old bull nyala about the same time that the elephants ambled into the garden. I tend to have that kind of luck. To compound the problem, I was the only person with a firearm, and it was a revolver. I had absolutely no interest in trying to turn an angry charge with a revolver.
Poen looked down and waved Will up. Will labored to the top of the termite mound and then Poen and he whispered and pointed while they formed a plan. From the ground, out of earshot, I took the planning as a good sign. Perhaps the old bull was in the garden. After what seemed an eternity, while I watched the afternoon sun inexorably dip toward the western horizon, Will and Poen came down to my level and laid out the plan. There were five bulls in the garden. The closest one was immature and alone. Deeper into the garden were three mature but young bulls. All three of them were shooters, but none of them was the “proper” bull. The old man we were after was about 150 or so yards from us, close to the edge of the garden where it disappeared into the forest. To compound our problems, the elephants were close and would not tolerate our presence in the garden, and the sun was very low in the western sky.
“Perfect,” I thought.
As quietly as possible, we began to move toward the old bull, trying desperately to skirt around the younger bulls so we did not alert the old bull to our presence. Luckily, baboons frequent these gardens as well and the noise that stalking hunters make pales in comparison to the noise a troop of hungry baboons can produce. Despite our best efforts, the immature bull spotted us and sounded the alarm. The older group of three bulls began to move away from our location and, unfortunately, we had lost sight of the oldest bull as we began the stalk. With faith as our only indication that the old bull was still in the area, we stuck to our plan and moved forward.
Suddenly, Poen’s tracker, Gotchi (pronounced goat-chee, meaning piglet in Zulu) froze. Through years of hunting as a pair, Gotchi and Poen communicated without words. Gotchi set up my shooting sticks, and Poen slid to a position just to the right of them.
“Can you see him?” Poen said.
“No,” I said. “How far?”
Poen’s tone was urgent.
“He’s right there. No more than 70-80 yards.”
The big old bull turned his head, and the motion caught my eye. His gray coat blended in perfectly with the surroundings.
“Got him,” I said.
I put the Freedom Arms Model 83 chambered in .454 Casull onto the cradle in the shooting sticks and looked through the scope. I had set the scope on its lowest power, knowing through hard experience that spot-and-stalk hunting with a pistol is close to impossible with anything but the lowest power settings. I kept both eyes open and looked past the scope at the bull, aligning the pistol with him so I could see him through the scope. The crosshairs settled on his left shoulder, but he was facing away, and the angle was severe. This was not a good shot and certainly not one I was going to take.
“Do you have a clear shot?” said Poen.
“Okay. Don’t rush it. He’ll turn if you give him a chance.”
Time ticked by as the sun marched further to the west. I kept the pistol aimed at the bull but kept both eyes open to avoid eye strain while waiting for him to turn. Clearly, he was not concerned by the closeness of the elephants or the setting sun. Neither was he concerned about the long walk we would have through the forest to get to the clearing where we had left Poen’s truck an hour before.
Finally, the old bull turned and presented me with an excellent slightly angled shot on his left shoulder. I cocked the single-action pistol, aligned the crosshairs, settled my breath and began to squeeze the trigger.
The recoil from the .454 Casull is substantial, and one can easily jerk the trigger in anticipation of the crushing recoil that follows the shot. The only cure for this is practice and lots of it. The revolver roared to life, and I heard the unmistakable smack as the Hornady 300-grain XTP-Mag connected. He trotted a few yards away, and I was able to put a second shot into his right shoulder. After receiving the second shot, he tried to escape to the relative safety of the invading forest but fortunately did not make it.
As we were taking the photos of this magnificent trophy, I heard a strange noise from the edge of the garden.
“What was that?” I said.
Poen looked up from the camera.
“That is the rumbling of an elephant’s stomach!”
The nyala measured 74 1/8 inches and ranked No. 6 with a handgun in the “SCI Record Book.” To say I had amazing success in Mozambique would be a vast understatement. In Coutada 11, I harvested seven SCI Top-10 species with handguns (common nyala, No. 6; Lichtenstein hartebeest, No. 7; Chobe bushbuck, No. 8; Natal red duiker, No. 6; and blue duiker, No. 5, as well as the new potential No. 18 overall Livingstone suni, which should rank No. 5 with a handgun when certified by a SCI master measurer.–Jay D. Hunt III