The Hunt Chose Me

Author Goes Back To Africa For Dagga Boy

By John Grobe

Originally published in March/April issue of Safari Magazine

Driving down the winding road into the bottom of the valley, the dense brush on both sides opened into a clearing with a small waterhole on our right side. Two massive dark figures stood belly-deep in the murky water. A pair of old dagga boys looked straight at us. 

Clayton Fletcher, my PH, stopped the truck for a closer inspection. 

“Two old bulls,” he said. The one closer to the shore glared at us, letting us know we were in his territory now. In an instant, he came thrashing out of the water towards the vehicle with a half-hearted charge. 

Clayton stepped on the gas, leaving the angry bull behind. That was March 2022 in South Africa, and that’s the moment I knew a Cape buffalo hunt was in my future.

In February last year, I was back in the Eastern Cape of South Africa for an eight-day adventure with my friends at John X Safaris. Carl Van Zyl runs a fantastic, first-class operation, and once again I was paired with my friend and Clayton. This safari was different than the previous one. Cape buffalo was the focus of my trip. 

I had always figured that one day I would get around to chasing an old dagga boy, but my previous encounter at the waterhole the year before had changed things for me. Ever since that day, a buffalo had been at the forefront of my mind. 

I had watched countless safari episodes, read a staggering number of books and articles from legends like Craig Boddington, and studied shot placement for various scenarios. I was as prepared as a first-time buffalo hunter could be, and a quick trip to the range with the .375 magnum gave me the confidence I needed before the hunt. 

We spent the afternoon of my arrival looking over a few herds in the distance and managed to glass up a dagga boy in a valley by himself, completely unapproachable though. It was a beautiful first day that ended with a gorgeous sunset, but the real hunting would start the following morning.

Our group was the first safari of the year and the summer rains had been generous to the Woodlands Reserve. Clayton had mentioned that the grass on the edges of the plains was green and tall and that many buffalo would travel up to feed at last light before returning to the security of the thick bush. Our plan was to glass up bachelor groups or single bulls and get between where they would be feeding and the bedding areas in the dense valley. 

His strategy was perfect as we were successful in finding both bachelor groups and larger herds in several locations that day. We had the opportunity to discuss all the characteristics that one might look for in the quote “bull of his dreams,” always coming back to the simple fact that I would know it when he looked at me. The day had been fruitful and there were plenty of buffalo around. Now we just needed to find the right bull.

The next day we kept to our plan and located a small group of bulls with some solid contenders right after daybreak. After a lengthy stalk to get the wind right, we found ourselves in what we believed was the perfect position.

The group was at a small waterhole that fed down into a valley with ideal bedding cover. As solid as this plan was, the bulls decided to lay down in some sparse brush just beneath the water, leaving us with very little cover for an approach. We were able to maneuver closer and eventually ran out of workable terrain with one hundred yards left between us and the bulls.

While waiting them out we felt the unmistakable kiss of wind on the back of our necks. In an instant, the group was headed over the ridge. As I have learned, spot and stalk hunting is all about the wind. Play it wrong, and you will get busted every time. 

Later in the afternoon, we located a different group of five bulls. From a distance, it seemed that one or two may have potential and we wanted to take a closer look. Utilizing the undulation of the terrain and a dam from a small body of water, we were able to close the distance. As we crept over the dam they stood just fifty yards away, feeding in a lush area of grass caused by rain overflow. 

Clayton quickly set up the shooting sticks and had me get into position, but after assessing the group for a few moments it became obvious that there was only one hard-bossed bull, and he wasn’t the caliber we were looking for. As the day came to an end, we were tired but felt good about our chances. 

We had a pre-planned date with some other species up in the Karoo the next day, so the buffalo would have to wait for now.

On the fourth day of the safari, we arrived back at the Woodlands Reserve following the short side trip to the mountainous area of the Karoo, a truly magnificent place. The diversity in this part of South Africa is what makes it such a unique and one-of-a-kind experience.

You can drive two hours in any direction and feel as if you are on a completely different continent. With our little adventure behind us, we were once again focused on all things buffalo. 

That evening we found the one. 

The bull was everything I had dreamed of — wide and massive with good bosses. He just had that look to him. 

After a brief conference, we set out to cut the group off as they crested the valley. We approached with a stiff wind in our faces and nestled into position for the ambush. Unfortunately, the bulls had not read the script. They decided to lie down right in the middle of an open, grassy area with a bull staring in every direction. With a thunderstorm just over the horizon and sunset rapidly approaching, my PH decided it was now or never.  

We cut the distance by over 200 yards by butt-scooting, crawling and crab-walking.  We were over two hours into the stalk when we reached the last bush between us and them, barely large enough to provide cover for the two of us and the cameraman behind me. 

Clayton made a quick decision and set up the sticks for a standing shot. He told me to raise into position and be ready to put one on the shoulder of the bull when he also stood. I slowly moved into position and placed the .375 on the sticks. 

When the old dagga boy stood, he spun on his way up, facing directly at us. It was the look and moment I had dreamed of for so long! 

Clayton asked if I was steady, and I told him I was solid. Then Clayton uttered the magic words, “take him when you’re ready.” I gently squeezed the trigger and the Swift A-frame bullet struck the bull’s chest with a resounding thud. In an instant, the bull had disappeared over a slight ridge just behind where he had stood. 

The moments that followed were intense. As we approached the subtle ridgetop, I hoped that I had done my job and made a good shot. As I peered over the rise, I felt a huge sense of relief followed by pure joy as we heard a death bellow from below. 

The blood trail soon became obvious, and the old warrior had fully expired before we reached his final resting place. In just a few short minutes after squeezing the trigger, the game was over.  

My heart still beating out of my chest from the anticipation and adrenalin of the experience. I was eventually able to regain control of my emotions and give the bull his proper admiration. He was a gorgeous old dagga boy who checked all the boxes. Just as I had known a Cape buffalo hunt was in my future a year before, I know realized this one would not be my last. 

John Grobe is an SCI member from Texas.

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