Close call – part 3
Top Tanzanian professional hunter Simon Evans recalls the worst day of his hunting career, when he was almost killed by a wounded Cape buffalo.
Rolf, a German client of mine, had booked a seven-day Cape buffalo and plains game safari with me through Robin Hurt Safaris in their Burko Masailand concession in Tanzania, an area that I knew well.Over the first few days of the safari, we focused on plains game but on about the fourth day, we picked up the tracks of two buffalo bulls and decided to follow them. The date was July 28, 1999.
On that particular safari, I was carrying a new .450 Dakota bolt action rifle which had misfired on the range a few days earlier, but, being new I gave it the benefit of the doubt, thinking that it was probably just oil or grease in the new action, or possibly just a dud primer. So, to make sure, I fired it again a few times before shifting my attention to buffalo.
After several hours, we caught up with the two bulls but they soon bolted and gave us the slip, so we decided to break for lunch not far from where we had last seen them, ensuring that we had our rifles nearby in case we needed them in a hurry. Now, unbeknownst to me, a group of Masai herdsmen and their cattle were inadvertently driving these two already agitated bulls back towards us as we enjoyed our picnic lunch.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted them coming down a slight hill towards us and immediately shouted to Rolf to grab his rifle, a .375 H&H bolt action. As soon as they were in-range, I instructed Rolf to shoot the lead bull which had momentarily stopped to look at us. Rolf duly fired and hit the bull. Both buffalo then started to run in our direction, so I instructed Rolf to fire again. Unfortunately, he didn’t realise that his bull had by this point been overtaken by the second buffalo, and before I could stop him, he shot that one, too. So now both buffalo were wounded – a nightmare scenario if ever there was one.
Realising the enormity of the problem on our hands, I decided to follow up the lead bull myself before he disappeared into a big thicket. It didn’t take us long to find him and finish him off with shots from Rolf’s .375 and my .450 Dakota.
We then began tracking the second bull which had run up a narrow valley and passed through several small thickets. I could tell from the blood spray coming from both nostrils and the colour of the blood trail that it had been hit in at least one lung, so I was fairly confident that we would get him without too much hassle.
Having followed him for about a kilometre, however, I started to get concerned. We finally reached a big clump of thick foliage where I was certain he had taken refuge.
I decided to place Rolf and Mohandu, the government game scout, on a termite mound on the nearside of the thicket while I ran across the valley to the other side. As I got there, however, the bull broke out of the cover and headed diagonally away from me. Running as fast as I could, I managed to get another quartering shot into him. Unfortunately, as I only had time for a quick snapshot, it hit him further back than I would have liked and he soon disappeared again into another thick clump of Tarchonanthus camphoratus, locally known as Leleshwa.
This time, I heard him cough, so, despite the thickness of the bush, I had a good idea of where he was. Rolf, Mohandu and I then reconvened to discuss my plan of attack. I positioned them on top of another tall termite mound on the edge of the thicket and then tried to coerce the bull out by throwing stones in his direction. This had no apparent effect, so, accompanied by an unarmed tracker, I decided to creep in with my new rifle which, by this point I had fired three times (twice at the first buffalo and once at the second).
As the foliage at head-height was so dense, I had no choice but to creep through the undergrowth on my hands and knees so that I could see slightly further ahead. I had gone very cautiously around a bush when suddenly all hell broke loose – I heard him grunt and come crashing through the bush towards me. I knew that I had no more than a few seconds to make a killing shot.
I vividly recall that as he came barreling towards me through the thick bush from no more than 20m away, he was grunting all the time, no doubt furious with rage. Still on my knees, I raised my rifle and fired. But, to my absolute horror, there was no shot, simply a click as the rifle misfired!
Reloading as fast as I possibly could, I raised the rifle once again and took aim at the buff’s lowered head and neck which was now no more than a couple of meters from the end of my barrel. I pulled the trigger, but once again heard nothing more than a dull click! Two misfires in a couple of seconds at a charging buffalo – this really was every PH’s worst nightmare.
Still on my knees, there was no time to move or jump out of the way, so I simply braced myself and prepared for the inevitable. He hit me at full charge, instantly breaking a couple of ribs on impact whilst lifting his head at the same time. One of his horns then slid up and penetrated my pectoral muscle, exiting just under my right collarbone before he tossed me high into the air. I came down hard on my neck and back and immediately felt a dull pain down my spine.
The force of the charge had also driven the rifle upwards into my head, the open iron site penetrating my skull and the barrel whacking my nose at the same time, leaving me concussed.
My recollection of what followed is extremely hazy due to the concussion, but the sequence of blows that followed were indescribably powerful and ferocious. I was pushed around and punched hard by his horns, boss and hooves, he trod on my kidney which left a huge black bruise, gored me on the back across my shoulder blades as he tried to hook me with his horns, which left a very big graze across my back, and my lungs were badly bruised which made breathing very difficult. He then tried to hook my thigh but luckily only managed to skim my upper leg muscle, and then also swiped across my left pectoral which he partially tore. My shorts and shirt were completely ripped open.
Then, all of a sudden (either due to the fact that I was concussed and unable to resist or react to his blows – perhaps he thought I was dead – or simply because he was exhausted and the lung-shot was starting to take its toll) he stopped attacking me and ran out of the thicket.
By this time, due to the commotion and my shouts for help, Mohandu came running in with my spare rifle (a .416 Rigby), and fired a shot at the already departing buffalo. His shot had no apparent effect and we later discovered that he had missed.
Mohandu and Rolf then called for the vehicle by hand-held VHF radio which was driven as close to me as possible. Battered, bruised and torn, and with blood dripping from my head, nose and chest,
I managed to get to my feet, but when I tried to walk, I fainted and collapsed. Once I had regained consciousness, I got up and, on the second attempt, managed to make my way to the vehicle. I climbed onto the back seat and lay down.
The driver headed straight to Arusha, having alerted Robin Hurt Safaris manager Jay Blumer who had immediately called Captain Iris McCallum and asked her to be on standby and ready to fly me to Nairobi.
Unfortunately, my passport was locked in camp which was an hour’s drive from the incident site and we were more than two hours’ drive from Arusha Airport. Because no-one knew how serious the internal damage was, it was decided that we would drive directly to the plane anyway. Iris then asked Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro Control Tower for emergency clearance to fly me directly to Nairobi. However, they wanted her to clear customs and immigration first. But she was insistent. “If this man dies it will be on your head,” she said. Fortunately, they relented and Iris was given clearance to fly me directly to Nairobi Airport. I owe her, big time.
We took off from Arusha in the dark and by the time we landed in Nairobi, there was an ambulance waiting, ready to take me to hospital where a big reception of friends were on standby, ready to give blood if necessary. Several doctors were also on standby, and I was immediately sent for x-rays to assess the damage.
I had two broken ribs, three bulges in my spine where annular fibres had been torn, presumably as I landed on the ground after the buffalo tossed me into the air, I needed stitches in my chest in three different places, and in my head, and I had severe bruising of the lungs, kidneys, and further bruises and muscular damage throughout my body. I was in hospital for a week, initially in ICU and then HDU.
Despite the extent of my injuries, I count myself as extremely lucky to have survived such an attack. Indeed, many people who have been gored by wounded buffalo have not lived to tell the tale.
One thing’s for certain, though, I will never use a rifle that I don’t know and trust implicitly, to hunt dangerous game, ever again.