The Devil of Busbuck Gorge - The one that nearly got me.
The rain had been coming and going all morning. Clouds getting lighter and darker as the cold wind blew in every direction. We were on a hopeless mission, but as I had said to Frank, “nobody ever shot a buck in their bedroom”. So off we went…
Frank was on his 4th hunt in Africa and would count in the top 10% of guys who just keep on coming back and never get enough. Once the “Africa Bug” bites, you may as well resign yourself to the fact that you now have a lifelong mistress.
We had wound our way up through some old roads, the kind that looked like they hadn’t been driven in years. Thabo indicated to head left and back down to the flat areas, but on a whim I decided that we needed to try a new road that I had not seen before, up into a valley that I had seldom seen, let alone hunted.
So, off we went, fully expecting the 2 track to end somewhere and leave us reversing out to the nearest flat spot; but it didn’t. A way up we branched onto a good section that ran up into a narrow valley. The valley immediately had me interested as it offered a few great spots to shoot across into the bush on the far side.
We spotted a Kudu bull nestled in a bunch of Lantana, he’d seen us but was laying low. His Lantana blanket sheltering him from the rain was just too good to leave. Right about then the rain started coming down again. We decided that there was no point spending more time there and would drive up and turn around somewhere. As often happens we drove another 1,5km before the steep sided road gave us a place to turn around. As we were slipping and sliding our way back down the clouds broke open and gave us our first “warm” weather for the day.
Without warning, two bright red bushbuck females emerged from some Lantana cover, less than 50 yards from where the Kudu was bedded. Hoping for the best we stopped and watched them for a little over an hour. Just as the rain started coming back in, Thabo started chattering excitedly from the back seat, “Nkonka, Nkonka, Knonka”, hardly able to contain himself, his excitement could mean only 1 thing. This was a good buck When I laid eyes on him he struck me as being almost jet black, and big bodied. Thos was no ordinary Bushbuck, he was old and absolutely magnificent.
He was making his way along the edge of the bush. Grazing as he went, oblivious of our presence As he turned to graze on some shoots on a nearby bush I saw that his left horn was broken off about half way down. No doubt that horn had been left in an opponent years before. Often leading to the death of the buck that had challenged the old warrior. Bushbuck are legendary for their aggression and ability to lunge forward and skewer their enemy on needle sharp horns. He was magnificent.
I turned to Frank, I saw his excitement, but there was a twist. “Frank, he’s only got 1 horn”, “but it’s a good one”. Frank had previously taken a 1 horned Bushbuck in the Eastern Cape. I didn’t know if he would be keen on another one. Just then the buck gave us the view we had been looking for. The weight of the horns and roughly 15 inches of length on the good horn with a beautiful flare outwards was all that he needed. “I’ll take him”. Within seconds I was out the vehicle getting shooting sticks out and getting Frank to quietly get his rifle out and chamber a round, we looked up. Nothing,; not a damn thing. Had he seen us…had we moved too fast, we were two hundred meters across the valley but cover was sparse.
We moved down a way but then stopped, convinced that he was eating behind a bush, this buck was something special, we couldn’t loose him now after waiting so long for a shooter buck to show himself. Frank strolled down about 60 m to get a different angle on him, “there he is”, “I can see his backside”. With a sigh of relief we moved into action and got Frank set up on the sticks, ready to make his shot. The familiar sound of the 375 H&H was always something I enjoyed. That booming echo that seems to travel so nicely out of a big bore. As the sound crashed down the valley, the Bushbuck flipped over backwards, spun back around and then ran straight into the bush about 20m away. We saw him crash into the lantana and then kick around in the undergrowth. I was sure he was dead, the shot was on the money and his reaction said heart shot to me.
We got back in the vehicle and started making our way around. Smiles beamed all around the car and we were excited to go and collect our buck that we were all sure was well and truly dead.
We parked up on the hill and got some rope out to help with recovering the buck. I was a long haul back up a very steep hillside to where we were parked. The terrain was harsh and there were boulders and holes all over. As I got out of the bakkie I looked at my 458 in the back seat, and decided to leave it behind. I was certain that buck was dead, a 375 CEB Raptor Monometal bullet straight into the boiler room. No chance he was still breathing.
We made our way down and got to the place we had marked where he had gone into the thick bush. This stuff was very thick. Overgrown lantana and indigenous bush together with the odd bit of Mauritian thorn. This place was the kind of fortress that Bushbuck and Bushpigs love.
As I could not see the buck down I decided to proceed with caution and drew my Glock in 40 S&W. Having used it many times to finish animals in the past I was comfortable that it could do enough on most animals if needed.
As I crept forward looking for blood I finally found some on a blade of grass. Not the spray I had been hoping for, but at least we were on the right track. I edged forward, expecting to see the buck lying dead in the thick stuff. But it wasn’t…
As I moved I caught a movement in the bush ahead. Shielded by brush I could just see the bucks legs, he was still up, hard hit but breathing. Every now and then I would hear the sound of a chest wound as he edged further away. ****, this was not good. He was mobile and very much alive.
I called to Frank and he crept into the tunnel beside me. I was hoping he would be able to get a shot into the buck and end this quickly. The buck however moved into thicker bush and away from us. We regrouped and made a plan. We needed to get a shot into the buck ASAP and end what had turned into a dangerous situation.
As we crept forward a second time I caught a glimpse of the buck going into a thicker block of cover, in under a tree that was so overgrown with lantana that the area beneath the tree was almost clear, but the umbrella like Canopy was down to the ground. He had chosen his spot wisely and now held the best cover and the high ground.
As I looked through the small gap in the cover I caught a glimps of the white markings on his face flashing up and down and he watched us. Now very agitated, he had his aggressors in his sights and had made up his mind. This would be a fight to the death.
I got Frank into place but he could not see the buck. We needed to get a shot through the gap. Frank couldn’t get a clear shot as the darkness inside the tree made it almost impossible to see him, he handed his rifle to me and I took a shot at the white markings as the flashed up and down. The buck went down. We were all relieved and were glad to have put the animal out and ended his suffering.
As I pushed my way through the thick stuff, there he lay. Giving a few twitches and his last few breaths. His day was done…or so we though…
As we opened up the canopy to try and get to him, we were busy fighting our way into his fortress.
That’s when we noticed that his chest was moving again, only stronger than before... As I was closest and still had my handgun out, Frank asked me to put one into his shoulder just to make sure.
At the shot, the Ram sat up…
Now, there are many situations that may be hazardous and still fun. But a wounded bushbuck at roughly 3 feet was not one of them.
I froze, hoping that he was just breathing his last few breaths before lying down to die. But this was not the case. Frank was about 2 m behind me but unable to take a shot for fear of hitting me. A deafening silence fell over us as we realised the gravity of the situation. This was about to go bad.
The buck slowly started to move his head. I had been covering him with the Glock hoping that he would die, but instead, he was getting stronger.
I decided it was time to take the shot and see what happened.
The next 2 seconds are a blur. As I shot the buck reacted. In a blur of Steel grey he lunged forward directly at me.
As best we can piece together he lunged directly at my legs, I had stood up from where I had been crouched and somehow in the process gotten directly in front of him. From Franks view as the buck disappeared behind me in his lunge I grabbed at his horn and fired another 3 shots into him from close range. The buck ran past me and collapsed about 5 m away.
Frank put one last shot into him from behind. The roar of the 375 signaled the end of the battle, and the buck breathed his last breath
In a flash it was over…
We all stood there in shock and awe. Still not sure of how that had all gone down and how that buck had seemingly come back from the dead.
Once things settled and we could think things through we came to a few conclusions.
We found a bullet hole in the horn. We think that the bullet I fired that “put him down” actually hit the horn and knocked him out. When I shot into his shoulder the first time the bullet actually penetrated the ribs and made it to the heart, but he still had enough strength to keep going and make his last charge.
As he came at me I stepped in front of him and evidently deflected him away from my nether regions with my left hand on his right horn. We found bits of debris and horn splinters embedded in my hand. No doubt ,that action, more than anything else saved me from being gored.
When we got back to the skinning shed we did a full autopsy, finding in the process a very strange reality. The 375 shooting a Monomental 250gr expanding “Raptor “ from Cutting Edge Bullets, had failed, and never penetrated the chest cavity.
Upon striking the shoulder bone it had broken up and deflected downwards and through the brisket. The entrance wound was in line with the location of the heart, shot placement was perfect!
Lessons learned though this. Never under estimate the ability of game to survive a shot. Keep shooting until he stops breathing. If the chips are down, go for the horns.
Thanks to Frank for making this hunt possible.
And thanks to all of the hunters that help preserve this amazing piece of Bush that we refer to as the Umkomaas Valley along the banks of the Mkomazi River.