Why the cape buffalo? Why not Lion, or leopard, or elephant? What makes Mbogo the main man who pushes the rest aside to head the bucket list?
Well, a lot of people are wary of hunting cats. They are uncomfortable with hunting a predator unless actually threatened by it or having a reason to go after it. A predator doing no harm is something many feel should be left in peace. Elephants are an acquired taste. Many hunters I know, men who have hunted everything, now hunt only elephant. Ele are the hardest to hunt, often the most dangerous and certainly the most awe inspiring. They are also the most emotional. The sheer size and intelligence of the animals makes them awesome in the true sense of the word.
But no; unless you are an experienced hunter of African beasties, I don’t think elephant should be your introduction. No, if your bucket list is taking you to Africa for the first time and the essence of dangerous game hunting is what you want to experience, Tanzania is your destination and the buffalo is your boy.
And a boy he will be – a dugga boy is what the locals call him. He is a grouchy old man, past his prime, the father of many sons and daughters, long-tired of female company and now ploughing a lonely furrow as a solitary wanderer, or perhaps teamed-up with one or two fellows. These boys seek the dark places and they know how to survive.
Away from the herd in lion country, your quarry will be cunning, tough as nails and battle scarred. He will also be keen of wit, extremely bad-humoured and a worthy adversary. A buffalo is a big cow, to you who don’t know. Beef steak on legs, African, yet strangely familiar. Don’t be mistaken. This is no dozy bovine waiting for your bullet. If you are to get close to him, you’ll need to be quick, smart, reactive, patient and quiet.
If you don’t shoot straight and put him down, he will very likely try and kill you. Buffalo hunting is like riding a moped in flip flops and a T-shirt – fine until the wheels fall off. Then, it is a world of panic and pain.
Not selling it to you? Well, if it were easy and safe, it wouldn’t be much of a test and your bucket list deserves an experience that will be memorable and exhilarating. Only real risk provides that. When you shoulder your rifle – make it a .577 double – and head off into the long grass, tsetse flies munching on your exposed skin and sweat bees buzzing infuriatingly around your head, you need to know this is a contest and one of you is going to come out of it dead. Resolve that in your mind, control your fear, channel your adrenaline and keep your wits sharp.
The plan is simple. Get on the trail early morning if you can, when the wind is steady and the game moving. Follow the tracks, use the wind, move smoothly and quietly, get up unseen, close and personal and put a bluenose in the boiler room and a solid wherever you can, if he moves. Re-load and hope to Christ you hear a death-bellow within five minutes, if he has gone out of sight. If not, you are going to follow him up until you find him, knowing he will be waiting for you somewhere in the thick stuff, looking for a chance to steamroller you and have his revenge.
Supposing you come out of it successful and unscathed, you can lie on your death bed, hopefully years from now, and tell yourself, ‘I have truly lived. I have hunted black beasts in the badlands of darkest Africa and lived to tell the tale’. As you draw on a good cigar and wash it down with a straight shot of John Jameson’s finest, years from now, you’ll feel the bite of the booze and the whiff of the smoke and you’ll be back in the bush; with Hemingway or Granger, Ruark or Taylor; real men who experienced this with you in spirit. Nobody can take that away from you. You can take it to your grave; smiling.