When I left England for Tanzania, I thought I’d primarily be responsible for bagging antelope for camp meat and taking photos. However, our host asked over dinner one evening, ‘Do you have any religious objections to shooting a crocodile?”. Since I have no religious objections to anything at all, I replied in the negative and the scene was set. Tomorrow would be a trip to the Rungwa river in search of hippo for leopard bait and, if a crocodile of appropriate age and size made an appearance, I was welcome to have a go.
Now, crocodile hunting is traditionally something of a cat and mouse game. You get a flat shooting, powerfully-’scoped modern bolt-rifle and snipe a croc from a fair distance, before he spots you and slips from his rock into the grey-green ooze surrounding it. We ended-up getting a bit closer than that.
We were primarily hunting hippo that morning and Michael had the .577 shouldered, while I carried the .375 as back-up. We hoped to find a big bull on land and engage him head-on at short range. We did, indeed, see a lot of hippo. In fact, the river was slow, with deep pools forming, all of which had blowing, puffing, squabbling hippos in them. None ventured landwards. Eschewing the river-bound water horses, and planning a later on-land encounter as they return from nocturnal feeding, we scanned the rocks, as mid-day passed, for emerging crocodiles. Soon word came from the trackers that there was a big one on a rock a few hundred yards up-stream.
Keeping close to the hippo-runs at water’s edge and checking water, rocks and shore as we progressed up-stream, we eventually reached a gap in the bushes that grow up to the water’s edge. Croc-crawling on my belly to a vantage point, I put binoculars to eyes to examine a dozen or so reptiles sunning themselves on the rocks mid-stream and about 40 yards off. “See the big one?”, whispered Danny. It was hard to miss. The head seemed as big as a T-rex and the body wide and powerful, with huge, bulging sides and a high, ridged back. He looked like he could eat me in one gulp, if presented with an invitation. The big boy was facing me directly, flanked by numerous smaller crocs, basking in the sun.
I shuffled back down in the sand and touched base with Danny. “Put the shot between the notches above his eyes”. I edged along a little and crawled up to a slightly more elevated point, a yard from where I had glassed the crocs from a moment ago. A thorn embedded itself in my forearm as I went, which I pulled out, cast aside and carried on. My first rest looked OK but Danny urged me on. Muzzles too close to the sand, which would kick up with the blast when I fired, so onwards I crawled, ever closer, hoping my movement would not give away my presence.
Once in position, I removed my hat to clear the scope, lined up the .375 double and rested the cross hairs on the big daddy, which Danny estimated as a 12 footer. Three breaths: in, out, in, out, in, long exhale, release all tension, fire.
The water exploded as crocs fled the rock in all directions. The target was still there, upon impact of the .375 blue-nose, his head lifted upwards, jaws opened, tail thrashed, muscles bulged. I fired the second round into his neck, now visible under the raised head. Quickly to my feet, the ejectors clicked as I grabbed another single round, chambered it into the right barrel, dropped to one knee and fired into his right shoulder, raking heart and lungs. As I reached to re-load a shout “It’s all over” came from behind me. I looked and the croc was still, flat on the rock. The first shot was all that had been required. The soft-nose had struck perfectly and detonated his matchbox-sized brain, taking out his right eye and a section of skull three inches by five.
Getting the croc out of the water was a lesson in logistics I won’t forget. The trackers filed into the murky water, as crocs and hippos submerged and lurked, they bashed the water with staves as they went, then bashed the croc for good measure before roping him and towing him to shore. Up-close, I got to see how huge he was and appreciate how little chance a human would have in the grip of a monster like this. From head to toe, my six-foot frame was the length of his tail.
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