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SWIMMING IN THE SWAMP

book October found me and my posse, Mack Padgett [the red-neck computer geek] and the infamous wonder guide, Schalk Tait, once again in Tanzania’s backwoods. We had come there specifically to collect some of these rare antelope, while also attempting to whack a brace of Buffalo if the Gods allowed. After a week and a half of settling in to a routine, getting Mack and I’s internal time clock’s adjusted to half way around the world and letting our souls catch up to where our bodies had landed, Schalk announced at dinner one night that tomorrow morning, early, we would be moving to a different camp, a more “rustic” basic camp, to see if we could scare up a Sitatunga. He said he had spoken on the radio to the camp manager there and that they had seen some good bull antelope and had built machans, patterned the Sitatunga’s routine and were waiting for us to go hunting with them. Beers were clicked together in “cheers” before we strolled back to our tents to put a small bag of essentials together for the short diversion the next morning.

The high speed five hour drive to the spike camp was fairly uneventful along the two track dirt road winding thru the scrub acacia trees and open forest. The three of us rode in the open back of the Land Cruiser, our IPods cranked up, forcing the trackers and the cook also riding in the back, to listen to three white guys singing to three different tunes at the same time, while Thomas drove and the government game scout rode in the front seat, not having to endure the ear shattering melody. After plenty of bumps and coated with dust from head to toe, we finally jolted to a stop at a very beautiful setting for a basic camp located on the edge of a vast swamp interspersed with islands of dry ground and palm trees. The temperature difference between the two camps was staggering in the afternoon sun as we unpacked our bags in our private thatched rondeval.

The temperature gauge in the dining area hovered at a balmy 108 degrees where we all met before going out to scout the swamp and see what the locals had set up for us. A mile drive from camp we parked the truck in the shade at the edge of the swamp and began our trek along a well-worn hippo trail that the giant beasts used each morning and evening when they made their way to the forested feeding areas they prefer. Our local tracker pointed to a far off island indicating that was where we were heading. I’d sprayed myself down with a good dose of mosquito repellent before starting out and Lord all mighty was I glad I did as the tiny terrorists descended on us in waves as we reached the half-way point to the particular island we were traveling to.

The scorching sun burned down on us relentlessly as the dry trail turned to mush before gradually becoming a deeper water filled trench the closer we got to what we named “Sitatunga Island”. The water filling my Courtney boots actually felt refreshing in the staggering heat. As we got to within a hundred yards of the island I heard Schalk curse before he started jabbering at the local guide in Swahili. The lone Acacia tree living on the 20’ x 20’ island could now be seen supporting a wreck of a machan, poorly constructed atop stilts buried in the dirt of the tiny dry refuge.

As the six of us crowded onto the small island Schalk and I began inspecting more closely the structure we had planned perching upon. The whole contraption leaned at a 25 degree angle over the swamp, with a couple of ropes lashing it back to the Acacia, the ladder missing half its rungs. Schalk glassed the other islands spread out around us and mumbled something else to the locals that didn’t sound like they were being complemented on their fine workmanship.

“They say they had the blinds built two weeks ago, but then a storm came thru last week and blew them all down except this one. When I spoke to them on the radio they failed to mention the storm,” Schalk whispered to Mack and I. “I don’t want to start rebuilding them now, because these characters say this is where they have been seeing two big bulls. I’m not sure I believe them, but we’re here so… If we make too much noise screwing with the blind we could scare them off. Let’s glass from here and see what happens since we’re already here.”

FIRST MORNING LION

bookRemote Northern Zambia...1992.  
 
We arrived at one of the prettiest camps I'd ever seen, located on the Luangwa River.  The area was called Nyampala and has been a famous hunting area for many years. Peter Capstick, Cotton Gordon, Scandrol & Swanepool and a host of other top outfits have all run hunts out of the camp over the years and it was especially renowned for its huge Cape buffalo and black mane lion.  These, plus the other unique species only found in Zambia, were why we had ventured to this part of the world.

Nyampala camp is surrounded on three sides by vast national parks.  These parks are the main source of game animals as they cross through the hunting concession on their travels to and from the other parks. Nyampala also holds all the water during the dry season…

As we got settled into camp where Mack Padgett and I each had our own large thatched rondavul (grass hut with concrete on the floor, a closet, flushing toilet and shower, all en suite!), we met Richard.  He was our P.H. Ronnie Sparrow’s black tracker, camp organizer, interpreter to other tribes (although Ronnie speaks three native "lingua franca" on his own) as well as a great hunter and superb spotter of game.  He became a good friend during the trip and never let us down.  Richard could work. It didn't matter whether we were hanging bait; cutting trees to clear a new road, skinning or doing the marathon marches on wounded game.  This guy was nonstop and always leading the way.

Ronnie Sparrow himself was no slouch when it came to working either!  The life of a P.H. is one of long days, short nights, multitudes of diseases, bug bites, bad water, snakes and big game animals that would just as soon kill you, as you kill them.  And a lot of African animals have the hardware to do an effective job of making your wife a young widow.

Excerpt From Hunting New Horizons

POACHERS’ BULL

Book I don’t want to be scared anymore. I know this feeling, I’ve had it before, and I don’t like it.
It’s hot, and I’ve given up swatting at the mosquitoes and tsetse flies. I just let them dine on my lily-white flesh like so much roast beef at an All You Can Eat diner. My guts are churning in anticipation of another charge that may or may not come, depending on how Mr. Mbogo feels today about being pushed relentlessly through the tall marsh grass that is this East African inland swamp. Would I be less of a man if I called the whole thing off and said, “Let’s go back to the truck, we can hunt again tomorrow.”?

Yes, I would be.

No one made me do this. I actually paid big money for the privilege. What kind of person pays tens of thousands of dollars to be hauled out into a swampy morass full of vermin that bite, sting, trample, gore, and otherwise makes your wife the recipient of your entire estate at a ripe, young age? A shrink’s answer to that question would probably not reinforce the macho, adrenalin-driven image that one has of one’s magnanimous self. The thought of lying on a couch trying to explain the masochistic thrill of abject, self-induced fear while hunting Cape buffalo so far from home is, in itself, enough to make any big-game hunter question his sanity.

A big mbogo bull full of testosterone, pain-induced hatred, and two 650-grain bullets from a .577 Nitro Express will teach you very quickly about controlling your fear. Or you won’t get a chance to try and improve on your shooting a second time around. I know the game; I’ve been here before.

When the bull comes, his head will be up until the last minute, when it swings low...
“Stay calm,” I thought as I steadied myself. “Put the first shot between his eyes. Save the second barrel for the last second,

in case the first doesn’t perform its appointed task of sending the black bastard to his eternal resting place. The last shot will be “The Decider.” But his momentum, even if I kill him on his feet, will probably carry him onto me. The impact of 2,000 lbs of dead bovine carcass landing on my suddenly miniscule frame would inevitably cause some sort of permanent damage.

I should have waited for a better shot in the first place. Then I wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place. The buff didn’t even know we were there. We’d been following the flight of the telltale snowy egrets and tickbirds as they rose from the backs of a herd of buffalo while they wallowed in their midday mud bath. If not for the birds, we would never have found the bulls to begin with in the 10-foot high reed thickets of the swamp. Visibility in such places is arm’s length at best, unless you can find some high ground or even a termite mound, or shinny up one of the rare palm trees for a look around.

 
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