The brief flight from the Falls to camp at a lower height gave us good view of that special area that we were to share with the creatures. A low-level pass over our bush strip scared off a warthog family that were just putting the finishing touches to an excavation. After 25 years working and flying into remote bush strips in the Canadian North, this would be the first time I had helped heap thorn bushes around a plane to keep the hyenas from chewing the tires off. Moments after touch down a plume of dust appeared heading our way, and out of it came a Land Cruiser, and Pete Waddelow, our Zimbabwean P.H.
Back at camp, we were greeted by Pete’s wife Charis and shown to our traditional stone and thatched roof cottage. Tracy and I were caught right in the middle of a severe daydream - standing on our door step, when the lunch drum sounded and snapped us back to reality - we were really here! It was decided that the shooting range be first priority after lunch. Interest was rising now amongst the PHs, Campbell had seen and handled the big double in Joburg. Pete hadn’t seen it yet and neither one had been in attendance when the hammer fell on one of the giant cartriges. At the range, the eyes opened wide as the 4-bore was pulled from its case and there were hoots of delight as it was passed around so all could heft the 24 lb gun and sight the three-inch wide barrels. Everyone was happy except Robso (the gun bearer)! But as it worked out, the training back home and the shoulder harness were a success, and Robso was only called on to pack it for a few minutes one morning when I left the vehicle with the .375 in hot pursuit of jaws, the warthog or maybe it was a bushbuck or zebra.
Anyway, a few minutes into the grass we were amongst the big guys and Pete put out the word to bring the cannon to the front. Besides I hadn’t spent ten years building this gun to share the fun of packing it in the African bush. But right now they wanted to see this thing go off - and see if I could hit anything with it. Then they would be able to draw up a hunt strategy based on my upcoming performance - talk about pre-hunt stress. A quick introduction to the “sticks” that most African of shooting supports. Then that gentle push on my shoulder - two steps back, a big cloud of smoke, the twin tubes pointing upwards. I could hear the laughs and hoots from the cheering section behind - the crew had enjoyed it too. I will admit I couldn’t quite focus on the target yet but they all seemed pleased. When the gang had all assembled to the rear again, I dropped in another quarter pounder and sent it down range - just to show them that I would pull off a second or back up shot if called upon to do so - in the same afternoon.
Now with the ice broken and nothing else - thank goodness - the mood was more relaxed. Pete and Campbell had read the stories of the old days and how they had hunted from horse back with these guns. Now they had a whole new respect for their predecessors and I know they said a big silent thank you to the guy that invented smokeless powder, 470’s and 11 lb rifles. Then the question was asked “When do you think someone used these guns last?”. None of us could answer this, but we all knew when one would be used next and where - Matetsi Unit One and real soon! Officially the hunt didn’t start till 6am tomorrow, but we had sun and sand, a tank of gas - all we needed were some tracks. And these appeared only minutes down the road from the range. Those first few hours made it very clear - this was going to be no walk-in-the-park, fish-in-a-barrel experience as so many hunters and non-hunters alike think back home. Yes there was an abundance of game but also a lack of foliage as we were at the end of the dry season. We could see them - but they could see us better and hear us and smell us a mile away. It was going to be fun!
The official day one - found us wide awake long before the 5.15am wake up knock on the door. Breakfast was a blur and we were off to the Land Cruiser, hoping we hadn’t forgotten something in the pre-dawn dimness. Then we got an eye opener! It’s b%$#y freezing at 6am in the back of the Toyota as all the Zimbabwe night air rushed over our goose pimply white skin. But we’re tough, we live in the Great White North. We did however accept the wool blankets that were offered to us by the crew - we didn’t want to offend! Everything was new to us, so, we sat quietly to let the day’s hunting routine unfold and try to get an idea of how it’s done over here.
Since elephant was priority number one and not just an elephant - it needed to be a tuskless adult male. The Government permit read “No Ivory showing below the lip!” A very vague statement - but are not most government writings? It matters little which side of the ocean one is on. This permit made no reference to gender, so females were legal game as were smaller bulls. But there were problems obtaining a CITES export permit for female parts - so they were to be avoided.Campbell and Pete both pointed out to me that finding a toothless bull in the right spot at the right time would probably be more difficult than getting the bead on its big brother that had his teeth. Even though a big bull with both tusks snapped off had been seen in the area three weeks before. Sounded good to me! I’d come to hunt and that’s exactly what we would be doing. Hunting elephant and for sure getting some other wonderful trophies in doing so. So here we were already into the second hour of day one and all we had seen were bushbuck, impala, zebra, giraffe and momma warthog and young ones.