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The Wire: David Petzal Tracks a Wounded Cape Buffalo

We found the carcasses at 11 in the morning. The Zimbabwean sun had mummified them in the positions of agony in which they died. There were six, a young sable cow and five impala, spaced in a line 200 yards long. Their killer was the principal author of death and suffering among Africa’s wildlife, the poacher’s snare. They had been grabbed by the neck or the leg or the body and had perished from thirst and hunger and exhaustion. Whoever set the snares had never come back to collect the bodies while they were still usable as meat.

Clive Perkins, my PH, watched as our trackers collected the wire and said in a voice as filled with bitterness as any voice I have ever heard: “Welcome to Africa, David Petzal.”

We were, however, to see worse.

Two days later I killed a dry Cape buffalo cow whose hoof had been ensnared at the hock. She had managed to break free, but the wire had dug so deeply that we could not dig it out with a knife, and the whole lower leg was grotesquely swollen. We heaved her into the truck and drove her back to camp, and on the way we saw another buffalo cow that had stepped in the wrong place. This one, however, had amputated her left foreleg halfway up.

Africa deals with the halt and the maimed in the form of lions and hyenas, which do not always bother with the formality of killing what they dine on, and though it would have been merciful to shoot the second cow then and there, we couldn’t. She was only 75 yards away, but she was on another hunting concession, and woe betide the professional hunter who lets his clients trespass for whatever reason. The only thing we could do, said PH Wayne Van Den Bergh, was go back to camp, call the manager of the neighboring concession, and get permission. Then it would be a simple job to backtrack and shoot her.

“Of course,” said the manager, so back we went, and she wasn’t there. We didn’t think she would move far because animals, particularly crippled ones, do not like to travel in the heat of an African high noon. We began to track her.

There were six of us: Clive Perkins; Wayne Van Den Bergh; PH Theo Bronkhorst, who ran our concession; Willard Ncube, who tracked for Wayne; Elias (he pronounced it EEL-ias) Mathe, who tracked for Clive; and me. When you trail game, the trackers normally go ahead of the people carrying rifles, but when you follow a wounded Cape buffalo, the people with rifles stay up front. I was carrying a Jarrett Professional Hunter in .416 caliber, topped with a Swarovski PV 1.5–6x42 scope—plenty enough gun, assuming I had the time to react. The trackers look for sign, and you keep your eyes forward, watching for a gray shape that will come hurtling at you with jackrabbit speed.

Her track led us out of the mopane woods where we began and into the open. She had gotten into a dry riverbed that was overgrown with waist-high grass. Elias shouted, and we got a glimpse of her head. She was cantering on three legs, moving much faster than we could, and there was no time to even snap a shot at her before she vanished into the grass.

We followed, and the grass changed to taller reeds, which soon were head-high. We were now trailing blind, and it was apparent that if we were tracking her, she was leading us. The reeds were so dense that if you thrust your arm into them you could not see your hand. Theo and Clive left the riverbed for the bank; if she came out of the reeds they would be able to see her and shoot her.

Within another few hundred yards the reeds were 12 feet high and we were reduced to crawling through tunnels left by buffalo that used this place as a refuge during the day. Sometimes our quarry left the tunnels and pushed her way through standing reeds, and we were forced to claw our way after her.

That she was going to charge eventually was a given, and there would be no warning, no time to aim. If we got a chance to shoot at all it would be point, pray, and pull the trigger. Wayne made his way back to me.

“Listen,” he whispered, “if you have to shoot her off one of us, for Christ’s sake shoot upward so you don’t hit us.”

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Comments (19)

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from Happy Myles wrote 5 years 2 weeks ago

I've always been appalled by the devastation of poacher snares. The only reason I can think of for not collecting the dead animals is the poachers must be so full of the local drugs of choice, washed down by homemade alcohol, that they can't remember where they set the snares, or unable to check them

Two Cape Buffalo I killed had front legs scared by snares, and several others had bullets crafted by all sorts of items, pot legs, pieces of steel and other items. A couple of years ago I Killed a
Central Savannah Buffalo in the Central African Republic with a bullet made from a truck battery terminal in it's neck. He was one cranky animal.

A truck had been stolen by Somalian terrorists and abandoned after a chase by French military.
We found the truck hidden in a grove of trees, and noted missing battery terminals, fuel, and mirrors. A few days later I killed the buffalo, and found one of the terminals.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from Standingbear wrote 5 years 2 weeks ago

Great story. This story was about hunting, but it showed just how much sportmen and women care about animls they hunt. These men could have just shot the Buffalo and left them for the Lions, but instead they tried to help them. One by getting the wire removed and the other by killing it to ease it's suffering from the loss of a leg. ( It is sad to hear stories of the curelity of these traps and what they have done to the animals and the suffering they had to have gone through before dying. I realize there might be a time in a pesons life when setting a snare might be the only way he or she can catch something to eat and survive, but to set these snares and forget to check them is uncalled for and if they are caught, justice to the max, should be served) Then you saw the way each Professional Hunter respected the concession of another, by getting premission to hunt the wounded Buffalo. This story showed us that even though they cared for the animal, their safty was just as important. These brave hunters put their lives on the line and I praise GOD everyone of them returned safely. In reading on how they stalked and hunted the wounded animal I learned a lot on how a person hunting in this manner with others should act in order no party member would be shot. Then you see just how this know how came into play when the Buffalo made her charge and shots were fired. This also showed just how professional they were. Good work and great story. Would love to read about other hunts taken if possible. May GOD watch over you all on ever hunt!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Happy Myles wrote 5 years 2 weeks ago

My earlier post should have read Angola terrorists, not Somalia terrorists

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from steve182 wrote 5 years 2 weeks ago

That sounds like a very intense hunt. And i believe poachers, cheaters and thieves get theirs in the end. Karma's a bitch.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from 2Poppa wrote 5 years 1 week ago

That sounded like one heck of an adventure!
A lot of people think that hunting is just a sport,this adventure included a lot of hard work,nerves of steel and sweat!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 5 years 1 week ago

I can read David’s mind and what he/we would want to do if he came across the culprits responsible of such horrendous act!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gunslinger wrote 5 years 1 week ago

A iterestig story,to bad the huntes could not finis off the Buff. Davewe need moe articles such as this.I feel sue all who reads this will apreciate ethic's in hunting. Tobad the Poachers got away, as how many other animals die as such. Never trapped Prefer to shoot my game,

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from streack wrote 5 years 1 week ago

Excellent story, the detail portrayed was fantastic.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Happy Myles wrote 5 years 1 week ago

About 40 years ago I had to shoot a lioness that had been crippled by poachers. The cat had lost a front foot in a snare. The stub was not infected, but she was unable to hunt and was hanging around some locals huts. She was skin and bones and as she charged I shot her in the head. It was a sad moment as she tried to get even for all her pain.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from Big O wrote 5 years 1 week ago

Excellent story, definatly would make the "short and curleys" shorter and curlier if you know what I mean if that happened to you. It's a shame they were'nt able to end her suffering for sure, at least they were able to hasten the end for her.
As for the poachers, I'm sure there is a special place for them, not just the ones in Africa but here in the U.S. as well.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jere Smith wrote 5 years 1 week ago

I personally would love to set a snare for the poachers!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 5 years 1 week ago

This is the piece that I was raving about on this site after reading it in last month's magazine. In my somewhat worthless opinion it is DEP at his best. Much more than just another mundane hunting article as this story has depth and soul.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 5 years 1 week ago

This story is a whole 'nother dimension of excellence coming from Petzal. I was practically raised by outdoor writers, and I know a thing or two about a good article, but wow...

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 5 years 1 week ago

Ish - are you saying his work, other than this, is mundane and lacking depth? HAHAHAHA. I don't think that's what you meant, but it would be hilarious if so.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ziggy4334 wrote 5 years 4 days ago

This story is very good. To imagine that would be great for you guys in a couple years! Truly, this is one to remember. After all, having that kind of teamwork is something straight out of an African Safari hunter's dream. Well done, guys. Be careful next time, and eat your vegetables - those buffalo will be sorry the enxt time they have to face the three of you.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from The White Slug wrote 5 years 2 days ago

Well written and informative. It's time for you to refrain from bitter diatribe and put "fannies in the seats" as articles like this stir the imagination. (Yes, I do admit Hillary has a prodigious derriere)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from rserwe44 wrote 4 years 49 weeks ago

Great story, I cant imagine stalking that mad cape buffalo through tall grass like that.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from The_UTP wrote 4 years 14 weeks ago

This is a great story because it contains two words never spoken on television shoot-fests: "We failed."

Much of hunting is about failure and building up a part of yourself more important than your ego. That comes through here.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jwallen wrote 4 years 9 weeks ago

I have read this story three times and wonder what the solution to this problem is. Robert Mugabe and his cronies have nearly destroyed Zimbabwe. Until there is a return to the rule of law, the poaching will continue.
Mr. Petzal, this is some of your best writing ever.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Drew McClure wrote 3 years 46 weeks ago

My favorite gun rest is someone else's wire fence, the top wire if standing, the second from the top if I am sitting on a bucket.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment

from Happy Myles wrote 5 years 2 weeks ago

I've always been appalled by the devastation of poacher snares. The only reason I can think of for not collecting the dead animals is the poachers must be so full of the local drugs of choice, washed down by homemade alcohol, that they can't remember where they set the snares, or unable to check them

Two Cape Buffalo I killed had front legs scared by snares, and several others had bullets crafted by all sorts of items, pot legs, pieces of steel and other items. A couple of years ago I Killed a
Central Savannah Buffalo in the Central African Republic with a bullet made from a truck battery terminal in it's neck. He was one cranky animal.

A truck had been stolen by Somalian terrorists and abandoned after a chase by French military.
We found the truck hidden in a grove of trees, and noted missing battery terminals, fuel, and mirrors. A few days later I killed the buffalo, and found one of the terminals.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from Happy Myles wrote 5 years 1 week ago

About 40 years ago I had to shoot a lioness that had been crippled by poachers. The cat had lost a front foot in a snare. The stub was not infected, but she was unable to hunt and was hanging around some locals huts. She was skin and bones and as she charged I shot her in the head. It was a sad moment as she tried to get even for all her pain.

+5 Good Comment? | | Report
from steve182 wrote 5 years 2 weeks ago

That sounds like a very intense hunt. And i believe poachers, cheaters and thieves get theirs in the end. Karma's a bitch.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Standingbear wrote 5 years 2 weeks ago

Great story. This story was about hunting, but it showed just how much sportmen and women care about animls they hunt. These men could have just shot the Buffalo and left them for the Lions, but instead they tried to help them. One by getting the wire removed and the other by killing it to ease it's suffering from the loss of a leg. ( It is sad to hear stories of the curelity of these traps and what they have done to the animals and the suffering they had to have gone through before dying. I realize there might be a time in a pesons life when setting a snare might be the only way he or she can catch something to eat and survive, but to set these snares and forget to check them is uncalled for and if they are caught, justice to the max, should be served) Then you saw the way each Professional Hunter respected the concession of another, by getting premission to hunt the wounded Buffalo. This story showed us that even though they cared for the animal, their safty was just as important. These brave hunters put their lives on the line and I praise GOD everyone of them returned safely. In reading on how they stalked and hunted the wounded animal I learned a lot on how a person hunting in this manner with others should act in order no party member would be shot. Then you see just how this know how came into play when the Buffalo made her charge and shots were fired. This also showed just how professional they were. Good work and great story. Would love to read about other hunts taken if possible. May GOD watch over you all on ever hunt!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Happy Myles wrote 5 years 2 weeks ago

My earlier post should have read Angola terrorists, not Somalia terrorists

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from 2Poppa wrote 5 years 1 week ago

That sounded like one heck of an adventure!
A lot of people think that hunting is just a sport,this adventure included a lot of hard work,nerves of steel and sweat!

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Gunslinger wrote 5 years 1 week ago

A iterestig story,to bad the huntes could not finis off the Buff. Davewe need moe articles such as this.I feel sue all who reads this will apreciate ethic's in hunting. Tobad the Poachers got away, as how many other animals die as such. Never trapped Prefer to shoot my game,

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Big O wrote 5 years 1 week ago

Excellent story, definatly would make the "short and curleys" shorter and curlier if you know what I mean if that happened to you. It's a shame they were'nt able to end her suffering for sure, at least they were able to hasten the end for her.
As for the poachers, I'm sure there is a special place for them, not just the ones in Africa but here in the U.S. as well.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Clay Cooper wrote 5 years 1 week ago

I can read David’s mind and what he/we would want to do if he came across the culprits responsible of such horrendous act!

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from streack wrote 5 years 1 week ago

Excellent story, the detail portrayed was fantastic.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from ishawooa wrote 5 years 1 week ago

This is the piece that I was raving about on this site after reading it in last month's magazine. In my somewhat worthless opinion it is DEP at his best. Much more than just another mundane hunting article as this story has depth and soul.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from The_UTP wrote 4 years 14 weeks ago

This is a great story because it contains two words never spoken on television shoot-fests: "We failed."

Much of hunting is about failure and building up a part of yourself more important than your ego. That comes through here.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from jwallen wrote 4 years 9 weeks ago

I have read this story three times and wonder what the solution to this problem is. Robert Mugabe and his cronies have nearly destroyed Zimbabwe. Until there is a return to the rule of law, the poaching will continue.
Mr. Petzal, this is some of your best writing ever.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jere Smith wrote 5 years 1 week ago

I personally would love to set a snare for the poachers!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 5 years 1 week ago

This story is a whole 'nother dimension of excellence coming from Petzal. I was practically raised by outdoor writers, and I know a thing or two about a good article, but wow...

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from shane wrote 5 years 1 week ago

Ish - are you saying his work, other than this, is mundane and lacking depth? HAHAHAHA. I don't think that's what you meant, but it would be hilarious if so.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ziggy4334 wrote 5 years 4 days ago

This story is very good. To imagine that would be great for you guys in a couple years! Truly, this is one to remember. After all, having that kind of teamwork is something straight out of an African Safari hunter's dream. Well done, guys. Be careful next time, and eat your vegetables - those buffalo will be sorry the enxt time they have to face the three of you.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from The White Slug wrote 5 years 2 days ago

Well written and informative. It's time for you to refrain from bitter diatribe and put "fannies in the seats" as articles like this stir the imagination. (Yes, I do admit Hillary has a prodigious derriere)

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from rserwe44 wrote 4 years 49 weeks ago

Great story, I cant imagine stalking that mad cape buffalo through tall grass like that.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Drew McClure wrote 3 years 46 weeks ago

My favorite gun rest is someone else's wire fence, the top wire if standing, the second from the top if I am sitting on a bucket.

0 Good Comment? | | Report

Post a Comment