Shooting For Soup

By Roger Pinckney

“And what does Bwana wish to hunt today?”

Zambia in July, deep in the valley of the Great Zambezi. Crocs sunning on the sandbars, hippos grunting up dates, leopards coughing around the kraal at midnight.

Ron was my PH, my Professional Hunter. He called me Bwana and I loved it.

“Today, Bwana would like to hunt buffalo.”

Ron shook his head, looked at his shoes, Birkenstock sandals, no socks. “Buffalo, eh? This is some serious business, Bwana!” 

Ron ducked into his tent. When he returned, he was carrying a .570 Nitro Express double—and he was wearing socks.


They maintain the bush with fire and the whole country thereabouts smelled like burnt oatmeal as we rattled the winding roads in an open Toyota, eight-ply rubber and the steering wheel on the wrong side. Then there were tracks from fifty-odd head crossing the road, punctuated with a generous plastering of bovine emissions. Ron locked up the brakes and we slid to a stop with much soft murmuring in Bantu from the rear seat.

“What they say, what they say?”

Ron translated.  “They say the herd crossed here about 9:45 this morning.”


Social order amongst Cape buffalo, only Boss Bull gets to breed the cows. His enviable position is continuously contested by lesser bulls, most of them his sons. Once deposed, His Majesty joins other disposed despots and they mutter and mumble along in extreme ill-humor downwind, close enough to smell the cows in high heat, if nothing else. Kikulies, they call them, bachelor bulls, the bulls you hunt.

Borrowed rifle, .416 Remington Magnum, topped with a scope worth two-week’s wages. 

“You want to shoot it first, Bwana?”

“Does it hit where you point it?”

“Every bloody time.”

“Then no.”

“And you’re going up against a beast that’s gonna try and kill you with a gun you’ve never shot?”


“Why, Bwana, why?”

“Cause if this thing bites me, I might flinch and miss.”


And then two Kikulies 40 yards close, in brush so tight, a man couldn’t even see his feet, Ron at my side, whispering in my ear like a seasoned Lamaze coach.

“I say, Bwana, can you see that little vee in the middle of his chest? Can you put a bullet in there, man?”

Three rounds in the Remington, a soft up front and two solids in case things got sketchy. A 2000-pound bull raising dust and hell seemed to meet the criteria.

Around the mopane wood campfire later that night, Ron said my knees were swapping sides like Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show, but I don’t remember that. I felt the trigger break but I never heard the shot. 

Last thing I saw was old Kikuli stagger and careen off into can’t-see while all of Africa dissolved into a great and sudden blur of red dust, green bush and blue sky.

And I felt my Jello brain slosh up against the back of my skull.

“Come, Bwana, come!” That was Shadrick, my faithful gun-bearer.  Then he ran out in front of the gun, the only time I questioned his judgment, but he was right, always right, of course.

“Wait a damn minute! Give him time to die!”

“Come Bwana, come!”

I did and when I saw the first of the spoor, I knew there was no need to worry, a ten-quart pail of gelatinous blood congealing upon the African dirt that clung to my shoes.

“Come Bwana, come!”

The beast had struggled 50 yards, then turned and died waiting in ambush—waiting to kill us.

It’s the dead ones that will kill you, right?

All hands circled to his rear. I put a solid into the back of his head at ten feet. He bounced when the bullet hit him.

Shadrick cut a long length of elephant grass, gingerly leaned and touched the tip to an eyeball. When the eye did not blink, he broke into a loose-boned, high-stepping, leaping dance, yipping like a Comanche, gyrations and vocalizations soon joined by the trackers and skinners.

The lions heard it and knew it too.


Ron brought up the Toyota and the hands broke out their steel, blades hand-forged of broken leaf springs, wedged and bound into mopane handles. The ax-heads off the wood made skinning knives, on the wood, they cleanly quartered the carcass. Quicker than it takes to tell you, 1000 pounds of meat were aboard the Toyota.

Ron eyed the sun, slipping off beyond the darkening tree-line, slipping off towards Mozambique. “Let’s get the hell out of here. The lions will be all over us shortly.”

Halfway to camp, Ron asked, “And what does Bwana want to eat of this?”

“Bwana wants the very best cut of this Kikuli for supper tomorrow night, the very best.”

“Yes, Bwana, only the best for you.”

Oxtail soup, a thick gravy with onions, carrots and fine-cut potatoes, cooked long and slow.

It was better than good.

From the FE Films Archive

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