Wounded Game

By Dr. David Svinarich

I should have known better, the cover was simply too thick. My PH and I had spent a glorious week chasing and evaluating Cape buffalo bulls in the Dande region of northeastern Zimbabwe. We were in a dense mopane woodland when we finally found one who had what we were looking for and for once the wind was in our favor. The  PH was clearly as excited as I was and he quickly set up the sticks for me to shoot. As I sighted along my .458 Lott, I whispered to him,  “It looks pretty thick in here.  I’m not sure I can thread a bullet through all these trees.” The PH was not fazed in the slightest and implored me to shoot before the bull disappeared. I waited until the bull walked through a thinner patch of scrub and sent a 500 grain soft point his way. “You definitely hit him,” the PH exclaimed.  “Did it look like a good shot to you?”  

I told him, “Yes, I was on the shoulder when I fired.” But I had lingering doubts that the bullet had made it safely through all those trees.

We waited for the thunder of hooves to fade and then headed to the area where the bull was standing when I fired. Sure enough, there was blood and good or bad, we were now committed. Our trackers easily followed the spoor for the first 100 yards, but it soon became apparent that he was only bleeding from one side, and shortly thereafter, even that dwindled to only an occasional drop. It was now clear that something had gone amiss. 

We backtracked to where the shot was taken and walked the path of the bullet. About 50 yards from where I squeezed off, we found a single mopane tree, about the thickness of my wrist, with a .458 bullet hole drilled neatly through the center of the tough, fibrous wood. As we would later discover, that tree absorbed enough of the bullet’s energy so that only one lung had been damaged. We knew now that we had a wounded buffalo on our hands and things became much more serious. 

Our trackers did an incredible job following this particular bull’s set of tracks through dense foliage, across hard ground and through the other tracks left by the departing herd. We tracked until dark, and then marked the last blood where he had bedded briefly, before calling it quits for the day. It was a very long and sleepless night and the next morning, we were up before dawn and on the spoor as the sun was peeking over the horizon. Towards the end of the second day, we could see that he was beginning to circle back more often and that he had split off from the herd. This really buoyed our spirits and at about 4pm, we finally found him standing in thick cover, and quickly put an end to things. Over those two days, we walked 18 miles in the hot African sun in search of that wounded bull. Without the near miraculous abilities of our two trackers, this animal would most certainly have been lost. I had plenty of time to reflect on what I had done wrong and how differently things could have ended. In my case, I allowed my enthusiasm and that of my PH to cloud my better judgment, and I took a shot in cover that was just too thick. In fairness, it can be hard to resist taking a shot when you have spent days looking for an animal and time is running out. Because I took a shot that I should not have, I put myself, my PH and two trackers in danger, not to mention the suffering which the bull endured. Fortunately, this one ended without issue and we had our animal.

Wounding game animals is not something we as hunters like to discuss or admit to, but if you have hunted long enough there is a good chance that you have either wounded animals yourself or helped to find animals wounded by others. Sometimes, the Red gods smile upon us and the animal is located quickly and dispatched, but many times, despite our best efforts, the animal is simply lost. As  hunters, we have an ethical imperative to do everything in our power to minimize the potential for wounding and when the unthinkable occurs, to make every reasonable effort to quickly find and finish off the wounded animal. This imperative obligates us to be as proficient with our weapons as possible, to select a firearm and cartridge properly matched to the task at hand and to work within our own set of limitations.  With dangerous game, where the animal could pose a serious threat to others, that imperative becomes even more important.

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