Sungula – The Start

  • Tuesday, 16 July 2019 12:19
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Sungula – The Start by Kevin Thomas: A cadet ranger’s first buffalo experience

In late 1968 I hunted my first buffalo. I was a newly employed 17-year-old cadet game ranger posted to Chipinda Pools, the remote eastern field station in Rhodesia’s Gonarezhou National Park. Having been introduced to hunting from early boyhood, I lived for it, but had yet to be exposed to the hunting of dangerous game.

Not long after my arrival at Chipinda Pools, the senior ranger instructed the station’s game scout, Sgt Hlupho, a tough, bush-wise old Shangaan tribesman, to take me to shoot a buffalo for meat rations. 

I signed out a .425 Westley Richards and a box of rounds from the station gun safe, but due to ammunition shortages I got to fire only two shots at an old cardboard box down in the Runde riverbed. The rifle had an island front sight and a four-blade folding rear sight. My 50m shots, fired from a standing off-hand position, seemed to satisfy the senior ranger. 

There was no discussion of bullet types, or anything else that might have been helpful to a rank neophyte about to go buffalo hunting. Back then, there were none of the new-generation bullets we now have. Our seniors spoke only of two bullet types, soft-nose and solids (the term ‘expanding’ bullet wasn’t used in Rhodesia then). The two unwritten laws for bullet choice were simple: soft-nose bullets were strictly for lion, leopard and antelope, while solid bullets were for heavy-boned dangerous game. 

John ‘Pondoro’ Taylor’s Big Game and Big Game Rifles was every serious hunter’s bible and during my last year at school I had bought a copy. In it Taylor mentions that when it comes to ballistics for sport-hunting, there is little to choose between the .425 Westley Richards and the .416 Rigby. However, Taylor did not like the 28ꞌꞌbarrel on the .425 Westley Richards “Game Ranger Model” intended for use by the Game Departments of Britain’s African colonies. He wrote of a hunter almost being killed by a wounded buffalo when the lengthy barrel snagged on some brush as he swung to face the charge. On the eve of my first buffalo hunt, Taylor’s comment on the 28-inch barrel played heavily on my mind.

Intending to combine my introductory buffalo hunt with a 3-day anti-poaching patrol, we set up a fly-camp at Chinguli Pools, downstream from the Chipinda HQ. I was to shoot the buffalo on the last day before we headed back to Chipinda Pools.

Read the full article in the August 2019 issue of Magnum.

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