Thrills and Spills on the Chiredzi River
(The story of an unsucessful but wonderful hunting experience)

By Rob Kennedy

First printed in The Australian Archery Journal, Edition No 4 1992© Australian Bowhunters Journal Pty Limited

The jumbo finally landed on the tarmac at Harare International Airport Zimbabwe, and then after eventually clearing customs in the crowded terminal I was greeted by my friend and hunting partner Ernie Van Staden. We decided to go straight home so I could make an early start tuning my gear in the morning. As soon as we arrived home, Ernie's wife Fiona made a couple of drinks and we became involved in a long conversation. During the course of the evening we munched on biltong and discussed what we were hoping to do over the weekend, how Chuck Adams had fared on his recent hunt, the price of cooking oil and sugar, and then went full circle back to our own hunting agenda. Quite late now we hit the sack and I had no problem falling asleep instantly.

Early the next morning I screwed the limbs onto my bow and began tuning it to my satisfaction, after my 2219 XX75s tipped with Bear Razor- heads were all smacking into the target close enough to each other I stopped for lunch. After packing my bags I awaited Ernie's return. There was time for a quick shower and then I went back into Ernie's bow room again to admire his gear and make sure that nothing important would be left behind. I couldn't help but notice that all Ernie's gear was "state of the art" which is actually quite something considering that there aren't any archery shops in Zimbabwe.

After about five minutes I heard the car pull up in the driveway and watched as Ernie rushed about getting ready. Within five minutes we were off on our four hour sojourn to Chiredzi. During the drive we discussed a great deal including what we both hoped to bag in the following days to come.

The beautiful but feisty bushbuck is responsible for the second largest amount of animal related deaths after the crocodile.

After we descended into the lowveldt we began noticing warthogs by the roadside, in fact by the time we pulled up at Eddie Naude's ranch we had counted over ninety seven of them. Things, we assured each other were looking good, especially for Ernie as warthogs are his favourite game.

As we pulled up at the house I was bodily removed from the car by Ed. Resistance was useless as Ed makes the average guy look like a new born baby, after a few playful slaps on my back which nearly dislocated my shoulders we were invited into the house.

We began by talking about the ranch and the state of the game. Ed held little hope in us using the treestands as there had been some rain recently and the game had noticeably spread out over the place. I mentioned that my preferred method of hunting was on foot anyway, and that I would be pleased to "still hunt". After a further hour of chatting we hit the hay.

Left: In the lowveldt, thousands of warthogs can be found.

At three o'clock in the morning we were woken by thunderstorms and violent rain falls. As the sun rose slowly on a gloomy morning I gave up all hope of hunting or even game viewing and resigned myself to look at the trophies and read books in the hunter's lodge. However by nine o'clock the rain had stopped over 60 mils dropped out of the skies in less than five hours. Shortly we were having breakfast, and I had to know what they thought about my chances of hunting and decided to pump Ed for some ideas. "Where do you think we stand the best chance of success Ed?"
"Well if you still want a bush buck and a chance at all the other game you must go down the river."
"Do you think that would be wise" questioned Ed's wife Shirley "it's pretty dangerous!".
"If they keep a good look out for the elephants, rhinos and the buffs they'll be okay." Retorted Ed.
"Then you must describe a mamba too him so he knows what to look out for."
"What mamba?" I enquired.
"Poisonous snake," Ed answered casually out of the corner of his mouth. "Once they hit you, you've got about twenty minutes to live. He emphasised this with a fatalistic snap of his fingers. "Of course they're not the only snakes here, there are puff adders and pythons that are mother big. I've seen a photo of one with a 180kg calf inside it."
"Come on"
"No I've seen it too" said Ernie.
"Lions are a problem as well now, and don't go too close to the water because there are some big crocs down there as well" said Shirley.

After being kitted out with a 375H&H Magnum and further instructions on dangerous game evasion, I took my first nervous steps out from the security fence into the dark African jungle followed by my gun toting buddy Ernie and Maharda our Traditional Tracker.

As I tenderly parted the first tendrils of Lantana I heard a loud Santa Claus type laughter echo through the jungle, freezing, I slowly turned around, Ernie and Maharda wore the grins of knowledge. "Hippo, keep going" whispered Ernie. Heart racing I slowly edged forward. Visibility was cut down to about a metre and all I could think of was charging elephants, snakes and giant crocs dragging me off never to be seen again.

Left: Giraffes seen during the hunt along the Cheredzi.

Suddenly the terrain changed and we found ourselves standing under a giant canopy of leaves short grass and a nice view down the Chiredzi river. Standing there I thought how tranquil and safe the scene appeared to be, even the way the water lillies floated upstream. Maharda cottoned on more quickly than I did and pointed out that a croc was obviously unaware he was towing the lillies along (towed sonar array in submarine talk).

Moving more cautiously along we kept a close watch on the type of foot spoor we were moving over, bushbuck, impala, kudu and warthog nothing too serious another few steps. Slowly the jungle's flora changed again and we were getting tangled in the Jess bush. Jess bush has 60mm thorns that will hold onto your clothing like vice grips and has to be physically torn off. Apart from that; it will scratch you to the bone quite unpleasant stuff. At one stage I was whipped on the arm by some and it left me with a massive bruise that took weeks to clear up, I still carry the puncture marks.

Soon we came across a creek full of mud and crocodile prints, my eyeballs went haywire. "So'kay buddy just a baby mate, the big ones won't come in here." Said Ernie. Feeling no better I trundled across the creek as quietly as I could. As soon as I had made the crossing I signalled Ernie to come over as well but stopped him half way over because three bushbuck had suddenly moved out from some bush and were slowly browsing along the trail. As he stood there on the crocodile prints I couldn't resist mouthing the words "so'kay there aren't any big ones up here mate", he just grinned back. Once they were out of sight I called them both over, however before they reached my position I detected movement in the bushes to my right. I signalled Ernie to load up, he then moved to my side. "What's up?"

Deceptively tranquil. The Chiredzi River is home to snakes, crocodiles and many other nasties including the mosquito responsible for malaria.

The Chiredzi has swallowed up an unknown amount of lives. The locals believe that at least several villagers disappear on its banks every year.

"Strange movement over there and I don't like it. Keep me covered I'm going after the bushbuck." Ernie had hardly acknowledged me when a huge warthog moved onto the trail from the opposite side, looked behind him and raced off. This was getting a little too much for the old brain to handle, however I sneaked off in the direction that the antelope had taken. Rounding the edge of the lantana I noticed a orange rump in a gap between some Jess bush five metres away. Slowly creeping forward and nocking an arrow I tried to close the distance and get a better view of my quarry. However, every time I moved the buck moved as well. Really solid looking backside , on this bloke I thought to myself, quite an awesome set of legs actually, admiring them as the animal moved further away. Then as I moved in for a better view the animal jumped over what I assumed to be a crevice, dejected I turned back to see a pair of white faces.

Several warthogs at a time can be found around the Cheredzi and Save Rivers.
"What's up boys?" I enquired.
"What's up! Heck man what do you think you were stalking?"
"Bushbuck, big solid one too, jumped across a crevice as easy as you like, I never realised how well they could jump."
"Buddy that was a lioness, Maharda here tells me that her boyfriend followed you up the hill and even moved back into the bushes for you when you turned back, let's get the hell outta here." "You'll get no argument from me." I stated as casually as I could. I might have sounded cool but internally I was in overdrive, in fact I became fairly disturbed when I nearly stepped into some lion dung on the trail.

This to me seemed to punctuate the lion's control over his domain and had me in a state of anxiety I had never felt before. Perhaps this was brought about by the "movie set" scenery. Steam wisping upwards in ghostlike arms from the edge of the trails, strange birds calling in the canopy of green leaves and monkeys chittering in the tree tops - scary stuff indeed, believe me. I was almost waiting to get hit in the neck with a poison dart.

Moving along at a snails pace I noticed some impala in front of us through a small clearing some twenty five metres away however my attention was diverted to something near my feet. Looking down I noticed a snake, a black one at that, and as it reared up I couldn't help but notice its black throat. I swallowed hard as I recalled Ed saying that if he bit me I'd only have twenty minutes to live, and the snap of his fingers now seemed to ring in my ears with a deathly air. Quickly I grabbed an arrow from my quiver. Man did I fan some air with that thing; thankfully the mamba just retired into the long grass.

Impala can be found singly or more normally in much larger groups.

The impala now forgotten all I could think about was getting out of the jungle before I cashed my chips in or had them cashed in for me.

Typically, the second I was out of danger I decided to resume the hunt.

The movement of the arrow combined with the bull-roarer like sound it had made as it slashed through the air must have frightened off the impala. As we slowly relaxed and my body returned to a state of manageable fever pitch we resumed the search for the impala. Sweat was now running down my face and back and little of it involved the 40 degree temperatures.

Left: A good sized group of impala. When the group gets this large they are next to impossible to stalk on foot.

The terrain changed once again into something akin to that of a rock pool swamp. Edging slowly forwards, alert for any sign of game or danger I never noticed the large frog until it landed on my leg just below the kneecap. I don't mind admitting it - that had to be to the best of my recollection, the closest I've ever come to losing control of my bowels. Ernie still says that I jumped at least two metres straight up. I laugh about the incident now; but at the time it took me half an hour of resting and joking before we could continue.

Soon we found ourselves waste deep in mud and water. We were in and out of this several times before we started stalking on solid ground again. After about another hour of tense but uneventful stalking we came across some kudu bulls however a troop of baboons kindly let them know that we were there so our stalk was wasted. It was then that we could hear more lions calling to each other, although we had about another hour of light left we decided to pack it in. Actually I was quite thankful for the break, and as we made our way into the open we all began to relax. To tell the truth I didn't know how well I would sleep that night, but when I hit the hay unconsciousness overcame me and I didn't stir till the sun began to rise the following morning.

Right: The bane of any hunter. Baboons and monkeys can make a debacle out of any well prepared hunt.

The temperature was in the high thirties by six o'clock in the morning in what promised to be another scorching day. After a quick snack of biltong and six or seven litres of water to slake our thirst we decided to continue down the river towards the boundary still some distance away.

The majestic kudu can be found over large parts of Zimbabwe.

Once past the swamp the trail disappeared into the thickest Jess bush we'd encountered yet. Several times we spotted warthog, impala, bushbuck, nyala, waterbuck and kudu, unfortunately because of the difficulty in stalking along this part of the river I never closed the gap to what I consider to be my acceptable shooting range. It struck me as being somewhat funny, but I felt much calmer on this second day even though I knew that the dangers remained the same. Ernie and Maharda then pointed out, that after crocodile attacks, the bushbuck we were stalking; were in fact responsible for the largest toll of human lives in Zimbabwe. It was hard to believe that those little antelope could be so aggressive. Lantana and Jess bush obscured our view in all directions and visibility was at most about two to, three metres at this point. I Stalking slowly forward we could hear animals, mainly bushbuck ! moving out of our way. Obviously j they could detect our movements I through the dense bush, it. I became quite clear that we would have to climb up the river bank to get on top of this stuff. Just as we came to this conclusion we, saw some buffalo tracks, fresh ones, in fact so fresh that sand was still pouring down sides of the impressions. Now we were in trouble. Ever so cautiously we moved up hill making absolutely no noise whatsoever those buffalo have a very mean temperament.

The author pictured in a less than comfortable swamp adjacent the Chiredzi River

After safely ascending the twenty metre embankment we tried to locate the buffalo from the relative security of the levee but to no avail; the bush was just too high and far too dense. We hadn't been up there for more than a few minutes when we came across some steaming fresh elephant dung, close by was older rhino spoor.

Proceeding slowly towards the property boundary we saw the occasional bushbuck and impala, however wading through the often noisy lantana gave the game away each time. I did manage to fire a shot off at a nice bushbuck with what would have been considered trophy size horns but alas the arrow met an untimely end on an unseen twig a metre away from the bucks chest.

After a long and exhausting day the trauma of hunting the Chiredzi river was coming to an end. We'd seen nearly all the dangerous game one could see and nearly been taken out by them as well. As we approached Ed's truck parked on the boundary at the pre-arranged spot I couldn't help but notice how relaxed he was, almost asleep as though the danger here was just part of life and that there wasn't any point raising a sweat about it.

Fifty metres from the car a bush buck sprang out of the bushes and charged me, thankfully, just once the Jess bush was there to save my hide and the buck got tangled up long enough for me to make my escape.

The most dangerous land animal in Africa. The Cape Buffalo. Not a beast to be trifled with.

Once back at camp I fully relaxed and settled into a cool drink as we related the tale back to the Naude's. During the discussion Ernie spotted a tick near my leg - not even safe here I thought.

Without a shadow of a doubt this was the most dangerous, gruelling, frightening, harsh and challenging hunt that I've ever been on. Although unsuccessful from a material point of view I will probably regard this as one of the best and thrilling if not my most significant hunt ever completed.