Revolver Buffalo

In the blistering heat of a Mozambique swamp, a hunter stalks a wary herd of Cape buffalo–with a handgun.

The following was published originally in the May/June 2010 issue of Sports Afield.

I was snaking my way through the papyrus in my best belly-crawl when I suddenly remembered that cobras also favor the thick, reedy stalks for their hunting grounds. Fortunately, I was beyond caring.

Ruger's Super Redhawk in .454 Casull topped with a Burris 2-7 scope proved effective when the chips were down.

We were well into the twelfth hour of hunting on a blisteringly hot day northwest of the Marromeu Buffalo Reserve in central coastal Mozambique. It was a Cape buffalo hunt with a revolver, and I was fully outfitted with my trusty Ruger Super Redhawk in .454 Casull, loaded with 325-grain Barnes Busters.

It had taken four solid days to get where we were, and although this was not the longest time I’d spent hunting for buffalo, it was certainly the toughest. We were the last hunt of the season, so these animals were already wary and keen-eyed. It was the cusp of the rainy season, so vegetation was relatively low and dry, making us easier to see and hear. Last but not least, it was hot–between 100 and 115 degrees, with the raging humidity that accompanies the start of the rains. Zambeze Delta Safari PH Craigh Hamman and tracker Johny were used to it but the rest of our team-Ken Jorgensen, my hunting pal from Ruger and rifle backup, cameraman John MacGillivray, and me-all became dehydrated, or worse, during the first few days of the hunt.

The Forest
In Zambeze Delta Safari’s 1.5-million-acre concession known as Coutada 11, buffalo are hunted in either the thick suni forest (named for the small antelope that thrives there), or the vast floodplain. Because I wanted to get close (I figured 20 to 30 yards was my optimum range) we first tried the forest.

Full of hanging vines covered in thorns of all shapes and sizes, as well as deadfalls obstructing every step, the forest offered the best concealment. We managed to stalk to within 35 yards of a nice 40-inch bull and his little group, but he was young, so after a great stalk and a good look, we left him to grow up some. In our other attempts, though, the animals led us deep into denser and denser foliage, and, with the dead leaves carpeting the ground (a little like trying to stalk across a floor of Doritos), hunting became extremely difficult. These conditions allowed even the most oblivious of buffalo to keep us in check.The area is also home to an impressive array of plains game species. Its nyala are some of the best on the continent. The sable quota for the area we were hunting is larger than that of the entire nation of Zambia. Bushbuck, red and blue duiker, suni, oribi, and other game were plentiful.

After we’d tripped and crackled our way through the forest and bumped yet another herd of buffalo, PH Craigh Hamman made the wise suggestion to change locations. We headed off to a fly camp twenty miles away to hunt what he ominously called The Swamp.

Mozambique's Coutada 11 hunting area has very strong populations of buffalo and a variety of other plains game.

Into the Swamp
The Swamp is actually a vast floodplain, flat as a pancake, and covered with large groves of papyrus and sawgrass. I’d never seen papyrus before, and it’s impressive. A reed-like plant that grows to sixteen feet, it can be so dense that you literally can’t see more than one foot in front of you. They say that when buffalo get into the papyrus, the odds are really stacked against you.

Sawgrass was the other vegetation we contended with. Traversed in one direction, all is smooth and lovely–but go the other way and the serrated edges on the long, sweeping leaves cut like, well, a saw. Both of these plants grow in watery, marshy, swampy areas, but at this time of year, the end of the dry season, we had both quicksand-like mud (two of our party sank in to their knees, and someone from the group before us lost an entire boot), as well as dried, cracked mud that formed crevices large enough to grab a foot (we had three sprained or twisted ankles among us).

To negotiate all this, we used all-terrain vehicles called Argos. These are eight-wheeled, tracked little tanks meant purely for hauling things, human or otherwise. Comfort had obviously not been a design concern. At one point even Craigh said, through clattering teeth, ”Argos are better than walking–but just.” The bouncing was so severe that we all thought about getting off and walking alongside at one point or another; the jostling was so uncontrollable that I worried about maintaining my zero on my scope, and cradled the revolver in my arms the entire time. Despite their hardiness, one Argo got stuck in a hippo ditch (that’s why you always travel with two Argos out in the Swamp), and the other lost one of its tracks.

Tracked vehicles called Argos were used to cross the swampy, treacherous terrain.

Still, we eventually worked our way to almost ten miles from our fly camp. It’s not that there weren’t any animals; in fact, spotting buffalo in the vast and open Swamp was easy. We looked for birds, or simply dust. Great swirls of it in the distance marked herds of buffalo making their way across to munch or drink; the flocks of white cattle egrets did likewise. But it was just as easy for them to see us. Not only was the Swamp wide open, but the animals here congregated in much bigger numbers, which meant more sets of suspicious eyes. Add to that the papyrus and sawgrass they favored for concealment whenever spooked, and we had our stalking cut out for us.

We tried to get close to three separate herds as the day wore on. Each time the animals stayed in sight, but we could not close the distance effectively.

It was mid-afternoon when we tried one last time. We had spied a large herd just beginning to move for its afternoon feed, making its way from an open area through a couple of smallish, linked, reedy islands. Finally, the papyrus and sawgrass was on our side, and a few sparse thickets allowed us to stalk to within 100 yards of the strung-out herd. Slowly they grazed, relaxed and maybe even not all that hungry, but at least they were moving. Craigh and I both realized that this would be our last stalk of the day, and we were running out of days. We made the unspoken commitment to do whatever it took to get into position.

On Hands and Knees
We moved in, first bent at the waist and then on hands and knees, trying to be deliberate but knowing that time was against us. I kept my head down and focused on putting one hand and knee in front of the other, and we were able to crawl within fifty yards of the animals that had passed the clearing. But it was soon apparent that the herd was too big (in the hundreds), for us to get within my preferred thirty yards.

Craigh glanced at the rear guard still crossing the clearing, and thought there might be some stragglers that we could look over. We had to crawl deeper into the little papyrus and sawgrass mounds to have a chance of getting close enough to assess the animals. At one point, we slithered around a patch of long grass to within ten yards of a cow, and continued to slide by her to look at the group following her. I was tempted to peek up and look her in the eye, but I kept my head down.

We snaked our way to a spot where the vegetation was low enough, just about where the animals were crossing through the reedy patches. Craigh lifted his head slowly and peeked through the reeds. There was a nice mature bull at the edge of the group, only thirty yards away.

The only way to get close to buffalo in the flat, open floodplain is to stalk around the large groves of papyrus and sawgrass.

Craigh slowly drew himself up to a semi-crouch, and Johny, still in a crawl, slid the sticks to him. I went to my knees, thinking I might be able to shoot from there, but I had come to a standing crouch to see over the papyrus.

Strangely, the bull looked at once both closer and farther than I’d thought he was–probably an illusion resulting from a combination of heat exhaustion and anticipation. I drew the Super Redhawk from the chest holster I’d rigged into a cross-draw, and hoisted it onto Craigh’s sticks. Cocking the hammer as I came up, I planted the revolver while keeping my eye on my target–just as I do in practice–and found the bull there in the scope.

It took just a moment for Craigh and me to confirm we had the same bull in mind–and also to make sure I had a clear shot! The animals were moving around, seeking out the choicest green shoots. We realized that this “little” bunch contained more than fifty animals.

The bull was angled away from us, not the ideal broadside shot we’d hoped for, but a very doable quartering position. My first shot was into the crease as Craigh had instructed-behind the right front leg. It turned out to be a high heart hit but heart-shot animals sometimes don’t know they’re hit, and this is especially true of buffalo. This ruffian merely bucked that leg out, hesitated for a second, and trotted off with his pals.

Oddly, the herd didn’t bolt and stampede away, but Craigh had warned me of this too. He told me they often move off just a bit, then turn and face you again, as if demanding, “Who did that?” This bunch moved about twenty yards away, but then hung together, a little more alert, but largely unimpressed. Harrumph, I thought, as I tracked the bull and shot again.

Unfortunately, I was now shooting through sawgrass. Though I know better than to try busting through stuff I’ll confess that in the heat of following my bull and trying to get another shot into him, I didn’t notice the reeds now in my way. Shot number two was deflected, and though it also hit, it didn’t put him down.

Now the herd wasn’t quite sure what was going on, so they milled around more as they continued to put distance between us. I moved a few feet to the side, to get out of that darned sawgrass and get a clear shot. I was having serious trouble identifying my buffalo, but thank goodness for Craigh’s sharp eye! He was on him even as the entire herd seemed to swallow the bull up. The bull was seriously ill, not moving well, and I wanted to end this as quickly as I could. But he was constantly obscured by other buffalo.

Then suddenly, there he was, in the open, broadside. The other buffalo seemed to melt away; none behind, none in front. The reticle steadied, and I focused on it, and then on applying smooth, consistent pressure to my trigger.

At this shot, which hit in the center of the vitals, the buffalo bucked, stumbled, and keeled over, legs out. We later paced it at more than 100 yards. I was thankful that I had taken Craigh’s advice to use a scope for this hunt instead of iron sights, as I had originally planned.

Now we all advanced on the buffalo’s rear: Craigh and Ken with backup rifles in hand, and me with the revolver in a solid ready position, delivering insurance shots at Craigh’s direction. As we moved in, Craigh said, “If he charges, he’ll have to get up, turn around, and then come for us-and you’ll have to beat me to the draw!” I’m still not sure if he was kidding or not.

For a long moment, all of us stood there, shoulder to shoulder. I’m not sure what the others were thinking, but I wasn’t quite sure that it was done, and I wasn’t quite ready to let myself heave that sigh of relief and triumph. Finally, Craigh looked at me and smiled for the first time in four days, and so did Johny. (I later learned that neither had been entirely sure about the revolver-buffalo thing, and Johny in particular had decided that such a small gun could only result in a perilous follow-up with an unhappy ending.)

As intense as this hunt was for me, it was clear from the looks on the faces all around that every person had had his own personal adventure. As my friend SheriffJim Wilson says (he credits Finn Aagaard with this), hunting in Africa is a team effort. In the Swamp this day, we had won gold.”

Having successfully met the challenge of taking dangerous game with a handgun, the author was thrilled with her hard-won Cape buffalo.

For more information on hunting in this area, contact Zambeze Delta Safaris:;

Preparing for a Revolver Hunt
Gearing Up for Revolver Buffalo

2 Responses to “Revolver Buffalo”

  • Jon H Says:

    Thanks for the great story; and ending all speculations surrounding the January 2011 photograph. All the best for a great 2011 my Jedi Master.

  • mark Says:

    nice bull, nice shot and congrats!!! and ya used my favorite caliber

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