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Buffalo Hunting Escape by William Charles Baldwin | One of The Great Hunters

As a novice hunter at St. Lucia Bay in Zululand in 1852, Baldwin underestimated the wiliness of the crocodile. Four years later, on his third hunting trip into the Zulu country, he was better prepared for the sudden attacks of the buffalo. But an old bull elephant almost got the better of him in dense bush country some distance from the residence of Moselekatse, The Matabele chief.

I shot a goose, almost full grown, though a flapper, and he was drifting nicely to my feet, when he unaccountably disappeared. Not taking particular notice at the time, I thought he might possibly have partly recovered and dived. Gibson(1) was with me at the time, and, disappointed of our intended roast, as we had not breakfasted, I shot another, and he likewise disappeared in the same place and manner. There being plenty, I shot a third, and, determined not to lose this one, went gradually into the river to meet him, armed with a heavy lance-wood loading- rod shod with iron, and had nearly got up to my middle, making a tremendous noise and splashing to scare the crocodiles (2), when, just as I was stretching out my arm to reach my goose, he suddenly went under water. I had no fear in those days, and did not know the real danger, so I made a grasp and caught the goose by the leg, striking the water as hard as ever I could. In an instant the goose came in halves, the legs, back, and some of the entrails falling to my share, Mr. Crocodile getting the better half, and two or three violent blows of the nose into the bargain. I need hardly say I lost not an instant in getting ashore again, and did not think much at the time (which is often the case) of what a foolish thing it was to do, and what a narrow escape I had had.

It is only once in a mans lifetime he does these dare devil sort of things, and it is wonderful how lucky he invariably comes off; but a few more years, and a wider experience, make him as cautious as those whom he once thought timid. It is equally difficult for youth and age to hit that golden mean, which is no doubt the best way in hunting, as in other things, to attain the main object bagging your game.

One evening, in the valley of the Tugela(3), on returning to my encampment, after a capital days sport (three hartebeests(4), an eland bull (5), and buffalo bull(6),) I was leading a fine gray mare, packed with the hartebeest skins, when I saw a huge beast before me so encased in mud that I at first took it for a rhinoceros. I let go the mare, and ran from behind, unperceived, very near, as it was walking slowly. It proved to be an enormous old bull buffalo, and the first intimation he got of my presence was a bullet in the centre of his big ribs. How he made the stones fly and clatter as he rushed down the hill! I reloaded, went back to the mare(which remained standing just where I left her, as all South African trained shooting horses do for half a day or more, if required), and proceeded in the direction my old friend was making, not much expecting, however, to see anything more of him, and had given him up, as it was fats getting dark, when I saw the outline of a large beast under a shady thorn- tree and had not quite made him out when he emerged and made at me. I threw a hasty glance round for a friendly tree, and then at the chances of getting on the mares back; but that was hopeless, as she was loaded with hides. My arm was through the bridle rein, the bull mending his pace; and as I put my gun to my shoulder the mare, alarmed, jerked back, and I fired a snap shot at his breast, not turning him in the least. The mare reared perpendicularly and fell backwards; the rein being through my arm, I also fell between her legs, and the brute went over us both, knocking the skin from the mares eye with a kick from his hind leg, and rattled along. I found him dead in the morning not 200 yards off, my bullet having struck him in the centre of the chest.

I saw across the Pongola(7) an immense herd of buffaloes, and my fellows were most anxious that I should shoot them a fat cow. I got on a large open plain between them and their stronghold, the bush we were then in, and ensconced myself behind a very small low bush below the wind, with two double guns, and sent my fellows a long way round, above wind, to drive them towards me. There must have been 300, and they came directly for me, at a slow trot, making the earth shake, and raising clouds of dust. I lay as close as a hare in her form on the open plain nothing but this little shrub, perhaps three feet high and four feet in circumference until the leaders of the herd were within three lengths, and I saw every probability of being trampled to death. I jumped into the air as high as possible, with a tremendous shout. The whole herd, for a few seconds, appeared panic stricken, and remained stock still.

I selected a sleek, glossy, dumpy cow, and fired, and never raised such a commotion in my existence. I was almost deafened by the rushing noise, and blinded by the dust. I fired, however, my other three barrels into the middle of the dust, but could hardly hear the report; and not until the dust cleared away, some 300 yards, I saw the whole herd going away, and my little pet, Smoke, at their heels. She picked the wounded cow out of the whole herd, stuck to her till she died, a mile ahead, and whilst we were trying to hit off her blood spoor, came back to us, and trotted on ahead, and took us to the cow, the only one bagged.

A buffalo is a dangerous animal, from being so very quick. One day I had stalked close up to some lying down in long grass, and had cautiously, by taking advantage of every opportunity, got to a forked tree within twenty yards, when I whistled low to alarm them gently, and then slowly rose. I fired at the best cow full in the breast, and sprang, at the same instant, almost into the fork, and was knocked out of it again as quickly with the tremendous  charge she made against the trunk, almost splitting her skull, and rolling over dead at the tree root, shot dead through the middle of the heart. Another time I and my companion(8) both fired together at an old bull, hitting him hard, and I was chasing him at my best pace, for a second shot , when I became aware of another galloping alongside me, twenty five yards to my right, on the open. I pulled up immediately, aimed forward, and fired, hitting him in front of  the shoulder blade, and, in all my experience, I never saw one knocked over like that. His legs flew from under him, and he lay sprawling some lengths ahead. There was a low thorn tree between us, with wide spreading branches almost sweeping the ground, which I made for. He jumped up instantly and charged, and as I ducked under on the lower side he came smack through, breaking off one of the main limbs on the upper side, and away he went, and I never set eyes on him more. We eventually bagged our first, my companion hitting him in the eye as he came on.

Notes

Gibson. A hunting companion on the 1852 expedition. Gibson and Baldwin were the only two of a party of nine white hunters who survived the adventure. The others died of Malaria.

The Crocodiles. The African or Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus). A large reptile found in virtually all the rivers and lakes with which the hunters of this period came into contact.

Tugela. The Tugela River rises on Mont aux Sources in the Drakensberg and flows for 320 km, to enter the Indian Ocean north of Durban. At this time the Northern boundary of Natal Colony.

Three Hartebeests. (Bubalis cama or Bubalis Lichtenstein). An antelope reaching up to 1,22 metres at the shoulders. Extremely fats runner.

 An eland bull. (Taurotragus oryx). Large antelope. Bulls reach 1,83 metres at the withers and carry corkscrew shaped horns attaining 0,91 metres in length.

Buffalo bull. (Syncerus caffer). The bull is powerfully built, standing about 1,52 metres at the shoulder. The horns extend sideways and downwards from a bony boss on the head.

The Pongola. The river rises in Swaziland and forms the Northern border of Zululand. Joins the Mapula River which enters the Indian Ocean at Delagoa Bay.

My companion. Possibly the Zulu Mahoutcha, a splendid fellow, formerly in Elephant Whites service.

The Entumeni Bush. This is recounted on Baldwins 1857 expidition to the Transvaal Republic, the Marico country etc.

Veldt shoes. Velskoen or soft hide shoes were originally made by the Hottentots and readily adopted by the first colonists.