Summer in Texas is a hot season. It’s not uncommon to have numerous consecutive days where the thermometer reaches and exceeds 100 degrees during the day and cools down at night to a balmy 94 or 95!
I hate the heat, even though I’m a native Texan and my ancestors came to this land of opportunity several generations ago. Growing up in the gravel hills on the edge of the Gulf Coast plains at a time when my family did not have air conditioning one would think I should have grown accustomed to heat and humidity. Somehow I missed out on adapting to the heat.
The good thing is I’ve been able to occasionally escape Texas’ summer heat by heading to Africa in July and August, where the temperatures are relatively cool during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter. So when I got an opportunity to head to South Africa on a hunt we auctioned at the Dallas Safari Club convention, I got in touch with Travel with Guns to book my tickets, then confirmed the fact I could hunt hippo with Frikkie du Toit before we started the hunt he had donated and which was bought by Bobby and Hunter Evans. A quick call to Blake Barnett my then full time cameraman but also the producer of my DSC’s TRAILING THE HUNTER’S MOON show through his BWB Hunt Productions company confirmed he too could go early and might be interested in taking a hippo if there was a chance to do so. All things were quickly set in place.
Before heading to Africa I wanted to spend some time on the range at the FTW Ranch and their SAAM Hunter Training ranges, so I called Tim Fallon my hunting partner who with his family owns the FTW and SAAM Hunter Training to see if there was a time I might be able to do just that. Two days later I was at the ranch running Hornady’s 300 grain DGS (solid), and 300 grain DGX (expandable) rounds through my .375 Ruger Ruger Guide Gun topped with a Zeiss Conquest variable. It didn’t take but a couple of shots each at 25, 50, 75 and 100 yards to confirm both Hornady’s 300 grain solid and expandable hit the target at exactly the same place at varying distances. After that I started shooting at ranges out to 300 yards and quickly realized I “essentially owned” any target out to at least that distance.
Tim and I also played around the the .375 Ruger at much longer distances, and when I indeed shoot something at long range, which will happen only if I have no other choice, I’ll tell you some of the things we learned about the .375 Ruger at long distances…
Several days later Blake and I were on our way to Johannesburg, South Africa. The trip was a long one from Texas, but one that was also exciting, as all trips to that destination are! We were met by Frikkie du Toit’s sister who helped us clear our guns through Customs, both Blake and I carried Ruger .375 Rugers. Later that night we were met by Frikkie at a local hotel. It was good to see one of the best PHs in Africa, and someone who Blake and I have come to call a friend and someone who I truly respect.
Well before daylight we headed to the Limpopo region where Frikkie had made arrangements for us to hunt hippo, problem hippos that had recently nearly killed and badly injured some of the local farm hands. One hippo, had turned over a small boat a young man was fishing from and bitten off his left leg. That happened on the property we were to start hunting.
Once there, we were introduced to the local PH with whom Frikkie had made the arrangements. He immediately told us to get in with rifle and ammo, and we’d go look for the rogue hippo. I talked him in to letting me confirm the zero of my rifle, even if I was not going to be given time to change into my hunting clothes.
A few minutes later with a target set up at 100 yards I squeezed the trigger on my Ruger Guide Gun. The 300 grain Hornady solid was dead on target, as I expected to be.
Again in the vehicle we drove to glass several ponds on drainages leading to the local river, which reputedly held a huge population of both hippos and crocodiles. As we approached the second reed lined winding pond, the local PH said, “We’ll be extra careful as we approach this one. Last week a hippo attacked and killed a horse at this pond, apparently without any provocation. Too, the farm hands won’t go near this one of the one we’ll check after this one, because they’ve been charged by bull hippos each time they have.” I made certain I had round in the chamber and it was on safe.
Unfortunately or perhaps more specifically fortunately we were not charged at close range as we eased to water’s edge. Hippo tracks and trails approached and left the water at numerous locations, but try as we may we could find a hippo. For a while we sat quietly hoping to hear the sound of a hippo coming up for air. But it was not to be.
After about 40 minutes of glassing and listening, we eased out of the area, trying to be as quiet as possible.
The next pond we checked too was obviously being used by numerous hippo, but not a one did we hear or see. Frikkie suggested we take a quick break, get something to eat then head out again. As we ate I asked many hippo questions, having too been told we might encounter them on land moving from water to water or heading out to feed late in the afternoon. I had been in the areas where hippo lived, particularly on the Save River and elsewhere. I had followed numerous hippo trails in the past along creeks and rivers ,especially where the grass was tall, something which can put one a bit on the anxious side! Before leaving for the rest of the afternoon hunt, I asked Frikkie exactly where to shoot a hippo, should we do so in the water. Frikkie drew a rough picture of a hippo’s head in the sand. He went on to explain too if the hippo looks at us mostly submerged in water (which he told me would likely be the case), exposing only his upper skull to shoot between and just below the eyes. And if it was a silhouette shot to shoot just in front and below of the ears.
As we were about to leave to glass the next body of water I asked Frikkie if we were looking for a specific bull, or just one he thought would be a good one to take. “Larry, the bull we’re looking for is missing most of his right ear according to the worker he attacked. That’s the one they really want taken. But it’s also possible that bull has gone back to the river. We’ll hunt for up to three days, if we don’t find the one-eared bull we’ll look for another one.” He went on to explain that bulls because of their long lower tusks usually have what look like “knobs” or bumps where the lower tusks push the skin up near the nostrils. A hippo with such “knobs” or bumps was almost always an old bull.
As were about to approach the water where the young worker had been attacked we heard a hippo “blow”! Frikkie was immediately all smiles, and I suspect I was as well.
Ever so slowly and carefully we moved through tall grass and brush where we could see the majority of the water, save a couple of channels just beyond our sight.
No sooner had we poked our heads just above the tall grass we spotted not one but three hippos on the far side, just the tops of their heads visible. They were moving around quite a bit. Down would go the heads as they walked on the bottom into deeper water, then quickly reappear as the “blew” and got another breath of air.
We glassed and just as I was about to tell Frikkie, that one of the hippos had only one ear, he said, “It’s our bull! The one-eared rogue!” We glassed a few more moments, then backed out to formulate a plan.
“We will approach them so they will be across a deep channel from us. It’ll require being quiet and stealthy. As we get close we’ll move only when they are under water and try to get close enough for a shot. Sounds easy, but as you’ll see much more difficult than you’re thinking!” reminded Frikkie.
We did move around to where I might be able to get shot. As we did Frikkie further explained, there were two males and a female and obviously the female was “in season” and both males were vying for her favors.
Getting into a shooting position with my .375 Ruger Guide Gun rested on the BOG Pod shooting sticks was relatively easy. But that’s when things got a bit more hectic. The hippos, all three would disappear under water, pop up only long enough to get a quick breath and then disappear again. Because the two males were not very happy to have the other around, they moved under water quite a bit, sometimes resurfacing a hundred yards away, then come up again at only about 50 yards or closer. Good thing the bull we were after was missing his right ear, so I could kind of keep up with which bull was which!
We moved again a bit more to our right and a bit closer to the water’s edge. There one of the trackers, cut a swath through the tall grass where I could get a clear shot should the hippo surface within range.
It was almost funny watching the hippo we were after bob up and down. Mostly when the one-eared bull came up for air, he did so at an angle that did not provide a good shot. I wanted to make certain I instantly killed the hippo if indeed the chance might occur.
We were not about to give up.. The mid-day sun was now shining heavy and hot. Sweat was rolling off of my forehead and into my eyes.
Just then the female popped up about 35 yards away. To her right another hippo’s head peaked out of the water. Both ears were obvious! I took a deep breath and had just let most of it out when behind and slight to the left another hippo’s head; nostrils, eyes and ear appeared. It was the one-eared bull. As I had seen the head start to appear I flipped forward the Ruger’s safety. Quickly the Zeiss crosshairs settled low between the eyes just to the left of center due to the hippos angle, hopefully to drive the bullet through the relatively small brain. Frikkie was just starting to say “Shoo..” I gently pulled the trigger and watched the old hippo’s head rock backwards and disappear into the water. I bolted in another Hornady solid. The cow charged forward and the other bull did as well! We stepped backwards as both disappeared beneath the surface. Frikkie and I both moved backwards but where we could see a hippo if it charged out of the water toward us. If they did, there would be little time to move…
It seemed for the moment the entire world stood still… We listened intently, then heard loud splashing and grunting just to our right. Both of us, our rifles shouldered, looked in that direction. If he or she came from that direction we could not see the hippo until it was essentially on top of us. Then we heard splashing a bit farther away. We returned to where I had shot from and saw two hippos about a hundred yards away with the old bull hopefully dead the other bull put more pressure on the female.
We backed out after glassing to be sure the bull I had shot at was no where to be seen. It wasn’t. Until then that I looked back at Blake who had filmed what had happened. He was all smiles and simply said, “You hit him perfectly, just looked at the footage…” It was then Frikkie and I congratulated each other, but all the while keeping an eye on the water and the water’s edge.
A couple of hours later back at the vehicles we decided to pull closer to the place where we felt assured my hippo was dead, waiting for him to surface. We drove along the edge of water at one point and saw a huge wake coming our way. Frikkie gunned the engine and we lurched forward. Just as we got on higher ground one of the hippo emerged half way out of the water, right where we had been a heart beat before. It had apparently heard the vehicle and charged. Before we got to even higher ground, having to again get close to water’s edge, we were charged twice more by the two hippo…
Frikkie had told me it would likely take up to 8 hours for the hippo to surface. Almost to the minute 8 hours after I pulled the trigger we could see the side of the hippo start poking out of the water.
Using a heavy casting fishing rod and reel we hooked the hippo, but not until one of the early casts foul hooked something quite alive! We all backed away from water’s edge fully expecting the big treble hook had sunk into a croc. Thankfully it was only a huge barbel, a strange looking catfish, about 40 pounds in size… After releasing it the next cast caught the floating hippo and we were able to slowly bring him toward shore. Then with rifle ready in case of crocs, we watched as one of the trackers eased into the water and put a rope about the hippo’s back foot. Then we all helped pull the old bull on shore.
I could not get over how absolutely HUGE the hippo was! I had been excited when I pulled the trigger, but was equally excited now being at the ol’ rogue’s side.
I stood back and marveled at the hippo, my hippo!
That night there would be quite a celebration as the skinners prepared the skull to be sent to The Wildlife Gallery.
The morrow would bring still another hippo adventure, that one a bit more “western” than mine…..