Aidan Hartley Aidan Hartley

How Hannes took on a buffalo – and nearly paid the price



Hannes became a professional hunter because, as he says in his fine book Strange Tales from the African Bush, he missed ‘the smell of cordite… the clatter of the helicopters and the memory of the blood brotherhood that few, other than soldiers under fire, are lucky enough to know’. He’s a 14th generation white African and a veteran of the famous Rhodesian Light Infantry that fought valiantly in that country’s civil war. He still loves Africa and lives in the Western Cape. When he visited our beach house on the Kenya coast, I managed to persuade him to tell me a few stories, fuelled with bottles of Tusker – a much-loved local lager which is named after the elephant that killed the original brewer.

In the burning light after noon, in a dense thicket, the bull charged while Hannes’s back was turned

After the civil war, when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, Hannes tried being a barrister. He tired of life in a courtroom and it wasn’t for him, so he picked up his rifle and headed off back into the bush where he’d grown up and seen so much action. For the next 20 years he hunted across Africa, guiding rich tycoons tracking trophies, but he met his nemesis in the flat dry scrub of northern Tanzania, deep in the heart of buffalo country. Here they came upon a 2,000lb bull at 150 yards. His American client fired his .375 rifle prematurely, as the creature faced him head on, wounding but not killing it. The injured beast took off into a ravine thick with wait-a-bit thorn and combretum scrub.

Hannes and I poured another beer.

Leaving the apologetic American behind, Hannes went in after the buffalo, tracking him until dusk. He broke at nightfall and slept on the tracks, then resumed at dawn. The sun got hotter and in the intense burning light after noon, in a dense thicket, the bull charged out of the thorn while Hannes’s back was turned.

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