Zambia Safari, A True African Hotspot

Location: Zambia

Back in September, I accompanied a close friend and loyal WTA Client, “B”, on her first African Safari. We hunted with WTA’s go-to-guy in Zambia (PH Jason), and the hunt just felt charmed. This was my 30th safari, and I have to say that the Luangwa Valley of Zambia maybe the best general bag region in Africa today. It holds an abundance of both dangerous and plains game, the trophy quality is fantastic, and the leopard and lion hunting is off the charts. Our PH Jason actually will guarantee a hunter a shot at a mature male leopard or lion, or you can come back for no day rates. I know of no one else in Africa that will stand behind their hunts like that.

Below is a chronicle from my journal of our trip that shows just how incredible the hunting in the area is. B had a lion, leopard and buffalo as main goals, but was interested in a lot of other species as well.

We started out and needed bait for the cats, so our first afternoon, B took a nice Kudu bull as her first African animal.

We started hanging leopard baits, and the next day B shot a zebra and a really nice puku.

On the morning of day 3 we had a good cat hit one of the kudu baits, so we decided to sit that afternoon.

We got settled in the blind about 3:30pm, and at 5:15, the cat jumped in the tree a full hour and 15 mins before dark, and B made a great shot. It was like the leopard had read our script and did everything we needed it to. The leopard was a very nice older male.

The next day we drove about an hour and a half to an area where our game scout said a village was having problems with buffalo. When we arrived, one of the local guys said he had seen 2 bulls together that morning. Within 200 yards we were on fresh tracks. There was a lot of tall grass and small thickets, and the buff seemed to be just ahead of us. After about 45 minutes, and only about a mile of slow tracking, Jason and I simultaneously saw a buffalo off to our right about 80 yards in the edge of the tall grass looking right at us. Jason said “That’s a good bull” as the sticks went up, and I put a .470 CEB in his chest. It knocked him straight down, and I reloaded, then he was up again. I fired again and think I missed, as he and two other buff were off into the thick. We followed immediately, with pretty good blood, and after 100 yards, we came around a bunch of thick brush, and he was standing at about 40 yards. I put another one in him, and it was game over. He was a nice 41.5″ bull, and we promptly took him over to the neighboring concession where there was a lion on quota, and hung baits.

The next day B took a nice old roan.

We decided to move camps to the other concession for a few days, hunt buff for B, and then help with the lion baits. There had been a coalition of 3 big maned lions on bait earlier in the summer, and then one loan old male.

The guys in the new camp told us there were a couple of big herds of buff around, and quite a few groups of dagga boys, so the next morning, we got on fresh bull tracks pretty quickly. We had gone in and out of 12′ high grass for about 30 minutes when we busted the bulls out of the thick at 15 yards. We ran around the outside of the grass and could see the bulls in a semi open area about 250 yards away. There were 7 bulls. 5 were soft, one was very nice, probably 44″, and then there was a monster. Jason, B and I slipped forward, but just couldn’t get a shot. The bulls took off another 100 yards, stopped again, and we were able to put a huge termite mound between us and cut the distance. Finally, B got a shot at the big one, and the herd took off into the high grass again. We waited around for a bellow that didn’t come, and after 15-20 minutes, we followed a decent blood trail. Just inside the grass, we found the bull facing us and trying to get up. B put 2 more in him, and it was done. We were all absolutely amazed. The bull was huge. He ended up being 50″ wide. Words just can’t describe this bull of a lifetime.

After lots of photos, we put up part of the bull as lion bait. The next morning, we had a hit on a bait, and it was the lone male. We analyzed a ton of trail cam pics, and he had tattered ears, black nose, scarred face, but we could never see his top teeth in pics. I know Jason wanted to wait on the coalition lions as one of them was absolutely a monster with an incredible black mane. So we waited. The following day, the single lion was still on bait, so we refreshed it, and we had a discussion at lunch. It was day 8, so we had 6 days, and no sign of the coalition. We decided to sit.

A bit before dark, out of nowhere the lion roared about 100 yards off my side of the blind. He did 3 roaring sequences that were super loud and then he was on the bait. We were losing light quickly, and he would never give a good broadside angle. Finally, he dropped down off the bait, was standing at a slight quartering to angle, and Jason told B to shoot him square in the shoulder. At the shot, the cat just disappeared behind the bait tree in the long grass. No grunt, growl, nothing. B said the shot felt good, but the cat had no reaction.
We waited a while, called the truck in, and Jason and I got on the back with the other PH Nick in the middle with a light. We crept forward scanning everything, and after a few minutes, Nick spotted the cat lying with its back toward us in the yellow grass.
He was definitely an old lion. His teeth were broken, worn and some missing. His face was scarred, ears torn up, and you could just tell he was old. He didn’t have the greatest mane, but he was a big bodied old cat, and the perfect kind to take. Again, success on our first sit!

So we had 6 days left, and not much left on the list…B shot a nice bushbuck.

I was interested in a big croc, and we went and found one, but it was in a tight weed choked area of the river with no sunning spots, and he didn’t want to come out of the water to the bait.
I was able to get a tuskless elephant tag in our original area, so we moved back. There were tons of elephants in the area. We never went out morning or evening and didn’t see eles. So when we went to hunt tuskless (and there are a lot of them there), we decided to just take a stroll down the edge of the Luangwa. There is both riverine and cathedral mopane close to the river, and we literally were in and out of elephants every few hundred yards.

First we found bulls, then a group of cows that had a tuskless, but it had a calf. Then we thought we had found an old loan tuskless, but it turned and had about 6″ of 1 tusk. We found another small herd, no tuskless. The next group we ran into was 6 eles, and two were tuskless. Neither had calves, so we decided to go in. The first approach, they were in pretty open stuff, and we got to 35 yards, and Jason asked if I wanted to lung shoot. I told him I wanted to get close and go for a brain shot. About that time one of the other elephants picked us up and cut the distance trying to figure us out. We had a steady 10mph wind in our faces, and after 5 minutes with the elephant at 15 yards, it rejoined the others and they fed on.

We let them go, made a loop around and were able to get in front of them with favorable wind. Jason and I got up on a decent sized anthill and the group fed right to us. When our tuskless was at 12 steps, I took a frontal shot. I didn’t compensate for shooting down. I hit her between the eyes, knocked her down, but she got up. I should have shot a bit higher. I put the 2nd barrel in her lungs, and all the elephants were milling around and trumpeting in confusion. When the tuskless got clear of the others, I got in a good side brain shot and dropped her. The others stood around for a while seemingly looking for us (you could tell they don’t get hunted much), and after a while they left and we could do the recovery.

SO now we were pretty well finished. Since I shot the tuskless, I was out on a croc. B would consider a big croc, but planned to come back in a couple of years to do aquatics, sable, lechwe, etc.

Day 13 we decided to just hang out and take pics, and drive back toward the airport on day 14. So we went down the Luangwa to an area that has tons of hippos to take pics. We walked down the bank and started across a big sandbar to get closer to hippos, and I just decided to glass up the river in the opposite direction. About 500 yards away, I saw a croc that looked pretty darn big from that distance. I got Jason to look at it, and he said he thought we needed a closer look.

So we grabbed the rifles, and made an approach. We were able to get to 47 yards, and Jason told B that he thought it was definitely over 14′. I highly recommended shooting, and a couple of minutes later with a perfect shot to the smile, B had a 15′ 2″ croc. Our little photo safari turned into a real trophy.

So ended an absolutely charmed 13 days of hunting Zambia. In all that time, we had one stalk, tracking session or sit that wasn’t successful, and that was day one on an impala for bait. Everything else we did resulted in a nice animal. I have just never experienced a hunt like that where virtually everything worked to a T. Zambia is an absolutely incredible safari destination.

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