Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hard At Work In Montana

After about 40 hours of flying, I've finally arrived back in Montana. Traveling went way smoother on the way back and all of my luggage is here : ) Wooohooo! I am very glad to be back in one piece.

Now that that job is done I am back at work with Spaulding International Cinema. We are working our butts off trying to produce our very own TV series, "Hot On The Trail." Hannah and I started developing this series last year and have finally decided to launch a "Kickstarter" to help us fund the pilot episode. We have worked hard to design some unique rewards in exchange for your pledge. Please visit our kickstareter Page below and help support the first episode.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

From The Bush To The Beach

We have chased lions for the past few days and for some reason they've all disappeared. Animals are unpredictable and although we had a few lions on bait, they decided to take off for some reason. We at least made some cats happy for a little while :) Tim shot an impala yesterday, which was a really easy, simple hunt and might add a little bit to the TV show.
I can honestly say, after Stu was shot, I just couldn't wait to get home. And now the time has come. We flew out of camp this morning and are now at the beach lodge associated with Kambako.  This place is amazing. No one is here besides Tim and me.  It's a huge resort with basically a private beach. This is by far the nicest place I've stayed with this job.  If I can forget what happened in the bush then this place makes the trip worth it. We are on the Indian ocean and the water is bath temperature with a large reef and awesome snorkeling for shells! I had to do a bunch of interviews, and film the lodge, but the second I had some free time I made my way to the beach.

There's a bunch of local woman fishing who take interest in my camera. They speak Portuguese here and I had no clue what they were saying, but they really got into posing for the camera. These women smiled and danced around while I snapped a few photos. Then, I headed back to the lodge to pack up again. It's a long flight home, but at least I got to relax a little bit before the journey back.

P.S. The climbing potential in Mozambique is unreal. This would make the coolest documentary: Climbing in the middle of Africa with guns to protect yourself from lions : )

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Feedin' the Cats

We are so busy on this trip that it's hard to blog everyday.  Jumbo, the owner of Kambako Safaris, is now filling in as our PH. Stu is being taken care of in Johannesburg.  It sounds like he will be all right, but it's going to take several surgeries to clean out and repair the damage. The good thing is that he's alive and in good medical hands.
Yesterday we checked lion bait all day and replaced some older bait with some good zebra and buffalo meat. We have cameras set up to see if any male lions are on bait. When we check the cameras it shows that we have a lot of leopards on bait and a couple of lions on one bait. There is one male lion, so our plan is to keep him on bait until we can tell if he's old enough. As we drive in to check that bait, we see nine female lions crossing the road. It's a pretty amazing sight. I never thought I would see so many lions on this trip. We drive up to the bait where there was a male lion and can tell the cats have been fed well. They devoured the meat, so we put up some fresh bait.  There are large paw prints in the dirt, so the trackers think this lion is large and mature.

After hanging the bait we move on to the next location and find that most of the lions are not eating our bait. It's hard to understand these cats and why they are not eating this meat.

I am still not over our accident the other day and am extra cautious every time we start walking around with guns. I've gained a much greater respect for guns and I'm always checking where the barrel is pointed. I'm know Tim is extra cautious, but I've learned to always be on my A-game and always stay away from the barrel.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Day After...

It turns out Stu actually shot the buffalo at the exact same time Tim’s gun fired. No one knew at the time besides Stu, but if he had not fired that shot, then the buffalo would have gored him and there’s no doubt he would be in worse condition if not dead. In fact, if Stu hadn’t shot the buffalo it would have just plowed over all of us because of how trapped we were in the jesse. The situation could have been way worse.

Not too many people slept through the night. The sun still hasn’t come up, but we can hear the plane coming in for Stu. The dirt airstrip is pretty close to camp, so we gather a team to pick up Stu’s mattress and load him in the back of a truck. All the trackers, PH’s, and other hunters come to help. Stu was drugged up all night, so he’s pretty chill for the move considering there’s a bullet hole in his back. We load him in the plane and they fly him straight to Johannesburg, South Africa because they have better hospitals than anywhere in Mozambique.

We stay back at the hunting camp and I’m assuming our trip is now cut short because our PH was shot. However, they want us to keep hunting. Jumbo, the owner of the camp, is flying in to act as our new PH so Tim can keep hunting. I can’t believe it! After the experience we went through I am over this trip and ready to get home. The thought of going back in the bush to hunt more lions and buffalo seems a little crazy to me. I think that Tim wouldn’t want to touch his gun for a while after that accident, but everyone encourages him to get back out there. We have to wait for Jumbo to get into camp, so we just hang out most of the day. Several other trackers and PH’s go looking for the buffalo that charged us.

By around noon, A PH calls into camp to say they shot the buffalo.  Tim and I drive out for the recovery to check out the buffalo that could have killed us.  It wasn’t far from where our accident happened. We found where Stu shot the buffalo and it went straight in through the top of his nose, out his chin, through his chest and then through his foot.  The only way this is possible is if the buffalo was right in front of him with its head down in attack mode. That shot Stu fired didn’t kill the buffalo, but it turn him away and saved his life and our lives.
Tomorrow Jumbo should be here and we’re back to lion hunting. Man, this trip just never ends.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

All Hell Breaks Loose

Our plan is to track buffalo this morning. We stride down a dry creek bed following some buffalo tracks. Before we’ve gone very far, we see a dark shape dash off into the tall grass. The buffalo was only 30 yards away, on the bank, and behind a tree when he heard us coming.

None of us got a good look at him before he took off, but the trackers thought he was an old male. The trackers and Stu (the PH) decide to give him some space and let him calm down, so we walk back to the truck for a lunch break.

Minutes after sitting down for lunch the trackers whistle to us. Some zebras are gathered around the corner. Tim and Stu grab their guns, I grab my camera and we run after the trackers. Sure enough, there are about 5 zebras hanging out in a burned area. They have no clue we are here. I frame up the closest zebra, which is 80 yards away, through some brush. One second later, Tim shoots. We recover the zebra and I get to see it up close and personal. It is such a beautiful animal, and so similar to a horse that I personally couldn’t shoot a zebra. Watching the zebra die wasn’t easy for me, but that’s just part of this job. The zebra will now be seen by millions of people and his hide will be turned into a beautiful rug, so his life is not wasted, but well respected.

We finally get to finish our lunch, and now we’re back on the buffalo tracks from this morning. The trackers can tell the buffalo didn’t go far. It’s the heat of the day, so they think he is bedded down in the shade somewhere. We find fresh dung and we all know that the buffalo is close. The tracks lead us into a super thick jesse (A term for African bush) and it’s impossible to go through with a tripod. I carry a monopod compressed to its smallest size and hold my camera close to my chest. We crouch down single file finding our way through the jesse. We follow little tunnels of game trails in search of the buffalo.

Our pace slows because the trackers think they see the buffalo. I hit record on the camera and zoom in on a black spot through the jesse. We can’t see any movement and we’re not even sure it’s the buffalo. We walk really slowly single file around the supposed buffalo to see if we can get a better look. I can’t see anything except Stu’s back in front of me, and I have my headphones in to monitor the audio and his quieted breaths echo in my head. I know we are close to the buffalo, so I just leave the camera recording.

And then, the stillness of the stalk is broken. I see the two trackers split around Stu, their faces stricken with panic and they run right past me saying, “Go, Go, Go!” These guys do not scare easily and so I don’t even question them. I RUN! I catch a glimpse of the buffalo as I turn, and run like hell.

Tim is right behind me so I run past him and tell him to run. My camera snags on the jesse and falls to the ground as I hear the report of a gunshot. I keep running, until I realize that the ringing in my ears is not the buzz of my adrenaline or the echoes of the shot, but someone screaming bloody murder. I look over my shoulder and see Stu standing, hunched over, screaming. Tim stands near and the trackers run back in. I don’t see the buffalo, so I assume it’s okay to walk back. I pick up my camera and hit record again because it must shut off when I dropped it.

One of the trackers calls on the radio while the other one rips Stu’s bloody shirt off. I can’t figure out what just happened. Stu is bleeding all over the place, so for a minute I think that the buffalo must have gored him. However, the hole I see in his back when his shirt is off is too clean for a buffalo horn, too small. I let the camera run as I try to figure out what happened. I run through the possible scenarios. Stu couldn’t have shot himself, so I look at Tim. Tim hasn’t said a word and his face says it all. Tim’s gun must have gone off in the panic and shot Stu. The buffalo was gone, so the sound of the shot must have made him turn and run away. I want to help Stu because we can all tell that he’s going into shock and there is so much blood. All I can see is the blood coming out of the bullet hole in his back.

We’re moving now. The trackers help him walk, but still he starts to stumble. I start thinking about the blood again. How much has he lost? I can’t help the next thought that pops into my mind: Is he going to die? If there is bullet hole in his back it must be close to vital organs. I want to puke or cry. But, we have to keep moving.

Fortunately we don’t have far to walk to the truck and another truck is already waiting with more help. As Stu turns, I now see the exit wound, out of his shoulder, so hopefully it missed any vital organs. There are too many people to help, so I just stand back and keep my camera rolling. We load Stu up and hurry back to camp.

Mike, one of the other hunters on this trip, was a surgeon in the military and has dealt with many gunshot wounds. He says that Stu will be okay and besides the loss of blood, there was nothing too critically damaged. He stuffs the bullet hole full of gauze, puts a huge bandage on it, and loads Stu up with some Hydrocodone. The Pemba airport is contacted, so we can fly Stu out tonight.

A couple of hours go by and the whole situation starts to calm down. We hear back from Pemba that our pilot has been arrested for trying to fly out. Even though Stu is stabilized, his situation is critical and we need to get him out. The Pemba airport doesn’t care how critical the situation is and won’t let any pilots fly at night. So we wait for the morning.

Friday, August 17, 2012

It Takes Guts

Today we’re checking more lion bait. The lion hunting is starting to get pretty old because we do a lot of driving and I have to sit in the back with the rotting bait and bucket of guts. The guts are dragged behind the truck to lure in the lions. The smell is caustic to my senses, like it’s eating away at the inside of my nose and I’ve been close to puking more than once or twice. To say the least, it’s distracting. Maybe this picture will give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

We drive away from one of our lion baits when the trackers stop the truck. Up on top of a rock outcropping, we see a large male lion looking down on us. He has a huge, full, dark mane. Stu turns the truck off, but not in time because the lion disappears over the ridge. We drive back to the bait and hang out to wait and see if the lion comes in. We hide behind some palm fronds, when the lion starts walking right towards us. We now find ourselves between the lion and the bait. The lion’s body blends with the landscape and flora, a natural camouflage, and it takes my eyes a second to focus on him.
Tim has already mounted his gun up on the sticks and whispers, “Here he comes, here he comes!” I ask where because I can’t see him, and Tim says, “Look down my barrel.” Sure enough, the lion is walking right towards us and doesn’t see us yet. Man, I thought skydiving was scary, but skydiving can’t even compare to the surge of adrenaline shooting through my body from simply standing near one of these African lions.

Stu tells Tim not to shoot because he can’t tell if the lion is old enough. The lion looks much older than the other ones we have seen, but Stu can’t tell the age until he sees his teeth. If the teeth are yellow and worn and he has scars on his body then he would say shoot. The lion must have seen us and starts to walk away. I have him perfectly in frame, Tim is chomping at the bit to shoot him, but Stu lets him walk away. He is just unsure of the lion’s age and doesn’t want to risk the fine or the ethical and ecological consequences of shooting a young lion. Yet another exciting lion encounter.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stalking Buffalo

Stalking Buffalo

Today, we are hot on a buffalo trail. The trackers are amazing. They can track any Mozambican animal. They can tell the difference between this morning’s tracks and this afternoon’s tracks, and they can gather all sorts of information from a track that I can’t even see.

We hike for several hours, following a cape buffalo’s tracks. As we come upon fresher tracks, our pace slows. There are lots of dead leaves on the ground, so we walk really slowly and step in the exact same place as the person in front. I realize that the situation could make a 180 at any second, going from tippy-toeing directly behind the Professional Hunter (PH) to everyone scrambling to get into position. I get between the PH and Tim (the host) so that I can see the animal before Tim. This allows me one more second to get the camera set up. So, the order of our single-file line is: two trackers, the PH, me, and then Tim. I have everything on my camera powered up, so if we run into a buffalo, I’m ready to zoom in, focus, and record.

Tracking an animal is surprisingly intense. It’s crazy that those ghosts of hoof prints in the dirt make my heart beat faster. Even with no animals in sight, I can feel my pulse echo in my head. Often times with the buffalo, you won’t see them until it’s too late. Cape buffalo are smart animals with great sight, smell, and hearing. We push ourselves, but just can’t catch up to the cape buffalo. The grass is very thick (close to ten feet tall) and it becomes hard to track the animal. Since the tracks are so difficult to see through the grass, it’s common practice to set the grass on fire. The burnt ground makes it easy for tracking. Any animal that steps on the charred grasses leaves an obvious print. It is also really healthy for the ecosystem to burn these grasses every year, and every year they grow back just as tall. So, the trackers light some fires and we get out of there.

In the afternoon, we encounter some amazing animals. We see an extremely rare animal off in the distance: an albino cape buffalo. It may even be the only one. Nobody at camp has ever seen an albino buffalo and these guys spend a lot of time in the bush. We also come across a huge heard of cape buffalo with possibly 40 or 50 of them. One rule of buffalo hunting in Mozambique is that a buffalo can only be pursued after it has left the herd. Later in the day, I get to film some elephants, impala, water-buck, and some huge porcupines that are nearly as tall as my thigh.

What a day!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Scary Lion Encounter

         Today, we woke up at 3:30 in the morning to go hide behind a rock outcropping and wait for lions. We drove in in the dark and heard two lions roaring. Words just can't explain the strength of their roar. Most people would go the opposite direction from the trembling sound, but we're hunting them, so we started walking towards the lion roars. I was terrified! I couldn't see a thing, but we left the truck and continued to walk towards them.

When I was a firefighter we got in some scary situations, but immediately recognized the danger and got out. I felt like this compared to walking into a wildfire without any safety zones. Nothing about it felt right. We continued to walk in and came to the little overlook on top of the rocks. We inched our way ever-so-slowly to peek over the edge, but saw nothing. There was no movement and I tried to calm my breath. The lions roared again and it sounded like they were right below us, but we still saw nothing.
Daylight approached, but we still saw nothing and heard the roaring right below us.  We waited about ten more minutes without hearing a roar. I thought we would just hang out and wait or maybe leave, but our guide decided that we should go down and check out the situation. He thought the lions might be hiding near a little dried up creek bed that was below the rocks. I don't think I've ever had a red flag pop up in my head so brightly before. But, it's my job to document and the Professional Hunter (PH/Guide) has hunted many lions and knows what he's doing, so I didn't question his decision. The PH, Tim, and two trackers were all in front of me, so if a lion attacked they would either shoot it or I would outrun them. That was my logic at least.
We continued to walk to the creek bed, but saw no movement. It seemed like the lions had to be right there, but their roars were so powerful that they must have carried over the hill and fooled us. We built a blind about 50 yards from the bait, so in the afternoon we could wait for them to come in. The blind was small, so it was just the PH, Tim, and me sitting in there, and the trackers waited back at the truck.  We waited for a couple of hours and then got a call on the radio from the trackers. They said two lions were walking right towards them. Some bait was left in the back of the truck, so the lions must have smelled that rather than the bait we hung. The trackers’ voices got more worried and they were calling us frequently, saying the lions were feet from the truck. The trackers don't have guns, so they must have been on the roof of the car with machetes trying to shoo away the lions. We hurried out of the blind and rushed over to the truck. I felt that this was a bad idea, but we needed to help the trackers.
Once we got to the truck there were no lions around. They must have just left. I tried to slow down my heart rate when the PH spotted one of the lions coming back towards us. Tim pulled up his gun and was ready to shoot, I got on the lion with the camera, but the PH told him to wait. The lion looked too young and just ran right past us. I thought he was going to attack, but it turned out he just wanted to go find the other bait. I relaxed for a second, but the PH saw the other lion running towards us. Tim was ready to shoot, but yet again the lion was too young and was just trying to catch up with the first one.
It was dark and too late to film anymore, so I thought we would head back to camp. But our PH wanted to get another look at the lions to make sure he made the right decision. We drove up on them in the dark so he could shine the headlights on them. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this was not a good idea. Even the trackers looked worried because you don't want to mess with lions after dark. The PH finally decided to give up on them for the night, so we drove back to camp.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Lion Encounter

One of the main reasons for this trip is for Tim Herald to hunt a mature lion.  The law in Mozambique is the lions must be over six years old in order to shoot them. Tim is a very ethical guy and wants to stick by this law because if a younger male is shot then their offspring would be killed by another lion. The law is in place to for the conservation of wildlife here in the Niassa Reserve.
We were checking lion bait in the morning and drove up on a piece of bait hanging from a tree as a lion ran off.  They said the lion went over the hill, so I jumped out of the truck with the camera to get ready in case it showed it's face again. Then I heard one of the trackers whispering about another lion. I immediately began scanning the tall grass when my eyes focused just 20 yards in front of us. Man, did my heart start pounding! The lion was just watching us and I felt pretty vulnerable standing out in the open with my camera and tripod. We watched it for a minute and realized the lion could care less that we were there. I stood there for a little while and get some good footage before the lion got tired of us watching him and walked off.
A lot of hunters don't care about the six year law because they just want a lion, so if they see a good looking lion like this one, they would just shoot it. I think the fine is 5k, so to most of these guys that's like pocket change. This lion was aged at about 5 years old, so Tim's guide told him he couldn't shot it. I guess in South Africa some of the lions are caged in for rich hunters to come over and shoot them easily. This is very unethical. The lions have no chance in life. With this show Tim is ripping apart those operations and bad mouthing the hunters who pay for it and pretend like it is a real lion hunt. Here in Mozambique the lions are free to roam wherever they want, even through our camp. The populations are increasing, along with most of the wildlife, so the hunting is important to control the populations.
It was an amazing experience and the trip has just begun : )

Friday, August 3, 2012

Sable Hunt

We are here in Mozambique hunting just about everything, but Tim (the host) really wants a Sable, Lion, and Cape Buffalo. We checked lion bate all day and then came across some Sable tracks. The trackers fallowed them for about an hour before we finally saw the Sable. Tim was on it and shot the sable before I even saw it. My equipment has still not come, so even if I saw the sable then it would have been tiny in the screen. I was filming, so maybe it's in there somewhere. What an amazing animal, though. I had no clue how big and beautiful they were until we recovered it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


The place we are staying for the next 12 days is called Kambako.
They have established a hunting camp here that is super impressive.  I can't believe how fancy this place is for being in the middle of nowhere. I share a little hut with Tim Herald (host of Magnum). The grass roof fools you because there are nice beds, tiled floors, hot water for showers, walk in closet, etc. There is the main hut with a swimming pool, open bar, computer room, and it even comes with elephants out the back door : )

There's nothing to keep the wildlife out of this place, so there's baboons, elephants, crocodiles, lions, and those are just a few animals I've seen or heard from our place. This is definitely a vacation destination.  They have a garden with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and every meal usually has a choice of 4 different meats.  There is an open bar with just about every drink you would want, accept the wine is not so great, and there is only one beer in this country. I just can't believe I'm drinking a cold beer in the middle of the jungle while writing this. This is a way different experience than Papua New Guinea. Although the place is great, we don't get to spend too much time here because we're out stalking animals. I've been working longer hours than when I was a firefigher. Yesterday I would have clocked in about an 18 hour day. Well, check back because he next blog post will be about the lion encounter.