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.