Gordon Marsh: Hunting in Mozambique with Craig Boddington

Mozambique was colonized by European explorers–in this case, Portuguese explorers–in the late 15th Century. It gained its independence in 1975, but suffered through a civil war until 1992. Throughout the wartime period, poachers destroyed much of the country’s varied wildlife population, but today, the government works with several organizations on wildlife restoration and conservation efforts.

I was recently privileged to share a hunting camp with Craig Boddington in Mozambique through Zambeze Delta Safaris. ZDS has maintained a vast hunting area for the past 24 years, and its anti-poaching efforts have restored much of the wildlife. (On our trip, for example, we learned that they’re in the process of reintroducing more than two dozen lions to the area.)

Myself and Craig Boddington with one of the buffalos taken during the trip.

Craig and I were there to hunt buffalo and plains game. We went in late October, which is supposed to be at the end of the dry and cool season.  However, it was unseasonably hot this year—temperatures ran as high as 115 degrees in the shade during the day and in the 90s at night. Thankfully, the last few days of our hunt cooled down considerably, and we enjoyed some comfortable days and cool nights. Below, you’ll get a day-by-day report of what we did on our safari and our experiences with Zambeze Delta Safaris.

Around the Camp

The accommodations were surprisingly high-end for a tented East African camp and full of wildlife, too. Mango monkeys played outside my tent all day while Red duiker grazed thru out the camp. Once in a while a large scorpion would make an appearance and there were plenty of cobras, black mambas, green mambas, puff adders, and gaboons around in the swamps, flood plains and forest too.

All of our meals were delicious—fresh soups, salads, and main courses consisting of buffalo, nyala, reedbuck or other meat. We also enjoyed locally-sourced guineafowl for snacks.

ZDS didn’t skimp on security, either. They have a highly-trained team that patrols the camps 24/7 and is equipped to handle any issue or incursion into the camp. I felt safe and secure the entire trip.

Our tables and chairs around the campsite.
Some of the wildlife that roamed around the camp.

A Successful First Day

Craig and I hunted separately on the first day. I came back to the camp with a very nice reedbuck, while Craig brought back a buffalo that he’d taken down in the sand forest with a single shot of his 9.3X74R double Sabatti rifle.

One of the several Reedbucks I brought down on our trip.
Craig with his first buffalo of the trip.

 

Hunting in the Papyrus Swamps

The following day, Craig and I ventured past the flood plains to the area’s vast papyrus swamps, where some amphibious tracked vehicles called BV’s were waiting for us. We got the VIP treatment—we got to ride in a helicopter out to the swamp while the rest of the crew took a 2-hour drive.

One of the BVs we rode in during the trip.
My PH, Dylan, driving one of our BVs.
One of the helicopters we rode out to the swamp during our trip.
A herd of buffalo as seen from our helicopter. 

Shortly thereafter, we found a herd of buffalo, and Craig insisted that I was up first. We dismounted our vehicle about a mile away from the herd, stalked through the sawgrass, and then crawled through the short grass until we were around 80 yards away from them. I was struggling—it was over 100 degrees outside and I was nearly heat-exhausted, but Craig seemed to be fine.

I had brought two rifles with me, a 375 H&H and a double 450/400 3” Nitro Express. A swamp isn’t ideal for using a double rifle for your primary gun, but I had initially wanted to use it. However, once I was ready to shoot, I decided that the 375 would be more effective, and chose that instead.

A mature bull finally worked his way to our side of the herd and faced us straight on. I rose to my knees, and when my crosshairs were leveled on his chest, I fired and landed a perfect shot. The bull ran about 50 yards or so before he collapsed. I did the “insurance shot” with my double rifle and then posed for photos. Craig interviewed me on camera and provided an account of the hunt.

I took this buffalo with my 375 H&H.

Next, it was Craig’s turn. We made a few attempts at other herds but found we didn’t have enough cover. We eventually found a herd close enough to the sawgrass that would give Craig a chance.

Craig and his PH made a good stock, and then Craig got up on the sticks with a Blaser rifle in 416 Remington. He shot a bull that was close to the edge of the sawgrass; the bull took off in a direction that would have been bad news if we had to go in after it, but Craig quickly fired a second shot and dumped the bull in his tracks right on the edge of the sawgrass. That buffalo turned out to be Craig’s 99th buffalo.

Craig and I with his 99th Buffalo

The herd nearest to us ran away and lingered about 150 yards out. My PH, Dylan, suggested that we could try for another buffalo with my double rifle if we put a black net over us and pretended to be another buffalo coming back into the herd. So with Dylan in the front, me in the middle, and our tracker in the back, we began approaching the herd. We watched them closely, sitting down occasionally to wait out the herd’s nerves before creeping closer until we were within double rifle range.

We set up the sticks, and I watched for a mature bull to approach us. It did, and when he turned broadside, I fired and hit him with a perfect shot to the heart. He ran about 60 yards out, so we closed the distanced and I fired a second insurance shot

My 2nd buffalo of the trip, taken with my double rifle.

By that time, it was a little late to still be in the swamp, especially since the ZDS staff still had to process and load all 3 buffalos into the BV. They called the helicopter for Craig and me, and we rode while his videographer shot some footage of the herds that were roaming around the swamp and flood plains.

Craig Goes for Number 100

That night, Craig announced to the camp that he’d shot his 99th buffalo. Everyone urged him to go for number 100 while we were there, and after sleeping on it, Craig asked if he could borrow my Sabatti double rifle to take his 100th buffalo.

How could I refuse?

I loaned him the rifle, and he took it to the practice range to verify the sights and trigger pull.

The next day, Craig went back to the swamp with his video crew and successfully took his 100th buffalo—a major achievement for any hunter.

Craig with his 100th buffalo. This is a huge achievement for any hunter, and I feel fortunate I was able to be with Craig when he accomplished it.

Patience is a Virtue

The following day, Craig and I went in different directions. I went out for nyala, which are antelope with spiraled horns. I ended up passing on all the nyala I saw—we found a few truly great ones, but I still had eight days left to hunt and wanted to pace myself.

Unfortunately, I became overheated the next day and couldn’t go out. It was over 115 degrees in the shade that day—I put a wet towel on my bunk to keep cool and the staff brought me cold drinks to stave off the delirium.

Waterbucks and Wildlife Spotting

I felt better the next morning, but it was still sweltering outside. That day, I went out to the flood plains to hunt Waterbucks. It took a while to find a buck to stalk, but even after we did, he kept moving farther away. The flood plains in Mozambique offer some cover, but it’s pretty sparse and often not where you need it to be.

Just as we thought we wouldn’t be able to close in on our buck, another group popped up from the opposite side. We made the stock and set up the sticks behind a palm for an 180-yard shot.

One shot from my 375 was all it took to bring down the bull. We dropped the bull off at the skinning shed and went to camp for lunch and a nap.

The Waterbuck I shot with my 375.

After it cooled off, we headed back out to the sand forest to look for nyala and bushbuck. We spotted several of both but came back empty-handed. We also saw a few bush pigs, which are rare to see in the daylight, but they lost us in the forest.

Stalking Bushbucks

By the next day, it was cloudy and finally cooled off a bit. We went back out in the morning for nyala and bushbuck, and this time, Dylan spotted a great bushbuck to stalk. He was under heavy cover, but Dylan got a good look at him and pointed out an opening I could shoot through. I didn’t have much time to get on target, so I lined up my sights and downed him in one quick shot. He was a beautiful 14” Bushbuck, and I plan on doing a full, life-size mount with it.

After a few days of searching, I finally found the bushbuck I wanted to take home with me.

Like the previous day, we went back to camp for lunch and a nap before heading back out for nyala. However, we again passed on all the nyala we saw, as we still had plenty of time left to hunt.

While I was out hunting bushbucks, Craig took several nice game animals, including the biggest nyala of his career. (We think it might have even been a camp record!)

Patience Pays Off: Downing the Perfect Nyala

We hit the sand forest again for nyala the following day. It had cooled down considerably, which meant the nyala would be less active, but since a lot of underbrush was burnt off during the dry season, game was easier to spot and stalk quietly.

In the sand forest of coastal Mozambique, there are patches of forest broken up by watering holes, called pans, and small savannas. As we drove down the dirt roads, our trackers would set fire to unburned brush. They explained that the new grass would sprout almost immediately once the dead grass was burnt away and the rain came. During the rainy season, the grass is often over your head. And there is always a lot of game near the burned ground.

After a brief diversion, we’re back trying to find that top nyala. We passed on many of them as we continue our trip into the forest before Dylan says he thinks he’s found the one we’re looking for. We catch up to them about 150 yards out–a smaller nyala in our view, and a bigger one that’s still hidden from us. I quickly got up on the sticks. Dylan believed that the bigger nyala would follow the smaller one, and that when it did, I wouldn’t have much time to take a shot, so I wanted to be ready.

The big one trotted out in a small clearing, about fifteen feet wide. He was moving fast, but Dylan called to him, making him stop long enough to let me take the shot.

The nyala ran out into the open and dropped at the edge of the forest. With horns measuring 30 and a half inches, he was exactly what I had been looking for.

Like the Bushbuck, I spent a lot of time looking for the perfect Nyala, and I found one toward the end of my trip.

Luck of the Draw

By this point of the trip, I’ve taken all the animals I planned for and then some. (I’d racked up a pretty hefty bill so far.) When Dylan asked what I wanted to hunt for, I suggested we look for bush pigs. My choice was a strategic one–I knew they would be difficult, if not impossible, to spot during the day time, but I’d always wanted to take one. So if we found them, I’d be able to cross that off my list, but if we didn’t, I wouldn’t be too disappointed (and I’d save a little bit of money.)

We’d been out for around two hours when Dylan spotted one walking into the forest a few hundred yards away.

We set off after the pig, traveling downwind. It started to rain as we crested a small rise in the terrain and then Dylan spotted it—a group of pigs about 25 yards from us. They were lying down, but in spite of our best efforts, we couldn’t tell if the one closet to us was a boar or a sow. We waited, soaked to our socks in the tropical downpour.

Suddenly, the pig that we were watching stood and started walking away. It was a sow, so we let it pass. A boar appeared right behind her, so I aimed my rifle and fired offhand. The bush pig dropped in his tracks.

We went back to camp to dry off and have lunch. I’d hit my maximum budget so I took the afternoon off.

Bush Pigs are hard to find during the day—finding and taking this one was a rare opportunity that was a combination of skill and pure luck.

 

Hunting Reedbuck for the Local Tribe

The next morning, Craig invited me to come along with him to watch him hunt and film segments for his show. He took a very nice reedbuck that morning, and we headed back to camp for lunch.

After lunch, Dylan offered to take me out to shoot reedbucks as part of the safari company’s commitment to feed the local tribes. We headed out to the flood plains, where thousands of reedbucks roamed.

We did an easy stock on a reedbuck and set up on the sticks at 150 yards. (For reference, reedbucks are around the same size as Whitetail deer.) I took a shot but struck the reedbuck a little low, through his upper leg. It was my first poor shot of the safari.

After some investigation, I believe my shot was due to a change in the point of impact on my rifle. I had disassembled it to let it dry after hunting bush pigs in the rain, and at the time I noticed that the stock was applying pressure on the barrel. I think the change in the point of impact occurred after my rifle dried out and I reassembled it. This had created an unforeseen and unwanted challenge that I would need to adapt to on the fly.

Dylan suggested that I use the set trigger and go for a head shot. Sure enough, aiming for a headshot led to a neck shot that downed the reedbuck. That strategy worked for the next two reedbucks, too—I aimed a little high and got a good neck shot.

The three Reedbucks I shot for the local tribes. The point of impact had changed on my rifle from shooting in the rain the day before, so I had to rely on my previous experiences to make adjustments in the field.

 

Last Day of the Trip: Touring the Nearby Village

We are now down to the last day of the safari and I have shot 2 buffalos, a waterbuck, a bushbuck, a nyala, a bush pig and 4 reedbucks. I am definitely done hunting.

Dylan offered to take me on a day trip to see the Zambezi River and some of the villages along the way. It was an interesting and insightful trip. I saw villagers bathing and washing their clothes near a spot by the river that was known for crocodile attacks. Doing the most mundane tasks was a risk—if a crocodile attacked, the village could easily lose a member.

It was crocodile breeding season, too, and some of the villagers had also collected around 2,000 crocodile eggs to sell to farms. The farms raise the crocodiles for their meat and their skins, but the farms are also supposed to release 10% of the population back into the wild. I’m not sure whether that many crocodiles are released back, but it’s interesting nonetheless to see how even these farms are supposed to aid in the conservation and restoration of the wildlife.

Villagers with a boat on the shore of the Zambezi River.

 

Overall, my trip to Mozambique was noteworthy and successful, even in spite of the oppressive heat. Zambeze Delta Safaris took great care of Craig and me—everyone we met was very friendly and helpful, and I took home some impressive trophies.