An Account of A Buffalo Mauling in Zambia
By Noel Wolfe, For The Hunting Report
My now 32-year-old son, Eric, brought your article dated October 10, 2000 (Article ID 591) to my attention. I had not shared this report with him for concern it would upset his sense of propriety. Please recall that my son believed his father was near death after having lost a great deal of blood from the buffalo mauling. Because he has developed a great enthusiasm for the hunting sports, I now believe it is time to become more detailed about this incident. Perhaps recounting this event could aid in preventing another such accident.
At the time your report was written, I was still recovering from my severe injuries. I was seeking my tracker, Maxmilian, and considering what options I might pursue regarding my first African safari outcome. Today, because I have been informed that the PH, William "Bill" Williams, has passed away, I will reveal the entire event. By the way, in 2007, I agreed to return to the Zambezi Valley and recount my story in the Beretta Dangerous Game episode "Cape Fear." Prior to the filming, it was agreed that the episode would be dedicated to my tracker, Maxmilian, and that PH Bill Williams would never be mentioned. Nothing was to be said that would reflect poorly on the hunting community. The film company honored this commitment.
I have now been on a dozen safaris. I love Africa! I have hunted all over the world. In 2003, I returned to Zimbabwe with my orthopedic surgeon and insurance agent to again hunt buffalo. This was my opportunity to exorcize past demons. Our hunt, thanks to PH Louis Muller, was very exciting. After collecting my buffalo at 54 yards with open sights, we were blind charged by an unseen herd, bedded in a nearby dry riverbed. Louis stepped forward to protect his client and divided the herd around us.
Over the years, I have learned a great deal about the hunting business. I have been active in hunting organizations. Most operators are honest, BUT, there is that rare exception. In hindsight, our safari was a classic bait-and-switch. A vacation hunt, bought at auction, to celebrate my son's graduation. In the final analysis, we ended up with a PH never mentioned, let alone discussed, and in a concession area different than agreed. Both my partner and I pondered whether it would be better to just leave, but there you are in Zambia with un-planned days on your hands and a fully paid up hunt. Our decision to stay was a gamble. I lost.
Hunting dangerous game can be just that, dangerous. I accepted the challenge. What I was not prepared to accept was a PH that was currently ill suited for a safari, in poor physical condition, and with severe drinking issues. Bill Williams was an affable individual and according to Bill had "seen it all" as a PH. When we were collected at the airport in Lusaka, we soon learned that Williams had not worked for some period of time and had only been hired by the concession PH but a few days prior to our arrival. We were always operating under the assumption that the concession owner was to be our PH. We were in communication him. We later learned that he had advised the booking agent not to send us to his camp because the game was in fact depleted and that he was guiding another lion hunter. This important information was never passed along to us. It was also later learned that the booking agent fired his employee over this incident. The booking agent's fired employee states that his employer made him lie about the hunt and warned the booking agent about the concession owner's concerns. We also learned that this was not the booking agent's first problem. But, this is merely water under the bridge.
Nothing Bill Williams brought on safari belonged to him. The truck, rifle and even the shoes he was wearing were borrowed. The truck was broken down, his shoes didn't fit, and the bolt of his borrowed weapon was rusted shut. We loaned gun oil to Bill so that the bolt could again be operational. The front sight guard was taped to the barrel. After the first day's hunt, my doctor partner was treating Bill's feet. Bill's remedy was to consume a quart of gin. The next day, Bill was suffering from what appeared to be heat exhaustion. My son was required to carry Bill's rifle. We placed him under a shade tree while my tracker, Maxmilian, and I retrieved the truck. Eric stood sentry over Bill because lion were being baited in the same area. Even after several hours, Bill was not able to drive. We returned to camp where Bill went back to his remedy.
On the third day, we took a small boat up the Zambezi River in search of bushbuck. A respite for Bill. My son and I were the only ones able to keep the boat's motor running. Both Maxmilian and the scout were pretty nervous. When the motor continued to sputtered out, we would drift over pods of hippo. The scout locked and loaded his A.K. We were instructed to remain on the elephant trails along the Zambezi River due to the possibility of unexploded anti-personnel mines from a previous brush war. No bushbuck were observed.
On the last day of the hunt, my son wanted to sleep in. The only game we had seen was one zebra, a few kudu, and some crocs and hippo in the river. Our game scout went to a party at a nearby village the night before and had not returned. Thus, Bill Williams, Maxmilian, and I set off. It is now time to acknowledge that I have read Mr. Williams account of that day. With the exception of his statement that we "departed camp," virtually none of his words remotely resemble the truth. I can understand why Mr. Williams felt compelled to lie. When you are a heavy drinker, part-time PH and chicken farmer in Zambia, opportunities for advancement are few, especially with a poor reputation for not protecting a client.
Maxmilian spotted a lone buff just off the road. We exited the truck. Bill told Maximilian and I to proceed up the road alone as he retrieved his weapon and the shooting sticks. The buff could be seen from the truck while standing on the road. The lone duggaboy showed only indifference with our presence. I follow Maxmilian several yards from the truck. We look back and see that Bill is NOT following us. Bill makes gestures indicating that I should take the shot. I take an offhand shot. The buff is struck just above the right shoulder quartering. The buff runs directly away as I fire a second time, striking the buff in the right hindquarter.
Maxmilian and I remain on the road as Bill walks to us. Bill then directs Maxmilian and I to proceed to the spot where the buff was standing when first hit. Bill remains near the road with the shooting sticks. See the pattern? After several minutes (from near the road) Bill instructs Maxmilian to move forward. We can hear the buff in the brush but cannot see him. Maxmilian is walking in front of me, I remain on the spot where the buff was first hit (blood spoor), and Bill is still near the road, behind us continuing to orchestrate.
Maxmilian turns and runs by me yelling "Charging!" I mount my rifle as previously instructed and fire a third time as the buff appears from the mopane. He is so close that I can only get off one hurried shot. There is no report from Bill's rifle. I am run over by the buff. I am dazed, but not unconscious. As the buff attends to me, Maxmiliam stays close, and Bill returns to the truck. Let me repeat, Bill did nothing that he reported. Bill never fired one shot. I'm happy he did not shoot. Bill was not with me when the buff charged, and he was not with me at the end. Had he fired when the buff was on me, the chance of being hit by his bullet was real. I have been in several firefights in Vietnam while serving as a rifleman with the 101st Airborne. I can reaffirm, bullet wounds in the jungle are very serious.
Maxmilian finished the buff with my rifle as the buff stood over his victim. The next charge would have been for the kill. Maxmilian risked his life in the rescue while Bill remained at a safe distance. It may have been that his rifle remained inoperable. At least I would have given him the benefit of the doubt. The reason I know where both Bill and Maxmilian were is because Maxmilian stayed to offer first aid after dragging me out from under the buff. The buff collapsed over my legs after Maximilian placed the muzzle of my rifle on the buffs' head. I used both my belt and Maxmilian's as tourniquets.
Soon after the mauling, my son returned with Maxmilian to the scene, as I was in route to a hospital. The tracker recounted the events as they unfolded. These events are recounted above. The story only changed as reported to the authorities by Bill Williams. It should be noted that all the spent brass was policed up. There were two casings on the road where I fired the first two shots and two more near the site where I took a stand. I was shooting a .375 H&H and Williams was shooting a .458. Only four .375 H&H casings were recovered. Case closed.
Epilogue: My recovery was slow. I spent a year in rehab after six operations. My right shoulder is permanently separated, and I have lost much muscle mass in my thighs bi-laterally, a good result considering the magnitude of the trauma. The medical bills amounted to $458,000. My business was severely damaged by my absence. However, life is good. I have seen my children grow into fine young adults, and I enjoy my first grand-son, Parker-man! All my friends who cared for me then, surround me today. Especially, my best friend, medical advocate and partner-Marilyn!
Maxmilian-Rest in Peace!