The Raging Waterhorse

The Romans named him “Hippopotamus” or Water Horse.

They used that word in recognition of its fantastic speed underwater and ON LAND! But the name falls woefully short of a more accurate description. What they should have called him is writing academic essays Death Horse! What appears to be a calm pond, or a peacefully meandering African river, may in fact be a deadly water crossing. Surely, the first thing that comes to your mind is Crocodile!

The Crocodile is without a doubt a fearsome prehistoric eating machine. He has rightfully earned that reputation as he almost always attempts to extract his “toll” from anything or anyone on or near his waters.

But what may surprise you is the fact that the Hippopotamus kills more people in Africa then all the other animals combined! Yes, that’s right, it’s the unseen Hippo resting or cruising under the water or the placid super large, sluggish looking Hippo, calmly grazing on the low grasses at its feet that is the true menace.

For it is the Roman Water Horse, the Hippopotamus, that is the champion African “bringer of death”. The Romans should have in deed named him “Death Horse”.

Given this horrific African reputation, it is understandable that the Hippo has now been added to the list of African Dangerous Game, moving the big five (Elephant, Rhinoceros, Cape Buffalo, Lion and Leopard) to the BIG SIX!

The Hippo thusly became an intragal part of my dream and my quest to harvest the African Dangerous Game Big Six.

The task of locating a great Hippo now fell to Danie Clifford, veteran African professional hunter, and his crew of native scouts and trackers. Danie, pronounced Donny, is the owner and operator of Mahlapholane Safari and Hunting Lodge, and is truly a storehouse of great African hunting lore and experiences.

In no time at all, Donny was telling me that his scouts had located a massive bull Hippo and we would “have a go at him” in the morning. By now, Donny was well aware of my hunting capabilities, in as much as I had already completed several safaris with him and had harvested about 35 beautiful African animals along with five (5) of the Big Six. So the amount of time he spent with me discussing bullet placement and Hippo characteristics seemed “extra ordinary”. It became very clear to me that my PH held the Hippo in high esteem and wanted to ensure a good, safe and successful Hippo hunt. Donny had become accustomed to the bark of my Marlin lever action Garrett Cartridge loaded 45-70 rifle. He had seen the devastation it wrought on both plains game, using 420gr Garrett Hammerheads, and Elephant and Rhino using 540gr Garrett Hammerheads. His advice to me was, “load it with the heavies, we are going after the big boss Hippo”.

Morning came slowly and brought with it a classic African June winter chill. Right at 36 degrees. Enough to cause a long, smoky looking tail as you exhaled. We gathered our war party and off we went. The chief scout had already relayed his information to the PH and the trackers. Donny told me that there was a small lake up ahead and around the bend. He hoped that the boss bull Hippo would be there, and most of all, in a “shootable” location, preferably on land and close by. As we quietly moved forward, and carefully placed our feet in the trackers footprints, we saw the front tracker suddenly freeze in his footsteps. Instantly we all froze.

Slowly, the tracker raised his hand and with his index finger pointed at the bushes in front of him. He then raised his finger t his lips in the universal QUIET sign. We slowly, carefully, and silently moved forward to the trackers front position and there he was! My heart began pounding so fiercely in my chest that I swore it sounded like a drum that would alert the huge Hippo. He was in deed a huge boss bull Hippo, standing alone facing me about 15 feet from the lakes edge, munching head down on some tender grasses. BUT he was also only about 15 feet in front of me!

The PH slowly slid up alongside of me and tapped his finger to the bridge of his nose between his eyes several times. There was no doubt about what he wanted me to do. Nail the big bull between the eyes as his head was down and his attention was on eating. I eased the hammer back from half cock to the full back position and gently squeezed the trigger when the crosshairs of my scope held firmly on a spot between the Hippo’s eyes. CLICK! The loudest click I had ever heard in my life sent waves of shivers down my spine. My mind went into “overdrive” trying to analyze what had happened. The stunned look on my PH’s face must have mirrored my own as I saw his huge double rifle begin to move up towards his shoulder. But my mind had already told me that I had NOT pushed off the cross bolt safety and the hammer had slammed home on the safety bar. My fingers had already pulled the hammer back and released the safety button and had realigned the rifle so that I now again could take up my sight picture. Only this time the bull was looking straight at me and appeared to be coiling to spring forward into a full charge. But my had already left the barrel hitting the Hippo perfectly between the eyes and dropping him in his own footprints. He no sooner hit the ground than I slammed another 540gr Hammerhead bullet two inches to the left and two inches above the first bullets impact hole. The whole chilling event seemed like hours to me but in reality took seconds.

High fives, great back slapping, with jubilant laughter and celebration as we quickly crossed the 15 feet to my dead Hippo bull. While standing alongside of this magnificent animal, it finely came to me, that after a 13-month quest, I had completed my dream of taking the African Dangerous Game Big Six!

What a great trophy and what a memorable way to conclude my quest!

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