Tim Gafford (second from left) poses with a Cape buffalo, a prime target during his recent safari in Zimbabwe.
About five days into his recent expedition in Zimbabwe, Tim Gafford and his small band of fellow travelers and guides stumbled upon what was potentially a very dangerous situation — a group of poachers by a nearby riverbed.
The day prior, Gafford, president of Lubbock, Texas-based Gafford Pest Control Services, said his group had come across several dead elephants, commonly (and illegally) prized for their ivory tusks by poachers, who can wreak havoc on the populations in the area. Due to the illegal nature of their operations, they can be as dangerous to humans as they are to animals. And here were about 15 of them, steps away from Gafford’s safari group.
The group’s professional hunter and armed park ranger both fired several warning shots from their machine guns. The poachers ran, and as soon as the encounter began, it was over.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Gafford said. “[The park ranger] is there so you don’t get hurt or killed.” And to be certain the poachers are driven off, Gafford’s troop burned down their nearby camp.
Excitement was a common thread along Gafford’s 12-day trip through a nearly 900,000-acre national park concession (a designated hunting area) of the African bush, though the encounter with the poachers was perhaps the most inherently dangerous incident. Still, other hazards lurked. Gafford, president of the Lubbock, Texas, chapter of Safari Club International, was there to hunt a variety of creatures, including Cape buffalo, enormous creatures that can quite easily kill a man without the proper care taken to ensure safety. Gafford’s top prize was a nearly one-ton cape buffalo, which Gafford shot after hours of tracking. “[The buffalo] are so good — they see things you can’t.” The hunt is tightly controlled, but that does not mean it’s easy or without its dangers. “The cape buffalo kills more hunters each year than any other animal,” Gafford said. “That’s why you do it with a professional.”
If the safari itself wasn’t exciting enough, there was more — Gafford and portions of his hunt were featured on a recent episode of the Outdoor Channel’s “Dark and Dangerous with Ivan Carter,” a television show that focuses on the hunting of Africa’s most dangerous game animals. The show is filmed by Safari Classics in partnership with the organization Chifuti Safaris, through which Gafford’s trip was organized.
Gafford’s enthusiasm for hunting goes back many years. He’s now been to Africa twice, and will be headed back in 2014 for an expedition to hunt leopards. For Gafford, these trips have been dreams come true. “You’re just in shock the first few days you’re there,” he said. “It’s one of the things I’ve worked hard for, I’m blessed to have the means to do it.” — Bill Delaney