The American League Manager of the Year killed the Cape buffalo in an open place while the sun was high, so that the man and the beast had ample opportunity to form an opinion of each other. When first spotted, the herd was far off, the bull escorting at the fringe, its horns making it a certain candidate for eventual, if not immediate, perforation.
But the ground between them offered little cover: a few patches of mapone scrub and thornbush, a swelling here and there of dried grass that would, in the rainy season already generating in the highlands, reach to the Zambezi River in such deep anarchy that even the willful Land Rover could not get through. Getting closer would be an undertaking. So the professional at the manager's side, an old lion hunter named Johnny Uys, who used to exterminate man-eaters for the game department when Zambia was known as Northern Rhodesia, suggested that Ted Williams risk a shot from where they were.
The bull had now turned, presenting the midships of his massive blue-black body. But the dot in Williams' scope pendulated on and off the beast's shoulder.
"What about all those 60-yard shots I've been hearing about?" Williams said through his teeth.
"Right," said Uys. "We'll try to improve our chances."
To move closer, however, they now had to travel by belly, wriggling across the open ground, in and out of the rutted spoor of elephants that had passed through during the last rainy season and left ruptured earth to harden into craters under the sun. Williams' belly had not had that kind of attention in years. He pulled his 230 pounds along with his left elbow, trailing the .458 in his right hand. "They kept hissing at me to keep my butt down," he said later, presenting his triumph without embarrassment. "Geez, I was dragging. My elbows and knees were grinding into the elephant tracks. The gun was making it tougher. I was thinking maybe we had made a bad decision."
They were still more than 100 yards away when it was decided they could get no closer. The herd, edgy now and alert to the delegation of killers, huddled in the crust and grass, then for a heart-jerking moment—in a way typical of Cape buffalo—made a tentative charge, only to pull up as abruptly as it started. A wounded buffalo is as brutal an adversary as there is, but when in good health and sound mind ii is more bluff than menace. The next move would more than likely be a thundering exit.
"Now," said Uys.
The bull was turned slightly, lifting its nose to find the scent, so that the broad view was shortened, but enough of the shoulder was available. Williams got into a sitting position with the .458, pressing his elbows inside his knees for stability, not sure, he said, that he could control his breathing after his 150-yard commando maneuver. Consistent with his history, however, the last of the .400 hitters, the land-'em-in-flames jet pilot, etc., etc., rose to the occasion. The first shot slammed into the shoulder of the animal. The buffalo, dead already but remonstrating against death, hunched up and spun groggily in a tight arc seeking the source of its torment, and Williams put a second bullet through its septum. The third shot was as redundant as the second.
Ted Williams had already hunted for almost two weeks by the Kafue River in the Mumbwa district, but most of his time there had been taken up with the production surrounding a sable antelope he had shot for the American Sportsman television series, on whose behalf he had come to Africa in the first place.