By Dave Fulson
Originally published in Sports Afield Magazine
When Professional Hunter Chris Burton rolled out of camp and turned his vehicle down the bumpy, dirt two-track towards the shore of Lake Cabora Bassa, his mind was on the problem crocodile he and client Craig Johnson were in search of. But fate had decreed that within hours, he would be in a literal fight for his life, not with the silent killer he was seeking, but another of Africa’s most legendary bad actors.
Local fishermen from the Panyami river had come to the Safaris De Mozambique camp to request help with a menacing croc that was not only raiding their fish nets, but that had begun to attack their boats. Knowing that loss of life would soon follow if the croc were not dealt with, Chris saw an opportunity to make both the locals and his client happy as Craig eagerly wanted to take a croc on his safari.
The offending croc was known to bask on a reed-covered island, so Chris, his client, tracker Thulani, game scout Philaphino and a local fisherman paddled quietly to the backside of the island and began a slow, silent approach towards the crocs’ basking site.
Indeed, two crocodiles were hauled out on the bank, but the local fisherman assured Chris that neither was the aggressive saurian that was causing the trouble. As to not disturb the area, or the crocs, Chris motioned the party back along the path they had come in on.
In single file, Thulani in front, followed by Chris, Craig, and the game scout, the group silently made their way back to the boat through the dense reeds along a narrow game path.
Perhaps the wind gave no warning to the buffalo. Nor did the soundless approach of the unsuspecting hunters closing in on her place of concealment where the old cow sat, angry and hurt, nursing a recent wound. At six feet, the buffalo picked fight over flight and launched a determined attack at the first human being within reach, Chris’s tracker Thulani. In a flash of movement and complete understanding of the situation, Thulani spun and tried to hand his boss the rifle he was carrying.
With a toss of her head, the cow smashed the rifle from the tracker’s grip and sent it spinning into the reeds. The next man in line would now become the full focus of the buffalo’s fury, and that man was professional hunter Chris Burton. Seeing a faint path to his right, Chris tore through the reeds with the buffalo on his heels. In 20 yards, a combination of tangled reeds and mud brought the man to the ground. In the same instant as his chest slammed into the ground, the buffalo slammed into the back of his legs.
As the enraged animal pushed and pounded at the man beneath her, Chris tried to twist over on his back in order to grab onto her horns. This attempt failed, and the buffalo continued to push him along the ground on his stomach. At this point, Chris was trying to stumble back to his feet when the cow switched tactics. Instead of battering her prostrate victim, she began to hook at him with her horn tips. Her first attempt was on target, as she slammed a horn through the man’s upper right thigh then lifted her head − and Chris − to dangle him upside down, impaled and helpless.
Funny how things slow down at such times of intense pain and chaos, but Chris, while both body and life were hanging on the horns of a buffalo had time to notice a fresh and open wound on the cow’s shoulder. Instantly he accepted the reality that this was not simply a startled animal defending itself, but a pain-driven beast doing its best to kill him. From far away, he remembered hearing his own voice calling for help. Thulani had been frantically searching for the rifle lost in the first seconds of the attack. However, good luck, in the form of a damn good client, was soon to play a part in the frantic drama being played out in this remote patch of Africa.
Bulling through the reeds to the sound of Chris’s voice and the buffalos grunting came client Craig Johnson, rifle in hand and prepared for battle. The shock of what he saw did not slow his actions, as he carefully took a shot at the buffalo’s spine. The old cow went down instantly, but true to her tribe, gathered herself in an attempt to finish what she had started. Two more shots rang out and finally both the buffalo and Chris fell into a now blood-reddened mud hole.
Fully conscious, Chris directed the placement of a tourniquet made from Thulani’s torn t-shirt above the gaping hole in his upper thigh. Half carrying the wounded hunter back to the boat, they began the long paddle to the vehicle where they radioed camp to send a motorized boat to get him to camp as quickly as possible. Once there, basic medical care was administered and Chris’s medical aid Aetna Global was alerted. It was now too late in the day to get a flight in and then out with Chris to the hospital, so Simon Roger, owner of the hunting concession, arranged for an ambulance to meet them at the harbor to transport Chris on the grueling and pain racked 40-mile ride to a Catholic missionary hospital.
The nuns took him straight to surgery and cleaned the wounds, but ineffective anesthetic drugs made it the longest and pain-filled night of his life. The next day another pain-filled journey was made to an airstrip where a plane, and better painkillers, were thankfully waiting. After arriving in Harare, Dr. Dakovick gave the horrendous wound another cleaning, applied drains, and administered antibiotics to prevent infection.
Nine more days in the hospital followed, with additional procedures to remove dead tissue before Chris could return home. The flap of skin that had been reattached failed to heal, mandating a return trip to the hospital in Harare. The initial skin graft was removed and replaced with a 5×5 graft from his good leg. Sadly, 10 days later, this graft also failed and had to be removed in another agonizing procedure. The physical pain, combined with the mental toll on both Chris and his family was compounded by the mounting financial liability now facing the Burton family.
Medically, it was decided to forego another graft attempt, but instead to apply daily dressings and let the wound heal naturally. But with so massive a wound, it will take a great deal of time.
Chris Burton is just one example of professional hunters and their staff who have suffered injury, and in many instances death itself, as they ply their trade in game fields around the globe. These are the people on the true frontline of our adventures − men, and in many cases women, who put themselves at risk in a variety of ways in their duties as professional hunter, guide, shikar or whatever title their position on the globe bestows on them.
In many cases, insurance is not available to these professionals, and even if it is available, it is not affordable due to the high cost of premiums. Thus, when disaster strikes, these good people have no lifeline to save them against mounting medical bill’s that will only be the first wave of hardship to slam into their, and their families lives. In the event of a death of a breadwinner, the hardships placed on the family, especially in third world counties, is nothing short of catastrophic.
TO THE RESCUE
Dallas Safari Club is widely recognized as one of the worlds most proactive conservation orginizations. The DSC mission statement reads “To conserve wildlife and wilderness lands; to educate youth and the general public and to promote and protect the rights and interests of hunters worldwide.” The members of DSC are active, and often far-traveling sportsmen and women who have seen, and understand the risks that are associated with a living in the field of guiding sport hunters. Firm and life-long friendships are often a by-product of the relationship between PH and client. In addition, professional relationships between the professional hunting fraternity and Dallas Safari Club run deep, and are on display at the world’s finest hunters convention and sporting expo held each January in Dallas, Texas.
The international hunting community is a tightly knit, diverse group of people. Unfortunately most of us know someone, or at least have heard of someone injured or killed in the line of duty in their role of guiding sportsmen. The last several years have seen a tragic spike in the number of accidents suffered that have ranged from gunshot wounds, vehicle and airplane accidents, and of course encounters with dangerous game. Regretably, we have lost a number of good friends, taken suddenly from us, their family, and their profession. The need to help was obvious, and that need gave birth to the DSC Frontline Foundation.
The DSC Frontline Foundation, a Texas non-profit corporation, was created by Dallas Safari Club members with the support and encouragement of the Dallas Safari Club.
The Foundation applied for, and was awarded tax exempt status as a 501 (c) 3 entity. The Foundation Board of Directors consists of DSC members and includes people involved in the professional hunting industry as well as those who appreciate and respect the risks that professional hunters, outfitters, guides and their assistants face on a daily basis.
The goal of the DSC Frontline Foundation is to provide financial relief to professional hunters, guides, outfitters and their assistants who are killed or seriously injured in the course of providing professional hunting services. The individuals the Foundation seeks to help are often on the frontline of hunts and therefore exposed to the dangers inherent in hunting.
The DSC Frontline Foundation recognizes that for many hunters the quality of the adventure is due in large part to the quality and experience of the guide or outfitter. This is particularly true in the case of international hunting adventures and big game trips. It is critical to have guides and outfitters (and assistants) who have experience and gaining that experience often involves working under harsh and dangerous conditions.
If you share the concerns of the Foundation and support and believe in the goal of helping those who assume significant risk on our behalves, please consider making a donation to the DSC Frontline Foundation. The goal of the Foundation can only be met with the support of the members of the hunting community – both individuals and companies.
Chris Burton has the distinction of being the first recipient of financial aid from the DSC Frontline Foundation, and asked for a place here to share his thoughts and thanks.
Both during and after my accident, I was rescued by my client and safari team. Then by the staff of several medical facilities. For that I will always be grateful. But with bills piling up, and the loss of my yearly hunting income, I have been rescued again by the good people of Dallas Safari Club and the magnificent DSC Frontline Foundation! They are an amazing group of people whose compassion for people injured in the industry is going to be a godsend for those in need. It has been a blessing to my family, and the support shown by DSC and its members through the Frontline Foundation is nothing less than phenomenal. I am not the first, and unfortunately will not be the last, so I urge the hunting community to support the DSC Frontline Foundation to assist more people in the years ahead. I am proud to be a member of Dallas Safari Club and look forward to helping shine a bright light on the great work being done by its members, and in particular the DSC Frontline Foundation. It is a blessing to all the members of the professional hunting community to know DSC has our back! God Bless – Chris
The Frontline Foundation is currently holding a raffle for an all-expenses paid Cape buffalo hunt in South Africa. Tickets are 1 for $20; 6 for $100; 10 for $150. For more information, visit www.dscfrontlinefoundation.org/