We crossed a small opening in the brush and stopped at the far end. Ben turned to face the elephants and I knew this was where we would make our stand. He had simply been looking for enough open space to give us some chance of shooting our way out of trouble. My rifle hit my shoulder and the safety clicked off. I waited for Ben's lead and planned to shoot as soon as he did.
What saved us was the other elephants. We had actually run back at the herd we had been hunting and spooked them. They ran off and the elephants chasing us mistook them for us and followed. Without even wasting time to catch our breath, we quietly beat it down our back trail and got the hell out of Dodge. It was, to say the least, an exciting introduction to elephant hunting and it was only noon on the first day!
We continued this game with several more herds. There seemed to be an endless supply and I don't think we ever spent more than a few hours without seeing elephants. Time and again we would work our way though a herd, looking and glassing only to find disappointment mixed with excitement.
The problem was we were not seeing tuskless elephants. Ben had told me they would have a puckered look to their mouth, "like they have been sucking lemons." That's because they have the pockets in their skull for the tusks, but none to fill them. So their mouth takes on a "caved-in" look, not unlike that of a toothless old woman. He said I would know it when I saw it and I did.
We were in a more open mopane forest and the elephant was perhaps 50 yards from me, calfless, pucker-faced and surly looking. I knew before Ben even spoke that this was my elephant. We also realized upon further glassing that it was a tuskless bull, something extremely rare.
Ben does not like brain shots, particularly the frontal brain shot, and I do not like the guide shooting at my animals, so we had made a pact. I would try for a heart shot and if he thought it was good he would not shoot at my elephant. But if I was forced to take a brain shot and it was not immediately effective Ben would be forced to shoot. A brain shot that misses is not fatal and it is imperative that a wounded elephant not be allowed to escape.
Several times I tried to shoot, only to have brush or another elephant get in the way. Then the bull spotted us and turned to come for a closer look. He stopped at 17 yards and I kept my crosshairs on his head. I whispered to Ben that I thought I could make the brain shot, but he told me to wait.
Then the decision was made for us when a young calf broke from the herd and ran at us.
"Shoot now!" Ben said just as the bull started to charge.
I was so confident I could make this shot I got sloppy and made a mistake. Just as I started my trigger pull, the bull dropped his head to the side and the bullet missed by a few inches, but it was enough.
The big 500-grain slug rocked him back on his butt, but it didn't drop him. It did, however, change his mind and he turned to run off. I hit him again shooting for the off shoulder. I cranked the bolt once more in what I thought was slow motion, but all I had was his butt, so I waited. Ben fired; the bull went partway down and swung his mighty head to the right. His body blocked my shot, but Ben tried another brain shot and missed. That enraged the bull, and he continued to swing to his right to come back at us. When he was around enough I shot through his neck, shattering the spine and his off shoulder. That finished it, but I worked around behind him and put an insurance shot through the top of his head. (As they say, it's the dead ones that kill you.) After that, I started breathing again.
All that feeling of time slipping away and things left unfinished? It was gone. At least for a while. But that was enough.