Nile crocodile hunting in Zambia

The Nile crocodile, in my opinion, is one of the most underappreciated African hunting animals. Crooks burrowed in Earth’s waters for more than 80 million years (they once hunted dinosaurs), and they now sit at the top of the food chain across much of Africa.

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to hunt these amazing predators on the Luangwa River in Zambia with Backcountry Africa. The Luangwa River is 478 miles long and is home to a large number of crocodiles and hippos. During the rainy season, river floods leave behind rainbow lakes, helping to fertilize the valley soils. This river is vital to the ecosystem and wildlife protection in Zambia. It was also the perfect place to go after a mature crocodile along the way, I learned a lot about the characteristics, nature and history of the Nile crocodile.

Meet the Nile crocodile

The Nile crocodile has remained virtually unchanged since the Cretaceous period. Amazingly, its prehistoric characteristics still give it an advantage for hunting ungulates, even the less dangerous ones. The Nile crocodile is also feared by many animals (you can see how nervous they get when approaching the river banks to drink or cross) but the locals are afraid of them too, and for good reason. Everyone here knows someone who was killed by a crocodile. Crocodiles have an incredible sensory system in their skin called the integumentary sense organs, or ISOs. ISOs allow them to easily detect even the smallest movements and vibrations in the water.

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The crest, back and tail of the crocodile’s head are solid of rock, like a thick tortoise shell. This shield is not only protective, but also absorbs heat when they are outside in the sun. The rest of the skin, from approximately the middle of the body to the bottom, loses its firmness. It turns into a durable leatherette with large scales, but to the touch it resembles soft, wet rubber. Alligators’ legs are short but muscular, with five cubed toes and long claws. The head is long, wide and very flat. This places their eyes, ears, and nose above the water while their bodies are submerged, allowing them to hunt while remaining very hidden. The jaw is full of teeth that constantly grow and replace themselves over the life of the crocodile. Head and teeth are probably what most people fear most, but for me it is the tail – it is a pure muscle and the source of all their strength.

They are both hunters and scavengers, so their sense of smell is highly developed. They can smell prey, corpses or predators from great distances. Their skin is greenish brown with yellow undertones. It’s the perfect camouflage to hide under murky waters and wait patiently to seize any unsuspecting spirit gambling at the water’s edge. They are exactly the definition of ambush hunters. They launch themselves forcefully out of the water with their tail to grab their prey. Crocodiles have been known to pull people out of boats as they hunt or cross rivers.

crocodile fights

The author is standing next to her crocodile. Single Movies MTn

The conflict between human and wildlife is a reality for the local villagers. Whenever one of these 13-foot (or larger) dinosaurs is removed from the river, the locals are thrilled. It can be hard for locals to get excited about crocodile conservation – and why the predator is important to the ecosystem – when the large crocodile is a known killer of humans. When you don’t live every day in crocodile country, you simply cannot understand what they are constantly promoting. Think of it this way: Most Americans are separated from predators like mountain lions or grizzly bears when we leave the countryside and are back in town. The locals live here among the crocodiles, and they are in danger of crocodile attacks every time they go to the river to fish, get water and bathe. At the same time, humans are the only natural threat faced by a mature crocodile.

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Crocodiles are also notorious for killing a large number of livestock in Zambia. The locals would poison the carcasses of cows to kill the crocodiles that preyed on their herds. The local fisherman will also scavenge for any crocodile he sees. A professional hunter, or PH, in the area told me they had caught alligators with spears stuck in them before. Crocodiles take decades to grow until they reach 13 and 16 feet in length. But most people don’t want to see these prehistoric beasts go extinct, Zambia’s hunting grounds help protect crocodiles by providing funding for anti-poaching measures, and by protecting wild areas so there is more room for wildlife, which means Ultimately less conflict with humans. .

fishing crocs

crocodile hunting
Trackers help load the crocodile. Single Movies MTn

When I decided to fish the Luangwa River with Backcountry Africa, the goal was specifically to target a hippopotamus. But I knew that if I had the chance to take a great Nile crocodile, I would jump on it.

I had hunted alligators before in the swamps of Florida, so I was familiar with the exact shot position required and the adrenaline rush that comes with hunting big reptiles. In Florida, we hung the alligator by throwing a triple hook on its back and sinking them into its skin. Using this tactic, the crocodile swims through the channels and grabs a fishing rod as he pulls you into John’s little boat. Once it gets tired, it will sink to the bottom and slowly roll. When you put him on the surface, you usually try to heat him up so he can’t escape, and then you use the wand to kill them. It’s a cowboy at times, and exhilarating. It was one of my most memorable hunts so far, so I was excited to try something similar again in Africa.

Except this time, I was going to chase the crocodile and shoot one of them from a distance with a shotgun. The other way to catch a Nile crocodile is to over-bait, but the chase was more attractive to me. The shot is one of the most difficult shots to perform on a toy animal because its biome is so small – you have to shoot it in the brain. Your target is the size of a golf ball and on the side of the alligator’s head. If you lose or injure an alligator, you will likely never see it again.

in pursuit

We were looking for hippos when we came upon a large crocodile that was sunning itself at the water’s edge. We got down at once so that the crocodile could not see us, and we crawled quietly to get a better look at it. Surprisingly, crocodiles are not easy to judge in the field. They are often observed at a distance without any nearby natural features as a reference for size. Their tails are usually curly or suspended in water.

Fortunately I was with Russell de la Harby, co-founder of Backcountry Africa and Ph.D. in Zambia. He also happens to be a crocodile farmer that supplies leather to high-end designer brands around the world. For a field judge on crocodiles, it looks at the size of the teeth, how well the serrated edges stick out on their back, and the nose – a round nose is always a good indicator of an ancient crocodile. But by the time we decided the alligator was good, the crawler had already caught us and suddenly slipped into the water.

Crocodiles are very sensitive animals and are always on high alert. Chasing them can be quite a challenge. After he slid away, we walked over to where he was lying to take a closer look at the tracks his body and head had left in the wet sand. Ross measured his sandy head imprint: 13 inches long. A good rule of thumb, he says, is that every inch of the head corresponds to a foot of body length. In other words, this crocodile was probably at least 13 feet long. I left a lot of traces on that sandbank and Russell said we weren’t too scared of it. He was expecting the crocodile’s return.

crocodile hunting
The writer with her 13.5-foot alligator. Single Movies MTn

The next day we spotted him again, but this time he was lying in the middle of the Luangwa River, on a sandbar. A different PH and I, and Thor, crawled to the water’s edge to prepare for a 120-yard pickup. Before I took it, we decided I’d take two shots in quick succession. The first would be for the brain. This was the most important and hopefully killed the crocodile immediately. The second shot will be to the lungs, so if the crocodile slips into the water, it will not be able to breathe and will come back again.

When everything was set up for the shot, I loaded the bipod and gently pressed into the rear sandbag until I found the nice spot where my rifle wouldn’t budge.

“Make sure you are 100 percent consistent,” Thor said, and I knew I was. Safety is off. Breathing. And just before you exhale, press the trigger.

The shot broke and the Hornady .375 DGX home hit. The crocodile’s tail began to vibrate, striking back and forth uncontrollably as it seemed after a proper shot to the head.

I heard Thor say, “Okay! Again, on his shoulder! Fast! Fast! Fast!”

So, I ran the latch, pressed, and hit the alligator in my shoulder.

OK! Again, on his shoulder or back.

I spin a third round, squeeze, and send one last shot into her hip. With that, Thor was satisfied. It’s wise to use multiple shots to ensure a wounded alligator doesn’t disappear into the water, but in this case it was just a precaution. The second and third were not necessary.

After the shot, Thor radioed the recovery team to bring a boat to our location. The rest of the fishing team heard the call and might have had some questions about why we needed a boat. They all came to help heal and see this Nile crocodile in person.

Thor and I, one of the trackers, were the first to board the canoe to the sandbar. As I walked to Alligator through ankle-deep water, I was in awe. He was a very nice animal. The crocodile looked as if it did not belong to this planet, even though its species had been living here millions of years ago. She overcame me, grateful for the opportunity to see and touch such a wonderful creature in person.

crocodile hunting
The entire crocodile recovery team. Single Movies MTn

After taking some pictures, we loaded the crocodile into the canoe. The trackers took him to the beach and then came back to us. From there, it was loaded onto the truck and taken to the skinning shed. The locals wanted to visit it too. You can tell how much it means to them when one of these predators is killed off. He measured 13 feet 5 inches. I kept only the skin and skull. All of its meat was smoked, dried and eaten by the anti-poaching team and camp staff. Some of the animals taken by hunters are also donated to local villages and schools. Nothing, it seems, is for nothing here.

Therefore, if you have ever thought about hunting an African game, I highly recommend adding the Nile crocodile to your list. It’s an unforgettable, action-packed game of fishing that boosts the local economy – and the security of the village. And just like I did, you will learn a lot along the way.

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