By Hannes Wessels –
Born in Rhodesia in 1957 Patrick Curtis was blessed with a private-school education but preferred the bush to the books and left academia having learned little. He then went to war where he served with distinction in the Selous Scouts and became a favourite of legendary commander Lt. Col. Ron Reid-Daly. It was in these ranks that the thick shock of unruly red hair and the big beard earned him the sobriquet; ‘Bloodnut’. During the course of the war he also honed his hunting skills working for various outfitters and at the end of hostilities in 1980 became a full-time PH. Like many Rhodesian servicemen he had also become an accomplished boozer and quickly made a name for himself as a party-animal with a soft-spot for ‘tit-bars’.
His first brush with death under the hooves of a Cape Buffalo came on an island on the Zambezi River. Moving through long grass with low visibility he caught the sight of Egrets then heard the crash of big bodies and the rumble of hooves. Having just registered the fact he did not have a round in the breach he was flattened just before he caught sight of his weapon being booted by a buffalo hoof into the quagmire. Shaken, muddied but unhurt he recovered his weapon and faced the world again with the rather inane grin he is well known for.
A year later he was hunting the Chirisa Safari Area in north-western Zimbabwe in the employ of Mike ‘Paddlebum’ Rowbotham, a traditionalist who routinely expressed affectionate exasperation about ‘Bloodnut’s’ refusal to conform to the rules of the game. “A first rate hunter,” he was heard to say, “when he hasn’t got a fucking beer-bottle in his hands!”
Guiding clients Gary van Zeelen and his wife Carol they stopped the vehicle to photograph a large elephant bull they had seen the day before. Previously, the animal had shown absolutely no aggressive intent and ‘Bloodnut’ expected the same behaviour. Approaching unarmed on foot with Gary and Carol behind him, the click and whir of the camera-motor sparked an angry reaction and the big bull put his head down low, tucked his ears back and came at them. The three turned to run back to the car but Carol slipped behind a large Mopani tree for cover only to see the whole tree come crashing down on her. Struggling under the massive weight she was then enveloped by the animal’s trunk and dragged out from underneath to be impaled and crushed. Fortunately, the tracker and game-scout in the vehicle opened fire and she fell to the ground as ‘Bloodnut’ recovered his rifle and downed the animal. Badly battered with broken ribs, femur, pelvis and a punctured lung her race against death had just begun.
“We drove to the Research Station at Chirisa,” recalls Curtis, “and it was touch and go as her lungs filled with blood. I thought we were going to lose her when by a huge stroke of luck we saw a plane on the airfield preparing for take-off. We managed to get her on board and six weeks later she left hospital in Harare to return to the US.”
Attorneys made contact with Rowbotham with a view to suing Curtis. He told them they were welcome to do so but unlikely to be rewarding with much more than “empty bloody beer bottles!”
Having lost his license in Zimbabwe ‘Bloodnut’ wandered north to join his friend and fellow PH Alistair Gellatly who was also famously irresponsible and a man of hard drinking habits. Both were then in the employ of Zambia Safaris and booked to do joint buffalo hunts in the Zambezi Valley. With the clients waiting, excited and anxious to get into the field pleas to Gellatly to depart the pub fell on resolutely deaf ears and so it was left to Curtis to take all four on safari alone.
One of the hunters was overweight and he urged ‘Bloodnut’ to exercise some restraint in order not to tax his fitness but he was ignored and the hunting group immediately proceeded to climb the Zambezi escarpment in search of Kudu when there was a clatter and a thud. Death followed almost immediately and the big Texan had gone to the hunting-grounds in the sky. Having just departed Zimbabwe with a near fatality, the accident-prone PH looked for solace in a crate of beer at camp before loading the deceased into the back of his Cruiser under a cover of leafy branches and set off Lusaka. The local warden, citing a fear of bad spirits, refused to accompany the vehicle so a disconsolate, slightly woozy Curtis set off with his dead client alone and with his career in full reverse.
His mood lifted when he saw dust and Gellatly’s truck barreling down the road. Now sober, the errant PH garbled his apologies then asked where his colleague was going and the whereabouts of his client. Curtis explained that Alistair’s client had finished his safari ‘early’ so the hunt was over. In order to explain himself Gellatly was invited to look under the leaves. The sight there beheld, caused shock and alarm and the two PH’s then sought refuge under a tree where they sat and drank most of a case of beer while pondering their mutual futures which were looking less than bright. Sensing all was lost they returned to Lusaka and the bar at Zambia Safaris and continued to binge through the night leaving their ward ‘resting’ outside. Accused by the authorities of being reckless and insensitive ‘Bloodnut’ had overstayed his welcome in Zambia and asked to allow another country to enjoy his presence.
He was hired by Luke Samaras in Tanzania where he managed a few years without incident until hunting buffalo in the Simanjiro area of Maasailand with client John Shumway and his wife. Spotting a bull in the open they followed it into a thicket that ran along a ravine. With his tracker Idi leading excitedly they made quick progress but speed belies caution and suddenly out of the mangle of thick thorns came an angry bull at speed with his head down and murder in his eyes.
“I had my .458 and a solid ‘up’,” he remembers. “I managed to get one off and as I closed the bolt on a second I felt a sharp pain in my bottom and went airborne landing with a thump. There was lots of dust but when it cleared I saw I was alone and the buffalo had gone. Nervously I put my hand between my legs and was pleased to discover my ‘tackle’ was still there but felt a big gash between my ‘ball-bag’ going ‘north’ through ‘no-mans-land’. I came to my feet and limped off to link up with the rest of the party. It was quite embarrassing but at camp I had to lie down in a very compromising position with my legs spread and feet in the air so John’s wife could study the damage which could not have been a very pretty sight. She sewed me up with a sewing needle and dental floss. A bottle of Jack Daniels came in very handy. I drank most of a bottle. We had lots of ice. Some for the whiskey and some for the area of the wound to dull the pain. Then we drove back to Arusha.”
“I had not seen ‘Bloodnut’ for a while,” recalls Trevor Lane. “We had come up from Zimbabwe and I was puzzled when I spotted him walking down the street in Arusha. It looked like he had something hot stuck somewhere in his pants because he was walking stiff-legged with his legs splayed wide apart and I could see he was in pain. I went up to him and asked if he had just been on a long horse-ride. He said no he had just had a buffalo horn jammed up his arse! We went to the bar for a beer but he stood all the time. All he needed was a hat, a horse and a revolver and he would have been able to explain his posture!”
But his buffalo travails were far from over. Some years later hunting Lesser-Kudu near Kityangare in northern Tanzania with his friend Bob Fontana tragedy came calling.
“Bob had been hunting in the area for a couple of weeks when I took over the safari. He had wounded a buffalo a fortnight previously and been unable to recover it. On this particular day we were looking for Lesser-Kudu tracks near a salt-lick and were on our way back to the truck. We were close to the vehicle and unloading our weapons when I heard a noise and turned to see a buffalo charging us at full speed. I had my .375 and just managed a shot from the hip before falling pretty hard but the bull hit Bob high in the chest and impaled him. When I got to my feet to fire it was over Bob, down on its knees goring him. But Bob was probably already dead as the horn had gone into his heart and he had no chance. By the time I put it down it was too late. It was the same animal that he had wounded previously. Not that I needed it, it was another horrible reminder of how quickly you can die when hunting in Africa.”
Notwithstanding the dangers, after over thirty years in the field, ‘Bloodnut’ hunts on.