Home Resources Articles Hunting Spiral Horn Dreams: An African Bowhunt



2010 African SafariAugust 18th: I check my bow once more. My bags are packed. Immunizations are up to date. Tomorrow I leave for the Bowhunting Safari in South Africa I booked with Infinito Safaris. The hunt will occur on bow hunting only concessions surrounding the S’dudla camp near Thabazimbi totaling almost 60,000 acres.

August 19th: I begin my drive to the airport with a quick stop at the gas station. The truck refused to start when I was ready to leave! I was stranded. It was 11:30 AM. My flight was to depart at 4:34 PM. The airport is over an hour away from the gas station I stopped at. Yeah, I was leaving really early. But, experience with travel has taught me that there is no such thing as too early when a flight is involved. Even with the extra time, this was big trouble! I’ve practiced for months shooting my bow preparing for this trip. I have done practically nothing else but shoot my bow this summer. To say I was looking forward to this trip was a major understatement. Here it was, next to zero hour, and the trip was falling apart right there in the parking lot of a gas station less than five miles from my house. I was devastated!

I manage to hold it together… somehow. I call a buddy on the cell phone. My wife is substitute teaching today. So, I can’t pull her out of a classroom to help. The conversation ensues…

“Keith! I’m in big trouble! My truck has died and my flight is at 4:34 PM.”

Keith knows that I wouldn’t call unless I was desperate.

Keith replies, “The boss won’t let me leave today. No way!”
However, “I’ll call Carol and see if she can help.”, he adds.

Just then – while I still have Keith on the line – a delivery van pulls into the gas station. They need directions! I take time from my personal crisis to tell them how to get to where they need to be. They are very thankful and offer to jump start my truck. I explain I’m trying to catch a plane. Luckily, I have cables. But, the jump doesn’t help!

“Keith! I’m in trouble! The jumper cables didn’t help!”, I almost cry.

One of the guys in the truck says, “Let me try something.”

I’m not an idiot around cars and I admit I was stumped. He pulled the fuel line and fished a piece of junk out of it. We get the vehicle started, but it won’t keep going unless the gas pedal is pushed three quarters of the way down.

“Keith! It’s started! I’m going for it! I’ll call back if I don’t make it!”,

I hang up and take a very sticky sixty seven mile journey.

In short, I make it to the parking garage with enough time to catch my flight. I get checked in and call my wife after she has just finished classes. I’m making this trip, but I might need some help when I return, I explain.

The plane arrives. I board and breathe a huge sigh of relief!

Once on the ground in Atlanta, I find the gate for the next flight that will take me all the way to Johannesburg, South Africa. I find a comfortable seat and settle in for a three hour lay over. Three hours is the minimum recommended time for an international flight to ensure your baggage makes it. Expect your baggage to be inspected thoroughly, by the way. Since 9-11, this is just the way it is flying internationally.

During my wait, I receive a text from my brother whom is my traveling companion on this journey. It reads, “They’ve changed my flight again!” His flight ends up being changed four times on the way to Atlanta. When he hits the ground, 45 minutes before departure, I breathe another sigh of relief. For a time, I was thinking I may be leaving without him. Twenty-five minutes until departure, boarding of the next flight begins. I hold out until last call. “Where is he?”, I ask myself, concerning my brother. I board the plane. There were only two people in line behind me. They ran up as I got in line. I was listening to them breathing hard as I explained to the gate agent that my brother’s flight was late and he’s running to us now. “We’ll let him on, sir.”, she assured me.

I board and settle in for the 17 hour flight. Everyone was on the plane but my brother. We had just a few minutes until departure time. I’m reluctantly accepting the fact I will be traveling alone when my brother steps onto the plane. They literally shut the door behind him.

His plane had landed 45 minutes earlier alright. But, he had to wait for a gate in order to de-plane. The attendants made everyone else on his plane wait for him to leave first. Even with that, he barely made it!

I told him not to expect his baggage to meet him in Johannesburg. He agreed it was highly likely that he would be waiting there an extra day in Johannesburg before he left for Thabazimbi.

Seventeen hours of wondering if the bags will make it… a long time even without worrying. But, brutal if you are! I told him, “I’m hunting. We’ll send someone to get you.” He agreed. Though he was photographing the hunt, he wouldn’t delay us if his bags didn’t make it.

We arrive in Johannesburg. My hunting clothes come first. Then, amazingly, one of my brother’s bags has made it! We celebrate shortly. Then, his second bag appears. We’d jump up and down with joy if not for the fact that I still don’t have my bow! There was blood boiling behind my eyes. We watch bag after bag hit the carousel… I begin to look around. I spot my bow stacked on a cart with some gun cases. I grab it, daring anyone to tell me I couldn’t!

We sail through customs with no events. All our paperwork is in order. We are ready!

Now to find Gerhard Delport; our ride to the lodge and Professional Hunting Guide (PH) for the eight day hunt. I had chatted with Gerhard on Facebook fifteen minutes before I left for the airport. I took one last stab at trying to drag out details on the nyala he had been scouting.

“Go get on the plane!”, he had replied.

He told me he’d be waiting just outside the international baggage claim area. Since, at this point, I was really almost expecting something else to go wrong, I was surprised and, truthfully, incredibly relieved to see Gerhard standing exactly where he told me he would be. I don’t think I can remember a more welcome handshake and introduction.

Now we are rolling. It’s about four hours to Thabazimbi. But after just one hour we meet Erika at Trophy Service taxidermy near Pretoria to do a tour of her facility. This was done to eliminate any doubts that we may have with the quality of their work and capabilities.

Trophy Service is one of the most complete taxidermy studios I have ever seen. It’s extremely impressive, to say the least. Besides showing us very well executed examples of their work, (There was a full mount black wildebeest that was absolutely brilliant!) we were shown their receiving area, skull and horn treatment area, form molding area (yes, they mold their own forms) and their own on site tannery! We also find that Erika is a registered measurer for both Rowland Ward and SCI.

Okay, I am sold. Anything I’m lucky enough to harvest I want taxidermy for is coming right here! Before we left, Erika took us into her house and fed us a terrific meal that both my brother and I thoroughly enjoyed. She didn’t have to do this. I truly expected some kind of fast food grab. I strongly suspect she doesn’t do this for everyone. I doubt that she even can. But, the timing was right and so was the chemistry of the moment. It was a lovely time I will forever cherish. My brother’s first exposure to South African cuisine was his first clue of what was to come! We left Trophy Service fully sated and very impressed.

We drove another hour. It was time to stop for petrol (gas). I ask if I can get my favorite South African Cream Soda! It’s green! Yes, American Cream Soda is a brownish liquid this seems totally wrong to South Africans this is as alien in fact as green crème soda seems to Americans. But, oh my, the green is so very good. If you ever get the chance, try it. You’ll be hooked too.


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We pile back into the truck and in another hour we turn at this sign.

S'dudla Safaris

 

Finally, we arrive at the S’dudla lodge; our home for the next few days. My brother and I each get a thatched roof, one bedroom one bathroom chalet to stay in.

S'dudla Chalets

 

These things are exceptionally nice. Honestly, almost too comfortable for a hunting trip. But, I’m not complaining! I stayed in the Warthog chalet and my brother stayed in the Zebra chalet. The beds in the warthog chalet had been arranged to accommodate my height. I’m six foot five and short beds are hard on my back. They moved two beds end to end to make a super long bed for me. It was pretty funny and we had a good laugh about it. But, honestly, I found it quite welcome. This arrangement was very comfortable for me.

The first morning was sleep-in time. With my brother and I being severely jet lagged, we presented no argument. We both showered and passed out in our beds. We woke up well rested and had an absolutely fabulous breakfast of eggs and wild game sausage.

Now things got serious. The first order of business was to ensure that my bow was hitting where it should with broad heads. I was confident this would be no problem as I had practiced almost exclusively with broad heads all summer. My bow was sighted in and tuned for broad heads. I made sure of it! Things can happen to bows going halfway around the world though… and mine was no exception. I was stunned as I had to re-sight in my bow. Luckily, the S’dudla camp has a real range complete with broadhead targets. This wasn’t the disaster it could have been. Both Ryno and Gerhard are very capable archers. We got everything fixed, fast!

I don’t know for sure what happened as it appeared only the sights needed adjustment. Perhaps it was lack of humidity compared to home. Or, different gravity on the other side of the world… or the effects of high altitude transport. I honestly don’t know. Regardless of the reason, it was obvious the sights needed to be fixed. Thankfully, the facilities to do that were readily available.

Sighting In

 

We took a quick five minute ride to the impala hide; a large elevated hide that could easily hold all three of us. We settle in.

Impala Hide

 

A couple hours pass with no action. Suddenly an nyala cow melted out of the surrounding bush intent on taking a drink. Two more cows followed and shortly thereafter two small bulls appeared. No shooters, but some enjoyable action that set the stage for the hunt to come.

The nyala’s left and we were again staring at empty bushveld. That is more than enough excitement to carry you though the day as a hunter. I smiled at my brother because I knew that Africa often has much more to offer, however. It wasn’t long after the nyala left that a calf waterbuck appeared. Following shortly behind were two waterbuck cows. No large bull waterbuck was to appear before their thirst was quenched and departure made.

My brother was photographing some birds at the waterhole when he saw a nose hit the water in the corner of his field of view. “What’s that? Look! Look!”, keeping his voice low enough to remain unheard. It was a really nice blesbuck. I wasn’t specifically after a blesbuck, but this was a really good one and a great opportunity. Like Gerhard says, “Take what the bush gives you.”

The blesbuck was ranged at seventeen yards. I drew back my bow and was just lining up on the vital triangle when the blesbuck decided to turn and face my direction. He then began to walk and offered no shot! Gerhard told me to let down slowly and try to get a shot if he stopped at the salt. I managed to let down the arrow without spooking the blesbuck. But, he walked purposefully to the salt and kept going. I was disappointed. Two more seconds and I would have had a shot. That is how it is sometimes. Seventeen yards and no shot. There really are no guaranteed easy shots when bow hunting.

A one horned duiker skirted out of range just before sundown and my first hunting day in Africa this trip came to an end. Gerhard radioed for the truck. On the ride out, we saw some zebra and several waterbuck. A truly exciting day in spite of the disappointment in not getting the blesbuck, it was.

We stood around the fire pit warming up to the hot coals of African wood logs. Yes it’s August, but that is the end of winter in South Africa. A good bit cooler than back home and a welcome break from the heat. Dinner call came while we were sitting engrossed in watching “Bush TV” (the campfire). It’s awesome. A reality show with no commercial interruptions!

Beef, stewed sweet pumpkin, and vegetables would be the table fare of the evening. The food was absolutely top notch.

August 21st: We climb into the kudu hide. This is a pit blind formed by reinforcing wire and concrete. We all slip off our shoes to move quietly in the hide. I was thankful for bringing thick wool socks as this made shoeless hunting much more comfortable.

Kudu Hide
Gerhard and the Author at the Kudu Hide

 

Just ten minutes pass and we are alerted to heavy hoof sounds. Here come the buffalo! I was very glad to be secure in a concrete reinforced hide with these animals scarcely fifteen yards away.

Cape Buffalo

 

Gerhard worked with me on shot placement on one of these brutes to help prepare for animals I was hunting. Shot placement on all plains game is very similar. Most striking is the fact that the best placement is further forward in the game animal and lower than what American deer hunters are used to. African game animals have much smaller lungs than whitetail deer. A couple inches behind the leg may very well be a gut shot instead of a double lung hit. Aligning the shot even with the center of the leg and a couple inches above the elbow is a good start. In fact, I have found you will kill whitetail deer quite effectively with the same shot placement. Try it. This is a good way to prepare for hunting Africa.

The buffalo finally decided to move on about thirty minutes later. On this particular hunt, the buffalo isn’t in my plans. My archery gear isn’t set up for that task anyway. A good solid deer setup is adequate for most plains game but dangerously underpowered for one of these brutes. I had a solid plains game setup. A bow hunt for cape buffalo is another pursuit entirely requiring it’s own specialized equipment. Though we enjoyed seeing the buffalo, we were happy to see them leave. When they are at the water you will see nothing else.

Three nyala cows would make their way in. I was hoping a bull would follow, but he never showed. The cows moved off and we had a small snack while waiting in the hide. It was just after 8:00 AM. I looked at Gerhard and told him my prediction for the next action was 9:30 AM. Making these kinds of predictions helps the time to go by faster in a blind for me. It’s a mental game of anticipation. If the time comes and goes I make another. Occasionally these predictions are right which makes it even more fun.

At 9:15 AM more nyala cows show themselves. Six minutes later, finally, the long awaited bull is making his way to us. Gerhard asks if I want him. My answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”

Nyala

 

He’s very good. Not giant nyala, but very good. I prepared for the shot. Gerhard coaches me through the shot placement and helps calm my nerves. The bull faces toward us for an agonizing period of time. At last, he turns. I draw, aim, and shoot. I use Nocturnal lighted nocks and they really help me see shot placement. I told Gerhard I had delivered the arrow at the right height but was a couple inches back from ideal. I looked at my watch to see 9:30 AM, sharp. I showed it to Gerhard and we both smiled. This time the prediction was spot on! Gerhard radioed Ryno Potgieter and asked him to bring the tracking dog. Ryno showed up thirty minutes later and we took the up the trail. Ryno and his tracking dog are an amazing team. They unraveled a sparse blood trail in ten minutes. It would have taken me at least an hour. My nyala had gone 120 yards. The hit was as I predicted; back from perfect but managed to catch the back one inch of both lungs. The 125grain Slick Trick standard made a perfect pass through and the glowing nock made the arrow a snap to find.

The skinners bundled my nyala in a tarp and got him to a place more adequate for photos. They then expertly posed the Nyala and Ryno laid in front snapping pictures with everyone’s camera. Ryno is good. He even made me look better.

The Author with his Nyala



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We returned to the hide and settled back in for the remainder of the day. You’ve got to love Africa! Your hunting day isn’t over just because you have succeeded once! We saw more nyala cows, a zebra far off, and a lone bushbuck ewe. Absolutely a great day! I could go home happy tomorrow with my nyala. I’m ecstatic.

It was then back to the campfire to relive the day and bathe in bush smoke. Venison pie for dinner was an excuse for overeating!

August 22nd: Today I’m hunting a bushbuck. Specifically, I am hunting a very nice bushbuck. I’ve seen the game camera photos of him. I will give this hunt my all. The only animal which would deter me from this single-minded goal is a very nice eland. Gerhard and Ryno had scouted for this bushbuck and located him on another concession. For many African hunting outfits, this means a long drive in the morning to get to the other concession. Not so with this operation. The concessions are merely fifteen minutes away.

My brother is going to Pilanesburg to photograph with Gerhard. Ryno will take me to the ladder stand I will be hunting.

I shoot four practice arrows in the target at the range, put on my harness and climb in Ryno’s truck. We meet Francois, the manager of the adjoining concession. Quick introductions are made and soon I’m hunting again!

At about 8:30 AM, a lone kudu bull trots past. He’s just passing through with another destination clearly in mind. He was beautiful to watch but was quickly out of sight. At 9:00 AM, a lone bushbuck ewe slips out of the bush in front of me. She starts “barking” at something behind me but I dare not turn around to look. She eases off quietly into the dense thorny branches. Five minutes later, five vervet monkeys come in from behind me. Things are very tense for the next few minutes. Vervet monkeys are extremely sharp eyed and look up constantly. If they spot you, expect the hunt to be ruined for an hour or two as they sound the alarm. I do not like monkeys! Suddenly the vervet monkeys go on alert and run quietly away. This was odd. I knew they hadn’t spotted me.

Just a couple minutes pass before what had scared the vervet monkeys comes in; a huge troop of around thirty baboons! They are every bit as sharp as the vervet monkeys and equally as loud. The big difference is that they don’t leave. They sit for hours just out of range staring at the watering hole daring danger to show itself. Many animals will not come to water with baboons. Bushbucks don’t seem to care, however. Nor do warthogs.

Three little warthogs show up to roll in the mud and drink. They get their fill and move away from the water. A massive old boar with one broken tusk comes in for a drink. I risk a couple snapshots moving very slowly to avoid detection from the baboons.

Warthog Watering

Warthog

 

The old warthog moves off. I somewhat regret not taking him, but I’m sticking firmly to my plan. The baboons move closer and end up sixteen yards in front of me. I feel totally exposed and frozen. I don’t want them to bust me. I’ve fooled them thus far and this is a good thing.

A bushbuck fawn pops out of the bush and then a ewe and a small buck. They drink. Suddenly, what I’ve been waiting for all day comes out of the bush 16 yards away. He starts rubbing his long, heavy horns in the mud. This is the boss! I slowly lift my bow from the holder. The bushbuck turns and jumps back into the thick cover. I freeze, holding my bow with just one arm, completely motionless. I spy the bushbuck surveying the area from back in the bush. The baboons weren’t frightened, so he gains confidence and comes back in. I let him relax and really mud his horns thoroughly before I even think about slowly moving again. I carefully attach my release to the bow string. As slowly and smoothly as is humanly possible, I draw back the bow. I settle the pin on the center of the leg just above the elbow and squeeze the trigger. It’s complete and total pandemonium for the next few seconds. The baboons go absolutely crazy. They were less than twenty yards away when I launched the arrow. Through all of the commotion, I believe I hear the bushbuck crash thirty yards away. I call Ryno on the radio.

“I’m done.”, I tell him

“What, are you tired?”, he asks.

“No, I got the bushbuck.”

“Do you feel good about the shot?”

“Yes, very good.”

Ryno shows up thirty minutes later to start tracking. I tell him where I thought I heard bushbuck fall. We go practically straight to him. I had managed to center the heart on the bushbuck! A perfect shot on a stunning trophy. This is the bushbuck that dreams are made of. I almost cried. I couldn’t believe it.

 

The Author with his Bushbuck

 

I had shot the bushbuck at 3:15 PM. The baboons had me pinned down most of the day. So, I couldn’t relieve myself or eat during that time. I was hungry and very stiff. I called it a day and was prepared a nice hot lunch back at the lodge. I waited in front of the “Bush TV” for my brother and Gerhard to return from Pilanesburg.

The bushbuck literally had his horns in the mud when I drew back my bow. He was definitely the dominant bushbuck of the area.

 

Bushbuck

 

I have taken a kudu with a bow on a previous hunt. On this hunt, I was concentrating on the other three major spiral horns in South Africa. In two consecutive days I had added two more spiral horns to my quest. I knew the bushbuck would be hard to get. I was incredibly lucky and I knew it. God gave me these animals and I am thankful.

Tomorrow I go to the eland hide. It is called that for a reason. The moon is now full… bright at night limiting daytime movement of the eland and the wind is gusting and fickle. My odds for successfully taking an eland from a waterhole blind under these conditions are extremely low. But, I’m going to try anyway. You can’t get them from the couch and I’ve already had a successful enough safari to go home very happy anyway.

That evening brought another fantastic meal and time around the campfire. I shower and go to bed.

August 23rd: A routine or ritual by now. I shoot three or four practice arrows. I get in the truck and it’s onward to the eland hide we go!

The wind is bad today. No, the wind is just awful! Gusting and shifting wind which is very tough for hunting a pit blind. This day might very well be a total blank. Gerhard burns Zebra dung to help mask our scent. Too much dung smoke gives you a headache but it really is our only option. We see nothing until 9:30 AM when we spot eland cows moving through the bush. They actually come in! No bull joins them but this is still a very good sign. The eland are moving in daylight in spite of last night’s spotlight-bright moon. At 10:00 AM a warthog sow with young ones pays us a visit. They decide to hang around for quite awhile. When they finish drinking, they walk off totally relaxed. The zebra dung smoke masked our scent for warthogs too which is no minor feat! At 12:30 PM we spot another eland cow heading our way. She’s most likely from the group we saw earlier. She comes in. A couple more cows follow. Suddenly Gerhard spots a young bull.

“Leo! There is a young bull with this group. Will you take him?”

I think about it.

“I know it’s unlikely we will get another chance, but I would rather take an older, dominant bull.”, I reply.

The young bull comes in with the cows. He is nice, but I can hold out. I don’t have to wait long. A much bigger bull with a shaggy forehead and darker neck appears. He chases the younger bull some and then rubs his horns in the mudhole just like the bushbuck did yesterday. That’s the one! I smile. Yes, I want him.

I start waiting for the right opportunity. He’s at eighteen yards. I know that I need to aim a little higher on an eland as his leg bone would stop my arrow cold. I go for the top of the heart shot. The arrow sails true, right on the money! The fletching disappears as I get a total pass through on Africa’s heaviest antelope. These Slick Trick standards are fabulous at penetrating!

Perhaps the best part is that Gerhard gets the whole thing on video. The bull collapses just fifty yards away on video as well!

 

The Author with Gerhard and His Eland

 

Thank you again Gerhard Delport and Ryno Potgieter. I am already dreaming of returning to hunt with you. My brother is as well.

 

Sunset on the Safari






About the Author: Leo has been fishing ever since he can remember and hunting since 1980. He has hunted and fished for several different species in many different places over the years. Leo graduated with a B.A. in Mechanical Engineering from Auburn University. He understands the mechanics of equipment and the processes it takes to manufacture it. Leo has been happily married since 1995, he and his wife have no children. Besides hunting and fishing Leo likes to take pictures, read and play guitar. You can contact Leo via the Hunting Resource Forums.

 
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