Bow hunting in South Africa with Bushmen Safaris was no doubt a trip we would remember for the rest of our lives. Before our long travel to Johannesburg, I made sure we were prepared nutritionally for success. It took a little “thinking out of the box” to make that happen. Not relying on the airline’s accomodations for food, I dehydrated six pounds of venison using my dehydrater. I then went and bought 3 big packages of beef jerky and replaced the beef with my good wholesome well sought after venison so I would not be questioned at the airport. Guess what? It worked.
I also took in my carry-on 2 lbs. of whey protein powder and a big bag of raw walnuts. There was no need to set myself up for failure. Weeks prior to our arrival at Bushmen, I e-mailed the staff with the types of foods I consume on a regular basis to ensure I was properly prepared for success. Lydia, an awesome cook and friend, took great care of us and not once did I consume anything that was not on my nutrional regimen for our entire stay at Bushmen Safaris.
We were greeted with smiles at Johannesburg airport by Shannon, one of South Africa’s best Professional Hunters, then off we were on our 4 hour car ride to Bushmen Safaris. During our ride we shared several stories of our successes and failures of hunting throughout our lives. I will say it was a little wierd riding on the other side of the road and the other side of the car. What was even more different was driving on the other side of the road. Yes, Shannon let me drive the last 5 miles into camp. I can now check that off the list. Once we arrived at Bushmen, I was kindly greeted by Nick, a Professional Hunter and Shannon’s father, Lydia, Nick’s wife and Shannon’s mother, and the rest of the staff at Bushmen Safaris.
I sighted in my bow to make sure it did not get knocked during travel and studied some shot placement videos to make sure my shots would be ethical. The vitals of the animals in Africa are different than our big game in the United States. Their hearts for the most part are right in the shoulders at the far front of the animals. We also discussed our hit list. Hit list, meaning the plains game I wanted to harvest. On the top of our list was a Zebra, Gemsbok, Impala, Blesbok, Warthog, and if a Huge Kudu would present itself, I would harvest it. You may be thinking “why a Zebra”? Here’s why. Not only are they gorgeous, but a Zebra can live up to 30 years and they are very smart and tough to get a shot on. I love challenges and was up for it. I was only going to harvest mature animals, no different than if we were hunting in the United States. I am a hunter, not a killer. After all, it would just help out Bushmen’s managment program. We were extremly tired from all the traveling, but I still could not sleep with such excitement rumbling through my body.
The sun rises over South Africa around 5 a.m., so Shannon and I were up and eating breakfast at 4:30 a.m. I was about to see some animals at close range. As we were getting situated in the blind, Keystone, the best tracker, placed cow dung in a row behind the blind and lit it on fire to help cover our scent. It was not long before we had a Jackal come into the water hole for a quick drink. About ten minutes after he left, here came the almighty male Gemsbok. Talk bout the adrenaline flowing! These animals are huge especially compared to one of my favorite animals to hunt, the Whitetailed Deer. He never came to the water hole to drink or within range. After all, it was my first hunt. We had Impalas, Warthogs, Minks, and several other species make their way in to drink. At about 10:30 a.m. I spotted a female Kudu making her way to the water hole and not far behind her was a couple of bulls. The last bull Kudu to come in was a monster. You should have seen Shannon’s face light up when he laid his eyes on it. He said verbatim “If that bulls come in, he will have his last sip of water“. My bow was in hand with my release attached to the string waiting patiently. He slowly made his way to the very back side of the water hole. We are still not quite sure, but somthing spooked them off before a well placed shot was presented. Shortly after they left, a Garaffe made it’s way to drink. Now that was a sight to see. At such a short distance away, they are huge and have such a neat coat. The temperature was heating up to the 90’s, so we decided to go in for lunch and get my wife, Robin, for the afternoon hunt.
As we drove back up to the blind, there were ten Kudu bulls and one of them was the wide monster we encounterd earlier. We quietly got situated and less than thirty minutes later, here they come. There were ten bulls with 7 of them being mature trophy bulls. Once again, the wide one was the last one to make his way to the water. I readied myself at full draw waiting on a shot. I had one shot at 35 yards but he was quartering away from me a little too much. I did not feel comfortable with the shot and decided to ease down my draw. All we could do was simply watch this animal walk away along the South African horizon. An extreme emotional roller coaster was taking place. That’s just a part of hunting, all you can do is keep your head up. A short time later, they are making their way back in to drink for the third time. There was no doubt in my head we were going to miss another opportunity. The mature wide bull comes in at 29 yards quartering away with me at full draw. I placed my thirty yard pin right on his left shoulder, made sure the sight was level, placed my finger on the trigger, and touched it off. Thwack thwack, two thwacks, huh? We all watched in aww as the bull took off leaping through the bush. The arrow hit him about a foot and a half away from where I was aiming. This could not be happening. Yes, once again this is hunting and things happen. As I touched off the trigger on my release, the arrow hit the side of the window on the blind throwing the arrow off the course I intended for it to be on. Needless to say, I was very upset. I shoot almost everyday and this was a routine shot I have made several times before.
We waited about an hour before Nick and the trackers made their way towards the blind. I was pleased to see we immediately had a blood trail and was sure my trophy Kudu was down. Since the Kudu was quartering away and the shot was further back, the exit wound was right through the opposing lung. Less than 200 yards, there he lay, a monster wide Kudu. A huge sigh of relief and a perma-grin was situated on my face. To actually place my hands on this majestic animal’s horns was why I came to South Africa. We were about to be consuming some Kudu steaks. Hunting is tough and can be a mental emotional rollercoaster, but when success is granted, it’s all worth it! It was our first day of hunting and we were already successful!
Now we were on a mission for a Zebra Stallion and a mature male Gemsbok. We had five days of hunting to get the job done. Little did I know I was going to be tested both mentally and physically. We sat in the blind for a total of four full days, 13 hours a day in a blind with the temperature soaring up to 95 degrees, waiting on an opportunity for either species. We passed on some young Gemsboks, good Blesboks, Impalas, and Warthogs. We did see a lot of game throughout our sits such as Blue Wildebeest, Waterbucks, Nyalas, Grey Duikers, and much more. On day three of the hunt, we did see a herd of Zebra about 110 yards out, but they never made it to the waterhole. Just seeing them was a heart thumper.
On day four, Shannon and I got back to the lodge after a long days sit to eat supper with the rest of the party. About half way through our feast on Gemsbok and greens, my wife, Robin, had this smurk on her face. That afternoon, Nick took Robin out for a Blue Wildebeest with a crossbow she had been practicing with. While she was waiting for a shot on the Blue Wildebeast, out steps a trophy Waterbuck at 35 yards. Robin has never harvested an animal, but has witnessed me doing so a number of times. She is a great shot just like most women are. Nick said she was very calm and collective like she had done this for years. She put a well placed shot right through the vitals and he only went about 50 yards. That a girl! That will be a memory we will never forget, especially since he is going up on the wall.
Day five, we were now ready to harvest the other animals we were after. This time, I was just with my blind date, my wife. We had a lot of animals come in but no Zebra and Gemsbok. I did get the opportunity to place a picture perfect shot on an Impala. He took about 3 steps before he expired. These animals are extremely fast and are known for jumping the string. Jumping the string means as you release the arrow, the animal is so fast that once it hears the arrow penetrate through the air, it drops down to jump up and the arrow flies right over it’s back missing the animal all together.
Day six, Robin and I went back to a blind we had originally sat. There were both Zerbra and Gemsbok tracks from the day before. Maybe this will be the day. We had some female Blesboks come in along with some young Kudu bulls and Blue Wildebeast. At about noon, we had a management Impala make its way to the water hole at about twenty yards. He was quartering away from me so I had a clear shot at his vitals. Once Robin got on the animal with the video camera, I placed the arrow through the vitals and watched him run off through the water hole. We were positive it was a great shot and heard him crash not far from us. Fom the blind, I could see the blood trail and was for sure ready to track him. Once Nick and the trackers got there we slowly followed the blood trail through the bush about 60 yards where he crashed. It’s amazing to me how well these trackers can follow an animal even when the blood starts to thin out. These guys are amazing. Meanwhile, another hunter who was on the first day of his hunt harvested a Stallion Zebra and a Kudu within the first couple of hours in a blind that we had previously sat. He was at the right place at the right time and made it happen. A huge congratulations to him and his trophies.
We were leaving the next day, but not till later in the afternoon. The Professional Hunters at Bushmen Safaris were doing their best to put us on Zebras and Gemsboks. They asked us at supper that night if we would like to do a stalk on either Zebras or Gemsbok. Without hesitating, I quickly replied of course! Now this is the type of hunting I train hard for. We were with Logan, Shannon’s cousin who was also a Professional Hunter at another concession in South Africa. Not only did we have to stalk them, we had to get within range so I could make an ethical shot. It did not take us long to find some Zebra but we were unable to get close before they caught wind of us. We eventually saw some Gemsbok and started our stalk accross the plains of Bushmen. There were about 15 of them so we had to be careful of every step to make sure we are not seen. We were on Logans heels crawling, duck walking, and tip toeing trying to get in range of a mature male Gemsbok. My legs were burining and I was loving every minute of it. There was only one in the group that was a shooter. We stayed on this herd for over an hour before they knew something was not right and off they went.
We successfully ended our hunt at Bushmen Safaris with a monster wide Kudu bull, an impressive Waterbuck, two Impalas, and memories engrained in our heads for the rest of our lives. We have some incredible pictures and videos to share along with some mounts that will remind us of our hunts with Bushmen. Hunting South Africa was by far an unbelievable experience. Getting within, at times, 5 to 25 yards to watch these plains game is just breath taking. And the sunsets and sunrises, wow, it’s like you can just reach up and shake God’s hand. We will be back, especially since we did not get our shot at a Zebra or Gemsbok. I huge thank you to SCI and Bushmen Safaris for making this trip, a trip of a lifetime. I truly feel blessed to have experienced hunting the bush at such a young age and can’t wait to get back. As always, Hunt Strong, Train to Hunt!