Bow hunting Cape buffalo
Eugene, his brother Anton and cameraman Sergey arrive in Johannesburg eager to start hunting. Unfortunately, they had to keep the bow in the bow bag as I’m sure the authorities would have frowned if we started sighting the bow with hundreds of passengers entering the large arrivals hall at the Johannesburg International Airport.
First stop after the airport was at the largest gun shop in Pretoria, just to have a look-around and to get a few things we could not live without.
The three-hour trip to our hunting camp passed in the blink of an eye. Upon arrival we made sure the bow was shooting on par and after dinner we headed to bed with three weary travelers hitting the sack early.
Day one bow hunting Cape buffalo
A 40-minute drive got us to the property we were bowing hunting for Cape buffalo. Whenever I get a request for a Cape buffalo bow hunt on foot, it reminds me of the animation movie, The Lion King, where the spotted hyena gets the shivers when they mention King Lion’s name, Mufassa. All the hyenas chuckle and say: Say it again, say it again.
However, work is work and we need to pay bills so we do not say no to any work coming in. And so it was that I had to don my most beautiful Ghillie suit in the heat of summer at 39 deg C, or 102 deg F. The only good thing about a situation like this is that I get to drop a few pounds off of my unique physique.
Day one and we drive on the property seeing a beautiful kudu bull, some good blue wildebeest and the ever-present impala. About two hours into the hunt some frantic hand movements from the back indicated an important happening. And so it was: a bachelor herd of Cape buffalo were resting in the shade, about 500 yards off the side of the road.
The Ghillie suit still fit well and off we went stalking the few animals we saw. The first 300 yards took about 15 minutes to cover, moving slow from one part of the bushveld / savanna terrain to the next sparse cover offered by the Silver cluster leaf trees. A few raisin bushes would have helped a lot if you were three feet tall, and bending in half at my age just does not cut it all that well anymore.
The last 100 yards took about an hour to cover, and again, the final 30 yards took about another 30 minutes to cover. By that time we were belly-crawling inch by inch so we could be within the magic range of 35 yards. Eugene asked if we could move in even closer and when we were about four yards closer the wind shifted slightly and one of the Askari bulls was up in a flash, looking at us like we owed him money. It was a very long few seconds before I would let out my breath very slowly. He kept staring at us and when the final wind drift hit his nostrils, he snorted with way more enthusiasm that I thought was required. Nonetheless, this made the whole herd of about 9 – 11 animals charge in the opposite direction (fortunately).
We remained quite still and watched the herd run about 80 yards from us before they stopped to face us. Some of the animals became restless and started milling while one particular young bull became most agitated and started showing signs of agitation by breaking small shrubs and rubbing his horns on young trees. This prompted me to call off the stalk and cautiously eyeing trees big enough to support my weight. Eugene weighs less than I so any tree would have worked for him!
That was the last we saw of the buffalo for the rest of the day. A quick calculation showed I had used 9,5 litres of water, or 2,3 US gallons of water for the day.
Day two bow hunting Cape buffalo
This may easily qualify as the most frustrating hunting day imaginable. We spent the whole day looking at tracks, going for walks and resting up over lunch time when it was simply too hot to be out in the bush.
The day ended without any contact with the buffalo.
Day three bow hunting Cape buffalo
We were up early, had something to eat and left. Anton wanted to hunt a blue wildebeest, so we left right after breakfast. Knowing the property rather well I knew there was an area where the wildebeest liked to hang out so we headed toward that general direction. Soon after we were in the vicinity of the wildebeest, excited hand movements from the back of the truck indicated they saw something.
The small herd of about seven wildebeest just could not contain their curiosity and looked at us as if we were from Jupiter. I scanned the animals for trophy quality and initially said there was nothing that was trophy quality. That’s when the herd milled, and the big bull showed himself.
A short stalk later and the 375 was on the tripod. Eugene was at hand to translate and just before the big bull decided to vacate the premises, a single shot put him down in his tracks. The 300 gr PMP factory load ammunition did well and put the wildebeest down in his tracks.
After the skinning instructions were confirmed, we left for the buffalo hunting property. Three hours into the buffalo hunt and we still did not have a clue where the buffalo had vanished to. By late afternoon we cut some fresh tracks and started walking. An hour later and an hour before sunset we came across a few individual buffalos grazing away. They kept moving and we kept closing in on them until one individual saw us. We were motionless for what felt like a very, very long time before he moved off. By then we went down on hands-and-knees and moved forward to a buffalo that looked promising.
We moved as fast as we could but could not keep up with the buffalo and finally I called it a day.
Day four bow hunting Cape buffalo
For a seven-day hunt, day four is critical. We had nothing to show and the airplane was not going to wait for us. We rose much earlier than usual and arrived at the hunting property soon after sunrise.
The hunting property has distinct different vegetation areas, ranging from very dense woodland Acacia trees, to semi-savanna areas and even with a marsh (dry this time of year). An old, disused backstop for a shooting range served as a welcome lookout point on an otherwise very flat property.
Fresh tracks crossing the road showed we had the correct idea of getting there bright and early. Within 10 minutes we were onto our first buffalo, grazing lazily towards us, completely unaware of our presence. The interaction happened so fast I already disengaged the safety catch on the trusty old Lott by the time the buffalo looked up and saw us from 30 feet out. By the look on his face he was rather startled to see us. Within a few seconds he lifted his head, snorted and ran back to about 35 yards from us where he stopped and turned broadside.
Prior to the hunt Eugene and I discussed that I would tell him to draw and then to let the arrow rip when he was ready. Of course, with the buffalo that close to us I never told Eugene to draw – instead I just told him to shoot. Well, that was that and the old boy trotted off in search of a less hostile environment.
From there we started towards the dry marsh field and fantastic, there was another solitary bull. Great. By this time the wind picked up which gave us a distinct advantage and we took it. Almost 40 minutes into the stalk the old boy just did not want to stop long enough for us to catch up to him. Once or twice we were almost busted when he suddenly changed direction and walked broadside across our view.
A few minutes later he changed direction again and by that time we were ready for him. Having confirmed the range, I told Eugene to draw and then called out to the buffalo. As we had hoped for, the buffalo stopped and presented a perfect broadside shot. Eugene was at full draw and what felt like hours later, sent the arrow flying towards the buffalo. To our surprise the arrow went below the chest right into the belly-high grass.
The autopsy revealed that between confirming the range and coming to full draw and having the buffalo present a shot, the buffalo must have moved another 10 yards or so. Lessons learned. I cannot range and have my rifle at the ready at short distances like that, so we had to have a plan B.
For some or other reason the buffalo must have thought we were photo safari guests because he only ran about 400 yards and started walking again. This was our inspiration and we set of with new drive.
Soon we caught up with him and this time all our ducks were in a row. The range was fine, the wind was perfect, and the arrow hit the old buff right on the shoulder and we had blood!
After an hour and some we decided to start tracking. The arrow fell out the shoulder and showed there was not much penetration, but at least we had tracks to work with. A few hours after wounding the buffalo we caught up with it again. A sixth sense must have told him we were close because he suddenly looked up and saw us. Eugene was at the ready and punched another arrow high on the shoulder penetrating completely and sticking out about six inches on the opposite side.
By dusk we called it a day and went back to the lodge with our hearts in our shoes. It was going to be a long night.
Day five bow hunting Cape buffalo
We tried to hook Anton up with a giraffe and the absolute only time the owner of that property could accommodate us was on Friday morning, while we had a wounded buffalo elsewhere. Thankfully the owner of the buffalo property offered to start scouting for the buffalo which set our minds at ease.
A short drive and were at the giraffe property. Giraffe are rather docile until they realize something is wrong. Then there is nothing you can do to persuade them to stand still. On that Friday morning we were lucky enough to have the giraffe feeling uncomfortable, but not uneasy.
Anton fired the 375 like it was his second nature and gave it another shot as it ran away. The big beast went down, and we had time to take pictures aplenty.
On our way back to the lodge to pick up the bow and the camouflage clothing, we got a call that said they had located the buffalo and we were to hurry there. That put some weight on the gas pedal. I may have exceeded the speed limit slightly as we had received another call asking about our progress.
Ten minutes from the buffalo property there was a wooshing sound that said: flat tire. 100 degrees outside, a flat tire and being in a hurry do not combine well for me. Then the third call came asking where we were. A great day indeed.
We arrived at the spot and the owner showed us in which direction the buffalo had gone. By this time we agreed to use the rifle to dispatch the buffalo as it was unfair to the animal to be suffering. The 375 barked and the buffalo took off like a gray hound at a rabbit chasing convention. It did not stop for another 2 miles with us panting trying to keep up. We phoned the truck that picked us up and drove to where the owner said he saw the buffalo.
Another half mile on the tracks the buffalo joined up with his herd, but was about to stay where it was. The herd left at a walk with our buffalo standing in a thicket. Once it was determined it was our buffalo, Eugene shot with the 375. I followed up with the Lott and as per instructions: do not stop shooting until I tell you to stop, or until you run out of ammunition. After every shot we walked a few paces closer and shot again. When we were about 10 paces from the buffalo, he (the buffalo) engaged reverse gear, looked at us and without lifting his head started a head-on charge.
Eugene stood there like a Pro and fired a shot into the spine area of the charging animal and stopped him in his tracks. That gave me enough time to properly reload and take careful aim before the final shot. It was clear at that time that the buffalo had made his last stand. However, we still paid the insurance shot.
Were we happy? Yes. Ecstatic to say the least. Many pictures were taken from many different angles.
By the welcome campfire there were two young Scottish ladies by the name of Miss Chivas Regal and Miss Glenfiddich. Eugene went through the motions and had to taste what every first-time buffalo hunter has to taste – he still claims the oysters were good.
The most vivid image I remember about those two young ladies was a severe headache the following morning.
Here is the trailer of the video when a Cape buffalo was almost 30 feet away from us. The video is expected to be available towards the end of January 2018:
Day six bow hunting Cape buffalo
Our great cameraman, Sergey, wanted to hunt an animal with his traditional longbow. We set him up in a blind and he has some great footage of a couple guinea fowl he managed to hunt with his bow.
Anton still needed an impala and Eugene needed a warthog. Late afternoon as we were looking for impala, an old warthog showed his face in an open field. That was all Eugene needed when he dropped the warthog right where he stood.
Day seven and eight bow hunting Cape buffalo
Anton still needed to get a red hartebeest. So, early morning we went out to an area where we knew we would run into some hartebeest at some point. Coming round a bend in the road we decided to stop and take a walk from there. Meanwhile the two trackers started whistling and waving their hands to attract our attention to two hartebeest bulls about 400 yards up ahead in the road.
That was all we needed and stepped to the side of the road and approached. Almost 15 minutes later Anton stepped into the road, lifted the 375 onto the Bogpod tripod and fired as the hartebeest started walking. The shot proved to be too far the rear of animal so we spent about an hour waiting for it to stiffen up. Another hour later we had this great bull on the back of the truck. Great hunting companions and some great shots. Thank you gentlemen.
Anton decided the impala was not that important and we decided to take a break before heading out to the airport.
The following morning early we left for the same gun shop as there were a few more items we needed.
Late afternoon the hunters boarded their flight with many memories taken along with them.
Bow hunting equipment for bow hunting Cape buffalo:
Bow: Mathews Monster Safari
Draw weight: 90 lb.
Arrows: Arrows Easton FMJ Dangerous Game 250 spine 17,7 GPI
Broad head: Grizzlystik Ashby 315 gr
Total arrow weight: 920 gr
Performance assessment: It was a very good combination between bow, draw weight, arrow and arrow weight and fantastic performance by the broad heads.