Nothing changed much at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. The flight was on time but with new systems involved processing the passengers took longer than usual. About 2 hours longer than usual. With a number of tourism-related bodies enquiring about speeding up the processing of very welcome tourists, the answer remains hidden in the beurocracy of too much red tape and too little being done.
This costs me an additional two coffees and a muffin per day. Perhaps if the authorities had to pay for delays we may find a speedier process?
Jurgen and Catherine finally arrived and after the introductions were set to go hunting. The five hour drive would only be interrupted by comfort stops (smoke breaks) and food stops. We were eager to get going on the Cape buffalo bow hunt.
We stopped at Dullstroom where we bought a packet of biltong (dried beef; jerky?) that immediately fell to the taste of Catherine. And me.
This is the start to our first day of bowhunting Cape buffalo. Needless to say we were rather expectant of the happenings of the day that lay ahead.
However, nothing was going to happen before the bow was sighted. So we set up the bow butt at 25, 30 and 35 meters because our European guest is used to the metric system. On an 8″ X 12″ target our hunter performed really well and I felt way better about someone wanting to stick a needle into a very unpredictable, obnoxious and ill-tempered mini tank of destruction. We enjoyed the hot air ballons overhead between shooting arrows and having a continental breakfast.
With nothing futher ado we headed out to the hunting property. Details and possibilities and probable outcomes of the hunt were discussed at lenght prior to the start of the hunt. This proved a really good idea later on.
At the hunting property I donned my ghillie suit and felt like a moving shrub. Well ok then; an overgrown shrub in need of pruning.
Driving to meet the owner we passed a herd of Cape buffalo that seemed eligible for hunting and indeed we headed back with the owner. He dropped us some 200 yards (about 180 m) from where the buffalo were and we put on a stalk. Not knowing the property all that well I missed the herd by about 50 yards before heading back to where they were.
Once we saw them we went down on all-fours and belly crawled the last few yards to where we could range the buffalo. We were about 45 yards out when (of course) the wind swirled and the buffalo ran. In fact they ran rather far away. We commenced tracking and about two hours later called the truck to pick us up. This was at about brunch and we headed to the lodge. The owner was unavailable for the afternoon and we planned something else in place of hunting.
Jessica the world famous hippo is sincerely a treat to everyone who visits her. Feeding the hippo by hand is a unique experience. Drinking the traditional rooibos herbal tea is another occasion for the onlookers and participants to get a closer view of the river horse that causes death in Africa.
After Jessica we visited the Hoedspruit reptile facility to have a closer look at some of our most deadly snakes. The black mamba (not pictured) still sends shivers up and down my spine.
Fortunately we found a staff member who brought a pythin for Jurgen to hold round his neck. Catherine had no inclination to do the same.
At dinner Denise, our fearless hostess, put forth a meal we were willing to trade arrows for bullets. Fortunately there was enough for all the eat so we could go to bed in a good mood.
Day three and day two of the scheduled five day hunt saw us up and about early morning. A new property was on the menu and we looked forward to the challenge. Our local guide (what a guide) knew the property intimately and was sure of our success.
The wind churned even before the hunt started which did was not a good forecast for the hunting. Not being pessimists we headed out and after some time saw promising sign of Cape buffalo. We dismounted the truck, donned the ghillie suit and headed out. I have to mention the Wildebees ghillie suit as being an impressive piece of hunting equipment for bow hunting Cape buffalo on foot. Only negative issue is that it was sure not designed for walking in the bush when temperatures reach 113 deg F (45 deg C) by midday. This is not a negative issue against the ghillie suit at all as it works supreme. It is just the wrong time of year to want to wear it for a walk-and-stalk Cape buffalo hunt in Hoedspruit.
We did not know what the afternoon held but was soon surprized by a solitary bull on a stroll. He was not about to hang around so we did a very hasty u-turn to try and get the wind in our favor. Approaching the black death from a different angle we were confident to find the old timer soon. A family of four warthog soon put an end to our dreams when they woke the beast and we returned to the truck.
The wind gave us away on three occasions so we called it a day and headed back to camp. The airconditioning systems worked above average a short sleep soon revived us after a scrumptious brunch.
Two hours in to the afternoon session we saw another solitary bull. If it was the same one from the morning session was unsure. What was a given was that we were going to put on a stalk and see what happened. Here we have to give praise to Rex our local guide. It was very obvious he knew the property very well and soon saw a bull sleeping under an Acacia tree.
We passed the scene of the possible encounter by some distance and dismounted to commence a stalk. The first few hundred yards were uneventful and the ghillie suit did not bother me at all. The last 100 yards took about 15 minutes and the last 30 yards stalking took about 20 minutes. We literally moved foot-by-foot moving every branch with delicate hands not to make noise of any kind. When we got to within 20 yards (yes, 20 yards) from the buffalo we could see his feet below the dense shrub. Kneeling down it felt like my legs were going to cramp to the extent where you could not get up, or breath, or move. Suddenly the buffalo moved from our right to left. This got our attention as we had not real cover and would not be able to get a shot due to the amount of brush in our way.
Tension was high and the safety was on the fire position. Rex slowly motioned us to sit tight and with a slow sigh of relief the buffalo moved round the other side of the Acacia. Cramping legs were stretched as we stood up very slowly indeed. As you hopefully know, it can happen that certain boddily functions announch themselves when you stand up from a kneeling / crouching position. Something like that happens to me a lot and with a buffalo 20 yards away I certainly had to intention of causing a charge with a fart. So I kept it plugged.
Within 30 seconds of us standing up the buffalo moved to our right and Jurgen started his draw as the buffalo was about to enter an opening. Right about then I felt a gentle, welcome, breeze in the back of my neck. Unfortunately the buffalo picked up our scent and ran like the proverbial bat without even lifting his head. He just ran and I think he did not stop until he reached the Zimbabwe border. What a stalk. What a hunt.
En-route back to the lodge we received a phone call from a friend asking if we did not have a hunter to hunt a buffalo. Well what do you know. Yes we did.
The day started very early as we had some travelling to do and Denise had to pack supplies to last hungry troops for at least daylight hours. The obvious happened and we got lost on the way there costing us about an hour. Then we got lost again that cost us another 25 minutes and by that time I was slightly annoyed. Fortunately the owner of the property is one of those people who seem to smile even when going down in a mudpool. This brightened our day sincerely until he asked about calibers and experience. At this point in time I knew something was cooking but did not yet know what. So I asked him why all the questions and then only did the fog disappear before the sun: the specific buffalo he wanted taken out was one that put three of his staff in hospital in as many months and he felt it best to have the bull hunted.
That was terribly reassuring and made the cream from my coffee somewhat sour instantaneously. So we started hunting.
Spot-and-stalk on large properties is how we do it. Soon as we cut fresh sign we would dismount and cut the tracks until we found what was at the end of those tracks.
We never told Jurgen about the hospital guys until way after the hunt. Maybe we felt living in denial would make the hunt safer? we inspected some older sign and dismissed it as not worth tracking. About an hour and a half into the hunt we saw the lone bull walking in the road and that was when things really happened fast. Firstly I forgot to use my ghillie suit as there was not enough time to get it on. Jurgen and I dashed across a side road and entered the very thick brush to align ourselves with the oncoming buffalo. We merely had about 5 seconds to settle before the bull would walk right past us at about 12 yards. Perfect shooting distance for the 80 lb Hoyt bow. A 28,25″ draw lenght and an Easton FMJ DG arrow with a velocity of 222,8 fps and a KE of 81,53 we were sure the penetration of the German kinetic arrow head would be sufficient to cause damage upon entry.
We had a very narrow window to have the arrow fly true so when I thought the buffalo would stop right in the window I spoke up and of course he stopped about 6″ away from having the perfect shot. Jurgen leaned slightly forward and placed the arrow very well although a tad too far back which was not his fault. The buffalo ran about 50 yeards and stopped completely broadside to us. We waited about 15 minutes and followed up thinking he was not feeling well. We approached cautiously and our mistake was to follow up immediately as it was an open area and we could see the old timer clearly.
Approaching to within about 40 yards the buffalo lifted his nose towards us and decided to charge full on. There are many stories in how to react to when a buffalo charges but somehow most of the advice is forgotten when something like this happens. I did remember to have a 500 gr Barnes X handloaded to 2 250 fps in my 458 Lott and I did remember to disengage the safety catch. The first shot missed the brain (as usual in my case) at about 35 yards. The shot grazed the facial skin, penetrated the ear where it joins the bulky head, entered the inside of the right shoulder, broke two ribs and lodged under the skin.
Unbeknown to me Jurgen released another arrow just as the buffalo charged by us. A great shot at a moving target!
By this time I realized that if something drastically did not change to the positive side we would be in the kind of danger we all prefer to avoid. I kneeld down and took aim at the center of the chest and put a 500 gr Federal Premium wadcutter solid into his engine room. This made the buffalo veer away from us and ran about eight yards past us. Chambering the third round I knew I could not miss a target the size of a buffalo at that distance so another 500 gr Barnes X did severe damage to the lungs. This stopped the buffalo about 20 yards from us so I called to Jurgen to shoot an arrow. Just as he released the buffalo fell down and the arrow passed over the colossus. We circled round some shrub from where another two arrows were placed inside the boiler room. These two shots finished the old timer.
All in all the buffalo took four great shots from the bow and three from the Lott. Both Jurgen and I now have wonderful memories and some great momentos from the hunt. If you want to hunt dangerous game make sure your equipment is up to the job at hand. The Barnes X performed admirably once again with one projectile recovered about four feet on the other side of the buffalo. A complete pass-through shedding enough energy on the way through to attain maximum performance.
We checked the reflexes and did the customary handshake thing (heck, we hugged after all that excitement).
The Hoyt bow in combination with the Easton FMJ DG arrow and German kinetics broadhead were a great combination. So if you were wondering which bow and arrows to use for bowhunting Cape buffalo, the mentioned equipment was field tested and found to work very well.
After the long picture taking session we headed to the skinning shed where the autopsy revealed precisely how well the equipment performed on the buffalo.
We headed home and consumed copious quantities of diet cola and a few bottles of water. No, not really. We had beer. More beer and then some amber liquid from my Scottish girlfriend.
Denise did a great job of decorating the table and an even better job at keeping our stomachs filled.
We were dead tired and went to bed early. Really.
Mutual consent allowed us a later-than-usual-start. Breakfast was well after 9 am and we decided to take it easy for some time after brunch.
For the afternoon session we decided to visit the Moholoholo wildlife rahabilitation center. This was the first tour I did with them and thoroughly enjoyed it. We may have been almost six minutes late so sent Jurgen and Catherine on the tour while I visited the reception area before rejoining them.
Inside the large raptor enclosure interaction was allowed while enticing the different vultures to sit on the visitors arms. Using a large leather glove was mandatory for obvious reasons.
Jurgen even got to scratch the head of a Bateleur eagle before we moved to the lion and leopard enclosures. Unfortunately the lions did not offer any good picture taking opportunities but the leopard were more accommodating.
The shy red duiker and Limpopo bushbuck were way too lazy in the extreme heat to want to move away. Jurgen suggested dinner out so we charged the local restaurant who were rather happy to see us leave. Or rather, happy we settled the bill.
An easy start saw us depart on the next portion of our hunting and photo safari. The reasonable drive to the Three Rondavels (three circular huts) was a scenic route. The view was reasonably clear and we appreciated walking outside in much cooler conditions than the previous few days. On one occasion when we got into my truck during the hunt the temperature gauge showed 47 deg C or 116,7 deg F.
As usual the Blyde River Canyon (third largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon and the Fish River Canyon in Namibia) offered many picture taking opportunities. It was a shame to see the tremendously low level of the lake below, a stark reminder of the drought we are in.
From there the Bourke’s Luck Potholes were another fun stop, dipping hot feet into the cool waters of the Treur River (river of sorrow) while the Blyde River (river of joy) was not within reach.
God’s Window was the next port of call and showed us where the end of the Highveld was and the start of the Lowveld, some 2 000 ft below.
Pilgrims Rest is almost always a great place to be. It is not such a great place to be when there are hundreds of tourists trampling your toes. Luckily we were the only people in the bar and received 5-star service.
Still we pushed on and ended up at the very southern tip of the Kruger National Park, our second to last stopping point.
Our accommodations were up to standard which ensured a good nights rest. The braai (bbq) went down well with local hard wood and everyone went to bed early the previous evening.
On the way to our truck we were apprehended by a merry band of masked intruders all looking very hungry. So the very first thing the women did was to get food in the form of bread. The gang appreciated the gifts until I had to get the ball on the road again. We had a full day ahead of us and did not have time to waste.
Entry at Crocodile Bridge Gate to the Kruger Park was a breeze as all staff knew exactly what to do.
While waiting at the gate we could see a herd of elephants crossing the road ahead looking for something to eat. What they were going to eat was beyond me as dust and stones were plentiful.
A variety of animals were seen and the few rest stops greatly appreciated. By the end of the day we were rather tired and had another early night as the following day was going to be similar to the one we just had.
The day started off rather well with a large clan of spotted hyena right on the roadside. A few members were somewhat excited while others laughed in the face of possible danger.
We were desperately seeking large cats. Specifically leopard but would settle for both. Just before reaching Lower Sabie we happened to come across the King of the Beasts. He was very proud, looking at us as if we were his subordinates.
Sunset lake just outside of Lower Sabie yielded more great shots with an Egyptian goose couple jeolously guarding their single remaining offspring. The African jacan showed why they can walk on small water lillies with their incredibly long toes.
Elephants abounded and we got to see a number of game species, including some really beautiful Cape buffalo.
At Transport Dam, where the YouTube viral video clip was filmed; Battle at Kruger, we stopped to watch a nervous Kudu bull trying to get to the water. A number of Cape buffalo lay in the water trying to cool down when a young elephant bull showed them who the boss was.
Late afternoon on the way out we saw the holy grail of large predators: Cape hunting dogs or African wild dogs. Catherine shouted “hyena” before anyone else saw them. What a privilege it was to see the most endangered carnivore in southern Africa.
Today is our last day and we still had something to do on the way to Pretoria.
We drove along the Sabie valley along the Long Tom Pass on the way to my old favourite town, Dullstroom. Before we got there we passed the last position of an old French Cruesot canon used by the Boers (literally translates to: farmers) in the war against the British of 1899 – 1902. Always amazing to think how a canon weighing 5,7 metric tonnes was maneuvered by a few horses and lots of guts. Ultimately the canon was destroyed by the Boers to prevent it falling in the hands of the British.
The one canon the Boers used developed a crack in the tip of the barrel for which the only repair was to cut off the offending tip. As a direct result that canon earned itself the nickname of The Jew.
From there we arrived at our overnight stay on a fantastic Highveld farm. Early the following morning Denise and I went for a walk trying to find anything worthwhile to photograph. She likes to take pictures of trees while I prefer to take pictures of animals, so we compromised: shee took pictures of trees and I took pictures of animals.
After a hearty breakfast we set off for the Dullstroom Bird of Prey Rehabilitation Centre. What a wonderfully delightful presentation and should be visited by one-and-all. The small admission fee is fully worth your while.
The peregrine falcon was fast as ever while the Jackal buzard entertained us. The Black eagle (I cannot remember how to spell the new name) did not fly but was impressive in size alone. Most entertaining was the secretary bird displaying it’s kicking abilities on an elastic snake. What a show it was indeed.
The last night we spent in Pretoria doing some shopping the following day after visiting the taxidermist.
The departure flights were on time and we said goodbye to our newfound friends.
Until next time.
Pieter and crew.