Thursday, August 17, 2017

Into Africa: Day 5

Don't Get Cocky

Of the three shots I had taken on animals in Africa so far, all the arrows had hit exactly where they needed to. I'd studied Brent's shot placement book over and over, and with a little bit of his coaching during the moment of the shot, had made three perfect shots. Granted they were all 16 yards or less, but the blood trails had been short and the tracking easy. I won't say I was getting overconfident or cocky, but sometimes I need a reminder not to.

On day 5 we returned to the blind I had killed my zebra from, again planning to sit all day. An nyala was the first animal to come in after things had settled down, and soon some small warthogs appeared. Close to 10am, Brent heard the guttural grunt of an impala and signaled me to get ready. Two male impala began making their way in to the water and we agreed on which one I should take. I positioned myself to get ready to draw and Brent got the camera running. Now it was just a matter of waiting for a shot opportunity.

I knew something was off as the shot broke, and watched helplessly, almost in slow motion, as the green Nockturnal entered the impala at the right height, but about 6 inches back from where it needed to be. "I hit him too far back," I told Brent as the impala went out of sight. We replayed the video of the shot, and sure enough the arrow hit him well clear of the heart and lungs, but could have possibly hit his liver. With a questionable hit, Brent said we would give him an hour before tracking. So after forever (an hour) we called up Erisha on the radio and began to trail the wounded impala.

Wounding an animal with a less-than-perfect shot is one of the inevitables of bowhunting, and no conscientious archer takes the responsibility of making an ethical shot lightly. There was a sick feeling in my stomach as we began to follow his trail. There was blood here and there, but the impala only seemed to be bleeding when he would stop momentarily. There were no drops of blood between the large puddles that we found. M'ya was going full throttle, trying to find scent, but I think there were just too many animal trails coming to and from the water for her to get a good smell. I never saw a dog that wanted it more though.

Brent, Erisha and I were taking separate paths, fanning out to cover more ground, and Mia was out in front doing her own grid search. When she started barking, we knew she was on the impala, and Brent took off running after her with his .416 Rigby. Erisha and I followed and Mia has bayed the impala against some trees and was staying just out of reach of the now-irritated ram. He wasn't backing down so I drew my bow with Mia and Brent working the impala and hoping I would get a good second shot. After holding for a couple of minutes the impala turned broadside and I released, striking him in exactly the same spot the first shot had. I nocked another arrow and drew again, then had to let down after a couple minutes of no shot. As the ram turned once again I drew and shot him in the heart and he was down in seconds.

Sitting on the ground beside the impala after he expired, I thanked God that we had recovered the animal, and again for the privilege of being on African soil. Losing an animal is a risk bowhunters knowingly take every time we go afield, but that guy-wrenching feeling when you make a marginal shot doesn't go away. This whole episode humbled me a little bit, before I really knew I needed it.

After taking care of the impala, Brent and I got back into the blind to spend the rest of the day. There was no action until right at dark. Two kudu bulls came in, then a herd of wildebeest, then a herd of eland as big as horses came in, approaching from the rear of the blind and coming within feet of us. We waited in the blind for Erisha to drive up, choosing to spook the animals off with a vehicle rather than humans coming out of the blind. That night we had "bush dinner" served around a campfire out in the bush, consisting of blesbok, hominy and roasted potatoes. We capped off the night back at the lodge around the fire, swapping stories, panning the next days hunts and listening to the PH's tell about hunting hippo and rhino.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Into Africa: Day 4

Black with White Stripes

Brent and I had noticed that the animals weren't moving until later in the morning, so there was no need in beating the sunrise just to sit in the blind longer. We developed a routine of getting up just a little later for breakfast, after the other hunters in camp and still getting to the blinds well before the animals were moving. This time we went to yet another blind, a small tin shed built into the ground with shooting and viewing windows cut into it. We had quite a few animals come in: nyala, kudu, warthog, wildebeest and sable all wandered in and out throughout the day. Seeing so much activity kept us entertained and provided some filming opportunities but there was nothing to shoot at. Warthog was high on my list but the only males we saw were very small. Having packed a lunch, we sat all day.

Just before dark, a herd of 8 wildebeest, a few warthogs, and a sable were all in range feeding and watering, when we saw a gemsbok carefully approaching the water. Then we realized there were two of them, and we started to get set up to take a shot if it was presented. As we were watching the gemsbok, 3 zebras came into view and Brent and I had a quick, quiet conversation that I should take the first shot presented by the zebras or gemsbok. The zebras came right in and went directly to the water hole. I didn't have a lot of time to judge them, and because they are difficult to determine I they are male or female, both are legal to shoot. I could tell one of them was darker and had bolder stripes than the others and as it happened, it turned and gave me a perfect shot opportunity at 16 yards. Aiming for the triangle on his shoulder, we watched the Nockturnal lighted nock zip right through him. He ran about 25 yards, started to stumble and went down. In all the commotion we had forgotten about M'ya, and the instant she heard the arrow fly she was out of the blind and headed toward the zebra!

"Whack and stack!" Brent loves to quote Uncle Ted.

The zebra turned out to be a stallion, and his hide was even more amazing than I thought. Deep, bold stripes and a beautiful mane. Bringing him back to camp, several of the PH's remarked that zebras are one of the more difficult species to get with a bow because of their cautious nature, and also that bowhunters don't typically experience the kind of success I had so far. Hearing this from them reminded that I was blessed not only to have been successful on some great animals, but also just to be here. The hunt I won was for 5 days, but given the slim odds of bowhunting, I opted to extend my hunt for 10 days. As the fourth day wound down, I had three animals already in the salt rack and kudu filet for dinner at the lodge. I like Africa.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Into Africa: Day 3

New Favorite

We arrived at the pop-up blind with our lunch of leftover pizza packed and plans to sit all day, or until we killed something. We had the usual quick breakfast in camp and Erisha took the truck back after dropping us off. We sat for a little while and both started reading after a while. A few blesbok came into the water, but way out of range. This was a big water hole, and the majority of it was out of bow range, but many animals had been approaching where we were set up, so we were still hopeful. Back to reading The Green Hills of Africa. 

I looked up to see a kudu bull with his head down drinking water about 40 yards away but at a bad angle. I don't know much about kudu, but he looked like a pretty good one to me. There was another, smaller bull with him that was very cautious and never came out into the open. Up until then, I was still undecided if I wanted to take a kudu but seeing him in the flesh, his gray, deer-like hair, mane on his neck, the white chevron on his face and dark spiraling horns, I couldn't help but admire what a beautiful animal he was. My mindset totally changed and I decided then that if he gave me a shot, I would take it. Then, as quickly and stealthily as he came in, he was gone. Watching through the blind by pulling back the windows, we realized both bulls had stopped in the trees about 40 yards to our left and behind us, then vanished. Back to reading. 

Not long after that we saw movement and both bulls walked quickly across in front of us and then began to circle the blind, presumably to try to catch our wind. They had been suspicious of this new pile of brush and kept looking our direction, and now they were trying to get a whiff of it. Thinking the kudu would wind us and be gone, I went back to reading. At some during all of this, Brent said he wished an Nyala or some other animal would come in to put the kudu at ease. 

Just a few moments later, as if by design, a lone nyala bull walked in and began feeding right in front of us, also staring at the blind but not showing any signs of being spooked. The kudu remained in the edge of the bush but we could tell they were surveying for danger. Eventually, and very slowly, the larger bull began making his way toward the feed. He initially came in facing me, but after jockeying for position with the nyala, he turned broadside at 11 yards. Drawing my bow and and coming to anchor, I found my pin and brought it up his front leg and then straight up to the top of the lower third of his body. The arrow blew through him and everything ran off. The kudu bull ran to the edge where he had been standing earlier and turned around to see what happened. He stood there for a moment and then went down, in sight of the blind. 

As we walked up to my bull, I realized that pictures don't do the beauty of the kudu justice and I wondered why I hadn't viewed them this way before. For one thing, he was larger than I expected, and his horns were longer as well. My mental image of kudu was a smaller bodied antelope, but he was as big as an elk. No longer an afterthought, and realizing what a good trophy he was, he became my new favorite. 

The strange thing was, I was reading the last chapters of The Green Hills of Africa when all of this action started, and Hemingway's character had just killed a good kudu bull. After some photos and taking the bull back to the lodge to be caped and skinned, we headed to another blind for the evening hunt. Warthog, sable and nyala came into shooting range, but nothing we wanted to shoot.