Monday, 29 July 2013

A bowhunters' story

Story by Francois...

2013 marked the first time I got to draw an arrow on a live animal. As you all most likely have experienced, this came with its own mix of anxiety and excitement. I will do my best to convey my first bow hunt story, and try not to bore the living daylights out of the old hands at the sport...

I was convinced to attempt hunting with bow and arrow by my good friend Leon. He offered to lend me his spare bow, a Reflex Highlander, set to roughly 60# draw weight, and I had the draw length adjusted to me. I had some arrows made, and borrowed a butt for me to practice on, and get comfortable with the bow. I have occasionally shot other people's bows, and managed to shoot acceptable up to about 30 yards, and I was assured that I will not need to shoot beyond 25 yards on the farm we will be going to. So I set up the butt at 20 yards, as this was all my back yard allowed me, without running the risk of shooting my neighbors or one of my kids. I practiced daily for a number of weeks, shooting as soon as I get back from work. The highlander and I were just not coming together nicely, but, I managed to get acceptable groups consistently. I was not hooked, but not so discouraged that I wanted to stop either.

Then, Friday, 2 weeks before our trip, Leon phones me and asks if I would be interested in purchasing his Hoyt Turbohawk, fully kitted, as I have seen, and shot before. They were busy assembling his new rig (a Hoyt Vector Turbo, for those that care)... I decided to take the plunge... I have enjoyed the highlander, but struggled with the shooting. After I purchased the bow, I had it reset to my 28" draw length and let a few arrows loose on their range. We left the draw weight at 64# as it was before... Boy! What a difference the adjustments made, and I actually immediately got better groups than what I was able to get with the highlander! I continued my daily shooting practice up to 3 days before I was to leave for the hunt, as I wanted to give my shoulder a little rest.

The farm selected was Bloempoort. I was hoping to get a shot at BWB, and, if time permitted, some Impala (Rooibokke) but reality is that I will be on the farm for 3 days only. 

So, Friday afternoon I was all ready, and I departed. Leon, and the rest of our group were already at the farm, and they spend the day in the hides so they already had a full day head 

start on me. 


Bloempoort - Smoke on the Water
Bloempoort - Smoke on the Water


Upon my arrival at the farm, I was informed that the previous group spent the week, and only bagged a couple of animals for their whole group of 6 people. I also heard that Leon shot an old BWB cow that day already, he had the first score on the board, and that 2 of the others in our group, each bagged an Impala later on Friday afternoon. All their good fortunes left me hopeful that I might actually have a chance!

Early Saturday we were ready, and while we waited for our ride to the hides, I decided to fire a couple of arrows at the broad head butt, just to reassure myself, and to double check the bow, since I got to the farm after dark, and did not have an opportunity then... my arrows fell good, and I was fighting off serious nerves... or perhaps the shaking was as a result of the cold air... we got onto the bakkie, and started our ride out. I was dropped last.


Kwagga hide
Kwagga hide

I checked the distance from the shooting hole to the various feed troughs and trees, to familiarise myself with the area before the door was closed. I also ensured I understood the paths coming into the area, to try to predict where I might see activity from...

Then the long wait began...

and it continued... 


and it went on for a little bit longer...

The only movement in the bush was from Hornbills and Guineafowl, boredom set in. I started playing with my camera and playing some soduke on the phone... as I looked up, I realised that I could see a pair of BWB horns just sticking over the bottom of the shooting hole! I was so surprised that I jumped up, and obviously made enough of a racket, that I drew the bwb's attention. It stared straight at the hide, but did not seem too startled. I was saved by the bell on this one! it however, kept on looking at the hide, and I was not prepared to take a front quarter shot. I used him as practice to attempt to get a feel for the hide, and how well it covered my movements. I very quickly realised that the hide was not really dark enough to fully hide movement, and that even very slight movements, created enough sound to draw attention. he stayed for about 20 minutes, grazing the lucern and got a fright and ran of when a couple guineafowl started fighting. it was around 12:00, but time was kind of blurred between the adrenalin rush of being so close to the bwb, and a possible shot, and the boredom of waiting...


Blue Wildebeest
Blue Wildebeest


Then, the wait began all over. it became late afternoon, and the sun moved to behind the hide. it was now fully shaded, and had much less light entering from the shooting hole and the observation windows... in my novice opinion, much better light conditions.

2 impala came past, but they were about 80 yards back, strolling and grazing along one of the paths, but they never came into the hide. the guinea fowl were back, and seemed much more playful  and noisy. a group of 5 BWB came in, and started feeding. but they were very nervous, and were very jumpy, likely as a result of the noise and active birds. they did not stay long, never even giving me a single shot. they were clumped together, and 2 or 3 next to each other all the time.

I was really wondering if there is any way I will get something, but in no hurry, as I still had 2 more days...

By around 16:00, a large herd of BWB came in. they were extremely relaxed, and distributed over the area. the herd was mostly fairly young animals, but 2 cows, and 1 bull stood out from the crowd. the bull was not huge, but still a reasonable animal, but he kept with a small group of cows and was always in a clump of animals. the one cow however, seemed to avoid the crowd. she kept to the edge of the herd as they were feeding, and would move away when the youngsters got too pushy. she was a very nice size animal.

I took my bow from the hook, nocked an arrow, and got into position far back in the hide, with a nice view of the animal. 2 calves were playing around her, and not allowing a safe, clean shot. then she moved, and the calves moved away! I moved a little, raised my bow, drew and lined up the sights. a tree was between me and the cow, right over the area I want the arrow to fall. I stayed at full draw for what felt like an eternity, and she did not move!!! my arms were getting a little tired, and fearing the risk of an accidental release, I let down. a minute or 2 later, the BWB casually trotted of. I was not very happy that I could not get a shot... 

Then at about 17:15, a huge BWB bull started approaching the area. he came in from the far back, very quiet, and very nervous. he walked straight in, stopping every few meters. looked around, then came closer. just as he reached the feeding troughs, I heard the bakkie approach to pick me up, I could not get my phone quick enough to stop them, and they scared him off as they approached. that was my 1st day with my bow in a hide...

That evening around the campfire we hear the stories and see the photos of the past days hunt. Leon shot a very very nice 48" Kudu bull others shot an impala ewe and a warthog bear with 13" tusks.... Me, I had nice stories of the animals I saw...



I would need to make a plan here... we went out again very early, and the rattles and shakes are back. Will I get another opportunity today? time will tell, now its is time to remember the coffee flask and get onto the bakkie. I get dropped off at the same hide I was the previous day. I am glad, I am very familiar with the area, having had MUCH time to survey it the previous day. I settle in, and start the wait... the Guinea fowl are back, as are the Horn bills  the bush is quiet, and there is no wind.



I sit and do some reading while I wait, looking up to browse the surroundings every so often. not a movement... I get lost in a book about the war in Iraq, and the effect it had on the people there. between reading and scanning for activity, time moves on. at just after 11:00 a young Kudu bull comes in. he is young, and proud, walking down the main road leading to the hide. he glides in without a sound, if I did not see him, I would not know he was there. 

The Ghost Prince
The Ghost Prince
He is super relaxed, and starts feeding at his leisure  presenting full broadside and rear quarter opportunities that will make you eyes water! I am SO TEMPTED!!! I get up and softly take my bow off the hook, line myself up and I even start drawing. But sanity prevails, and for just a brief moment, I manage to overcome my excitement and choose not to shoot. The bull is very nice, but his horns are only about 36-maybe 40". He is not getting a bakkie ride today. but I will come back for him in a few years. I enjoy the time he spends grazing, feeling quite honored to have him there and giving me the chance to see. 

As the bull slowly walks off, I realize it is very empowering moment when you realize that you do not HAVE to kill everything just because it presented a shot, and that you CAN choose to let live just as well as you can CHOOSE to shoot...

He did not completely leave the area, and I could see movement behind some bushes for another 30 minutes or so before all went quiet again. I poured me some coffee, and replayed the video on the video cam of this magnificent young bull. when I looked up from the screen, I looked straight into his face. he was about 20 yards away, but this time, a nice cow was with him. the both of them were very relaxed, tails flicking away the pesky flies. They would go down to graze, then raise their heads, and rotate their radar ears, scanning for any sign of danger. then lower their heads and graze some more... Although the bull is safe for today, I decide that I would be happy to take the cow, if an opportunity presented.

I got myself ready, drew my face mask over my face, clipped my release onto my wrist and took my bow. This was the moment... with my arrow nocked, I started drawing as I lifted my bow, and I do not know if I made a jerky movement, or if my bow was tilted too far over, but my arrow dropped of the rest with a loud CLANK! OH FFS!!! I wasted that one! Both Kudu's jumped slightly, heads, eyes and ears pointing straight at me! I froze, standing motionless with fully drawn bow, and an arrow laying on my finger!!! I stood like this for what felt like an eternity! when they looked away, I let down and in my mind I was swearing like a sailor!!!

I recomposed myself, reset my arrow, and waited. the animals moved a little, and the cow presented a nearly perfect full broadside. again I started to draw, making sure that I do not tilt over the bow as much this time. but I must have draw to quick, because, as I reach full draw and the fall away rest lifts the arrow, the arrow pops up, and falls down next to the rest!!!!! CLANK!!!! same result! The bull jumps, and trots around a bush, then stops and looks back. the cow start to run slightly behind a tree, then stops. I am standing there, motionless, and somewhere between frustrated, angry and at the point of giving up... the cow then strolls back, coming to within 15 yards of me, and goes back to the feeding trough she was at before, taking up a position presenting front quarter shot. the bull decides he had enough, and continues away, and out of sight.
The Ghost Queen
The Ghost Queen

I recompose myself AGAIN, reset my arrow, AGAIN, and breathe deep. relax my shoulders, and focus. she has not run off. This cow is meant to be mine today... the guinea fowl move in again, and she moves slightly for them, presenting me with another full broadside opportunity. this time, I breathe slow, draw slow and lift my bow....

I line up the peep with the outer ring of the sight, and I move the pin to her front leg. I slowly lift the sight, and it settles just above the bulge of her shoulder... my heart start racing, and I feel the hot air of my breath in my own face as I breathe out, I touch the release. THUDD THUDD then havoc! Guinea fowl all over the place the the cow disappears in a cloud of dust. then all is quiet, and the dust settles. I have no idea where the Kudu is, but I know she ran off to my right. I try to see through the windows if I can see anything. 

Nothing...

I am shaking like the first day I shot an animal. I can not keep my hand steady enough to even try and replay the video. I can not get the buttons pressed!!!!

a minute or two later, and I am settling down. I look at the video, and my jaw drops, as does my hope... My arrow hit her solid, passed through, and landed a short way behind her. but I shot too high! I am now VERY concerned I missed the vitals! this is not how I envisioned my first bow hunt, to spend a day tracking a wounded animal!!!

I phoned Dries to come help, and please bring the dogs... I am shattered... and I feel nauseous...

When Dries and the tracker and dogs arrive, I get out of the hide, and go to see what has happened. I picked up my arrow. Plenty blood, slightly foamy on the shaft. the shaft broke about 6 inches from the rear, likely when it hit the ground. also, where the cow stood, a small pool of blood, and nice trail as she turned and ran. she seems to have headed down a path, but then the blood stops, just before a split in the path... the tracker and I go down one fork, Dries and the dog down the other. about 50 m further the tracker decides this must have been the bull. we track back, and start walking down the other path. then blood again!!! then the dog stops and next to it in the short grass, lies a grey ghost queen...

She ran further than I would have liked... She went about 70 yards, but the double lung shot eventually got the better of her. I am so relieved! her bakkie ride was booked...

The Ghost Queen
The Ghost Queen
We cleared some bush around her, and posed for the photos. I chose to pose her as dignified as I could, cover the wound (and my FAR less than perfect shot) with her head.

She is not the biggest Kudu by any stretch. the cleaned carcass weighed about 95 kg. 

The day ended in an anticlimax for the rest of the group. One of the guys shot a BWB that did not go down, and nothing for anybody else.

I was on a high. I was hooked.