Cape Buffalo with Bow in the Long Grass
I stood there in absolute shock, did that just happen or was I living the most vivid day dream ever?
Since I was 12 years old and started reading books like Death in the Long Grass I have been obsessed with the idea of hunting Cape Buffalo with my bow. Now here I am 28 years later crawling on my hands and knees through Capsticks’ tall grass, with the magical red dirt of Africa staining my knees, packing under my fingernails and seeping into my very soul. All while listening to the mix of my heart pounding in my ears and the strange yet comforting sounds of the African Bush. My dream to hunt Cape Buffalo, spot and stalk, in the tall grass and shrub with a stick and string in my hand was actually coming true.
This adventure started in March of 2014 when I was contacted by Professional Hunter Botes Van Der Merwe. He was wanting to find someone that could help him connect with more bow hunters here in the states and wanted to know if I would be interested in coming over and hunting Cape Buffalo with my bow. Well, that was the fastest and easiest YES of my life. I wasn’t even sure how I was going to pay for the airfare to get over there, but I knew I was going. After a couple conversations we decided that I would come over and start hunting on July 5th. It worked out really cool as my friend Cory and his son were able to come along as well.
Cory, his son and I were up at 4 am to hop the first leg of our flight from Seattle to Atlanta, then we had a nice 4 hour layover before we boarded our 16 hour flight to Johannesburg. It was funny, as the entire flight over, Cory and I were talking about how it still didn’t seem real. 16 hours later and dragging butt we were actually in Africa, it was amazing how every step closer we got to clearing customs and meeting up with Botes, the more energized we became.
As we cleared customs, we were greeted by this fireplug of a guy, with a huge grin on his face, it was like we were all old friends, within moments of meeting Botes was slapping us on the back and cracking jokes. He made the 3.5 hour drive from the airport to one of his concessions seem like a 30 minute drive. This guy has more stories, adventures and mishaps than almost anyone other than a couple of “old bush pilots” I have met. We finally arrived at the lodge about 9 pm, so I really couldn’t see much on the drive in other than a couple Zebra, Waterbuck and Nyala, but the lodge and the staff that greeted us were simply amazing. The staff got us settled in then we grabbed a nightcap while Botes went over the plans for the next day before I went to sleep listening to the sounds of Africa. Just before light I was jarred from sleep by the sounds of hippos just outside my room, what a way to wake up. As soon as it got light Cory and I made sure our bows were dialed, then we loaded up into the trucks to begin our safari.
The Waterberg Mountains are located in the northern part of Limpopo and were so different than what I was expecting, but needless to say, the area was breathtaking. There were animals everywhere, strange plants and the unique smell in the dry air that you just can’t explain. Botes and I spent the first day just exploring the concession and keeping a look out for a particular big ol’dugga boy he had seen a couple of days prior to my arrival. We weren’t able to get him located that day, but, we did see some amazing animals, including Rhinos, Giraffe, Eland, Duiker, Waterbuck, Red Hartebeest, Impala, Blesbuck, Zebra, Kudu and Wildebeest. As we were just getting ready to eat breakfast the next morning, one of the trackers radioed in that he had seen the Cape Buffalo bull we were looking for and we were off to the races.
Well that old dugga boy, didn’t get big by being stupid, we found him with two other bulls and came up with a game plan. We were able to stalk to within about 40 yards of them but between the tall grass and the brush I just couldn’t get a shot. But what an experience as we laid there in the tall grass for over two hours waiting for an opportunity to develop, but it never materialized, until finally their noses lifted into the wind, tails went straight and off they went. So we backed out to try again later. It was time to go help Cory’s son chase his Zebra. My expectation was that hunting a Zebra would be little more than picking out a good stallion, boy was I wrong, the Zebra proved to be one of the most difficult animals we hunted the entire trip. It took a couple of days before my good friend and PH Willem Van der Merwe and Cory’s son were able to get it done, best of all Cory was able to capture the entire hunt on video, talk about a Father and Son moment.
Botes and I made four more attempts on that buff and had 4 more whiffs. We had spent a grand total of 6+ hours inside of 40 yards with this bull without a single shot opportunity. Including, one crazy stalk where Botes and I closed the distance from 100 yards to 37 yards by walking like a couple of drunken sailors across a wide open grass plain, talk about an eerie feeling, standing there with black death staring you down at 37 yards with nothing between you and him but some grass (I may have had sweaty palms about then) but just as I started to come to full draw that bull decided he had enough and boogied.
On stalk number 6, everything changed. We spotted our bull with one other bedded up under some heavy brush about 250 yards away trying to escape the mid-day sun. Onto our hands and knees we went, as the only way to get to them, was to crawl along a well traveled game trail that would ultimately bring us to within about 20 yards of them. We agonizingly inched our way along and slowly (oh so slowly) closed the distance finally we got to where we wanted to be, it was hard to believe we were sitting just 20 yards from this magnificent bull. After making multiple stalks over the last 3 days it was starting to feel like we were jinkxed as we still didn’t have a shot.
All we could do at this point was lay there and hope that we would get an opportunity. We had been laying there waging an epic war against the ants for about 2.5 hours when the two bulls suddenly got up and started moving, but not in any direction that would help us, as they walked straight away from me and left us scrambling to find a way to get in front of them without spooking them. Botes was pretty sure they were heading for water and decided that our best play was going to be an ambush. So we circled back around to the left and got set up where he figured they would feed through after hitting the water hole. But now, on top of everything else, we were running out of daylight. (As those of you who have been to Africa know, once the sun goes down it gets dark in a hurry).
The clock was ticking as we sat there waiting and watching as those two bulls took their sweet time at the water hole. After what seemed like an eternity they finally turned to leave the waterhole, but they were going the wrong direction. I was trying to stay mentally upbeat as it felt like this just wasn’t meant to be, knowing that once again we had been so close but no cigar, when for whatever reason the smaller bull spun and decided to come back right past us, we quickly hit the dirt and peered through the grass trying to locate Mr. Big, finally we could see him meandering towards us. Finally, I was going to get my shot and as quick as that, things went horribly wrong.
It all happened in slow motion. We were laying in the tall grass letting the smaller of the two bulls feed past us at 30 yards, when the big Dugga Boy was suddenly right in front of me. I slowly came up to my knees, drew back and buried the pin tight on the front shoulder about to send 800+ grains of silent death screaming (relatively speaking of course) loose from my bow. I slowly squeezed the trigger on my scott release and felt the slightest jump from my bow as it launched my arrow on its path with destiny. When suddenly I saw the arrow change course, that’s when I realized with horror, that my first shot deflected off the grass and hit my buff way back, as we found out later it did get liver, but in that moment all I could think was,” great I just shot the trophy of a lifetime in the guts.”
I went from being on top of the world, to the pit of despair in about 1.5 seconds. Suddenly I could hear Botes’ (our PH) voice cutting through the fog of disbelief and utter horror, saying “nock another one, nock another one, you got this.” When I snapped out of it I realized the big ol cape buffao bull had only taken a few steps and was now staring right at me, and suddenly everything was back in focus and all the hours of practice and years of hunting kicked in. Next thing I knew I was at full draw and had my pin buried just inside the front shoulder and “Thwack!” the arrow punched through right where I was aiming and within seconds the huge cape buffalo was staggering like a punch drunk prize fighter in the 12th round. I put two more insurance arrows in him, but it was over. My dream of taking a trophy cape buffalo with a bow was now a reality.
As I walked up to him I was in awe of his sheer size and menacing presence and all I could think of was the intensity of his stare as I had let that second arrow fly. This bull was truly an old warrior who had been the king of his domain. I was overcome with emotion and adrenaline, I hugged Botes, sat down and started to shake like I had hypothermia. I can say that my 40s definitely started off with a bang.
If you are looking for the best hunts in Africa, give me a call 509.679.0225 or shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org