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Adventure Awaits in Africa

An African Safari should be on every bowhunter's bucket list.

Adventure Awaits in Africa

My sable, taken walk-and-stalk style, was my first African animal.

The Cape buffalo wasn’t looking at me; he was looking through me. After a long day of travel and more than a half-dozen stalks, it was getting dark as I moved out into the opening. He caught my movement and raised his head from the water. He was huge — perhaps close to 48 inches. I ranged him at 52 yards, but I was not about to risk taking that shot as darkness fell on the bushveld. The scene was epic, however, and it permanently burned a memory into the recesses of my brain. I never saw that old dugaboy again, but as my first African safari ended, I knew I’d return.

I’ve been blessed to hunt all over the Western U.S., much of Canada, and Alaska in my 52 years. My interest in Africa was always there; I just never found the right situation to travel to the Dark Continent. After retiring from the U.S. Air Force after more than 27 years of service, I set several bucket-list goals for myself. When COVID crushed the African safari market, it left many operators struggling, which made a trip to Africa much more affordable.

After much research and planning, I made arrangements to travel to South Africa in late May/early June 2022. I had the opportunity to hunt on several different concessions and with a handful of different Professional Hunters (PHs), doing research for future trips and adventures.

My good friend and fellow South Dakota Bowhunters board member, Ryan Biel, also made the journey to experience Africa. On our first afternoon’s hunt, Ryan was able to harvest a beautiful impala ram. A few days later, I managed to take a gorgeous sable bull. It was quite the adventure, and we traveled to many different concessions and split our 10 days between three different safari camps. Heavy rains in early May kept the bush green and laden with far more cover than normal. As a result, we spent most of our time spotting and stalking animals.

Ryan and I managed to take a few more species by the midway point of our safari. Ryan made excellent shots on a great blue wildebeest and a nice gemsbok. I had to learn a few hard-won lessons: African animals are tough, and the habitat in which they live is full of surprises. While I had no reservations about slipping an arrow through a few stems of grass back home in South Dakota, don’t try that in Africa!

While stalking my sable bull, I tried two shots that deflected sharply off the stouter African grasses and caused a long tracking job and a far less satisfying ending to retrieve the bull. I also had to learn that aiming straight up the leg and low means just that. I wound up hitting my blue wildebeest bull straight up the leg, but midbody. We eventually got him, but my arrow placement was a good four inches higher than it should have been.

Here, PH Adriaan Brits and I are discussing my options for a follow-up stalk on my sable.

Ryan and I certainly experienced several exciting moments. In our last camp, he and PH Adriaan Brits noticed a black mamba on the windowsill of their chalet. When they went outside to inspect him, the mamba dropped to the ground and decided to race right through the open door they’d just exited. Needless to say, they decided to move chalets and bunked at the far end of camp the remainder of that stay.

If you are thinking of taking the leap and making a trip to Africa, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. If you’ve traveled outside the U.S., flying to South Africa isn’t a big deal. But a bowhunter does need to understand things are different overseas. You’ll need a passport, and the flights from the U.S. will likely take between 24 and 48 hours, depending on layovers and how much you are willing to spend. I traveled through Denver and then Frankfurt, Germany, before finally landing in Johannesburg. Ryan went through Minneapolis and then Paris, France, before arriving a few hours after I did.

Traveling with a bow isn’t as difficult as with firearms, but be advised that inspections and “shakedowns” from Customs agents and local law enforcement can and do happen occasionally — especially to those travelers who are uninformed or appear vulnerable. Ryan had his bow case taken to an outside Customs inspector who thought his case contained a firearm, which cost us an extra hour. While I was just about to leave the international area, a local Joburg police officer pulled me aside and then attempted to get a little “tip” out of me. Once I informed him the cases were bows and not firearms, and that I had a local South African waiting for me just outside, the officer backed off and I continued on my way without being fleeced.

Ryan took this solid blue wildebeest.

A few other lessons I learned the hard way in-country dealt with the food, water, E. coli, and lost hunting days. The chefs at the concessions were great and the food was delicious. But it’s not America, and the intestinal tolerances of people vary greatly.

I love rare meat and runny eggs — bad move on my part! We also drank many beverages with ice. Bottled water should be the only water you consume, even when brushing your teeth. It was likely through one of these self-inflicted mistakes that I came down with a very nasty bug halfway through our safari. I tried to tough it out, but after two days of massive fluid loss and not being able to keep much down, I was taken to the local Thabazimbi clinic. The doctor there left me speechless when he told me about the strong E. coli strains prevalent in the area. He also suggested that even when drinking bottled water, that a small amount of whisky should be added.

I lost a few days of valuable hunting time and learned some hard lessons. Even while quite sick, Adriaan managed to put me on a beautiful gemsbok. We slipped through the thornbush, I made a perfect shot, and the bull made a quick death sprint of only about 70 yards.


Once I started to recover from the bug, Adriaan, Ryan, and I traveled to a distant concession. Once again, we engaged with a few different PHs who operated those properties. There we learned another valuable lesson that all traveling hunters need to understand: There really are no rules or game laws on private ranches in Africa. The game is considered the property of the ranchers, and what we American bowhunters hold as ethical values are not always firmly adhered to there. Some PHs will absolutely pressure you to do things most of us would consider unethical, just to sell another animal.

Quite sick with E.coli, I still managed to get a perfect arrow into this representative gemsbok.

On more than one occasion, Ryan and I had to let the new PHs know that under no circumstances would we be shooting from a vehicle or after dark, or just putting an arrow into an animal so it could later be finished off with a rifle. Once our ground rules were firmly established, everything was fine. It’s just something American sportsmen and women need to be aware of.

We had some great opportunities and saw dozens of species on most of the concessions. Ryan took another nice impala and a great blesbok, while I remained focused on trying to kill a Cape buffalo.

We spent several days glassing from high hills trying to locate groups of bulls. Although most of the hunting in South Africa is done on high-fenced properties, I assure you the animals living on these large concessions are not tame.

With the bush being so thick and green, we often had difficulty locating animals — even after glassing for long periods of time from a distance. Over the last three days, I went on at least 18 stalks. Crawling to within 50-100 yards of a herd of Cape buffalo is exhilarating. On each occasion, something went wrong in the closing moments. The wind would switch or the buffalo would catch us moving, at which point the herd would thunder off in a huge cloud of dust, leaving me disappointed but smiling. I promised myself everything had to be just right for me to even consider releasing an arrow at one of the most dangerous critters on the planet.

African hunting is often about targets of opportunity. Both Ryan and I had personal lists of species we wanted to target. We knew the trophy fees for each animal, and we kept those dollar amounts in mind as we looked over opportunities.

Here’s a group of zebra in the bushveld.

Our PH, Adriaan, often said, “Be ready to take what the bush gives you.” That’s definitely good advice. We would often set out looking for one species, only to find ourselves with a great opportunity at something else. For example, both Ryan and I had kudu very high on our priority lists. But with the extremely thick bush and ample moisture, the kudu weren’t coming to our blind setups. Finding a mature bull to stalk proved nearly impossible during our 10-day safari.

Taking what the bush gives you was at the forefront of my mind as we looked over new country and species. The kudu weren’t cooperating, but we saw several beautiful nyala bulls. A few times, I tried to get our PHs to let me go after them, but they just weren’t quite mature enough for the ranch’s standards. What the hunters take on a property reflects on that PH and ranch, so even though Ryan and I aren’t “trophy hunters” in the highest sense of the word, we still had to abide by the minimum-size standards set forth by our PHs.

One day, while we were driving the bokkie (pickup) from one buffalo glassing point to another, we rounded a bend and saw a gorgeous nyala browsing next to a water tank. As we continued to drive by the tank, we made a quick plan for me to stalk the nyala.

A small amount of brush and the above-ground water tank would hopefully provide me with enough cover to slowly slip within bow range of the nyala. As I closed to 32 yards, the bull lifted his head and the stare-down commenced.

After a solid three minutes, the nyala finally turned to walk around some brush. Luckily for me, that was the only path of exit that would present me with a clear shot.

As the bull came clear of the thornbush, I drew and settled my pin on his vitals in one fluid motion. In an instant, my arrow zipped through the bull like a hot knife through butter. The long-maned, spiral-horned antelope then proceeded to dash a short 50 yards. It was over in seconds, and I’d just taken what I consider to be one of the most beautiful game animals in the world.

The morning before Ryan and I were to drive back to Johannesburg and our departure for home, Adriaan suggested we hunt for just a few more hours. They really wanted to get us another animal, and they especially wanted to see me get another crack at the elusive Cape buffalo.

After a few failed stalks, we were traveling to the main ranch house when one of the trackers spotted a group of buffalo. We made one last-ditch effort, and I finally got to within a range I was willing to shoot.

The bull was a shade over 30 yards and in some very thick brush. I slid to the side and was just about to draw my Hoyt, when I noticed a limb across his vitals. I tried maneuvering to a spot where I would have a clear path to the bull’s vitals, but just as I was about to draw, the herd erupted from the thicket and bounded off in a huge cloud of dust. It just wasn’t meant to be.

We spent 12 days on six different concessions and with several different PHs. Africa is an amazing place, and the opportunities and adventure are worth the price of admission! In the end, Ryan and I learned a lot, and both of us had a great time. I am planning a 2023 return trip as we speak, and I’m sure that safari won’t be my last. If you’d like to join me, along with Adriaan Brits at Bowhunter Safaris South Africa, I’d be happy to help you with the details.

The author is a freelance writer and retired CMSgt from Hill City, SD. He and Ryan Biel have served on the board of directors of the South Dakota Bowhunters Inc. for nearly a decade. If you are interested in a South African bowhunting adventure, contact him at

Author’s Notes

My equipment on this hunt included a 70-pound Hoyt Ventum Pro, IQ Bowsight, QAD Ultrarest, TruFire release aid; Sirius Apollo 250 arrows and single-bevel Tuffhead broadheads, and Leupold optics with T&K Hunting’s bino harness and bow sling.

African game will require a beefier setup in the opinion of most I queried. My Cape buffalo setup was 902 grains, while my plains-game shafts were 690 grains.

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