"I'd be lying if I said there's not something un-nerving about drawing back an arrow that would likely cost me $1,200."
On the 19th day on stand of my second safari trip, I finally had a successful encounter with this fine kudu bull.
"Come on, get out of the way," I hissed under my breath at the immature red hartebeest drinking at the pan I'd monitored since shortly after sunup. The young animal blocked my path to an adult cow just 14 yards away; female hartebeest were not only legal game here at Dries Visser Safaris in South Africa, but our hosts had asked that we help reduce their numbers. The fact that cows boast horns only a bit smaller than the devilish-looking males made it an offer too good to refuse.
Finally, the young cows and calves peeled off. I knew my quarry would do the same in seconds, so it was time to act.
The White Bison longbow arched back, my index finger nestled into the corner of my mouth, and a two-blade Magnus broadhead flew from the blind. As the arrow sliced through both lungs, the stricken hartebeest bounded 10 yards and stopped as if to inquire what all the commotion was about. Not wanting her to expire right by the waterhole, I pulled aside the curtain of the ground blind and waved. She fled, but too late -- her unsteady legs carried her only 30 yards before she collapsed into the parched sand.
I had returned to Africa primarily because, as many bowhunters find, my first once-in-a-lifetime trip only made a return trip inevitable. Also, as a high school educator, I find it far easier to hunt Africa in July or August than the western states or Far North in the fall.
I also had a little unfinished business. Five years earlier, I'd had a successful safari with my Schafer Silvertip recurve, taking a 41-inch gemsbok and a blue wildebeest in South Africa, plus three impala rams and a trophy bushbuck in Zimbabwe.
But some African staples -- most notably the warthog, zebra, hartebeest, and kudu -- had eluded me, and it was that last species that haunted me the most. Not only is the kudu near the top of most bowhunters' wish lists, but I had botched a good opportunity at one the first time around.
So I went back to refereeing ball games, writing, and painting houses to rebuild my hunt fund, and now I was back to try again with a group assembled by whitetail guru Gene Wensel. Along with me were fellow traditional bowhunters Ray Grenier of New Hampshire, and Joel Riotto and Don Slimmer of New Jersey.
For the first three days I was batting .000, including an embarrassing miss on a monster warthog as Gene watched the whole event. As a teacher and coach, I try to prepare athletes to expect adversity on game day; it was time to practice what I preach. Besides, if I'd learned anything from my first safari, it was that a hunter's fortunes can turn quickly. I had to be ready to perform when opportunity came my way.
So it was quite gratifying that day four was only half over and I'd taken a new species. After spending ample time admiring the red hartebeest -- a truly unique animal -- and taking some hero pictures, I was back in the blind, a brick-like bunker built back into a dirt mound and some brush.
After at least 50 impalas visited the waterhole, a multitude of larger animals made appearances as well. As the shadows began to lengthen, a warthog advanced toward the waterhole in the curious stop-and-go approach that typifies warthogs. Finally convinced things were okay, he knelt to drink. Although no giant, he was a representative boar quartering away at 15 yards. His vitals begged for an arrow, and once again, the White Bison longbow delivered one right in the goodies.
(Left) I took this fine impala ram just a few hours before the kudu bull showed up. I€ˆconsider the impala to be the African equivalent of American whitetails: high in numbers and with an attractiveness that never gets old. (Right) A solid warthog in the late afternoon completed some unfinished business for me, since I went hogless on my first Africa trip.
With a grunt, he hauled pork out of there, but his hindquarters were already looking shaky. Blood sign was good, and 180 yards later, we found my double-lunged warthog in time to take some beautiful pictures with the African sunset illuminating things with just the perfect glow.
In less than 24 hours, my fortunes certainly had changed. Doubling up on two new species was exciting, especially on such diverse animals. After another fabulous feast that evening with my partners and their wives -- who were having awesome safaris of their own -- I retired to my quarters to resharpen two broadheads and dream of a stately kudu bull approaching the waterhole. Two clean, double-lung kills that day had buoyed my confidence.
Too many times in the previous 18 days I'd spent in pit blinds, ground blinds, treestands, and elevated box blinds, I'd observed wary kudu bulls or their tattletale mistresses staring at my hiding spot. Kudus possess patience rivaling that of the zebra and gemsbok. The spiral-horned elk imposters often stand unseen back in the thornveld; watching, listening, and smelling for danger until a hunter gets fidgety and gives himself away. How many bowhunters have leaned outside their hides to glass the vicinity or dug into their lunches only to hear the harsh warning bark of a kudu? How many other kudu have simply melted away, never seen by the hunter?
The next morning again dawned crisp, and the Land Rover ride to a different waterhole was brisk and invigorating. I settled into my blind, similar in appearance to the one where I'd scored the day before, for the unhurried, introspective, all-day sit.
Midmorning, a herd of 25 impalas approached, and, surprisingly, the one large ram marched right through his entourage and bellied up to slake his thirst first. Impalas are the South African equivalent of whitetails, and I needed no further convincing.
As soon as the arrow hit, I called Dries, and after we'd completed a fairly lengthy trailing job to recover the ram, I still had time to squeeze another few hours out of the evening. So I returned to the blind.
Initially, I worried that our trailing effort would spoil the remainder of the day, but during the last hour of daylight, three wildebeest bulls paced nervously 100 yards away, apparently weighing their own thirst against instincts that warned them of danger.
As I sized up the trio with my Zeiss Mini 10x25s, a grand kudu bull marched
right through my field of vision, and my heart rate increased accordingly. Where had he come from? Without hesitation, he put his head down in the mud hole, standing 21 yards from the blind, quartering away.
With helical horns over 50 inches long, he was everything a kudu bull should be. I would never get a better shot opportunity, so after a quick check to verify he was alone, I began to draw.
This red hartebeest broke the ice on my second safari hunt, initiating the first of two straight days of doubling-up on African animals.
I'd be lying if I said there's not something unnerving about drawing back an arrow that would likely cost me $1,200. Unless I lobbed an air ball, that's what this volley was going to set me back, good hit or not. But I'd already dealt with those demons, and that was the reason I was back -- I wanted a kudu and was prepared to make the pressure-cooker shot.
And I did. My arrow entered near the back ribs, maybe a third of the way up the body, angling forward and penetrating to the nock. The helix-horned giant lurched about 10 yards and belched a torrent of blood, and before he could move further, I put another razor-sharp arrow though both lungs. I do not even recall reaching for or releasing the second shaft.
In a testament to the tenacity of African game, the twice mortally-hit animal sprinted 175 yards before going down, impressing even my battle-hardened hosts. I finally had my kudu, and in a spectacular sequence that begged for video replay. That was not available, nor was it necessary -- the images in my head remain vivid to this day. And for the second straight day, I had doubled-up on game.
As I knelt beside the great animal, little did I know that Ray and Joel were in the process of doing the very same thing that afternoon. Combined with Don's kudu from the second day, our quartet had completed our quest for kudu with Dries Visser Safaris. And I was very pleased with my performance. As a high-school coach, I know that pulling a double double is no mean feat.
Author's Notes: For the trip, we took 10 species and 33 animals total, all with longbows and recurves. Zimbabwe's political turmoil would make me reluctant to return at the present time, but Dries Visser Safaris remains a true gem in the South African safari world. For detailed information, go to www.dvisser-safaris.co.za.
To reach Gene Wensel, who books hunts for Dries Visser, go to www.brothersofthebow.com. You can research other options for turning your own kudu dreams into reality through Neil Summers at Bowhunting Safari Consultants. Contact: 1-800-833-9777; www.bowhuntingsafari.com.
The author lives in Fremont, Nebraska, with his wife and two daughters, where he writes a weekly outdoor column for the Fremont Tribune and teaches social studies and journalism at the local high school.