The Old Bull
November 04, 2010
"...when I nocked the arrow, it made a slight click, and the bull jumped to his feet..."
The red hartebeest was still there, almost exactly where we had seen him the day before, lying on a slight ridge, his head swiveling above the waist-high brown grass. He had complete command of the area surrounding him, and he knew it. He was safe.
Guide Roland Leibenburger, right, helped me stalk within easy recurve range of this ancient bull.
Cobus Mouton, owner of Tshepe Safaris, took one look at him and told me the bull's life story. "He's an old one, and he's huge. He's done his breeding, and now he's been driven out of the herd by the young bulls," Cobus said. "Maybe tomorrow you can 'walk and stalk' him."
Thus, the next morning, when my guide, Roland Leibenburger, asked, "What do you want to hunt today?" I had a quick response.
"Let's go get that hartebeest," I said.
We hopped into the back of the truck and Bushveldt, one of Cobus' native trackers, drove us to where we had seen the hartebeest the past two days. As we topped a small hill, I couldn't believe my luck -- the old bull was still in the same place. Roland tapped on the roof of the cab, and as Bushveldt rolled to a stop some 150 yards from the hartebeest, Roland and I bailed out and used the truck as cover to scurry into the waist-high grass.
On all fours, we crept along for about 30 yards until Roland held up his hand to signal a halt to get our bearings.
"Let's crouch-walk up to that small tree," he whispered. Keeping hunched low, we quickly waddled the 40 yards to the tree, which put us about 70 yards from the hartebeest.
The closer we got, the bigger he looked. Cobus was right -- he was huge!
Back on our hands and knees, we crawled another 40 yards in a few minutes. Thankfully,
I'd remembered to bring my kneepads and gloves. Suddenly, Roland stopped and, peeking through the tops of the grass, held up three fingers to signal we were 30 yards from the hartebeest.
I leaned over and whispered in his ear, "Gee, if I had a compound'¦" He looked at me with surprise in his eyes until he saw that I was having a hard time restraining my laughter. Then he began to chuckle silently, too.
Back to crawling, we made each movement slowly and deliberately. A few minutes later Roland again paused and peeked, this time holding up two fingers. Twenty yards.Earlier, we had agreed that I would proceed alone on the last approach of the stalk, so I started to crawl ahead. Roland reached out his hand and touched me.
"Where are you going?" he whispered, with a quizzical look on his face.
"Right there," I indicated, pointing to a small clearing five yards in front of us.
The high veldt of South Africa supports an amazing array of big game.
Slowly crawling to that spot, I eased up. The hartebeest was still relaxed and looking away from me. I managed to extract an arrow from my quiver undetected, but when I nocked the arrow, it made a slight click, and the bull jumped to his feet, looking around to see what had caused that sound.
Instinctively, I drew my bow and released the arrow at the animal standing broadside, 15 yards away. Had he been a whitetail, my shot would have been perfect. For a hartebeest, it was too far back.
The bull spun and ran about 60 yards across the veldt before lying down. Roland and I had a quick conference about what to do. He wanted me to get another arrow into him as quickly as possible; I wanted to wait to let the animal die right there. After a bit of whispered discussion, we went with Roland's plan, but as we started to move toward him, the hartebeest saw us and popped up, loping another 50 yards before bedding again.
As we watched, the hartebeest's head began sinking lower. This time, Roland stayed put to distract him while I crawled backward into grass that would hide my movement. Then I got to my feet and started forward, using a trick I learned in the Army called the "Malaysian slow walk." Each time I took a step forward I would put down the outside edge of my foot and then slowly roll the rest of my foot quietly to the ground. Silently, I covered 40 yards.
Then I realized another problem -- the way he was lying, I had no shot at his chest. That left me two options: leave the trail and stalk through the dry, noisy grass, or creep another 15 to 20 yards past him until I got the right angle. I decided on the latter.
As quietly as possible, I crept past him, with every step sure the hartebeest would hear me and take off. I knew that Roland couldn't permit that and would finish him with the rifle.
So I crept ultra cautiously, step by step, until I crouched 10 yards from the bull.
He was still staring at Roland. With a perfect shot angle, I picked out a tuft of hair on his right side. As my arrow plunged through his chest and buried in the opposite shoulder, he lurched to his feet, staggered two more steps, and fell over. I could hardly believe I had done it.
We called Bushveldt to come and get us. After taking pictures, we loaded the old bull into the back of the truck for the ride home. A sultry South African breeze flowed over us as the warm sun shone on our faces. I looked over at Roland, and said "You know, I've never felt more alive." He smiled and clapped me on the back.
The author is a reverend from Nescopeck, Pennsylvania.
Author's Notes: On this hunt, I used a 50-lb. Wes Wallace "Mentor" recurve and 550-grain Blackhawk Carbonwood arrows tipped with 125-grain Magnus Stinger BuzzCut broadheads. For more information on hunting with Tshepe Safaris in South Africa, contact: Bowhunting Safari Consultants, 1-800-833-9777, www.bowhuntingsafari.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.