November 04, 2010
"Moving quietly up next to my PH, I could see his incredulous look turning to worry."
"Lew. Lew!" The muffled voice whispered in my dream. Then it came again, "Lew!" and this time it was accompanied by a sharp pain in my ankle, as if I'd been kicked.
Beginning to focus, I realized this was not a dream. My PH, Charlie Harvey, was hissing my name, and he had kicked me. And the look in Charlie's eyes told me that if I didn't wake up soon, this dream hunt could turn into a nightmare real quick.
It was August, and I was on safari with Charlie in the Luangwa River Valley of Northeastern Zambia. Charlie has been a PH here for over 30 years, but I was his first bowhunter, and right now he was probably questioning his sanity for trying it even once.
This was my second African bowhunt. In 1991, I had killed a brace of Cape buffalo in Botswana, but now I was intent on taking a truly big bull, and Charlie assured me I had come to the right place.
In fact, a picture of the SCI world record buffalo, killed in this very Chifunda District of Zambia, hung in the dining hall, and Charlie told me he personally had been in on 264 buffalo kills -- 59 as the hunter. Clearly I was in the right place with the right PH. Now, if we could find the right bull, I felt confident of being the right guy for the job.
Early in the morning, we cut the spoor of 14 buffalo and tracked them through devastating heat and equally devastating swarms of tsetse flies for almost five miles. At one point, the trackers spent an hour working out a maze of sign the beasts had left as they fed during the night. Eventually the herd had lined out for thicker country to bed for the day, and we were hot on their trail.
Suddenly, the lead tracker signaled for us to get down. Incredibly, the tracker had seen a lone buffalo, through a forest of mopane trees and low brush, with his unaided eyes -- 500 yards away. It took me some serious looking with my Swarovski 10x32 binoculars to see the buffalo. I'm always dumbfounded at the skills of these amazing African tribesmen.
After a short rest and a hushed discussion between Charlie and the trackers, we crept forward, and soon I began to pick out more buffalo -- and a lot more than 14. When I stopped Charlie to ask him about it, he said that the herd we were tracking had hooked up with a much larger herd. Closing the distance to about 200 yards, we figured we were looking at 140 animals minimum. The difficulty of our task had multiplied many times!
We drank a bottle of water and decided to leave the trackers behind. Charlie, toting his .470 double rifle, and I set out to crawl close enough to pick out a monster bull in the huge mass of buffalo.
Fifty yards into the crawl, I became acutely aware that shorts and a short-sleeved shirt were not the right attire. Not only were the tsetse flies feasting carte blanche on my exposed skin, but the sharp rocks and thorny branches on the ground were turning my knees and elbows into bloody masses of torn skin. To top it off, a zillion tiny mopane bees suddenly started buzzing my eyes, crawling into my nose and ears, and flying into my mouth with every labored breath. Boy, this was fun!
Slowly and painfully we crawled into the wind for 150 yards, which put us close enough to study the herd. After 30 minutes of glassing, Charlie whispered he'd found what we were looking for, and my adrenaline level spiked.
However, getting the right shooting angle and distance would require us to crawl right among the herd. With the wind holding steady, we began a nerve-wracking belly crawl to a cluster of three large mopane trees, which gave us a clear lane to the bull.
Unfortunately, he had now lain down, and another bull stood in front of him, blocking any possible shot. Moving in behind the largest tree trunk, Charlie began a vigil, waiting for our bull to stand, the other bull to move off, or the wind to change -- in which case the proverbial stuff would hit the proverbial fan!
With buffalo grunting and snorting in front and to both sides of us, I lay on my back, leaned my head against another tree trunk, and began trying to calm the blood rushing in my ears while visualizing the shot -- if it ever came.
"Lew. Lew!" The muffled voice whispered, and then came the sharp pain in the ankle.
When I'd played football in high school and college, I'd developed the natural defense mechanism of falling asleep to abate nervous overload, and it had kicked in here.
Charlie had an incredulous look in his eyes, as if he could not believe this. He also was motioning frantically. The other bull had moved away, and my time had come.
Moving quietly up next to my PH, I could see his incredulous look turning to worry. I suppose he was wondering what he was doing here with a guy who would fall asleep among a herd of Cape buffalo -- especially a guy with only a silly little bow in his hand.
In any case, the bull was still lying down, perfectly broadside. "You ready to shoot?" Charlie whispered.
"I want to close the range a bit," I whispered back. The worry in Charlie's eyes magnified, but he nodded, and I slithered forward while he stayed put with his rifle at the ready.
Feeling like I was standing naked in Times Square, screaming, "Look at me!" I gained the needed distance and stopped to collect myself behind a bush about two feet tall. Then I nocked an arrow, took a few deep breaths, and in one motion came to my feet and drew the heavy bow. The bedded bull, and the animals near him, jerked their huge heads around, staring at me, but amazingly they did not move!
In a flash, the green and white fletching came to a stop tight behind his right shoulder.After the dust of the stampeding herd had settled and my shaking had subsided, we slowly followed the bull less than 100 yards to where he lay with his massive, 42-inch-wide horns cocked against the hard ground.
I had safely harvested my third, and probably last, Cape buffalo, and my heart was full to the point of bursting. Although Charlie had been skeptical, he had taken his 265th bull -- and the first with an arrow. His short, but telling comment, uttered with a conciliatory shake of his head, was simply, "Well, I guess now I'm a believer in bowhunting."
This time I
was the right guy in the right place, but really I don't find that so amazing. It's all in knowing how to relax.
The author and his wife, Laura, live in Durango, Colorado, where they own and operate a Christian retreat center.