Some 45 years ago, I took up the sport of archery and I’ve been bitten by the bug ever since. Early on, I dreamt of taking large and dangerous game with a bow. I devoured the writings of famous archers who had been successful in taking dangerous game like, Art Young, Saxton Pope, Howard Hill, Bob Swinehart, Fred Bear, Ben Person, and Bill Negly. Naturally, their writings continued to fan the flames of desire on my part. However, it takes money to actually realize these dreams and it was not until later in life that I was able to salt away enough capital to consider scratching this itch that had plagued me for years. In a way, I am glad that I was forced to bide my time, since aside from money, one must have the right mental attitude as well as hunting proficiency to tackle dangerous game with a bow. Now that I have some of these experiences behind me, I can say that I’ve learned a few lessons. In the way of a pay back to the sport that has meant so much to me, I would like to pass along my experiences. Hopefully, these experiences will stimulate other bow hunters to take up the challenge.
While I love to hunt large predators and have taken Leopard, Lion, Jaguar, Mountain Lion, and bears with my bow; I consider the bovine species to be the biggest challenge for bow hunters. I rate this as the biggest challenge not because they are more cunning or more dangerous, but mainly because of their size and bone structure. I’ve never shot a big bore rifle in my life so I can only relate what I have read and heard from rifle hunters on the subject. They seem to have big concerns about bullet velocity and bullet mass as well as bullet construction. You can well imagine the additional concerns when dealing with a arrow that reaches a mere 200 feet per second (my setup is a longbow that only casts a 900 grain arrow at 185 feet per second). With the advent of compound bows, bow hunters have been able to increase arrow speed and resulting kinetic energy. However, even these compound bows have there limitations and the real “hot” bows available today have a hard time shooting a heavy arrow (over 700 grains) much more than 260 feet per second. In my opinion the biggest asset in bow hunting is being able to get close to the game. By close, I mean less than 15 meters. At this range, the hunter can effectively concentrate on exact placement of the arrow. No range finder or sights are required at less than 15 meters and the hunter can now think about hitting the heart instead of thinking about a lung hit. An arrow placed in the “arm pit” will do a lethal job even with as little as 20 inches of penetration.
My bow hunting journey for big bovines started with a hunt for Musk Ox inside of the Arctic Circle. Even though I don’t place the Musk Ox in the danger category of a Cape Buff, hunting this animal presents some real challenges for the bow hunter. None the least of which is how to shot a bow at 20-30 degrees below zero F, with all those clothes on? I found it necessary to strip down to shoot and get back into your clothes again before frost bite settles in. This hunt brought home my first lesson on arrow mass. I packed aluminum arrows with coffee grounds in order to get the maximum weight in my arrows. The result was a complete pass through even after a direct hit on a far side rib bone. At least I had proven to myself that an arrow, shot by ME, could actually take a large bovine. It’s funny how life’s experiences can lead to that all important “confidence” for what will follow.
My next bovine challenge was to be the Water Buffalo in Argentina. While this buff is larger than the Cape Buff, I do not consider its “attitude” to be as serious. This was to be my proving grounds for a later attempt at the Cape Buff. Although I was able to achieve a one shot kill with this Water Buffalo, I learned some sobering facts. After the bull was down, I decided to try some penetration tests with different equipment. When I hit a rib bone head on with a heavy (875 grain) arrow shot from an 80 lb. longbow, I was not able to get enough penetration to pass through the bone! This is when I decided that hitting the heart was the key to taking a large boned animal with a bow. For me, this meant getting very close, hopefully less than 10 meters and it would require waiting for the buff to extend its foreleg enough to open a path to the heart.
So, with that information firmly placed between my ears, I sought a knowledgeable PH that would help me realize my long time dream of taking a Cape buffalo with my longbow. This opportunity came quite unexpectedly when I successfully completed a Lion hunt after only 5 days (on a scheduled 14 day safari). I began to call around for a PH who had time available (it was late in the season) to take a bow hunter for leopard and buffalo. I was lucky enough to be introduced to Sandy McDonald of McDonald Pro-Hunting. Sandy loved cat hunting as much as I did and he had a great reputation as an excellent leopard hunter. So, while Sandy worked on leopard baits, he assigned another PH, Ernest Dyason, as my buffalo mentor. I struck up an early friendship with Ernest and his tracker, William (who has sadly passed away last year). Ernest was keen on shooting a bow and he quickly caught on to the sport by experimenting with my spare bow. Some of the most fun I can remember in the field was shooting Rhinos with rubber blunts. Earnest and I spent two days chasing Rhinos (and occasionally visa-versa).
It was decided that the best opportunity for this buffalo hunt would be on a sugar cane plantation just across the Crocodile River not far from the town of Hectorsprut, RSA.
Evidently, the buffalo where crossing the river on a regular run into the sugar cane fields. I soon figured out the wisdom of Ernest’s “mock hunt” for Rhinos. This had given me the practice of slipping up close on dangerous game and taught me their reaction to an arrow hit. We spent two days just getting close to buffalo for the purpose of photographing only. This taught me how to stalk in close and I was comforted to note that these buffalo will not “charge on sight” but will run away at the first indication of a human. At least that was my experience when approaching a herd of buffalo. I was later to learn that single “dagga bulls” were a bit less predictable. But that is another story.
Wouldn’t you know that the day I decided to take a bow instead of a camera, the buffalo were harder to find and much less cooperative? Murphy’s Law always seems to apply when hunting. After three days of blowing stalks and spooking every buffalo I found, we were dejectedly walking back to the Land Rover when we heard the thundering of hooves once more. However, this time the buffalo were coming towards us instead of away from us. Before I had time to process this new information, a small group of buffalo suddenly appeared in a clearing right in from of us! Ernest grabbed my arm and pointed out the biggest bull. His words were “take him”! In the rush of adrenaline I got off a quick shot. Did I remember all the lessons I learned about getting less than 15 meters and aiming for the heart only? – Of course not! I shot with reflex action only and the results showed my error. The actual yardage was more like 30 meters and my heavy arrow dropped low hitting the bull high in the front leg. The only good thing was that the bull was loosing lots of blood and I was hoping that William could follow the spore. When am I ever going to learn that these trackers can follow an ant in a dust storm? The race was on and I was to witness many amazing things during the next three hours. Watching William placing his hand in every pile of buffalo dung he found in order to feel the warmth and assure himself that he was on the correct track, was something to see. Then we caught up to the heard and watched as the whole heard turned on the bull that was loosing blood. A huge fight occurred. I was later to learn that this was an instinctive measure used to rid the heard of the predator attracting blood. To make a long story short, good professional maneuvering placed me into position for a second shot. This time I had my act together and placed the arrow where I should have put it the first time. After an obligatory waiting period (exactly 45 minutes), we did the logical thing- We sent William in to sort out the situation! I’m here to tell you that they don’t pay these guys enough money to do what they do. William found the bull that was lying down in the bush, facing his back trail. We couldn’t determine if he was dead or alive and Ernest made the hard (and correct) decision to put a lead pellet up his nose. He didn’t twitch, so we assume he was already dead. However, there is a lesson here for all bow hunters who go in the field for dangerous game- Be advised that the PH’s decision is final and not to disagree. If not for your own safety, keep in mind that there are other lives that might be endangered as well. All in all, it was a wonderful experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
I recently returned from a Water Buffalo hunt the Northern Territory of Australia. I place this experience right up there with the Cape buffalo hunt. These Aussey bulls are every bit as cantankerous as the Cape and 25% bigger. This time I finally stuck with my game plan and passed up several shots in order to get less than 15 meters, wait until the front leg was extended, and placed a 1050 grain wooden arrow directly in the buff’s heart. The results were as expected. The bull was down for the count within two minuets and only 60 meters away. There is nothing more pleasing to my ear than hearing the “death bawl” of that buff and knowing that it finally all came together.
During my first African safari I was warned about being mesmerized by Africa and that one could not make just one safari to Africa. After 13 safaris to the continent, I decided to just give up the fight and move to Africa. I rationalized that I could actually build a home for all the airline tickets I was buying for me and my wife. So, I’m proud to say that we just completed our home in Pietersburg (Polokwane), South Africa and plan to spend 6 month per year there, once I retire. There are definitely some more buffalo out there with my name on them!