“TOP END” Buffalo II

The first day of the hunt was an exciting one. We spotted several buffalo as well as a few scrub bulls and wild donkeys. We passed on all the buffalo because both Barry and Kim had seen larger bulls during their pre-scouting trips.  This initial trip into hunting country gave us a feel for what was to come – Rough four wheeling for two hours or so, following by 5 to 6 hours of walking and spotting. We generally walked 10 to 14 miles per day.

On the second day of the hunt we had a little excitement. After fording the Milton River we came upon a small group of wild hogs. They were all walking in single file, into the wind, and oblivious to our presence. Bill and I were able to run right up to the last hog in the line when she whirled and gave a grunt that stopped the whole procession. We launched our first volley of arrows hitting two of them. Bill’s arrow completely penetrated one boar and hit a small piglet running with the group. This piglet took great exception to an arrow in its side and began to squeal with a volume the likes of which were disproportionate to its size. This squealing had a very unsettling affect on the rest of the group. Bottom line is that they started charging Bill and me. In unison, we both looked for a tree to climb and discovered that there were none! Barry and Kim were observing all this through binoculars at several hundred yards distant. Although I’ve certainly seen larger hogs in my day, I don’t remember any being more determined. We were both equipped with very heavy arrows made for the buffalo hunt and they became very useful at this point. Bill turned one boar with a well placed shot which left the sow that was coming directly at me. My choice was to run or shoot and I decided on the latter. Thank God I actually hit her where I was aiming. The 860-grain “Grizzlystik” tipped with a 190 grain Grizzly head entered the hog right between the eyes and exited behind her ear. With their numbers greatly reduced that rest of the group decided to run off which pleased us greatly.

This whole fiasco made for a real confidence booster regarding our equipment. Bill was shooting an 80-pound Black Widow and I was carrying my trusty old 80-pound Stotler longbow. Both of us carried arrows made for this trip by Bob Burton of Whispering Wind arrows. Bob had made some Purple Heart shafts for Bill’s previous trip for Cape Buffalo in Africa. Since they worked well on that trip (nice buff and giraffe), Bill ordered more for this hunt. Bob could not find additional purple heart shafts for me so he came up with an option of resin impregnated Poplar shafts that produced a finished arrow weight of 1140 grains. In addition to these arrows, I was field testing some new heavy carbon shafts called the Grizzlystick from Alaska Bowhunting Supply. I really liked the advantage of the heavier wood arrows, but the Grizzlysticks are almost indestructible, which means a lot on a trip where you can’t run downtown to get more arrows. I’ve purposely hit a granite bolder with a Grizzlystick and had it recoil 20 yards in the opposite direction. In fact, I’ve broken three Judos on one of the arrows I’m still shooting. True to form, the one I shot through the hog’s head is still in my quiver. No matter what shaft I use, the business end always carries the 190-grain Grizzly broadhead when I hunting dangerous game. This one inch wide, three inch long head has served me well over the years.

While Barry and Bill continued to pursue one large bull they saw the second day of the hunt, Kim and I struck out for some new territory that was not previously hunted. The chance to hunt truly virgin territory really appealed to me. From the topo maps for the area, Kim found a long string of small ponds all connected and that eventually drained into the Milton River. From the map, it was apparent that we could walk over twenty miles from the first pond to the river. We drove (if you could call it that) as far as the terrain would allow and logged in the waypoint on our GPS’s. Then we struck out on foot towards the coordinates pulled from the map. Once we reached the water holes we started seeing buffalo in large numbers. One impressive bull was traveling with over 20 cows and calves, which made the ensuing stalk even more difficult. With so many eyes and noses covering his backside, this bull simply grazed with impunity. Finally the inevitable happened when we spooked an unseen cow and the whole herd bolted in a thunder of hooves and a billowing cloud of dust. Back to the string of water holes, we parted some of the dense vegetation to reveal a large group of buffaloes all circling a small pond. While I was busy looking for a trophy in the bunch, Kim stabbed me in the ribs and whispered that the herd bull was in the water ten yards below me. Sure enough the entire herd was watch His Nibs take a bath. All I could see was his nose and horns above the water. Slowly nocking an arrow, I figured all I had to do was wait for the King to walk out of his tub and I would smack him. After a mere 5 seconds, one of the cows grunted in alarm and this peaceful scene erupted into utter chaos. The bull dog-paddled to the opposite side and lunged onto the bank. Standing completely broadside he stared right at me with his nose held high and on full alert. I could see Kim’s 500 Jeffery come to bare and heard Kim whisper “take him”. The distance (around 30 yards) was a bit more than I had hoped for and the fact that he was on full alert, looking right through me made me uncomfortable with the shot. Years of disappoint has taught me never to take a shot that I was not completely comfortable with. Hence, I passed on the shot and was immediately second-guessing the wisdom of what I had just done. I could tell that Kim was disappointed as well.

We had been hunting hard for four days and this was the best opportunity to date. It was with a heavy heart that we finally returned to camp well after dark. Two gins and tonics helped a lot as Bill and I compared the day’s excitement. Bill and Barry had spotted the big bull they were looking for but it had given them the slip after a long hot pursuit. After one of Sonia’s great meals and several glasses of fine Australian Cabernet, I was prepared for a good nights rest and whatever tomorrow might bring.

On the fifth day of the hunt, Kim and I decided to retrace the route of the previous day and continue on into uncharted territory. We did stop on the way to make a stalk on a group of wild donkeys. This heard was more curious than spooked at our presence, which probably attests that we were the first humans they have ever seen. This was their undoing, because I smacked the biggest jack right through both lungs. We watched him fall within sight. The Grizzlystick had struck again. Once we got close for the photo session, I was surprised at the size of these donkeys. The one I shot was in very good flesh and not a tic on him. I was soon to discover that this was true for the water buffalo as well.

As we continued our hunt I knew the donkey had been a real confidence builder. I was now determined to find a good bull and put him down. I’ve found that this feeling happens to me a lot in the field. Sometimes it takes several days of hunting to get into sync with nature and the correct frame of mind for what had to be done. I was now hunting with more intensity. Kim was in the lead weaving his way through heavy palm fronds and low brush. I was scanning the country to my right when I turned to see Kim frozen at mid stride. He was looking right at me with his index finger pointed to our left. As he slowly brought the big Jeffery to his shoulder; my eyes shifted to the direction that the half-inch bore was pointed. There taking a nap in the mud was a fine water buffalo.

He was only 20 yards below me and looking at Kim which gave me an opportunity to nock one of my 1140-grain woodies. I remember thinking- “If he would only stand up”. As if on command the bull slowly came to his feet, still looking directly at Kim. Then I was thinking- “ Just turn a little, so you will be quartering away”. Again, he obliged. It was like my friend Monty Browning likes to say- All the pegs were dropping in the right holes. The only thing left to fill the final hole was for the buff to move his front leg forward to expose a chance at the heart. I could tell he was about to bolt, but I forced myself to wait. Finally he turned his big head in the directly of his exit. In doing so, he made one step with his front leg- Time to drop the hammer! I was already aimed and at half draw when he moved that leg, so it only took an instant to come to full draw and release. As luck would have it, the arrow hit exactly where I was looking. I could hear the metallic click which is the tell tale sign of hitting bone.

When the bull exited the small mud hole he had only one inch of white crown dip visible below the fletching, which meant the arrow had penetrated 22 inches (it’s a good thing to know exactly how long your arrows’ crown dip extends and the distance from the nock to the end of your fletching). It was all over in a split second and now it was time to be silent and wait. I was determined to wait a full 30 minutes. At the end of 12 minutes we heard the bellowing of an animal in distress. After four long bellows, all was silent. I continued to wait out the full 30 minutes before taking up the blood trail. Kim was in the lead with the Jeffery extended. After walking exactly 63 paces, I saw Kim drop to one knee and on full alert. Through the thick brush I could see the head of a buffalo on the ground looking at his back trail. Kim motioned for me to move slowly to the left while he stayed in position for a shot if necessary. Kim wisely had me move to see if the buffalo would move his head to follow my motion, indicating he was still alive.

Thankfully, he stone dead! It’s hard to express my feeling at that moment. During the caping process we did a little autopsy and discovered that the arrow had completing blown through a rib (which was sizable) and pierced the top end of the heart.

MyWaterBuff

Somehow the trip back to the vehicle was not as grueling as I had imagined and back at camp, it was cigars around with scotch substituted for the gin and tonics. Cathy and I spent the next day fishing for Baramundi, which is a great sport fish similar to our bass. These fish get up to 30 pounds in these relatively small ponds. We were successful with the Baramundi and also saw fresh water crocodiles and five-foot sharks all in the same pools. We were 80 kilometers from the coast, so that is some indication how high the water gets during the wet season. That evening Bill and Barry were late of the cocktail hour so that was determined to be a good sign. When they finally arrived, Bill announced that he had finally hit the big bull they had been chasing all week. He felt the arrows’ entry angle was a bit back but a lethal hit. They tracked the bull for over six miles in four hours. Each time they jumped bull it would run again. Not wanting to loose the bull or make it suffer, Bill asked Barry to bring it down with a rifle. This was a very ethical gesture on his part because unlike Africa there is no wounding policy in Australia; you simply carry on with the hunt. Anyhow, Barry hit the bull four times with a 404 and it still refused to stop. When it was too dark to continue the track, they had returned to camp. The next morning the whole camp went out to help pick up the spore. It was hard tracking with very little blood. We were starting to get that sick feeling of loosing a fine trophy when Barry gave a shout. He had found the bull dead, approximately 2 miles from where they left the track the evening before. The Purple Heart shaft was still in him and it had penetrated deep. The arrows’ entry was right behind the shoulder, but our speculation was that bull was angled a little towards Bill when the arrow hit. Regardless, it was a happy ending and we were all grateful that we didn’t give up on this magnificent bull.

The whole experience was something I will never forget and will be forever grateful to Barry, Kim and Sonia for showing us the wonders of Australia’s Top End. Now if I can just sleep for the rest of this flight it might make it more tolerable.

“TOP END” BUFFALO I

NOTE: All the text has been written by Dennis Kamstra, but all the pictures in this part, are from my friend Mario Bregaña.
Jorge Amador

As I write this, I am flying high, literally and emotionally. I’m at 37,000 feet, on a flight from Sydney, Australia to Los Angles; and I am still experiencing the rush from a very memorable hunt. Thought I would get all the details in print before I forgot them. I just completed a Water Buffalo hunt in Australia’s Northern Territory, known locally as the “top end”. I must admit that the memories are still lingering because I finally made one of those shots about which we all dream. Even taking my vanity into consideration, I have to say that I just completed a hunt the ranks near the top ten per cent of my bow hunting experiences. Being a little long in the tooth with several hunts under my belt, I can assure you that this is worthy of note.

Australia is getting to be a very popular destination for bow hunters. The word is getting out about the fantastic hunting opportunities in all of the South Pacific. The Water Buffalo of Australia’s Northern Territory is one of the few dangerous game species available in this part of the world. You can throw the Crocodile and wild hogs in this category as well, although the Crocodile cannot be sport hunted at this time. Although my hunt was booked with Barry Jones of Buffalo Safaris Ltd., I had also arranged for Randy Cooling and Patrick O’Brian to hunt with Graham Williams of Outback Safaris and Dr. Jan Seski to hunt with Glenn Giffin of Muckadillo Safaris. All these hunts were conducted during the same ten-day period. My hunting partner on this trip was Dr. Bill MacCarty. Bill’s wife (Hogan) and my wife (Cathy) were to accompany us on this hunt and the camp amenities available with Barry Jones was instrumental in picking this outfitter. Although our wives can rough it with the best of them, I felt the women would enjoy the experience more with air-conditioned cabins and hot showers available. As it turned out, Hogan had to cancel at the last minute, so I was glad that Cathy had the extra comforts available.

I must begin by stating that most of us have no concept of the vastness of Australia, let alone the remoteness of the top end. The previously mentioned Dr. Jan Seski probably said is best when he told me that the top end of Australia is just like the “old Africa”, where one can drive and walk for days without experiencing any humanity and the game is oblivious to human existence. Dr. Seski went on his first Australian safari last year and immediately rebooked for this year as well. Jan will have a hard time beating last year’s hunt, where he took the new world record Banteng (with bow), two buffalo, two huge Spanish goats, and several wild hogs.

One of the down sides of this hunt is the distance of travel. From my home near Portland, Oregon, we flew to LA, then on to Sydney, then to Darwin, Australia. From Darwin we arranged for a charter to fly us into hunting camp. All this amounted to 20 hours in the air and 32 hours considering layovers. Thank God for sleeping pills and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bill, Cathy and I made the best of it in Darwin by renting a car and driving to a nearby location on the Adelaide River that promoted sights of the famous Saltwater Crocodiles. I’m not much into tourist activities, but I have to admit it’s pretty exciting when the first mate of a small boat puts a pole in your hand with twelve foot of line baited with a pound of pork and declares we are going croc fishing! These salt-water crocs are in fact the largest crocodiles in the world (some reported at 28 feet in length!). I was soon to discover that they would come completely out of the water to snap at my offering of pork. The occasion was definitely a photo opportunity.

After cooling our heels in Darwin for two days, we were anxious to get into hunting camp. There was an issue with weight restrictions on the charter flight. We were allowed only 480 kilos (1056 pounds) including people and gear. This sounds like a lot until you consider the weight of 5 people (pilot, co-pilot and the three of us) equaled 915 pounds. It was either a crash diet or some repackaging. So, with the bare necessities we were off to Wongawara, a cattle station on the southern border or Aboriginal Land. It was amazing to fly for almost two hours without even seeing a road. Wongawara is a working cattle ranch that covers 500,000 acres. The cattle are restricted to approximately 3,000 acres and the balance is wild and wooly open territory. The owner, Rudy, commented that he has never been on 80% of his own land. Naturally he has flown over it, but land travel is restricted by the lack of any roads. Four wheeling over rocks and fording major streams has a way of limiting ones exposure to such country.

At the end of a rough-cut landing strip, Barry Jones, his wife Sonia, and guide Kim Walters greeted us. As we soon learned, Sonia was to be the chief cook and bottle washer in addition to her duties as clothes washer, and maid; all of which she did with the utmost of perfection. That evening, Barry explained that several species could be hunted during this hunt. Aside from our main objective, the Asiatic Water Buffalo, wild hogs, wild donkeys and scrub bulls were on the menu. Like the water buffalo, the other species were all introduced by early explorers during the 1800’s. The scrub bulls are essentially domestic cattle that have gone feral over the years. I can tell you that the experience has done little for their dispossession. Unlike the buffalo, these bulls have been known to charge on sight and are considered quite dangerous. The buffalo will generally run at the sight of humans, but once wounded they are as formidable as their cousins, the Cape buffalo of Africa are. However, if surprised these buffalo can charge on sight as well. These facts were the reason for Barry and Kim’s arsenal. Large caliber rifles are required to stop these animals when they are on full charge. My guide, Kim, was totting a 500 Jeffery as his back up rifle. This cannon was loaded to deliver 6000 foot pounds of energy!

WATER BUFFALO OF THE PAMPA

My curiosity about South America finally persuaded me to book a bow hunt for the buffalo of the pampa plains of Argentina. Having never been to that part of the world, my visions of Argentina were formed by the “Discovery Channel” on TV.

I was surprised to find that Buenos Aires had a strong European type culture with old country charm mixed with the hustle and bustle of a progressive industrial city. This town was the home of my outfitter (Rodolfo Grizas), plus twelve million other soles. For a hick from the woods of Washington state, a metropolis that big was quite a transition. My wife (Cathy) and I were whisked off to neighborhood restaurant for one of Argentina’s famous Bar-B-Q’s. The Argentineans are big meat eaters and they enjoy their biggest meal of the day at around 2PM (like most European countries).

We were joined on this trip by Paul and Susan Sullivan, also from our home state of Washington. Paul was interested in hunting Axis deer, doves, ducks, and partridge; while I was in sole pursuit of the Asian Water Buffalo. I remember seeing a film of Fred Bear hunting these buffalo along the Amazon delta in Brazil. These are huge animals; close to a ton in weight. Although they did not exhibit the extreme temperament of the Cape Buffalo of Africa, these animals have been known to dislodge more than one goucho from his horse. There were all types of stories concerning the close calls of charging buffalo. All this adds to the “pucker factor” of hunting dangerous game. One always seems to pay just a little more attention to the small details when hunting game that can fight back. One does not simply pay attention to the wind direction; he simply does not move unless it is perfect. After the shot, one does not leap for joy; but instead he freezes like a stone to avoid detection. To me, hunting dangerous game with bow and arrow is the ultimate rush. It may not be for everyone, but you can’t beat it for finding your inner resolve.

Paul was to be hunting about 400 kilometers from my hunting area. So we separated with the understanding that we would meet later in the week for a little bird shooting, if time permitted.Cathy and I traveled south from Buenos Aires into the Argentine pampa. The pampa is a huge flat delta area, formed by the run off from the mountain country to the west. This area is predominantly cattle country. We were to be the guests of Manuel de Anchorena the Argentine ambassador to England (retired). His estancia (ranch) was to be our home while hunting on his vast land holdings. To say that the accommodations were opulent, is an understatement. Manuel was quite a sportsman in his own right. Although his great passion seemed to be polo, he had an extensive trophy room that housed the results of many hunts

My hunt started with the introduction to my guide (Jesus), and the explanation of my equipment. The longbow is not a common weapon in this country, nor is any archery tackle for that matter.
When ever I hunt outside the U.S., invariably I’m viewed with skepticism about my choice of equipment. Naturally, a demonstration is requested, which is nothing more than a thinly veiled challenge to the actual killing power of a bow and arrow. These demonstrations are certainly stressful because you must hit the target with reasonable accuracy in order to give your guide some type of confidence that he is not wasting his time. But, that does not compare to the stress of the ultimate show down with the animal; so one must take it all in stride. Even after you have proven your ability to hit what your aiming at, there is no way to convince people of the killing power of an arrow. They just have to see it for themselves.

The language problem between Jesus and myself was a major barrier. Even though the Manuel did an excellent job of interpreting the type of hunt I wanted to conduct, Jesus had plans of his own. The first day of the hunt was ruined by misunderstandings about how to best get into shooting position of buffalo. Jesus thought I should sit in one place while he busted brush in an attempt to jump the animals towards my position. While this was no doubt effective, I preferred slipping up on unsuspecting game, rather than taking a pass shot at spooked animals. Although I saw some nice buffalo on the first day out, the shot opportunities did not happen.

Back at the ranch, I tried to plan a different approach for the next days hunt, with the help of interpretation. On day two, Jesus was right on my shoulder all day. The swatting of mosquitoes and smoking of cigarettes made our approach almost impossible. I tried to explain the need for stealth and non-aromatic stalk; but it was to no avail. Back to the ranch for another “strategy session”. What I really wanted was to be left alone in buffalo country and be picked up at the end of the day. This was going to be a problem, since they were concerned about my safety. I consented to a plan by which Jesus would carry a rifle as back up, but would stay at least 200 meters behind me.

On the third day, I had a great time slipping though the brush by myself. However, the constant shifting of the wind caused problems. I could hear buffalo crashing out ahead of me, but I never actually saw one. Naturally, Jesus blamed my tactics. He was rapidly loosing confidence and patience with the Yankee bow hunter.

By the fourth day, I had a pretty good idea where to find the buffalo. It was just a matter of time, and some good luck. So, I set forth with the same approach as the day before. This time I asked Jesus to stay behind in the truck. I was surprised when he agreed. Rain had fallen during the night and as the horizon began to blush with the rising sun, the dew point was reached and a thick fog descended over the swamps. With the help of my handy GPS, I set a course towards the area of the previous days hunt. Today I was determined to get in close and wait for the buffalo to move into me. With that in mind, I brought my “shaggy camo” suit, a unique three dimensional suit made by Rancho Safari. I had found this camo to be very helpful in previous hunts.

Since I had a lot of open ground to cover, I picked up the pace as I cut through the fog. I was mesmerized by the eerie colors caused by sun’s attempt to burn through the mist. Then I saw shapes in the distance. The shapes looked like grave markers in some ancient cemetery. I froze while fishing out my binoculars for a closer look. Sure enough, thirteen buffalo all in a row with their heads in that unique, down the nose, arrogant stare. They had caught my movement but had not yet figured out just what I was. I eased down into a sitting position doing my best imitation of a pampa bush. I was caught out in the middle of an open grass plain. There was nothing to do but wait out the situation. After a good hour of intense staring, the buffalo seemed convinced I was some type of innocuous growth and simply laid down.

Two more hours passed while the sun continued dissolve the fog. Then, one by one, the buffalo came to their feet. They started to mill about and were feeding right in my direction. I just knew this good fortune wouldn’t last. However, here they came; just like an elephant train.
For a moment I thought they were going to walk right at me, giving me little opportunity for a broadside shot. But the hunt gods decided to steer them past me, at an angle. I couldn’t believe my good luck. The lead cow passed by me at thirty five yards. The wind was brisk and right in my face. All I had to do was to get into shooting position. Ever so slowly, I extended my bow arm and locked my elbow. Rising to one knee, I picked a spot on buffalo number five (the biggest bull). I drew and released in one snap-shot movement. The hit seemed a little high, but only the tip of my nock was visible behind the shoulder. The bull jumped side ways alerting the rest of the herd. I remained motionless. Two buffalo ran up to their agitated comrade and stuck their noses into the blood running his side. With a snort, they ran off, followed by the rest of the herd. The arrowed bull turned to reveal the two blade Magnus just poking out the opposite side.

MyArgentineWaterBuff

He ran ten yards and fell on one front leg; got up, ran another ten yards before crashing to one side. He was down for good! After admiring my trophy, I set off to get Jesus. I found him fast asleep in the truck.

After the monumental job of skinning, butchering, and preparing my trophy; we headed for a rendezvous with Paul and Susan. Paul had collected a fine Axis deer and was anxious to begin his bird hunt (his real passion). Rodolfo’s boast of 250 rounds per day proved a bit extreme, but we didn’t miss it by much.

All in all, it was quite an enjoyable adventure. One I would recommend. However, even a rudimentary command of Spanish would be quite helpful, as English is a rare commodity.

Equipment used:
80# Stotler Elite take down longbow
“Six Hex” wooden arrows by Whispering Wind
Two blade, 130 gr. Magnus broadheads
“Shaggie” camo, by Rancho Safari (a face mask is a must, because of the mosquitoes)

Arrangements for this hunt were aptly handled by Bowhunting Safari Consultants ( 1-800-833-
9777).

Zebra with a bow is tough!

To the locals, they are little more than a striped donkey, but for me the Zebra are beautiful animals.  I think they make one of the best pedestal mounts of all the plains game. I have hunted both species on several occasions and have come away with a lot of respect for this cunning animal. I consider the Zebra to be one of the most difficult animals to take with bow and arrow. Their since of smell is right up there with any of the plains game and their hearing and eye sight are phenomenal.  Couple all of this with the fact that they usually water at night and even then, not with regularity. When they do come to water holes during daylight hours, they usually come running in when other species are watering, providing them cover and early warning systems. They come to water very nervous and seem to be constantly moving. They drink quickly and run away as fast as they appeared.

This pretty much sums up my appraisal of bow hunting Zebra- They are a tough animal to take with a bow.  Perhaps I’ve just been unlucky or hunted them in the wrong places at the wrong time, but I’ve hunted them in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and all over South Africa with the same results. I have taken three females of the species with a bow, but have yet to anchor a stallion. It may never happen, but I will die trying!

My first experience hunting Zebra came in Zimbabwe where I was to hunt leopard over bait. I had heard that Zebra was a preferred table fare for leopard and I wanted every advantage I could get.  After 5 days without even getting close enough for a decent bow shot (less than 35 meters), I gave up and took a wart hog for bait. I probably should have asked my PH to pop one with a rifle so I could get on with the leopard hunt, but I think that killing “bait” animals is all part to the hunt and something that should add to the total experience of a leopard hunt.

Stalking Zebra has to be one of the most difficult ways to take one with bow and arrow. Consequently, it must be the most rewarding. I say “must be” because I have not yet been successful with stalking.  This is probably because my stalking capabilities are woefully inferior to any local tracker. If the terrain lends itself to stalking, this has to be the ultimate achievement for a bow hunter. It is also helpful to stalk them early in the season, when leaves are still on the trees and brush.  At least the foliage will conceal your approach for most of the way.

Probably the best way to take a Zebra with a bow is from a pit blind. Two of my Zebra kills have been from a pit. Tree blinds are also successful, but movement is more difficult to conceal and probably more important; the angle of the arrow flight is not conducive to maximum penetration and vital organ shots. When shooting from a pit blind, the angle of the shot is “up” and the rib bones are more thin and soft at the lower part of the anatomy.

ghillie

I did take my last Zebra from ambush which was fun way to hunt. By observing spore we determined that a specific herd of Zebra used the same passage to and from water. This was a natural funnel with thick thorn bush protecting both sides. Rather than dig a pit blind (which is time consuming and hard work), I decided to try a “Gillie-Suit” made by Rancho Safari, Ramona, California. I have used this camouflage garment successfully in North America for Pronghorn Antelope, deer and elk and knew it worked very well to conceal a bow hunter in open spaces. I simply found a good background of thorn bush and sat on a three legged stool with a swivel seat, allowing the Gillie Suit to drape over my legs and the stool like a full length dress. I mention this stool because it has been a very important part of my hunting gear when using the Gillie Suit. Besides the obvious comfort provided by sitting on a stool rather than on your knees, this stool allows me to turn and shift positions without making noise or showing any quick, awkward  movements that are a dead give away to all game animals.  I purchased this collapsible stool in America (Cabela’s  Outdoor Store) for $50 US. It is expensive but weighs only 5 pounds and the legs telescope in for easy carrying. The seat has a fiber bushing that allows for noise fee movement. I’m a real believer in the combination of this stool and the Gillie Suit. I will mention that this suit is not something you would want to walk in for any distance. It becomes very hot and it catches on every thorn you walk by.

With this combination of equipment I was able to situate myself a mere 15 meters from where I suspected the herd of Zebra to cross. I had a tracker make a big circle, up wind from where we had earlier spotted the Zebra herd. Within 15 minuets, I could hear the thundering of hooves coming my way.  Because the gap I had chosen for a shooting lane was quite narrow, the Zebra had to pass in single file. The first three animals came by on a run so I never had a chance to take a shot. However, the good news was that they did not pay any attention to my position as they passed. The next Zebra came by at a slow walk and I placed a wooden arrow just behind the leg crease as it extended its leg for the next step.  I’m embarrassed to say that I had no idea if it was a stallion or a female (to me, the sex of a Zebra is difficult to determine unless both sexes are standing next to each other).  Once the arrow had stuck it produced a panic alert to the rest of the herd and five more came flying by at mach -1, leaving me in a cloud of dust. However, I was able to determine that the last animal in the group was obviously a stallion. His thick neck and jug head made him stand out. I kicked myself for not waiting for the obvious male to present a shot, but I was pleased to have taken any Zebra with a bow under those conditions. It was very exciting! If the truth be known, I just didn’t have the patience to wait for the “trophy animal”. I just took the first good shot opportunity I had. Perhaps on a future Zebra hunt I can put it all together and finally anchor a stallion.  Meanwhile, the female Zebra graces a favorable spot in my trophy room. She had made it only 60 meters before piling up with a slice through the heart. Once in a while everything works the way it should!

MyZebra

Dennis Kamstra
safariden@aol.com

Bulls and Arrows

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 dangerous game with a bow and devoured the writings of famous successful archers like Art Young, Saxton Pope, Howard Hill, Bob Swinehart, Fred Bear, Ben Person and Bill Negly. Their writings fanned the flames of my desire.

However, it takes money to realize such dreams, and it was only later in life that I was able to salt away enough to scratch the 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 also have both the right mental attitude and the skills to tackle life-threatening game with a bow. Now, with some fantastic experiences and hard-earned lessons behind me, as payback to the sport that has meant so much to me, I’d like to pass them along. Hopefully they 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 – not because they are more cunning or more dangerous, but 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 bullet velocity, mass and construction. (My setup is a longbow that only casts a 900-grain arrow at 185 feet per second.) You can well imagine the additional concerns when dealing with an arrow that reaches a mere 200 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 have their 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.

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, and no range finder or sights are required. The hunter can think about hitting the heart instead of a lung hit. Even with as little as 20 inches of penetration, an arrow placed in the “arm pit” will do a lethal job.

My journey for big bovines started with a hunt for musk ox inside the Arctic Circle. Although not in the danger category of Cape buffalo, musk ox presents its own real challenges for the bow hunter – not the least of which is shooting a bow at 20 – 30 degrees below zero F wearing arctic clothing. (I found it necessary to strip down to shoot and re-dress before frostbite sets 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 whatever comes next.

My “proving grounds” was water buffalo in Argentina. While larger than the Cape buff, its “attitude” is not as serious. Although I was able to achieve a one-shot kill, 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. This means getting very close, hopefully less than 10 meters, and requires 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 able to help me realize my dream of taking Cape buffalo with my longbow. Opportunity came unexpectedly when I took my lion after only five days on a 14-day safari. I called around seeking a PH to take a bow hunter for leopard and buffalo and was lucky to be introduced to Sandy McDonald of McDonald Pro-Hunting. Sandy loved cat hunting as much as I did, and he had a reputation as a leopard hunter. While he worked on leopard baits, he assigned PH Ernest Dyason as my buffalo mentor. I struck up an early friendship with Ernest and his tracker, William, who sadly passed away last year. Ernest was keen on shooting a bow and quickly caught on to the sport by experimenting with my spare. Some of the most fun we had in the field was a two-day “mock hunt” chasing white rhinos (and occasionally visa-versa) with rubber blunts to give me practice in slipping up close on dangerous game while teaching me their reaction to an arrow hit.

It was decided that the best opportunity for buffalo would be on a sugar cane plantation just across the Crocodile River not far from the town of Hectorsprut, RSA. The buffalo there cross the river on a regular run into the sugar cane fields. We spent two days just getting close to buffalo to photograph them. This taught me how to stalk in close. I was comforted to note that these buffalo will not “charge on sight” but rather 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’s 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 we 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 heading 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. “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. But the bull was losing lots of blood, and I hoped William could follow the spore.

When am I ever going to learn that these trackers can follow an ant in a dust storm? The amazing three-hour race was on. Watching William sticking his hand into every pile of buffalo dung he found, assuring himself he was on the correct track, was something to see. We caught up to the herd and watched as they turned on the wounded bull, starting a huge fight with him in order to protect the herd from a potential predator attracted by blood.

To make a long story short, good professional maneuvering by Ernest and William placed me into position for a second shot. I had my act together now and placed the arrow where I should have 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 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 assumed he was already dead. However, there is a lesson here for all bow hunters who go in the field for dangerous game: The PH’s decision is final and do not disagree with them – if not for your own safety, then for the other lives that might be endangered by a wounded and lost buffalo.

I recently hunted water buffalo again, this time in Australia’s Northern Territory and place this experience right up there with Cape buffalo; they are every bit as cantankerous and 25% bigger. This time, I finally stuck with my game plan, passing up several shots in order to get in less than 15 meters, waiting until the front leg was extended, and placing a 1050-grain wooden arrow directly in the buff’s heart. The results were as expected: The bull went down for the count within two minutes and only 60 meters away. There was nothing more pleasing to my ear than hearing the “death bawl” of that buff, knowing that it had finally all come together.

buff45
Both hunts were wonderful experiences that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Dennis Kamstra
safariden@aol.com

Tips from the old timer IV

#5- One more problem with shooting from blinds with relatively small shooting windows- If you are an instinctive shooter, the game always looks further away when looking through a shooting window. I think we instinctive shooters use surrounding objects and their relationship to the animal when estimating range. With me, this problem is more pronounced with narrow vertical shooting windows than with narrow horizontal shooting windows.   The solution is to have a shooting window that is as square as possible and 8 to 10 inches minimum on a side.  This might make you more visible, but with slow movements, a black background and  well camouflaged  face and hands it should not be a problem.

#6-  If  you shoot feathers, you already know that they can make a lot of noise when nocking an arrow on the string.  This noise must not be a natural one because it sure spooks game!  It has always irritated me that fletching clamps are so short.  I like to use 4.5 to 5 inch fletch and you have to place the back of the feather too close to the nock.  If this distance is too short you will invariably rub your fingers against the back of the fletch (making the tell tail noise) when trying to nock and arrow.  This is especially so when using a tab (as I do).  I try to push the feather as far as possible to the front of the fletching clamp to gain as much space as possible.  I’m considering going to four fletch just to get away from this problem.  The only reason I hate to use four fletch is that it takes me 25% more time to fletch and arrow.  Yes, I’m that impatient!

#7-  I think the vast majority of my misses have been on severe downhill shoots, which is what you have every time you shoot from a tree stand.   I suspect most instinctive shooters would agree that they have a tendency to shoot too high on downhill shots.  I solve this problem (at lease I try to) by canting my bow to a near horizontal position.  With the exact same sight picture, a horizontal bow seems to shoot lower than when the bow is held at a vertical position. Naturally, this works best when shooting off the shelf and not with an elevated arrow rest.  You might want to play around with this.

#8-  Last but not least- Know exactly where the heart and lungs are positioned in the specie you are hunting.  In my opinion, most 3D targets are made with kill zones too far back. Practicing with these targets can promote aiming spots too far back.  The fact is, that on most animals once you get much more than two inches behind the front leg, you are getting close to the diaphragm.

On most antlered species, the heart lies directly above the leg bone and only 5-6 inches above the belly line.  While the heart is relatively in the same position on most  four legged species, the lungs can be quite different.  Cats, or instance, have lungs that extend  quite far back.  There is a book on this subject that is authored by a South African Veterinarian ( Keven Robertson) called “The Perfect Shot”  that is must reading.  This book is on African game, but there is enough variation in specie size to match most of the North American species as well.  This book is available through Safari Press (phone: 714-894-9080) and sells for $65 but it’s worth every penny.  After looking through this book you will be impressed on why angling away shots that are low and forward are the most productive. This book is written for rifle hunters, but we can certainly learn from it as well.

Dennis Kamstra
safariden@aol.com

Tips from the old timer III

As much as we anticipate things going RIGHT when shooting an arrow at an animal, Murphy’s Law (“If anything can go wrong, it will”) often makes things go WRONG.  Sometimes a little forethought and advance planning can help us sidestep the things that can go wrong. Following is my list of screw ups that has cost me dearly ( perhaps someone can gain from my losses).

#1.  The top of the list has to be ATTITUDE! If you just think you might have a good shot most likely you will miss. You must not release the string until you KNOW you’re going to hit where you looking.  This is important on all game, but critical on dangerous game. The natural tendency is to be a bit more nervous on dangerous game and that leads to second guessing yourself.  So how to you build this self confidence, especially on dangerous game?  I strongly suggest getting as close as possible without a bow in your hand.  Instead use a camera.  There is nothing like getting close and backing off (without being noticed), to build confidence.  I’ve done this in Africa and have found the Professional Hunters to be very appreciative of this concern and will encourage the practice of “trial runs”. But don’t try it on leopards. You may only see one on the entire safari!

#2- Remember, some animals are big and consequently look closer than you think, causing you to undershoot. A good example is a Giraffe- At 40 yards away, they look like they are on top of you!  Elk can do the same thing.  Other species just look bigger than they actually are, causing you to overshoot.  A good example of this is an Ibex.  In Turkey,  the Bezor   Ibex can have horns 50+ inches in length, but these short legged animals stand only 28 to 30 inches at the top of the back.  The Indian Blackbuck (found in Texas as well as Argentina and Australia) are another good example.  So how does one prepare?  I recommend smacking these critters with rubber blunts until your “minds eye” becomes accustomed to these differences. I don’t recommend this on smaller game because blunts can injure thin skinned animals.  Another suggestion is to invest in 3D targets that are the actual size of the specie you plan to hunt.  But there is no substitute for the real McCoy.

(Group of blackbucks , pic from National Geographic)

#3- When shooting from a blind (especially a pit blind) be sure the bottom of the shooting hole is not any higher than your armpit.  I missed two Red Heartebeast in successive days by having the nock of my arrow kick off the bottom of the shooting window.   On the second one, I swore there was no way I could have clearance problems; but the arrow sailed over that animal by 50 feet!  Just remember the armpit check every time you get into a blind, or fire some test arrows.

#4- Speaking of shooting from blinds- always be cognizant of lower bow limb clearance before taking a shot. When taking test shots this usually does not happen, but when the live animal is in from to you there is a tendency to push the bow a bit closer to the shooting window which puts the tip of the bottom limb too close to the side of the blind.  A good practice for avoiding this problem is to shot through a hole in a cardboard panel while on your knees.  If you’re too close the limb will strike the cardboard which makes a lot of noise, but will not damage you bow. Remember to practice as if the animal was moving by swinging your bow with the imaginary animal.  You will note that as you swing to the edge of the shooting window you have the tendency to crowd your bow too close to the cardboard.  This also occurs when a right handed archer shoots to the extreme left side of the shooting window (opposite for lefties). This problem seems more pronounced with recurves than with longbows. If you’re shooting a compound this is not near the problem (or so I’ve been told, as I have no first hand knowledge)

To be continue…

Dennis Kamstra
safariden@aol.com