An Empty Quiver: Chapter 5 Pt2 – There’s Nothing Like Africa

(Continued from Chapter 5 Pt 1)

Wayne showed me the blind and indicated where animals were likely to water. There were tracks everywhere, and many were near the blind. With a wave and “Good luck” the vehicle headed off through the acacias. I settled in and got familiar with the surroundings. The pond was about eighty yards long; the area around the pond was fairly open with knee-high grass and scattered acacia trees. But as Wayne pointed out, waterbuck were watering at my end of the pond.

By: Dr. Dave Samuel
By: Dr. Dave Samuel

Things started slowly, but within thirty minutes two non-shooter kudu bulls came to water at the far end of the pond.   A few impala also watered, as well as a female wart hog and three piglets. In addition to the huntable species there was also been a continuous run of colorful songbirds, eagles, and small mammals. With so much wildlife to see, the time flew by.

As the sun settled and bird calls dwindled, the time for this hunt to end was approaching.

Now it was quitting time. I moved from the opening in the blind and began to put leftover sandwiches and the water bottle into my pack. The hunt was over and I reminisced the past days in my mind. Early on the successful taking of an incredible nyala and a gorgeous impala. There was that huge gemsbok as well. Three great animals in a seven day hunt, so even without a waterbuck, it had been a super adventure. But now it was over, or was it?

I was jarred from my mental musings by the sound of animals splashing into the pond, right beside the blind. I peaked through the side opening and there they were . . . thirteen cow waterbuck. No bull, but with that many cows, he had to come. A bit shaky, I put an arrow on the string, and as if on cue, he suddenly appeared. Not just a waterbuck bull. No, he was much more. Here was the boss; majestic, proud, stocky, huge body, a bit of a bully. Suddenly the air in the blind got sticky, it was hard to breathe.

The bull moved to the water quickly and this took him out of view. To see him again I had to move to the front opening in the blind, but by now there were cows within five yards. Total quiet was essential. I moved ever so slowly toward the front opening and then could see the bull watering to the far right. The narrow opening in the blind, plus his position made the shot a bit tricky. I leaned my back against the front of the blind, came to full draw in the blind, then moved the arrow thru the opening. The angle was tight and the thatched grass on the right front side of the blind nocked the arrow from the rest. A cow ready to explode out of the area watched as I caught the arrow with my left index finger and laid it back on the cushion plunger flipper rest. The bull was broadside at what I judged to be a bit over thirty yards and just at the moment of release, he lifted his head and looked right at me.

African animals have great reaction time and this bull was no different. He lunged straight away at the sound of the string release. But that jump kept the lung area in the same position when the arrow got to him, and he crashed over the edge of the pond with just the white fletch showing. He was a once-in-a lifetime waterbuck, and I was now shaking all over. The dust flew as the herd ran off. After a few minutes I got on the two-way and called Wayne and Steve. “I just shot a good waterbuck. Come on in and bring us some tracking torches (flashlights).”

“Stewart, this is where he ran with the herd after leaving the pond. He ran with his cows in this direction, then they bumped a really large herd of waterbuck headed for the water.” Following his tracks through that herd was going to be difficult. Though the hit looked solid, the blood sign was scant. The trackers kept at it for one hour, then darkness forced us to retreat until the next morning. With so little sign I was now having second thoughts about arrow placement.

Since we had to leave to go to another safari camp for another bowhunt, we were up and out at first light. The brush was very thick with trails running in all directions. After a thirty minute search, with no blood sign, I was beginning to have doubts about the shot, when Stewart hollered. The bull had run two hundred yards and then stopped and bled considerably before moving down the trail. Rob Johnson and I caught up to Steward as he continued following the now easily visible blood trail. Fifty yards later, there he was. We just stood speechless, looking at this huge, beautiful animal. Steward later told me he was the biggest bodied waterbuck he had ever seen, and his horns were huge. I’d later learn that he was number seven in the world, even with a few inches missing from the tip of one horn.

Waterbuck just don't get any bigger than this.
Waterbuck just don’t get any bigger than this.

A missing tip on one horn kept this waterbuck from being the bow-harvested world record.

Sure, all the species of Africa are great in their own way. But to me, some are more thrilling, more captivating, than others. All four animals taken on this hunt provided me memories that are still vivid in my mind as I write this chapter. What a great adventure.


 Rob had to fly home, but Bob DeLaney and I went from Melorani to another safari camp for a seven-day hunt.   We saw a fair number of animals, but nothing big. It appeared that the area had been heavily bowhunted, and many of the bigger animals were gone. The operator had saved some nyala for me, but having taken one on the previous hunt, and with a $1500 trophy fee, I just did not want to take another. I’d selected this second camp because I was told he had really good kudu hunting. However, when we got there, he informed us that he’d already met his quota of kudu for the year and would not be taking any more. I was crushed, and very disappointed. Fortunately Bob had taken a great kudu at Melorani, but our next seven days were a bust. I didn’t shoot an arrow, and as I recall, Bob did not either.

 So, it was with mixed emotions that we flew home. I had my hides and horns shipped to Marcus Zimmerman at Zimmerman=s Wildlife Art in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania. In my opinion, Marcus is the best taxidermy artist in the country, and he proved it again. I already had two shoulder mounts of impala, so I asked Marcus to take the impala horns and do something special with them for my desk at work. However, Marcus immediately had another idea. The nyala was to be a shoulder pedestal mount and Marcus asked if he could build the impala horns into that mounts. I wasn=t sure what he had in mind, but I trusted Marcus. The results were spectacular. He placed the impala horns on the habitat portion of the base of the pedestal, with one horn projecting into the air. The shoulder mount of the nyala was then perched on the impala horn. You have to see this mount to believe it. A great reminder of a great adventure.

Is It Safe?: One common question is whether travel in Africa is safe? Most bowhunting is done in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana . . . in other words, southern Africa. In general, the southern region of the continent is the safest part of Africa. There has been some turmoil in recent years in South Africa and Zimbabwe, and you definitely must be very careful in Johannesburg. In fact, night activity should be restricted within the city limits of Johannesburg. However, rural safari camps there are totally safe. Botswana is extremely safe for travel and hunting. Namibia is the most rural of all African countries with only 1.7 million people living in a very large country. With that rural flavor, Namibia is a very friendly, safe country to hunt and tour. Zimbabwe is a bit of a question. Several years ago President Mugabe sanctioned army veterans to take over white ranches, where a fair amount of safari hunting takes place. Over 1,600 ranches are now partly or wholly occupied by squatters. There are some fuel shortages, but if you maintain contact with your professional hunter, have him pick you up at the airport, you probably will not know that problems exist there. That could deteriorate in a hurry, so some caution must be used.  Though gun hunting continues there, bowhunting opportunities have dwindled.


Untitled-2I Hate Snakes: Yep, there are many very poisonous snakes in Africa, but interestingly the professional hunters don’t worry about them. Even so, I’ve had several encounters. One day at lunch at Humani Safaris in Zimbabwe, my guide Mush Nichols suddenly stood up from the table, grabbed a machete and walked over to a nearby wall on our outdoor patio. He quickly dispatched a small, green-colored snake. “This, Dave, is a vine snake,” Mush noted, “one of the most poisonous snakes in the world.” Whoa, not fifteen feet from our lunch table. However, Mush then showed us that it had back fangs, which meant that it could only put venom in animals that it swallowed. The bite, usually, didn’t inject venom. Sure made me feel better . . . sure.

 On another hunt with Melorani Safaris in South Africa I almost stepped on a puff adder that layUntitled-3 in the trail as I blood trailed a huge gemsbok. Their bite isn’t usually fatal. Usually you only lose muscle tissue or a finger or toe when bitten. Most snakes hear you coming long before you get there, and they move and are never seen. But the puff adder is the exception.   He doesn’t move. Even so, there is little problem with snakes while hunting in Africa. They are there, and most often are never seen.


Show Me The Way: OK, you’ve convinced me that Africa is a pretty neat place to hunt, how do I get there? You have several options in making the long flight to the Dark Continent. Maybe the best are the direct flights via South African Airlines and Delta from New York, Dulles, or Atlanta to Johannesburg. However, you can also fly from Atlanta and Miami to Cape Town and then on to Johannesburg. From Johannesburg you can drive to camps in South Africa, or fly to Windhoek in Namibia or Harare in Zimbabwe. Your flight across the ocean will be about seventeen hours. Get an aisle or window seat as far forward in the plane as possible. It’s a long flight. I’ve also broken up the trip by flying around six hours from New York or Dulles in Washington, D. C. to London. That’s a night flight. Get a day room and shower and sleep all day. Then fly directly to Harare, another eleven hour night flight.

 The cost? I’ve flown from Pittsburgh to Johannesburg to Harare or Windhoek for as low as $1,400 and as much as $2,000. Today the flight is around $2,200.

 Where Do I Buy My License?: Actually, there are no hunting licenses. You pay the safari operator a daily rate to hunt. For most bowhunts this will run between $200-$400 per day. Some operations give reduced rates for parties with more than two or three hunters. Non-hunters (and you will definitely want to take your wife) usually pay $150-$200 per day. Then you also pay a trophy fee for every animal wounded or harvested. These fees vary from country to country, depending on how common the species is in that area.  

 Package deals are sometimes advertised and these can be good, or they can have shortcomings. For example, you might get a ten-day hunt with four trophies for $4,000. If the normal daily rate was $3,000, this package deal would give you $1,000 worth of trophy fees. Sometimes trophies in that package are either uncommon and your chance for getting a shot at such a species, is low, or the trophy quality is not good in that area. In that situation, which is common, the package deal is not beneficial. The success of a package deal is determined by the species you will take over the ones listed that you ‘might’ take. You need to talk to references and find out how good the package offer really is. In other words, what are my chances of getting all the animals listed in the package? In general, package deals aren’t really ‘deals’.

Things To Consider:  Many of the formerly gun safari operations in southern Africa are now trying to entice bowhunters. Some of these are questionable for several reasons. First, they are small, fenced areas. Second, the operators know little about bowhunting. Check references very carefully. Even better, use a reputable booking agent that knows bowhunting. There are two booking agents that I highly recommend. Bowhunter Safari Consultants is at the top of the list, but also check out World Class Safaris. They can put you into some excellent hunts in South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

 Hunting in Africa is done in our summer, their winter. From May thru September are all good months to go to Africa. The weather can be as cool as 40 degrees at night, and up to 85 in the day. Very comfortable. Take some light gloves and a heavier jacket for the early morning Landrover rides before the sun is up. You don’t need a change of clothes for the entire safari because clothes can be washed for you daily. Camouflage clothes are fine everywhere except Zimbabwe.

 You don’t, can’t, bring any part of the animal home with you. Skins are treated, then shipped to your taxidermist here in the states. You can have work done there, but I’d strongly suggest that you get a good taxidermist here. For 4-5 animal skins and horns, the shipping fee will run around $1,000 and you will need an animal broker to do the paper work at the import city. I use Flora and Fauna in New York.   Again, there will be a fee for this service. Expect a four-six month wait for the skins.   There have been problems with getting animals shipped, so make sure your professional hunter is reputable in this area. Talk to references.

The total cost for such a hunt is surprisingly low, and in fact, you’d pay more for a moose hunt to Alaska than a bowhunt to southern Africa. In general, for a ten-day hunt, including airfare and 4-5 trophies, and shipping, your total cost will be around $12,000.

Dr. David Samuel spent 30 years as a professor of wildlife management at West Virginia University. He is now in his 44th year with Bowhunter Magazine, where his Know Hunting column still appears. He currently writes the Know Whitetails column for the Whitetail Journal,  The Future of Hunting column on and writes a weekly outdoor column for WV newspapers. His activities on behalf of wildlife are diverse: from initiating the West Virginia Bowhunter Education Program to helping get bowhunting legalized in many European and African countries.

He has won honored lifetime achievement awards from the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, the Wildlife Society, the Quality Deer Management Association, and Whitetails Unlimited. He is in the SCI Bowhunter’s Hall of Fame, and his greatest honor was being inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame in 2007. He has written 9 books, with his three most recent books being Whitetail Advantage, Whitetail Racks, and the one being presented here, An Empty Quiver – A Lifetime of Bowhunting Adventures which is now SOLD OUT. You can find the table of contents for the two whitetail books, and get autographed copies of all three of these books on Dr. Dave’s website,

For more also go to: Dr. Dave Samuel

Dr. Samuel is sponsored by:  ATSKO