An Empty Quiver: Chapter 20 – Buffalo, Argentina Style

 

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Preface

By: Dr. Dave Samuel

In March, 2005 I had the opportunity to go to Argentina to bowhunt.  I was joined by the guys from Bowhunter Magazine Television and our goal was red stags.  We were hunting with an outfitter who had never taken bowhunters and that turned out to be a problem.  But the trip and the hunt, though no red stags were taken with the bow, was an adventure, a memorable hunt. 

 It is interesting to travel, ‘down under’ where the winters are summers and vice versa.  Our March trip took us to a country where we had October weather.  The good news was that even though the red stag situation for bowhunters wasn’t the best, they had wild boar and water buffalo and that was a plus.  The bad news was that I was having a problem with vision in my right eye, my master eye.  Before the trip, doctors had determined that I had a rare disease called macular traction where the vision may slowly deteriorate, or stabilize, or be totally lost in a short period of time.  When I left for Argentina, the vision wasn’t perfect but it wasn’t that bad.  The surgery for this situation was painful and questionable, relative to success.  In fact, the surgery had a low chance of success and a relatively high chance to lead to total loss of sight in that eye.  So, surgery wasn’t on my radar. 

However, once I arrived at the ranch a few hours drive from Santa Rosa, in the La Pampa province, my sight took a major decline.  Before it declined to the point where I could not shoot a bow, I was able to successfully hunt water buffalo and wild boar.  Here is what transpired on that bowhunt. 

 The flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires wasn’t all that bad and then we were transported across (actually we drove around) this huge, sprawling city to another airport for our two-hour flight to Santa Rosa.  From there our guide drove us to the very comfortable ranch that was to be our base for fifteen days.  On the way we saw many cattle ranches, typical in this dry part of Argentina.  The country was gently rolling, fairly open and brushy, with sand dunes in the lowlands and thick and thorny cover on the hillsides.  In truth, it looked a lot like what you find in parts of South Texas or South Africa. 

My hunting companions were Dwight Schuh and Larry Jones, from Bowhunter Magazine Television, Bob Stotz from Pennsylvania and Brad Helmandollar from Virginia.  Brad had been a former student of mine in the wildlife department at West Virginia University.  Bob and I met at Northern Wilderness Outfitters in Alberta and Dwight and Larry were long-time friends through the magazine. 

As mentioned in the preface, our outfitter had no previous experience with bowhunting but seemed anxious to please.  However, our first three days were a struggle.  Bowhunters need to be close to their quarry and water holes seemed to be the best bet in this country.  But there were no blinds in place so we dug pits and created a few blinds.  In truth, more were needed so that we had options under different wind conditions.  We also hiked the lowlands but saw nothing.  

On the fourth morning, before daylight, we found fresh buffalo tracks near a water hole.  It appeared that they had not watered so we figured they might have spooked as we drove up.  We hastily built a ground blind using some fence and vegetation found in the area.  As the sun peaked over the hills, I spotted five big bulls in the distance, grazing on some dry grass. 

Over the next hour they moved toward the water but a change in the wind sent them running away.  Through it all, over the first three days, I noticed a rapid change in my vision and I realized that my bowhunt was going to be cut short.  But I was here and wanted to finish the day. At 11:00 A. M. it started to rain and I left the water hole blind.  After slowly moving toward some thick cover I spotted seven bulls.  Two were bedded, the rest feeding.  A quick check of the wind and I swung around and used some low shrubs to cover my stalk.  The rain intensified a bit and I got to within thirty yards of the biggest bull. 

Before going on this trip I talked to a friend about the equipment needed for buffalo in Argentina.  He indicated that my 60 pound bow was quite adequate for these critters but I’d soon learn that wasn’t quite true.  I used aluminum arrows for extra weight and had a 125 grain Razorcap broadhead hoping for better penetration.  However, when the big bull moved to twenty-six yards, my broadside shot only yielded eight inches of penetration.  In fact, when the arrow hit the bull, the loud ‘whack’ told me that I’d struck bone.  It was in the exact right spot, where a double lung shot would be made but my white fletchings told me that the only bone in that area was a rib.  That would prove to be true but not for the reason you might think.

The herd moved off around one hundred yards and all started to feed, except my bull.  He just stood there, head low and my binocs showed me that blood was continually dripping from the fletchings of the arrow.  Then the rain really started to come down.  Hard. 

I spotted the outfitter’s truck on a nearby road as he drove up and I talked to him about the situation.  He wanted to follow the buffalo immediately, indicating that we’d lose the animal in the brush.  He just had no idea how arrows work and I insisted that we leave the bull alone.  He drove off in a huff but waiting was what needed to be done. 

I sat under a tree, a bit of protection from the rain and watched the bull for ten minutes.  The herd moved off a bit, as did the bull but he was struggling.  The wind was wrong for another stalk so I quickly moved in a half-mile semi-circle and then started crawling towards the feeding buffalo.  When I got forty yards from most of them, I only counted six.  I was now soaked to the skin and a bit chilly but leaving was out of the question.  Moving closer I suddenly saw the white fletching, sticking straight up out of some tall grass, twitching slowly back and forth.  The bull was down, but not out. 

I crawled closer, keeping a sharp eye on the bulls companions.  Soon I could see the downed bull, lying on his side.  He was flat on the ground but quickly lifted his head and rolled up into a lying position with his hindquarters facing me.  I had a sharp quartering away shot and decided to try and slip an arrow in behind the last rib and forward into the chest cavity.  But the angle just wasn’t good enough so I waited.  With a slight wind change, the bull was up and quartering away.  He was trotting, albeit slowly and at thirty yards he turned broadside as he slowly ran.  I led him a bit too much and the Razorcap struck the front leg joint.  The performance of the broadhead was impressive.  I’d later learn that it broke the ball portion of the leg bone, then entered the chest.  He went down immediately and soon it was over. 

A relative to the Cape buffalo, the Asian water buffalo is a challenge with the bow.

The bull weighed about 1800 pounds.  The outfitter told me that this was the Murrah species of water buffalo with smaller more compact horns than the other three species of water buffalo found in Argentina.  While gutting the animal, Dwight and I examined the rib cage. Dwight peeled away the skin and we then found why you need heavy equipment for these critters.  There was no space between the half-inch thick ribs.  Just one solid rib cage.  With my lighter bow, I was lucky to get the eight inches of penetration on the first shot.  

From the fifth day on, my bowhunting was extremely limited.  I sat a water hole for two days and shot two wild boar.  Bob and Bill switched to rifles and shot a small stag and a big hog.  Dwight and Larry continued to stag hunt with no success.  The outfitter’s assistant guide encouraged us to go out at night and shoot stags using spot lights.  Said that this was a great way to hunt stags and the locals did it all the time.  He could not understand why we were reluctant to do that.  Different culture, different ethics.  The outfitter tried to make our stay as good as he could, given his knowledge of bowhunting.  We all learned a lot from the hunt. 

Wild boar were an added plus on our Argentina bowhunt.

And so our adventure and misadventure ended with a mixed bag relative to success.  By the last day my vision was almost gone, and I knew I faced a serious surgery on my return home. 

Postscript

 Upon my return home, my eye doctor scheduled a very delicate surgery.  I remember that the surgeon, assistants, prayed for me before the surgery.  My kind of doctor.  He told me that if my sight did not return in seven days, then it was gone.  The chance for full return of vision was only 18 percent, but on the seventh day I awoke and could read my mailbox from the kitchen window.  A miracle. 

 I’ve been told that the outfitter for the most part has focused on gun hunts and is doing well.  Good.  He meant well by us.  I just wish my vision had been better so that I could have taken better advantage of the situation, tough as it was, for red stag.  I struck out on red stags in New Zealand and now in Argentina.  It appears that red stags are just not in my future.  But as Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal.”   

 For more please go to: The Future of Hunting

For more also go to: Straight Talk Interview: Dr. Dave Samuel