Bowhunt For Cape Buffalo
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Bowhunt For Cape Buffalo

By Riaan de Wet

Jun 8, 2005, 13:56

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As I drove my vehicle toward Tintshaba Game Ranch, I thought: ?Wow, I am about to embark on one of my life-long dreams ? to bowhunt a Cape buffalo.’

Author with boss Cape Buffalo

We were received by ranch owner Uncle Horst and PH Marcus and booked into very comfortable chalets. With Marcus, Lucas the tracker and Jacques my
friend of many hunts, we were driven into the mopani bush. Tintshaba Game Ranch boasts the Big Five as well as numerous plains game species and other carnivores.

The three buffalo herds consist of almost 200 animals, which roam free on 5000 hectares of pristine lowveld mopani habitat.

As we were to hunt on foot for most of the time, I want to mention that
the temperature in this area is never below 35oC in November with very
high humidity content. Most of the time we were there it was closer to
40 degrees. To say that the walking-and-stalking was extremely uncomfortable
is putting it mildly, but bowhunters don?t cry!

To locate the buffalo was fairly easy, because it had rained the previous
night and the buffalo had cut a large swath through the soft sandy ground.
We could approach them from downwind on foot to within 30 metres.

We eventually located a herd of approximately 35 animals with a good,
old bull among them. I was using my Bowtech Samson 100-pound bow and Gold
Tip arrows with inserts. With the 240-grain Big 5 broadhead, the arrow
weight was 890 grains. Johan Lottering of Tawkhaw Manufacturers specially
made these two-blade broadheads for me for this occasion. At a speed of
245 ft/sec, this combination generated an impressive 119 ft.lbs of energy.

The bull was standing quartering away and my rangefinder indicated 35
metres. With the cacophony of sun beetles ringing in my ears, I drew the
100-pound bow. It felt strangely easy to do. Everything else was perceived
much clearer than normal ? sight, smell and sound. I suppose it was the
adrenalin rushing through my body. As I settled the sight on a spot just
behind the shoulder crease, a buffalo calf stepped between the bull and
me, blocking my shot. I relaxed the tension on the bow and slowly moved
to my right to try to get another clear lane through which to shoot. I
think I moved about eight to ten metres to the right and back before I
had another clear shot. By this time my adrenalin levels were going through
the roof and, not taking another distance reading, I drew again and placed
the sights on the bull, which hadn?t yet moved. As soon as I released the
arrow, I knew there was a problem. The heavy arrow flew straight on course,
but dropped below the chest and between the front legs, sticking into the
soft sand two metres behind the bull.

I turned around and said to the PH: ?Missed, too low!?

With sinking hearts we approached the spot were the bull was standing
and checked the arrow. There was no blood on the shaft, only a small smear
on one of the fletches.

We wiled away the time for 30 minutes and then took the spoor. After
ten metres we found the first spot of blood on the ground. This was turning
into a nightmare. Everything that should not happen was happening. A wounded
buffalo bull in the thick mopani bushes and to top it all I knew that it
had not received a killing shot. The shot was too low and the amount of
blood on the ground was pitifully small. No blood on the shaft meant that
only one tip of the broadhead had cut through the skin. The wound could
be nothing deeper than 15 millimetres at most. We followed the blood trail
for another 100 metres before it dried up, but saw nothing at all.

Besides the fact that it is extremely difficult to follow a spoor that
has been mixed with 35 others, by this time the herd was properly spooked
because we followed them constantly. It was also getting dark and we were
very tired.

That night I was depressed to the point of going home.

The next morning we discussed the previous day?s events and came to
the conclusion that the bull would not expire. The owner, of German origin,
told me in no uncertain terms that I had to find my buffalo and kill it
as I had already paid for it. Of course, I had to pay because the hunting
rules states that if a drop of blood is found, the full amount must be
paid for the wounded animal. I have the same rules on my own game ranch.
In retrospect, it was these words of Uncle Horst that galvanised me back
into action, together with the logical reasoning of my friend Jacques.

What transpired over the next two days is very difficult for me to put
down on paper as it was a mixture of emotions that ranged from utter despondency
because we could not find the particular herd of which my bull was part,
to elation at eventually finding the herd only to drop down in the dumps
because I could not get a proper shot at him. Considering the walking-and-stalking
in the unusual heat and strenuous circumstances, trust me ? things were

On the third day we decided to leave my bull for the time being and
spend the day finding another buffalo bull for Jacques to hunt, who uses
a .375 Ruger no 1 rifle.

We found a good bull for him late that afternoon and everything went
well. At the shot the animal ran for 100 metres and after a couple of minutes
we heard him go down. We followed up and he gave the bull the coup de grace.
Everybody was happy and after an impromptu photo session, we loaded Jacques?
bull and retired for the day.

The next day was Friday and I had high hopes. By 5:00 we were back in
the bush, looking for my buffalo. I could see that the trackers were more
impressed with the rifle hunter than the bowhunter because of the successful
conclusion of the previous day?s hunt. The day did not yield any results,
however, other than to confirm that my bull was with his herd and to sap
our physical and mental strength even further.

On Friday evening I decided that the following day would be the last
I would spend looking for the buffalo. After four days on his spoor in
5000ha of bush, things were becoming a little too much to handle, even
for this bowhunter. Jacques had to return to his business and family responsibilities
on the Friday evening so Saturday was my last chance. I  arranged
for a ?brother? of mine, Renier to accompany me on the last day of the

So it was at 5:00 on Saturday morning that Lucas the guide, Renier and
me were standing next to the bush landing strip of Tintshaba Ranch. Etienne
informed us of the location of all three herds and that they were still
bedded down.

We immediately moved to the area where we thought my bull would be.
It was about 6:30 when we spotted the herd approximately 40 metres away.
We saw two young soft-bossed bulls, but no sign of the old bull. Lucas
and I were still contemplating where he could be when Renier hissed: ?There
he is!?

He was standing 15 metres away from us, hidden behind a clump of bushes.
As he moved out, Lucas confirmed that it was the bull we were looking for.
As I write this, my flesh is covered in goose bumps just thinking about
and reliving the experience. The bull kept walking slightly away, ignoring
us completely. When I ranged, he was 20 metres away.

I set the sights on 25 metres and drew, praying that the bull would
stop and turn. After a couple of metres he did stop and turn perfectly
broadside and looked at me as if I owed him money. The sighting pin settled
on his left front leg, one third from the bottom. As I released the arrow,
I knew it was the perfect shot (just as I had known that my first shot
at this bull had been a bad shot).

The Big 5 broadhead took him exactly where I was aiming, right through
the heart. On impact the bull jumped straight up in the air and ran for
10 metres where he stood on widely splayed legs. Only the fletches and
two inches of shaft stuck out on the entry side. The broadhead was embedded
in the shoulder bone on the opposite side (I had to remove the broadhead
with a pair of pliers afterwards). Two minutes after he took the shot,
the buffalo suddenly fell to the ground and in the process dislodged a
three-inch mopani tree right out of the ground. Another three minutes and
he gave the first of three mournful death bellows. At the last bellow,
the rest of the herd that was standing around him moved away as if they
knew he was dead. They probably did know.

Never before in my life had I had heard such a mournful sound and I
will never forget that final death bellow. To try to describe the emotions
that flowed through me at that stage would be futile as they varied across
the whole spectrum and probably some unheard dimension as well. I would
rather try to sum up the mistake and some of the things we did correctly
to eventually get my buffalo:

  1. Always range the distance again after you have shifted position; never
    assume that the distance is still the same, especially with heavy arrows
    such as I used.
  2. Trust the guide and/or trackers. They have intimate knowledge of the bush,
    animal behaviour and tracking. Needless to say, without Lucas I would never
    have had another shot at this particular buffalo. Thanks Lucas.
  3. Never give up. As I mentioned earlier, bowhunters don?t cry. Shut up and
    take the pain and responsibilities of your actions.
  4. Be thankful for the experience to hunt a buffalo with a bow and be especially
    thankful to the ranch owner for his patience. Thanks Uncle Horst.
  5. Be thankful for your wife?s patience with you during the hunt.
  6. Use good-quality, sharp broadheads.
  7. ?Read? the results of the shot on the arrow. Fired arrows always tell the correct story about shot placement.

The first wound on the bull?s brisket was almost fully healed and only a small scab remained. The horns measured 36.5 inches and the shoulder mount trophy will find a cherished place in my of trophy room.

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