Today I sat the “Zebra Hide.” The hide was a pit blind near a small concrete waterhole.
Zebra Blind looking over water hole
About 9:20 A.M., I looked out the blind to the right of the waterhole and was surprised by a small group of eland standing back in the timber. As I had not taken an eland on previous trips and this was another species on the top of my list, my heart began racing as I anticipated getting a shot at one of these huge animals. I spotted a nice bull along with a smaller bull and several cows. It is hard to explain the shear size of these animals other than to say they are absolutely enormous. Mature bulls may exceed 1,500 pounds! And they are actually quite wary and difficult to take with a bow. It also takes a well-placed arrow and good penetration to bring one down.
Matt patiently watches from his hide
The herd stood back in the trees out of range for several minutes. Often African game will “stage” back in the trees and watch the waterhole to make sure it is safe before venturing in for a drink. The wind was good and I thought for sure they would come in for a drink. Unfortunately, although they never detected me, the eland didn’t water and continued on past the blind and out of sight. Eland don’t need to drink everyday and this must have been one of those off days. My heart sank.
This large male baboon came in for water
About 10:30 I looked up and there was a baboon drinking at the waterhole. I thought to myself, “Now how did you get there unnoticed?” Usually I can hear the antelope species coming but this single baboon came in quietly. Then I saw a large troop of baboons in the trees to the right. I knelt down in the hide, turned on the video camera, and started filming. Because baboon are so spooky, I decided to stay hidden in the bottom of the blind below the shooting window and just film using the fold-out view finder pointed downward where I could see it. The baboon troop was large consisting of about 30 animals. The dominant male finally came in and drank and I got some excellent footage. But then behind the baboon, I noticed eland in the background through my view finder. They were back! I swung the camera to the right and there was the big bull headed directly for the waterhole. With one hand I grabbed the bow while the other hand panned the camera.
Eland bull at the salt lick
The huge 36-inch long bull came to the edge of the waterhole and hesitated. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest -. I literally could hear it thumping. Man, did I have buck fever! Usually I get buck fever at the beginning of a shot scenario, especially the first animal of the year, and then if it takes while for the shot to present itself, my buck fever subsides and I relax. So I stared away from the bull and watched the baboons. When I looked back my range finder showed the bull was 25 yards away but he was still quartering to me a little which is not a wise shot, especially on an eland. But then he stretched out and plunged his front legs forward into the waterhole opening up his chest. But it was an unusual shot scenario for me – one I had never really been faced with – an animal locking his legs in a forward position. His rear end was still slightly quartering but his chest was very near broadside. But his front leg was completely straight and I had a hard time deciding where to shoot without shooting too far back or hitting his massive shoulder bone. I decided to play it safe, pass on the shot, and wait for a more conventional broadside shot. Surely he would come closer and give me a slam dunk shot.
Water is the draw as this Eland bull fills up
The bull finally offered a perfect broadside shot with his leg forward. Why I didn’t shoot, I don’t know!
The cows and younger bulls now surrounded the waterhole on three sides. Then the big bull walked directly at the hide and stopped to lick a salt block at 17 yards. Unfortunately, he remained either face on or front quartering for the next 15 minutes while I waited with bow in hand. Finally, he slowly turned to walk away, I drew my bow and grunted with my voice to stop him broadside. He ignored my grunt and kept turning 180 degrees finally stopping facing directly away. Man! I had blown another chance. Just how many lives did this bull have? But he was still only 20 yards away and I was certain he would still offer me a shot. But then something spooked the baboons which in turn spooked the eland.
Replaying the video several times afterwards showed me that I should have taken the shot on two occasions – once at the waterhole when he was drinking and once at the salt block as he turned to leave. I screwed up big time and felt like a fool to let that trophy eland bull get away. Eland was at the top of my wish list and now I had blown it on a nice bull. Ken had done his job well placing me in a hide frequented by eland, constructed an excellent hide downwind of the water, placed thornbush on the backside of the waterhole so the animals have to drink broadside or quartering away and I had messed up my part. As Ken would have said, I must had “shooter’s block.” I felt like a fool for not taking the shot and having to explain to Ken why there were big eland tracks 17 yards from my hide and I didn’t have an animal to show for it. Oh well, I acted conservatively and would rather blow an opportunity than wound an animal. It wouldn’t be the first mistake I ever made bowhunting and it won’t be the last. But the nice thing about Africa is that if you mess up, it usually isn’t long before you get a chance to redeem yourself.
Ken picked me up at the blind and then showed me around one of his other prized properties. This one was 12,500 acres and waterholes were limited to only six, so animals just pounded the few waterholes there. The hides looked very well setup for bowhunting and the area around the blinds were just littered with tracks of kudu, gemsbok, wildebeest, zebra, and impala. We also saw several of these species while driving around. Ken also told me the trophy quality on this property was superb with an average on kudu a whopping 53 inches! Ken also showed me an unusual treestand at a waterhole that is one of his best spots. It is a tree platform with some light mesh material around it and is only about 10 yards from water. From the looks of it, you would think it would be difficult to shot anything but Ken assured me his clients “wack ’em and stack ’em” there.
Ken carefully checks tracks
After Ken was done showing me around, he put me in another hide near camp for the last hour of light. I was skeptical because it was so late, we had just disturbed the waterhole, and the blind was new. I also couldn’t help thinking about blowing my chance on that big eland bull. The cover around the blind was very thick with mopane scrub and you couldn’t see much past the waterhole. But right at dusk I looked up and saw an animal coming in on the other side of the waterhole. I saw white and instantly knew it was a gemsbok and was going to take it if offered the chance. It came around the left side of the waterhole and turned quartering away to drink. Due to the long slender horns and the lack of the penis sheath, I could tell immediately that it was a cow. But that was fine because a cow gemsbok makes an excellent trophy and usually has longer horns and score better than a bull. Ken had placed brush on the backside of the waterhole so animals had to drink broadside or quartering away. I drew my bow, settled my 20-yard pin on the opposite shoulder, and released. The shot was good and she ran off like a freight train, which is typical of a mortally hit gemsbok. Boy did redemption feel good! I called Ken on the radio and after a short tracking job, we found my beautiful gemsbok. I hadn’t originally planned on taking one but honestly think these are one of the most handsome species in Africa and couldn’t resist.
Matt with his nice Gemsbok
Tip of the Day
Blind setup over water is a very important issue for bowhunting. A crucial and often overlooked detail for setting up blinds over water is to place brush on the backside of the waterhole so animals have to drink broadside or quartering away. As anyone who has ever bowhunted over water from a ground blind knows, 90% of the animals that come in will drink on the opposite side of the waterhole facing the blind and only offer a front-quartering or a rushed moving broadside shot as the animal turns to leave. Placing brush on the backside of the waterhole will significantly reduce the number of wounded game.