Yesterday, I took the short commercial flight from Pietersburg back to Jo’burg to meet up with Dries Visser Bowhunting Safaris and my Washington clients. We were picked up at the airport and then made the 3-1/2 hour drive to the main ranch. As we drove into ranch headquarters just before sunset, we saw guinea fowl, impala, cape buffalo, and a very nice waterbuck bull right outside the camp fence. If there was a little more light, I’m sure one of us would have tried to put a stalk on him.
Dries Jr. and his father Dries Sr. operate one of the highest quality bowhunts in Africa. As operating manager, Dries Jr. has extensive experience with bowhunting. Dries Visser Sr. established his own private game reserve in 1973. He gained his experience while being raised in the northern Cape bush on the Botswana border, where game is abundant. He passed his extensive knowledge onto his son, Dries Visser Jr., who’s love for bowhunting, skill and experience make him the perfect partner in his father’s hunting expertise. Dries Visser Bowhunting Safaris have specialized in bowhunting for the past 12 years and own their own bow-only hunting concession consisting of 20,000 acres in the Limpopo Province of South Africa. They also lease and an additional 80,000 acres of private land around the main ranch and recently purchased a new 150,000-acre property in Botswana that has free-roaming lions, leopard, and cheetah, in an addition to an abundance of plains game (big kudu, gemsbok, wildebeest, eland, warthog, red hartebeest, etc.). My clients and I will be hunting from their main camp in South Africa called the Citadel.
The men of Dries Visser
The accommodations were incredible! In fact, we all felt a little guilty (but just a little) for having such plush accommodations on a hunt. The facility consisted of a large, thatched roof, brick lodge with a huge trophy room, indoor bar, and dining area; an outdoor fire pit and dining area; individual fully-furnished sleeping chalets with beds and hot showers; a manicured lawn and beautiful garden; an outdoor swimming pool; and a 40-yard archery range. The facility would be a perfect place to bring your wife and kids.
Welcom to Dries Visser
Inside the Lodge
Cozy sleeping quarters
The food was also incredible. Able, the cook, is a gourmet cook and prepared fantastic wild game (eland, gemsbok, guinea fowl, etc.) and domestic meat (steak and chicken) meals that were just mouth-watering. I think we all gained several pounds on the trip.
One of the things I was most impressed about Dries’s operation is that he and his PH’s are extremely careful to harvest only mature animals. That way, they can be assured that they always have quality animals and the older bulls are doing majority of the breeding and passing along their genes. A PH will usually be sitting with you in the hide letting you know which animals are mature and immature. Dries also carefully manages each of his numerous properties and only takes a certain number of animals from each property. Because of these management practices, he consistently has some of the best trophy quality anywhere.
Today was our first day of our 9-day hunt with Dries. My clients and friends from Washington had an excellent day. Gary Schiesz managed to shoot an exceptional kudu bull with horns about 53-inches long – a real trophy! Gary got a nice hit on the bull just before dusk. The PH, Hein, and tracker, Levi, started tracking the bull soon after the shot but Hein spotted the bull still alive but looking the worse for wear. So it was decided to give the bull time to expire and come back later that night to continue on the blood trail. I didn’t want to miss out on any action so I joined in on the tracking after dark. After a short blood trail, one of the Jack Russell tracking dogs found the bull and it was huge! It was the largest bodied kudu I had ever seen and also had huge horns. The look on Gary’s face when the bull was recovered was priceless. He was speechless but after he was able to talk said it was one of the most exciting moments of his long bowhunting career. Alan got on the whole hunt on video and the footage was some of the best I’ve seen. What a way to start off a hunt!
Gary shows off his Kudu
Joe Lilly, owner of Rainer Archery located in Puyallup, Washington had an unbelievable day. He shot a huge wildebeest bull with about a 27-inch outside spread at about 10:00 a.m. The shot was 24 yards, Joe got a complete pass through with his Mathews bow, and the bull piled up after only 70 yards. After photos were taken, Joe and his PH Stefan returned to the blind to hunt the rest of the day. About 2 hours later, three gemsbok came into water and Joe shot a nice, 33-inch gemsbok cow. The shot was only 17 yards and the cow made it less than 150 yards. After Joe shot the second animal, his PH said he was done for the day. He didn’t want him to shoot all the animals in his package the first day:
Joe with his Wildebeest
Joe’s nice Gemsbok
Eric Stewart also shot a huge kudu bull today. Around 11:00 a.m., a waterbuck came to feed followed by a nice kudu bull. After about twenty tense minutes, the bull finally presented a broadside shot. The shot was a few inches too far back. The trackers and tracking dog followed up the trail and jumped the bull a couple of times but never close enough for a shot. The trackers continued to follow the track the next day and found the bull. Unfortunately, the jackals and hyenas found him first. But it was a magnificent bull with 54 ½-inch long horns.
Eric with his Kudu
Not a bad day by anyone’s standards.
I sat the Huilboom Pond (named after a common tree in the area) with my PH Hein Lottering. I was after eland today and the PH wanted to sit with me to make sure I didn’t shoot an immature bull. Hein has been a PH for Dries for the last 6 years and just came back from a very exciting leopard bowhunt in Zimbabwe. The hunter shot a very nice tom the fifth day of his 14-day hunt. The leopard was hit nicely with a quartering away shot and bailed out of the tree. But he ran straight at the hide, actually ran into the corner of it, and died 7 yards from the hide. After hearing about this story, I put leopard on the top of my list for a future dangerous game bowhunt.
The weather for the morning hunt was unusual – overcast with a breeze. A weather front must have moved in. Usually you don’t see a cloud when hunting in Africa. So the PH was a little concerned about animals coming into water. But the morning was very active. First, a group of eight Cape buffalo came in and fed at the feeding station to the right of the hide where corn silage had been placed. As the leaves fall off of the trees and there is less browse, the animals have more of a tendency to come in and feed at the feeding stations. And due to several recent frosts, many of the leaves have fallen.
The PH was concerned about the Cape buffalo because they often keep the other animals, including eland, away from the waterhole. But then two impala rams came in, watered, and licked the salt lick. One was decent with about 22-inch long horns. Then about 15 waterbuck cows and calves came into to the feeding station where corn silage had been placed. There is plenty to eat in the bush but sometimes the animals prefer the feed. Later Hein spotted a loan waterbuck bull coming in to the feeding station to the right of the blind and he was a monster! His horns were at least 29 inches long and he was very wide. I think waterbuck are one of the prettiest and most majestic animals in Africa and I was highly tempted to shoot him. He fed broadside at the feeding station for over half an hour while trying to keep the cows and calves away. But I had shot an exceptional bull on a previous trip and decided to pass him. Maybe one of my hunters would get him later in the hunt.
This Waterbuck was a bit curious
Later in the afternoon, Hein amazingly spotted some eland standing back in the timber about 70 yards from the hide. He pointed them out to me but it took awhile for me to see them due to their excellent camouflage in the bush. The females are tan and the mature males are gray and much larger. There were about seven animals in the bunch and Hein spotted an excellent bull. He was a mature bull with a huge gray body, long horns (about 35 inches), long dewlap (flap of skin) below his chest, ivory tips and was a definite shooter. He also had a large tuft of hair on his forehead which Hein indicated was a sure sign of maturity. In fact he said if you shoot any bull with this long tuft of hair, you won’t be disappointed. Unfortunately, the eland didn’t like the looks of the eight Cape buffalo bulls bedded around the feeding station and decided to go elsewhere. Damn buffalo!
Tip of the Day
Placing out food and salt, although somewhat controversial and not legal in many areas of the U.S., is a common practice in Africa. But so is hunting over water which is common in the U.S. Most of the country in Africa is thick, relatively flat bush country similar to what you might see in Texas. And really the only reliable method of bringing game into bow range is hunting over water, food, salt or all three. Often salt blocks and feeding stations are located at the waterholes. Corn silage or alfalfa hay are commonly used as bait and are usually only effective later in the dry season when most of the leaves have fallen and the green grass is gone.
But one thing to realize is that hunting African game is always a challenge. Game animals are not only hunted by bowhunters but also predators such as leopard, cheetah, and jackals. So animals are pretty wired when they come to water and are always looking and smelling for signs of danger. Often the more wary animals will stand back in the bush watching for danger before coming in and many animals will circle downwind. And if the animals see, hear, or smell you, they won’t come in and will go elsewhere.