Today Gary continued his pursuit of gemsbok and Joe tried again for kudu, unfortunately neither with success. Eric pursued warthog and blesbok with the same results. These last two species proved to be the least predictable on our hunt. The big warthog boars must have been drinking at night or didn’t need to come to water very often. The blesbok were also not coming to water regularly because it had been a late spring and some of the grass was still green and leaves were still on the bushes.
I was after bushbuck and bushpig, two species I had never seen or taken before. Before dawn, my PH Hein, our tracker Levi, and I headed about 30 miles southeast to hunt bushbuck. It was the same property where Joe had hunted kudu, but a different part of the ranch. I had always wanted to take a bushbuck but never had the opportunity to hunt them. They live in the thick river bottoms and you generally hunt them from a treestand similar to whitetail hunting. They can be very difficult to take with a bow because they are very reclusive and wary, stick to thick cover, and are difficult to pattern. Living along the river bottoms, they also have plenty of water so waterhole hunting is generally unproductive. Often you need to dedicate an entire week just to bushbuck hunting to be successful. And of all the animals on my wish list, I thought I had the least chance of being successful with bushbuck. So I was a little skeptical about the chances of shooting one the first day but because Dries and his PHs are always extremely prepared, I still had hopes. The ranch owner had been placing some feed in the river bottom and at least four nice rams had been recently seen nearby.
We arrived at dawn and threw up some treestands in the thick cover of the river bottom overlooking the feeding area. Then we settled in. I felt at home sitting in a treestand because I do a lot of whitetail hunting in eastern Colorado and Kansas and it was a pleasure to take a break from the enclosed ground blinds. It was actually quite chilly in the early morning hours but then warmed up. I was facing one direction while Hein faced the other. After about an hour of sitting, Hein pointed behind me and whispered that a bushbuck ram was feeding there. I dared not move to look. Hein said one horn was quite nice, about 14-inches long, but the other one was stunted a little bit and curved back. Eventually the ram came to the feeding area offering me an easy 10-yard shot but I decided to wait for a more typical ram.
Hein had warned me that bushbuck are extremely quiet animals and will just appear below you. Boy he couldn’t have been more right. First I saw a ewe feeding about 30 yards downriver. But then I glanced down and there was another ram feeding directly below the treestand. Hein gave me the thumbs up. The ram had nice even horns about 13-inches long. Now I just needed to wait for him to come out of the cover and into the opening where the feed had been placed. Eventually he did this but the first ram ran him off. Then I noticed that the first ram with the non-typical horns had a much larger body, was definitely older, and had a prettier coat with a gray coat and white spots. The second ram was much sleeker and brownish with no spots and was definitely younger. At that instant, I decided to take the older more mature ram if presented the shot. After a few minutes, he came back to the feed and fed broadside at less than 10 yards. I drew, released, and center-punched him. Bushbuck are masters at jumping the string, but at that distance he didn’t have a chance. He only went 40 yards before expiring. I can’t believe I took a bushbuck at all, much less the first day of hunting! The credit goes to Hein with all his hard work and preparation.
bushbuck stops to check out area
Matt takes the shot
Matt with his nice bushbuck
But the hunting wasn’t over for the day. We were still planning on hunting bushpig, another difficult species, that night. Bushpig are almost exclusively nocturnal and are hunted at night over bait (i.e., corn). Hein told me they are also extremely wary and spooky and are 10 times harder to take than a leopard. While we were riding to the bushpig hunting spot in the Waterberg Mountains, Hein told me about the time he was attacked by a wounded leopard in those same mountains about 10 years ago. A client had wounded a large tom with a rifle at night. So Hein, Dries Sr., and the trackers came back the following day to track the leopard. After an exhaustive search and loss of the blood trail, Hein was walking back to the truck when he passed a large rock. As he walked past, he saw the leopard crouched in a crevasse in the rock. Unfortunately, the leopard saw him at the same time and leapt at him. Before he could even bring his rifle up, the leopard was on him. All he had time to do was turn his back which likely saved his life. The leopard hit Hein high in the back, knocked him down, and was on him. Then he started biting the back of his legs and calves. All Hein could do was scream. Fortunately he had his tracking dogs with him and they soon jumped in the fight which did save Hein’s life. The leopard then decided there was too much action and ran off. But Dries Sr. heard the commotion and was headed that way when the leopard ran past him. He dropped it with one shot. Hein was lucky that day.
The area we hunted bushpig was just beautiful. The ranch was located in the mountains and the hillsides were covered with thick brush. There was a creek running through the property that the bushpigs and leopards liked to use. One of the local natives had been putting out corn and “sorgrem beer” for the pigs every night and they had been coming regularly. But when they would come would be anyone’s guess. Hein said on previous hunts, the pigs had come in anytime between 8:00 p.m. and midnight. He said in all the years he had been hunting, he had only seen bushpigs during the daylight only once. It could be a long night. Hein also indicated the pigs were extremely wired and you had to be totally silent in the hide or they would spook. A red light was set up over the bait with a rheostat where you could slowly increase the intensity of the light so the animals wouldn’t notice. I had practiced shooting under such conditions back at camp using my Trophy Ridge lighted sight. But the bushpigs are so sensitive to the light, we had to use electrical tape to completely tape up my sight so no light would escape into the blind. The blind consisted of an old fiberglass tank cut in half and set on the ground. A door and shooting slots had been cut in it. Hein said it was the same type of blind they used for leopard hunting. I imagined we were hunting leopard as we climbed into the blind about 3:00 p.m. Sundown was about 6:00 p.m. and we didn’t expect anything until later in the night.
About half an hour before dark, when there was still plenty of shooting light left, I saw movement about 20 yards behind the bait. I just saw an ear flicker and thought it was a kudu cow. Hein looked and about died. It was a small group of bushpig in broad daylight and they were headed to the bait. He couldn’t believe his eyes and told me not to move a muscle. There were 4-5 hogs in the group and one was a huge boar. They stopped just downwind of the bait but must have smelled us and ran off. The wind wasn’t good at the time but Hein thought they would come back after dark. It was neat seeing my first bushpigs. These hogs have long reddish hair on their backs and dark gray sides.
Just after dark, they came back. This time they came right to the bait and started feeding. They were difficult to see but you could hear them munching on the corn. Again Hein told me not to move a muscle until he gave me the OK. He wanted to let them get comfortable and then slowly turn on the light. Finally the light was on full and he motioned for me to get my bow off the bow hanger. I slowly and quietly did this and then he told me to shoot the one on the right – that it was the big boar we had seen earlier. I turned on my lighted sight pin and drew my bow. But it was tough picking a spot because the light was not very bright. But I did my best to aim behind the shoulder and released. The shot felt pretty good but I may have been a little off because I hit my release a tad bit before I was ready. Hein stuck his head out of the blind to listen for the hog. We heard him crash through the woods and then silence. But we didn’t know if he had expired or just ran out of hearing range. We played back the video and the shot looked good.
Hein called Levi on the radio and he arrived with the tracking dog to take up the trail. The blood trail looked very good initially but then petered out. Although Hein was packing his rifle, he started getting very concerned that the pig was just wounded and still alive. He said a wounded bushpig can be very dangerous, especially at night. But we all spread out and I finally saw some blood showing the hog had doubled back. I called over Hein and Levi and they put the tracking dog on the trail. After about 40 yards we found the pig dead in the middle of the creek with the dog sitting on top of it. My shot had been a little too high and far back but appeared to take out one lung and the liver. Hein said it was one of the largest boars they had every shot.
Bushpig falls to Matt’s arrow
What a great day! A bushbuck and bushpig in the same day – two species I had not ever seen before today. That’s the really neat thing about Africa. I had been here three times before and shot over 20 animals but there are still many species I had not seen or hunted. Now I was onto another new species, the nyala.
Tip of the Day
July, August, and September are some of the best months to bowhunt Africa. These are winter months in Africa but also coincide with the dry season, making waterhole effective. The later in the season you come, the less green grass and leaves there are for game to feed on and they are more apt to come into water and feed. Temperatures during the day may reach 80-85 degrees F but the nights and mornings are usually quite cool. Animals can come in any time of the day to water but many come in during the heat of the day and it seems many of the mature males come in at dusk. Some animals just come in for water while others are more interested in the salt or feed.