Big Buck Odyssey
by Paul Atkins
For many North American hunters the title of this story might bring whitetail deer to mind, but it’s not about whitetails. Back in the 90’s when I was somewhat younger I ventured into a sporting goods store and happened to notice a video titled “An American Whitetail Hunter Bow Hunts Africa”. I took it home, watched it and was amazed at all the different African species a guy could hunt with a bow and arrow. I about wore that tape out, but I vowed that someday I would go to Africa and hunt plains game. That was 15 years ago, but since that time I have made the trip twice with a third trip on the way.
My last African odyssey occurred last summer where I had the opportunity to go back and once again bow hunt the Dark Continent. I love everything about Africa, from the cold mornings in the blind, to the people, to the evenings back in camp, at times it seems almost like a dream.
On this trip and by no coincidence my want list included a lot of animals that ended with the word “buck” and to say the least the experience was incredible. On my first trip to Africa I took the normal fare of Kudu, Zebra, and Impala, but this time I wanted to bow hunt many of the “bucks” that eluded me the first time.
My hunt with Dries Visser Safaris was scheduled for ten days and I knew it would probably take all ten to find most of my quarry. At the top of my list was the Waterbuck and next to Kudu they’re probably one of the most sought after and intriguing big antelopes in Africa. Big bodied with long forward sweeping horns makes him a very unique and formidable target. Waterbuck require a minimum of seven days and with my expectations of a 30 incher it would probably take all seven. Hein Lottering my ph, who I consider one of the best in Africa, told me that if I were patient and held out we would probably find the buck I was looking for.
There are many great things about Africa, the sights, the sounds, the people, but most of all its the different species of animals that you’ll encounter each and every day, its truly incredible. While pursuing one animal today you might run into ten more that you didn’t even think of hunting or might not even recognize. The other great thing is that if you do find something that you would like to chase you can, it’s just plain awesome!
My first three days in camp were devoted totally to Bushbuck, but things were a bit slow. The area I was hunting received a rare rain shower the week before and with things being a bit wet, the waterholes were somewhat silent. I did see Kudu, Impala and many of the animals I took the first time, but no Bushbuck.
We didn’t know it, but on day four while sitting in a pop-up blind our luck was about to change. The blind itself had been set-up the day before due to Lucky, my tracker, locating several Bushbuck on a routine scouting trip near some rock infested hills close to camp. Bushbuck are wary creatures that like to hang out in and around trees and brush, very much like whitetail-deer. We got to the blind early that morning only to sit and watch the small waterhole for eight long hours. The blind wasn’t the most comfortable either, as it set at a hard angle and it was quite a feat just to stay upright in the canvas chairs.
Right at 4pm things started to happen as a couple of females started making their way towards the blind. Following in behind them was the animal we were after, a male Bushbuck who, after close inspection, fit the bill as a true trophy and would due if we could make it all work. As he inched closer he circled below us and decided to get a drink. It would be an awkward shot, as I had to turn to my right and shoot through the small window in the blind. As he moved across at eight yards I whistled, but he didn’t really stop. The arrow was on, but a tad bit high.
The bushbuck busted out of there and into the thick stuff. We felt like the shot was good, but it was hard to tell. After a half hour we decided to go and have a look. We found blood, but no buck. I was sick, my first arrow of the safari, but nothing at the end of it. We tracked until dark, marked the last spot of blood and headed to camp. What a long night for me.
The next morning we were up early to continue the tracking job. Aided with my tracker Lucky and Hein my ph we continued where we left off. Within an hour we found my buck not far from where we last seen blood. What a relief! I hate wounding game, so I was overjoyed in finding him. My Bushbuck measured a respectable 14 5/8 inches, the first buck of the safari.
That afternoon we left and went to Dries main camp, the Citadel. After dropping off some gear and a short drive we were sitting in one of their spacious blinds looking at several tremendous Kudu bulls. Hein knew this blind also harbored a big waterbuck and we hoped that we were not too late for a meeting at the waterhole. After a couple hours and several smaller bulls later the big boy did not show, but tomorrow was a new day.
The afternoon of day five found us back at the same blind hoping to get a shot at the big Waterbuck. Things were a bit slow as the wind was fierce most of the day. About 3 pm things quieted down and animals started appearing from all directions. I was staring at a couple of Eland through the front of the blind when I caught sight of a huge shadow coming in from behind us. Two long symmetrical horns appeared and I quickly got Hein’s attention. He immediately knew this was our boy and told me to get ready.
When the big buck approached the water I tried to focus on the shot and not the hugeness of his horns. The buck drank and was intent on leaving, but once he turned broadside I placed the pin and released the Carbon Express arrow. The G5 Montec went completely through him and in an instant the buck disappeared into the bush.
We found my buck not 70 yards from the blind and what a tremendous Waterbuck he was! 30 5/8 inches to the tip and his bases were massive. As we took pictures I still couldn’t believe I had been so fortunate to take such a trophy. Plenty of big bucks to spare, Jiminy Christmas!
Two bucks down and one to go, but I knew the quest for the third buck wouldn’t be as easy. I knew the chance at finding a decent Steenbuck (Steenbok) would be tough. These small antelope are very wary and hard to find in most situations. Most hunters are actually hunting another species and luck finds them with one of these small bucks wondering in.
I was no different. I had Zebra, Hartebeest and both Wildebeest on my list and on this particular day we were looking for Hartebeest and Zebra. Early that morning we devoted our time to spot and hopefully stalking a Red Hartebeest. We came close several times only to be busted by too many eyes or the un-expected female in the bush. That afternoon we headed back to the blind to try our luck with Zebra.
Zebra are another tough animal to hunt in Africa, especially with a bow. They move in slow motion, are always on alert and are always the last to come to water, much like hunting Antelope in the western United States.
It was 2pm I was again glassing out the front of the blind, when a small creature caught my eye coming out of the brush. At first I did not know what it was, but Hein quickly informed me that it was a Steenbuck and he was a good one.
What seemed like forever he made his way to the waterhole only to walk right past it and out of reach. We figured he was just passing through and we would probably not see him again. An hour later he returned, what luck! The little buck was extremely nervous. Every step was a hesitation and his body jerked with confusion every time he heard any kind of noise from the bush.
Finally after about thirty minutes he stuck his nose in the water. I was at this time a nervous wreck too. These bucks are very small, weighing only about 25 pounds and standing at about 18 inches high. I became even more nervous when Hein told me to aim a bit low as they often jump the string. I drew the bow and placed my 20 yard pin at the very bottom of his chest and released. The broad head hit him mid body and just as soon as he got there he was gone.
After a short tracking job we found him not 30 yards from the blind. Although small we had another buck down! These little creatures are awesome looking with their short spike like horns. I was so lucky to take such a fine buck, his horns measured right at 4 5/8 inches.
So I got my bucks. I also lucked out an arrowed a Zebra, Blue and Black Wildebeest and a Genet cat. The Red Hartebeest however eluded me, but that gives me another reason to go back again. Who knows I may hunt other bucks like the Reedbuck, Gemsbuck, Blesbok, Grysbok or even a Bontebok.
A lot of people are hesitant about making a trip to Africa, but now is the time to go. With the sluggish economy things are pretty cheap and many of the safari camps are providing some really great deals depending on when and where you want to go. The good camps however may cost a bit more, but they are well worth it. Dries Visser who I hunted with is the best in South Africa with everything they do being top notch. The accommodations, the food, the staff and most importantly the animals they hunt are some of the best and biggest in the world. All of my trophies will make the top 20 with many in the top ten.
My next safari will be somewhat different and also in a different country. I plan to go to Mozambique and hunt Cape buffalo with my bow. Should be a true African adventure. Africa gets in your blood and it seems to just stay there.
Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer who grew up in Oklahoma. He now resides in Kotzebue, Alaska with his wife Susie and son Eli. Besides being one of the contributing Editors of “Hunt Alaska” magazine he teaches at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.