The powerful feline padded silently towards our left flank. “Leopard,” hissed my guide, “Don’t make eye contact!” The sleek form of the world’s most effective predator ignored us and acted as if to pass us by before suddenly making a lateral leaping attack onto my saddle — a leap that showcased fang and claw and froze me with fear before I snapped into action.
I began unleashing punishing haymaker punches to the leopard’s head with my left fist as I hung onto the pommel with my right. My perch was precarious as the Cape buffalo bull the leopard and I rode atop broke into a full gallop while I engaged the leopard in hand-to-claw combat. The buffalo was laughing at me as the leopard morphed into a pummeled white pillow, and suddenly I was awake. I could not stop dreaming of Africa. During the time prior to my first archery safari to the Dark Continent, I was as excited about life as Ted Nugent.
For several years, I had tossed around the idea of hunting with Dries Visser Safaris near Thabazimbi, South Africa. During the past eighteen months, I had gained a wife, a baby boy, a house, and a second business; thus, the axis on which my world revolved had forever shifted. I took what might be my last opportunity for free time, and booked a hunt with Dries at his Citadel Camp in the Limpopo Province.
I purchased a Diamond Razor Edge Bow for my wife, Kim, to introduce her to archery and so we could practice together. I later got a kid carrier backpack and Quay, my eight-month-old, was on my back while I practiced. Quay jumping and playing in the pack made for challenging shooting.
On day one of my hunt, I awoke at 2:12 a.m. and lay awake ravenous until it was time to rise at 5 a.m. and eat breakfast. Quickly, we headed to a ranch known as “The Zoo.” We entered a miniature Serengeti; large acacia trees dotted the open brush and waves of dry winter grass could not conceal the herds of impala, zebra, and family of warthogs we spotted. I noticed a couple of nice kudu lying in the shade of a huge camel thorn tree.
Moments later, we were in a pit blind nestled in a grove of huge camel thorn trees. From there, the procession unfolded as we watched several kudu cows, calves, and young bulls parade by. There was a nice, shy bull that we had difficulty judging. His rib cage showed through his gaunt sides and his white facial markings were faded out. His beard was not as long or dark, nor his side stripes as vibrant as the other kudu–but my, did he have a set of horns.
The old kudu continued to hold our attention, and by watching the other animals’ reaction to the kudu bull, we ascertained his title as the dominant animal. Stian later field judged him at more than 11 years old, but by the time that fact dawned on us, the kudu had slowly orbited farther and farther away and appeared to be leaving as the sun’s angle and intensity changed from afternoon to evening light. A kudu usually tops every sportsman’s wish list, and my precious opportunity at a mature bull was ambling away slowly. Those thoughts raged through my mind, as a breath of wind brought a wisp of smoldering zebra dung into the blind. Moments later, two kudu cows shuffled in to feed.
As if fate had blown me a kiss, a younger bull paid the cows interest and that old kudu bull turned about face from the bush and returned with slow confidence and apparent intent of sorting out this lesser rival. Stian and I had our thoughts on the same page — SHOOT! I had pre-ranged the distance at 24 yards, so I aimed the corresponding fiber optic dot in line with the triangle on the lens of the new SABO Sight from Tactical Archery Systems. I aimed just slightly forward of the crease behind the front shoulder and held two inches lower than the mid-body line. An ox pecker was busy at work right next to my aiming point before I released.
The Nockturnal lighted nock lit a green arc in the early evening light as it inched through space and impacted on target with a sound like that of a fencepost driver dropped onto a pumpkin. Slow motion switched to chaos as kudu streaked in all directions. My kudu – -I could say that with confidence — lurched forward and accelerated on long graceful legs as he bounded away with my arrow buried to the fletching and the two-blade Rage broadhead protruding out the far side from the chest cavity. I noticed squirts of blood and, as the bull disappeared from sight, could see his stumble to the earth begin. Back slapping and high fives from Stian triggered a release of the shakes. Holy smokes what a thrill!
Stian could not resist whipping out the tape. The bull had nice deep curls. His tips swept back, and there were rough ridges and deep grooves covered with battle scars that added character to horns that measured 56 and 58 inches! I was pumped. A kudu of a lifetime on my 27th birthday!
Day two found us returning to the same pit blind. The grassy plain carved from the thick bush veldt habitat dotted with large camel thorns was home to several herds of impala we hoped to get a shot at. I was watching a nice kudu and a young nyala ram playfully sparring. “Impala,” whispered Stian, and I snapped from photographer to predator mode.
A group of impala ewes was approaching, and a very nice ram was keeping tabs on his harem. The fidgety ram made several attempts to drive his harem away, and as the ram came towards the ewes again, I guessed the range at nine yards. I figured this opportunity at a very nice impala might be the only one I would get, so I swung and led the ram as he entered the view of the narrow shooting window. The ram never stopped, but I let the arrow fly. The impala was slightly quartering away and I knew I had hit him back. Despite my poor shot, the Rage broadhead made a full pass-through, opening up its legendary wound channel that sapped the life from the plucky impala ram. Stian measured the ram at a solid 22 3/8 inches, and judged him at 5 ½ years old.
Stian thought it best to relocate to another blind for the rest of the day. We settled in for a stakeout through the heat of the day, and I rolled through the pages of African Game Trails. “There is a really nice red hartebeest bull coming in,” Stian suddenly said. I jolted back to reality from bird watching and my historical safari novel. I didn’t need to see the bull; I could sense from Stian’s tone that it was a shooter. I drew back an arrow, tipped with a Shuttle T Lock broadhead, and settled the 20-yard holographic dot of the SABO Sight in alignment with the top of the shoulder crease on the red hartebeest.
The arrow leapt off my string with striking speed and impaled the unsuspecting hartebeest cleanly through both lungs before skittering away into the bush. The hartebeest turned a full 180 degrees in the air, and turned to race back to the other bulls that had not yet come to water. There, he staggered and collapsed in plain view about 60 yards from the blind. That dandy bull by Stian’s reckoning was 7 1/2 years old and sported 21 ½-inch horns with hefty 10-inch bases — a fine specimen.
On day three, I was ready to change gears and get out of the blind to stretch my legs. We spent the morning stalking in an open area of veldt with spotty thick bush and crisp, dead grass, taking care to work into the light morning breeze. It was as if we were in Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, with several close opportunities at multiple species, but none successful.
At midmorning, it was time to head to another pit blind and wait out the heat of the day until I could stalk in the evening again. At the blind, I had lots of visitors: eland, kudu, blesbok, and vervet monkeys. The afternoon heat peaked and the wildlife procession dwindled. I opened Death in the Long Grass, by Peter Capstick, and resumed the entertaining tales of life as a professional hunter.
When I glanced up from the Capstick saga, I was surprised to see a nice impala ram 13 yards away. My DXT was ready, the arrow tipped with my last remaining new Rage broadhead and I eased back to full draw. The fiber optic dots were bright as rubies when I settled the 20-yard one into alignment with the triangle on the lens.
The arrow hissed off the bowstring and closed the gap so quickly that not even the impala could react. The arrow impacted behind the shoulder, pierced both lungs, and the ram reared forward before bolting. After 120 yards on the blood trail, I proudly gazed at my second impala ram that, although shorter in horn, was heavier and older.
Day four dawned brilliant and still. We taped our felt stalking shoes over our boots as the grey light strengthened and then strode off into a light breeze. The game trails were more like sandy hoof-printed highways and, after only ten minutes of stalking, we closed the gap on a very nice blue wildebeest that eventually busted us. Before the dust had settled from the bolting wildebeest, we heard several zebra calling to each other.
When the herd sounded off again, we were close. Stian whispered out ranges as I studied my shooting lane options. The closest zebra was 50 yards until a plump mare stepped from a thick clump of bush into an alley at 40 yards.
I rose from my crouch and simultaneously drew my bow. The mare was slightly quartering away and the red dot on the SABO Sight set for 40 yards blazed bright in the morning light behind her shoulder. I held steady for just a brief second before depressing the lever on my release.
Before I left, Stian rounded up the children on the ranch and I presented each with a handful of candy, several pencils, and some notebooks donated by my coworkers. Kim had sent two dozen toothbrushes and toothpaste samples to clean their teeth from the candy that I also handed to the happy children.
As my adventure concluded, I experienced a new feeling I’ve never felt on previous hunts — I was ready to return home to a happy family. My first hunt on the Dark Continent, amidst a surreal landscape and with new friends was more than I could have asked for. If I never make it back to hunt Africa again, I will die happy. That being said, it is with great anticipation that I can take my whole family back again one day to share that magic with them. –Travis Salinas