As the South African sky began lightening with the first rays of sun, Sakkie Marais, my guide, nudged me with his left elbow and silently pointed to the bank of the Limpopo River. Feeding along the bank was a bushbuck, but we could not see whether it was a male or a female because of the thick brush. As we anxiously waited for the animal to move farther to the left and into shooting range, the bushbuck lifted his head and we saw the magical spiral horns! Our excitement level ratcheted up several notches because this was the ninth day we had hunted for such an animal and, finally, after eight days of trying different tactics, all of them unsuccessful, we were about to have the chance of a shot that I had long dreamed about.
I was on my ninth hunting safari to continental Africa and this was my third hunt with Choronga Safaris, owned and operated by Evan and Mia Sloan in the Limpopo district in northwestern South Africa. Their company specializes in quality bowhunting for small groups and I am already looking forward to my fourth trip with them next year. On the first day of this safari, I took a beautiful black wildebeest at 20 yards with my Ten Point Vapor crossbow, shooting a 100-grain Grim Reaper mechanical broadhead at 360 feet per second. I watched the bull run 69 yards before collapsing in a heap and never moving after he hit the ground. What a way to start my safari.
I took a beautiful kudu bull with 52-inch spiral horns and 111/2-inch bases at 23 yards on the seventh day of my hunt, and a civet cat at 46 yards on the ninth day. We were still chasing a bushbuck, but I was keeping my crossbow busy with these other trophies. In an effort to travel both to and from our hunting area as silently as possible, we started using a golf cart during that time as our final plan continued to develop.
Following my plan for the day, Sakkie and I settled into our positions in front of a huge tree in the darkness at 6:05 a.m. and started to wait for a bushbuck ram to appear. At 6:45, Sakkie nudged me and motioned where he was looking. After the longest three minutes in my life, the bushbuck fed into an opening in the brush along the bank of the river that made a shot with my crossbow possible. I shifted my position slightly to the right and unleashed the carbon bolt at the bushbuck 33 yards away. The bolt flew straight to the ram and we could hear the “thunk” of it hitting the animal. The ram jumped forward to his left and reversed the direction he was facing, as if looking to see what had bitten him. I knew that he was hit hard, but he would not go down. We kept waiting for him to fall, but he simply would not collapse even though we could see that he was mortally wounded. After what seemed an eternity, he simply lay down where he stood.
Following the first shot and until the ram lay down, he had been looking directly at us. I feel certain that he did not see us because of the darkness of the early morning hour and our dark clothing and camouflage facemasks, which allowed us to blend into the tree. When he lay down, I decided to try to load another bolt and shoot him again. Very carefully, quietly and as slowly as possible, I placed the Acudraw cocking claw on the crossbow string and started cranking the string into the cocked position. . I retrieved a bolt from the quiver and placed it in the proper position, making certain that it was fully seated in the shooting position. As I silently slid the safety to the shooting position, Sakkie whispered to me that the range was 40 yards. After adjusting the Ten Point Steady Eddy and leaning against the tree on my right side for additional stability, I put the 40-yard dot in the scope on the ram and let the second bolt fly. As the bolt struck the ram, he jumped up and ran back to our right along the bank of the Limpopo River, disappearing from our sight as he ran. Both of us felt good about both shots, but you cannot be too certain until you see the downed animal.
We waited about 10 minutes before scrambling down the hill where we had last seen the ram. When we reached that spot we saw a trail of bright red blood that a blind man could have followed. We found the ram in the Limpopo River, 10 steps from where he was lying at the time of my second shot and about three feet from the bank of the river with the last bolt still in him. Holding onto a large vine for stability, Sakkie waded into the river, grabbed the right horn of the ram and pulled him to the bank. While he was getting the bushbuck out of the water, I was standing guard with my cocked and loaded crossbow in case a crocodile decided he wanted our bushbuck. Thankfully, nothing happened and we were able to celebrate.
We had hunted hard for eight days during the early morning and late afternoon hours until we got this animal on the ninth day. Both of us were overjoyed with the final results and replayed the whole scenario several times as we started the photographing process. I could have taken a bushbuck with a gun almost every day, but taking one with a crossbow presented unique challenges, due to both the heavy brush and the quickness of the animals. In my opinion, they do not simply move, they dart quickly from one place to another. The best part of this hunt was making a plan and having it work perfectly.
I have a suspicion that we developed a viable alternative method to hunt bushbucks by using a golf cart to quietly get to our ambush spot and bushwhacking them just the same way we do whitetails in Mississippi, by letting the animal come to us. Both Evan and Sakkie were skeptical that the plan would work, but found that it was a solid plan. Our final success was validated when we to put my bushbuck “in the salt.”– Heber Simmons, Jr., D.D.S.