Editor’s Note: On Friday, we dig deep into the Safari Magazine archives and dust off an adventure from a previous issue. This week we follow 6 intrepid bow hunters on their first safari to Africa. This story originally appeared in the July/August 2001 issue of Safari Magazine.
As the world seems to get smaller, dreams of hunters to venture into far-away linds in search of exotic game frequently become a reality. For the typical, blue-collar whitetail hunter, an African safari sounds as probable as a lunch on Mars. However, for six dyed in the wool hunters who never imagined being lulled to sleep by hippo grunts or awakened by the roar of a lion, the dream did come true.
Plans for this bowhunting safari began at the 2000 Safari Club International Convention. Sandy McDonald and his wife, Tracy, of McDonald ProHunting Safaris, in Pietersburg, South Africa, graciously extended me an invitation. They suggested I visit a newly acquired bowhunting-only concession in the northeast sector of South Africa. The very thought of renewing friendships with the McDonalds and my special professional hunter friend, Craig Coppin, was enough to start me packing. The more Sandy described the pristine beauty of the game-rich Karongwe Ranch, the more I realized this could also be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some of my favorite hunting friends who had never known the “African experience.”
Good Ol’ Guys and Gals
My husband, Barney, who is not a bowhunter (nevertheless, he does run a mean camera), was my first recruit. His duties would consist of capturing the beauty of Karongwe and the bounties we harvested on video and still camera. Longtime friend Dennis Redden was invited to join our group. Steve Perry, friend and avid archer, soon signed on with our growing group. Becoming An Outdoors Woman coordinator Phyllis Speer was thrilled at the prospect of bowhunting on the dark continent, as well as with the opportunity to put together a slide program for her “Outdoor Woman” workshops. Experienced husband-and-wife hunters John and Debbie Carter completed our crew. We departed May 31, 2000, for our 10-day hunting adventure in South Africa at Karongwe.
The enormous floods during the spring and summer of 2000 in Mozambique and Botswana also affected much of eastern South Africa. Typically arid areas were lush and green, and rivers ran swiftly during a time when they would normally be reduced to stagnant pools. Due to the abundance of water, wildlife habits and daily wildlife movement were altered tremendously.
Our hosts were profusely apologetic about the copious water situation, explaining that the usual difficulty of bowhunting would be compounded many times because of it. They felt that our chances of success would be greatly reduced by this trick of nature. Perhaps they were not accustomed to the tenacity of a bunch of good ol’ guys and gals from the South who cut their teeth hunting hogs and wily whitetails in swamps and river bottoms!
Craig Coppin, head PH and minister of hunting at Karongwe, had put a lot of thought and backbreaking labor into preparing the ranch for optimum bowhunting opportunities. Dozens of in-ground permanent hides were placed in strategic locations months before our arrival. The 8 x 8-foot hides were constructed of concrete blocks or native stone in a dugout fashion, with dirt and brush completely covering the mounds. As a result, they blended well with the natural surroundings. One large shooting window with an adjustable screen offered a good view but concealed the hunter. Most of the hides were placed near a water source or a salt and mineral lick.
Unseasonably cool weather and an unheard-of-in-June rainstorm fulfilled the guides’ predictions of tough hunting. Although we diligently used the hides for the first few days, the inclement weather was not conducive to waterhole hunting. Amazingly, each hunter remained pumped during the long hide vigils, because although the animals did not come in to drink, they were often seen at their familiar loitering areas.
Waiting for perfect shot opportunities was exactly what the bowhunters needed to become familiar with the large assortment of unfamiliar game. Studying each species from the confines and security of the comfortable hides offered everyone a chance to learn more about each animal—its size, sex, angles and habits, for instance.
The natural hunting instincts and resourcefulness of the group soon kicked in. Coppin listened to our ideas and gave us free rein to try out different approaches for closing in on the wary plains game. Game trails, preferred food sources and bedding areas were all visible in the lush grass and tangled vines, making it easy to locate prime positions for ambushing. We went into whitetail mode with treestands, spotting, stalking and hunting, utilizing all the tactics that worked for us back home. Dennis and I even tried bowhunting off the ranch horses.
Every morning, all the hunters went in different directions in search of their own game. We found it hard to pursue or pinpoint a particular animal species because of the banquet of Karongwe’s game.
Dennis Redden was one of the first to connect. He stalked a herd of blue wildebeest and cleanly shot a large bull at 30 yards. With the ice finally broken, each day ended with at least one successful hunter. Debbie Carter and Phyllis Speer earned my greatest respect. Both are crack shots with a firearm, and each has years of hunting experience—but neither had taken an animal with a bow. They had practiced diligently before the safari, hoping that their track records with a bow would change. However, after seeing the large African animals up close, they expressed concern about the sheer size of the animals and the effectiveness of their lady-sized equipment. I assured them that a well-placed arrow, tipped with a razor-sharp broadhead, would be fatal to any plains game.
Phyllis proved this first, with a clean pass through the lungs of a blue wildebeest bull, using her 48-pound-pull Browning bow. We all applauded when Debbie Carter, who is not quite five feet tall , followed suit with a perfect heart shot on a large impala ram, shooting a 45-pound Hoyt bow. The confidence that comes with trophies of that caliber in the salt lit a fire in them both. Phyllis completed her African adventure with a beautiful nyala and a not-so-beautiful baboon. Debbie got the warthog with perfectly curled tusks she’d been holding out for.
The guys fared just as well. John Carter took an unusually tall horned gemsbok, along with a gnarly old warthog, a huge waterbuck and a large, blue wildebeest bull. Dennis will soon have the mounts of a wildebeest, gemsbok, warthog, long-fanged baboon and an impala delivered to his Kentucky trophy room. Steve Perry fulfilled his African dream with a warthog and an impala, in addition to the indelible memory of more exotic animals than he ever imagined.
I arrowed a lovely nyala with ivory tips. A couple of succulent impala fell to my Browning bow and found their way to our dinner table. Among my trophies was a mature bushbuck, which, apparently, is often known to exhibit dangerous behavior. However, the real prize of the entire hunt came on our last afternoon at Karongwe. Three years before in Botswana, I had been fortunate enough to take a huge, old warthog with 12-inch tusks. I actually suspected that hog would be my lifetime best, so I did not concentrate my hunting efforts at Karongwe on warthog.
Each day, I had encounters with a number of these homely creatures and was encouraged by the group to take one. The truth was, I simply was not tempted to take a lesser hog than I already had.
As the time for our departure drew near, an unspoken sadness blanketed the camp. I asked to be put in one of the ground hides for my last afternoon hunt at the ranch, embracing the idea of solitude to savor each of its sights, sounds and smells. This particular hide was built in a dense grove of mature trees and thornbushes that circled a waterhole. I had just finished adjusting my eyes to the interior darkness of the hide and finished my customary preranging of every distance to the trees and rocks in the area with my omnipresent Bushnell 600 Rangefinder. A band of baboons then converged on the watering hole. I remembered Craig’s advice concerning baboons and how they intimidated all other game. I drew and shot what I hoped was the alpha male to encourage the rest to congregate elsewhere. Afterward, a couple of hours went by with no animal encounters to disturb the reverie I was enjoying.
The snap of a stick breaking had me scanning the bushes with my 10×42 Bausch & Lomb binoculars, revealing a young male nyala. It circled the area curiously but never ventured into the clearing. More movement grabbed my attention. This time, it was an extremely large warthog that parted the brush. It sported a perfect 11- or 12-inch upper tusk on the right side of its mouth; only a broken stump protruded from its lips on the left side.
By nature, warthogs are nervous creatures, but this one seemed unusually so. It never drank or wallowed, although it looked intensely—almost longingly—at the water, only to trot back into the bush. This routine repeated itself at least three times over the next half-hour. Each time I expected it to let its guard down, relax and drink, it would erect its antenna-like tail and be gone in a flash. I thought that somehow it was picking up on my presence, although I hardly blinked. Furthermore, my scent was contained inside the hide and my carbon-impregnated suit.
Right before the hog made its final exit, another movement caught my eye. I saw the back and ears of another large warthog as it made its way into the shady opening. My jaw dropped several inches at the first sight of the warthog’s massive head and enormous, curved tusks. I’d never seen such a hog, even in pictures. Yet, here it was, 30 yards in front of me.
It immediately charged the one-tusked hog. A short skirmish followed, with old One-tusk soon lying flat on its back in submission. This incident solved the mystery of its jittery behavior. These warthogs had met before, and obviously, each knew which one ruled the waterhole. To my dismay, as the whipped hog raced away squealing, the victor strutted its fat haunches back into the thicket. In my mind, I did an instant replay of the scene, questioning my decision to wait for a closer, more-perfect shot. Now, the trophy of a lifetime was gone. Nevertheless, good sense soon replaced disappointment, and I realized that scuffling hogs offering a front or rear shot were not anything I wanted to chance a shot at. It was better that this monarch went unscathed.
No sooner had I justified my actions than I was granted another look at this monster and its long, knobby warts that protruded from each side of its head like bicycle handlebars. This time, I knew that if I were offered one decent shot angle, I would be ready. I drew the 60-pound bow twice, spacing the 20- and 30-yard fiberoptic pins on the warthog’s chest—only to let down and hope for a less-extreme angle.
On the third pull of the bow, as I settled in on the 25-yard target, I found that my ragged breathing was making the sight pins bounce around uncontrollably. Easing the bowstring down once more, I recalled my early years of bowhunting, when I often had to talk myself out of a case of the shakes. Once I regained my composure, I drew the powerful bow for the last time on this African dream safari.
The warthog ambled aimlessly around the clearing before dropping to its knees in the mire and burying its nose to drink. Its body was positioned in a 75-degree angle toward me, and the distance had shortened by five yards. I studied the warthog’s shoulder area closely before deciding that I could successfully place an arrow behind the tough shoulder shield and into the animal’s vitals for a killing shot. The green pin on the Cobra sight glowed brightly on the black mud and the warthog’s charcoal-colored skin. This time, it didn’t shake. I watched the flash of the yellow-and-white-crested arrow reach its apex before reaching the spot the sight pin had formerly occupied. The blur of commotion was followed by a crash in the thorny bush.
My habit of immediately checking the time after a bow shot to allow the animal ample time to expire came next, followed by another instant replay of the action in my head. This time, there were no doubts. I was confident about the hit—extremely confident that this was, indeed, a special trophy. I was particularly pleased with this fitting closure to a wonderful hunt. My African dream had come true.–Brenda Valentine