Hunt The Sun

I did not really need to go on another African plains game hunt with my longbow but my friend, Tom, was convincing. He explained how the outfitter, Mike Birch of South Africa, was such a fun guy and so accommodating that I would have a great time. Tom had hunted with him two years prior and had a great experience, as did his non-hunting wife. What finally convinced me was that Mike encouraged bowhunters to spot and stalk. That is unusual for African bowhunting, as your odds of taking game with traditional bows rapidly declines the farther you get from a waterhole. However, that is my favorite kind of hunting and I greedily took the bait.

I had been to Namibia twice, 11 and 9 years previous, and have taken several great trophies, including a 57-inch kudu. All had been at water, though I did voice call in a jackal from 70 yards to four feet for a stunning shot. I was warned then that stalking is a waste of time and to just stay at the water. I did not really need any African additions to my trophy room, but the idea intrigued me. Tom insisted that it could be done with a stickbow, as he had taken an excellent nyala on foot the two years prior.

Mike runs a very good and tight ship. His local man met our group of three traditional bow hunters with two observing ladies at the airport, made sure all our luggage was secure and had a bed and breakfast lodge awaiting us. In the morning, his man took us back to the airport and made sure again that all our gear and seat accommodations were solid to continue our journey to Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The plan was to hunt five days at his holdings near there and then go on a six-hour sightseeing drive to the north to reach his Kimberly operation.

A great deal of South Africa had been in a severe drought for four years and the vegetation suffered accordingly. What may have been four-foot-tall stalking grass in a good year was only six inches, though there was still a lot of thorn bush to give some cover. I tried stalking zebra and springbok and got close, but could not get to my self-imposed 30-yard restriction. I finally shot a nice stallion over water, but Mike could sense I wanted to do it the “hard way.”

He always had a new idea to work each day, as the South Africans are famous for their ability to “make a plan,” which seems to be their national motto. If it’s stalking I wanted, then Mike would make a call and it would happen. Warren, my PH, would take me to another distant ranch with greater vegetation to achieve that goal.

It was a three-hour drive, but we left early in the darkened morning and soon the stalks were on track. I closed the distance on a great nyala to 20 yards, but as I minimally moved to open a shooting lane, the wind tickled my neck and it was over. There was a lot of game and much time, so the stalking continued. Most African game is quite hyper alert due to all their predators, including man, and I wondered if my skills were capable to get longbow close.

Author with duiker

Warren soon spotted a common duiker, unaware and 150 yards ahead of us, heading into a brush patch. As we cautiously approached the area, we saw no sign of his leaving. Off went our shoes and with additional heavy wool socks for silence, our micro steps began, searching through the tangle with my Leicas.

Finally, I could see him, only 16 yards away buried in the thorn bush. I found a tight shooting hole through the branches and sent a shaft through it. I had not planned on taking a duiker, but it was my chance and he was a mature ram. Warren’s tracking dog, Scrabble, caught up to where it had expired, 60 yards distant, after his death run, and I was jubilant.

I really wanted a nyala, though, and Mike set up a third ranch closer to the coast with more rainfall, and hence more vegetation, for our next adventure. It was loaded with nice bushbucks, nyalas and heavy brush.  Warren and I spent parts of three days attempting to score on a mature bull there to no avail. We saw several and I was within range three times, but no arrows were loosed, as I just did not have a clear shot in the brush. I did have great satisfaction, however, as I was doing really close-in hunting and not just ambushing at the water. It surely was a test of my skills.

Author (left) with Maron, the houndsman with caracal.

I noticed in Mike’s brochure that he listed a “caracal with dogs” hunt. I inquired and Mike made a plan. Two days later, I was following a pack of 10 howling dogs. We all were crawling through the thorn bush, bleeding from various extremities and I was constantly picking up my hat, which was continuously being torn off my head. I needed that hat or my bald pate would have been shredded. Every bit of plant life seemed to be covered in some type of sharp spines. The trees were not high there, perhaps 15 feet at the most, but they were extremely dense.

I had to be about six yards away to even see the cat. The dogs were howling and jumping up the tree it was in, in a constant chaotic cluster while I was trying to find a lane to shoot through. I found a six-inch hole and had the handlers pull and hold limbs out of the way as I readied my shot. I managed to bisect a two-inch limb just short of the Tom, and the arrow flew off to infinity. I moved in even closer to be able to see the cat, which made it an almost straight up target with a much smaller killing zone. This time the arrow flew true and he hurled himself from the tree on a short death run. A caracal with a longbow, that is unusual and Mike “had the plan.”

We then spent a day on a Big Five photo safari game preserve of 30,000 acres called Amakala. Everything was first class from dining to accommodations. We saw the Big Four and took photos, but we never saw the nocturnal and elusive leopard. The rest of my party then did a side excursion to the Addo Elephant Park, which is the third largest national park in South Africa. They had a great time and saw many of the massive beasts, as well as other game. However, I still had the nyala bug and Warren and I returned to our previous hunting area and resumed the chase.

There, we managed to belly crawl to within 34 yards of a good bull, but he sensed something was wrong. That made him come 10 yards closer head-on to investigate, while we were frozen in place on our bellies. He confirmed his instincts and blew off the ridge. It was a neat close encounter with a fabulous spotted beast, but now it was time for the travel day to the north.

Mike is a history buff and for six hours he told us all about the fascinating origins of his country and the Boer War of which he had several artifacts. The drive reminded me of crossing a desolate part of Nevada. Apparently it looks much different when they have their usual rainfall. At Mike’s Kimberly operation, the drought was even more marked. There it would be waterholes only, as the terrain really was not stalkable with a stickbow without the concealing tall grass.

I can’t say enough about Mike’s operation. I expected the food, drinks and accommodations to be excellent and they were without question. What made Mike different is that every day he inquired as to your satisfaction and put up several new options to try, such as the caracal. There were always new plans for the ladies being put forward as well. Besides the park excursions, we had to make a trip to the diamond area of Kimberly, for which it is famous.

PH (left) and author with gemsbok

There were no complaints from the gals on that journey. Mike was constantly at the ready to “make a plan.” In addition, he also is the most humorous outfitter I have encountered and your leg may be pulled repetitively. If your wish is just about any animal, he can make it happen, from dangerous to plains game. In summary, his service was extraordinary with always a smile and a twinkle in his eyes.

This trip also presented a chance to try the new Valkyrie archery arrow system and broadheads. They all preformed flawlessly with no failures and the heads, with a brief tune-up sharpening, are back in the quiver for the next adventure. The main component of this system is heavy one-piece broadheads with massive weight forward on the arrow. My gemsbok shot passed through its chest and lay ready to use again in the red sand, 21 yards beyond. Obviously tremendous penetration is achieved with this setup.–T. Vanasche

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