By Allan Cilliers
I have bow hunted plains game in Africa multiple times, but I have yet to experience the ultimate bow hunt. I retrace my thoughts of the past, I have become a firm believer of bow hunting game in their natural surroundings and which are indigenous to an area. The ultimate bow hunt, is a fair chase hunt by stalking, I prefer not to sit in a blind all day, where many bow hunting destinations today lure game to bow hunting blinds at waterholes, licks and supplementary feed to within shooting distance of a bow hunter.
I found one of the best bow hunting destinations, in Namibia, a huge area bordering Bushmanland, owned and operated by the Cilliers family, including a large adjoining concession. The hunting areas support a high density of indigenous and a self-sustaining population of game species. A true sense of wilderness in the African bush. Professional hunters with 40 years of conservation and hunting experience, of which 21 years has been dedicated to bow hunting. Exceptional trackers, the Ju/hoansii, world renowned hunters/trackers who still legally hunt with their traditional archery equipment today, in the huge, remote and trackless area of Bushmanland. (Jim Howard)
Allan, Jim said, a wildebeest bull, it is top of my hunting wish list, but I insist we hunt this animal the traditional way by stalking. Generally, not much is ever spoken about hunting the Wildebeest, but I can assure you they are very alert, especially, if one considers the abundance of predators here, such as the African wild dog, Leopard, Cheetah, Brown hyena, spotted hyena and the occasional visits by lion from Bushmanland, that prey on them daily.
To maximize our chances of success we need to locate and track Wildebeest bulls either single or in small herds of up to three animals, possibly breeding herds, but to many eyes in a large herd will make it easier for them to detect us.
A first attempt to stalk a single territorial bull was unsuccessful. A long and slow stalk took us to within 25 meters of the bull, that had already bedded down, alert and looking in our direction, an impossible bow shot.
A second attempted stalk was a small wildebeest breeding herd which was slowly feeding away from us. My tracker /Xaeise, nick named Bonnie, in front, Jim and I behind we soon found ourselves in the middle of the herd. An adult cow slowly fed by us, an ideal shot opportunity but not the right animal. Slowly belly crawling forward the big bull suddenly appeared broadside directly in front of us, a mere 20 paces. Unaware of our presence Jim tried to kneel, draw the bow and shoot. One twig obscuring the shooting lane became the hunter’s problem, an arrow deflection was inevitable, the bull then turned noticed our presence, snorted and disappeared.
The cold early morning wind numbing our fingers, spreading the sweet-smelling scent of the Combretum trees starting to bloom, the synchronized movement and arching shapes of the tall Eragrostis pallens and Stipagrostis uniplumas grasses, the wind silently dispersing their seeds over the cold Kalahari sand, a spectacle of nature.
Bonnie stopped, indicating fresh tracks of three wildebeest bulls, signs of them slowly feeding. The direction is good, the wind is in our favor. Jim looked down in amazement, how is it possible for these trackers to identify fresh tracks and in particular the hoof prints of a specific species amongst the hundreds of indentations made by animals in the soft sand? Look, the coloration of the sand changes, no mice or insect markings on the spoor.
Jim and I behind, Bonnie begins to apply his amazing tracking skill, his trained eyes scans the tracks ahead, and at the same time looks for signs of any other species of game that could interfere with our stalk. Suddenly he stops get down Gemsbuck ahead, amazingly we watch 3 Gemsbuck feeding slowly, moving from our left to right eventually disappearing in the dense Terminalia shrub. Jim looked at me in amazement, a successful stalk and hunt if we were after Gemsbuck.
Fresh rhino tracks, cow and calf, using the wind in our favor, Bonnie carefully deviates from the wildebeest tracks to avoid any possible confrontation with the rhinos. After carefully looping around we returned to search for the wildebeest tracks. Bonnie points out the tracks and their fresh wet dung still gleaming in the morning sun, a clear sign where they briefly stopped to feed in a small clearing.
After tracking the wildebeest for a few 100 meters, Bonnie stops , listen he said, the rustling of dry leaves in the wind we asked? No, he said listen carefully and there it was, the distinct audible clicking sound of eland as they leisurely fed ahead of us. We patiently sat camouflaged in the dark shadows of a dense Grewia bicolar bush, the strong and flexible wood used by the Bushman to make their bow limbs from.
At very close quarters we patiently watched as a spectacular scene unfolded, the eland slowly moving, using their massive spiral horns to snap off the new growth, sprouting high up in the Combretum psidiodes trees, a preferred plant that they feed on. A fascinating animal that leads a very nomadic life style, their preferred habitat, huge sandy areas in which to move, with an abundance of food sources, from preferred soft woody browse plants to bulbs that they dig up.
Once the eland moved passed Bonny looked for the wildebeest tracks that were totally covered up by eland tracks. After ten minutes of searching the tracks were found, still fresh and leading us into a scenic woodland area, with towering Pterocarpus angolensis (African teak) trees.
After three and a half hours of tracking, walking, and moving around in odd posture positions in the thick soft sandy soils one begins to feel the strain on the legs and lower back muscles.
Bonnie abruptly stopped, crouched to his knees and pointed ahead, to the trained eye one could only see the odd shape of wildebeest horns through the dense Terminalia shrub, reflecting in the morning sunlight.
Assessing the terrain ahead, looking for ideal foliage cover and possible shooting lanes, we slowly and carefully made our approach, Bonnie periodically looking over the grass cover indicating to me the movement of the three wildebeest bulls. Jim crawling flat on the ground, holding his bow in his out stretched arms, using his elbows as leverage, slowly inched his way forward.
Within 30 meters I had a quick look at the three bulls, I indicated to Jim, they are all good trophies and to shoot anyone of them that presents a clear shot.
Video camera in hand, I pointed out to a small wild apple leaf (Lanchocarpus nelsii) tree, well positioned between us and the wildebeest, a mere 20 meters from the three feeding bulls.
I gave Bonnie the thumbs up and indicated to Jim to follow him. Stay low and crawl Bonnie insisted. Heart beating twice the speed, the adrenalin rush felt by Jim, was an indication of excitement, a constant reminder of the experience about to unfold.
The last 10 paces of the stalk felt like hours had passed, eventually reaching the dark shade presented by the wild apple tree.
From a belly crawling position, rising slowly to a kneeling position , Jim carefully drew his bow, moved to the side of the tree cover, spotting the wildebeest bull slowly feeding 20 meters away and unaware of the human predator, Jim released the arrow.
The big old mature bull lunged forward, the momentum of the heavy speeding arrow found its mark, penetrating the top part of the lungs and causing damage to the opposite shoulder.
The bull collapsed, allowing Jim enough time to release a second arrow, the wildebeest succumbed within seconds.
An incredible fair chase bow hunt, that requires, persistence, and patients. The end result, a hard earned but a well-deserved trophy.
Jim With his hard earned Wildebeest