Article - WALKING AFTER WILDEBEEST
Walking After Wildebeest
By Engee Potgieter
Robust, remarkable and regal, the Blue Wildebeest makes for an impressive first impression and fantastic hunting species.
I was in a near trance like state, aimlessly staring off into the distance whilst listening to all the sounds around my blind on the warm and lazy winters morning, when I suddenly noticed them filtering into the open from out of the thick surrounding bush, a large herd of Blue Wildebeest walking in single file toward the waterhole I was sitting over. The Blue Wildebeest, or Brindled Gnu as it is also referred to, is not only a fabulous challenge to hunt but has also attained almost mythical status amongst hunters thanks to its incredible toughness and sheer will to live. Some people call them the “poor man’s buffalo” and once you have hunted them it isn’t hard to see where this analogy comes from as the Blue Wildebeest is one tough customer.
Throughout my hunting career I have had the opportunity to hunt a number of these stocky antelope with both rifle, handgun and bow and each one of these hunt not only had its own fair share of challenges but also served to teach me a great deal about this popular hunting species. The one things that stands out above all is the fact that a mature Blue Wildebeest is a spectacular animal to behold and when hunted on foot makes for a tough quarry in more ways than one. As the herd made its way to the water I noticed a good bull bringing up the rear of the herd and although I wasn’t planning on taking a Blue Wildebeest I hardly wanted to turn down the opportunity to take this handsome bull. By the time I took my bow from its stand the majority of the herd had taken a stand around some lusern that had been put out by the owner, the bull I was eyeing was amongst the small group, I carefully nocked an arrow and stood up but as I did the group of Wildebeest spooked and took off, stopping briefly at the opposite side of the waterhole, whether it was the wind or a sound I might have made I would never know, but the bull I was hoping to take made a mistake to stop almost broadside just off to the side of the big group, quickly ranging the distance I drew my bow and settled the pin low and tight behind the big shoulder. An instant later my arrow impacted loudly as it came to a stop with the opposite shoulder, the big bull lurched, dropped his head and took off straight over a bunch of small brush with the rest of the herd in tow. I stood in disbelief because things happened so fast I hardly had time to take it all in, but 20 minutes later I was standing over my very first trophy class Blue Wildebeest bull and so began a deep admiration for the species as a whole.
Unexpected trophy but trophy none the less, my first trophy sized Blue Wildebeest.
Over the following years I have had more opportunities to hunt this impressive antelope and with each hunt learned more about what exactly makes the Blue Wildebeest such revered hunting specie, they are tough as nails and very adaptable. So tough in fact that shots that would severely hamper other animals seems not to even register with a mature Blue Wildebeest. I learned this first hand the past season when I had to take down a big bull that had been injured by a client some months before. The Texan bowhunter had somehow misjudged the distance to the broadside bull and the arrow impacted the front leg, squarely in the “knee” joint. All efforts to find the bull during the remainder of the hunter’s week long hunt failed and after another few weeks of not seeing the bull we deducted that the injured leg must have become infected and the subsequent illness had most probably proven fatal. Big was our surprise when, one day out of the blue we again saw the injured bull, it was some six months later and he looked as right as rain. The only sign of the injury was a slightly swollen leg joint, but apart from that he looked healthy and apart from a slight limp had no problem getting around. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case when the summer finally rolled around, some underlying issues with the wounded leg caused it to swell up severely and the bull started to lose condition, not wanting the animal to waste away or suffer the decision was made to put him down.
The wounded bull mentioned in the text, notice the severely swollen leg to the left of the bulls face.
What it turned out to be was one of the most challenging hunts I have had in my life, regardless of the fact that the animal I was after was severely hampered by an injured leg and failing health I had to use every trick in my book to get close enough to the bull. The oppressive heat and humidity of the Zululand summer was also adding to the incredible challenge of killing the bull and hours of walking and tracking through dense summer vegetation was an uphill battle. After a number of close encounters I finally did get a brief opportunity at which I jumped when I got it, spotting the bull walking across a road and toward a long stretch of brush I quickly circled ahead of the bull and hastily closed the gap, we nearly bumped into each other when coming around a stand of head high thorn trees, I already had an arrow nocked and as the bull turned I aimed for the vitals deep within and put an arrow just ahead of the bulls quartering away rear leg, the effect of the arrows impact on the weakened bull was dramatic as he dropped his haunches as though spined and proceeded to collapse a few yards further. My shirt was drenched and I had sweat was stinging my eyes, I was worn out after chasing this bull, but the relief I felt having been able to put the old bull out of his misery nullified my physical investment in this hunt. Waiting for the pick-up vehicle I had time to inspect the bulls injured leg, in the months after the initial injury the leg had formed scar tissue internally which continued to develop, I assume because of regular use and had eventually caused the joint to swell up to the size of a small soccer ball. The legs movement was severely restricted and together with the its obvious physical effects on the bulls overall health must have made the last few weeks of its life, I am sure that the same injury on any other antelope would have been fatal much sooner than it had been with this stalwart of a bull.
My redemption bull hunted in the Kalahari.
Now anyone who has hunted long enough have made their fair share of mistakes, and I am certainly no different, and the most recent Blue Wildebeest I hunted taught me another very valuable lesson. I was on a weeklong hunt with FM Safaris when I got the opportunity to hunt a very old Blue Wildebeest bull, Roland Kriel and I were hot on the trail of a small group of Gemsbuck when we spotted the bull of to the side, seeing as the Gemsbuck we were after had evaded us we thought it best to grab the opportunity at the unwitting Wildebeest. A careful stalk soon brought us within shooting distance of the bull, but we had trouble spotting the bull through the maze of Swarthaak thickets, a very careful game of cat and mouse ensued as we tip toed around trying to catch a glimpse of the hidden bull which could not be more than a few dozen paces ahead of us. We eventually did see the bull but with our sneaking about within the bulls comfort zone it seems he became aware of our presence because he stood statuesque staring in our direction, but before I could get a shot off he turned and walked away, it didn’t seem as though he was too alarmed so we jumped up and set off after the bull, the soft sand underfoot muffling our footfalls. After a couple of yards of zigzagging through the brush I spotted the bull walking slowly away and decided to take the shot, a short sharp whistle stopped the bull in his tracks and as soon as the crosshairs of my crossbow settled I squeezed the shot. Knowing immediately that I had rushed it I wasn’t too surprised when the bull turned and ran, revealing the exit way to high and to far forward than I had wanted. What followed was a number of hours of tracking under the relentless Kalahari sun, had I taken a few precious seconds longer to ensure that I executed the shot perfectly I would have spared myself the punishing tracking job. But I took my “punishment” like a man and was finally able to put the bull down when Stef, my tracker and I caught up with him, many miles later. Now I must admit that I certainly would not have been able to catch up to this bull had it not been for the incredible tracking prowess of Stef, I would like to think of myself as a fairly capable tracker but I was in utter disbelief at the talent of Stef, there were many occasions where the bull had joined up with other Wildebeest or crossed paths with other game but Stef was still able to discern which was the track we were after, not that there was a lot of blood to go on, only a drop here and there. At one point the bull crossed a low rock strewn hillside that more closely resembled a moon landscape that the Kalahari, I was certain that we would lose the trail, as one would have a hard time seeing if a truck had come racing through the area let alone a fleet footed Wildebeest. But still Stef persisted, picking out minute signs, but try as I might I could just not see what he was seeing and even after he pointed out the subtle signs to me I still had a hard time to pick them out as fast as he could. Trackers are all too often only called upon when things go wrong, but they are an integral part of any hunting operation, I make it my business to get to know these people as they have a wealth of information which one can learn from. As with most things in life it is always intriguing to watch a master at work and if you plan on hunting tough species it is a fair bet that one day you might bungle up a shot, chances are good you will one day end up walking behind one of these incredible trackers.
But regardless of what has been said of the wonderful Blue Wildebeest, they certainly don’t have any mystical powers and are definitely not bulletproof, but what they truly are is tough and one tough customer when it comes to hunting them. Screw up a shot and you are sure to pay for it, wound one and you can be assured of a taxing follow up. But alas, the opposite is also true, put a shot through the vitals and you are bound to crumple its legs within a hundred yards, just be sure to take those few seconds longer to ensure your shot is on the money, take it from me, the alternative is gruelling.