Article - HUNTING THE HIGH WINDS OF THE HIGHVELD
Hunting in the High Winds of the Highveld
by Engee Potgieter
A beautiful tall Blesbuck ram taken near Hlomohlomo in Zululand.
Hunting the wide open spaces of the South African Highveld brings with it some of its own an unique challenges, the most obvious is the lack of cover which usually means longer than average shots, the second is that there is more often than not strong winds that blow through much of the year. It might not mean much to the rifle hunter, but for a bowhunter these two factors are massive obstacles to overcome if you want to get your trophy in the salt. It had taken me quite a few years before I could confidently take a shot in a fairly strong crosswind and the only way I could accomplish this was with diligent practise in less than favourable conditions. The one species you are bound to come across on the Highveld and which is synonymous with vast open grasslands is the Blesbuck, now many a hunter frowns on these curious antelope but I have a very special place in my heart for the odd Blesbuck. I have heard hunters describe them as “stupid” or that there is no skill required in shooting one, probably not if you are sitting on the back of a “Kalahari battleship” toting a high power rifle, but hunt them on foot and with a bow to boot and you can expect a challenge of note. They are an affordable option popular with the local meat hunters and are not as prone to string jumping as other antelope of similar size which make them a favourite amongst bow hunters, a true bread and butter buck.
I had had the good fortune to hunt a number of these antelope over the years and each and every one had been a unique and challenging hunt, one ram in particular, incidentally my biggest to date had me working extra hard to get a shot. The hunt took place many years ago when I was on a hunting trip to the Eastern Cape; I had spotted a particularly large herd of Blesbuck early one morning when driving from the camp toward the hunting area, as is my second nature I stopped and pulled out the bino’s to glass the herd. I was surprised to see that there were quite a few rams that were well above the 17” mark, one or two that would even go 18”. I made a mental note to ask the property owner for permission to hunt one of them and continued on my way. Two days later I returned with the owner to the ridge I had seen the herd of Blesbuck which were more or less in the same place they had been a few days before. The herd of about 60 animals were scattered over an area about the size of a football pitch, with one or two decent rams on the outer edge, nearest to our position. The wind which was ever present was blowing fairly strongly across our front which would silence my approach but would force me to get rather close in order to ensure an accurate shot. Scanning the open ground between the herd and my position with the binoculars I picked out a few clumps of brush, which if lined up should serve as enough cover to get within range of the nearest ram without being spotted by the dozens of other Blesbuck scattered along the plateau.
Leaving the owner with the vehicle I slowly made my way down into the small depression before commencing my stalk up the slight rise toward the unsuspecting herd, the first 100yards was easy going as I could walk upright but soon had to continue on hands and knees as I topped the plateau the Blesbuck were on, I took some time to glass ahead for any unseen Blesbuck that may have broken away from the main herd and were between me and my intended target, all seemed clear and I slowly continued on my way, making sure to keep the few clumps of brush between me and the few Blesbuck that were standing around, keeping guard over the main herd. I soon reached a spot where I could scan with my binoculars through the herd while remaining hidden behind a thick bush on the edge of the open field. I soon noticed a nice ram standing perfectly broadside, chewing the cud on the left hand edge of the herd, swapping my bino’s for my rangefinder I took a reading, 57 yards. A long shot when taking into account the strong wind, but I had full confidence that I could put my arrow where it needed to be. I didn’t want to risk going any closer as there were a number of lookouts standing around and the cover between me and the ram was scarce, therefore I nocked an arrow and readied to take the shot. I calculated that with the strength of the wind, that was steadily coming across my front from right to left, I needed to aim off target at least 8inches. One last reading with the rangefinder confirmed the distance and with that I slowly drew back my bow and anchored, as soon as my small bright sight pin settled on the front of the ram’s shoulder I touched the shot off. I could immediately see that I had read the wind well and the arrow was well on its way to dissect the ram’s vitals, well that is until he took a step forward. The arrow disappeared in an instant, well back from where it should have been. I was horrified! Fortunately the ram never knew what hit him and leisurely ran off with the rest of the herd in tow. I needn’t look at the arrow to confirm my suspicions, I knew it was at best a liver shot, fatal if given the necessary time to expire but I desperately wanted to put a quick and painless end to the rams suffering. Experience has taught me that it is best not to follow up immediately in such a situation, the wounded animal if left undisturbed would quickly bed down and that would allow me the opportunity to sneak in for a second and final shot. Watching the departing herd I noticed that the ram soon broke away from the main body of animals and headed for an area with numerous small to medium Acacia trees, this is exactly what I wanted to see.
I gave the ram some time to stiffen up before slowly making my way over to where I had seen him disappear, the last thing I needed now was to spook him. My careful progress soon paid off when I spotted the wounded ram’s rump behind a clump of brush, a few yards to the right and I would be able to thread an arrow into the ram’s vitals. Still on my knees I painstakingly moved a few yards to the right before taking a range at the ram, 29 yards. The ram had his head down, probably already feeling the affect of the shaving sharp broadhead. I quietly nocked an arrow and put it just ahead of the nearest back leg, aiming for the offside shoulder. At the shot the ram broke out from the cover, his front legs seemingly unable to carry his weight while the muscular back legs kept pushing the ram forward, only to come to a crashing stop a few steps further. I was right about the first shot, the height was perfect but it had passed cleanly through the ram about six inches behind the shoulder, the second shot had done the job as intended, passing right through the vitals before stopping against the far shoulder. My estimate was also right on the mark, the ram’s longest horn taped just short of 18 inches, a great trophy in any mans book.
The “second chance” Blesbuck mentioned in the text.
I had long wanted to take a good White Blesbuck for my trophy room and recently got the opportunity to hunt one just outside of Ermelo on the farm of Pieter Geldenhuys, a book keeper by trade with a friendly country demeanour, he had quite a number of White and Common Blesbuck and what stood out immediately was how tame his herd of Blesbuck were. Pieter had apparently gone to great lengths to get them as tame as they were and I could easily believe that it had been a ten year process in the making. I was keen to see if I could get a shot at one of the many trophy sized rams. We decided that the best plan would be for him to drop me off close to one of the few clumps of Black Wattle that were seemingly drifting in a sea of yellow grass, I would take cover just inside the sanctuary of the tangled branches while Pieter tried to move a nearby herd in my general direction, with some luck I would be able to identify a shootable ram and take the shot. This is a tactic I have used to great success in the past but it is far from straight forward as the specific ram you want to take rarely comes by within range or if it does come by within range there is often another either directly in front or behind the target animal, so it usually takes a few trial runs before you connect with your trophy. This time would be no different, the day started out perfectly clear and without as much as a breeze but toward midday the wind had picked up substantially, causing the otherwise tame animals to become restless as is often the case in windy conditions. At first it seemed that there was no way that the animals would be “herded” into the correct position as the main body of animals kept breaking up and scattering, compounded by the fact that there was one large White Blesbuck ram chasing and jostling with younger males. But with each pass Pieter made the distance closed and I soon ranged the closest animals at just under 100 yards, I had also picked out two possible trophy rams whom I would be happy to put an arrow in, the first was the wide horned ram that had been chasing all the others, the second was a tall ram that seemed to keep to the outer edge of the herd, probably to stay away from the fight hungry herd leader. I had a feeling that the latter was the stronger candidate as I needed the animal I wanted to shoot to stand well clear of the others, something the first ram hardly ever did as he weaved in and out of the herd chasing competitors.
Author with his trophy White Blesbuck measuring a hair short of 18”
It was around the fourth pass that the moving mass of white and brown bodies came to a stop at what seemed just inside my maximum shooting distance, hardly taking notice of Pieter as he drove past beyond the herd and totally oblivious of the danger lurking in the shadows behind them. I quickly scanned the herd with my bino’s looking for one of the two rams I had earmarked, one soon came running into view, it was the wide ram still relentlessly chasing others, I knew that there was no way of getting a shot at this ram as he almost never stood still long enough in one place for me to launch an arrow, so I sifted through the remainder of the herd for the second tall ram. Great was my surprise when he popped into focus well within range and to the left of the herd, he only had a female standing in front of him and a clear channel behind him. I frantically searched my pocket for my rangefinder and quickly took a reading, 38 yards! Making sure not to be spotted I nocked an arrow and drew, settling into my anchor point I waited for the female to step clear of my trophy, I needn’t wait long as the unsettled herd to the right of them caused the ewe to step forward and change position to keep an eye on the action behind them. This was just the gap I wanted; I settled my small little yellow pin on the centre of the ribcage of the quartering away ram and confidently squeezed the trigger. The arrow struck with a resounding thump, the Muzzy broadhead slicing an incredible gash in the rams side before exiting right on the point of the far shoulder, breaking it. The ram dropped his head and charged forward in classic heart shot fashion, the remainder of the herd looked confused and slowly made their way in the opposite direction. In the meantime the mortally wounded ram had gone down about 80yards from where he had stood, perfect. A smiling Pieter joined me as we walked up to my fallen trophy, he had seen the whole scene unfold from a distance away was almost happier than I was with the beautiful ram. The arrow tipped with its surgically sharp broadhead had done what it was intended and I was happier as a pig in you-know-what as we drove back to the farmhouse.
The gash left by the 130gr 4-blade Muzzy on entry.