A BRACE OF BIG 5
The year was July 1998. We were in the Northern regions of the Kalahari just below the beautiful Kalahari Gemsbok Park in South Africa. We sat on a sand dune that overlooked the vast open spaces of Tswalu Desert Reserve. Around us was a 110 000 hectare that made it the largest privately owned game ranch in the world. It was a hunters dream. On the estate were 35 species of game that could be hunted. It included animals like 4 000 Springbok, 2 000 Blesbok, 1 000 Gemsbok, 850 Eland, 1 000 Blue Wildebeest, 700 Black Wildebeest, 700 Red Hartebeest and many many more.
Of the rarer species that was present included 250 Roan Antelope, 280 Sable Antelope, 200 Tsessebe, 70 White Rhino, 150 disease free Buffalo, Cheetah, Leopard, 2 prides of Lions and last but not least, the pride and joy of Tswalu, 14 Desert Black Rhino or (Diceros Bicornis Bicornis). All of these roamed freely on this vast expanse of land that was Tswalu.
Tswalu means (A new beginning) and was founded by an Englishman named Steven Boler, a great businessman and hunting client of us. He wanted to give something back to Africa after hundreds of animals and many years hunting with us. Who says that hunting does not pay for conservation? We planned, build, managed and hunted in this (Garden of Eden). The breading of endangered species was only one of the many faces of Tswalu. Species like the King Cheetah, Mountain Zebra and Desert Elephant. Even animals like Nyala lived in the thick bush around the base of the Korranaberg Mountains that formed the Eastern boundary of the estate.
Yawan and I sat on a dune and looked at the morning flight of the Burchells and Namaqua Sandgrouse as they sped past us on the way to quench their thirst at a nearby waterhole. We were relaxing our trembling muscles after slogging up and down endless sand dunes following the side-plate size tracks of four Buffalo bulls. Yawan and Buffalo were like (white on rice) and (battery and torch). He will never grow tired of them. We spooked the four bulls early in the morning and paid the price now. They were on their way to the other side of the Kalahari, or so it seamed.
Suddenly the radio came alive. Pieter, my friend and fellow PH that was hunting with Yawans brother called me and said that he saw the Buff we were after crossing a dune close to a distant waterhole. They were miles away. Maybe, just maybe they were thirsty and tired as well and would have a drink and bed down before the heat gets too much. I summoned the truck via the radio and went to where Pieter was waiting to show us the place. He had a good chuckle when he saw how tired we were as he was on a rifle hunt and had things easy. Samir, (Yawans brother) was a good shot and Pieter did not have to follow any wounded animals yet. After finding the tracks again I wished Pieter and Samir a world of bad luck and so the slog started again.
They did have a drink at the water and the tracks showed that they were looking to bed down. Slowly and carefully we moved forward. We did not have the strength to follow if we spooked them again. Yawan was using a new Browning Afterburner at 80lb. The arrows were Easton XX75 2317 with weight tubes and tipped with 125gr Satellite 2 blade cut on impact broadheads to give a total weight of 850gr.
Duiker (my Bushman tracker) suddenly froze and pointed with his chin. There, only 25 yards away, the four bulls lay under a Blackthorn tree. Facing in all four directions it made things difficult to find a clear broadside shot as at least one would be facing our way. One bull got up and looked to the side. With half his body in the bush and only the front half clear, he offered a shot. He was the smallest of them all but that did not matter. He was good enough for Yawan. The Afterburner came to full draw and Yawan touched the release.
The four bulls took most of the Blackthorn tree with them as they exploded into action. We were trying to blend in with the burning red sand and yellow grass that was all the cover we had. Luckily for us, the oldest bull led the way down wind at a 90 degree angle from us. Half of the arrow stuck out of the shoulder of the one bull. A perfect shot but bad penetration. (Give him plenty of time) I said to Yawan after our hearts calmed down to 180 beats/minute. An hour later we carefully took up the track and followed the drops of blood. It did not look good. 400 yards further, we saw him lying under a Terminalia tree. We ever so slowly crept up on his blind-side. There was no sign of life in the buffalo but we did not chance anything. None of the other 3 were anywhere in sight. Yawan gave him a second arrow at a quartering away angle just behind the shoulder.
As the arrow thudded home, the Bull jumped up and spun around facing us. This dead Buff just got new life again and he looked unhappy about it. A third arrow went straight down his throat into the heart. That put him down a second time as we stood frozen to the spot with me blinking to try and keep the sweat from my eyes as I looked through the ghost-ring sights of my old .416 rifle. After what felt like an hour but was in fact only a few seconds his head lowered to the ground and the end came. Small or not, he is still a Buffalo and Yawan and I just sat down next to him and reflected on what just happened.
Both the first arrows only went in +- 17 inches. Luckily from two sides. The broadheads did not hold up and was bent badly after encountering the heavy ribs. They did do enough damage thou to weaken him enough for the frontal shot to have an almost immediate effect. I believe today that we used the broad head for a job that it was not designed for and it could have ended differently if not tragically for us.
We arrived back at the lodge exhausted, just in time for a late lunch. During the meal Paul (the manager and Outfitter of Tswalu) walked in with a grin on his face and said to Yawan. (Hey! Robin Hood. Do you want to be a saviour and shoot a big male Lion that mauled one of our labourers a while back?) One look at Yawan was enough for me to hate Paul for ever. We stopped eating and grabbed our equipment. Yawan changed the Broad heads for some 125gr three blade Muzzy's while I changed from 400gr Barnes solids to 400gr Swift A-frame softs in my rifle. Off we went again. I was still hungry and tired.
After nearly one and a half hour drive and at the Northern boundary of Tswalu we came upon the fresh tracks of the Lion. He was alone. I knew this cat. He was a big problem in the area. He was also huge. Sometimes he was as bold as a statue and other times as sly as only a cat can be. The tracks followed a sandy road into some scrub to the base of a small hill. I really did hope that he was not lying on the same hill and watched us as that would quickly alert him to our plan. It was getting late and the time would soon pass for us to continue the hunt.
The next moment Duiker was flat on his belly in the sand, pointing to our left with eyes as big as the setting sun. It is strange how quickly you feel that cold grip of danger in your body when you know that the Lion is close but you can see nothing of him. Then I saw a flicker of an ear and he became visible. He was 21 yards away and lying in the grass perfectly camouflaged. His body was full frontal but his head was turned to the side as he was looking at Paul who was in a truck on top of a dune some 300 meters away.
Yawan was ready with the bow and I showed him where to aim one and a half foot below the ear. That would put the arrow straight in the cat's throat and into the heart. On release of the arrow, the Lion looked our way and the arrow hit him squarely between the eyes with a loud thwack. I can still remember my blood freezing as the Lion jumped 8 feet straight up and deafened us with an ear shattering roar. He did a complete back summersault and flopped around roaring the whole time. I could not believe my eyes or ears. I grabbed Yawan and we ran closer to keep the cat in sight. Yawan had a second arrow ready and as the Lion got to his feet, he shot the most beautiful arrow right through the heart. The arrow went in behind the ribcage and the broad head exited in front of the opposite shoulder. Why he did not charge I shall never know. He grunted few times and then he was still. I lowered my rifle and rubbed the sweat from my eyes. The Barking Gecko's clicking sounds were all around us as the dust settled and the red sky welcomed the night.
Yawan later told me that he punched the release before his pin was properly aimed at the correct spot on the lion. He was still lowering the sight when the arrow flew. I have never seen anything like that before or since. What a day! Two of the Big 5 and both hunted with a bow. I shall never have that either again. The whole of the Kalahari will be safer until the next rogue comes along.
I fear that the time to hunt these majestic animals in our beloved Africa is becoming a thing of the past. As I write these words I recall something that a legendary Big game hunter of yester year - Arthur Weber - told me many years ago. I did not understand the true meaning of his words until recently. He said: (Enjoy it all while you can. You guys are the last of a breed that shall never be again). How naive we all are when we are young and full of life.
Thank you to Yawan. The best friend a PH can have.
Askari Adventures and Fritz Rabe Bow Hunting.