By Paul D. Atkins
When they came, they did so with dignity, and honor. Red dust filtered the air and so did the unmistakable smell of bovine and dung as they moved towards the waterhole that was below me. I tried twice to stand and when I finally did make it up to my knees I begin to shake. Six bulls, six big Cape Buffalo bulls finally came to a stop directly in front of the tree I was sitting in. I was a nervous wreck, breathing hard and taking forever to get the release on the string. After four tries I finally did. In my 35 years of bow hunting this was going to be the most important and expensive shot I would ever make on an animal.
When I was younger, I dreamed of nothing else but going to Africa and hunting Cape Buffalo. It would be the ultimate adventure, man against beast, and I vowed that someday I would go. I read everything I could on the subject back then, Ruark, Capstick, and Hunter, that stuff was pure gold to me and if it involved archery then that much more. The want became a total obsession and unlike most dreams where time usually becomes a killer, this one did not.
Time is a funny thing, but a decade later I landed a job that allowed me to save a little money and start an African fund. It took awhile, but eventually I had enough to go. So, in 2003 after some careful planning and searching I booked a bow hunt with a good friend of mine, but it wasn’t for buffalo, it was just for plains game. Buffalo were too expensive for my budget back then and it just wasn’t possible.
I spent 10 incredible days with Dries Visser Safaris just north of Thabazimbi, South Africa. Every day was like a dream, from the pre-dawn ride to the blind to sitting and watching all those incredible animals, it was truly amazing. I was extremely lucky on that first trip, taking seven animals including a 56” Kudu and 27” Impala, and even though I couldn’t shoot, I did get to see and film a lot big buffalo during my time there.
Like all good things they never last long enough. Africa is like that, once you get home you want to turn around and go back again. Six years later I did, but this time it was on my own. My wife didn’t like it much, but knowing more of what to do, I went anyway. This trip included hunting those species that I had seen the first time, but not taken, and like the first, buffalo were not on the menu.
Getting on a jet by yourself and flying to the other side of the world to bowhunt can seem like an enormous task. I found out that going solo a second time is quite different than having a partner with you, and in hindsight I wouldn’t do it again, but once I did get to camp and met other likeminded bowhunters I had an incredible time. It was another awesome 10 days. Memories from my first hunt mingled with the new created a magic that few hunts can fulfill. Each day was something new; spot and stalking Red Hartebeest to hunting Black Wildebeest from a tree stand, it was truly a remarkable time. I took eight animals in those ten days, saw hundreds more including the animal that I wanted more than ever, but couldn’t hunt, the buffalo.
Like everything else hunting in Africa takes time and money but compared to some hunts here in North America it’s still a very good deal. After returning in 2009 I decided to cut back on travel and save for another trip across the Atlantic. It took time and many sacrifices. No Montana, no Arizona, and no Kansas, but I knew that I could get all the bow hunting I wanted here in Alaska. I’m lucky I know, and many would consider that enough, but the dream of bow hunting Mbogo still haunted me.
In 2015 I decided it was now or never and begin making preparations for the summer of 2016. I had done my research and with the price of buffalo hunts on the decline I knew it was time to go. My long time Alaska hunting partner Lew Pagel also wanted the experience and was all in for the adventure. This would be his first safari and really his first bow hunting experience. The planning began.
After two trips to the Dark Continent with the same safari company I knew who to call, more importantly I knew what to expect. Dries Visser Safaris is the leading safari company in South Africa and have been for many years. Well known for producing not only the biggest trophies but creating one of the best experiences in Africa today.
I emailed Dries and asked the necessary questions that all guided hunts require. Dates, cost and various other questions that you need to know when it comes to booking an adventure of this magnitude.
“Cape Buffalo?” he asked in the email.
“Yes”, I replied, “plus Porcupine and hopefully a Red Hartebeest if we’re lucky”, the two animals that eluded me the last time over.
There are a lot of things you have to prepare for when hunting dangerous game and I knew I needed to give myself plenty of time. Cape buffalo are big nasty animals that can be incredible hard to kill if not done correctly or without the right gear. Everything you’ve heard, read or seen about these bad boys is true and having the right gear is a must if you plan to it correctly.
My archery set-up was complete and for the next four months you could find me shooting everyday. Those big arrows and broadheads looked funny setting on my arrow rest and I wondered at every shot if they would actually go to where they were meant too. They were heavy and slow, but each time the Copper John sight settled they found their mark.
Lew arrived at my house in Oklahoma a few days before our late June departure. We continued our practice sessions and visited a couple of animal parks to have a look at some of the species we would be hunting. Sounds weird, but you can’t believe how much this helps when it comes to hunting animals they you’ve never seen before.
Our plane ride over was smooth and the three-hour ride to camp went by quickly. The next morning at breakfast Hein, my long time PH and friend asked me what I wanted to do first, more specifically what was most important. Eight days is a long time on safari, but I really had only one goal and that was to hunt buffalo I told him.
We loaded up in the Toyota and left camp. Now Visser’s is an amazing place that encompasses an incredible 35 square miles and has just about every animal that calls the Limpopo province home. The roads seem to go on forever, each covered in that dusty red dirt that South Africa is well known for. That “dirt “was actually our focus for the first couple of days searching for buffalo tracks, trying to find a fresh set that had crossed in the night. We did this with little luck, but on the third day we got more than tracks spotting a small group of bulls at a nearby waterhole. There were six in the bunch ranging in size, both body wise and horn length, but what really got our attention was the two big boys in the back. Shooters for sure!
Hein turned to me and asked, ‘How about hunting from a tree stand?” Shooting from a tree had never crossed my mind, but Hein knew that these same bulls would use this waterhole for the next couple of days and the tree that sat close by would work perfectly. The bulls left and we hung a stand. Jonas my tracker is a miracle worker and like all African trackers had the stand hung in no time.
We arrived the next morning before daylight. I climbed the tree in the dark, got buckled in and then hauled up my bow and pack. I was ready, excited and a bit scared all at the same time. This is was what I dreamed of.
I could see them coming long before they got there, black bodies filing in from right, scooting through the low-lying thorn. I grabbed my bow and stood nervously making sure everything was where it was supposed to be. I quickly went through my checklist, got my bearings and made sure of my ranges.
The six bulls came in single file stirring dust and filling the air with that old familiar “cattle” smell. The first two were smaller bulls with soft bosses, the second two a little bigger and last but not least the two old “dugga boys” we had seen previously. I focused on the last bull.
I stood and watched, telling myself to be patient and not force a shot. The big bull came straight in and stopped 18 yards facing me. He stood there forever. Finally, he turned to go, and I thought he was leaving, but he didn’t, giving me a 22-yard quartering away shot. I knew this was it, the moment of truth.
I don’t remember aiming, heck I don’t even remember looking at the pins. I do remember thinking that I had to shoot him far back in order to get to his vitals. I released watching 954 grains enter his black hide just behind the last rib disappearing completely. The bull bolted, along with the others, vanishing into the thorn in front of me. It was done. I quickly sat down, trying to catch my breath and stop shaking. Hein had been sitting in a tree 30 yards to my left but was already down and looking up at me smiling. I was ecstatic. I had my buffalo and even though it still hadn’t sunk in I knew I had accomplished my dream or so I thought.
I climbed down and we started looking for my arrow and blood, we found neither. I got worried. The arrow had vanished into his side and from my angle it looked as if it had exited. We never found it. We tracked the bull with Jonas in the lead, but there wasn’t any blood to be found. I was nervous and a bit sick at my stomach but didn’t need be. Up ahead we could see the bull piled up.
He was everything I dreamed of. 41 inches with a hard boss and massive, a great trophy and even more so an incredible morning. The rest of our days were filled with fun and adventure. I was able to take two huge porcupines and even though the Red Hartebeest I was after eluded us I was able to arrow another Impala and a decent Waterbuck. Lew had an incredible hunt as well, taking Zebra, Warthog and a very fine Kudu. It was a great adventure, but like usual I was sorry to leave. It was one of the greatest times of my hunting life.
Paul Atkins is an outdoor writer and author from Kotzebue, Alaska. He’s had hundreds of articles published on big game hunting in Alaska and throughout North America and Africa, plus surviving in the Arctic. His new book “Atkins’ Alaska” is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and everywhere good books are sold. It can also be ordered through his website www.paulatkinsoutdoors.com and if you want an autographed copy contact email@example.com