The Ups and Downs of African Bowhunting

Posted by Jay McAninch on August 4, 2014 in Bowhunting
Jay drawing,impala with johnny vivier ATA CEO/President Jay McAninch drawing on an impala with professional hunter Johnny Vivier.

When bowhunters pull back on animals, anything can happen. Each shot is affected by your technique, mindset, equipment, conditions, the animal’s wariness, and a little luck. If things work smoothly, you execute the shot and soon claim the animal.

A well-placed shot provides deep satisfaction, but there’s usually some anxiety to sort out immediately after the shot as you replay what happened. In the end, each shot I have ever taken adds to my knowledge and continues building my capability as a bow hunter. On my African bowhunt, shots I took at three animals epitomized the shot execution that is at the heart of bowhunting.

My kudu came on a special day. Just hours before, I watched my longtime colleague Michelle Zeug shoot a kudu from the same blind with Koos DeWet, our professional hunter, or PH. Shortly after we set up, our group watched impala, blesbok, eland, and common and white springbok move in to eat alfalfa hay. Then some kudu arrived, including an impressive bull.

I told Michelle to take the bull. When DeWet gave the green light, Michelle drew and released. Her arrow hit the center-chest, low enough to pierce its lungs and part of its heart. The kudu went about 40 yards past our blind, bedded down and died. We were ecstatic! Kudu are elk-sized animals and difficult to kill, but Michelle made an excellent shot.

We ate lunch, relived Michelle’s Kudu shot and recovery and settled in to see what animals might come. Before long, impala, springboks and some young kudu approached cautiously. A young bull appeared next, followed by a bigger bull, and then an eland slowly moved in. DeWet put down his binoculars and said, “There’s a really big bull coming in. Huge.” Sure enough, a bull kudu with extremely tall horns with many twists approached and quickly dominated the feeding area. Only the eland stood near the feeding bull, although a younger bull occasionally tried to get near the food. The big bull kudu threatened it each time.

Finally, the big bull stood broadside at 20 yards but I couldn’t shoot because the eland was in the way. We waited for what seemed hours (it was likely 20 minutes) before the younger bull again tried to sneak in, forcing the big bull to move toward it. The eland responded by stepping away, which presented an excellent shot. I put my pin low on the chest and released. I held my bow steady and saw the arrow penetrate the bull’s lower chest and pass through cleanly. I knew immediately that I had executed the shot I wanted.

The kudu jumped and trotted straight away from our blind for about 50 yards before stopping, wobbling, staggering and falling. The bull was soon dead. I had my trophy. No matter how many times it happens, when your arrow goes where you aimed, and you see the animal drop, it’s exhilarating. Clearly one of those feelings shared among bowhunters that is the life blood of hunting with bow and arrow.

Almost a week later, I had a different experience when shooting at an impala. After a morning of spot-and-stalk hunting, I settled into a waterhole blind with PH Johnny Vivier and cameraman Josh Hill. This was an open ground blind that placed our backs against thick brush, along with brush piled around us. We had an excellent view of the waterhole, and I could shoot in all directions up to 40 yards. A waterbuck, warthogs, and springboks come in immediately. Finally, some male impala approached, including two rams that Vivier said were shooters.

As the impala slowly descended to the water’s edge, we knew the shot I’d likely get would be 28 to 35 yards. Despite the fact they caught us finishing our lunch, I managed to get positioned and ready if a shot presented itself. The largest ram reached the water’s edge and began drinking, but it was head-on . If it moved left or right, it would give me a shot. Eventually it did, and I drew, aimed and released at 35 yards. The moment I released, I dropped my bow hand to watch the impala, making me lose sight of my arrow.

Vivier’s first impression was I shot over the Impala while I thought I was at center shoulder and a bit high. After the impala disappeared, we saw my arrow on the opposite shoreline. After retrieving it, we found a few streaks of blood on the vanes and shaft, but little evidence of a solid hit. After casting around in several directions for over an hour, we abandoned the search after failing to find any blood or further evidence of a hit. Later, after viewing Hill’s video footage, we confirmed my arrow hit above the chest cavity. I was both relieved that I didn’t leave a wounded animal in the field but also disappointed that I didn’t execute the shot and bring home the fine Impala I saw.

Redemption didn’t take long. When we returned to the waterhole the next day, a group of waterbuck quickly appeared to drink their fill. A swirling wind made the group antsy, so their approach took over an hour. As cows and calves slipped in to drink, they quickly jumped back as the bulls watched from the elevated berm surrounding the waterhole. I thought the older, largest bull was sure to leave, but it returned after each scare.

Finally, the big waterbuck inched down to the water, drank and stood calmly. Vivier ranged the bull at 32 yards. When it stepped away from the water and presented a broadside to slightly quartering-away shot, I focused on my spot, slowly drew, anchored and released. I watched my arrow cleanly pierce the rib cage about a third of the way up from the bottom and just behind the shoulder. When you execute a shot the way experienced coaches like Randy Phillips, Frank Pearson and Pete Shepley suggest, you know immediately when you’ve done the job.

We found my arrow, and its vanes and shaft were covered in blood. The broadhead’s blades contained tissue fragments and one insert was bent, indicating I must have touched a rib. Vivier and I tracked the bull 50 yards before finding it. I was gratified that the arrow entered where I thought and exited on the opposite side, slicing a wound through both lungs and across the top of the heart. The satisfaction of a well-executed shot, a clean kill and the magnificent of this mature bull waterbuck was a great feeling.

Although this African trip was a bucket-list hunt for me – a once-in-a-lifetime experience – my success still required the same bowhunting fundamentals I’d known since bowhunting whitetails near my boyhood home in southwestern Iowa. It’s all about shot execution; something no bowhunter can ever take for granted.