A ROOKIE’S Take on BOWHUNTER’S PARADISE
By Dr Tom Deters
I knew every inch of the dense, thorny brush and the smorgasbord of scents that filled the crisp, early morning air. I could feel the raw energy of the land. After a long stalk on fresh tracks, the morning mist slowly evaporated to reveal the seventy-inch spiraled horns of the legendary “Grey Ghost”. More formally known as Africa’s greater kudu, he was the record book animal I had been seeking for decades. I slowed my breathing, becoming deathly still, though worried that the pounding of my heart would betray me.
Hidden at the base of the baobab tree, I watched, frozen. After carefully surveying his domain, the magnificent, bull slowly turned broadside and lowered his head to drink. His cows were momentarily distracted by a jackal trotting by, allowing me step out and bring my PSE Evo to full draw. At 32 yards, the 30-yard pin settled one-third up the bull’s chest from the front leg, and I released the 475-grain, Easton A/C Super Slim, tipped with a 125gr Silver Flame broadhead. Traveling at 280 feet per second, the razor tip pierced its target and exited the opposite lung. Instantaneously, the huge bull leapt six feet in the air, spun, landed in a crouch and took off in a cloud of dust, bright red blood spurting from both sides. I stood, silent, and within seconds I heard the crash. My dream hunt was over, and my dream animal was in the books!
There was just one problem. Unfortunately, the above scene had only happened in my mind. I had never actually been to Africa!
Decades of bowhunting deer, elk and boar, reading dozens of books on African safaris, and the hours spent watching National Geographic and Discovery Channels had fueled my imagination and stoked my heart’s yearning to hunt the Dark Continent. But I waited for my son Jake to grow up and hunt with me. Since age six he prepared, learning, practicing, shooting 3D tournaments and logging his first boars in the Everglades of south Florida. Jake dreamt of gemsbok. I dreamt of kudu. Now it was time. He was sixteen, shot his sixty-pound PSE Evo just fine, and was cool under pressure. Africa beckoned for a hunt of a lifetime, for memories we would both carry to our dying day. Business commitments be damned! We were going on our dream hunt.
But first – the daunting decisions of where to go, who to hunt with, and all the arrangements.
We made a wish list:
- Safety, ease of travel and friendly customs policies.
- Bowhunting only – PHs that specialized in bowhunting, and an area where the game didn’t hear much shooting.
- Great game: diversity in plains game, large herds, and Record Book-level genetics (don’t many hunters want this?) For the time and money, we wanted the best chances!
- Areas where animals had not been not been over-hunted.
- Cool temperatures for great movement of game and fewer bugs.
- Nice accommodations
- Moderately strenuous – mostly still or blind hunting (vs. a walk-8-miles- a-day elk hunt)
- Great professional hunters
- 10-Day Package –my longest window to be away.
- Minimal danger – as a first trip to Africa, no need to deal with big cats, or elephants.
After considering all of my wishes, South Africa came up as the go-to place, with the Limpopo Province in particular, in the northern part of South Africa, close to the Botswana border. It is roughly a six-hour drive from Johannesburg, widely recognized as one of the top African plains-game hunting areas, both in terms of herd numbers, as well as incredible genetics. Some quick research in the Safari Club International Record Book certainly confirmed that.
There were daily, direct, non-stop flights to and from Atlanta / Johannesburg on Delta Airlines. Perfect. South Africa had no visa requirements and is U.S. friendly. There were no required vaccines, and Limpopo Province was in a low/no-malaria-risk area, and we chose to hunt in the African winter months where night temperatures dropped into the forties, and rose into the sixties during the day, further reducing insect-related issues.
Things were shaping up. The next step was finding the right Professional Hunter / outfitter. After much in-depth research, including costs per animal (trophy fees), accommodations, pictures, videos, cross referenced with YouTube and social media, we finally came to a decision.
I was drawn to Bushmen Safaris (www.Bushmensafaris.com) for a number of key reasons.
They are exclusively archery only, since 1986, and only let eight hunters on the 22,000-acre ranch per month. Also, they only hunt the ten day “dark of the moon cycle” during March through October. A reported 80% of hunters return after their first hunt, and the Record Book stats were off the hook with over 300 Top 25 placings, over 100 top 10 placings, over 50 Top 5 placings and a dozen World Records (note, the current numbers are higher).
I found that the head professional hunters were a father and son team, Nick and Shannon Van Zyl. Nick, the patriarch, had served as a PH for decades in many African countries and had spent his career hunting dangerous game. I remembered reading about him in Capstick’s classic African safari hunting book “Death in the Dark Continent.” That sealed the deal for me. I had to meet this guy, learn from him and beg him to tell me and my son every single hunting story he could remember!
I had detailed packing lists, including all the obvious items – bow, backpack, binos, rangefinder, video camera, appropriate clothing but the list on the Bushmen’s Safari website also suggested a charged radio and an ozone generator to kill any scent. And of course, remember everything in Africa has a thorn and they are sharp! So long sleeves can be good. If you want to capture every single moment on video, it’s important to have multiple video cameras, phone holders for your bow or whatever, and to practice with them before you leave, and all shooting gear dialed in. (Thankfully, Shannon is an archery expert and can fix just about anything.) It helps to learn the anatomy of African game.
Finally, the trip was for real. We flew from West Palm Beach to Atlanta and met with a group of hunters from Utah, all of whom were returning to Bushmen’s. For most it was their third or fourth trip, but for one it was his ninth! That spoke volumes. Nick and Shannon treat you like family.
We were speechless going out in the jeep the first morning, passing herds of impala, zebra, blesbok and wildebeest. The excitement was palpable. This was going to be an incredible ten days, seeing dozens, even hundreds of animals up close, all day long.
Bushmen’s has large, incredibly well built, well insulated, carpeted blinds with sitting benches, chairs and shelf ledges, most of which were nicer than my first apartment. When you get dropped off around 7:00 a.m. (I couldn’t believe the banker’s hours!) you have a well-packed lunch. The inside of the blind is black, so it’s best to wear all black, although camo is just fine.
The hunt was more than we could have hoped for. Together Jake and I took ten animals; a zebra, black wildebeest, waterbok, blesbok, warthog, impala, blue wildebeest and, yes – kudu, and gemsbok! All shots were taken within thirty yards. Jake’s gemsbok and black wildebeest made it into the Safari Club International record book, as did my kudu and waterbuck. My wife even got the zebra rug she always wanted. Talk about being on cloud nine!
Our trophies are beautifully displayed in our home after extraordinary taxidermy by Bill Turner of World Class Artistry, with wall mounts and the kudu and gemsbok on pedestals. I relive this hunt over in my mind almost every day, and do does Jake. The bond we shared can never be broken. We just can’t wait to go back!
Make your dream hunt in Africa a reality. There is no perfect time. You have to decide and just make it happen. You will be glad, beyond belief, that you did!
SIDEBAR: FROM FIELD TO LIVINGROOM TROPHY
One of our main concerns going into this trip surrounded the issue of “How do I get my animal from the bush in Africa, to a mount in my living room in Florida?” I’ve heard a few horror stories on this topic, which did little to ease my anxiety, such as capes getting lost, customs issues, or mounts taking more than two years to process and be delivered. But as I learned more and networked both with the hunters who had been to Bushmen Safaris, and Nick and Shannon Van Zyl themselves, I found that my concerns were born largely out of ignorance. The key was the time spent researching and setting up the chain of events before the trip, which really helped things go smoothly and efficiently. Nothing got lost. Nothing sat on a dock. Nothing sat in Customs. The bottom line is we got all our mounts delivered to our home within one year of our trip. Just ask around and you’ll find that’s pretty quick in the grand scheme of things.
We had the entire chain of events choreographed before we even left for our hunt. Here’s exactly how it worked: Once we took a shot at an animal, from our enclosed blind overlooking a waterhole, we turned on our radio and let Nick Van Zyl know, as well as how we felt about the shot placement or if we could see the animal down. Soon thereafter he showed up with a truck, the dogs and trackers. The downed animal was quickly found in less than 75 yards for all but two of our ten animals. Once found, the animal was brushed, positioned for photos and then lifted onto the flatbed of a truck by winch to be taken back to the compound for skinning and butchering. All we had to do was shoot and smile for the camera.
The staff at Bushmen’s expertly skinned and heavily salted all our hides. They were then picked up at the end of the hunt to be processed, under South African law, for treatment (to prevent infestation), and certified for either export or shipping to a taxidermist in our country. The cost for this was nominal.
At this point, a decision needed to be made to either 1) have the skins shipped for tanning and taxidermy in South Africa after which the full mounts would then be shipped to the U.S. or 2) have the skins sent stateside, where they would be processed by a receiving broker for customs entry service (which included USDA certification), then sent to a tannery and then to a taxidermist. If I chose a U.S. taxidermist, I wanted them to have a depth of experience mounting African plains animals, which is not all that common.
We went with Option #2 (decided before the trip), having lined up HuntingTrophy.com services to get our skins through customs so that they could then be sent directly to Carolina Furs for tanning. Both teams were on standby, as everyone in the process was copied in on emails so that they could ensure notification and coordination.
The tanned capes were then sent to Bill Turner of World Class Artistry who was, as good fortune would have it, located about twenty minutes from my house in Florida! While I can’t mention names, let’s just say that a number of the TV show hunters have Bill do their work, which is quite honestly breathtaking. He is an artist more than a taxidermist and he was even kind enough to rent a truck to deliver our ten mounts. We enjoy them immensely and thank God for them and the wonderful African hunt we experienced with Bushmen Safaris. [ ]
(As an aside, I have to say that the food is probably one of the most undersold aspects, as the meat was incredible! As the son of a butcher I love red meat, but there is nothing that comes close to kudu or gemsbok backstraps or wildebeest steaks or impala neck. Tender, tasty and delicious!