Always trust Your PH…
By Lucas Paugh
“Nothing captures your heart like Africa,” was the mantra of my friend and mentor Craig Boddington. And as a young hunter I had always dreamed of hunting Africa to experience what most others only talked about, and very few Americans ever experienced.
Seeing the Big Five taxidermy exhibits at various trade shows sparked a fire in me to someday make this dream a reality. My longtime friend and hunting partner Jason Quick had previously introduced me to Alex and Johnny Thomson of Eland Safaris, a private hunting concession in the Northern Limpopo Province of South Africa, and we finally inked the date for early July 2018
We were met in Johannesburg by PH Petrie Boshoff, and on arrival at the farm were welcomed by Johnny and his family. We spent the afternoon shooting our bows to ensure accuracy, and recovering from jet lag after 26 hours in the air. Needless to say, we were ready to go experience Africa after over a year of waiting, and after an early breakfast next morning we split into our groups with our PHs. I was fortunate to have Petrie as my PH (or he was the unfortunate one to draw the short straw and have me as his client!).
One thing about bow hunting in Africa is that you will sit in blinds over water. At first, I was having a hard time with this concept, but I learned to respect and understand their hunting culture, and it wasn’t more than 30 minutes when my first encounter with an African species came straight to drink. A large mature impala ram had me at full draw, and when the arrow released that animal sprung up from the water and hightailed it out. It was a good shot, but the “vital triangle” sits a bit forward and lower in South Africa than in our traditional North American species. This took some getting used to as my impala proved by escaping my first arrow and disappearing in the bush!
I had a sleepless night worrying about it, but the good news was that thanks to my tracker Abraham, the impala was recovered within a few hundred yards of where I had hit him.
Day Two began at the same waterhole. The temperatures were rising in the afternoon, so plenty of game came down to feed and drink. I sat and studied Kevin Robertson’s The Perfect Shot about shot placement for trophy hunting Africa game, and made mental notes of where the arrow needed to penetrate for a clean kill.
Near the top of my desired list was a kudu bull. Of the spiral horned antelope, for me there is nothing more majestic than the Grey Ghost as they walk and browse through the trees. This day a massive kudu bull was thirsty, and my PH Petrie told me to grab my bow and get ready for a shot. We waited over 45 minutes until all the other animals left the watering area and the kudu gave me a 25-yard broadside shot. My arrow took flight, the bull spun and charged out into the thicket. In spite of the fact that the autopsy showed my arrow had cut through the bottom of the heart, he evaded us for hours till we finally were able to stop him in his tracks. I gained a newfound respect for these African animals.
I think another very special spiral-horned species is the nyala, and I decided to test my luck and see if I could get a chance on one. At the waterhole many nyala came in waves, and they all looked like a trophy bull to me. Prior to the trip my good friend and neighbor in our local town, Craig Boddington, told me straight: “Lucas, always trust your PH”. I recalled those words as I relied on Petrie to field judge and help me find a nyala bull that stood out above the rest. As luck would have it, a big bull with ivory-tipped horns appeared out of the thick brush and walked into water. Immediately my PH gave me that look of, “there’s the one”. I took my bow, nocked an arrow, and waited for the right moment. After what felt like hours, I lined up my single pin on the first stripe running down the front shoulder, and released a deadly arrow that made a full pass through and hit the dirt before the bull even knew what hit him. I managed to double down that morning as a nice-sized blesbok also came to water and took one of my arrows. One morning and two animals in the salt!
As the days passed, I also managed to hunt the holy grail of a gemsbok, a 40” horned beauty that turned out to be just an incredible representative of the species. Although all that was stimulating and fun, it wasn’t till the last day that was for me the most exciting and entertaining.
Alex and I had previously discussed which species were on the target list, and he convinced me to acquire a baboon permit.
“You never know when that opportunity could arise,” he said. All through the plains-game hunting I had this baboon permit sitting out there, and I thought, “Why not go and see what this baboon hunting is all about?”
So Petrie and I set out to an offset concession where the landowners were having issues with the baboons damaging their crops. After sitting in the blind for 20 minutes, a shrill shriek sounded out in the distance and my PH smiled. Within minutes a female baboon had entered the area and started feeding on the rotten tomatoes strategically placed. She was smarter than most, as she would grab a few veggies and run off. Then I noticed a silhouette in the bush walk out into view.
“A mature male,” Petrie whispered. “Take a shot if you can.”
I was committed to using my bow, which limited my opportunity as these primates are extremely clever and cunning. But this male slipped up by walking into my lethal distance. The shooting window was narrow and based on an angle did not give me much of a shot. As I went to full draw, I hoped that little sliver of an opening would be the vital zone I was looking for. One more step was needed for the baboon to give me a broadside shot…
The step was taken and arrow released. The animal immediately ran off for 50 yards till it expired with an arrow perfectly placed high in the shoulder. Petrie was delighted, as it was the first time he had been with successful bowhunter on baboon. We laughed and celebrated all the way back to camp.
That evening, we decided on a night hunt for steenbok. This was another hunt where they had never taken an archer at night to hunt one of these common small antelope species. We met the landowner and started out flashing spotlights across the fields looking for eyes. We had looked over many small game and then found a lone male ram feeding in the distance.
As we approached, my good friend Jason Quick helped me range the animal as I focused on making the shot in the dark. I recall hearing 48 yards, I set my pin, and the visible lumenok vapor trail traveled over the back of that ram. It ran off and went out quite a bit farther out of my effective range. We slowly moved forward and Jason whispered out another range of 38 yards. We followed, and after setting my pin I let an arrow fly and watched the ram buckle up hard and run about 20 yards before folding up. I was ecstatic at what I had just accomplished. Never had I thought this was achievable, but again proved these animals could be taken with archery equipment. We spent that evening under a sprinkle of rain taking photos and enjoying the beautiful winter’s night under the stars.
I’d like to thank Eland Safaris for making our experience incredible and providing world-class accommodations, and special thanks to our camp of hunters and friends: Dave Kelner, Bob Anderson, Jason and Wyatt Quick, Brandon Williams, Derek and Meredith Franklin.
Africa certainly captures your heart unlike any other place in the world. For a hunter or someone just looking to experience the culture or sheer beauty of the country, it offers everything one could ever imagine – and some. The density and diversity of wildlife is unlike anywhere else I have ever seen. On that last evening watching the sunset, the enjoyment of our final dinner was bittersweet as we broke bread with some amazing people from all walks of life and backgrounds. But all good things must come to an end, and I had memories that will last a lifetime.
And we are already planning another trip.
PS And you can hear more about this story and our adventure on our Podcast webpage www.rnaoutdoors.com/podcast.
Lucas was born and raised in North Central Montana where there were year-round hunting and fishing opportunities, growing up on the Milk River Valley which provided some of the best whitetail hunting in the West..
Over the last 15 years, his hunting and fishing experiences have taken him to Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Alaska and Montana, as well as Argentina Brazil, Australia, Africa, and New Zealand internationally. 100% of his hunts are DIY self-guided.
He enjoys hunting all big game, but there’s no passion greater than chasing big bull elk in September. His lifelong goal is to kill the North American 29 and 50 bull elk by the age of 50