By Frank Berbuir
What is a tsessebe, some guys in my home country asked when I told them about my bowhunting adventure on this African antelope…
It is the end of August and I am lucky to be back again in South Africa to bowhunt with my PH Izak Vos from Vos Safaris. For a week we have been in our cosy hunting camp on a nice farm on the border of the North West Province, close to the Limpopo Province.
The scenery along the Crocodile River is stunning, with some challenging hunting grounds – stony mountains, dense bush, and open plains. In our last week we saw from time to time a small herd of tsessebe with a very old bull, some females, and only a few juveniles. We also saw, quite far from the herd, two very young males with some clearly visible signs of injuries. The farmer explained that the bull was either fighting to the death with the male calves, or exiling them from the herd where they would most likely die in the bush from their injuries or fall prey to hyenas and other predators. So the herd did not grow much the last five years, and we would be doing him a favor if we hunted this bull.
Our first day started with a refreshing morning walk to the area where the “beestes” usually roam, and where we had seen them before. South African winter early mornings are quite chilly, but the splendid sunrise and the warming sun in our faces was a delight. When we reached the area we planned how we wanted to approach and stalk the animals. Even though the herd was small there were plenty of eyes, ears and noses that are much more sensitive and sharper than ours, and they get your scent and silhouette in a split second. With the wind in our favor we sneaked closely to a bush where we could hide and see them. We were about 150 meters from them when it became more challenging. We slowly moved forward, almost waddling like ducks to the next covering bush, always keeping an eye on the antelopes. So far they were all calm and easy.
It took an hour to shorten the distance to 100 meters when suddenly they all looked up in our direction. We froze behind our sparse cover, and when you are sitting on your haunches, this starts to hurt after a couple of minutes! We could not figure out what disturbed them, but they started slowly moving away from us. That´s the way the cookie crumbles.
So, it’s a case of begin again to follow and try to get closer. Once they were behind some bushes and we were not in their sight, we cautiously sneaked out behind our cover and stalked bent over, at a snail´s pace to the next available cover. To make a long story short the situation repeated several times. Four hours went by, and with the sun high above and rising temperatures, the challenge became more and more demanding. Suddenly there were crackling noises from behind us, and we saw three giraffes approaching at about 50 meters from us, and they would likely smell or see us.
Now it was getting even more difficult. If we got up or moved we would probably spook them all. So we hid ourselves in a thorny bush, as low as possible and keeping dead quiet. Thankfully the Sniper Africa camouflage hunting clothes are quite thorn-resistant and the hunting gods were also in our favour, as the giraffes fortunately turned to the left and wandered off unconcerned, not even seeing us. But it was exciting for us.
Luckily the tsessebe were still there, unperturbed by the giraffes, but we still 100 meters distance from them. We gradually crawled closer.
Time was running out. By now it was high noon and hot. However, we made progress without spooking any tsessebe. At the last bush between us and the animals we stopped and checked the distance with the rangefinder.
“The bull is standing to the left at 38 meters,” Izak whispered. “You will not get closer and you have to wait until he turns quartering away or broadside but you better get ready. It’s now or never, Frank. It’s Showtime!”
It was up to me. I knelt, nocked in the arrow quietly, and set the sight on the correct distance. Still calm, I pulled my bow smoothly to full draw. I angled my upper body a bit to the right for a clear shooting window, and aimed with my sight pin on his vitals.
I could feel my heart beating fast, and it seemed like eternity until the bull stepped to the right and stood quartering away. I take a deep breath and finally tap the trigger of my release.
The arrow was on its deadly mission and within a split second penetrated the antelope´s body.
“Yes,” Izak whispered. “The arrow is completely in and you can only see fletches sticking out.” The bull jumped, and together with rest of the herd was running away. We tried to follow his direction before he disappeared between some bushes, then heard nothing more. We were in suspense. After a 20-minute rest we followed the tracks and blood trail from the spot where the arrow had penetrated. At first the trail was clear and easy to follow, but after 50 meters there was no more sign of blood. Happily I had an excellent and experienced professional hunter at my side who is also an expert tracker. He found the tracks of the bull and carefully went forward with me following, when he suddenly stopped at the edge of a bush, shook my hand, and hugged me.
“Congrats, well done my friend. You got a tsessebe!” he said. I was surprised and bewildered.
“Why are you congratulating me?”
“Look around the bush!” he smiled. I did, and there was my fine tsessebe bull. Overcome, I knelt down, and evaluated the magnificent animal. It had again been an incredible and challenging experience with bow and arrow, and finally I was able to take this magnificent animal. After some great pictures we radioed the farmer to pick us up, and when he arrived and saw the bull, the joy was complete – a happy farmer, happy professional hunter and happy bowhunter.
Once more a tremendously good hunt with unforgettable impressions and memories together with my friend and PH Izak Vos from Vos Safaris in South Africa. Shoot straight, take care, always good hunting, “Waidmannsheil” and “Alles van die beste”.