Neck, Legs, and Fancy Feathers!
By Frank Berbuir
I am at full draw with my bow, highly focused and concentrated, and the sight pin is placed on the spot where the vital area is when I smoothly release the trigger…
But let us start at the beginning. It is November again, cold, grey and rainy in my home town and country, and the desire for Africa is tearing me. So after some phone calls and arrangements, at end of the month I found myself back again on a plane to Namibia. After having been there in April, it is the second time that year.
Having hunted several times in northern Namibia, I was bound for the second time to the south, not far from a small village called Maltahöhe and very close to the Kalahari Desert.
During the 250 miles drive south from Windhoek airport to our hunting destination, I enjoyed the diversified landscapes and settled in to being back in Africa again.
As always in Namibia we had a hearty welcome in our camp after our arrival, and enjoyed relaxing, a chat, and having an ice-cold Savanna Dry Premium Cider or Windhoek Lager.
Initially this time I was going for springbok which are numerous in southern Namibia, and for some reasons have big trophy racks as well. So we made plans about where to go to hunt these medium-sized brown and white antelope of southwestern Africa.
Because of the rough terrain and open veld, stalking was quite challenging and therefore unsuccessful for a couple of days, so we decided to hunt from a stone blind near a waterhole.
Our hunt started at mid-afternoon when we headed to the blind and, regrettably, spooked an old and very good warthog – what a pity. But that is life.
It was pretty warm (approx. 38°C or 100°F) being close to the Kalahari, with only a moderate breeze. We were happy when we reached the shade of the blind. Unfortunately nothing happened except bird watching, when francolins, pigeons and crimson-breasted gonoleks (Rotbauchwürger / Lanarius atrococcineus) appeared. After sunset we returned to the bakkie – our Land Rover – and were driving back when I saw a bunch of ostriches along our route. “Can ‘Mr Big Bird’ be hunted as well?” I asked my PH, Christian.
“Yes, you can hunt them and the meat is excellent, and would make a nice addition for our menu, and we could sell it,” he told me. “But do you think you can do it with bow and arrow? It is not that easy to shoot an ostrich.”
“I think it is possible, and if I do not try we will not know,” I said.
During our tasty dinner with excellent eland steaks, the idea of hunting an ostrich would not get out of my mind.
The next morning, out of bed early at four-thirty, and after a shower, a quick coffee and rusks, we were on the old Landy heading back to the blind. It was still dark and cold when we sat and contemplated what the day would bring. When the first sunlight gleamed over the hills and brightened up the landscape, and the birds began their dawn singing as jackals howled not far away, we felt fully compensated for the early wake up. At about 7:00 a.m. two young male gemsboks strolled to the water for a sip. They were unaware of us and relaxed, and I recorded some nice video sequences before they left.
Roughly half an hour later a young springbok ram sneaked up. He was alone, about 60 yards from the waterhole, and he checked out the scenery cautiously before he also came slowly to the water for a drink. As I was zooming in to video him, I noticed a shadow fall across his face, and he jumped back, because all of a sudden five ostriches clustered near the waterhole, and one of the big birds stood close to the young ram, chasing him off the water. Unbelievable – we did not hear or see them coming.
The springbok went off, and I gave the camera slowly to Christian to continue with the filming.
Holy cow – well, not a cow, but an ostrich rooster – at 28 yards distance. My blood pressure nearly went through the roof. In slow motion I put my hand around the birdseye maple grip of my bow where the strong carbon arrow with the broadhead was already nocked in, and picked it up.
The male ostrich’s head was going up and down to drink while the four others were waiting a few yards behind him. If I wanted to have a chance to shoot him I had to do it now. But where is the shooting or kill zone on an ostrich? A broadside shot is absolutely no option because his massive muscular legs are covering the vitals in the small body. A shot on the head is mostly what is executed when hunting them with a rifle. But I was thinking about a nice trophy shoulder mount, so did not want to shoot at the head and destroy it, and moreover shooting on this continually moving body part could have ended in an escaping ostrich if I missed, and the chance would be gone.
“Aim at the spot where the neck merges in the throat and into the chest,” Christian whispered. “It is a small spot, you have to hit, and do not shoot in the chest because there is the sternum or breast bone which is extremely tough and the arrow would probably not penetrate.”
Ok, this was a real challenge, because the aiming spot was fairly small, rather like trying to hit a small beer coaster that is going slightly up and down.
So I drew my 71 lbs bow and settled the sight pin directly on his throat between the neck and chest.
At the right moment when his head was in the top position and the bird stood completely still to swallow his sip, I released my arrow and it flew straight into the point I aimed on with a bone-cracking noise. The arrow went completely into the ostrich and you could only see the nock and a bit of fletch sticking out. Wow, that was impressive.
The big bird flapped his wings, tottered about 15 yards, and fell down dead. Only then did the four others go away.
What an amazing experience. I was still a bit shaky when Christian threw his floppy hat in the sand and back-slapped me, saying: “Great shot Frank! Unbelievable! You made it.”
We waited ten minutes till the other ostriches were out of sight before we stepped out of the blind to the bird. The arrow had fully penetrated the chest and vitals and stuck into the hamstring muscle of his right thigh – amazing what bow and arrow can execute. We took some pictures before Christian went to get the car, and we loaded the bird.
Back in camp the slaughtering brought some awesome ostrich haunches, and two days later we enjoyed some tasty steaks. There is nothing more worthwhile than having your own hunted food on the plate. Most of the meat was sold afterwards to restaurants, and the trophy is now an extraordinary addition as a shoulder mount in my trophy room. I also have some lovely cognac-colored leather, and a nice belt made of the shinbone skin.
Luckily, during this memorable trip I also took a fine springbok trophy ram with bow and arrow as intended, but that would be another story.
Once again the “Virus Africanus” brought me back to the Dark Continent and gave me a wonderful time.
Take care, “Waidmannsheil”, always good hunting and “Alles van die beste”
It was in Namibia, 2004 when I first got acquainted with these flightless birds native to Africa. Long necked and legged, the ostrich is the largest living species of bird, laying the largest eggs. It can run at up to about 70 km/h or 43 mph, the fastest land speed of any bird, and we checked this out when we drove behind them and they started to run. They held their running speed of 41 miles per hour beside the vehicle for quite a while.
The ostrich’s diet consists mainly of plant matter. It lives in nomadic groups of five to 50 birds. When threatened, the ostrich will either hide itself by lying flat against the ground, or run away. If cornered, it can attack with a kick of its powerful legs. Mating patterns differ by geographical region, but territorial males fight for a harem of two to seven females. The long neck and legs keep the head up to nine feet above the ground, and their eyes of about 2 inches diameter, shaded from sunlight above with long eyelashes, are said to be the largest of any land vertebrate. Their eyesight is their prime asset for spotting predators at a great distance.
However, the head and bill are relatively small for the bird’s huge size, and it is said that they are not the smartest creatures. Ostriches usually weigh from 139–320 pounds, or as much as two adult humans. The feathers of adult males are mostly black, with white primaries and a white tail. Females and young males are greyish-brown and white. The head and neck of both male and female ostriches is nearly bare. The skin varies in color depending on the subspecies, with some having light or dark-gray skin and others having pinkish or even reddish skin. The strong legs of the ostrich are unfeathered and show bare skin. Though most birds have four toes on each foot, the ostrich has just two on each foot, with the nail on the larger, inner toe resembling a hoof, while the outer toe has no nail. The adaptation enables swift running, useful for escaping from predators.
The six-foot plus wingspan is used in mating displays and to shade chicks. The feathers lack the tiny hooks that lock together the smooth external feathers of flying birds, and so are soft and fluffy and serve as insulation. Ostriches can tolerate a wide range of day and night temperatures which it controls using its wings to cover the naked skin of the upper legs and flanks to conserve heat, or leaving them bare to release heat. The wings also function as stabilizers to give better maneuverability when running -the wings are actively involved in rapid braking, turning and zigzag maneuvers. The decorative feathers are generally used as feather dusters, the skin for leather products, and the low-cholesterol meat is marketed commercially around the world. The lifespan of an ostrich can be up to 40–45 years.
Bow: 71# Bowtech Tribute
Sight: G5 Optix ME Sight
Arrow Rest: Trophy Ridge Drop Away Rest
Stabilizer: SVL Camo Stabilizer
Release: Scott Wildcat
Arrow: Carbon Express Maxima Hunter 350 Arrow
Broadhead: G5 Tekan II mechanical
Clothes: Sniper Africa Camo
Optics: Zeiss Victory 10 x 40 & Leupold RX-III Rangefinder