South Africa Warthog Hunt
My friend Ann Horsman from Michigan, USA visits Southern Africa once a year to hunt. After three years of doing this, she has great experience and is destined to hunt a Buffalo in Zimbabwe this year – something most of us are only dreaming of. Ann arrived on 5 August at Johannesburg International where I picked her up. We were planning for our first hunt together and were looking forward to it very much. I only started archery a couple of months ago so once again the “rookie” was out to try and gain more experience...
After clearing through customs, we set off to Kitty Hawk airfield close to Pretoria where we were to be flown by Chris Brand, owner, outfitter and PH of Njiri bow lodge to his exclusive bow hunting concession on the border of Botswana, Limpopo Province. Last year during Ann’s visit, we paid a visit to the concession as an introduction to Ann and this year Ann was booked to hunt Warthog (Njiri means Warthog and believe me – are there Warthogs!) and an Impala.
The 45 minute flight to Njiri in Chris’ Baron 6 seater went smoothly and Puma the blue tick hunting dog and myself were snoozing in the back of the aircraft (had a couple of severe late working nights in order to be able to go and hunt).
Cindy Wheeler, a photographic Safari observer was to join us at Njiri lodge upon arrival and poor Chris was going to be stuck with us three women on the ranch for 4 days.
The day of my hunt:
9 August 2003, Women’s day in South Africa and the day of my first bow hunt. For some reason or another I woke up early again. Staring at the ceiling bound by the strict instructions from the others not to get up. Trying to pass time until I could go for a jog, I went over everything in my mind that I have learned about archery and hunting. Shot placement, which was so emphasized by my PH, mentor and coach. In my mind’s eye I tried to imagine pulling the bow, breathing and releasing the arrow. Mentally, I was prepared for this.
During breakfast we discussed it being Woman’s day and the fact that it was a good day for me to go and do my first bow hunt. Even Tuli (the lodges’ chef), having witnessed me training for this hunt was excited for me. I gave Muzi, her husband, strict instructions to be nice to his wife on this special day. After breakfast we set out to the shooting range and I shot some broad heads.
Ann, Chris and I set off to the blind and Cindy was quite happy to do her own thing for the day knowing how important this was to me – thanks for that Cindy.
We arrived at the blind and settled in. Wearing dark clothes are one of the important factors as the animals cannot see into the blind – so ladies – it is not just a fashion statement, there is good reason for it. As the Rookie, I do not yet have camouflage clothing worn by most bow hunters, but all will come in good time. We settled in and peace and tranquility folded like a blanket around us – there is just nothing like the Limpopo valley’s tranquility. Red Hartebeest came by but they were very nervous and disappeared without drinking water.
I was just enjoying every moment of it and to pass time, observed every sound, sight, smell and movement. 11:00 am – time for the Warthogs to start moving in. And true to nature a boar entered the clearing. Chris used this opportunity to instruct and show me the exact shot placement.
The boar drank some water and trotted off tail in the air. It was a big one but the one tusk was broken off – this is natural for older animals as they use it to dig for roots. We settled down again.
Some Pied Babblers were “chatting” way in the tree closest to the hide. They make a funny sound and sounds nearly like my bead workers chatting away in Ndebele with a cackle every now and then. It was so peaceful. In the distance, the Fish Eagle called and this to me was like a sign. They are my favorite bird species, I just love their call.
Around 11:30 pm two females and a boar came in to feed on the lucerne. Being a “real pig”, he took possession of the feed and chased the ladies away, snorting and grunting while he was eating. “Hmph” - I thought, typical male. His tusks were nice and to my surprise (this would be a good animal for a client) Chris asked me if I want to take a shot at him. I said: “Yes, we can give it a go”.
We had to wait for “Mr. PIG” to turn the right way – I stood very still and a lot of uncertainty came over me as to when to pick up the bow, aim and shoot. “Bokkie fever” hit and I was very glad for the time that we had to wait for “MR. P” to turn in order for me to take a shot. Following Ann’s advice as even the most experienced hunters still get “Bokkie fever”, I controlled my own excitement by breathing slowly and tried not to worry as the PH is after all there to coach hunters every step of the way.
This PIG, was really very selfish not wanting to share the feed with the sows – “Eeek, eek” – the sows standing to the one side pleaded eliciting a good giggle from Chris, Ann and myself (Chris said afterwards he really thought one male was going to bite the dust on this Woman’s day). He chased them off and then stood facing us. Chris picked up the bow to hand it to me, switched on Ann’s video camera and indicated where the shot needed to be placed. By now, thank goodness the “bokkie fever” subsided and I was actually extremely cool, calm and collected. - maybe too cool, calm and collected.
I lifted the bow, drew, aimed, left hand and fingers in place, locked behind my ear focused and released. The typical dust, chaos screaming pigs occurred and the first thing I heard was that Ann said the arrow went too low. Damn – I missed completely. Chris said we should just wait and I looked through the peep-hole of the blind, and Mr. P was standing looking back at the watering hole in a distance – not quite sure what happened. “Oh, no” – I thought – it was all so perfect – how could I have missed????
We did an immediate post mortem of the situation and Chris said I either dropped the bow, not following through properly after the shot or I did not lock behind my ear in the right way. I was very disappointed. Ann said not to worry – it happens with most first-timers – normally one is so anxious to see if you hit it that instinctively you drop the bow.
The arrow hit the feeding bin and Chris exited the hide to collect it and make sure that there was no blood on it – none was found and it was a clean miss. We stayed in the hide to see if another opportunity presents itself but I basically knew that my first hunt was over. Some Kudu came in and we suspect that the Cow picked up a smell – she barked and all sign of life just disappeared.
Some other Warthog came and went, but they were too nervous after that warning. The hunt was over.
Most of all we were all very relieved that we did not have to go after a wounded animal. Being the way I am, when I do something I do it right! Now I will just have to wait for another opportunity to collect some tusks to make the hooks for my fly rod. It is “back to the shooting range for me”.
That afternoon, we went for another sundowner – our “Tree of the day” was Yellow thorn. We took the same route as before and spotted an Aardvark in the distance. Chris drove up to it and Cindy was just clicking away, taking the most awesome photographs of the Aardvark. I was just so happy that we did manage to achieve some of our goals – and those photographs were magnificent. We enjoyed a “G & T” as our last sundowner. Ann and Cindy were leaving the next day for some more photographic safaris and hunting at another concession.
Watching the sun setting in the bush, having good trusted friends around, breathing fresh air enjoying the peace and quiet, I thought that, even though my first hunt did not go the way I would have liked to see it go, it was a golden moment shared with my good friends Ann from Michigan, Cindy from Texas and Chris Brand my PH and mentor whom was kind enough to introduce bow hunting to me.
I will hunt again, be more the wiser and as Ann said “You will never forget that pig”... I wouldn’t have wanted to spend Woman’s day in South Africa any other way.
Doing a lot of post mortem on the situation, I decided that sometimes we learn more from our mistakes than our success. Maybe some other first-time hunters could gain from this experience and I have some recommendations to make.
It might be a good idea to be in a hide before your actual first hunt as an observer. I think it would have helped a lot if I knew what the procedure in the hide was and observed it before. Simple things you never think of such as when does the more experienced hunter actually take the shot. How much time is available to take that shot? Just in general get a “feel” for what it is going to be like. I know three people in a blind are not ideal but one learns a lot from just observing sometimes.
It definitely is completely different shooting at targets versus shooting at an animal. In my opinion, the problem with aiming at an animal is that it does not provide a clear-cut point of reference such as when you shoot at a target. There is no red dot to aim at. Maybe one should go to a 3-D shooting range a couple of times for practice sessions before embarking on the first hunt.
Don’t be too hard on yourself when you miss – I am my own worst enemy as far as this is concerned – rather take the opportunity to learn something from it. It happens in the best of families and it is better to miss completely than to wound an animal. My line was good – I was just 2 inches below the heart – if it did hit the target it might have been a clean kill. In retrospect I think I dropped the bow after having taken the shot, driving the arrow towards the ground, follow-through after the shot is not the only thing, it is everything. Some more practice as far as this is concerned is required.
Last but not least and this I learned from Ann although I am quite sure that I was not focusing on the animal – good advice though – focus on the bow’s sight and placement of the shot - not the animal. She said sometimes one focus on the animal, not pointing the sight in the correct spot.
All-in-all it was a good experience and I feel confident that the next hunt will go much better. I just need to focus on training and perfection in the art of archery – the rest will come by itself.