We trailed the man, moving slowly through the trees and stalking the lick carefully, up and into the blind. M’Cola shook his head.
“No good,” he said. “Come on”.
We went over to the lick. There it was all written plainly. There were the tracks of three big bull kudu in the moist bank beyond the lick where they had come to the salt. Then there were the sudden, deep, knifely-cut tracks where they made a spring when the bow twanged and the slashing heavily cut prints of their hoofs as they had gone off up the bank and then, far-spaced, the tracks running into the bush. We trailed them, all three, but no man’s track joined theirs. The bow-man missed them.
Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa.
For surprisingly many people “Africa” and “bowhunting” don’t naturally come together. Perhaps, this is because those who haven’t visited the Dark Continent tend to associate it with one endless flat plane, where nothing but a flat-shooting rifle will do the job. For others bowhunting in Africa might not sound quite right because of all these stories about certain early enthusiasts who pushed the limits of the stick-and-string and sometimes crossed the border of rationality and responsibility. But in reality, hunting Africa with a bow is a perfectly natural thing. Today, as in Hemingway’s times, and as in the countless centuries past, African hunters still use bows and arrows to hunt their game, especially the tribes that have not yielded to the temptation of civilization and still live as they lived thousands of years ago. As a matter of fact, a few outfitters such as Chrisites Adventures, Baobab Game Ranch and Allan Cilliers Hunting Safaris offer hunting with Bushmen trackers, and this immersion into the dawn of humanity could become a highlight of a bowhunter’s career.
Hunting from a blind over salt licks and waterholes has been practiced since the first safaris. Hemingway starts his classic book with a story about a kudu hunt from a blind built “at a close arrow shot from the salt lick”. In fact, as it turned out, the native hunters used the blinds at the same time, and that ruined things for Hem one evening. But the point is, while the writer was hunting with a rifle, he could as well have used a bow. Bowhunting wasn’t yet in vogue in 1929, but who knows what Hem would do if someone handed him a modern compound?
As of October 2017, there were 371 African bowhunting trips on BookYourHunt.com. In fact, most outfitters who offer plains game trips cater to both rifle and bow hunters, and often take the trouble to ensure the best experience for either. For example, Damara Dik-Dik Safaris and La Rochelle Lodge has different areas dedicated to rifle and bow hunting. Namibia appears to be the leader in dedicated bowhunting operations. “The savanna vegetation provides a great opportunity for a successful and memorable hunt” says Toekoms Safaris, an outfitter who promises “exhilarating walks and stalks, exciting tree stands and elevated blind shots, and definite shots from our pit blinds with a dedicated bowhunting guide“.
The best time to hunt in Namibia with a bow is in winter – that is, the Southern Hemisphere winter, May to August. This is the dry season, where most water sources on the open dry out, and animals come to drink at waterholes in the wooded areas, ideal for construction of various types of blinds. This is a kind of hunting offered, for instance, by Tiefenbach Bowhunting.
South Africa is another popular destination, with numerous dedicated outfitters with bowhunting focus, such as Africa Barrel and Bow Safaris. Some parts of the country, for instance, the hilly and wooded territory of the Karoo, are well adapted for hunting with a bow by various methods, not only from a blind, but by spot-and-stalk, too.
Other African countries have something to offer to a bowhunter, too. For example, Balla Balla Safaris have one of their operations in Zambia’s Mopane woodlands; so no matter whether you stalk or hunt from a blind, you have a decent chance to get into bow range of a magnificent sable. And even in the deserts of Botswana hunting with a bow is quite possible.
As for equipment, a 60-70 pound bow with a 450-500 grain arrow is adequate for most of the plains game, says Roger Coomber, PH and owner of Vieranas Safaris in Namibia, a dedicated bowhunter and bow instructor. Bigger animals such a giraffe require something bigger and stronger. Contact your outfitter if you have any doubts
Your bowhunting African adventure doesn’t need to be as large-scale, pompous and expensive as a typical safari of Hemingway’s time. In fact, bowhunting specials are among the most affordable of modern African hunts, especially if you’re getting your hunts directly from outfitters, as on BookYourHunt.com.
We’re talking about the so-called “plains game” – that is, antelopes and a variety of miscellaneous species such as warthog and hyena. Yet, the enjoyment from the hunt does not depend on the price tag of the trophy. You can, if you want to and can afford it, go all the way up into the dangerous game hunts with a bow – there are such offers on BookYourHunt.com. But many experienced trophy hunters say that the “Tiny Ten” – a slam of the smallest antelopes such as dik-dik and klipspringer – proved even more challenging than the Big Four.
It isn’t an accident, either, that Hemingway’s classic is emotionally focused not on elephants and lions, but on kudu and sable. Just imagine getting within a bow range of these majestic animals – the “Grey Ghost”, or the pitch-black sable with its scimitar-shaped antlers and pitch-black sides? Even a humble warthog is a great quarry – not to be despised by any hunter no matter what the preferred weapon. So what is stopping you from booking your African bowhunt today? Are you deterred by somewhat lower success rate of bowhunts when considering the investment risks of a safari? But think of it this way: you’ll be saving on trophy fees for the same amount of hunting!
After all, it’s only money. Which story would you prefer to tell at your granddaughter’s wedding: “I asked the dealer if I could have it with leather bucket seats, and he said they only come with the LX options package”, or “and then, at full draw, something made me take my eyes off that warthog and as I cast a glance around the edge of the bush I saw a magnificent kudu…”?