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Ghosts in the night

Johan Smit with the bushpig he bagged with a take-down recurve he built himself. Johan builts some of the finest and fastest traditional bows in the world.I wanted to shoot a bushpig with my new longbow, but bushpig can usually only be shot at night. Warthog tend to walk about by day and bushpig by night, because of a hoggish argument the two animals had many ages ago – or so goes an African legend, writes Rean Steenkamp.

> Johan Smit with the bushpig he bagged with a take-down recurve he built himself. Johan builts some of the finest and fastest traditional bows in the world.

However, a few years ago Henk du Plessis swapped Johan Smit two bushpig for a recurve bow. When the bow was built and handed over we visited Henk's farm so that Johan could shoot the pigs owed to him with his own recurve bow. Henk made a feeding spot for the animals and Johan was to sit behind a tree waiting for them to come in to the feed at night. The feed was fermented grain – which the bushpigs could smell easily, and which they like nearly as much as some bow hunters like their favourite lager.

The author with the porcupine he bagged with a beautiful longbow built for him by his good friend, Johan van der Merwe from Combretum Bows. The bow shoots like a dream.< The author with the porcupine he bagged with a beautiful longbow built for him by his good friend, Johan van der Merwe from Combretum Bows. The bow shoots like a dream.

During the morning we drove to the feeding site to replenish the feed. However, on our way to the spot, which was in a dry riverbed next to a hill, Johan van der Merwe spotted a bushpig walking uphill in broad daylight. Henk immediately shouted to Johan Smit, who had his .308 with him, to shoot the animal. However, as soon as Johan had his sights on the animal, Henk shouted: "Don't shoot, it is a warthog!". Then moments later Henk shouted: "No, it's a bushpig – shoot!". However, before Johan Smit could pull the trigger, Johan van der Merwe shouted: "Don't shoot, don't shoot, it is a warthog!". And then we saw what the problem was: the bushpig was followed by a warthog, the two of them walking in single file up the hill – the old feud seemingly forgotten! A final loud and urgent: "Shoot, shoot!" from Henk got the confused Johan Smit on the go again and he felled the boar in his tracks.

Johan did not get another bushpig that evening, but had to go back on another weekend to kill the second bushpig with his bow. A new feeding site was made, and there Johan waited for the bushpig. At this site he waited on the one side of a river, while the feeding site was on the opposite side. A rheostat was used to slowly turn up a yellow light just above the spot where the bushpigs were to feed. An electric cord was installed, running from where Johan would hide behind a piece of camouflage cloth, up the tree, over the river and into another tree on the other side. The yellow light thus was on the one end above the feeding spot and the rheostat on the other end on Johan's side where he could slowly turn up the light when the pigs came.

That evening a bushpig came and Johan shot it with his recurve. The animal left a clear blood spoor and we found it within 30 yards from where he shot it.

To return to my own bushpig escapades… about a year later Henk invited me to shoot a bushpig on his farm. Nope, I did not swap him a bow, he invited me out of kindness, since he is by far a better bowyer than I am. So off I went one weekend to bag a boar in the dark of night. I had just recently received my new 50-pound longbow built for me by my friend Johan van der Merwe and I dearly wanted to hunt something with it.

Henk placed me on a treestand in the mountainous area of his game farm. There amongst the hills and trees I sat about two metres from the ground, waiting about 15 yards from a feeding spot of brewed grain. The only light I had was a headlight on which we fitted a red filter. As soon as the animals came, I was to switch it on and take aim with my recurve. We hoped the animals would not be disturbed by a red light. I had to place the light on the side of my head, above the end of my eyebrow, in order for it to light up the area I would aim at with my recurve.

When I got into the chair early that evening, it was quite warm, but as the night hours rolled by it became chilly. In the higher ground in the hills the night was quite nippy and the wind started blowing. I suspect the air that cooled off as night fell started making thermals, since it blew in all directions. This made the chance for bushpig to come closer very slim. They were sure to smell me long before they reached the fermenting grain. And sure enough, I waited and waited and there was no sign of bushpig.

However, around nine o'clock I suddenly noticed a ghostly figure on my right. It had a whitish appearance and its outline seemed vague… and it moved without making any sound. Soon it was followed by another spooky creature… and yet another. It wasn't bushpig, it was porcupine, with their quills glimmering in the moonlight.

One of the porcupines was huge, but I did not want to shoot at it and spoil my chances of getting a bushpig. In fact, I had no intention at all of shooting a porcupine – bushpig or no bushpig. Remember, I only shoot what I eat and I had no inclination to eat porcupine. So I waited some more… and some more …

At around eleven, I knew I was on borrowed time and that Henk would soon pick me up. By then my mind had made a complete turnaround. Now I regretted not shooting that big porcupine and I was ready to bag one should it dare to venture close. And soon one did, but unfortunately it was not as big as the one that had come in a few hours earlier.

It seemed the porcupine liked the brew as much as the bushpig and were just as happy to visit the bush bar. As the porcupine started feeding, I switched on the red light. It did not seem to mind the light at all and continued to gulp down the sour grain. I placed an arrow on the string and pulled the longbow back, focusing on a spot just above the animal's elbow. When my middle finger reached the corner of my mouth my fingers released the string and the arrow was airborne.

I could not see the arrow travel, but the porcupine made a loud noise as it pulled up its quills in defence and ran off. About 20 metres farther on it made a loud shudder with its quills and died.

When Henk came around a few minutes later we picked up the porcupine and saw that my arrow had flown right through its kill zone, puncturing both lungs. I will probably never shoot another porcupine though. I did not eat it, but it was not wasted, since the farm workers say it has very tender meat and they were happy to make a meal of it.


About the Author

Rean Steenkamp

Rean Steenkamp

Rean Steenkamp, editor and owner of Africa’s Bowhunter magazine, is an enthusiastic traditional archer and bowhunter. He started hunting with a longbow in 1997 and has since bagged many African plains game with traditional bows, compound and black powder rifles. He also dabbled in bow building and published a bowhunting book titled “Let loose the arrow!”

Rean started his career in journalism in 1984 at a newspaper in Pretoria, South Africa. He interrupted his career at the end of 1991 when he joined the 37th weather team expedition to Gough Island, where he worked for 14 months as the communicator. The team consisted of only seven people living in isolation on the seven by 16 km island. Rean started the Africa’s Bowhunter magazine in 2000 while working as editor for the Game and Hunt magazine.


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