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A blue wildebeest at last light
Rean Steenkamp tells how he shot a blue wildebeest with his 54-pound recurve just as darkness was settling over the blind.
>> The author with the blue wildebeest he shot at last light.
It was nearly dark and I thought I would certainly go back to camp empty-handed. Then I saw a group of nearly twenty blue wildebeest walking towards the blind in a straight line. By the time they started settling, I could only see their outlines. Every second counted now. Then, as the closest animal startled and the group moved off a little, I decided shooting time was over. But then another wildebeest moved closer and stood broadside-on...
I hunt twice a year at Johan Pont's game farm, in the Sterkrivier area near Potgietersrus, and I always go for blue wildebeest first – or for the unlucky impala, should one venture too close. The reason is that Johan charges per kilo for an animal and not for horn length or gender. This takes away a lot of stress when you are not a trophy hunter.
It was getting cold as I sat in one of Johan's blinds. Winter this year was exceptionally cold, but during the day it was warm enough in this part of the country to walk around in only a T-shirt. However, as soon as the sun set the temperature would drop dramatically. I did not want to put my jacket on, since I was afraid that the string of my recurve might slam against it – absorbing some of the energy that should be transferred to the arrow. This might cause the arrow to hit low.
<< The Schmeisser Viking broadhead used by the author to shoot the blue wildebeest.
The blind I was sitting in was made from reeds packed on a wooden frame. The shooting port was quite big – much wider and lower down than one would normally find in a blind. Johan had just recently cut the openings wider to help traditional archers who shoot instinctively. Shooting from a blind often confuses a traditional archer, causing his brain to overjudge the distance. However, if the bow hunter is able to see as much as possible of the ground stretching from the blind to where the animal stands, this problem is minimised. To get the bow hunter to stand lower, so that his line of sight is closer to the ground, and thus the opening as well, Johan dug the inside of the blind deeper. He also placed a wooden frame covered with a thin plastic membrane (Glad Wrap) on the inside of the opening. This makes it much harder for the animals to see inside, since the membrane reflects the outside surroundings back at an animal standing outside. It does not work as well as a mirror, but it works.
I was beginning to lose all hope of bagging anything, when I saw the long line of blue wildebeest approaching the blind. They were walking one behind the other and a big old cow was leading them in. Johan Pont always reminds us not to shoot the first cow, since she is the one that brings the group in. If she is shot, the others will be reluctant to approach that particular blind again for quite a while – especially on a farm such as this one where there is enough water all over the farm. Johan's blinds are not close to waterholes – the animals come in only for feed and salt licks.
It was already very dark when the animals were close enough to shoot. I forgot all about the cold and nocked an arrow on the string of my 54-pound bow (made by Pierre de Wet from Cupido Bows). The wildebeest just would not settle down and I was losing hope, since the day was dying fast. A cow stood square-on and I lifted my bow – but something startled the herd and they scattered a few feet away from the feed. There goes all hope, I thought, and decided it was too late to shoot anyway. I would give it up.
Then a wildebeest cow came closer and turned. She stood perfectly broadside on and her outline showed clearly against the dark vermilion horizon. I lifted my bow and drew the string and the arrow until my middle finger touched the corner of my mouth. I imagined a spot on the black image before me and relaxed my hand. The moment I let loose the arrow disappeared. I did not see it travel and I did not see it hit. However, I heard it smack into the cow and she gave a grunt. As the animals trampled off, all I could see was dust – the whole group disappeared. I did not see the arrow hit and I did not see in which direction the animal ran off. This was rather disturbing and I was cross with myself for taking the shot. It was too late and too dark – I should have refrained from shooting. I put my thick jacket on and sat down – brooding and praying.
I got up from the chair when I saw the lights of Johan's Nissan Ranger in the distance. However, the lights moved off again in another direction. I sat down again, brooding some more... what I did not know was that Rikus, a hunting buddy, had also shot a wildebeest with his compound and Johan and the others on the pickup were looking for his animal. The found it quickly. The shot from his Martin Bengal was perfect, hitting both lungs and severing all the arteries above the heart. The animal did not run far and the only reason they had to look for it was because Rikus' blind was in thick vegetation and because by then it was night and the moon had not risen yet.
The lights moved over to my side again and the pickup soon stopped outside. When I told them I had shot a blue wildebeest they did not believe me at first. What I did not know was that Johan and Henk du Plessis, who was not hunting that weekend, had been sitting on a high spot on the farm, watching the blind with binoculars. At dusk they received a call from Rikus telling them about the shot he had taken. It so happened that Rikus shot his blue wildebeest about five to ten minutes before I took my shot. Johan and Henk assumed that all chances of me shooting something were over. It was only when they saw the blood fifteen yards from the blind that they realised I wasn't trying to play the fool with them.
I was very relieved when I saw the bright blood on the ground, but I still did not feel very happy. It was very dark, but the blood trail first led us to a blood-covered arrow – and then to the dead animal. It was lying approximately 100 yards from where I shot it. I was elated.
When we inspected the animal where it lay, we saw that the arrow hit it in the kill zone and exited on the other side. Later, after we removed the innards, we saw that the arrow missed the rib going in, hit both lungs fairly high and severed the aorta. It missed the rib again going out. It was a good shot. Happiness is a clean kill and an animal found. That night I had an extra glass of glühwein.
Updated: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 9:42 AM
About the Author
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.