SA JAGTER/HUNTER | September-October 2023 |By DR ADRIAN DE VILLIERS
BOWHUNTING ON SMALL FARMS
A successful bowhunter is an expert at adapting to circumstances.
How many times have I heard people commenting that they have been invited to bowhunt some game on a small property with lots of animals and that it should be easy? Well, if you are going to feed the game animals in front of a hide and wait for them to come in, it will be easy. However, I am talking about hunting them on foot.
On large farms, you can walk and stalk different animals that have not experienced human activity for a long time. On the smaller farms, however, the animals see human activity all day and get used to it. If they have not been hunted for some time, the first one or two shots may not alert them. Still, once a bleeding animal rushes through other animals, the word is out that there is trouble in paradise! So, when you are requested to help reduce game numbers on a small farm, as I have often been asked, I suggest you take out the most important or largest animal first before they become skittish and wise to your plan.
Do not be shy to take a wheelbarrow with your bow in it and pretend to be picking up droppings. Just replicate what is a common occurrence that time of the day on that particular farm.
Unless you have good cover and can get close quite easily, do not creep around looking suspicious. If the animals are comfortable with human activity nearby, but not too close, casually walk around but never move directly towards them. Once you see they have a comfort zone of, say, 65 m before they start milling and then walking off, set your sights on 65 m, get someone to walk with you, and range continuously till you get within shooting range; then draw and shoot. Many years ago, my good buddy and PH, Rickey Walsh, and my karate instructor asked me to help cull some impala on an 80 ha plot near Rustenburg. The farm had 40 impala, of which 12 rams had to be culled. We walked and stalked some and shot some off the bakkie while retrieving others, but we got the job done – a culling exercise.
On that hunt, we noticed that the impala stood still until we stopped and started ranging. They stood just long enough for us to get the range, draw and aim before they scampered off 20 m and came to a halt again. We devised another plan, which worked well. We would walk normally, and when we saw a ram looking at us, we would turn directly away from him and walk slowly. I would hook an arrow on my bow and Rickey would range over his shoulder. For these shots, you must be prepared to take frontal or rear shots, which are deadly on most animals. Once, we came across a huge ram standing in a thicket about 10 m behind a log that covered his whole body. He was standing perfectly broadside on.
“Shoot,” Rickey whispered. “I’m too close,” I replied, “the arrow will hit the log. Come with me.”
We walked back about 45 m while the ram watched us. I drew and aimed through the log, imagining where the heart was, and released. The arrow arched over the log, dropped and killed the animal. Sadly, Rickey was killed by an elephant in Pilanesberg Nature Reserve not long after that.
The best way to walk and stalk already restless animals is to “pattern” them: Walk around and see which favourite routes they take. Invariably, they will pass by or through a thicket or stream in a similar pattern if they are pushed. On his farm near Carletonville, Fred Petersen had a herd of aoudad sheep, also called Barbary sheep, in a large camp on a koppie with very steep, slippery, shale-like precipices. That day, I was with Roy Smith. Starting in the early morning, we watched from the camp from far away with binoculars. Most of them were hanging around on the cliff face as sheep tend to do. We decided to try and go around from the other side and get a shot from the top. It would have worked but for the fact that there were other animal species scattered all over the flats below the koppie. Nothing we did went unnoticed by these animals – mainly blesbuck and fallow deer. However, we did notice that the sheep regularly passed through a small clump of evergreen trees on the way to the top, where they would crest and go down the other side.
After waiting an hour, Roy went to a spot where all the animals on the mountain could see him. They were relaxed as he was far away but kept an eye on him. I painstakingly went around the back and over the top and waited in the clump of trees. These sheep have phenomenal eyes, so I had to stay well hidden. Then I heard the clicking of stones ... They were on their way! I set my sights on a low clump of bushes, and when they got there, I drew my bow. However, one of them spotted me and they dashed off. Fortunately, the big ram had not seen me. He looked at the departing herd and I let the arrow fly. When Roy came closer, I saw it was him who clicked the stones together. As he asked, “Did you shoot?” he stumbled on my dead sheep. The ram was a monster.
In Nylstroom (now Modimolle), a farmer once wanted me to take out an aggressive white blesbuck ram in a small 5 ha camp with a few scattered trees and absolutely no cover. The camp had a small water trough in the top left-hand corner, and a few weeds had grown up against the fence. Initially, I very nearly got a shot off the farm’s golf cart. However, as soon as the vehicle stopped, the ram would trot away. There was no cover for me, not even near the water. I tried one last trick: I drove around the camp near the water trough, and when the blesbuck looked away, I lay almost flat on my back in a leafy suit between the water trough and the corner pole of the game fence. I knew this could work, but only once. If he saw me, he would not repeat the mistake.
My friend manoeuvred him to walk along the eastern border fence straight towards me. Only a few little weeds stopped him from spotting me where I was pushed up against the fence behind the water trough. There was no time to try any classical shots. My bow was set on 20 m when I shot him in the neck just below his chin shortly before he spotted me. The spinal and carotid artery shot was an instant kill.
Sometimes, you even have to “pattern” your friends when you are bowhunting. I had another invite to hunt with Fred Peterson in Carletonville, this time for Indian blackbuck. Only one was really big, with the rest a bit smaller, but still acceptable. Fred was ultra-competitive and I knew he would bust his gut to get the big one before me. The buck were in a moderately large camp with a small koppie on one side, which stopped short of the game fence by about 25-30 m. When we drove onto the farm, we saw the whole herd grazing calmly on the eastern side of the koppie. With the wind in our favour, we sneaked behind the koppie and agreed to split up – my friend going south of the koppie and me heading north. I knew without reservation or doubt that he would rush to shoot the big ram.
I also guessed he would get busted, so I stayed north of the koppie in the shade between the game fence and the mountain, a 25 m shot each way. I waited ... and waited ... for nothing!
Did he manage to shoot it? I began to second-guess myself.
“Should I go forwards?” I wondered. I never did, but stuck to my plan. Then I heard a noise as the blackbuck were galloping towards my tree! I drew my bow and shot the big one instinctively with a 2419 aluminium arrow and a Zwickey. I did not even aim – it was like a kettle shot. I heard a super loud “clack” as I shot. It turned out that I had hit the front hoof as it was right opposite the heart in a flat-out run. The arrow went through the foot and struck the heart. I got lucky. My buddy did get another ram that day, but I never had the heart to tell him I had “patterned” him!
Near Hoedspruit, on Ronnie Wagner’s farm in Mica, I once hunted for three days without any luck. Then I spotted a herd of impala walking on a road next to the Olifants River. I jumped down the bank and waited, convinced my plan would work. But then I heard a “chweet, chweet, chweet chweet” sound. Looking up, I saw a farmworker on a rusty bicycle driving right through the herd.
They never scattered but just opened up and let him through!
Racing down the riverbed, I caught up to him, grabbed the bike and positioned the bow with an arrow on the handlebars with my sights set on 10 yards. Then I cycled up to them and shot a nice ram. The rifle hunters in the camp had not scored. I never told them how I did it. The lesson here is: “Adapt to your circumstances!” Walk and stalk – never give up!