By extreme bowhunters
Dr Adrian de Villiers & Alex Michaeletos
Dr Adrian de Villiers started bowhunting in 1982. He was one of the pioneers of bowhunting in South Africa and the first person to legally bowhunt the Big Five and hippo. He has hunted throughout the world since then and has shot over a thousand animals belonging to more than 80 species (plus another thousand pigs of four different species). A retired radiologist and game breeder, he is married to Colleen and they have two sons, Shane and Ryan, who are both archers and buffalo hunters.
Dr de Villiers is a life member of and a master measurer for the SCI (Safari Club International), as well as master bowhunting instructor for the IBEF (International Bowhunter Education Foundation). He shoots a Hoyt bow.
Can you think of anything more invigorating than getting up before dawn and having a huge mug of ‘boerekoffie’ with condensed milk and a rusk, and then sneaking out into the predawn fog to your destination – a dense riverine thicket, crawling with potential dangers? Here you are alone with your bow and arrow among animals that do not know that you are the so-called ‘apex predator’.
You suddenly realise that in these surroundings you are definitely not the apex predator; you are not the boss! Here the buffalo, lion, hippo, leopard and elephant dominate and you are a humble visitor. These free-roaming animals have no fear of you – you are the jackrabbit among the wolves. This adds a spine-tingling edge to your bowhunting.
Alex and I walked silently and quickly to our starting point 5 km away. We needed to get to our bushveld destination in the dark and be down-wind just in time to get going as the sky lights up in the east. Our anticipation was palpable! When we are together my level of anxiety is very low because I know Alex has exceptional eyes and ears. Many years of handgun hunting and weekly combat competitions have left me with hearing loss, a huge disadvantage when trying to locate animals walking in thick bush and breaking branches.
Alex with his bushpig
Fresh elephant dung … now the bowhunter who is walking and stalking should beware of the danger.
We timed our entrance perfectly. On crepe-soled shoes we silently slipped into the undergrowth of vines, pandanus palms and bull rushes, with jumbles of rock and pools, fresh elephant droppings and spittle-covered branches strewn around. The hippo tracks were so fresh that some were still slowly filling with water. My heart rate quickened; my ears were ringing as I desperately tried to hear any sound. Once in hunting mode, Alex and I no longer speak – we communicate with gentle whistles and hand signs.
Alex motioned me to join him and pointed to a bush pig, standing motionless in the thick brush. We hadn’t been there for 10 minutes and yet we were already encountering bush pigs! They are one of my favourite animals to bowhunt. There was only one problem: I could not see the bush pig! My nerves were tingling with excitement. I felt alive, really alive!
I whispered to Alex: “I can’t see it. It’s going to run – if it is standing still it knows something’s up. Please shoot it!”
His Hoyt Defiant drew back smoothly and silently, and the Slick tricks-tipped FMJ headed off virtually silently and with laser precision on its deadly mission. Only when the arrow struck the bush pig and it squealed, did I see it. With it were at least eight others, including a huge white boar in the distance, which caught my eye. However, there was too much bush in the way to get a shot.
The author with his warthog
We stayed silently in the undergrowth. We were not alone there and we needed to stay focused as elephant and hippo were in the area and could be around any corner or bush. I was still hoping to bag a bush pig.
After tracking and finding Alex’s bush pig, we took trophy photos and then found a small, clear rock pool in which to immerse the pig. We could only hope no predator would find it before we came back at lunch time, which was still five hours away, to retrieve it with the quad bike. Under water it would stay cool and would give off minimal scent.
With renewed vigour we set off looking for more game. As much as I enjoyed having the advantage of Alex’s eyes and ears, I knew I should go on my own so that we could double our chances. Staying together we would share opportunities. We split up and Alex went off on his own.
I was very nervous initially among all those elephants – which I could not hear! I have hunted three with a bow and arrow so I was not unfamiliar with them and their ability to vanish in plain sight or stand ten metres way and be invisible to the untrained eye. Now I would have to be super careful. The bush was virtually dead silent, as were my footsteps in the powdery sand on the well-used footpaths. There were no other signs of human activity, no footprints and absolute silence. As Fred Bear supposedly said: “Don’t look for animals, look for movement – but remember, that’s what they are looking for, too!”
I stopped several times in areas from where I could see for long distances, looking for shooting opportunities and keeping a constant lookout for elephants, too. The undulating ground was a godsend. Dropping down into a riverbed and peeking over the next rise, I spotted a really nice warthog facing directly away. I ranged him carefully with my Leica Geovid range-finding binoculars at 60 m (66 yards). I knew it was a long shot but my statistics of kills at that distance is almost a 100 per cent, so the distance was not an issue, nor was the rear-end shot. My Elite Option six shoots a 550 gr arrow at 285 fps with 99 ft/lbs of KE. The pig had no idea I was there. There were two huge trees just to the left of the warthog. If I used them as cover, I could sneak to within about 20 m (22 yards) of my target. Should I or shouldn’t I? I know pigs usually hang around in groups or sounders, and there would very likely be others nearby. I decided to stay put and shoot from where I was. As the pig was at a higher elevation than I was, I could shoot through his back legs into the stomach and through the heart. It was a textbook shot: the arrow whistled through and out of his chest in front, spraying arterial blood. The animal was dead in seconds. As I suspected, after the shot four other pigs which had been in the vicinity of the two big trees ran off. Had I tried to sneak closer, I would have been detected. I had made the right decision.
I gutted my pig, found a cool shady pool and submerged it. What a great day! A perfect hunt in a stunning environment – and more opportunities ahead. Now I wanted a bushbuck.
I had had a few chances to take a bushbuck but I wanted an exceptional one. After many hours of hunting and a few close encounters with pachyderms, I still had not bagged my bushbuck. I had turned down several opportunities because the bushbuck were not big enough.
I then decided that if I got the opportunity to shoot a decent-sized ram, I would take it. There was no point in driving seven hours to hunt and then not hunting.
Strangely enough, with all the great cover and all the huge patches of bull rushes, I nevertheless seemed to be getting several opportunities in open, lightly-wooded areas. This was exactly where I found my next shot opportunity.
I was walking on an exposed area of an island when I saw a bushbuck almost completely in the open, foraging slowly up-wind from me, on the next island. He was 45 m (50 yards) away and heading closer towards me and the riverbed, down a slope. Although I was dressed in a leafy suit and had a painted camo face, I was sure that he would recognise my human shape if he looked directly at me. I re-ranged him at 35 m (38 yards) facing directly at me, head down. There were a few twigs in the way but I hoped the arrow would not hit any of them. As soon as the bushbuck looked away, I drew and anchored, and waited till his head was down again. I knew a shot at the base of his neck would either spine him or go through the heart. My bow released the arrow silently and the slick-tricks four-blader split his heart and exited at the rear. His death run only lasted a few seconds.
Alex had pre-programmed my Garmin Fenix 3 to meet him at a designated spot and time. I was still struggling to work out all the buttons, sitting on a small chair-shaped rock, looking for the location where we were to meet, when I noticed a movement – a beautiful impala ram was grazing not ten yards away. He never even realised that ‘Dr Death’ was sitting so close by.
When Alex and I met at the designated spot, he had stories of his own to tell. His tally was an awesome bushbuck ram and a 80-kg warthog. That night around the fire we relived the day’s events over a shot of whiskey.
What a great day it was to be alive in the wilds of Africa! ASM