by Jason Wright, Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV
Throughout the years I have listened with curiosity as people discussed their “bucket list” and/or what they have been able to cross off from their “one day” list.
If truth be told, I have secretly kept a few of those items hidden deep in my own “bucket list.” My realistic approach to life has kept that bucket hidden deep while living one day or one outdoor adventure at a time. My thoughts have been more of an, “If it happens, great!” I just went on with life knowing that what I have and the adventures I had experienced were already a true blessing and that asking or expecting more was not necessary.
My first “bucket list” item came about while listening to a well-known children’s book author during a luncheon at the Bismarck (ND) Civic Center nearly 18 years ago. He explained with great passion how his latest book came to be, which included an extended stay in Africa while living with the Maasai people. My interest spiked as Ben Mikaelsen described – in excessive detail – his entire experience while living with the Maasai and the cultural differences. I was hooked!! Not knowing it at the time, I had just noted my very first item which would be buried deep on a growing list found within my own “bucket list”.
Since that experience in 1996, I had been drawn to articles and television shows that featured hunts in Africa. I also took every opportunity to listen to others who had experienced such a hunt. But, as I mentioned earlier, hunting in Africa was buried so deep among the items on my bucket list that it was going to take a giant Maglite to locate it at the very bottom. Many years went by and the thought or dream of traveling to Africa would periodically find its way into a conversation as hunts were being planned for the following year. While others were focused on an elk hunt or chasing caribou on the tundra, I would – if only for a brief moment – wonder about what it is truly like to experience a bowhunt in Africa. But, then the “realistic me” would reappear and that dream would fade away like the setting sun.
Then during the early winter of 2012, a good friend, Attas Boutrous, turned my bucket list upside down and my dream of hunting in Africa was brought directly to the top. Attas invited a group of hunters from the surrounding area to a local establishment to meet Shannon van Zyl from Bushmen Safaris in South Africa. Shannon is a professional hunter who had been traveling to various sport shows throughout the states promoting Bushmen Safaris and took time to come and visit directly with us. Throughout the evening, Shannon shared video, photographs and information about bowhunting with Bushmen Safaris. This prompted lots of interest, excitement and questions. This incredible opportunity to meet Shannon brought a whole new meaning to the thought and possibility of traveling to Africa. After the evening get-together, the possibility of going to “Africa” was brought up more and more throughout the year.
Like many things, I knew the likelihood of this actually taking place was slim. Like the faint glow of embers after an evening bonfire, it doesn’t take much fuel to turn those buried embers into a roaring fire. Little did I know that in less than two years, I would call Shannon van Zyl my friend, and that bowhunting in Africa would be “checked” from my bucket list.
As we were flying high above the Atlantic Ocean with a final destination of Johannesburg, South Africa, and an approximate arrival time of 5:30 PM on Saturday, July 6, it was amazing to reminisce as to how this trip with 7 great friends had truly become a reality. Throughout the 15-hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, South Africa, we would stand, stretch and visit with other hunters on our flight, some of whom had traveled to Africa many times. While others, like myself, were experiencing this adventure for the first time.
The anticipation of what the next 10 days had in store kept me from sleeping. Incredible stories were shared by others that brought high expectations. I tried to keep my expectations in check, but with comments from others like, “Once you experience Africa, it isn’t if you will return, but when!” or “Africa will dig her talons into you so deep as you see everything from poverty to wealth, causing you to plan your next trip before you leave.” This made it very hard not to have the highest of expectations. Again, it was too early in the trip to know whether or not my expectations would be met.
After landing at the Johannesburg airport our main concern was whether or not our archery equipment tagged along for the journey! But, once we figured out how things were being shuffled, we were directed to the police station where lots of impatient hunters were lined up looking and hoping to find their hunting equipment. It wasn’t long until our last bow appeared and a sigh of relief was shared amongst us all. Then we stowed our gear into the Bushmen Safari’s trailer, jumped into the van as Shannon van Zyl started us out on the next leg of our journey. Next stop: Bushmen Safaris – approximate arrival 12:00 AM. The 4-hour drive to Bushmen Safaris was filled with incredible camaraderie. Everything from here on out made for out-of-this world experiences and incredible memories.
Arriving at the Bushmen Safaris ranch we were immediately greeted by Nick and Lydia van Zyl who showed us to our rooms. At this time it was becoming very obvious that my expectations were not only going to be met, but exceed anything I could have ever expected.
After quickly settling into our beautiful rooms we were treated to the first of many incredible dinners. It wasn’t long before Nick began to share stories of past hunts and his own experiences from over the years, which became an evening highlight after each day of hunting.
After a great breakfast, we were introduced to the game room where Nick gave each of us a spiral-bound book with a photo list of each animal. It included shot placement and how to determine whether or not the animal is a trophy. The most important piece of information during our animal introduction was shot placement. It is very different than what you would expect having hunted North American animals – this is very true.
After our morning briefing we had an opportunity to head outside and shoot our bows to make sure that nothing had changed after they traveled from North Dakota to Africa. Everything was shooting perfectly! Most of the hunting takes place at waterh
oles, and since it was winter in Africa while we were there, it was very dry. This made for great opportunities while sitting in extremely large and comfortable blinds both on the ground and elevated. Not only did we want to enjoy this trip but it was also our goal to capture our hunts on video to share via Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV. Therefore, Russ Arman and I paired up for the entire week.
Animals on Alert
Russ and I decided that during our first afternoon of hunting we would do more “scouting” and videoing while trying to judge the difference between non-trophy and trophy animals. It was also interesting to see how the whole arrangement worked for us and how the animals would react to scent, movement and sound. It was truly awesome as we got our first glimpse of an African animal. I/we soon realized that these animals had all senses on “high-alert” and this wasn’t going to be as easy as we might have thought – which from a hunter’s standpoint is good! Although we had originally agreed not to release an arrow that first afternoon, that notion was thrown by the wayside after a herd of zebras came to the waterhole.
Up until that point I hadn’t planned on trying to kill a zebra, but then a trophy stallion began to make its way to the waterhole. That is when I went from calm to meltdown. Everything was going pretty good considering I was about to release my first arrow in Africa, but just when we were trying to get me in the best place for a shot and the camera going, we bumped something in the blind. Even though the stallion was 34 yards away, he bolted immediately. Another clue that led me to believe these animals are extremely alert and that this was going to be a true hunting experience!
The next couple days were extremely fun while having the opportunity to spend all day from sunrise to sunset in the blind, watching many animals come and go throughout the day. Like all hunting adventures, it isn’t always easy to have the right animal come to the waterhole at the right time or right location. Add to that the fact we were trying to video every hunt as well as trade off and take turns, depending on what the next animal next approached the waterhole.
Russ and I eventually determined we needed to have a prioritized list of what animals each of us wanted to kill. We determined that the first trophy kudo bull that came Russ would shoot and the first trophy gemsbok I would shoot. This sounds great in theory, but again, add to the fact that we are trying to video creates more of a challenge than one would think. It wasn’t until day 3 we decided it was time to kill something.
The First Kill
After watching warthogs come and go, we each made great shots knocking two down. We were finally on the board! Oh and “the board” really exists, where magnets are used to keep track of who has scored and what type of animal. Pretty cool
After each day of hunting we were eager to return to the incredible accommodations, change into our lounging clothes, and then meet for beverages and the most incredible meals, followed by desserts that would make any top chef jealous. Then we would meet in the trophy room to share more stories and watch video of how the day unfolded. A good friend, after hearing I was going to Africa, mentioned that one of the best parts of my hunt in Africa would be the accommodations and the camaraderie that takes place each evening – so true!
Whether a person is hunting in Africa or Montana, making the perfect shot especially while bowhunting, is always the goal. But, unfortunately this doesn’t always happen and it can be a tough experience. Bowhunting is such an up close and personal experience between the hunter and the animal; therefore, a perfectly placed arrow can provide the most incredible feeling of accomplishment. However, nobody knows the opposite and understands the feelings of “What did I do?” more than a true bowhunter. This was the case for me on a couple of occasions, which is tough, but as sportsmen/women, we also know what needs to be done – find the animal.
Less Than Perfect
My first experience in Africa of a less-than-perfect shot was with a blesbok that was standing broadside at 34 yards. My shot was high and my heart sank as I watched the animal run much farther than what I had hoped. After contacting Shannon via radio, he showed up with the Polaris Ranger and a couple of trackers and tracking dogs. I would soon realize that tracking animals after a less-than-perfect shot is not only an incredible experience, but a reality of your African hunting adventure. We followed the blood trail for a much longer distance than I would have preferred. Shannon decided that it was best for Russ and I to head back to our elevated stand and he would continue until he found the dogs.
At this time I was at a low point. It is tough to swallow when I make a shot that is not good. Not feeling good about the shot I took and/or more importantly the timing of my shot, I began to hear the Ranger coming towards us, which meant that in just a few minutes I would find out whether or not Shannon found my blesbok. It seemed like an eternity, but eventually the ranger rounded a corner and I could see the white belly of my blesbok in the back of the Ranger. I nearly exploded with emotion flying out of the blind and thanking both the trackers and Shannon. The blesbok was found expired nearly a mile from our blind and had it not been for these incredible Jack Russell Terriers, it wouldn’t have been found in the African bush.
Quick pictures were taken and with my confidence restored, I was ready for whatever would happen throughout the rest of the day.
I didn’t have to wait long until I spotted a trophy waterbuck approaching the waterhole from behind us. I let Russ know. We switched positions while I grabbed my Hoyt Spyder and Russ placed the camera in the best spot to capture the action. This time I was confident. As the waterbuck began to walk away from the waterhole I stopped him at 36 yards, drew back my Hoyt and released an Easton Arrow tipped with a NAP Killzone broadhead.
It hit its mark perfectly and the big waterbuck was down in less than 60 yards. After going through a period of feeling down only hours earlier to now elated, I couldn’t hold back the excitement, which truly shows in the captured video. Let’s just say I got a bit animated!!
The rest of the week was filled with both “highs” and “lows” as far as my shot placement was concerned. When you travel to a place where you can shoot more than one animal, the chances that a “less than perfect” shot will occur is much greater. However, having had the opportunity to track with these professionals was truly an amazing opportunity which is a big part of hunting in Africa. Watching these fearless but small Jack Russell Terriers in action is amazing.
I ended my hunt with a trophy gemsbok with the assistance of Nick van Zyl and his tracking team, which was ironically the animal that was at the top on my list which I had hoped to kill first.
The time spent with Bushmen Safaris not only met, but exceeded any expectation I could have ever had. Not only did we encounter great hunting, large blinds perfectly placed, incredible accommodations, and the best dining… but most importantly I/we established lifelong friendships with Nick, Shannon and Lydia van Zyl, who seemed more like family as we prepared for departure back to the states.
If you have an African bowhunting adventure somewhere deep within your “bucket list”, I would highly recommend looking into Bushmen Safaris of South Africa.
I was fortunate to bring back a warthog, grey dieker, blesbok, waterbuck, and a gemsbok. There they will capture the spirit and preserve the memories of my African bowhunting adventure. This opportunity was shared by a group of friends who left the states bound for an African adventure. We returned better friends with shared memories of an incredible and, possibly the ultimate outdoor adventure. However, I do want to make note that I only “checked” this item on my bucket list and I did not cross it off!