By Barry Parks
About 10 AM, a waterbuck herd walked in from our right. The “Waterbuck Bull of a Lifetime” was the last one to enter. He mingled with the herd as they ate and drank. No animals could be in front of or behind him. About 10 minutes went by before a hole opened. I stood up, grabbed my bow, drew, and stepped to shoot…
It was late February 2023 when a friend called to cancel an August trip to Ireland. Determined to go on an adventure, I decided to honor my late wife, Kim. Covid pneumonia took her life on October 1, 2021. We were married for 25 years. She was 51… A South African Safari was on her bucket list. I called Carl Drake, a friend to inquire. Carl is a member of the Eland Safaris Pro Staff. He told me that there were spots available in early or late June 2023. After checking my schedule, I opted for the late June Safari. Inspired by another friend, I decided to bow hunt. I had not shot archery in over 10 years and had never harvested an animal with a bow. With only 3 months to prepare, it would prove to be a tough personal challenge.
Leading up to the safari, I was asked to provide a list of target animals. Mine included an impala, warthog, gemsbok, blue wildebeest, and a baboon. They are all considered Plains Game. For plains game, Eland Safaris recommends at least 60-pound draw weight, 400+ grain arrows and fixed blade broadheads. Preparation for my journey continued with a call to Eric Grippa of Grip’s Archery, YouTube channel. Eric and I have been friends since childhood. Archery and deer hunting are his passions. I asked Eric if he had a bow that I could buy for my upcoming safari. He offered to sell me his hunting bow from the previous deer season. It was a PSE Evoke Lite with 60-pound draw weight and 80%-90% let off. Perfect for my upcoming hunt.
Eric adjusted the draw length first, then the peep sight. I strapped on a release and shot a few arrows to test the setup. Once finished on the range, we discussed arrow specifics. Eric suggested PSE carbon fiber arrows, Bohning Blazer vanes and Dirt Nap Broadheads. He showed me a post hunt photo of a broadhead buried in a tree to the insert. The kicker… The Dirt Nap Broadhead passed through a doe before hitting the tree. One word, penetration. South African animals are known to be tough, and penetration is key. Dirt Nap Broadheads have a single bevel with a 1-3/16 inch main blade, and 5/8 inch bleeder blades. When my 12 arrows were fully assembled, they each weighed between 432 grains and 435 grains including a 125 grain tip / broadhead.
I purchased a Block 6×6 Archery Target and began to shoot in my backyard. Practice started with 12 arrows per session. After a few days, I realized that my back and shoulders would not tolerate 12 arrows per practice for 3 months… So, I reduced the number of shots to 6 per session. Over the next month I made some additional changes, adding grip tape and a wrist strap to my bow. With “old” eyes, I found myself looking at fuzzballs instead of pins. Accuracy was still acceptable despite my vision.
Two weeks before departure I searched the internet for Archery Optics and discovered Verifier Peep Sights. The Verifier Peep Sight has a lens in it for near sighted shooters. With new insight, I headed to Broken Rack Archery, Batavia, Ohio. They handed me a device that had multiple lenses. After selecting a lens, a Broken Rack staff member installed the Specialty Archery – Verifier Peep sight on my bow. Instantaneously I saw pins instead of fuzzballs. My accuracy improved immediately. I finally felt ready to hunt.
On Thursday June 15, 2023, I flew from Cincinnati, Ohio to Johannesburg, South Africa. The flights were very smooth and uneventful. After clearing South African Customs, I gathered my luggage and bow case. As I exited the airport terminal, I was met by Eland Safaris Staff Members Alex Thomson, Divan van den Heever, Villa Viljoen and Pro Staffer Carl Drake.
A few minutes later the other hunters arrived, Maria Brophy Garrett, her son Levi, Jeanette Vest, and Beth Brannigan. After brief introductions we walked a short distance to the parking lot. A van and a truck were waiting for us. Luggage was loaded and we climbed in for a short drive to the Afton Safari Lodge. We were served a delicious steak dinner that also included “drinks”, and dessert. With full bellies, we retired to our rooms for a shower and good night’s sleep.
The next morning, we ate breakfast, loaded our gear, and headed North. It was a four-and-a-half-hour drive to Maasstroom, South Africa. Near the Botswana border, Maasstroom is in the Limpopo Province, and the home of Eland Safaris. Upon arrival we were promptly greeted by the rest of the Eland Safari Staff. Then, we were shown to our chalets. Each chalet had brick walls, thatched grass roofs and sliding glass doors. I was pointed to the Kudu chalet, home for the next 8 days. It had a queen-sized bed, a full bath and was decorated in South African décor. Suitable accommodations for my stay.
During lunch I was introduced to Johnny Thomson, my assigned Professional Hunter (PH). After some time to settle in, we headed to the range to sight in our guns and bows. Rifle hunters went first. Then, it was time for the archers. Jeannette, an experienced bow hunter, shot first. Her arrows flew straight and true. Then, it was my turn… My nerves kicked in and I did not shoot very well. I couldn’t believe that 3 months of work had come down to this… Thank goodness for some last-minute pointers from Divan & Johnny. With their assistance, my shot placement improved.
I woke up to a beautiful South African sunrise, ate a quick breakfast, and headed back to the range for some last-minute practice. With settled nerves, I flung a few arrows. They were on target. Finally, it was go-time in South Africa!!!
I loaded my bow and backpack into the bed of a Toyota Land Cruiser safari truck. It was then that Johnny introduced me to Peatry, my assigned tracker. After exchanging pleasantries, we climbed into the truck. Johnny drove about 15 minutes to a 4,500 acre property that was reserved for bow hunting only. It was exciting to learn that I would be the first hunter on the property this year. We pulled up to a gate in front of a small brick house. Pete, the landowner walked out to meet us. After talking for a few minutes, the 4 of us climbed into the truck and headed towards my hunting spot. It was a pit blind built by a watering hole. The floor of the blind was about 2 feet below ground level. It was topped by a concrete dome with a shooting window in the door. South African watering holes are well fed. The Limpopo Province averages 2 inches of rain per year.
After spreading some alfalfa, Johnny and I climbed into the blind. Peatry and Pete drove the truck to the house. While we waited, Johnny explained to me that he would shoot video of each shot. The video was necessary to review shot placement for tracking purposes. Another first for me. None Page of my previous harvests had been captured on video. As we settled in, several species walked into the watering hole to drink. Among them were guinea fowl, young impala rams and does, and a duiker.
At 9 AM a beautiful mature impala ram entered from our right. Johnny saw it and quietly said, “that’s a shooter.” It stopped and stood broadside facing to my left, grunting, and nervously twitching his tail. After using a laser rangefinder, my PH whispered that the impala was 18 yards away. I drew my bow, aimed, and released the arrow.
The Dirt Nap Broadhead struck just above the left shoulder and the arrow passed through his chest cavity. Shot placement was perfect. The impala jumped, then darted to our right. Peatry, my tracker was called on the radio. He showed up in the truck a few minutes later. Pete climbed out of the passenger seat. The three of them immediately started the track the impala ram. I intentionally stayed behind so that I would not accidentally step on any sign. They studied the ground and followed tracks for about 50 yards. Then, I thought “What if I find it??” At that moment my eyes scanned the perimeter. Much to my surprise, I spotted the downed impala ram 50 yds to my right and called out “Hey guys!! It’s over there!!” We celebrated with high fives. I was absolutely thrilled that my first bow harvest was in the books. In South Africa of all places!!! We took some pictures. Then, Pete and Peatry loaded the impala into the truck bed and drove back to the house to wait for the next call.
About an hour later a mature male warthog entered from the left. He walked in slowly and stopped at the water’s edge. Johnny ranged him at 20 yds. Again, I drew my bow, aimed, and released the shot. The warthog jumped my string and broke the arrow as it passed through him. Most of the arrow shaft exited the hog and landed in the watering hole, broadhead down. The fletching was still in him. Video showed that my shot may have been a couple of inches behind the target area. As a result, Johnny suggested that we wait until after lunch to track the warthog. After returning to camp for lunch, we climbed back into the truck and headed out to track my warthog. We stopped by Pete’s house and again, he climbed in. When we pulled up to the watering hole, a mature gemsbok was standing by the blind. It ran off a few seconds after spotting us.
It was time to track the warthog. Johnny, my PH grabbed a rifle to shoot it if necessary. Again, I stayed to the rear and watched them track. We ducked under several thorny trees and squeezed through thickets. It seemed like every tree and bush in South Africa wanted to stick, poke, or grab you… After following tracks for 20 minutes, Peatry spotted the warthog, dead. It fell about 150 yds from the watering hole. We rolled it over and discovered the exit hole in the opposite shoulder, another well placed arrow. Johnny and Peatry loaded the warthog into the truck. Peatry and Pete again drove off while Johnny and I walked back to the blind.
During our afternoon sit, we saw several species of animals including waterbuck cows and young kudu bulls. It was quite an experience to watch wild South African animals at such close range. A few hours passed. It was dinner time, and we were hungry. Peatry was called on the radio and a few minutes later, he returned with the truck. We loaded our gear and drove toward the Eland Safari Camp. While in route, I was overcome with joy as I recalled my first day hunting in South Africa.
Monday, the action continued. Mid-morning, an impala ram with a broken rear leg limped into the watering hole from our right. It stopped at the water’s edge to get a drink. Johnny ranged him at 18 yards and gave the OK to shoot. I felt a slight adrenaline rush, as I drew and released the arrow. My shot was a little low… The Dirt Nap Broadhead split the shoulder blade and penetrated the vital organs of the impala. It ran 30 yds and laid down within sight of the blind. No tracking required. While loading the impala, Peatry told us that he heard the grunt of a nearby kudu bull. We finished quickly and quietly. Pete and Peatry drove back to the house.
Johnny and I headed back to the blind for lunch. Soon after we ate, several kudu cows and calves entered the watering hole from our right. A few minutes later they were joined by 2 young kudu bulls. As I watched in awe, another kudu bull entered from the right. It had ivory tipped horns and was much larger than the others. Johnny whispers “it’s a shooter.” Again, I felt the “jitters” and started to shake a little. The mature kudu bull walked behind the watering hole to feed. After a few minutes, he turned around, walked to my right, and paused. While standing broadside the kudu bull lowered his head to feed. Johnny ranged the shot at 30 yards. The kudu lowered his head to feed a second time. With my heart racing, I took a deep breath, drew, aimed, and released the arrow. My shot was perfect. It struck just above his right shoulder and easily passed through his chest cavity. Overwhelmed with adrenaline and emotion, I immediately choked up and cried. Johnny held his hand up and said, “my hands are shaking too.” What an incredible scene! After we composed ourselves, Peatry and Pete were called on the radio. Johnny reviewed video to identify the initial path of the kudu. After 20 minutes of tracking, Peatry found the bull piled up next to a tree, 200 yards from the blind. As we celebrated, Johnny said to me, “you were supposed to shoot the kudu so that it died in the sun.” We laughed at his joke then scooted the bull away from the tree for photos. Oh My God!!! What an amazing animal!!! The kudu is also called the “Grey Ghost of Africa” for its ability to quickly disappear into the bush. This bull was almost 600 pounds with ivory tipped horns almost 4 feet tall. Peatry trimmed branches so that the truck could be brought in to load my latest harvest. The truck was equipped with an electric winch on the front bumper to assist with loading heavy game. After backing the truck in behind the kudu, the winch cable was run over the cab of the truck and hooked to the rear legs. As Peatry loaded the kudu, I told Johnny that I was done hunting for the day. It was time to celebrate an incredible hunt!!
Tuesday morning, we changed blinds. Several animals visited the watering hole. Among them were Impala, warthogs, and a mongoose. Mid-morning a gemsbok cow walked in. She was big and beautiful. Gemsbok cows have horns that are longer and skinnier than the bulls. She stopped at the watering hole for a drink, standing broadside at 20 yards. Johnny told me that he needed to verify that she was neither pregnant nor nursing. He looked closer with binoculars. She turned away and gave us a view of her udder. It was slightly dropped and showed signs of nursing. As a result, I was not allowed to shoot. She got a pass… A short time later the wind picked up and started to swirl. Animals that approached the watering hole became very nervous or turned around and refused to come in. We determined that they could smell our scent so, we gathered our gear and changed blinds.
Wind direction was more favorable by the new blind. We grabbed our gear from the truck, climbed in and ate lunch. About an hour had passed when I spotted a young baboon as it jumped into a tree. A few minutes went by. Then it returned to the ground and walked into the watering hole. A congress (group) of baboons soon followed. The last baboon to enter was a mature adult male. He walked to the near side for a drink. Baboons are very skittish and have eyesight like humans. As a result, I had to draw while hidden, step into shooting position, aim, then release my arrow. Johnny ranged him at 16 yards. I drew, stepped, attempted to aim and… My peep sight was twisted… I whispered and asked for help. Johnny reached up to fix my sight while I held at full draw. One of the baboons spotted the motion… They fled… No shot… It was the baboon’s lucky day… We twisted the peep sight back into proper position.
Later that afternoon a herd of waterbuck walked in from our right. They were led by several cows with calves. A couple of young waterbuck bulls joined them. We sat quietly and watched. Then we heard cracking branches. To our amazement, a big waterbuck bull crashed through the brush directly in front of us. His horns were much longer and wider than the younger bulls. Johnny looked at me and whispers “that’s the Waterbuck Bull of a lifetime!” I told him that he was making it tough but would like to hold out for a gemsbok. An hour or more passed before the waterbuck herd left the watering hole. At dusk we loaded our gear into the truck and drove back to camp.
While eating dinner I noticed a waterbuck bull on the wall of the Eland Safari lodge. It was smaller than the bull that I had just seen. During dinner I was told that “target” animals don’t always present themselves. Sometimes it becomes necessary for a hunter to harvest what mother Africa offers. As a result of the conversation, I had a better understanding and decided to hunt the BIG waterbuck bull the next day.
Wednesday was the last day that I had permission to hunt Pete’s property. Johnny and I were back in the same blind as the previous afternoon. While we waited, Johnny told me that waterbuck are very skittish animals. If a shot presented itself, I would have to draw while hidden, step into shooting position, aim, then release my arrow. I acknowledged, and the wait continued… About 10 AM, the waterbuck herd walked in from our right. The “Waterbuck Bull of a Lifetime” was the last one to enter. He mingled with the herd as they ate and drank. About 10 minutes went by before it looked like I would get an opportunity to shoot. No animals could be in front of or behind him. A hole opened. I stood up, grabbed my bow, drew, and stepped to shoot. Animals moved… So, I was forced to let-down my bow. 5 minutes passed before another hole opened. Still standing, I drew and stepped to shoot. Again, I was forced to let-down my bow. Several minutes went by. I continued to stand, bow in hand. The “Waterbuck Bull of a Lifetime” finally presented himself. He was facing to my left, broadside at 26 yards. I drew, stepped, aimed, and released my arrow. While the arrow was in flight, I cursed. It was a gut shot… Apparently, fatigue from holding my bow for so long played a role in my poor shot… It was an awful feeling… I could not have shot that bad on purpose…
Johnny suggested that we wait for at least an hour before tracking the injured bull. I decided to look for my arrow and Johnny soon joined me. We searched for at least 20 minutes and couldn’t find it. Maybe my arrow was still in the waterbuck bull. Hopefully the broadhead was still cutting. We continued to wait… Finally, it was time to go. My PH asked me “If I see it, can I shoot it?” “Yes, please” was my response. Johnny grabbed his rifle from the truck. Peatry led us on the track. About 150 yards from the blind, we heard breaking branches. It was the injured bull. We inspected his bedding area and found that it had left a sizeable bright red bloodstain, a promising sign that arrow may have struck a vital organ. We backed off again.
Another hour went by, it was time to go. We grabbed water bottles and headed off. 200 yards from the truck we bumped him from another thicket. We got a glimpse of his rump, and he was gone… I followed Peatry and Johnny as they continued to trail the injured bull. They tracked him for a mile and a half over the next four plus hours. Twilight settled in and it was time to stop for the evening. We walked to a nearby dirt road. Johnny used his boot to draw a line on the road to serve as a starting point in the morning. On the way back to the truck, Johnny said “it was likely that the waterbuck bull would die overnight.” Despite Johnny’s reassurance, it was difficult to keep my spirits up. I was dejected because of my poor shot and physically tired from the track. One looming question remained… Would we be allowed to resume in the morning??
We stopped by Pete’s house on the way out. He was waiting for us. Johnny explained the situation and asked for permission to return. Pete told us that he was headed to Victoria to visit family and did not like people on his property when he was not there. Then he looked me in the eye and said “Barry, I would feel bad if I did not let you come back in the morning to track that waterbuck.” I graciously thanked him and shook his hand before we headed back to camp.
After a restless night’s sleep, I woke up hopeful. We ate breakfast and headed towards the truck. Jeanette, one of the other hunters, suggested that I take my bow for pictures, just in case. I returned to my chalet, grabbed my bow. As I walked to the truck, Maria was headed to her chalet. She looked at me and said, “Good luck, maybe Kim will help you this morning.” I grinned and replied, “Thank you. I’ll need all the help that I can get.”
With a second tracker and a Jack Russell Terrier to help find the waterbuck bull, we climbed into the truck and headed back to Pete’s. Once we arrived, we slowly drove down a single lane dirt road. While creeping towards the spot that Johnny marked, one of the trackers yells from the back of the truck. “Stop, there it is!!” With a smile on my face, I jumped out of the truck and saw that it died on the roadside of a bush. What a blessing!! Had it been on the other side of the bush, we would probably have driven past it. I felt a rush of emotion and began to cry tears of joy. It was my lucky day for sure!! The waterbuck bull was scooted away from the bush. After a short photo session, the truck was backed up a few feet to ease loading. While the bull was winched into the bed, I looked at Johnny and said in a joking voice, “At least he died in the sun!!” Johnny smiled and laughed. My bow hunt was now complete!! What a feeling of accomplishment!!! My afternoon was spent about 70 feet in the air in an elevated blind over a big watering hole. I took photos of gemsbok, waterbuck, warthogs, and eland. That evening the sky turned vibrant colors of red, orange, purple and blue as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon. It was a very peaceful sunset over the South African bush.
Friday morning, I partnered with my buddy Carl Drake. We rode in the bed of a safari truck with his PH, Alex Thomson. Carl was hunting for a mature male velvet monkey. We did see some, but none offered themselves up for a shot. Later, a herd of cape buffalo was spotted. The truck was stopped 20 yards from the largest bull. It was big enough to flip the vehicle. Johnny eased out of the cab to check a trail camera. The herd watched him with fearsome scowls. After checking the camera, Johnny climbed back into the passenger seat, and we drove away. What a humbling experience. That afternoon I was asked to ride along with Levi and his PH, Villa. Levi was hunting impala and jackal. It wasn’t long before a mature impala ram was spotted. The truck was stopped, and we climbed out to stalk. Unfortunately, after a short time the impala gave us the slip… An hour before sunset we setup for a jackal hunt. An electronic call was placed about 100 yards from us. Sounds of wounded and crying animals filled the air. Darkness fell… After retrieving the call, Villa told us that he had just seen a jackal. It was too dark to shoot… Saturday morning, I joined Jeanette and her PH, Divan. She was after a mature blesbok ram. During the hunt, we saw several species that included giraffe, zebra, and ostrich. Finally, a group of four shooter blesbok rams were spotted. The truck was stopped about 100 yards from the group. Divan instructed Jeanette to shoot the blesbok furthest to the right. From the bed of the truck, she aimed through the scope of a suppressed .243 rifle. Jeanette squeezed the trigger and hit him with a good shot. After a short track / stalk, she placed a shot across the shoulders that finished him off. We celebrated with high fives and hugs!! It was awesome to be part of another successful hunt.
Saturday afternoon was the last hunt of the safari. I rode with Jeanette, Levi and PH, Divan. They were hunting impala and jackal. We had a lot of fun!! Unfortunately, we did not spot either species… The hunt was called at 4:30 PM so that we could gather for a group photo.
Upon our return to camp, we walked across the shooting range to find our trophies lined up on the ground. It was an impressive scene!! As a group, we harvested 21 animals. Among them were crocodile, blue wildebeest, eland, blesbok, gemsbok, baboon, impala, kudu, bushbuck, warthog, waterbuck and more.
Jeanette, Beth, Maria, Levi, Carl, and I lined up behind the trophies in two rows. Ladies sat in front of the men. For the final photo, the women joined hands and raised their arms in victory. A suitable end for an outstanding safari.
Aside from my own success, camp was filled with positive energy the entire time. I sucked it up like a sponge. The staff at Eland Safaris did an excellent job taking care of us. The Eland Safari camp is beautiful and well maintained.
. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were provided each day. Meals included eland, kudu, waterbuck, crocodile, impala and more. Most evenings, a South African game loin was seared over the campfire. Then, it was cut into chops / steaks and returned to the campfire
grill to finish cooking. Before each meal, Brighton, the camp chef would announce the entrée and side dishes. Several evenings at dinner, he instructed us to keep our spoon. In other words, we would also have dessert. My favorite was called “A Slice of Heaven”. It was a rich, moist chocolate cake with cream icing. Certainly, one of the best that I had ever eaten.