Blue wildebeest hunt at Cheetah Safaris
Africa’s Bowhunter recently visited Cheetah Safaris, a 5000-hectare game reserve 260 kilometres from Pretoria. Publisher Rean Steenkamp gives a review of his stay on the ranch and how he shot a blue wildebeest with his recurve.
“This rain is worth thousands of rand” said Hendrik Liebenberg, while sitting with me in the blind. “We might not get a shot at any animal because of this, but this rain will take the farm deep into the winter.”
However, an animal did come – the next afternoon, about an hour before sunset. Actually quite a number had come in, but they did not stay long enough or did not present a flank for an ethical shot. But now it looked as though I would not leave empty-handed.
From my home in Pretoria to the gates of Cheetah Safaris is a 260-kilometre drive. When I arrived at the farm I was greeted by a bunch of warmhearted people – Hendrik Liebenberg, the professional hunter who invited me, Pieter Bothma, the owner and a well-known PH and outfitter, Regardt du Plessis, another PH and a very likeable chap, Nicky Bothma, the camp manageress, and Carina Janse van Rensburg, who prepared some excellent meals. Carina manages the lodge at Pieter Bothma’s hunting camp in Zambia. These people certainly know how to make one feel welcome and comfortable.
Cheetah Safaris is an exceptional game ranch, and one of the things that make it so is the wonderful water feature in the lodge area. The Matlabas river is dammed up just a little distance from the camp, thus forming a wide, river-like dam in front of the lodge and further back.
The ranch is no less than 5000 hectares in extent and has areas allocated for bow hunting only. Cheetah Safaris specialises in dangerous-game and plains-game bow hunting. The farm is well-stocked with many species of game and there are many trophy-sized animals. The ranch boasts one of the largest privately-owned white-rhino populations in the world.
Cheetah Safaris was one of the first outfits to perfect green hunting by bow. Pieter and Dr Alex Lesis developed the dart used on the bow and dart gun. Pieter, who has 20 years’ experience in guiding and outfitting, has guided Tom Miranda from ESPN on one of the first-ever filmed green bow hunts on a rhino. Last year SCI chose Pieter as International Professional Hunter of the Year.
Henrik Liebenberg, also a seasoned professional hunter, was with me in the blind when my chance finally came to shoot. Hendrik is a bow and bird specialist and has an impressive knowledge of the technical side of bows. He is also an avid competitive shooter.
Blue wildebeest bulls
As we were waiting, a big old blue wildebeest bull approached the blind. He had big but well-worn horns and a huge body. His face was covered with sand. Hendrik said this showed that the bull was inclined to vigorously horn the ground – a clear sign that he was very aggressive. The bull entered the area around the blind, but walked right past. Hendrik reckoned the bull had not visited the waterhole and feeding trough to eat or drink, but rather to find another bull with whom he could pick a fight.
About a half an hour later two other wildebeest bulls strolled in. Both had big horns, but only the one was a Rowland Ward-sized animal. Hendrik said I could shoot the smaller of the two. I had no problem with this, since I am not a trophy hunter. I hunt for meat, but if I do get a chance to shoot a big-horned animal like that, I am not apt to pass up the chance.
As the bulls came closer I started producing adrenalin in large volumes, but having an experienced PH such as Hendrik with me in the blind helped much to calm my nerves. Hendrik was readying two video cameras, while I took my bow from the hook and nocked an arrow.
I was hunting with my 51-pound Saluki Scythian recurve. The arrow was a Trophy Ridge Blast, tipped with a two-bladed, razor-sharp 185-grain Silver Flame by German Kinetics. The total arrow weight was 505 grains.
It took the bulls a couple of minutes to scan the area before they walked up closer. The wind was blowing from the wildebeest in the direction of the blind, and we were hoping it would continue to do so. During the previous two days we’d had lots of problems with the wind constantly changing direction, causing us to lose quite a few chances at shootable game. This time, however, we were lucky and the blue wildebeest walked into my shooting range – a maximum of 15 yards.
The bull I was going to shoot started feeding at the trough, while the other one preferred the salt lick. My bull was standing at 14,5 yards. When Hendrik had the video equipment set up, he gave me the signal to shoot.
I focused on a spot on the animal’s triceps and pulled back the string. I held the bow at anchor point for half a second, keeping the tension, and released the arrow while concentrating on keeping my bow hand in position and letting my release hand move back in a straight line.
The arrow flew true, hitting the the wildebeest in the middle of the triceps. The animal jumped up and bucked, and its front leg broke off the part of the arrow that was sticking out from its side. Then it ran off in a fairly straight line and disappeared behind a bush. It seemed like a very good shot and I was elated, sure that the animal would drop close to the blind.
However, when we replayed the video we saw that the animal had looked in the direction of the blind a moment before I released the arrow and thus might have seen the projectile coming. It had moved as the arrow was in flight, changing its position from broadside to slightly quartering on – which meant the arrow might not have penetrated both lungs.
After the shot, Hendrik called Pieter on the radio. Pieter arrived about 45 minutes later. There was very little blood to be seen on the ground, but since it had rained the previous day the wildebeest’s spoor was very easy to follow in the sand. We found it lying about 140 yards from the blind. Pieter looked at it through his binoculars and whispered that it was still alive. He handed me his .300 rifle, saying I should do the shot. I placed the pin of the telescope on the shoulder joints of the animal and squeezed the trigger. When my ears stopped ringing, Pieter said the blue wildebeest had rolled over onto its side and that we could walk closer. When we got to the animal it was dead. There were two holes in its side: the bigger hole was a cut in the triceps and the other a bullet hole a little higher up.
When the animal was slaughtered we saw that the arrow did indeed penetrate one lung, as well as the liver. The Silver Flame cut through the ribs on the entry side, went through the chest cavity and lodged against the ribs on the opposite side. The horns measured 27,5 inches. I was quite happy with the performance of my bow and arrow. A while before, when I had sent the arrow weight and speed and other information to Harry Marx for his opinion on whether this setup would be sufficient to kill a blue wildebeest, he sent back a positive answer. Well, now I have proof he was right. Cheetah Safaris is certainly one of the finest game ranches I have visited over the last ten years. The lodge area is beautiful, the sleeping quarters are very comfortable and aesthetically pleasing, the blinds are well designed and the game abound. I was treated very hospitably and I appreciated the fact that Pieter handed me his rifle and allowed me to give the dying blue wildebeest the coup de grace.
I have already already been invited back – an invitation I would not dream of declining.