Pathfinder Outdoors in Namibia: 'Warthog x Two'
“As a rule, nothing does an arrow so much good as to shoot it and nothing so much harm as to have it lie inactive and crowded in a quiver” Saxton Pope.
Confidence... a single word that can either make or break any traditional bowhunter who has made the decision to hunt with straightforward stick and string, more so on a hunt of a lifetime where a miss or a bad hit on an animal not only dints one's pride but his wallet. It’s the mind games that come into play where we need to be solid and grounded upon our approach to the task of keeping confidence up there and in place, or finding it again if things are clouded in doubt and I believe the above-mentioned quote made some 70 odd years ago very appropriate and sobering.
In the past, I have found the only way to work your way through a slump in shooting or otherwise is to simply do as Saxton Pope mentioned and let the arrows fly, removing them from their slumber with their pals in the quiver... and as a good mate of mine always says in a hunting camp “If the arrows aren’t flying, the critters aren’t dying!”... Well that’s Brad Kane’s modern-day version anyhow, coined I do believe on an arduous hunt in Namibia with the late Billy Baker some years ago now. So in other words, we make our own luck as hunters.
But I wasn’t in a shooting slump as such... no, I just shot clean through a toothy Warthog boar, watched blood pour out of his chest cavity all to have him disappear, never to be seen of again. A true testament to the ruggedness and tough character of African Plains game at its finest and it was a jagged pill to swallow that evening around the bar with the rest of the lads.
Luckily enough though, Namibian beer tastes as good as it does, making the swallowing part that little bit easier than it would normally be after losing an animal and paying for the ringside seat only. No skull or ivory made it back to camp that evening, nor the following day either. Chalk up a lesson on shooting exactly where you are meant to...as in not heeding this lesson very quickly and your African hunt is likely to cost you more then what’s expected.
The next morning found me doing just that after breakfast, sending practice arrow after practice arrow, sailing its way home with the authority of a heavy forward of centre carbon shaft. They were driven home by custom made recurve built from a bowyer who has the craftsmanship of near on legendary status, but he is humbled by the enjoyment making bows for such reasons as a hunt like this. I needed to get my groove back and the only way I was to do this is again to build up my confidence by shooting heaps, keeping my focus on where I want my arrow to land. Efforts placed in practice I find makes for a sharper focus on the end results of a downed animal at foot.
At this stage of my hunting career, I have found a new pressure to contend with after subduing all the jittery others over the years. I had never shot out of a blind in my life as all the hunting and shooting I have ever done in the past has always been out in the open, spot & stalk style. I have also heard and or read where hunters think hunting from blinds in Africa is a cheap shot so to speak. Well, that may be so for some of the less ethical hunting operations in Africa – and yes, they are plenty in number if you look for them – but every animal that came into the water holes I sat off were as wired and suspicious as any animal I have ever seen. Everything was on edge and the slightest noise out of place or unplanned movement, even when hidden deep within the confines of a blind only spooked them to parts unknown. Even my recurve at an AMO length of 62 inches seemed like I was handling an English war bow of old and I am in the plans of placing a new order for a set of 58-inch limbs for such a time as my return to the Dark Continent where hunting from a blind is far more successful when it comes to hunting animals as wired as they are.
Sure, Aussie hunters love the idea of only stalking our game as that takes up a large percentage of how we hunt here. Well just ask anyone who has spent time outside the blind, stalking African critters... simply put, they are on the next level when it comes to busting predators - insert bowhunters here- stalking them on the grassy veldt. That slower, dumber plains game gene died out about a million-odd years back.
In Africa, it is no shame in shooting from a blind, nor is looked upon as the easy way out. But to put it into some perspective... I did try a few stalks on my hunt and was only lucky once, and when I say lucky I mean you’re Powerball numbers just came up type lucky. I managed a fine Steenbok ram I got the drop on but that’s a story for another time and campfire. So yes, it can be done.
So with my shooting abilities raised again with efforts in self-belief and sound practice, we set off again to sit at one of the many blinds dotted on the 66 000 acres of hunting property. We were given our lunches, a bottle of water each and with a pat on the back and a smile from the PH, we settled in for the wait, tucked well back from the slip of an opening, no bigger than the width of an outstretched hand that I was expected to draw and shoot from.
Things were naturally quiet first as it takes time for the environment to settle down again from the ruckus of the hunting vehicle unloading its live cargo of hunters for the day. So with that, I was glad I brought my book along and was soon buried deep within the storyline, raising my head every so often to see what may have come into water. I had lent my tracker Thomas a few copies of some African hunting magazines I picked up in Windhoek the week before our hunt started. It was during this reading downtime I glanced up to see a number of smaller Warthogs trotting into the water trough for a refill. I put down my book and placed an arrow on the string of my recurve and rested it within arm’s length and again sat back to watch the characteristics and behaviours of just how Warthogs react when they come into drink for the day.
The group consisting mainly of a few females and a few young hogs mingled about and then, with no set rhyme or reason taking off at a fast trot back into the Namibian veldt, their tails stiff and vertical as they kicked the fine red dust upon their withdrawal.
It was only a short time later as I was standing close to the blind opening that a Warthog boar with long Ivory ever so casually walked in and put his front legs on the edge of the trough to take a drink. Thomas also noticed the good boar walk on in and in hushed voices a plan was made to take a shot as he drank his fill.
It all happened quicker than it takes to write but I burned a spot on his shoulder where I wanted my arrow to eclipse, drew to a deliberate and solid anchor, held ever so slightly and released to watch spinning barred fletching sail clean through the exact spot intended to kill a mature and tusky Warthog boar. With my arrow skipping across the sun-dried earth metres beyond the boar, blood immediately surged from both entry and exit wounds. He spun, dust turning up with the commotion and took off in great haste, adrenaline being forced headlong through his veins from a clearly indicated heart shot. He was dead on his feet, just not knowing it was his error as we found him piled up mid-stride into a thicket of thorny bushes 40 metres away. Obviously he’d not read the hype behind single bevelled broadheads and heavily weighted arrow combo for the taking of tougher game animals like I had done.
He was dead within minutes and I had redeemed myself and brushed away all doubters on the abilities of my hunting weapon with a single clean kill that no bowhunter could ask to better.
Then, with amazement... and a realisation of a modern world, Thomas reached into his pocket, withdrew his Nokia mobile and called the PH to come and pick up my downed animal. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought we’d even have phone coverage that far from any major town...more so in Africa! It sure was a sign of the times and one of those raised-eyebrow moments on the lacking services we have in this regard in Australia.
Soon enough the PH turned up with camera in hand to inspect my boar. He smiled and shook my hand and asked with firm sarcasm why I was shooting all the baby Warthogs on the place. In real-time though, the boar was in his last winter. The PH predicted as he had lost all his front teeth and only his major ivory remained. To mimic the great Fred Bear, the quick death a hunter gives an animal is fair kinder than what Mother Nature has in store for aging animals.
So with the photo session and re-telling of the shot and short tracking job out of the way, we loaded up my first African animal into the tray of the Toyota so it could be prepped for a European skull mount and the meat shared out to the local workforce. Thomas and I situated ourselves back into the same blind and tucked into our lunches which were surprisingly tasty. But it wasn’t all that long after our midday meal that we both were engaged in a fierce battle, sent from the land of the nods. We did our best as both of us were trying to keep fresh and awake to spot any further potential game inbound for their own lunchtime refreshment but I am positive we both lost out in that campaign.
We soon enough snapped out of the creeping slumber and both of us were refreshed and keen on getting me another crack at anything worthy offering up a clear shot. Time passed quickly enough though as I was snapping away with my digital SLR on a number of animals tracking in from time to time and I could not have been happier as it’s not every day that we get to sit mere metres away from all sort of animals in the heart of Africa.
Then, without notice, another Warthog boar trotted on in. This time I had my bow already in hand as I was keen to slip an arrow through an Eland cow that was hanging well back from the water amongst the thorns.
I am a big believer in not passing up animals at the beginning of a hunt that you’d be well, happy with at the end of the hunt. So with that thought set firmly in motion I drew, anchored and yet again buried a razor-sharp broadhead into the motor room of my second Warthog for the day. This time the arrow slamming home into the offside shoulder as he was slightly quartering away from me as the shot took place.
This time though the tracking job was a little longer but the blood trail was that easy to follow any man with the most limited knowledge could have pursued to the end. And that’s exactly what we did and as the African sunset with a red glow behind us. We found the expired boar and Thomas set him up for a few photos and we both smiled and shook hands at a day that will remain forevermore etched firmly in my memory. Both Thomas and I had limited understanding of each other’s set languages but with a common goal, and many a hand gesture...we broke down barriers to achieve what most hunters only dream about, hunting the Dark Continent.
Not a day passes me now that I don’t reflect on my time spent in Africa and I am longing to return as soon as I can for I have unfinished business with a Kudu bull. Let the cat and mouse game of hunter and hunted begin in the red Kalahari sands and mountain outcroppings I say.
Alan Kidner, Namibia, 2013