We woke early for the long drive to the Argos. These eight wheel amphibious vehicles are absolutely invaluable and provide us with deep access into the swamps. We arrived as the sun just crested the horizon, loaded it up with food, drinks and gear, and headed out for a long drive to the edge of buffalo habitat. There are basically two main areas to hunt: the Big Swamp and the Cherundi Swamp. We had both swamp areas to ourselves for nearly a week since there were no buffalo hunters due in either camp. This worked out well. There are an estimated six to eight thousand head of buffalo in Coutada 10 so finding them should not be a problem. Shooting them with a bow however? That remains to be seen.
The Argo trip through the swamp was an experience in itself. I've never been in a stranger vehicle, but it moves through mud, marsh, and dry ground with ease. The trip out required us to cross two main rivers. But they didn't look like rivers, they were like a floating green carpet with a river flowing underneath it. The Argo can cross anything so long as the eight wheels have something under them in addition to water - like grass, reeds or mud. Only once did Dominga, our tracker, need to get out and push us ahead.
The trip to camp took a little over 2.5 hours. We found a dry spot on the edge of the buffalo habitat and set up our tents. This would be home. We had enough food for 3 days of hunting then we'd need to come out and restock. After a quick lunch we left our camp and headed after the buffalo.
Willem, my PH from Dries Visser Safaris knew the area well. He worked for Saaiman Safaris last year and that was a huge benefit to me having a PH that was both bowhunting friendly and experienced in these swamps. Our tracker, Dominga, was a highly respected elder in his village who was "the man" to have for buffalo. When the other blacks met him they would bow in deference to his position. He had two wives and 9 children which, I was told, was relatively low. One of the blacks we met had 5 wives and 29 children. The culture among these blacks was far more primitive than anything I had ever experienced before in South Africa or Zimbabwe.
It took us 3 hours before the tracker yelled something out in his native tongue. Willem verified it and I knew what was going on but couldn't tell what they were looking at. I pulled up my glasses and still saw nothing. They walked me through landmarks made by clouds (the landscape in the swamp is like the moon) and then I saw it. Far off in the distance, several miles away, was an occasional flash of white birds. How Dominga saw them with his naked eyes is one of those mysteries I'm not meant to understand. We had found the buffalo. But I couldn't see any buffalo, just the white birds. When I asked Willem where the buffalo were his words were not encouraging:
"See that long black line on the horizon under all those birds? That line is the herd of buffalo". Now, I was expecting to see a herd of a dozen buffalo, maybe 30 or 50 at the most. This herd had 600-800 head in it. And I gulped. I have never seen anything like it. It was literally a sea of black moving across the landscape.
My first hunt was on! And I had no idea how in hell we were going to bowhunt such a herd of animals.
We drove the Argo another mile before setting off on foot. When we approached within 400 yards of the herd we dropped low into some razor grass and worked the cover until we were within 200 yards of the big herd. The tail end of these animals had at least 3 shooter bulls in it and they were moving slowly toward a 1 acre patch of razor grass. Getting there wouldn't be easy. We had to cross about 100 yards of 15" tall marsh grass to get to that cover. I really didn't think it was possible, but before I had a chance to doubt it, Dominga and Willem had dropped to the ground and were crawling to the herd. I followed and knew right away, there was going to be nothing easy about this bowhunt!
You really don't know what you need until you're there. And when I saw Willem pull out thin leather gloves I immediately knew that I was screwed. In the marsh there are these vines covered with fine white hairs. The hairs are barbed and they penetrate and cover your skin like a fur. Very similar to prickly pear fuzz in the west. One hundred yards into the crawl I looked down at my hands and they were covered with these tiny white needles. They are more an irritant than anything else but between the skeeters, the razor grass which gives you tiny cuts if you rub them against the grain, and now these fur-like needles I was confident that this hunt would be everything I dreamed of. I mean, some of the african hunts I go on make me feel guilty they are so luxurious and comfortable. No chance of that happening here.
Introducing our POV (Point of View) Cam
Bowsite.com was the first website to bring you Live Hunts, the first site to bring you Video, and now the first site to bring you POV cam footage. Wearing an HD camera at all times you can now see exactly what I saw, from crawing through the grass to stalking buffalo through the razor grass. You will be there by watching these raw, unedited video clips in the order they were shot. Look for the keyword (POV) before the title and you will be watching our Hat Cam footage.
As we got to the razor grass the buffalo had moved out a bit further than we had hoped and the shot was 80 yards, twice my max "push" range of 40 yards. I really hoped for 30 or under. We stayed put and watched the buffalo for at least an hour. There was always a sharp-eyed cow that seemed to keep an eye on us but the bulk of them were not alarmed. So long as the cow did not charge off, we could generally get away with some movement.
A couple of animals did spook but the main herd did not. They moved down toward the razor grass and Willem said - "Let's move."
As the last of the buffalo disappeared into that 6' tall razor grass we moved quickly into a crosswind position until we were literally just 20 yards from some of them. I could hear them grunting, and moving through the noisy grass. We could see the white cattle egrets fly up then dive down to land on them again when they moved. It was major 'pucker' factor. I mean, the slightest thing could trigger a charge, or if the herd spooked and decided to run in the wrong direction it would be curtains for us.
It was pointless and dangerous to stalk in this razor grass, so we backed off and came in from their downwind side. It required crawling along the edge of the patch in the water and swamps. But it worked and we got within 30 yards of some cows. The remainder of this herd was in the razor grass to our right and all we could do now was to wait. And wait we did, for at least one hour until a sudden storm came in with high winds and pouring rain. The herd got up and moved out into the grass in front of us but there was no way to shoot or even pick out a bull. It was getting late so we decided to end our first day. We knew what area the buffalo were in so we will be right back here in the morning.
I wish I could say dinner was awesome. We heated a can of corned beef hash and vienna sausages in an open fire. Along with a candy bar and a coke, it was not exactly the 5-star cuisine I am accustomed to in Africa. But I didn't mind at all. I was here to hunt, not eat and be pampered. We hit the sleeping bags early and all I could think as I lay there was "holy crap."