On my fourth trip to Zimbabwe in 1990 I saw a tremendous eland. He was what they call a big “blue” bull. Apparently when the bulls get very old, their grayish-brown color takes on tinges of blue. When he got within eighty yards of my tree stand, he apparently winded me and ran off. I still see that bull in my mind as clearly today as it was then.
However, when it came to bowhunting in Africa, eland were not high on my “wish” list, simply because the trophy fee was a bit stiff for me at the time (around $1,200). So, I concentrated on impala, wart hogs, wildebeest, zebra, kudu, gemsbok, and other plains game species. In 1995 I took my good friend, Steve Fausel to Zimbabwe, and he fell in love with Africa as I had. Over the next few years he began to go to Namibia and in 1998 (I believe it was that year) Steve purchased a safari camp (Ombengu) in Namibia, with approximately 65,000 fenced acres. I went to Ombengu in 2001, then returned on this eland trip in 2003. The quality of the animals I saw in 2001 had me very excited about this trip. I saw some great eland and when I returned, eland were high on my wish list. What follows is the story of that hunt.
Day seven of my 2003 Namibia bow hunt started like all the rest. Into the blind at dawn for a day of watching a variety of species come and go. Kudu, gemsbok, and hartebeest were now off limits. They were already hanging on the meat pole. During the morning I passed on a bull wildebeest—I’d taken a great bull on an earlier African bow hunt—and as on previous days I also watched as several big wart hogs came, watered, and left—for the same reason. Today I was after eland, and the wait was long and hot. Still, the steady stream of animals kept my attention. Along with those already mentioned there was a small springbok, a dozen ostriches, a jackal, some gemsbok, four elephants, some waterbuck, and thirty or more kudu cows and small bulls. Just another day in Africa.
This was my eighth bow hunt in southern Africa, and on earlier trips I focused on kudu, gemsbok, impala, and wart hogs and on later trips I concentrated on waterbuck and nyala. Then, on my fourth safari, I saw a huge, grayish-blue eland bull, and I was hooked. At 1,500 pounds a mature bull eland is the largest antelope in the world. Now picture an animal as big as a bull moose with the ability to run as fast as our pronghorns, and being able to easily jump ten-foot fences. That my friends is one great animal. No question, there are few animals more impressive and wary than old “blue” eland bulls.
And so it was, I set my sights on a new goal, the pofu—Swahili for eland. Achieving that goal would not come easy. The eland is one wary critter, so getting close would be a challenge. An opportunity arose to bowhunt the pofu in Namibia, and when I discussed that with my good friend Steve Fausel, he invited me to take a side trip and visit his new safari camp. “Dave, we don’t have Ombengu up and running yet, but I want you to see the place. Why not spend a few days there, and you’ll see some of the biggest eland found anywhere?” Steve said. And so in 2001 I found myself sitting in a tree blind at Ombengu, observing with binoculars and camera. On the second evening, while sitting in one of their new tree blinds, two monster bulls came in, and both were world record class animals. That did it for me. The decision was made to return to Ombengu as soon as possible.
This brought me back to Ombengu in 2003. With a goal of taking an eland, I certainly seemed to be in the right place. As professional hunter Mushie Nichols and I headed to the blind that morning, he said, “Dave, there are a ton of eland tracks at this water hole. I think the animals are coming in just before dark.” His words proved prophetic when, at 5:20, as the sun started to set, four eland appeared from my right as they came to the water. Both sexes have horns and it can be a bit difficult for the novice (that would be me) to tell them apart. The horns of bulls are shorter but heavier than those of the cows. The safest, surest way to sex eland is to look for the penile sheath just back of the mid belly.
The biggest eland watered at twenty yards, and judging by its heavy horns, I was almost positive it was a bull. But a cow blocked a view of the belly, so I waited for confirmation. After several minutes the bull lifted his head and backed away from the water. As he walked around the backside of the water hole, I got a positive ID and prepared to shoot. .
The hunt had started in late June and Michele Eichler from Muzzy Products and her mother, Barbara, along with Fred and Betty Pape, from Papes Inc. in Kentucky, had made the long trip with me to Ombengu. We endured the grueling 17-hour flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, then on to Windhoek where Jo Nichols picked us up for the four-hour ride to camp. Having made that long flight many times, I knew it would take time to recover from jet lag, so on the first day we played tourist and traveling the short distance to Etosha National Park. That trip gave us a chance to see a variety of species and some practice at judging trophy quality of the species we wanted to hunt. We also saw lions and elephants, which were the highlight of our excursion. That evening, after a wonderful meal, we shot our bows and got ready for the first day’s bow hunt.
On day one I hunted the Windmill ground blind and Barb sat with me taking photos. Several small kudu and wart hogs came to water, but around 10 A. M. a herd of gemsbok approached. “Barb, look at that dandy bull,” I whispered. “Can you get a shot David? she asked.” It took several minutes for the biggest bull to reach the water, but finally he presented a quartering away shot at twenty yards. The arrow was away and looked good. “You got him,” Barb shouted excitedly. I radioed Mushie and within twenty minutes he arrived with trackers Striker, Lucas, and Martin. Even though hard hit, the bull went three hundred yards (African antelope commonly do that), but the trackers did their job. I later learned that Fred had shot a 53-inch kudu so our hunt was off to a great start.
The second day was Friday the 13th, but my luck was all good. I’d told Mushie that red hartebeest was another species that I wanted to bowhunt, so he put me in a large Mopani tree (named Kim’s Stand) offering 25-30-yard shots to the water. As the beautiful African sun peaked through the trees, a big flock of guinea fowl watered and chattered noisily. A nice impala ram came to water, followed by three small kudu bulls. At 7:30 a rattle of hoofs could be heard north of the blind and within minutes a herd of thirty or so hartebeest came to the water. Using my binoculars I picked out what I thought was the biggest bull and waited for the shot.
It’s common for animals to stand a few moments after they have watered, and the big bull did just that. He watered, pulled his front hooves from the mud and turned broadside, pausing for a few seconds. My Parker bow was at full draw and the 28-yard shot was a good one. A quick call on the radio brought Mushie and trackers and they had little trouble and as we approached the downed animal Mushie expressed that it was a “super” bull. In fact, this hartebeest turned out to be the biggest ever taken at Ombengu. After a quick trip to camp for photos and food, I returned to the Kim’s Stand. Just before dark a dandy kudu came to the water. No animal is more majestic than a great kudu bull, and I wanted this bull badly, but he never offered a shot. At least I knew where to wait for a good kudu in the future.
On day three, Mushie and I decided to rest Kim’s Stand and went to a ground blind (Jackal) in another location. Again the parade of animals was impressive; a big bull hartebeest, a number of kudu including a dandy 56 incher with 6 inches broken off one horn, a good gemsbok bull, giraffes, lots of hogs, two impala rams, and eight eland right before dark. The only arrow fired was at a jackal, and the 23-yard shot was on the mark. On this day Michele shot a good impala and bull gemsbok, and Fred got a big wart hog and bull gemsbok. That night we celebrated Michele’s birthday with springbok kabobs, wine, cake and songs. The hunt was going better than we anticipated.
The next day I returned to the Jackal ground blind where a good eland bull had been seen. Early on, a 50-inch kudu spent 30 minutes at the water, but I was looking for a bigger one and did not shoot. Several smaller kudu bulls followed, then a good waterbuck (which Fred would later harvest), and later a troop of baboons. Finally a fine impala ram stopped by and I couldn’t resist. The close shot was good, the tracking job easy.
On day five I returned to Kim’s Stand hoping to see that big kudu bull. At first light a small bull came to water and then, at 8:30, the big guy arrived. He watered in the exact same spot where I’d first seen him, then jumped back and stood broadside at 37 yards. The shot was perfect and we’d later measure his horns at over 54 inches.
The following day I sat in the Salt Mine ground blind, a rather unpleasant place because it is located in a very dry, dusty location, over a natural mineral lick. The wind constantly brings dust into the blind. Miserable. But, animals come and this day they came steadily — springbok, wildebeest, kudu, and just at dark six eland. There was one good bull, not great, but a shooter. They jostled, pushed and for twenty minutes I attempted to separate the bull from the others. Dark came before a shot was possible. I began to wonder whether it was ever going to happen.
The evening of day seven proved to be one of my most memorable and exciting bowhunting experiences ever. While the day had been long — I’d been in the tree blind for 11 hours — the steady parade of animals kept me entertained. Now the evening was oh so quiet, when those four eland appeared out of nowhere coming from my right. When the biggest finally stepped clear and gave me a good look at his belly, I knew he was the bull I wanted.
Only problem was that while bending to shoot from an awkward position, I’d canted the bow, and upon releasing the bowstring I immediately knew the hit was too far back. The bull walked away slowly, stood, and then disappeared. When Mushie arrived we checked the sign and decided to wait until morning. I was heartsick, but still confident. Trackers in Africa have uncanny abilities to follow critters, and the next morning they showed their skills. Even on the dry, stony ground, in gray dawn light, and with no blood trail to follow, they tracked that bull at a fast pace for an hour as he walked with the wind so he’d catch scent of any following predators.
As the sun started to rise, Striker cautioned me to get ready for a shot. “He is hurt bad, walking unsteady. He will be standing soon,” Striker said. Five minutes later Mushie spotted the bull. I made the shot count, and the bull ran only 100 more yards before falling for good.
It’s hard to appreciate the immense size of a bull eland until you are standing beside one. Mushie radioed the camp for the truck and more help. It took eight of us to slide him up the ramp onto the truck. Through it all, the trackers just smiled. So did I.
After I got him home, I had the eland scored for the Safari Club International Archery record book. One month prior to that, SCI came out with their second edition of that record book, but I didn’t have a copy at the time. My eland would have been number one in the first edition, and it turned out that he was number 8 in the second edition. Just a huge eland bull.
When bowhunting a critter as big as an eland, you need to have the right equipment. A heavy bow helps on eland, but as African antelope go, they are not particularly thick skinned, nor difficult to bring down. As with most species, arrow placement is the key. The broadheads I used were Muzzy 3-blade 125 grain, with 2117 aluminum Easton XX75’s. I shot a Parker Hunter Mag and used a Bushnell Yardage Pro compact range finder. Light-weight clothes are needed during the day, but a heavier jacket and light gloves make the dawn and dark rides to and from camp more comfortable. The flights from Atlanta to Johannesburg to Windhoek are long, but the best way to go. Plan to hunt ten days and the total safari costs (assuming you take four or so of the standard animals such as kudu, gemsbok, impala, wart hog, zebra, wildebeest, or hartebeest) will run $12,000 or so. The eland trophy fee on this hunt was $1,500, so this will add to your total cost. My friend has since sold Ombengu, but there are other great places to take this species.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. David Samuel spent 30 years as a professor of wildlife management at West Virginia University. He is now in his 44th year with Bowhunter Magazine, where his Know Huntingcolumn still appears. He currently writes the Know Whitetails column for the Whitetail Journal, The Future of Hunting column on www.bowhunting.net and writes a weekly outdoor column for WV newspapers. His activities on behalf of wildlife are diverse: from initiating the West Virginia Bowhunter Education Program to helping get bowhunting legalized in many European and African countries.
He has won honored lifetime achievement awards from the National Bowhunter Education Foundation, the Wildlife Society, the Quality Deer Management Association, and Whitetails Unlimited. He is in the SCI Bowhunter’s Hall of Fame, and his greatest honor was being inducted into the Archery Hall of Fame in 2007. He has written 9 books, with his three most recent books being Whitetail Advantage, Whitetail Racks, and the one being presented here, An Empty Quiver – A Lifetime of Bowhunting Adventures which is now SOLD OUT. You can find the table of contents for the two whitetail books, and get autographed copies of all three of these books on Dr. Dave’s website, www.knowhunting.com.
for more please go to: The Future of Hunting
For more also go to: Straight Talk Interview: Dr. Dave Samuel