The Cape Buffalo Encounter

When my friend suggested we go to Africa back in 2015 to hunt plains game I barely blinked before I answered, YES! This was going to be an epic journey with a few close friends on a bow only hunt on the dark continent.  But what would we hunt? I wasn’t familiar with all of the species of plains game and how we were going to hunt them. Will we hunt from a blind, a tree stand like I am used to or will we be spot and stalk hunting these unfamiliar creatures? So many questions to be answered. We prepared for this hunt in every way possible. I bought a shot placement guide for African plains game online so I could study them and be as prepared as I could once we arrived. Through my studies I found that all of the vitals in the plains game animals are slightly forward from what we are accustomed to in the states. This is going to take a lot of focus and clear mind to make sure we are taking ethical shots with each animal. As if there wasn’t enough pressure traveling halfway across the world to hunt!

July of 2015, we arrive at our destination at Stanley Petierse Safaris in the Limpopo Valley of South Africa. This place was incredible and far exceeded my expectations. We were quickly greeted on the drive in by a herd of blue wildebeests running directly across our path. I was in awe. This was my first sighting of a plains game animal. The blue wildebeest was also one of the animals on my list for this hunt. They were huge and breathtaking. It still seemed unreal that in the morning I would be on my first African bow hunt.

Day one on our hunt we go to a spot where we were hoping to encounter an Impala. We sit in a blind similar to one we would hunt out of in the states. This particular blind was made of cinder block and sheet metal. It also had a one way viewing window so you could watch the animals near the watering hole. Tons of guinea’s, vervet monkey’s and warthogs crowded the watering hole as I see something coming from my right that caught my eye, it was a herd of cape buffalo. I took a step back to alert the PH (professional hunter) that was guiding me about the incoming buffalo. He told me not to worry but my heart still raced. This blind was no match for an angry buffalo. The herd of a dozen or so came into drink and were quickly on their way. I felt a tremendous sense of relief as they left our area. I was still concerned about bumping into the herd on our way out with only a bow in hand to defend ourselves. We unfortunately never encountered the Impala we were hoping for but we decided to switch it up for the evening hunt and go to a new blind in a different area. That evening as we sat in what the Africans call a pit blind we waited patiently for a blue wildebeest this time. A pit blind sits halfway underground. The windows start almost at ground level. It’s a far cry from what I’m used to. This particular blind is about 5 feet wide and 7 feet deep. It’s made of stone with an aluminum roof on a wood frame. As we sit comfortably awaiting one of my target animals to come in we hear some rustling outside. We finally get a visual of the disturbance and it is a lone cape buffalo and he is eerily curious about our blind. He’s getting closer and louder. Next, we hear a loud shrieking sound as the buffalo thrashes his mighty horns against the aluminum roof of our tiny hut. He now seems like the big bad wolf that just might blow our house down. I tense up immediately. The sound is that of nails on a chalkboard. He continues to investigate the hut circling it and thrashing the roof repeatedly with his horns. As he completes his circle of our hut he stops in front of the tiny staircase that leads inside. There stands a tiny wooden door that was the only thing standing between us and the rogue buffalo. Boom! The buffalo reached his head over the stairwell and swung it sideways ramming his horns into the door knocking out the piece of material that was covering the small window to keep light out. Like the movie Jurassic Park when T-Rex finds the people hiding under their vehicles, the buffalo slowly leans his head forward and puts his eyeball right up to that little window to find me shivering against the wall. I was sure we were about to die or I was going to be forced to shoot this buffalo with a bow in self-defense. Luckily, while this was happening my friend was in viewing distance of our pit blind and could see what was going on. She quickly called the ranch owners for backup letting them know about the buffalo. Within minutes (what seemed like an hour) the ranch owner arrived to save the day. He tries running the buffalo off with his truck. He’s driving it in circles but the buffalo refuses to leave. I see him throwing large rocks in his direction but nothing works. Now we are told we need to get to the truck. The only thing standing between me and this two-thousand pound killing machine is a truck but it is my only escape. We quickly open the door and I sprint up the stairs to getaway. As I jump inside the truck and close my door the angry buffalo charges the truck on the opposite side and rams us right on the driver side wheel well. He hits us with such force and gets his horn under the truck that he actually lifts us up off the ground as he lets us know why he is one of the Big 5 game animals in Africa. I screamed with sheer excitement. It was the rush of a lifetime! How incredible it was to witness and be apart of this kind of experience. In the end we were able to return to that same pit blind where I took my first African plains game, the blue wildebeest. It was amazing to see these herd animals come in so close and really understand their behaviors. Hunting herd animals is such a different experience than what I am accustomed to. They stay close together and you really have to pay attention to your surroundings, the other animals that are there with them and particularly the target animal. It is easy to get confused on which animal is which as their distinctions from one to the next is barely visible. I’ll never forget my wildebeest as I was able to execute a perfect shot dropping him within 20 yards of where I shot him. But then, there was the recovery. Don’t think I hadn’t forgot about the buffalo that tried to tear the roof off of the pit blind earlier. Luckily, he never came back! The rest of the week went really smooth and I stayed highly aware of my surroundings. This was truly the experience of a lifetime!

I Hope No One Was Watching

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This year I finally came to the realization that I was going to be forced into making a decision that I have been putting off for years.  There was a much needed surgical repair that had to be done on my right foot that I could no longer prolong.  When was this lengthy procedure with a lengthy recovery time going to work into my already busy schedule?  How would I work it around the Ohio Whitetail hunting season?

Come February in Ohio hunters are already wishing it was fall.  We start preparing for the harvest.  Spring and Summer come and we have been plotting and maintaining fields, mounting trail cameras and checking them often.  Waiting for that monster of a lifetime to reveal itself.  Sometimes this never happens but we are relentless in the hunt and the possibility that you will have that story of and the trophy to match mounted at deer camp or displayed front in center in your trophy show room.  One of the biggest misconceptions about hunting is that it is easy.  Animals are not defenseless by any means.  They have heightened sensitivity to smells, sounds and in some cases laser sharp vision.  This is why preparation and scouting for most hunters is no option.  This year was no different.  I dreamed big, I prepared, I scouted and cleared my shooting lanes.  Checked on my closest stand early and often.  Finally September 28th had come along.  Opening day in Ohio for bow hunting Whitetail deer begins.  And so my story goes…

The season started off great.  Great weather, conditions are good and I have a shooter coming back to my stand this year.  Entered my stand at dark on opening day and sat for hours.  As the dark turned to light and the chill was wearing off I was starting to heat up.  Time for me to go home.  No luck today but they will come. They always do when you’re strategic.  This repeats for a couple of weeks and then a unfortunate circumstance presented itself.  Obamacare was forcing me to make a decision on having a medical procedure prior to the new year.  That’s a story in itself.  The date was then set for my surgery.  I was about to have the most Spooktacular surgery of my life.  So I agreed on Halloween due to limited dates.  My surgeon knows the importance hunting plays in my life and saddens me with the news that walking will not be a option for at least 8 weeks!  My heart sunk but these are the cards I was dealt.  Let’s roll and put this in the past once and for all.  Better hurry up and harvest a deer because my last few pounds of venison is dwindling and my freezer is looking bare.  Back to the woods.  I was met with bad weather and windy conditions but that didn’t stop me.  2 days before my surgery I still hadn’t filled a tag.  I’m patiently waiting for my chance to harvest.  Yes, I here the rustle of leaves behind me.  My heart starts racing and I’m getting butterflies in my stomach.  Is this my chance?  Is this the one I’ve been waiting for?  I slowly look to my right.  It’s a buck!  Yes, I scream in my head.  It’s go time!  He moves in a little closer.  My heart sunk.  It’s a young 6 pt I encountered the year before.  20 yards from my stand, wide open broad side shot and this guy is just too young.  I watch him as he frolics in front of me for quite some time.  It was as though he was pacing back and forth taunting me.  This couldn’t be a more disheartening scenario.  I wait patiently for more deer to follow but I’m out of luck and little do I know this is my last hunt because of weather before my surgery.  My hunting season is over.

Surgery didn’t go quite as expected.  The recovery is awful and far worse than I had imagined.  I thought I was in hell.  The medicine was not helping the pain.  Luckily this only lasted about three days.  Once I was coherent enough to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t walk for two months I broke down.  My realization that bow season had ended abruptly for me and all the work I had put into the harvest was over.  I think I welled up with tears every time I thought about my tree stand and that my climbing days were over for a while.  One night I’m having a heart to heart with my old man about my feeling of loss with hunting.  My dad looks at me and says, “Sis we’ll just get you to the Ranger and drive you out to the hut and you can get right in.  I’ll help you in and you can prop your leg up.”  I think I lit up at the fourth of July when he said this to me.  Not that this was never a option but there’s a lot of work behind the scenes too and I’d be asking a lot to have someone do this for me.  But he’s my dad so I’m not going to say no.  If you want to treat me like I’m a hunting princess you go right ahead.  Now onto “Operation don’t tell your surgeon squat.”  He would freak out if he knew I had plans to leave 2 weeks after a major reconstructive surgery on my foot.  In theory this was going to work out smoothly.

Friday, November 15th rolls around.  I’m so excited, nauseous and in pain I can’t stand it but damn it I’m going bow hunting and I thought I had put a lid on that already.  I took my crutches and wrapped them in camouflage gauze to keep them from clanking together.  I packed my bags, my bow and my will to harvest a deer if it was the last thing I did.  My dad arrives at my house right on time.  He loads up the truck and we are on our way.  Almost three hours drive time to deer camp in Eastern Ohio ahead of us.  We were on a mission to get there promptly and not waste any daylight getting to our spots for a afternoon hunt.  We arrive right on target and there is still plenty of time until sunset.  We hurry up and change, load up the Ranger and we were off.  Just like he said he drives me right up to our hut and helps me in.  Except getting in didn’t go quite as planned.  The entry into the hut is more like a death trap for someone on crutches with a bum foot that is wrapped up the size of a football.  I slip and fall but thankfully kept myself from smashing my broken foot into the platform I was on.  He asks if I’m okay and when I say yes he sets up my decoy and drives off around the bend.  I get my bow ready and I propped my leg up just like the doctor ordered.  All I can think is I’m already off to a great start.  My doc is going to want to put a arrow in me if I mess this foot up.  Fifteen minutes go by and straight ahead about 250 yards I spot a doe on the hillside.  That was quick.  I watch through my range finders.  There are more deer appearing right and left all about the same yardage.  A monster shows himself chasing a little tail as we are heading into prime rut time.  What a beast he is but moves along into the woods following the does.  Darkness is fading in and I’m almost out of time.  Then things start to turn around.  Here comes a shooter.  A real nice size doe moves in.  Getting her in my sights I realize this is actually a buck with small brow tines.  Not the shooter I was hoping for after all.  Dark closes in and I hear my taxi on its way.  I pack up my things and wait for my old man to help me out of the hut so I don’t face plant into the field.

Back at deer camp the hunters are filing in.  There were seven males and one female, that’s me.  This is quite a common occurrence.  Everyone was offering to help me out however they could based on my condition.  I’m hurting pretty bad and I need some wine.  Out in the bar area no one warned me that wine, crutches and hard wood floors were a bad combination.  I had the wipe out of all wipe outs.  It was as though someone leg swept me Chuck Norris style.  Not cool wood floor, not cool.  What a jerk I looked like in front of all these guys while they are rolling on the floor laughing once they realize I’m okay.  Very funny joke is on me.  That is okay I’m a big girl.  Embarrassing moments happen.  I finish my wine and head to bed.  I need some serious rest if I’m going to get through the day tomorrow.  I fall asleep within minutes.  Through the night I slept so soundly for the first time in two weeks.  Around 4 a.m. I sprung up wide awake.  I have to get to the bathroom.  I slowly wait for my eyes to adjust so I can find my crutches.  I locate them and stand myself up only to take a few steps before I wipe out twice as bad as I did earlier.  It must have sounded like the cabin was in a earthquake it was so loud.  Mind you everyone is still sleeping at this point.  I once again pull myself up off of the floor and proceed with business.  The next morning one of the guys asked what the sonic boom was in the middle of the night.  I slowly speak up and admit to my new found clumsiness.  Everyone laughs and all is well because the joke is on the princess again.  We finish getting ready and I throw on the only camouflage I can wear again.  My full coverage overalls that zip up to the hip so I can get them over my surgically wrapped foot.  I head to the Ranger to meet my ride and we are off into the darkness to head to my spot for the morning hunt.  I get in and get set up just like the night before.  It’s around 7:30 a.m. and I’m ready.  I’m also struggling to stay awake so I slowly pick away at my lunch one thing at a time until around 9:20 a.m.  I started to doze off and did one of those head bobbing moves where you almost spring up out of your chair.  When I look up I see the shooter I’ve been waiting for.  By the looks of her she weighs around 130-140 pounds and mama is hungry.  I take a deep breath and get in position.  This is the moment I was waiting for.  I get my sight on her breathe in and a moments time I release and drop the doe right in her tracks.  She’s down and she was done.  I wanted to jump up out of my chair but then the pain hits me and I’m annoyed for a moment but I look out into the field and I was suddenly at peace.  I sat there patiently for the hunt to continue because I have more tags and my dad is hopefully having the same kind of luck somewhere around the bend.  The sounds of the Ranger are getting closer and my dad is going to see the good news shortly.  By the smile on his face I knew he indeed saw what I had been staring at for nearly a hour or so.  I ask him if anyone else had any luck.  He tells me our buddy had a doe down at another point on the property.  Mine was considerably larger than his which was joked about back at camp when hanging them.  Somehow the skirt with crutches is showing up the herd of men again.  It’s been a ongoing joke for a while minus the crutches but I’m okay with it because in a way, I win.  Lunchtime is over and we are ready to head back out for the afternoon hunt.  This time is different though.  Same routine and I’m back in my spot.  Twenty minutes goes by and it dawns on me that for the first time in a very long time I have to use the restroom during a hunt.  I knew it was time to go and I wasn’t going to make it out unscathed.  Here I am in this hut that I can’t even get into on my own.  I have overalls on  top of layers of clothing that were not camouflaged.  I quickly strip down to my bright white sweats and proceed to crawl out of the hut as quickly as I could into the field.  Looking around I have zero coverage on any side unless I get behind this hut on a hillside going uphill.  Broad daylight, no trees and 200 yards in any direction to a single tree.  I wonder where everyone else is sitting with their binoculars.  This could be quite the show for a unsuspecting deer hunter.  I climb quickly uphill dragging my crutches in tow.  Carefully maneuvering not to hit my broken foot on the ground.  Finally get to a spot where I feel comfortable and I assume the position on one leg.  It must have looked like I was playing a game of twister by myself but man did I have instant relief.  Time to head back.  Downhill proved to be even more challenging but I had no choice but to get back quickly before I gave myself up anymore then I already had.  I’m crawling and my foot is throbbing.  I fall again trying to get onto the platform just to get back into the hut.  I smack face down and feel completely defeated.  I pull myself into this hut over mouse droppings and only god knows what else but I did it on my own.  I get set back up and dust myself off.  All I could thing was this better be worth the pain and hell I was feeling.  It’s not twenty minutes after I’m having these ticked off emotions that I see a nice 8 pt barrel down out of the wood line and he is heading straight for my decoy.  You have got to be kidding me.  These guys are going to have a hay day with this one because this one was another shooter.  It happened twice in the same day when I thought my bow season was over.  I stuck him good and kept him in my sights like it was no ones business.  Waited for my Ranger ride and told my dad the good news.  He repeated what I said but as a question as though I was pulling his leg because this buck didn’t drop like the last one.  I said to him, “Dad, I stuck him good and right there is where he went into the woods.”  So off they went on the trail for blood.  Bingo, there it was but we were losing daylight fast so everyone was breaking out the flashlights and finally they recovered my buck.  Just in time too because it was about to rain.  None of the guys could believe that I came to camp not being able to walk, on crutches and harvested two of the three deer that weekend.  Reminder I was the only female out of eight total hunters.  Not too shabby if you ask me.  That night I fell a few more times and gave the guys a few more laughs.  I promise that I’m not that uncoordinated normally and this is totally off kilter for me to be this clumsy.  I think I still came out on top and this day will always be remembered as my first double bag day during bow season.  Still on cloud nine.  And to think I thought that my dad had lost his mind.  The master plan was beyond a blessing for me and my family.  Thank God every day because nothing is guaranteed.