Hassan extends his hand the last day and gives me one of his “grigri”s. He has being carrying this lucky charm made with a seed and leather most of his life on his hunting belt. After a couple of weeks hunting together seems like I gained his respect as a hunter, and he decided that I should carry one of his amulets to protect me from problems and give me luck while hunting. That was for me definitely the biggest trophy of the whole trip.
Hassan, is my main tracker. He is now in his 60s, and has hunted since he was a teenager. Coming from a shepherd family, he discovered that he was pretty talented with a bow, so he decided to start as a profesional poacher, since selling wild game meat was more profitable than cattle.
He has shot everything you can imagine with a self made longbow, equipped with light arrows and poisoned broadheads. From rhinos, to lions and buffalos, he never felt the need of shooting and elephant, but he is sure he could have killed one.
They use a extremely strong poison that coagulates the blood and those coagulates get in your blood system and end up blocking your system. It is a secret recipe that they do not like to share, it is transmitted between generations. I joke with him about borrowing some for my broadheads, and I could tell by his face that it was dangerous, if you cut yourself by mistake there is no much you can do to stop it.
After helping a hunting organization to find some stolen elephant tusks by tracking three days later the poachers tracks for over 30 km, he got hired and started working as a profe- sional tracker. He now realizes how much damage poaching is doing to the Africa he star- ted hunting in, and how much hunters are trying to protect and preserve that nature for the future generations. He grew up surrounded by elephants, rhinos, and tons of plains game, and now there is only some few plains game left, since all rhinos and elephants have already been shot.
I couldn’t think of a better tracker to share two weeks of bowhunting in the northern part of cameroon. International hunting for me has always been sharing these experiences with different cultures and places. That is what makes traveling interesting more than for collec- ting trophies. No matter where you come from, hunters all around the world can bond to hunt together as a team.
After christmas day I travelled with my father to Cameroon to one of the hunting conces- sion areas that limits with the Bouba Ndijida National Park. My father shot his Lord Derby Eland 40 years ago also in this same part of Africa and after so much time he wanted to go back to see how much things have changed, and give me the opportunity to experience it first hand.
The Lord Derby Eland is the largest antelope in the world and one of the most amazing animals to hunt in Africa. The reason every hunter fells in love with its hunting is because it has it all. You need outstanding tracking skills to chase these animals for days, good phy- sical conditions to cover all the distance these animals can travel, great knowledge of the area and the animal to plan a proper strategy to cut them, stalking and shooting skills to close the distance and to execute a good shot with all the trees and limbs, etc.. All of this top with one of the most beautiful species in the world. Nothing else is needed.
Wake up call was at 4.30am. We had like a one hour drive to the area we have seen more eland sign. We had been already four full days tracking the same eland herd, of around 15-20 individuals, with two or three bulls on it. We had a quick glimpse of part of the group on day 2, but they felt something was not right and they vanished. We haven’t had eye contact since then.
Eland are a very spooky so it is important to be smart, if they feel too much pressure they can easily run out of the hunting area and don’t come back in weeks time, specially having the national park bordering the area. Thats the main reason outfitters don’t like bowhunters attempting eland. They estimate there is only two or three groups of eland in the area so we need to wait for the right opportunity, and do not over push them.
Everyday with the first light we try to cross fresh tracks. Any track from the previous after- noon or from that night is good enough for us to jump down and start tracking them again. Once located, we spent the whole day trying to cut the distance in between.
The eland diet consist mainly in leaves, and although they eat a large quantity of them, they are very selective with what they eat covering large distances every day. They have an incredible strength in their neck, and they can brake considerable size trees by putting them between their horns and twisting their necks. That way they can eat the leaves in the ground. It is really impressive to see the size of the trees they can brake.
We analyze all those signs, how fresh the tree bark is, how are the bites on the leaves, how fresh is the shit and pee.. All of those combined gives you a good reference of how many hours behind you are of the group.
We saw the group again in late morning of day 4, but at 200 meters they already felt so- mething was not right and vanished again. All the work from the last two days was wasted. We could only let them relax for a couple of hours and start tracking them to cut the dis- tance they had gained. Time for a few sardines, some bread and a little of water.
With a hard sun and temperatures around 35-40aC tracking was a hard process. We cove- red each day a lot of kilometers and seemed like the elands were always a couple of hours in front of us. The constant changes of the wind did not collaborate, and everything was so dry and burned that the noise was terrible. Those were not the best conditions to try to get into bow range of a large group of spooky animals. To top it off, finding a shooting lane was going to be a nightmare too, since there were limbs everywhere, but we were still far from that being an issue!
I love those hunts that require everyone to give their best, the more you have to work for, the bigger the reward. We still had a lot of days ahead of us and the good thing is that by now, we all knew each other better. Hassan it is not my PH ́s (Herve Houdebine) main tracker, and it is also not tracking with his normal team. We are with Wazzyl, and Wassa; Herve ́s typical tracking team. In addition they needed a couple of days to understand bet- ter the bowhunting needs. For bowhunting such difficult animals it is super important that animals do not even have a clue that we were around, in order to be able to stalk them into bow range. That required an extra amount of patience and care while tracking.
We kept following the tracks and late in the afternoon we spotted the whole group feeding 200-300 meters away. It was an awesome tracking job by the team, and now it was my turn. Time to get into bow range.
I asked the trackers to lay down, I was going by myself with just Herve, my PH, to be sure we were shooting the right bull. We checked the wind and started crawling to close the dis- tance. It took us 1,30 hours, in four legs most of the time, to get into bow range of the who- le group. It is hard to describe the emotions of having the eland group between 50-100 meters feeding without noticing we were there.
Sun was already down, so we were quickly running out of light. We needed a shooting window, the right bull on it, and it had to be completely broadside. Too many factors had to line up in little time, but we could only wait and hope for the best. Wind was good and ani- mals were relaxed but there where still too many low limbs, so finding a clear shooting window was really hard, specially with the drop of a heavy arrow.
Luckily, the bull started heading towards some cows, and crossed a little window. I had measured before some trees that where at 40yds, so I guessed it was going to cross at around 55 yards, but there was no time to measure. I drew back as the eland was crossing the window, aimed as it was a tiny animal, and released.
The arrow flew perfect through the gap, and hit the eland behind the shoulder, right in the heart. It was unreal to see such a large animal drop in a matter of seconds, and less than 20 meters from the shot.
The most unique thing is that none of the animals knew what happened, and they stood there trying to understand what was going wrong. Anyone that has ever hunted lord derby eland before can imagine how special is being so close to a large group unnoticed.
The silence of the bow and its harmony with the nature is why I fell in love with bowhun- ting. No-one but us knew what happened, and the animals left slowly the place without being disturbed.
Definitely this was not my eland, but OUR eland. It was the result of a really hard work of the whole team, and it could not have ever being posible without each of us, Hassan, Wazzyl, Wassa,… Special thanks to Herve Houdebine, he was the one that believed this could be done, and I will never forget his desire and commitment to try it as hard as we could. Also to my dad, I can’t thank him enough for giving me the opportunity to experience hunts like this.
Despite all efforts from the hunting organizations, poaching in Africa is destroying the wild- life. When I say poachers, I am not referring to a local person that lazes a duiker to feed his family, but profesional hunters that hunt to sell the meat. This kind of massive hunting breaks the whole balance of nature, the more you hunt, the more you can sell, the more money you get. It doesn’t matter if it is a duiker, a buffalo or an elephant.
The saddest part is that in many cases they do not hunt to feed their families, build a bet- ter house, etc.. they go and spend it in drinking. When the money is over, they get out again and keep hunting. Nobody seems to care about tomorrow over here.
During our couple of weeks in northern Cameroon we saw poachers, heard gun shots, saw fresh tracks and camps, and some of the animals that we shot had bullets on their skin. If this happens during the hunting season that is only a few months, I can not imagine how this will look like when the hunters get out of the camps.
There are no elephants left since a few years ago, a caravan of poachers coming all the way from Sudan in horses and camels, shot around 800 elephants in two months to take the ivory back to his country. The government did nothing while the elephants where being exterminated, a population that will NEVER recover. Elephant tracks hasn’t been seen in the area since then. Joaquin Morales, the manager of the area shared with us those months of frustration. According to him, you could hear the elephants screaming at night between each other, they were being exterminated and they knew about it… What a tra- gedy.
Although, anti-poaching groups fully financed by hunters can not do much against these kind of attacks. They are not allowed to have gun power so there is nothing to do with armed poachers.
With absolute no game left outside the hunting areas, the wildlife in most of the African countries have the days counted. Who cares what happens, since all those species of animals are not lions, and have not personal names like Cecil. Nobody seems to care about roans, elands or buffalos…
After getting the eland down, we focused on the Roan Antelope, also known as “Koba” by the locals. Stalking these antelopes into bow range is really complicated. It was my second attempt to this specie after trying for ten days in Benin some years ago. After a lot of hard work we were able to stalk to a beautiful lonely bull at 50 yards.
My dad was able to shoot a great buffalo, and I shot a few more antelopes spot and stalk like the hartebeest, Cob du Buffon and Reed Buck. A trip of a lifetime not because of the results, but because all of the moments shared with an incredible team and family.
Hassan end up recognizing that: “Le fleche du le blanc ce tre dangerous”
NOTE: Eland pictures were done first light in the morning to take all the meat with the rest of the crew.
EQUIPMENT NOTE :
I shot the eland with a PSE Archery Decree HD at 70 pounds at 29″, with Carbon Express Arrows Maxima Red 350, equipped with a Vantage Point Archery 2 Blade 200gr broad- head and Bohning Archery blazer vanes.
The total weight of the arrow was 520 grains at a real speed of 253fps. I didn’t want to go heavier since the drop is important for spot and stalk animals, and it was crucial since it allowed me to have confidence to shoot it without measuring the eland with the range finder. If you go too heavy every single meter counts, and in my opinion you loose accu- racy. Also with so many limbs in the way, the more speed you have the better.
For the rest of the antelopes I used a Grim Reaper Razortip 100 gr and a second Spot Hogg sight. By doing this I could change to a lighter setup really quick and this would give me a more flat trajectory to try to make the most out of little shooting windows, without hit- ting any branches
I used a Spot-Hogg Archery Products Father sight, a Trophy Taker Smackdown rest, a Doinker, “world’s #1 stabilizer” stabilizer, and a Carter Enterprises release. The bow was equipped with Winner’s Choice Custom Bowstrings Inc and a Totalpeep. The equipment performed… as always!
Text and Photos by Pedro Ampuero