They call it “black death” for a reason. Hunting one of the most dangerous game animals in the world with a bow and arrow may sound like a scene from “Mission Impossible.” Aside from tremendous power and huge size, cape buffalo have large bones and two layers of overlapping ribs that protect its vitals from arrow penetration. Furthermore, like most African game, the heart and lungs are not found behind the animal’s massive shoulder, but between them. This bowhunt is an extreme challenge.
In the past, hunting black death with bow and arrow took extreme strength as well as courage. Typically, an archer had to pull a vertical bow of nearly 90 pounds, well surpassing the strength needed for all but the strongest bowmen. Additionally, arrows cast weighed between 800 and 1,000 grains tipped with a single blade broadhead to slice through those huge ribs.
Hunting with an ultra-heavy compound or traditional bow requires much more than the ability to pull the bow successfully. Hunting accuracy requires shooting the bow repeatedly, which can take a toll on shoulder muscles and tendons.
Today’s modern crossbows allow a hunting man or woman the ability to launch a powerful, heavy arrow without the muscle mass previously needed. I fall squarely into this category. I’ve hunted plains game with a compound bow more than 20 times and always longed for the challenge of the cape buffalo, yet knew that I could never pull a heavy compound bow.
However, with the advent of today’s powerful crossbows and some experimentation, I developed a bow/arrow/broadhead combination that can bowhunt a cape buffalo ethically and humanely.
Failure at First
My first attempt to bowhunt black death ended in failure, and was a huge and expensive learning curve. My goal was to take an “everyman” crossbow that shot 330 fps, develop a heavy arrow, and make one good shot.
I believe that 330 fps is enough to kill a cape buffalo at close range but bows in the 350-400+ speeds are better. I was surprised to learn that the crossbow industry does not make “heavy” crossbow arrows. At first, I inserted an aluminum arrow inside of a carbon arrow, which provided a shaft weight of nearly 500 grains. By adding a broadhead of 225 grains, I developed a potent missile.
My singular mistake on the bowhunt first try was to use a standard factory scope. Because the arrow was nearly twice as heavy as the manufacturer’s suggested arrow, I had to guess at aiming points.
Learning from Mistakes
In August of 2018, I took up the challenge again using a Mission Sub 1 that shot at 350 fps, their standard carbon arrows, and Steel Force 300-grain, single-bevel broadheads. The shaft weighted just under 650 grains and would eventually get complete penetration on a very old bull.
This time I used a Hawk Scope that allowed me to adjust the aiming points to the speed of my arrow. The heavy shaft flew at 275 fps and increased momentum by 20% over a standard-weight arrow. The Hawk gave me a precise aiming point when I launched at 38 yards.
Crossbow Specific Professional Hunters
I’ve hunted a lifetime and have never encountered an animal with keener senses than the cape buffalo. For North American hunters, it’s like hunting a 6-year-old whitetail that can kill you. If you’d like to take up this challenge, the best place to begin is the Safari Club International Convention in Reno, Nevada. You will meet the most qualified and experienced professional hunters in the world. My 2018 buffalo will be on display at the African Hunting Gazette Magazine booth in the main hall. In addition, I’ll be signing books at the booth of Rassie Erasmus, my professional hunter.
If you’ve never attended an SCI Convention, you are in for the “hunt of a hunt of a lifetime.” You’ll see about every game animal on earth and get to talk personally with those who guide them. From North American species to remote animals in secluded countries, it’s there. Bagging a cape buffalo with a crossbow is an amazing challenge and attending SCI is your best first step. www.showsci.org