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In publishing this diary of fifteen of my hunts, I hope to share with you the exhilaration of time spent in the wild—leaving man’s first footprint, perhaps, in some remote area. Or simply to enjoy the peace and solitude of sitting with your back against a tree in the forest.
Alfred Pease wrote in his Book of the Lion: “The most and best is known to the man who quits his bed before sunrise . . who spends his days on the mountains and forests … who bears the heat and cold and hunger and thirst … for the love of nature … to visit the utmost refuges of beast and bird.”
I have done such things. My youth was spent on a farm in Pennsylvania. I was taught to hunt and love the out-of-doors by my father. School was interesting to me but the yearning to be afield was so strong that classes eventually lost the battle and had to be made up in night school after I left home and went to Michigan.
It has been my good fortune over the years to enjoy many great hunts in almost all parts of the world. I kept a diary on each hunt and from these dog-eared, rain-soaked pages evolved the chapters of this book.
AFRICA - 1955
Air France Flight #462 left New York at 6 P.M. on the evening of March 2, 1955. On board was a small group of bowhunters making up the first organized safari to hunt with bow and arrow in Africa.
My notes were made on this trip under an assortment of conditions—usually at dinner while I forgot the quinine tablet beside my plate. Or perhaps in the branches of a fever tree overlooking a water hole or leaning on the sizzling hood of one of the hunting cars… .
Our White Hunter was Jean Gerin, a Frenchman who did not speak English nor did we speak French. In spite of this we hunted together for more than a month, accomplishing many of the things we set out to do, Gerin having learned no English and we having learned no French.
After our enthusiastic send-off in New York, we arrived in Paris the following morning. The party scattered for a day in the city while I, accompanied by the three photographers with the group—assigned to make a film of the hunt—went to the Air France offices to arrange for additional flights around hunting territories in Africa.
At 6 P.M. we were on our way again, dropping down for gas at Tunis, the first stop on the African continent, and then on to Fort Lamy where we made a second stop. Since we were not allowed to leave the plane in Tunis because of some political troubles, we got our first glimpse of Africans at Lamy. Some of them, the women in brightly colored clothes, boarded the plane and traveled with us to Fort Archambault. This is a city of twenty-one thousand. The only industry is the cotton gin. Cotton is raised on small plots in the many native villages nearby and is processed, baled, and shipped to market in France. We were met here by our white hunter, Jean Gerin, and his two assistants, Mike and Noah. Noah can speak just enough English to assure our escape from the jaws of hippos and lions. Gerin and Mike can speak none. This is a complicating situation but through Noah we manage to communicate somehow, perplexing as it is.
Gerin’s equipment is excellent—three hunting cars and a five-ton truck and utility trailer, both loaded to the top with safari equipment, luggage, and hunting gear, demijohns of French table wine, and several native men who speak nothing but Sango. The hunting cars are war surplus weapons carriers that have been fitted with special bodies. The wide front seats hold four men.
Three of the natives are trackers and gunbearers. The rest hold titles commensurate with their duties. The mechanic is supposed to keep the cars running and spends all of his days and half his nights under the hoods of the fleet with little or no effect on the performance of the motors. There is also a laundry worker, two who serve as waiters and wash the dishes, one looks after the beds, and several are in charge of skinning, drying, and the care of trophies. Some have no title at all and are simply along for whatever job might turn up. Labor is not costly in Africa and safaris go out well manned.
N’Gokotou is the tracker assigned to my group, a man with an enviable reputation and well known in hunting circles throughout this part of Africa. Ours are the first modern bows and arrows these natives have ever seen and even in Sango we understood what they thought of our weapons… .
Saturday, March 5
—We left Fort Archambault at noon today, glad to climb into the hunting cars shaded from the blazing sun. After crossing the Auk River on a ferry propelled by a gasoline engine made in Michigan and operated by sev¬eral natives, we drove for several miles through the bush before crossing the river for a second time. The ferry this time was made of surplus army pontoons and zigzagged across, manipulating the current for power. Sometimes we wondered if the current wouldn’t suddenly take over and send us all to the bottom with the hippos.
We made camp at Golongosso, a small native village, about 9 P.M. This was to be our hunting headquarters from which the group went out into the different areas for game.
“Camp” consists of a long dining table set up in the middle of an open space. Arranged along either side are single iron beds covered with canopies of mos¬quito netting. A straw mat, three by six feet, was laid on the ground beside each bed and a metal trunk for personal belongings completes our home. There are no tents of any kind since this is the dry season and no rain is expected for at least a month.
Had a shot at a hartebeest today. Our first sight of African game. No luck.
Sunday, March 6
—We started hunting at 6 A.M. At a small lake we saw many large water birds and later ran into baboons and wart hogs. The latter were too fast for us and at 10 A.M. we went back to camp.
We visited the native village near our camp. Must get used to women wearing nothing but a G string of bright beads… . I did manage to notice they were weaving mats and pounding meal, however.
It is hot. We hunted again from four to six this afternoon. Saw all kinds of game but no shots. Had our first indication that African game is going to be difficult to approach within bow range. No trouble at all to get up to within 100 to 150 yards, but to get closer is quite a problem. All split-hoof animals are the prey of lions and leopards and it keeps them constantly on the lookout.
Just finished dinner! Anything you’ve heard about French cuisine was not ex-aggerated. Even out here in the bush—five courses complete with five changes of china and silver. Excellent food, nicely served, and tapering off with dessert and tea or coffee, not to mention the bottle of wine always on the table.
At lunch today, I thought of some of the hunting camps I’ve seen in the States. Out with a guide who carries an old frying pan tied to his saddle, a piece of bacon in his saddlebag, and a loaf of dry bread. The paying guest hauls in the water and firewood while the guide cooks the bacon and hands you the frying pan to scour out when he’s through… . In Africa if you so much as lay hands on the pitcher to pour yourself another glass of water, the white hunter’s eyebrows intimate that gentlemen leave such things to the help.
Drums are beating.
—Just returned from watching the natives dance in the village. Terrific!
Monday, March 7
—Sitting in a blind some of the natives helped me build. Nothing has come by but we will wait a little longer. i shot a reedbuck this morn-ing. He was feeding near the water in quite tall grass. It took thirty minutes or more to get close enough to him, crouching down in the grass and trying to move forward at the same time. He was an adult buck about the size of our white-tailed deer. Had horns about eight inches long.
This was our first bow kill and a start in the difficult job of bagging African game with a bow.
There are lion tracks in front of this blind. Fresh ones.
Tuesday, March 8
—We built a new blind late yesterday afternoon and stayed out all night. Hoped to get shots at animals coming to a natural salt lick. Nothing happened until midnight when two doe antelope came by.
Sometime later a lion came to the river to drink. I could hear him lapping up the water. He padded across the opening directly in front of our blind.
The original purpose of this trip was to try the bow only on smaller African game. It was not intended to attempt kills on lions or elephants. A bow is deadly with good hits on animals of any size but it is not a stopper when quick kills are necessary if facing a charge.
Our blind last night was on the ground under heavy foliage. In spite of our resolutions concerning larger game, if we had been in a tree, I believe I would have shot. The moon was full and straight overhead. The opening before us was flooded with light, when a lion walked across thirty yards away. My tracker picked up the rifle to try the sights but the darkness under the tree blanked out even the end of the barrel. With the gun useless for an emergency, it seemed wise to forgo action, although a bow can be shot with great accuracy in darkness.
A hyena followed the lion at some distance. Both prowled the area until daylight, the lion moaning and groaning. Nothing else came near us.
I had a couple of long shots at antelope this afternoon. Took a nap and a swim in the river and am about to have dinner. A native wearing a white jacket is setting the table with freshly laundered cloth and napkins. There is wine with all the meals. Making me strong. My bow feels light.
Leaving for a temporary camp in the morning to be gone two or three days.
Friday, March 11
—We’re back from a three-day hunt. Several shots but too long range. Leaving this afternoon for area farther on. Four lions were seen down by our blind here last night.
Saturday, March 12, 7 P.M.
—In the new camp. We were on the road most of the day. Don Redinger, of Telesports, took many pictures. We came across a village of what we thought at first were Ubangies. Gerin says they are not Ubangi, however, but members of the Chad tribe. I always thought plate-lipped women were Ubangi. That’s what they always told us at the circus.
It was not a pleasant sight. These women—most of them old now—disfigured themselves in their youth, we were told, to discourage capture by bands of raiding Arabs. After seeing their hardship trying to eat and drink with those plate lips, we wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to go with the Arabs. They allowed us to photograph them (for a franc note) and they also put on a dance for us. (More franc notes.)
I mailed a letter home from Kyabe today. It was the first opportunity to send mail out. Kyabe is a typical small African town. The houses are made of mud and straw. It is hot here, too. One of the stores had a refrigerator with cold beer. A rare treat after ten days of drinking lukewarm water. We saw little game except four giraffe.
Planned to swim this evening but the river is full of crocodiles. Took a shower instead. Our makeshift camp showers, although adequate, are not nearly so refreshing as a swim.
There is an abundance of guinea fowl here. A little wild for the bow but easy to get with a shotgun. They are excellent eating and our French-trained cook knows how to fix them. He also knows how to prepare antelope meat. The white hunters shoot some each day for the table and for the natives and their families. The natives are not allowed to have guns and we never saw them with a bow of any kind. Consequently they do not have much meat except what the white hunters get for them. They live for the most part on fish taken with spears, and vegetables they grow in their little garden plots. The soil is so rich that a seed dropped in the ground springs up like Jack’s beanstalk and several crops are harvested each year.
The missionaries carry rifles and when they visit a village they are more sure of a welcome with a good-sized carcass in the back of the truck. Preaching and teaching first, then meat, as a reward for good behavior and close attention.
Monday, March 14
—No shooting yesterday. We spent the day looking over territory. Found a place where many trails led from the bush down to tall, green grass growing at the edge of a lake. I made several stalks on waterbucks, kob, and reedbuck but without success.
Last night was spent in a tree blind near a buffalo trail. Shooting platforms are commonly used here for three reasons: (1) when off the ground, human scent is not so likely to alarm animals; (2) animals seldom look up for danger; (3) it’s safer.
The natives helped me build the blind about ten feet off the ground and some thirty yards from a promising game trail. We spent the night and most of the morning in the blind but saw nothing but giraffe and ten wart hogs. I went down for a shot at one of the wart hogs and got within twenty yards, only to find it was a sow with piglets. We learned that wart hogs do not have the curiosity of antelopes who usually stand a moment if one does not move. The wart hog looked up, saw me through the brush, and was off, tail straight in the air, the whole family after her.
At daybreak this morning, three natives walked past my tree. They noticed the tracks of our blind makers and signs of limbs dragged across the ground, etc. This caused considerable confusion among them—chattering and gesticulating—but it never occurred to them to look up at my blind just a few feet above their heads. After much consultation and a closer inspection of the ground, they finally moved off, the riddle unsolved.
There were a great many night sounds during our vigil in the tree, eerie night birds and of course the hippos. Radar, our name for the native who goes out with me on expeditions of this kind, slept most of the night unmindful of the mosquitoes and other bugs crawling around. For my part I hoped that I had not ignored my quinine tablet too often. Radar is no doubt infected with malaria and the same mosquito biting him and then me could result in trouble. I did not sleep well in the blind, needless to say.
There were fresh elephant tracks in the area this morning and I made a good stalk on a waterbuck. One fine buck in a group of six or seven meandering here and there, feeding on their way to the lake. I managed to work in ahead of them for a shot. Just as the first one stepped out onto the trail road, Gerin came around the bend to pick me up and the whole herd wheeled in a wide circle immediately out of bow range.
I found some satisfaction in swearing in English while smiling at Gerin in French.
Tuesday, March 15
—Unbearable heat! Our drinking water is from the river, run through a filter and served warm. A whole glass does nothing to quench one’s thirst. We drink two or three gallons a day.
—It is cooler now. We stopped at a village today. Not a soul was in sight, although several small fires were smoking. We stood around a few minutes before eyes began to peek out of the bush. One by one the inhabitants came back, half afraid and yet curious to see us at close range. The little ones were cute but very shy and reticent about getting close to us. One little fellow kept smiling at me though and I finally got him to accept a piece of chewing gum. From then on he was my boy, walking beside me whenever I took a step and looking mighty important about the whole thing.
We took pictures of some of them with a Polaroid camera and this sent them into fits of laughter. Sometimes they looked at their pictures upside down but they still laughed. One of the men was not pleased with his picture. He gave us unfriendly looks, muttered, and shook his head. We wondered if he had imagined himself handsomer than the picture showed.
The men around these villages do none of the work. Women carry all the water, take care of the gardens, gather reeds to make mats, et cetera, while the men sit around on the ground playing games. One of the games is similar to Chinese checkers. They make small depressions in the ground and move colored beans or nuts from one to the other. It seemed to be an absorbing business. We could not figure out what the rules might be.
Wednesday, March 16
-It is about 10:30 A.M. I am alone at the dining table out in the open, although sheltered from the sun by a small piece of canvas.
No hunting this morning. When I woke up at 8 A.M. with a headache and sat up in my iron bed with its net canopy, immediately there was coffee, bread, and jam beside me. This little breakfast appears on the spot whether one wakes up at 5 A.M. or 8 A.M. It is always delicious and hot.
The hot bread served at camp is made from flour bought from the natives. They pound the grain in an upended log with mahogany rams about three or four inches in diameter and perhaps six feet long. Two women with naked, flopping breasts do this work while the men sit on the ground playing checkers.
The bread is baked in a shallow hole in the sand filled with hot embers. Top of the stove cooking is done on a piece of sheet iron supported by stones over a fire.
The natives do not seem to mind the sun at all. They are out there now, ironing, chopping and drying meat, and preparing the usual five-course luncheon. They have been laughing and joking all morning.
We put on an archery exhibition at one of the villages yesterday and tried to get the natives to show us their skill with the spear. Most of them carry long spears but seldom kill anything with them. Only one man showed up. He threw it halfheartedly at the mark with disappointing results. The best part of his performance was when the spear glanced off a rock and bent the point and he simply wrapped his big, wide toe around it and bent it straight again.
Our bows and arrows fill them with wonder. The men wanted to try shooting them but could not muster the strength to do so. Each unsuccessful effort, however, was accompanied by an amazed expression and a prolonged “a-a-ah-h.”
This is difficult bow country. With a gun, a hunter can go out at daylight, make several kills by 8 A.M., and come back to camp and rest in the shade. With a bow, he must spend most of the day at the job and the excessive heat takes the will out of a man.
Game is hard enough to approach when one is alone but because of safari rules it is only on rare occasions that I can slip away without at least one guide following me.
Almost all game is in herds of from ten to thirty—sometimes hundreds—usually in the open with little cover. Even the bush isn’t too dense and animals can see at much greater distances than one can reach with an arrow.
-I went out with Gerin for an evening hunt. More could be accomplished on this trip if communication were not so exasperating. To make plans for a hunt I talk English to Noah, Noah talks French to Gerin, Gerin talks French and Sango to N’Gokotou, N’Gokotou talks Sango to natives, natives make sign language to me, and our plans usually go awry.
—I think—We stopped off to watch and photograph some natives butchering an elephant today. One of the photographers shot it with Gerin’s gun and the custom is to employ natives to take out the tusks in exchange for the meat.
To speed up the work the job is let out to men from two different villages. This sets up a rivalry for the meat and knives fly furiously without regard for fingers and toes.
By the time we came along, the great carcass was alive with natives---under, on, and in it. Every bit of the colossal animal is salvaged by the meat-hungry men. We moved off when fires were lit under the drying racks… . A bit reminiscent of the Chicago stockyards in the twenties.
Saturday, March 19
—About 8 A.M. Sitting in a blind at a salt lick with Radar. We gave him this name because he rides on the fender of our hunting car, guiding the driver through the bush with a wave of his arm.
I have been thinking about that elephant carcass. I shot an arrow into it to see what penetration was possible. The arrow disappeared entirely. Might be able to kill one at very close range if the arrow did not hit a rib. Elephant ribs are one and a half inches thick and four or five inches wide.
It is very hot. Radar is dozing, his face turned up in the sun. It will always bemuse me how these natives can endure this sun. Back in camp one of the men wears an old World War II army overcoat all day long. I have wondered why but by the time my question ran through our communication system the coat would be worn out.
A few days ago one of the villages agreed to stage a dance for the cameras in daylight. (Their dances usually take place at night.) The terms: three antelope.
We arrived on the scene in the middle of the day when the light was best for pictures. The natives had rigged themselves out in all their trappings—lion skins, leopard skins, yards of bright cloth, head scarves, et cetera. The drummer wore an olive-drab army overcoat.
Little girls, big girls, small boys and grown men, and even a half dozen plate-lipped women took part.
As the frenzy mounted, so did the dust. Clouds of it whirled around our heads —sweat, old hides, and sand. The dancers seemed oblivious to our discomfort as they leapt and bowed and stomped out the ritual.
On a mat in front of one of the huts were the three antelope, skinned and quartered. Terms of the contract specified that the dance came before the feast. For most of the afternoon, the meat laid there in the sun subject to flies, sniffing dogs, and curious children. By the time it was turned over to the natives, it could not be called fresh by any bounds of imagination. We inquired if they actually liked food in this odoriferous state and our interpreter replied that “they don’t eat the smell, they eat the meat.”
—Hiked around with Radar until late this afternoon. Shot a five-foot iguana with my bow. Radar discovered it under a matting of thick, dry grass. He parted the grass with a stick so I could see it and motioned frantically for me to shoot. I thought it was a python when I shot.
Sunday, March 20
—Spent the morning with Radar. We saw five waterbucks and several large monkeys. No shots.
A letter came from my wife today. The first mail since we landed. It enclosed an illustrated letter from seven-year-old granddaughter, Hannah, portraying Papa Bear encircled by a herd of attacking, sway-backed zebras. I am apparently saved from this fate, however, by a group of natives bristling with shields and spears. The letter came the last twenty kilometers by foot.
The evening hunt was very quiet. Hot. Nothing moved except black gnats swarming about my face.
Drums in the village until midnight last night. Booming again tonight. May have to buy them to get some sleep.
Tuesday, March 22
—We went out on the plains this morning to take pictures and saw a lioness at five hundred yards. I am sitting in my blind now, tortured by gnats. They love the mosquito repellent we use.
Thursday, March 24
—We went to the plains for pictures again today. Got back in the blind at 4 P.M. I shot another reedbuck. He dropped at four hundred yards. This is the last hunting day in this territory.
We are putting on a dance for the natives tonight. Will leave for Fort Archambault tomorrow. Most of the party will leave for home from there.
Friday, March 25
—The natives laughed themselves sick over our efforts to entertain them with a North American Indian war dance last night. We have started packing. It is raining today.
—Have just had lunch. It rained for only two hours but is a cloudy day and chilly for the first time. The luncheon tables were set up in the sun instead of under the trees.
Saturday, March 26
—The trip back to Archambault was uneventful but interesting. We saw many species of game and birds we had not seen before and, for the first time, enjoyed a cool ride.
The planes come in to Fort Archambault twice a week and on these days the Arab traders display their wares to the travelers. There are all kinds of things to buy—ivory carvings, leather goods, beads, etc. Most of them show remarkably fine workmanship and are quite reasonably priced. One has to know about bartering, however. Rule of thumb is never to pay more than a third of asking price.
Wednesday, March 30
—The photographers and I are down near the Belgian Congo now. Flew down from Fort Archambault and are spending a few days in Brazzaville. Had dinner with the game commissioner of East Africa last night. An interesting and educational evening. Much shopping and sightseeing. Bought a zebra skin for Hannah.
Thursday, March 31
—We are 175 miles from Brazzaville tonight. Sleeping in a fine inn with good bed and shower. There was a hard storm last night. Delayed our trip into Pygmy country—roads greasy and fog in the hills. This jungle country is quite different from the dry plains farther north.
—We’re having lunch now—french-fried potatoes, omelet, and ripe pine-apple. We will start for Pygmy country this afternoon with an escort. There are no mosquitoes here and the climate is pleasant.
—In a village twenty miles from Mouyoundzi. When the truck broke a spring we were conducted to the chief’s house for the night and made welcome and comfortable. The villagers have brought offerings of pineapples, avocados, and peanuts. Many hands working on broken-down truck. Hope to be on our way again in the morning.
Friday, April 1
—We have reached our destination and are camped in a new, white hospital building. Last night a native in our host village serenaded us far into the wee hours with a homemade guitar. In early morning I swapped a shaving mirror for the guitar.
We sent a runner on ahead yesterday to make arrangements in the Pygmy village for photographing a dance and net hunt. Early this morning they arrived with bows and nets to escort us to their village.
A walk of five miles through steaming jungle seemed long and very hot. The village is in a clearing in thick jungle.
The Pygmies have tiny little bows trimmed with monkey fur. Their arrows are fletched with a tough leaf and the deadly little points are dipped in poison which makes them very effective for their size.
Pygmies are not good marksmen but are the best dancers we have seen yet. Even a woman with a baby strapped to her back was full of grace.
It was too dark in the jungle for pictures of the hunt. They brought in a tiny antelope, however, caught in the net, and collected barter for it as promised.
There were beautiful flowers and delicate plants on our trek out through the jungle. Back at our camp by two-thirty for a lunch of sardines, sausage, grapefruit, green tangerines, and wine. Don’s ulcer is acting up. Good-by to Babinga country.
Palm Sunday, April 3
—Back in Brazzaville. Arrived at midnight last night. A long, hard, rough, tiring trip. We had ham and eggs at the Beach Hotel and then to bed. The lights of Leopoldville across the river twinkled in the dark from the Belgian Congo.
We’re at an artists’ colony now, buying native watercolors. Beautiful, exotic work by native pupils of a Frenchman, Pierre Lods.
Monday, April 4
—There are many bicycles in Brazzaville and small cars. Women take their children to school on bicycles.
It is also man’s country down here—the women do all the work. I just watched a native man meet his wife at the ferry. She had a big load of something to carry. They argued a while, then he helped her put part of the load on her head and the rest in her arms while he rode off ahead on the new bicycle she’d brought.
Saturday, April 9
—We’re on a plane now going back to Archambault. Wearing shorts and white socks like Englishmen.
This has been an interesting side trip. The country is wild and beautiful. I would like to float down one of these rivers someday. Gasoline is a dollar a gallon here.
It is getting warmer as we fly north. I have decided to hunt for two more weeks with Gerin. I would like to kill a lion with the bow. Gerin suggests building a blind in a tree and watching a bait on a moonlit night. I certainly wouldn’t tackle it any other way.
Easter Sunday, April 10
—I can see my family getting ready for church back home… . We have just left Archambault for the last hunt. Several miles out a herd of elephants crossed the road in front of us. Gerin says it is a good omen. I hope so.
—Have only to cross the river once more and then to Golongosso where we will again make camp.
—I am having dinner with two French hunters we met here. The menu consists of young wart hog roasted over hot coals. Wonderful good, as my Pennsylvania ancestors would say.
Monday, April 11
—Gerin found a natural salt lick where we will build a plat-form for lion hunting this p.m.
—Had to change our plans because of a heavy rainstorm. There is a steady downpour and the wind blows like a hurricane, blowing the kapoc pods off the trees. Gerin says the barren ground will bloom with flowers after the rain.
We are staying in a Government house—small concrete shelters spotted around the country for the use of travelers. There are four good-sized rooms in this one and it has a thatched roof.
This country is beginning to fascinate me. From my tree platform I can expect to see anything from the tiniest antelope to a lumbering elephant. African magpies, pelicans, and countless species of long-legged water birds are everywhere. Buzzards, hawks, and eagles perch in the trees near camp watching their chance to swoop down for tidbits at the meat-processing area.
Radar was happy to see me again. He wears a knife in handsomely decorated sheath on his upper left arm. I hope to buy it from him before I leave.
—The rain is slowing up. In the trees the buzzards, that sit out the rain hunched over and miserable, are now beginning to stretch their wings out along the branches to dry.
Tuesday, April 12
—We built the platform last evening. Gerin shot a kob and dragged it around on the ground for lion-bait scent. I spent the night in the blind but no lion. An oribi going by at dawn with four wart hogs is all the action I saw. A nice kob came in just now—winded me and left.
Gnats have been giving me trouble. I am ten feet up in the tree and except for a few blind spots, I can see a hundred yards each way. This should be a good spot.
—Six waterbucks just came in. I missed the first shot and they all took off. Gerin is coming for me at ten. Camp is five miles away.
—Gerin has decided our lion bait is not good. Too near the salt lick. He made a new blind. After lunch we left for the new location but saw nothing there this evening, although Gerin shot a rabbit on the way. Good luck, he says.
Wednesday, April 13
—Hot as blazes today. I left for the salt lick early this morning. Nothing came in, so got uneasy and went down to look for a wart hog. Found one but blundered upwind from him and that was that. Did some still hunting later and had a good stalk on an oribi. Shot him at about thirty yards. He didn’t go far. It was an adult buck with beautiful jet-black horns about five inches long. Just a little fellow—weighs about thirty-five pounds. A nice trophy but not much help in rounding out a film.
Thursday, April 14
—We stopped in at the river salt lick this morning. There were lion tracks around and I stayed until nine-thirty. Nothing. Shot at another wart hog. Nice lead but under his belly. Saw a hartebeest and two reedbucks from the blind also but too far. Fresh limes help quench our thirst on these long treks around the dry plains.
—Had my first shot at a hartebeest this evening. He walked within twenty yards of me and I loosed a nice arrow but he flinched at the sound of the bowstring and the arrow went over his back. Very disappointed. He would have made a nice trophy.
I am beginning to change my mind about stalking game in this country. Under certain conditions it is not quite so impossible as I first thought. At one time today I made a sortie back through the bush. There were about twenty waterbucks near a water hole and possibly a hundred kob and reedbucks, all within sight at one time. If the cover had grown close enough to the water hole for a bowshot, I might easily have had some luck.
The rain chased us into the Government house again tonight. I met a French couple here, Francois Sommers and his wife who were on their twenty-first trip, photographing African animals. They had a limited knowledge of English—enough so that we could converse a little.
During our visit we discussed at some length the subject of bowshooting in Africa. Mr. Sommers is of the opinion that hunting from a platform or salt lick is not the best way. After the past days of rain chasing us indoors, I am inclined to listen. Employ N’Gokotou, Sommers says. He is one of the best trackers in Africa. Why not use him for finding game. Give him your bow and follow him. When he gets within range of game, he will hand you the bow.
Sunday, April 17
—I tried Sommers’ suggestion today and went out with N’Gokotou. Gerin drove the truck. It took some doing to get near four kob grazing about two hundred yards away. N’Gokotou got off the truck and motioned for me to follow him. Lining up with a tree between us and the animals, we walked straight up to within thirty yards. The trunk of the tree was not quite large enough to cover us and the kob could see us make our approach. Incredulous as it seems they stood there and let us walk toward them. Just as we reached the tree, N’Gokotou handed me the bow and I was ready. In order to shoot, however, it was necessary to move slightly out to one side before raising the bow for a shot and this no animal I have seen in Africa, or anyplace else, will stand for.
We tried N’Gokotou’s technique several times but always with the same results. Stepping out from the tree for the draw was the signal for the game to bounce off.
Tuesday, April 19
—This was my day.
Sommers invited me to go out with him to some small plains that lie to the south. This area, he said, was the home of large herds of hartebeest and damalisque.
We cruised around in Sommers’ truck until we spotted some damalisque at the edge of the plain in more or less rough country. The bush jutted out along the rim in places and the prospect of getting within bow range seemed quite favorable.
It was the last day of my hunt and the sun was extremely hot. We carefully maneuvered the truck behind a rise of ground and from there I made my way down to the edge of the bush.
It seemed even hotter now. Sweat tickled my nose and ran into my eyes during the last few yards, down on my hands and knees inching along through thinning cover—still sixty yards from the large, antelope-type animal. This was as far as I could go. Another move would send the herd crashing out of sight.
Cursing the rain that had spoiled so much of last week’s hunting and the deadline compelling me to start home the next day, I knelt, staring at the damalisque. With hopes for a lion gone, this was my last chance to bag a trophy of any size and the outlook for success grew dimmer by the minute.
Then it happened. Something loomed up at the corner of my eye. Another damalisque had appeared from nowhere between me and the herd, grazing along with his head down.
He was near enough and neither saw nor heard me raise up for a shot. The arrow slid into the body cavity while the rest of the herd thundered away to safety.
This was a beautiful trophy, bagged at the eleventh hour. Gerin estimated his weight at around five hundred pounds. Ringed black horns, within two inches of the record, curved back from his head and cameras whirred as four natives carried him off to the truck on a pole over their shoulders.
Bowhunting in Africa for the first time is not too different from first hunting trips to any new country or territory—the initial trip is likely to be more or less experimental wherein one learns about the animals and terrain and comes back with a wealth of experience and ideas of how he will proceed on the next trip.
I talked with many hunters—none of them bowhunters—but there were things to learn from them. An Englishman, for instance, over there to hunt, included in his equipment a headdress made of the skin of a large black bird that abounds in that country. Hunters strap this gear on their heads, he said, and crawl through the bush. They can get very close by this means. And Elisha Gray, of St. Joseph, Michigan, told me he wore a camouflage suit to great advantage in Africa.
Next time I would use dark make-up on hands and face and hunt almost entirely in the bush near salt licks and water holes. Always on foot and alone, if possible. I would make every effort to make arrangements with the white hunter for permission to go out alone. He, of course, makes this rule for his own protection, but while the native he sends with you has no gun, nor even a spear, the general idea seems to be to keep the hunter from getting lost.
One shouldn’t ignore the trackers, however. They have sharp eyes and earn their living outwitting game. We left several archery outfits with them when we left and hope they will try their hand with them. At best, they might learn to appreciate our problems and be better guides for bowhunters another time.
Chapter 1Africa - 1955
A successful hunt isn’t always about trophies. It’s about the experience and knowledge you take away from it. Fred shares this lesson on his first safari in Africa with a bow and arrow.