As I waited in Buffalo, N.Y., to board my flight to Washington D.C., I ran through a mental checklist to see if I had forgotten anything vital to my hunt: camouflage, bow, arrows, broadheads, field glasses, traps, etc.
I’d dreamed of a hunt like this for years. After months of planning and going over every detail to ensure success, I was going to grab a quick flight to D.C., then board a jet for a 15-hour flight to South Africa.
Shaking off the drowsiness from the flight as we landed in Johannesburg, I was first greeted by a customs agent. Aside from a few confused looks over the three, #2 modified foothold traps I stowed in my gear, he cleared me.
Next were the more pleasant greetings from my guide Morne Coetzer, his wife, Janine, and their two children. During the three-hour drive north to the Limpopo Region of South Africa, Coetzer and his family regaled me with stories of trophies already taken, as well as current herd movements. My heartbeats quickened as I thought of what the next seven days with my bow on the plains would bring.
Can I Set Traps?
Shortly after arriving at Uhuru Game Safaris camp, I discovered guides are referred to as professional hunters, or PHs, in this region.
Coetzer showed me around the ranch and we discussed the logistics of the next day’s hunt back at the lodge. While going over details, I inquired about being able to set a few traps where they could be easily checked before we started hunting each morning.
During our ride from the airport, Coetzer mentioned the problems he’d been having with a few hyenas and a leopard. He explained the outfitter had just received a permit from the South African government to take a few brown hyenas and a leopard that had been preying on livestock and game animals.
Bedding in Red Sand
My PH grabbed a shovel and hammer, then indicated for me to follow. He took me to an area where he’d seen a lot of predators.
All of my trapping until that point had taken place in upstate New York, where I use a trapper’s cap to bed my traps and a sifter to place dirt over the trap and pan.
However, my method was clearly not working well in South Africa. The red, sandy Limpopo soil was sliding underneath the pan. I had doubts about whether or not the trap would be able to fire.
Coetzer looked at me wide-eyed as I lured my set, added a few feathers for eye appeal, stood back and hoped for the best.
The sandy soil would not accommodate a peep hole, so I improvised by burying a impala scull I found nearby. I placed it upside down, using the hole for where the spine would have connected as my peep hole.
Back at the truck, Coetzer looked at me strangely and asked what type of voodoo dance I was conducting back there. We had a good laugh and headed in for the night.
Wax Paper Repairs
I was barely able to sleep that night. I got up at 5 a.m. and prepared my gear for the day’s hunt.
I drank a cup of coffee and ate a Husker — a tasteless biscotti the Boers ate during the wars with the British and Zulu — as we headed out to check my traps.
After a short drive in the truck, we arrived at my sets. My traps were empty. However, I found animal tracks all over the area.
By watching trapping videos made by western trappers operating in sandy soil, I anticipated the problem. I knew I needed some kind of pan cover.
The previous night at dinner, I asked Janine Coetzer for some wax paper. She graciously offered me a whole roll. I thanked her and explained that a small sheet would be more than sufficient.
I didn’t want to lose another trap night while the location was hot. I quickly remade the two sets using the wax paper. I left the area confident I would have fur to skin in the morning.
Staking Out Water
With renewed confidence, we headed out for the first hunt of the trip. The day improved quickly.
I finalized my choice to go with Coetzer as my guide for the hunt because the emphasis he placed on taking exotic animals with a bow. He promised the rush I would feel would pale in comparison to the white-tailed deer hunting back home. The professional hunter was right. I couldn’t have imagined it if I tried.
Our first target was the elusive kudu. We set up on a watering hole Coetzer monitors. The different types of blinds and stands he had set up were unbelievable. They had one-way mirrors for viewing, and pop-up blinds like those used to hunt turkeys in the United States.
Unlike hunting in New York, where I’d probably only see a handful of animals during a day of hunting, I saw more than 50 animals of varying species, including giraffes, ostriches, gemsboks, warthogs, impalas, kudus, blesboks, wildebeests, zebras, nyalas, waterbucks, bushbucks, duikers, steenboks, jackals and a host of exotic birds.
After a long day of drawing my bow back on every target animal that came in, only to have Coetzer advise me that a bigger one would be along later, I was getting a bit antsy.
Evening was approaching, and I had not fired my bow.
However, as the sun started to set, trophy animals started to appear at the waterhole. Coetzer directed my attention to a large buck impala, which was attentively approaching with a herd.
As I prepared to draw, Coetzer called me off the impala, signaling for me to look to my left. I almost gasped at the site of the huge animal.
I began to tremble, and had to take several deep breaths to steady myself.
The kudu was a moment from moving across my shooting lane. The animal was so close, I felt I could have reached out with an arrow extended from my hand and touched it.
The large male was wary as it approached for a drink. It would not quarter away to present the perfect shot. Instead, it would spook every time I started to draw back my bow.
When I was just about to give up, a large female kudu appeared. The male was distracted momentarily, which allowed just enough time to make my shot.
I released the arrow when I felt the kudu locked into my sights. After the shot, I watched the animal disappear in an instant.
The shot and getaway happened so fast I wasn’t even sure I had hit the animal. But Coetzer assured me the shot was true.
After tracking the beast for a quarter of a mile, we found our gray ghost. The kudu weighed more than 1,000 pounds, and its spirals exceeded 53 inches. I love Africa.
Holding a Hyena
The next morning, I repeated a routine: up at 5 a.m., gear ready, coffee and a husker and off to check the traps.
As we approached the first set, we saw gleaming eyes reflecting from the truck’s headlights.
A 96-pound female brown hyena was firmly secured buy its front paw.
Until that moment, I think Coetzer was skeptical of trapping. He was really surprised I had caught a hyena.
In South Africa, trapping is not very popular, and when the native people trap, they use cage traps. Using a foothold was foreign to Coetzer.
Up close, hyenas look ferocious. Even though they seem to smile, it’s from a mouthful of drooling canine teeth. If I had to compare them to another animal, I’d say they are pretty close to a wolf.
Coetzer dispatched the animal with a .22-caliber rifle. After a few photos, we were off to begin another day of big-game hunting.
Coetzer radioed Popi, a tracker/skinner, to retrieve the animal and prepare the skin for a full mount.
Catching the Trapping Bug
When we broke for lunch that afternoon, I remade the successful set. I also pounded in my third trap a few miles away in another area Coetzer said predators frequent.
After I had trapped a hyena, Coetzer had caught the bug and wanted to see what else we could catch. I was curious to see if I could trap a jackal — an animal that is similar to North American fox. Other possible target animals included civet cat or karakul, which look similar to bobcats. The possibility of a leopard was intriguing as well.
Checking my trapline became as much a part of the day’s excitement as taking down animals with my bow on the plains.
As we approached the first set the next day, there were no reflecting eyes, but I could tell the set had been visited. To my disappointment, my trap was busted to pieces. The teeth marks on the trap jaws and base platting were frightening.
By investigating the surrounding tracks, Coetzer deciphered that I must have caught the male mate of the previous night’s catch. He estimated the male to be 120 to 130 pounds of massive aggression. It was simply too much for a #2 trap to hold.
However, I caught another female hyena the next day. It weighed 80 pounds.
7 Days, 7 Animals
During my hunting trip to South Africa, I killed a kudu, impala, gemsbok, duiker and a blesbok, all taken with the bow, and I trapped two brown hyenas. It was a productive, exciting seven days in the “bush,” or “bushveld,” as they call it. I can’t wait to go back.
Unfortunately, the South African government does not allow hunters to take hyena pelts out of the country.
However, Coetzer decided to mount the larger of the two hyenas, anyway. I left the busted-up trap so he could make it part of the taxidermy.
If you ever consider a hunting trip to South Africa, I recommend Morne Coetzer of Uhuru Safaris, especially if you’re a bow-hunter.
When you’re there in the lodge, examining the full-mount hyena, take a close look at the tag on the #2 trap holding the catch to the ground. You’ll see my name: Mike Monin, Buffalo, N.Y.