Tackling dangerous game with archery equipment can be an exciting pursuit. However, this is a situation where you had better know all aspects of your gear before heading afield. Arrow speed, trajectory, and penetration must be fine-tuned for a clean kill. Wounding an animal capable of flattening you to a pancake or shredding you to pieces is a definite reality if you go into that scenario unprepared.
Hunting in different parts of South Africa for two weeks with Mike Birch and Hunt the Sun was an incredible experience. It also was one having a steep learning curve. It would be safe to say that there is a general distrust in archery gear, especially crossbows, in some regions. Where licenses and permits are required, an application to hunt with a crossbow must be completed. The application will ask about your history, knowledge, and experience with the equipment you hope to use on the hunt. Specific arrow weights and kinetic energy are requirements. Anyone thinking of hunting dangerous game with a crossbow needs to start preparing for this long before reaching the Dark Continent.
For your convenience, and if you’re pursuing the methods used by Brad Fenson – the gear used in this story is listed here:
- TenPoint Flatline 460
- SEVR Titanium 1.5 100-grain, Titanium 2.0 100-grain, and Robusto 2.0 150-grain
- LaCrosse Ursa MS boots
- Sitka Territory Shorts, Ascent Shirt, and Core Lightweight Crew Short Sleeve and Long Sleeve Shirts
- ALPS Bino Harness X
- Buck Knives Alpha Hunter
- Swarovski 10×42 EL Range Rangefinder Binocular
I was pre-warned that my arrows would have to be 700 grains with all components, and that the kinetic energy would need a minimum of 80 foot-pounds of kinetic energy by law. Here is the table our outfitter supplied for guiding hunting in Africa with archery equipment.
|SPECIES||Suggested draw weight of bow (in pounds)||Minimum kinetic energy (foot-pounds) required for arrow and broadhead combination||Minimum momentum (pounds sec) required for arrow and broadhead combination||Suggested minimum arrow weight in grains
|Game birds, hares, hyrax, common duiker, steenbok and klipspringer.||
|Medium game, common reedbuck, impala, nyala, bushbuck, baboon, warthog, bushpig.||
|Large game, including blue wildebeest, zebra, kudu, waterbuck, sable, tsessebe, eland, crocodile, roan||
|Elephant, hippo, rhino, lion and leopard||MAY NOT BE HUNTED WITH BOW AND ARROW
This was a lesson in penetration. My analogy is this: Throw a snowball against a wall and it will splatter. Have a professional pitcher launch a baseball at the same wall and it will leave a mark. Catapult a lead cannonball at the wall and it will blast straight through.
There are many considerations when building a heavy arrow. The extra weight is best up front or weight-forward. The art and science of adding weight to an arrow can be tricky. Too much weight at the point weakens the arrow’s spine in flight. Adding weight to the nock end stiffens the arrow spine. A good rule is to add arrow weight overall to increase the arrow’s momentum. Increased weight and momentum equal better penetration on the biggest of game animals.
The total weight of an arrow includes the shaft, nock, insert, vanes and field point or broadhead. The weight of a hunting arrow is listed on the packaging and includes grains per inch of shaft. To calculate the weight of your arrow, multiply the arrow length by the grains per inch. An example is a 22-inch arrow that weighs 13 grains per inch, calculated as 22 inches x 13 grains/inch = 286 grains. Don’t forget to add the weight of the nock, fletching, insert, any washers and point or broadhead. It is standard for the nock to weigh 15 grains, the fletch is 12 grains each for 36 grains total, the insert is 90 grains, and a field point is 100 grains. The calculation would look like this: 286 + 15 + 36 + 90 + 100 = 527 grains. It is not hard to tell that some work is involved in getting up to 700 grains as a minimum.
Start with components. Nocks and inserts can add weight and extra washers add more. Replace aluminum with brass. The weight gain comes in small increments but adds up in the end. As an avid archer, I had several arrows and diameters to make inserts. Cutting and weighing pieces of smaller-diameter arrows to fit into my crossbow arrow worked great. The pieces were glued to prevent the weight from shifting in flight. Lead shot was weighed and put into the arrow inserts, packed tight, and epoxied on the ends to hold everything in place.
The kinetic energy increases with the penetration when the weight of the projectile is increased and propelled by the energy of the crossbow. The speed of a crossbow will play into the equation. I still remember the day Excalibur Founder Bill Troubridge told me about the elephant he shot with a crossbow in 2006. Bill had worked on arrows for his Exomax crossbow with a 225-pound draw weight, shooting a standard hunting arrow at 350 fps. The crossbow was slow by today’s standards but shows what the weight of an arrow can achieve.
Bill constructed a double-walled carbon arrow with extra weight and brass inserts. The arrow was tipped with a 125-grain broadhead and a steel adapter to create a total mass weight of 900 grains. The arrow flew off the rail at 225 fps with 125 foot-pounds of energy. Bill was stealthy and brave, shooting a mature bull elephant at 18 yards. The arrow penetrated the vitals for a fatal heart shot and disappeared with the animal. The Exomax has recurved limbs, and another advantage of the heavy arrow was that it quieted the bow. The elephant did not react until the arrow penetrated. The slow and steady arrow speed with the heavy projectile was deadly on an animal weighing 7 tonnes.
Broadheads are important for arrow flight, cutting surface, and penetration. The 150-grain SEVR Robusto was an easy choice for adding weight. Another option was to use the 100-grain Titanium 1.5 with a smaller cutting diameter. Fewer blades mean less cutting and increased penetration. Some like only two-bladed broadheads but in my experience, they are hard to get a consistent flight with from a crossbow. I packed some fixed three-blade heads in case they were needed, but I planned to try out my theories and heavy arrows on the smaller game before moving to the big stuff.
Warm Up: Plains Game
The first morning in the blind was exciting, with a mature blue wildebeest bull showing up minutes after we arrived. I had to scramble to get set up for a shot and not make any noise. The old bull was cautious and took its time before committing to the water hole. Eventually, the bull provided a broadside shot at 26 yards. I was using the SEVR Titanium 1.5 on a beefy arrow, and it blew through both shoulder blades and exited before the bull could flinch. The performance was outstanding, and the diminutive broadhead provided huge results.
I followed up the wildebeest with a beautiful mature impala ram. A herd of impala worked into the watering hole, and the ram trailed his harem. There were a lot of eyes and ears to consider. My biggest concern was Mike telling me that impala are famous for jumping the string and are considered spring loaded. They have a ninja-like ability to duck or swerve out of an arrow’s path at the first sound of a spring being released. Getting a clear shot with the ewes milling in the background was challenging. The only shot I had was a frontal, slightly quartering toward me. I lined up the impala with the Burris Oracle X rangefinding scope and placed the aiming point in the ram’s shoulder. The long-horned impala jumped eight feet straight into the air, but only after the arrow had passed through its entire body length. The broadhead drove through the shoulder blade and exited in the flank in front of the hind leg. The penetration was impressive, and what astounded me even more was when we found the arrow 70 yards beyond where the ram was standing.
I discussed the performance with Birch, who said we were ready to hunt a cape buffalo cow. My safari was getting down to the wire, and we had one full day to try and make it happen.
Build It and They Will Fall
Kinetic energy is the oomph or energy an object, like an arrow, has owing to its motion. Kinetic energy (KE) equals half of an object’s mass multiplied by the velocity squared. An arrow weighing 370 grains was chronographed at 430 fps, generating kinetic energy of 205 Joules. The heavyweight arrow at 682 grains that I made shot 50 fps slower at 380 fps, producing 296.4 Joules. I could generate even more KE by using my TenPoint Nitro 505, which would increase the speed in the equation, but it was not needed.
The hunt for an old cape buffalo cow started early in the morning. We walked the hills covered in thornbush and cactus until we cut the tracks of a small herd. Albert, our tracker, has incredible skills and followed the tracks I had trouble seeing. The buffalo were on the move, and we had trouble catching up to them. Eventually, the tracks got fresh, and before we could formulate a plan, the brush exploded about 40 yards downwind. The buffalo had button hooked their trail and smelled us coming. Thundering hooves and guttural bawling had me at full attention. Seconds later, everything fell silent.
We tracked the buffalo and got close on two occasions, but they were not having anything to do with the smell of people. Late in the afternoon, we finally closed the distance. The herd was annoyed and stood their ground, not wanting to get pushed out of the shady cover. We spotted the old cow we were after, but the closest we could get was 55 yards. I knew the distance was too great for the archery equipment, and when we tried to get closer, a big bull stepped out and started pawing the ground. Mike thought it was best to back out, as the bull was ready for a fight, and we did not want to push the situation and have to defend ourselves.
We came back to the buffalo the following afternoon and found another cow beyond breeding age. We were close enough to smell them at times and caught black moving through the brush, but never caught up with the herd to get within range.
I’ll Be Back
Cape buffalo are huge animals, and their anatomy has ribs that overlap like a shield that is hard to penetrate. I was convinced that my crossbow, arrow and broadhead were up for the challenge, and Mike concurred.
There will be a next time, but the learning curve will be reduced then and the equipment will be ready to go instead of having to prove anything to me or others. The information learned will be valuable for hunting any big game in North America. Making arrows and playing with weight have advantages that far outweigh lightning speed. The next time I’m hunting Whitetails on a silent evening with zero wind, a heavy arrow will reduce the noise of my bow to prevent a buck from jumping the string. A beefy broadhead and arrow will work perfectly for moose or elk in thick timber, where the biggest challenge is finding an opening to shoot through. Any long-range plans will include smaller cutting-diameter broadheads to reduce the energy required for penetration. My Africa “dangerous game school” provided the insight to help me make informed decisions for any archery hunt. The more time spent tinkering and experimenting with equipment, the better off any bowman is in the field.
I cannot wait to return to the trail of a cape buffalo with my crossbow. I shot a bull with my rifle to understand its size, bone structure and what I faced with a stick and string. Knowing my opponent was critical to take the final step and hunt. I will be ready, I will wait for the perfect shot, and I will enjoy another meal of cape buffalo tenderloin cooked over an African hardwood fire.