Quest for the Black Giraffe
It is a fact that as a giraffe bull ages he usually darkens from his younger honey-brown color. Many older bulls that I have seen generally become darker brown. Occasionally, a very old bull will become so dark he may be referred to as black.
While bowhunting with Johnny Vivier Safaris for a male lion two years ago I heard of a rare old giraffe bull that had turned literally black. The trophy quality of such an animal is considerable and any one of hundreds of serious African hunters would jump at the opportunity just to hunt such an animal. Well, that’s exactly what I did when Johnny advised that the old bull was still alive and I could bowhunt him in my upcoming trip to South Africa with filming partner and TV producer Bob Richardson as we planned to hunt for ScentBlocker Most Wanted TV. This trip would be extra special for me as my wife Peg and twin daughters Kimberly and Kelly planned to experience Africa for themselves.
I believe an old giraffe bull is often overlooked as one Africa’s premier trophies. With one-inch-thick skin, weighing nearly two tons, reaching a total height of 22′ and eyesight like a hawk; this is a serious challenge for any hunter. Truly a nightmare for a bowhunter trying to slip within bow range, it’s easy to realize the advantage a large giraffe bull has with his light-tower view of everything around him!
This particular bull had become belligerent and aggressive in his old age. Last year while hunting zebra and black wildebeest we happened onto him. The old bull wasn’t having any of it and purposely came after us! We ran, piled into the back of the Rover, and took off. As we drove off I watched him following in the distance. That’s when I made my plan how I would bow-shoot him the following year; if I ever got the chance.
My plan was to use his aggressive nature to my advantage. Hoping that, if we could ever find him, he would come charging towards me, and my cameraman. If calculated well, his aggressive charge would provide a very close frontal shot to pound my heavy arrow into his muscular chest, through his heart.
For a bowhunter, a text-book broadside shot is difficult and risky as a giraffe’s vitals lay up high in the chest and are well- protected by overlapping ribs, heavy shoulder bones, and thick hide. I would hope for a charge and try for a preferred frontal shot. Well, that was the plan.
Bob and I would be hunting the famed Linksfontein camp, which is dedicated to bowhunting only and boasts nearly thirty different game species to hunt. While I was focused on hunting the black giraffe bull Bob was planning to fill out his plains game wish list.
The task of bow-shooting a huge giraffe bull requires some heavy artillery! I was using my Cape Buffalo rig- a Mathews 82lb MR5 launching a 760 grain Rage Hypodermic-tipped missile at 268 FPS, generating a bone-crushing 120 foot pounds of kinetic energy!!! This is a very powerful set-up well-capable of taking any animal on the planet!
As I am writing this, I am aboard a flight direct to Johannesburg, South Africa. It’s a fifteen hour flight and several people in our group of twelve are dreading it. But as I’ve learned from experience….you can’t have a big adventure with a small flight!
Quest for the Black Giraffe
Funny how everyone got off the plane in Johannesburg basically saying the same thing…”That wasn’t bad at all, I was expecting that long flight to be an ordeal and it went great!” What didn’t get off the plane was Bob’s bow and some luggage.
We stayed overnight in Johannesburg at the spectacular African Sky Guesthouse located within a quick drive from the airport. We got a much-appreciated shower, had a great dinner together, and then spent the evening around the fire telling stories and laughing with each other as we anticipated getting to camp the next morning.
A short flight to Kimberley concluded with Johnny Vivier’s smiling face waiting to greet us. We loaded all of our gear into the range rovers and took off for camp. We arrived at the Linksfontien camp in plenty of time to shoot our bows and go for a drive around some of the huge ranch. Of course, I wanted to look for the old black giraffe. Bob was in a lurch as his bow and luggage would not catch up with him until the next day, so he would officially be scouting for the first day, not bowhunting.
During our drive we saw the bounty of this awesome hunting area; many beautiful animals including black wildebeest, kudu, gemsbok, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, zebra, tiny steenboks, and huge eland. Springbucks in all four of the different color variations seemed to be everywhere. There were nyala and even the prized sable hiding in the dark shadows of this hunting mecca.
Finally, the neck of a giraffe above the trees! Then another, and another, suddenly, there he was towering above the rest of the giraffes “the Black!!!” He was still alive and I studied him through binoculars, confirming he indeed was the darkest giraffe I had ever seen. He was definitely my “Most Wanted!”
The next morning we rolled out of camp, the temperature was cold on the back of the rover but I hardly noticed as I was focused on that black giraffe bull. I was hunting with Johnny Vivier, a renowned African PH and his famously smooth-worn old Ruger .458 which he carried with him everywhere. Also, with me was my wife Peg and daughters Kimberley and Kelly. They perhaps were as excited as me!
We drove several miles into the area where we had seen the black giraffe bull the evening before. The morning found us spotting and glassing without a sign of any giraffe anywhere.
10 hours later, as the African sun dipped low behind the skyline we headed back to camp. We had seen lots of incredible animals during the day but not a sign of the old black bull.
The lodge was warm and welcome after a long day afield and my family was worn out, chilled, and hungry. A blazing fireplace, a 5-star class dinner, and a soft bed solved all the problems in our world.
Early the next morning we were off again, spotting and glassing over miles and miles of vast African bush. Then finally….far in the distance we spotted the unmistakable shape of a giraffe neck protruding above the trees. We bumped along the rough road in the rover to get closer; stopping about a half mile away to glass them carefully. We could see more and more giraffes, perhaps a dozen young males, females, and two yearlings. It was behind this group we finally spotted the black bull staring intently at us. He towered above all others and even at a distance his ebony spots were rich and distinctive. In the world of giraffes he was absolutely unique and magnificent!
Johnny set the plan of attack in motion as we left the rover at a brisk pace thru the blackthorn trees, olive brush, and tall grass. We would go straight at them expecting the belligerent and aggressive old black bull to come charging at us when we got too close for comfort. As logic would suggest, there is no such thing as sneaking up on a herd of long-necked giraffes as they all intently watched every step we took.
At about 200 or 300 yards the herd began to turn and walk away from us. The black bull just stood there staring, maybe glaring, at us. We crept closer, expecting him to come at us.
I had rehearsed this moment in my mind a thousand times. I planned to take a frontal shot directly into his heart as he approached us. If he would come, how close and how dangerous the situation might become was the exciting unknown.
At about 80 yards the bull abruptly turned from us, and with a rocking lope, followed the herd. I couldn’t believe it! All of us just assumed he would come after us as he had so many other times before. For whatever reason, perhaps just animal instinct, he turned away.
Imagine being on foot, in the thick African bush, trying to keep up with loping giraffes! Those ten-foot-long legs gobble up miles seemingly without effort!
The cool, windy afternoon found us many miles from our truck; and only 62 yards from the giant black bull. We had dogged him all day as he continued to stay close to the large group, turning and loping off every time we came closer than 80 yards or so. This time he stood facing us, almost looking like he was about to revert to his normal bad-boy behavior and give us a charge. Johnny and I eased out around the bush where we were hiding. I confirmed the range at 62 yards…much further than I ever hoped to be shooting at this big giraffe bull. I looked to Johnny for confirmation as he whispered, “Scotty, I know you can make the shot, I’ve seen you do it before….just kill him!” At full draw, my 60-yard sight pin hovered slightly above the vulnerable “soft spot” at the base of his long black neck where the heart is located. The wind was stiff, blowing right to left at perhaps 15-20 mph….and then, as is always the case when I’m shooting a high-excitement, high-stress shot, I went into a mental auto-pilot of slow-motion….the sight pin was rock solid, I steadily applied back tension until my hair-triggered release broke clean…I watched the heavy arrow arch towards the giant. He stood tall and motionless as the arrow drove deep into his massive black chest.
“You got him Scotty!!!!” Johnny hissed as the bull lurched back, wheeled and bolted…. blood spurted from the gaping entry hole. My shot was nearly perfect but for a couple inches of wind drift to the left.
We quickly discussed the shot, reviewed it on the video camera and determined the arrow could have caught the right side of the heart and lung for sure. The old “Black” was in serious trouble as he disappeared into the tall, thick trees.
As any bowhunter knows, those minutes we wait before we take up the track are all-important but that 30 minutes seemed like 3 hours! I was anxious to see what had happened! We trotted after him on a heavy blood trail with high spirits. Soon we found him ahead, down, and finished.
I’ve never approached a giant black giraffe fallen to my arrow, but it was truly a reverent experience. I possess a deep and sacred appreciation for God’s wondrous creation which He appointed to mankind, coupled with the huge privilege to hunt these exotic animals. Those emotional moments there, forged a vivid memory that I will never forget.
Johnny’s old worn 458 leaning against the regal beast aside of my own bow with one bloodied arrow in its quiver is also an image burned into my memory forever.
But what, perhaps, was most memorable of all, as the rover responded to our radio call and bounced through the brush close to us, my wife Peg and my daughters Kim and Kelly, ran up to witness the drama. Both excited and teary-eyed to see the fallen black monarch, Peg squeezed me and whispered, “I’m so proud of you!”
Friends, that is truly an African bowhunting experience at its very finest!