We knew the big Alaskan Peninsula brown bear was somewhere on the side of this alder-covered hill guarding its kill. Now, in the fall of 2011, after four years of waiting, a journey of thousands of miles, and a grueling trek through the rain-drenched Alaska wilderness, my quest to kill a big brownie with my crossbow was coming to a climax!
The rain had slacked off a bit but a crossing wind was blowing strongly. We carefully worked our way towards the bear. From less than 25 yards of him, we could see the whole big bruin lying broadside on top of the mound it had created to cover a dead moose.
My guide Ben leaned over to me and whispered through the howling wind.
“Wait,” he said.
We needed to make sure this was the monster bear we had glassed from two miles away. The bear’s position made it impossible to be sure. After all of our efforts, I didn’t want to shoot a smaller bear.
Suddenly the bear’s head went up and it jumped to its feet, making one quick circle before locking eyes with me. As the huge animal turned to face us, I raised my Excalibur Exomax crossbow, and just as I put the stock to my shoulder, Ben said, “It’s a big one! Shoot!”
* * *
Hunting dangerous game with a crossbow is a bit like the first bottle of beer I snuck from my dad’s stash when I was a kid. At the first sip I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but after a while, it tasted pretty good and eventually I got to like it a lot.
Since I started hunting these kinds of critters — the ones that can hunt you back — dangerous game hunting has become a sort of an obsession of mine.
Being the owner of a crossbow manufacturing business has its benefits, and for me a big plus is the opportunity to travel to distant lands and hunt some exotic species with my crossbow.
A decade and a half ago I decided that I’d like to try something different. I’d been to Africa for plains game, but I wanted to try hunting something really tough and nasty with my crossbow.
When the opportunity came along to hunt Cape buffalo in South Africa, it seemed a perfect choice to test both my equipment and my hunting skills.
I spent my time before this hunt preparing by getting heavy arrows, practicing with them, and studying buffalo anatomy.
The hunt sounded easy, just sneak up on a bull buffalo and drift an arrow through his lungs. But after making dozens of failed stalks on that hunt, I can assure you that Cape buffalo are anything but stupid. They have excellent eyes, far better than whitetails, and getting within bow range of a cagey old bull is a tough proposition.
We finally decided that a less energetic approach was in order. We set up a blind downwind of a water hole that was being visited by a small herd on a daily basis. When the herd arrived, the cows drank first, virtually surrounding our flimsy makeshift blind.
I was “in the zone.” My senses were crystal clear. Time had slowed down. I was breathless with excitement by the time a bull finally gave me an opportunity to shoot.
At 35 yards the 700-grain arrow slammed into the seam of the big bull’s shoulder with a tremendous “whack” and slid forward to stop against the ribs on the far side.
We found the bull piled up a few hundred yards away, and I was already pretty much addicted to the amazing adrenaline rush that comes from hunting really tough and deadly game.
A few years later I still hadn’t forgotten the excitement of that hunt when a new brainstorm started me down the same road again. After repeatedly hearing the fallacy about crossbows not having enough power to hunt really big game, I decided to put the question to rest once and for all. The story went that a crossbow arrow was smaller than an arrow from a compound bow, and therefore wouldn’t penetrate well enough to effectively hunt anything larger than a deer. I figured that if I could kill a bull elephant with an off-the-shelf hunting crossbow, the myth would die, at least until something bigger than an elephant comes along! It was a perfect excuse to immerse myself into the thrill of dangerous game hunting again, and in a very big way.
The elephant hunt was arranged to occur along the pristine shores of Lake Kariba in southern Africa. Once again, I diligently studied the elephant’s specialized anatomy and consulted with other bowhunters who had hunted them. I also spent hours building heavy arrows and practicing to guarantee penetration on these huge, thick-skinned animals.
In Africa, we approached and sorted through dozens of pachyderms every day, but none were in the class that I wanted.
Then, on Day 9, we found it. A big old bull fed along a bay. We stalked to within 20 yards downwind of the brute, and I launched a 900-grain arrow into his vitals. The arrow struck the bull just back of the shoulder and quartered towards its leg on the far side, hitting the stout leg bone so hard that it bent the broadhead!