A trio of Minoters may have a hard time agreeing on the words to properly describe their recent bowhunting trip to South Africa. However, Jeff Jacob, Donnie Scofield and Roger Coleman all agree it was the trip of a lifetime. The veteran bowhunters spent 10 days in August on the Dark Continent.
"The trip was everything I dreamed of and 30 times more," said Jacob while viewing videos of his hunt on a laptop computer. "It was surreal, just surreal."
Scofield, a long-time bowhunting partner of Jacob, has taken numerous trophy animals with bow and arrow from Alaska to Texas, but he rates his South African experience as one of his best hunts ever.
Warthogs rank among the most unusual appearing animals to be found anywhere. Donnie Scofield, Minot, took this large warthog recently in South Africa.
"It's got to be right at the top," said Scofield. "In Alaska you are talking about one animal in a 14-day hunt. In South Africa it was eight animals in a 10-day hunt."
Coleman agreed, calling the experience "the trip of a lifetime."
Planning for the trip began nearly two years before departure. It was attending a Pope and Young convention in Rochester, Minn., that really convinced the hunters to get serious about hunting on another continent. They made the decision to book a hunt and then spent several months preparing and anticipating what might happen.
"I couldn't believe it was real even after the first three animals," said Jacob. "Until I was five or six days into the hunt I couldn't believe it was happening. When I shot a kudu it still wasn't real because I'd waited 20 years to shoot one and spent the last two years talking about it. It was just unbelievable. After all the years of hunting North American game, it was huge."
A fourth member of the hunting party was former Minot resident Dan Reeve. Reeve moved from Minot to Flagstaff, Ariz., after agreeing to join the hunt. He met up with the three Minot men at Frankfurt, Germany, en route to South Africa.
The trip was not without a few anxious moments when the group discovered their bows and arrows didn't arrive as planned in Frankfurt. After a considerable amount of time, during which it became evident that their gear may not have made the trip, the equipment was discovered sitting against a wall some distance away from the regular luggage area.
A second equipment glitch occurred when the men reached Johannesburg, South Africa and some of the bow cases were missing once again. The gear was recovered by a representative of the group's South African outfitter at the local police station, putting an end to what could have been a miserable start to an outstanding hunt.
The first day was devoted to a vehicle tour of the hunting area, a sort of "get acquainted" session designed to familiarize the hunters with the terrain and the guides with the hunters. On day two the hunters were treated to a sizable breakfast before heading out to their chosen blinds.
"We were in the blinds about 8:30 in the morning, by waterholes," said Jacob. "I'd say 80, maybe 85 percent of the time you had an animal in front of you."
The number of animal visits to the waterholes diminished considerably by mid-afternoon. Scofield explained the reason why.
"That's when the predators start hunting the waterholes," said Scofield. "The last part of the day is really slow."
The unique hunting experienced shared by the men was enhanced by the time spent in the blinds. Not only did they have many opportunities to harvest game, they also got to spend many hours observing wildlife they'd never seen before.
"By far, the most entertaining is the warthog," said Jacob. "Watching those guys is what keeps the day going. They just don't care."
Coleman said some of his most memorable moments were provided by warthogs, big and small.
"They've got their own personalities. I had warthogs walk in, take a drink of water and just flop down and take a nap," said Coleman with a shake of his head. "I saw one just lay his head on a rock and go to sleep. Some of the little ones would slip into the waterhole and struggle to get out. It was something to see."
"Compared to hunting feral hogs or javelina in Texas, well, you see one of these and you see all that ivory. It's a whole different feeling facing those teeth," said Scofield.
Scofield harvested a big warthog, but ranked two other animals as high on his list - the gemsbuck and red hartebeast.
"I know the kudu are more sought after, but I just think gemsbuck are so unique and beautiful," explained Scofield. "The red hartebeast is as unique as the continent. That's why I really wanted to get him. He's just so different from anything."
Each of the hunters was assigned a "PH," or professional hunter. They were also accompanied by trackers, professionals who are relentless in their pursuit of wounded game.
"You always hear stories about how they can track over there, they can. They are unbelievable," said Scofield. "They see a track and they memorize it. A hoof print can get mixed in with a whole herd and they'd find it coming out on the other side, the exact animal."
Coleman learned that lesson firsthand, shortly after his arrow was placed just a bit low on a wildebeast. The trackers pursued the animal for four miles through brush and dust before finding it for Coleman. Jacob had a similar experience that left him in awe over the ability of the trackers.
"They tracked a warthog of mine for 3 1/2 miles. For two miles of it there was no blood and they were still following the right track. If you hit an animal, those guys would find it," said Jacob.
The professional hunters, or guides, accompanied the men. One of their excellent abilities was the determination of trophy-sized animals. According to Coleman they could determine some animal's horns within one or two inches and had a very keen eye for symmetry and mass.
"For the most part they knew those horns down to the inch," said Coleman. "That's big because a 25-inch impala compares to a 200-score whitetail."
With the help of their professional hunters, each of the men were able to harvest kudu with horns longer than 50 inches, the mark considered trophy class. The bows, arrows and broadheads they used were basically the same as they use for other game such as deer and elk. While they saw cape buffalo several times, they did not have any plans or equipment to attempt to harvest one.
Although South Africa has its share of dangerous snakes, that was not a problem because August is winter in that region of the world. With evening temperatures dipping into the 30s, snakes remain in hibernation. However, there were still other predators that could not be overlooked.
"We had leopards and cheetahs roam through, but no lions. It gives you a different feeling knowing they are there," explained Scofield. "We interrupted a leopard kill one day. We saw the drag marks across the road. He had carried an impala to the base of a tree. It was unbelievable to see something like that."
Back home in Minot the men face another unknown, what to do with their animal mounts. It will take considerable space to display some of the unique trophies. That challenge can be overcome, however, without worrying about a hidden predator that might be watching every move.