To the locals, they are little more than a striped donkey, but for me the zebra are beautiful animals. I think they make one of the best pedestal mounts of all the plains game. I have hunted both species on several occasions and have come away with a lot of respect for this cunning animal.
I consider the zebra to be one of the most difficult animals to take with bow and arrow. Their sense of smell is right up there with any of the plains game and their hearing and eyesight are phenomenal. Couple all of this with the fact that they usually water at night and even then, not with regularity. When they do come to water holes during daylight hours, they usually come running in when other species are watering, providing them cover and early warning systems. They come to water very nervous and seem to be constantly moving. They drink quickly and run away as fast as they appeared.
This pretty much sums up my appraisal of bowhunting zebra: they are a tough animal to take with a bow. Perhaps I’ve just been unlucky or hunted them in the wrong places at the wrong time, but I’ve hunted them in Namibia, Zimbabwe, and all over South Africa with the same results. I have taken three females of the species with a bow, but have yet to anchor a stallion. It may never happen, but I will die trying!
My first experience hunting zebra came in Zimbabwe where I was to hunt leopard over bait. I had heard that zebra was a preferred table fare for leopard and I wanted every advantage I could get. After five days without even getting close enough for a decent bow shot (less than 35 meters), I gave up and took a warthog for bait. I probably should have asked my professional hunter companion to pop one with a rifle so I could get on with the leopard hunt, but I think that killing “bait” animals is all part to the hunt and something that should add to the total experience of a leopard hunt.
Stalking zebra has to be one of the most difficult ways to take one with bow and arrow. Consequently, it must be the most rewarding. I say “must be” because I have not yet been successful with stalking. This is probably because my stalking capabilities are woefully inferior to any local tracker. If the terrain lends itself to stalking, this has to be the ultimate achievement for a bowhunter. It is also helpful to stalk them early in the season, when leaves are still on the trees and brush. At least the foliage will conceal your approach for most of the way.
Probably the best way to take a zebra with a bow is from a pit blind. Two of my zebra kills have been from a pit. Tree blinds are also successful but movement is more difficult to conceal, and probably more importantly the angle of the arrow flight is not conducive to maximum penetration and vital organ shots. When shooting from a pit blind, the angle of the shot is “up” and the rib bones are more thin and soft at the lower part of the animal.
I did take my last zebra from ambush, which was a fun way to hunt. By observing spore, we determined that a specific herd of zebra used the same passage to and from water. This was a natural funnel with thick thorn bushes protecting both sides. Rather than dig a pit blind (which is time-consuming and hard work), I decided to try a ghillie suit made by Rancho Safari of Ramona, California. I have used this camouflage garment successfully in North America for pronghorn antelope, deer, and elk and knew it worked very well to conceal a bow hunter in open spaces.
I simply found a good background of thorn bush and sat on a three-legged stool with a swivel seat, allowing the ghillie suit to drape over my legs and the stool like a full-length dress. I mention this stool because it has been a very important part of my hunting gear when using the suit. Besides the obvious comfort provided by sitting on a stool rather than on your knees, this stool allows me to turn and shift positions without making noise or showing any quick, awkward movements that are a dead give away to all game animals.
I purchased this collapsible stool in America at Cabela’s for $50 US. It is expensive but weighs only five pounds and the legs telescope in for easy carrying. The seat has a fiber bushing that allows for noise-free movement. I’m a real believer in the combination of this stool and the ghillie suit. I will mention that this suit is not something you would want to walk in for any distance–it becomes very hot and it catches on every thorn you walk by.
With this combination of equipment I was able to situate myself a mere 15 meters from where I suspected the herd of zebra to cross. I had a tracker make a big circle, upwind from where we had earlier spotted the zebra herd. Within 15 minutes, I could hear the thundering of hooves coming my way.
Because the gap I had chosen for a shooting lane was quite narrow, the zebra had to pass in single file. The first three animals came by on a run so I never had a chance to take a shot. However, the good news was that they did not pay any attention to my position as they passed. The next zebra came by at a slow walk and I placed a wooden arrow just behind the leg crease as it extended its leg for the next step.
I’m embarrassed to say that I had no idea if it was a stallion or a female (to me, the sex of a zebra is difficult to determine unless both sexes are standing next to each other). Once the arrow had stuck, it produced a panic alert to the rest of the herd and five more came flying by at Mach 1, leaving me in a cloud of dust. However, I was able to determine that the last animal in the group was obviously a stallion. His thick neck and jughead made him stand out. I kicked myself for not waiting for the obvious male to present a shot, but I was pleased to have taken any zebra with a bow under those conditions. It was very exciting!
If the truth be known, I just didn’t have the patience to wait for the “trophy animal.” I just took the first good shot opportunity I had. Perhaps on a future zebra hunt I can put it all together and finally anchor a stallion. Meanwhile, the female zebra graces a favorable spot in my trophy room. She had made it only 60 meters before piling up with a slice through the heart. Once in a while everything works the way it should!
Images courtesy Adventurous Bowhunter