Bowhunting the Blue Bull

Thanks to relationships developed through, I have been fortunate enough to have an opportunity to hunt Nilgai antelope on three previous occasions before my hunt this past weekend.  On each of the previous trips, including one trip with Four Arrows outfitters on the King Ranch in 1997  back when was still only a conceptual idea that existed only in the back of Casey and my collective brains, I was unable to get a shot at the elusive “Blue Bull.”  I had, however, determined that, contrary to popular opinion, my best strategy for connecting might be to still hunt and stalk rather than sitting in a stand waiting for them to come to me.  After all, I had seen only one small group of Nilgai, from a considerable distance, while hunting from a stand on my previous hunts, yet had seen quite a few while walking.   

I made my discovery almost by accident, having left my release at camp on my first morning hunt in September.  I walked back to camp, seeing one Nilgai cow on my way, and then several more on my return to the stand.  I was even able to stalk to within 60 yards of a cow before getting busted by the sharp eyes of the magnificent critter. 

 I decided my strategy for the weekend hunt would be to follow my same path from camp on the first morning, easing my way along the fence until I reached the tripod stand, where I would sit for awhile before making the return trip, still hunting my way back.  I knew the key to successfully beating the razor sharp senses of these warry animals (I once heard someone liken the Nilgai to a whitetail with a turkey on its back!), would require spotting them before they spotted me, a task that had proven easier said than done on my previous hunts! 

With a solid plan in place, I loaded my fanny pack with the essentials for still hunting, while donning my backpack loaded with camera equipment including a tripod, head and camera arm, and started my walk along the fenceline.  I walked very slowly, taking time to inspect every clearing I came across, and looking for fresh sign on the ground.  As I approached a large, wide open field I spotted the form of a Nilgai cow about 200 yards away in the clearing!  I knelt on the ground, hidden by salt grass at the edge of the brush line, and reached for my camera to get some footage of the cow.  When I turned on the camera, all I could see on the LCD screen was constant flickering.  I inspected the camera, looking for any potential problem. Unfortunately, it appeared to be a significant problem that I would be unable to fix!  What a setback on a hunt of this magnitude! 

Without use of my camera, I decided to shed the heavy weight of the backpack since I obviously wouldn’t need the accessories.  I kept the camera attached to my fanny pack in the event that I discovered the problem, but turned my focus into formulating a strategy to get closer to the cow.  I figured I could navigate the 40 yards, or so, of salt grass that provided a buffer between the open field and the brush, but that still left 150 or more yards of open space between me and the cow.  I worked my way to the edge of the salt grass and hoped the cow would graze closer and present me with a shot opportunity. 

While I was watching, I spotted a huge, black form coming over a ridge another 200 yards on the other side of the cow.  It was a mature bull!  As he walked toward the cow, I once again tried to get my camera to film, thinking I might just catch them mating on camera!  Still no luck.  How frustrating!  The bull checked the cow, and then began grazing with her.  I watched for several more minutes, and then spotted a second form following a similar path as the first bull, and then a second coming from 200 yards to the left of the second bull!  What an incredible sight it was to see three mature bulls at one time!  The first bull spotted one of the other bulls, and even though they were still 150 yards or more away, the first bull was obviously less dominant and started running away from the area, which meant that he was running right toward me!  As he approached, the bull veered to my right, never getting within 70 yards, before entering the brush behind me.   

The second bull, in the meantime, worked his way to the cow and began following her as she walked to northward to my right.  The pair was now at least 300 yards from me, and the third bull was now entering the picture.  The second bull left the company of the cow and began walking toward the other bull.  Were they going to engage in a fight?!  I made one more unsuccessful attempt to record the episode with my camera, before determining that it was a futile attempt.  The bulls passed each other, posturing but never engaging, before the less dominant of the two relented and began walking toward me.   The dominant bull and the cow continued north before disappearing from the area, while the remaining bull continued to work his way directly to me!  As he closed to within 100 yards, I thought for sure the bull was going to walk right into range!  At 80 yards, however, he turned to my left and began grazing in the open field.  I continued to watch as the bull grazed to the south, then back to the north, and finally to the west, directly away from my position in the grass.   

As he walked farther away, I weighed my options and decided that I could either attempt to stalk from behind in hopes of getting close enough for a shot, or I could simply watch as the bull disappeared on the other side of the field, over 300 yards away.  Though I figured it to be a near impossible endeavor, attempting the stalk was my only option.  I had been watching the four different Nilgai for almost two hours, but now was no time to continue to be patient.  I decided to make something happen, even if that meant getting busted by the bull. 

Complicating the effort was a pair of whitetail bucks that had entered the field 100 yards to my right.  My fear was that I would spook the deer, who would in turn cause the bull to get skittish and flee.  I ducked low to the ground and quickly moved 20 yards into the field before dropping back to the ground in the knee-high grass.  With the bull still walking away, I cautiously but quickly worked my way behind him, never closing to less than 80 yards, but maintaining a distance around 100 yards.  The dry grass crunched under my feet, and I knew that getting to within shooting range would be quite a challenge.  I had set a 50 yard pin earlier in the morning, and felt like that would be my maximum range.   

At one point while I was moving through the brush, I saw the bull begin to raise his head, and I dropped quickly to the ground as he turned to look back.  He looked briefly at the two curious bucks, who had now stalked to within 30 yards of me as I followed the bull.  Confident that they posed no danger, the bull continued his stroll to the west.  When I was about 150 yards into my stalk, I noticed that the bull was heading toward a small ridge that ran southeast-northwest, and I knew that if the bull crossed the ridge, I would be concealed enough to have a fighting chance to close to within shooting range.  Things were beginning to fall into place perfectly, but I knew that things could change in a moment’s notice.  I decided that with the bull at 100 yards, I’d let him cross the ridge before continuing my stalk.  The bull did just as expected, so I quickly moved to the nearest edge of the ridge to the south, and then worked my way quietly to where the bull had crossed.  I peered slowly over the ridge, hoping to see the bull before he spotted me. Initially, I didn’t see anything as I scanned the other side, but then spotted a black figure in the brush right at a saddle in the ridge, only 35 yards away!  I quickly knelt down and reached for my rangefinder, then decided that he was close enough that I didn’t need to range him.  I drew back on the string and then rose slowly back to see the bull still in position, quartering sharply with his head behind a bush.  I decided to bracket the bull with my 30 yard and 50 yard pins above and below his last rib, and tripped the release!  I watched the white fletched Epsilon sail toward the bull and watched it slam just in front of his right flank, several inches left of where I had been aiming.  The bull ran to the west as I felt my heart sink knowing that I had paunch shot the bull.  I watched the bull gallop away, and noted that he didn’t act as if he knew he had even been hit.  I knelt to the ground as the bull circled and began to look back.  I hoped the bull would stop and look for awhile to let the arrow do its work, and didn’t want to risk the bull seeing me and spooking, causing it to run faster.  Indeed, the bull stopped and began looking for the source of danger.  I looked on, thinking that this was going to be a difficult tracking job, when suddenly, the bull dropped straight to the ground, feet flying into the air and then disappearing in the salt grass!  He was down!   

There’s absolutely no way I can describe what I felt at that moment!  I had just shot a Nilgai bull, and watched him go down!  I reached for my phone and called Mike Mireles to tell him the news.  He said he knew exactly where I was, and would be there after he finished changing the oil in his wife’s truck.  I then called Casey, who was still in a meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  He was scheduled to fly back during the afternoon, then would make the trip down to join us on the hunt!  I left a message on his voicemail telling him that I had shot a Nilgai and that he needed to skip the rest of his meetings. 

After waiting 10 minutes, and calling everybody on my phone list, I walked to the bull to inspect my prize.  What an incredible feeling to see walk up on him in the grass!  I had finally met one of my longest-standing bowhunting goals!  I called Jerry Gonzalez, who would also be joining us on the hunt later in the afternoon, to tell him the news.  Over the next 45 minutes while I waited for Mike, I called and shared my excitement with many of my friends, who sounded as enthused as I was!  I could not have been more excited about what had transpired over the previous two hours!  I reflected on the entire morning, and thanked God for the opportunity and for providing me with the delicacy of Nilgai steaks! 

Mike arrived and was as excited about my success as I was!  We celebrated with a beer, took some pictures, and then Mike made quick work of the field dressing chores (hey, I had no idea where to even start!)  He and I loaded the big bull onto the rack of the truck and transported it to the cooler, then spent the rest of the morning, and the rest of the trip, basking in the excitement of the morning!  As each of the other hunters returned to camp, I retold my story until they were probably sick of hearing it!  I spent the rest of the weekend as a camera man, with somebody else’s camera, of course, and drifting around on “Cloud 9” replaying the incredible hunt in my mind. As I reflect on the hunt, I realize how absolutely incredible the way things seemed to fall perfectly into place to allow me to get into position to make the shot.  I feel incredibly fortunate and blessed to have had the opportunity at such a unique hunt and am thankful that I was able to take advantage of the opportunity!

I count this hunt among my most gratifying and exciting accomplishments of my bowhunting career, and can’t begin to say how much I appreciate Mike Mireles for his friendship and his generosity for inviting me on multiple trips, and for working so hard to help me achieve a goal.  Mike is one of the most genuine people I know, and I always enjoy spending time with him.    

I also had the pleasure to spend the weekend with another fine collection of bowhunters and friends like Jerry Gonzalez, Breck Nolen, Bob Gilbert and Casey Morris, and the opportunity to meet accomplished bowhunters Rick Espino, Ken Witt and Jerry’s brother, Gonzalo and Mike’s friend, Joe, in addition to Mike’s neighbor, Manuel.   Each of those hunters had successful hunts of their own, and stories to share. Thanks guys for an awesome weekend!

Here's a photo to illustrate the size of this magnificent animal!