On the fifth day of Len Malmquist’s bow hunting expedition in South Africa, he and his guide were driving back to camp with a fresh kill.
Along the orange road were bushes thick with thorns because everything in Africa, Malmquist said, has thorns on it. From one of these thorns, hung a small bird.
He was stuck in the neck.
“And he was just (barely) moving so we could tell he was still alive,” Malmquist said. “Right alongside the road.”
So they stopped and backed up. The guide grabbed the bird, and Malmquist, with his Leatherman, snipped it from the branch. But the bird was too weak to fly, and the guide said they couldn’t leave it for the jackals.
“So he held it underneath his arm like a dog and drove the Toyota Land Cruiser back to camp,” he said.
Back in camp, they placed the little bird in a small dog kennel and fed it for three days. On the fourth day, it flew.
“We had him saved,” he said. “And it was a really pretty bird.”
Back home in Kenai the 60-year-old Malmquist is retired. He’s been that way for a decade now. Before retirement he was chief of Central Emergency Services, but now he has more time to shoot 200 arrows a week.
“Lots and lots of practice,” he said, and he needs it to put five-shot groupings into apple-sized targets at 60 yards. He’s also the president of the Kenai Peninsula Archers Club, where he teaches bow hunter education classes for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. And, he has a woodshop.
When Malmquist left in June for his two-week African expedition, he killed nine animals. But between hunts, he sometimes went long periods of time without firing his bow, and that was all right with him. It wasn’t all about that. For him, the culture was an entirely different game, and one he didn’t need his bow for.
Whenever you leave the United States, he said, “you leave our style of living all behind.”
The winters, he said, are as temperate as our summers — about 45 in the morning and 75 in the afternoon, even 84 one day.
“They were all running around in quilted shirts and hats and wool caps and they were freezing to death,” he said about a colder day, “and I was running around in a tee shirt – ‘this was great.’”
He said they even humored him with a heater in his room. “Forty-one in the room,” he said. “I don’t know if I was worried about that.”
But what really grabbed him was the quality of life shadowed from the cities.
“It looks like any city, but there are real destitute areas,” he said. “There’s definitely have and have-nots in the country there.”
On day two, three days before rescuing the little bird, Malmquist went all day without seeing a single animal large enough to shoot (and he counted 249 animals). He “went nuts,” though, with his camera.
“I got video,” he said, “and I’ve got still pictures up the yin-yang.”
When Malmquist wasn’t firing his camera, when there was game to take with his bow, he shot with a discerning eye — an ethical detail he learned as a kid.
It started when his father bought him a BB gun. He was just a kid; he was curious. So he shot a robin. But his father was not pleased, and he explained that killing anything for sport is wrong. So, to reinforce the lesson, he made his son eat it.
Now he has 47 years of hunting experience, 18 exclusively with a bow, and ever since that robin, he’s been much more critical of what and how he shoots. He said a bow allows him to do that.
“You see, a bullet kills with shock, and a bow and arrow kills by bleeding,” he said. “A lot of people think hunting with a bow and arrow is cruel.”
But it really isn’t, he said. When he hits an animal, they jump into the air as if they’ve been stung by a bee. For instance, an elk he killed in Colorado jumped in the air, continued grazing, jolted three steps, then fell over, dead.
The same is true for the African animals; just they’re a little more determined. The impala can cover 45 yards before their pipes run dry.
The bigger animals?
“The bigger animals were 80 to 120 yards before they keeled over dead ... with no heart,” he said. “You try running 100 yards with no heart. I don’t know how they do it.”
When the guides gutted his gemsbok – one of the larger, 600-pound animals – its heart was split in fourths. “And it went 129 yards,” he said.
That gemsbok was one of the nine animals Malmquist had on his list. Number one on his list was a kudu.
“Part of the reason is because of the curly horns,” he said. “Once I got there, I found out – it’s really interesting – is if you take this curly horn and you stand it up sideways and you look down it, it looks like a coil, and dead center in the middle of the coil is the eyeball. God made it so that when they look up, they can see where their horns are in the trees and stuff.”
Number two on his list was a wart hog, “a super ugly animal.” He wanted to shoot one because their skulls are so oddly shaped, and when you bleach it, he said they make for quite an impressive mount. He also said they tasted almost like pork.
When Malmquist first thought of a hunting expedition to Africa a year ago, he was taking a class about the logistics on booking a hunting trip to Texas. In class, someone inquired about booking a trip elsewhere, perhaps outside the country, maybe Argentina or New Zealand or Africa.
So he did some more research. He went to a Safari Club International conference in Las Vegas and found some information. He spoke to locals and was surprised at how many Alaskans had hunted in Africa. He poured over websites and refined his list of outfitters for two and a half months.
Trips he’s done in the States have cost up to $11,000. Africa, he later found out, would cost nearly half that and yield five times the game.
“So I thought, ‘That’s pretty cool,’” he said, “and the more I looked into it, the more excited I got because it was some place I wanted to go, and it was cheaper than I thought.”
But Africa presented a unique issue for Malmquist — he couldn’t bring back his kill, and ever since the BB gun incident, that was a major stipulation of his hunting.
Also, if he couldn’t eat his game, he didn’t want to kill it just for trophies.
“I’ve been lucky enough to get a few animals that were nice and big that made the record book,” he said, “but that wasn’t what I was starting out to do.”
However, Bushman’s Safari, the outfitter he chose, resolved all his ethical concerns. They told him none of the animal is wasted.
The meat he killed was cooked and fed to him and the rest of the camp, while the rest was donated to local villagers. Even the intestines were cared away on a tarp.
“They do something with them – I’m not sure what – but they don’t even waste that,” he said.
And the guides were all native trackers. He said they had supernatural abilities.
“It would be like going down to the beach – the mouth of the Kenai – in the sand and running 10,000 animals across the beach, and they can walk up and tell you which animal made which track and which one is yours and follow it until they find the first sign of blood,” he said.
Before he flew out, he received advice from a few people. One person told him not to bother bringing wardrobes of clothing because the outfitter does your clothing daily for you. Another person warned him about the 36-hour flight.
But there was one who warned him specifically about Africa. That person told him that once he’s back home, after the expedition, he’ll want to go back.
“It was a trip of a lifetime,” Malmquist said.
Dan Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org