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HUNTING A DREAM | Sable Antelope

Updated: Jul 20, 2019

The regal sable antelope with its contrasting black and white hide and long, ibex like, curved, ridged horns is the reason for my interest in hunting Africa. When I made my initial inquiries with many outfitters throughout the Dark Continent he was always on top of my list. It certainly feels like an eternity ago.

With every email I received back about a sable hunt I was disheartened by the fact I wouldn’t get the opportunity to chase the animal I had dreamt about travelling to Africa for. In those early years the fee to hunt one was well outside of my budget, in fact, my first safari in 2010 cost me less than the sable fees being charged and I hunted 10 animals.

My dream hunt was in a country where sable were renowned for being the biggest, a Zambian sable bull was what I had in my mind. That wilderness where the lions roar, remote type of hunt has always resonated with me but the reality of these hunts are that they come with a rather large price tag. I had built up a sable hunt in my mind so much over the years that I didn’t want to entertain the thought of hunting one outside of Zambia and this was probably the main reason why it took me so long to finally commit to living out my long term dream.

It wasn’t until 2017 that I resigned to the fact that South Africa has some great opportunities to hunt sable and I decided to hunt for one there. Although it wasn’t in my dream destination it was my dream animal and I had lived the hunt over in my head a thousand times. Maybe this was part of the reason why I wasn’t successful on that attempt, maybe I got caught up trying to make the hunt perfect rather than listening to the professionals. I feel that I was too rigid and stubborn in how I wanted the hunt to go. Looking back I should have been more flexible on what animal I wanted to harvest and gone with the flow a little bit more.

Almost one year later on the 2018 Hosted Hunt I decided to steal a professional hunter for one day and search for a sable bull that we knew was around but hadn’t been seen for 18 months. It was a needle in the haystack scenario and a challenge that I thought would live up to my wildest dreams. The last time he was seen was with a waterbuck bull and a small dazzle of zebra.

We hunted hard with the wind in our face and encountered many animals but not a single sable. It’s often hard to get onto a mature animal of any specie, but when you try to target one individual bull the odds are stacked against you.

In the afternoon our excitement levels exploded. In a thicket of bush not far from a water point we spotted a lone waterbuck bull and a small herd of wildebeest. Even though 18 months is a long time out in the African bush we couldn’t help thinking that this bull was the one that the sable we were after was teamed up with. We got low searching for any sign of a sable. In that moment every new set of legs that were spotted made my heart pound faster because I thought it was him. We maneuvered around until we were certain the sable wasn’t there. By this time it was getting hot in the African sun so we decided to get out of the heat.

Heading cross wind in the direction of the hunting vehicle we edged closer to the end of my chance for this trip. Although not all hope was gone, after all we were still out in the thorn bush leaving footprints in the red African sand. I understood that success was going to be difficult with only one day planned for this hunt and now with every step I couldn’t help but feel regret that I hadn’t planned this entire safari around trying for my sable.

We met up with a vehicle track and started to follow along towards the truck. The rifle was slung over my shoulder and I was looking down at the ground more than I was looking up. Over the last hour or so the animals hadn’t been active due to the heat which gave me time to make peace with my mind and the fact I was going to need to come back, I never really need much of a reason to head back to Africa but this would make for a good excuse.

All of a sudden, like a miracle, there stood the oldest sable bull I’d ever laid eyes on. I will never forget the moment my focus locked on to him. The black mass standing on the track, his dusty, heavy ridged, worn down horns that at the base was a large smoothed off area of secondary horn growth, he had scars on his face and ears showing that he battled hard.

With urgency Pieter my PH set up the shooting sticks and I took a solid rest. By this time the bull was almost standing straight toward me at 130 meters showing only just a little bit of his left hand rear leg. I held in position waiting for my PH to give me the ok, I spent these seconds admiring this majestic animal. It was surreal. After wondering why Pieter hadn’t said anything I told him that I was ready to take the shot and his reply was “what are you waiting for?” Those few seconds felt like an eternity. I almost didn’t want to squeeze the trigger, I didn’t want my 15 year sable saga to be over yet.

The bull was hit hard at the shot and ran with his heavy head down to his left and disappeared into the bushveld. I was surprisingly calm in the moments leading up to seeing the bull run off but once I took my eye away from the scope and the rifle away from the shooting sticks I soon noticed that trembling in my hands, I was shaking like a leaf in the warm westerly breeze. Pieter smiled at me with a grin from ear to ear and we both held out our shaking hands like we chose paper in a game of rock paper scissors.

I have shared a lot of moments in the bushveld with Nefie Pieter and this one will be one that stays with me until the end of my days on this beautiful planet.

We slowly made our way to where the bull was standing before the shot and could see the commotion caused when I had squeezed the trigger of the Browning 375H&H. We followed his deep tracks and only noticed minimal blood spore. Only one small section of blood was seen in the first 30m and the look on Pieter and the trackers face was that which makes you feel sick with the possibility that the shot wasn’t perfect. As they stood either side of the blood spore discussing the possibility of a wounded sable I looked ahead into the lowering sun past them. I saw the bull expired only 40m further into the bush. The look of despair was soon taken over by joy, joy that we had taken this old bull with the utmost respect and without suffering.

As I approached my sable I was overwhelmed, even ten minutes earlier I couldn’t have imagined that what happened could have occurred. I was emotional, taking an animals life is often this way but more so that I had lived out a dream, my dream. This old warrior will take pride of place in my house and every time I look at him I will remember not only the respect I have for him but life’s journey that took to put him there.

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