Monthly Archives: January 2013

Impala Hunting: The Oft Under-appreciated Gem

 The Impala is a beautiful antelope of South-Eastern Africa, extremely numerous and breeding readily, they are among the least expensive game animals of standing one can hunt in Africa. They stand about three feet tall at the shoulder, weighing up to 150 pounds or slightly more though most are less, with beautiful and very long ribbed, sweeping horns that end in sharp tips. The fact they are so widespread, and the cost of hunting them so reasonable, means many great trophies are taken every year and bagging a truly stunning example is a challenge worthy of the most game-tired and privileged hunter. That fellow isn’t I, and seeing as I have yet to start my very own multinational corporation, is unlikely ever to be. I am however slightly spoiled in hunting, and due to the privilege of my PH engaging me in culling Impala my first time over, I became a bit Impala-jaded.

Upon returning to Africa, Impala was the last thing catching my interest, and this is unfortunate. I was offered some opportunities on excellent rams by my PH and at the time, felt I was “done with them.” I had yet to take a remarkable Impala as well to further crush my logic, and now I must sheepishly admit a prime example of the humble Impala is at the top of my wish list. The predators I love, love Impala themselves, and the predator inside me has found love for Impala again as well- completely away from Africa here in Northern Canada. You see, my brother bagged a beautiful SCI Gold Medal class Impala in South Africa’s Limpopo region astride the Botswana border in late 2011. I was there, and also watched him miss an even larger ram on a tough frontal shot of some range, the PH Louis stating it would have been the best ram of the year from their land- and that’s saying something. At the time I was impressed, and intensely happy for him, but the envy I now feel had not set in.

My wife, upon me unpacking the crate from that trip and removing my brother’s Impala said, “That actually looks nice.” when she typicality is quite adverse to my “static zoo” in the main areas of the house. Taken a little off guard when she added, “You can have that up in the main room if you like.”, I had to grumble that it wasn’t even mine. I pulled out a nice Warthog and attempting the best spin I cheerfully could continued, “But this is, neat eh?” Lets just say if ever a rimshot sound effect should be played in conversation, the unveiling of the Warthog to my wife would have been a decent occasion. I received permission for the display of my Zebra’s flatskin fortunately, small victories, but I digress. My taxidermist was even more impressed than my wife, and seemed eager to work on the ram. Friends who saw it were equally drawn to the Impala first above what I considered far more interesting trophies. All these people’s interest sparked by the humble creature I viewed as the Whitetail of Africa made me reconsider the species.

Sadly the Misunderstood Warthog Doesn’t Win Any Beauty Contests…

This re-visioning of Impala hunting for me has inspired me to write tonight, share some Impala hunting stories and photos of mine as an enthused amateur of the species, and to rethink my next Safari to again include the beautiful antelope. Of African species, and in my limited African experience I have likely shot more Impala than all other game combined, or at least close to even. I’m frankly unsure exactly how many I have pulled the trigger on thanks to my PH Jon’s engaging me in taking numerous rams for meat and culls. Some were taken in some pretty interesting situations, such as one of two fighting rams of which the victor (by artificial selection) still gored the fallen loser. It was also one of the few occasions the typically flighty Impalas stood their ground with us very close as I’m sure in their minds, neither was about to back down. In this vein of feisty spirit, pound for pound, the Impala also has to be among the toughest species I’ve hunted anywhere. Be warned, graphic photos of what I’m talking about will follow. I’ve seen a ram with no heart, and resultant zero blood pressure, go an ungodly distance on three legs, the last leg a flapping .375 H&H destroyed appendage.

The Impala’s grunt during the mating season while asserting dominance is also one of the more guttural and eerie sounds in the African bush, when I first heard it I pictured something far larger and more menacing. Seen most typically as flighting forms in the bush, I wouldn’t say the Impala is hard to hunt or come across, but they are quick to go afoot at speed absolutely. Their movement en masse through thick scrub or grass is a beautiful sight, their speed and grace rendering them flashes of tan amongst darker trunks and branches. They move surprisingly quietly through that tangle, that quickly, as well. My first shot at an Impala, or any African game animal, came through that same tangle. It wasn’t a hard shot, maybe a hundred yards, perhaps a touch more, over my iron sighted .375 at a modest ram. He held perfectly still, and I missed, blundering my first shot on anything with a pulse in Africa from my position leaning against a tree, I’d like to say in part on pressure and in part on excitement. Shooting through bush that thick was new to me, I felt like a weaving class would have come in handy prior to departure, as the shooting felt a lot like sewing the bullet through the mopane, leadwood, and acacia. Excuses excuses.

The next shot I took in Africa I had no such excuses, easy shot at similar range, from beside a small tree at an Impala in deep grass- clear of trees all the way. The only challenge was a slight moment’s surmising the location of the vitals in my mind and in the thin veil of speargrass. One shot from the .375 over the irons found its mark and down the ram went, how a heart can sing. That humble ram became my favourite trophy of all time for that moment, my first African big game animal. We carried him out, he was lithe and not heavy, and I saw for the first time the beautiful ribbed horns and their curious curve. I ran my hands long the ridges, tested the surprisingly sharp points, and took an immediate liking to the species. They were also “clean” I found, relatively parasite free, where as later species I would take would often be found completely tick infested. All in all a pleasing quarry.

The Photo is Small, and Fittingly So: The Ram is as Well. But it Was Huge to me.

                 

Later, I would shoot several Impala from a Gomo, or granite rise, one in particular stays in my memory. The ram gave me a good shot, and I drilled a Barnes TSX straight through the low shoulder and heart, rendering the exit side leg a completely destroyed flapping appendage, copious heart blood painted in swaths the trail astonishingly far into the jess. On, and on we followed the dog, myself completely amazed. He laid a great distance from the hit, stone dead and not much blood left at the site he finally dropped upon. The tenacity and toughness is something an Elk could take lessons from, I was truly impressed. Photos of the wound follow, note the spray of blood that trailed down its side as it ran in Photo #2. Real content warning.

 

Of their spirit, I mentioned the taking of a fighting ram with my PH. They let us get strangely close, so ensnarled in their battle of male supremacy, and one was selected and shot. Without delay the surviving challenger gave the fallen ram a quick goring, and took off at warp speed. Amusing the audacity. I mentioned many Impala are taken every year, making a true trophy a sincere challenge, one I’ve yet to attain. At present, there are 4002 record book animals representing the species in the SCI record book, more each than Cape Buffalo, Blue Widebeest/Bridled Gnu, Warthog, and essentially the numerical equal of the classic African trophy species, the Southern Greater Kudu. Current top spot is a tie held by two rams from the area we hunted, at 69 6/8″. For reference, my brother’s Impala I view as beautiful, and legitimate SCI Gold Class, would fall around #1300 if registered of the 4002 on the list. There is plenty of upwards room and I look forward to the challenge. I suspect the humble Impala may just become my nemesis.

On cartridge choice, anything .243 Winchester and up I would deem plenty despite the toughness I mention. They are just not wide or heavy enough to let heavier chamberings do their work, I doubt my dead on its feet ram would have gone any further to a .243 hit. That said, most will be carrying something larger in Africa and an -06 and up isn’t going to do any harm to anyone but the Impala.

One often wonders when one is fit to write, or comment on a subject. I had held off on Impala for some time as I still feel the complete amateur. However, after reading multiple hunt articles with fairly strong opinions based on a single outing, I felt my very modest Impala experience built on quite a few animals by my good fortune, and accompanying a successful hunter on further Impala hunting, just barely worthy of a short article. Happy Hunting in 2013 and thank you for sharing my reflections.

G’night.