A herd of sable antelope with a good bull

The Prince of Africa: Sable and Sable Hunting

Stunning. Regal. Majestic. There are just not enough words to describe this beautiful antelope, known as the “Prince of Africa”. A species high on every African hunter’s bucket list. A revered animal, sold as a special package or specified minimum amount of hunting days. The Sable.

The Sable Antelope has lightning-fast reactions and sharp long curved horns, with which it is able to protect its flanks, making it a formidable foe when attacked by Lions, Hyenas and other predators. Adult males have jet black faces with white facial markings and a graceful horse-like body, making it one of Africa’s most desirable hunting trophies. 

HISTORICAL DISTRIBUTION

Sable originally occurred from the north of modern South Africa, up the east coast of the continent as far north as Tanzania to the Kenyan border and inland as far as the Caprivi in Namibia, including the territories of modern countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe. An isolated population in Angola, known as the Giant (or Royal) Sable, is now critically endangered and included on the Red Data Species List and CITES Appendix I animal.

A sable bull in Africa

WHERE TO HUNT SABLE

With the exception of the Giant Sable, the Sable is listed as Least Concern, and modern distribution of free-range populations remains pretty much the same as their historical distribution. Hunting permits are readily available in the following countries: Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania.  

Sable are classified by the Safari Club Record Book into two groups: Roosevelt Sable Antelope (hunted to the north of the Zambezi River), and Sable Antelope (to the south of the river). 

Free-range Sable hunting is available north of South Africa. The population with the best genetics (in terms of trophy quality) is believed to be found in western Zambia (some refer to this subspecies as Kirk’s Sable, Hippotragus niger kirkii). Great Southern Sable, Hippotragus niger niger hunting can be had throughout their range however the Matetsi concessions of Zimbabwe offer some magnificent trophies. So does the Niassa area of northern Mozambique if you are looking for a Roosevelt’s Sable, Hippotragus niger roosevelti

Good quality ranched Sable are also available for hunting in Namibia, throughout South Africa and to a lesser extent in Zimbabwe (unfortunately, many of the original game ranches were expropriated by the Zimbabwe government).  

A small herd of sable antelope

HABITS

Sable live in herds numbering between 10 and 30 individuals. These herds are made up of reddish coloured females and their young. Each herd is dominated by a territorial bull who will not tolerate another bull in his territory and will fight to the death, especially on fenced game ranches where the weaker of the bulls may not be able to escape due to the high fence enclosures. For this reason, many game ranchers keep these bulls separated by some form of fencing. The bulls are even inclined to fight each other through these fences.

Being both nocturnal and diurnal, young bulls will congregate together but once they are mature they tend to wander through their territories in search of an available cow herd to dominate. So while hunting, do not be surprised to bump into these lone bulls.        

HOW TO HUNT SABLE

Rifle Hunting

As with most species, the best time to hunt Sable is in the early morning or late afternoon. This is a water dependent species that needs to drink on a regular basis, which means you will never find them far from water. As the day gets warmer, the likelihood of finding them near water becomes more apparent.

Their preferred habitat is long grass found in the open savanna Miombo woodlands, Mopani veld and dambos, a colloquial name given to seasonally waterlogged wetland marshy areas. This is particularly evident when hunting in the open glades surrounding the Sand Forest of the Zambeze Delta in Mozambique.

Sable hunting with a rifle

In most instances, a vehicle is used to cover as much ground as possible in the search of this species. For regularly hunted areas, the trackers will have a good inkling as to where you may find these animals. In the late morning, these herding animals tend to rest up, often in these open wetland areas where they are more likely to be encountered as opposed to when they are feeding in the long grass and difficult to see.

Once spotted, a traditional walk and stalk hunt will commence. In free-range hunting conditions you may not appreciate how long the grass is, until you get out on foot. Standing 1.4m (4.5ft) at the shoulder, the Sable is not the tallest animal to see in the long grass. So, it is best to try and find a shooting lane where you can see over or through the grass when on the shooting sticks and wait in ambush for the animal to approach this opening.

Bowhunting  

Not many Sable are taken in the course of a walk and stalk bow hunt. In a free range situation a temporary blind may be built over a waterhole or a natural salt lick. The majority of Sable taken by bow are on game ranches where an assortment of permanent bow blinds have been constructed.

Once the Sable have been patterned it’s a matter of patience waiting for them to come to the water. Having to drink regularly, these waterholes are often frequented by the thirsty Sable. Often mineral supplements are also available at these sites.

Blinds are normally set up to ensure that you do not need to shoot more than 30 yards. On arrival, It’s a matter of waiting until the animal presents you with a suitable shot.  

HUNTING TIPS 

Sable hunting is pretty much a follow-my-lead hunt, do as your professional hunter asks and follow his lead.

Dress in layers so as the day becomes warmer you are able to discard some of your clothing. Make use of dark or neutral coloured clothing. Avoid using being in possession or military camouflage as this may be in contravention of the law in some African countries. Always check with your outfitter with regards to this issue.

A sable antelope bull   

We recommend that nothing lighter than a 30.06 calibre rifle is used in conjunction with a heavy weight bullet on these hunts. Most Professional Hunter’s rifle of choice to be used on these hunts would be a .375 with a soft nosed bullet. As is the case with most African animals, these animals are a lot tougher than the northern hemisphere counterparts. Make sure of your shot, an undertaking that can be made difficult to judge where your shot placement should be in relation to the animal’s dark black coloured body, especially when standing in the shade.

If your first shot is not fatal, you can expect a long follow-up as for their size these must be one of the toughest animals to bring down when wounded.

BEST SEASON TO HUNT SABLE

In a free-range hunting situation on one of Africa’s large hunting concessions, the best time to hunt Sable is well into the African winter and spring (June – September) period. As it starts to dry out after the summer rains, the grass will either have been grazed down or burnt. As these burns start to flush with fresh green grass the animals cannot resist the magnetising effect that these young and tender grazing feasts have to offer.   

However, if you are looking for a top quality glossy skin, the best time to hunt would be in autumn (April – May) when the animals are in peak condition having fed well during the plentiful summer rainfall season.

Bowhunters should take into account the fact that should we have late summer/autumn rains, hunting from a blind over water may not be very successful. Unless you are on a true desert property where water is scarce, the success of your hunt will hang in the balance. The best bowhunting would be in August – October, although August may be windy and wind always makes for difficult hunting conditions.

A sable trophy and a rifle

BREEDING PROJECTS

In South Africa, 50 plus inch bulls are now being bred to quality females. This has tremendously increased the overall trophy quality of animals now hunted compared to some years ago when a 36” sable was classified as top of the range and was sold for a premium price.

Sable numbers have increased dramatically over the past 10 years due to the successful game breeding projects and this process has brought Sable trophy fees down and improved trophy quality to such an extent that 40” Sable are now classified as the new benchmark when it comes to quality trophy size animals.  

A BIT ON FENCES

The law in South Africa is such that if you do not have a high fence you cannot lay claim on (own) the animals on your property. This is important for a hunting operator, because claiming the animals as your own enables you to file stock theft charges (which carry hefty fines and jail time) against would-be poachers found on your property. High fenced properties with exemption permits may also hunt year round which all make for good business sense. This has led to a fencing boom in South Africa, a trend being followed in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and even Mozambique to a lesser degree (read more on evolution of high fences).

As mentioned previously, Sable bulls will even fight through fences which has unfortunately led to some properties fencing off smaller manageable areas for their breeding projects which has led to the misconception that all hunting on a game ranches is not fair chase. The majority of ethical Outfitters release unsuitable breeding animals into large hunting areas at a young age where these animals soon acclimate to their natural conditions and become just as difficult and wise as any other wild born animal on the property, to hunt.

A sable running away  

CONSERVATION THREATS

Habitat destruction by an increasing human footprint is unfortunately a reality throughout the world and the biggest challenge facing our wildlife populations. Fortunately these animals breed well in captivity however no one is too sure as yet as to how the long term high quality feeding and parasite control will have on these animals released into the wild. Time will tell if we are breeding animals that are no longer resistant to their natural parasites and tick borne diseases.  

Sable are still listed as Threatened or Protected Species (TOPS) in South Africa. It means that may be hunted under a special permit acquired from the respective provincial conservation authority. Should their numbers continue to increase as at present, they could well be removed from this list, proving once again that hunting is a great catalyst for conserving a species.

VENISON

Unfortunately, the meat from all animals hunted in Africa may not be exported due to veterinary regulations. However, if you do shoot a Sable during the course of your hunt, you simply have to try this venison rated by many Professional Hunters as the best in Africa. 

 

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