suni antelope

Suni Hunting in Southern and Eastern Africa

A member of the “Tiny 10”, this small antelope stands 12-17 inches high at the shoulder and weighs 10-12 pounds (4.5-5kgs). A dainty little specialty animal normally only hunted by the true collectors who are probably African hunting veterans by the time they decide to shoot one.

These animals live in the thickets, especially along river valleys and in the Sand Forest undergrowth. When in danger, they tend to freeze, blending into their surroundings very well and difficult to see in their shadowy environment. Often, it’s only the flick of their tail that gives them away and sometimes the sunlight flashing a reddish colour though their ears. They will make a whistling alarm call and dart away at the last minute and disappear in the undergrowth. 

Suni are probably one of Africa’s most commonly traded bushmeat, available in most markets across their distribution range. 

Burning poachers camp
Game scouts burning down a poacher’s camp in a hunting concession in Mozambique where Suni
are killed for the bushmeat trade.

WHERE TO HUNT SUNI

Suni originally occurred from the inland forests of Kenya, through Tanzania, Mozambique, the Zambezi Valley in Zimbabwe to as far south as the north eastern regions of South Africa, known as Zululand.

Safari Club International (SCI) splits Suni, Neotragus moschatus into two groups. Their range is split north and south of the Zambezi River in Mozambique with the northern species being classified as the East African Suni and the southern species, Livingstone’s Suni. However for convenience sake, SCI uses the Rovuma River, the international border between Tanzania and Mozambique, as the official cut off line between the two species.   

The best Livingstone’s Suni hunting is in Coutada 11 which forms part of the Marromeu Complex in Mozambique, bordering on the Zambezi River. Here you will be spoilt for choice and able to turn down many hunting opportunities in the hope of finding a suitable trophy.

The Niassa concessions and Zambezi River concessions also offer good Suni hunting opportunities, extending all the way from Marromeu to north western Zimbabwe.   

Further south, they are also hunted in the remaining remnants of the Sand Forest areas of Zululand in South Africa. Hunting opportunities here are much more difficult to find and sought after, with this species often being booked out a year in advance by the outfitters for their clients.

The East African Suni are offered by outfitters operating in eastern Tanzania and the Selous Game Reserve.  

HOW TO HUNT SUNI 

  1.   RIFLE/SHOTGUN HUNTING

Walk and Stalk

As previously mentioned, you will be hunting in thick undergrowth, so if possible try to find a game trail, footpath or road that leads you through this thick vegetation. Otherwise the hunt will be conducted in what I refer to as “Lumbago Alley”. You will be constantly ducking and diving, maybe even crawling at times which makes for pretty unpleasant hunting conditions and is tough on your back. 

The best is to use a track which gives you access to these Suni areas. Check the wind is favourable although it often swirls in the forest. Walk slowly and quietly with the sun on your back using the sun as much as possible to penetrate into the forest ahead of you making it easier to see any sign of movement. You will probably find yourself in the brighter light looking into the dark shadows in the forest, so the Suni will always have the advantage on you.

Some may even hunt barefoot so as to lessen any potential noise, like boots standing on dry dead leaves. Early morning hunting is best when the leaves still contain some overnight moisture dampening the sound of walking on dead leaves, this noise described by some as walking on potato chips or cornflakes.

Move slowly, methodically and carefully, trying not to stand on any dead leaves, twigs, branches or thorns if you are hunting barefoot. Once sighted, check to see if it’s a male or female. Fortunately, only the males have horns unlike the small Duikers you may encounter in the same habitat, where both sexes have horns.    

24 Blog Suni Breeding Program
A Suni  male at a breeding facility on a game farm in South Africa

 

Ambush Hunting

Another hunting method is to sit and wait patiently watching over a freshly used communal dung midden. Sit quietly hidden by some undergrowth and keep a look out for an approaching animal. Sit with your backs towards each other, with each person in the hunting party being responsible to scan the area in front them.

Calling

This method of hunting can be very successful, except in areas where hunters overuse calling on a regular basis. Various calls that produce the sound of a small animal in distress, like a Cottontail Rabbit, can be used. In some instances, either the tracker using a leaf as a call or the PH will may make use of a commercially manufactured caller. The same general hunting method is applied as the previously described ambush method.

By using a remote electronic call you can wait some distance from the speaker, which often seems to be more effective than if someone is actually using a calling device while sitting in the hunting party. Often all of the above methods are used during the hunt.   

As a word of warning, when hunting in dangerous game areas, you never know what is going to respond to these calls so be on the lookout. Numerous animals respond to these calls, from female Nyala to Bushpigs and even opportunistic hungry Hyenas, Leopards and Lions may be encountered in these rather close up situations.        

  1.   BOW HUNTING  

The best method to hunt a Suni with a bow is to make use of a small popup blind. As unlike rifle hunting, you require a lot more time and space to draw your bow and move yourself into a shooting position. Unlike rifle or shotgun hunting, the most difficult part of the hunt is finding a shooting lane. You may want to clear a few shooting lanes prior to sitting in the blind. The shot you might have to take is when the animal moves from one thicket to the next as it will use as much cover as possible during its inquisitive approach to see who or what is causing the distress call.

HABITS

Suni live in monogamous pairs unless accompanied by a single offspring until weaned. They have very small territories depending on food availability and suitable habitat, so do not need to move very far from their core area. They are both diurnal and nocturnal when they may move out into more open areas under the cover of darkness.    

BEST SEASON TO HUNT SUNI

Whether a bow hunter or rifle hunter, you want to hunt these little critters during the driest part of the season before the African fall. This fall is nothing like experienced in the northern hemisphere, but from late August to September when this occurs, it means there is more food available during this period. Their diet is mainly fallen leaves, so with more food on the ground, it means that they spend less time feeding and therefore moving around which makes them more vulnerable to hunters.   

A calf Suni antelope
A Suni calf born at a game breeding facility

BREEDING PROJECTS

A limited number of breeders are breeding Suni in captivity. Although these animals fetch good prices at the live game auctions, the limitation on more people not breeding these animals in captivity is the availability of start-up stock at this stage. 

FENCES

For those hunters against high fence hunting, take note that these animals cannot be contained by any regular game farm fence. Only a mesh fence will do the trick, but it is only used by breeders on special game ranches where hunting is hardly ever practiced.  

THREATS

Habitat destruction by both humans and the overpopulation of Elephants in certain areas are but two of the threats to this species.

The first is very noticeable in the Zululand area of north eastern South Africa where large swaths of indigenous Sand Forest areas have been cleared for growing commercial timber plantations and pineapple farming.

Tembe Elephant Park (a non-hunting provincial park) in the same region is a good example where an overpopulation of Elephants within a high fenced game reserve have caused extensive damage to the same Sand Forest habitat. The tree canopy has been destroyed and in many places the undergrowth habitat, that is essential for the Suni, is gone. Park management has now stepped in and fenced off an Elephant exclusion zone for the benefit of the remaining Suni population.  

A poachers car with dead Suni
Poachers slaughter them by the hundred – this car probably contains more dead Suni than all sports hunters in Mosambique kill in a year

The poaching of Suni for bushmeat is a huge problem in areas where it is not controlled. These animals may be trapped in snare lines and the latest very successful poaching method is the use of a strong flashlight and dogs at night. The animals are skinned, gutted and then butterflied over a smoking fire. This cures the meat, as most poachers do not have any form of refrigeration and allows for transportation to the market at a later date. 

HUNTING TIPS

Rifle or Shotgun? This debate could rage on long into the night while sitting around the campfire. It is often a matter of personal choice depending on the PHs experiences. 

With a shotgun, you have a firearm that is more forgiving. While it’s a bit naive to expect that you can just point in the animal’s general direction and connect, a slight aiming error that will ensure a clean miss with a rifle will still result in a kill with a scattergun. Shotguns also tend to be a bit quicker to bring on target, which is a great advantage in Suni hunting scenarios. The disadvantage is that only one pellet may hit its target without being in the kill zone, thus wounding an animal that is likely to run off without leaving any form of blood trail.

Using a rifle in the thick undergrowth means your bullet could be easily deflected by the undergrowth so one needs to use a heavy calibre rifle (375 or 458) with a solid to be effective under these hunting conditions. The heavy grain bullet will plough its way through the undergrowth without being deflected and the reason for using a solid is to prevent bullet damage on these soft skinned animals.

If you are hunting with a scoped rifle be very careful to compensate for the bullet trajectory, especially for rifles zeroed at 100 or 200 yards/metres. At a close range (10-20 yards) your bullet may be travelling well below the line of sight through your scope, and if you aim straight at the intended point of impact or a little over, your bullet may pass well below the target. 

Although a small target (it’s basically the size of a rabbit with long legs) for bowhunters, most animals are hunted between 10-15 yards with a bow, so if you are reasonably proficient with a bow you should not have any problems.    

By Peter Ruddle

 

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