Impala Hunting in Southern and Eastern Africa

By Peter Ruddle

Impala are Africa’s most commonly hunted antelope and often a hunter’s first kill. This rufous-fawn coloured, medium sized antelope remains one of the most graceful and beautiful on the continent. Impala is often referred to as the McDonald’s of the African Bushveld, because it is the most commonly killed prey animal for every predator from large eagles and pythons to humans, and also due to a conspicuous black ‘M” shaped mark on their backside. An interesting bit of trivia is that Impala is among the few species of African antelopes to have a car named after it: the Chevrolet Impala.  

HISTORICAL DISTRIBUTION OF IMPALA

Impala originally occurred from northern South Africa, up the central and eastern side of Africa as far north as Kenya. Three subspecies are recognized by the Safari Club International. The rare Angolan or Black-faced Impala occurs in northern Namibia. The East African Impala sports significantly bigger horns, and is found in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania. The Southern Impala can boast of the largest distribution area, and inhabits Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique and northern South Africa.

impala main

WHERE TO HUNT IMPALA

The Black-faced Impala, Aepyceros melampus petersi can only be hunted in northern Namibia in the regions surrounding the Etosha National Park on private land and wildlife conservancies.

The East African Impala, Aepyceros melampus rendilis although widely distributed throughout the East African region may not be hunted in Kenya. The most hunted specimens are collected in the Selous hunting concessions of Tanzania.   

The Southern Impala, Aepyceros melampus melampus historical distribution has now been increased substantially due to the efforts of game ranchers in both South Africa and Namibia. The species has been successfully introduced to the semi-arid regions across both countries where formerly Impala were unable to survive without the provision of artificial watering points and Springbuck were found instead. Southern Impala can be hunted in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and even the little known country of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland).

HOW TO HUNT IMPALA

RIFLE HUNTING

The majority of antelope species are best hunted in the early morning or late afternoon and Impala is no exception. As the day becomes warmer so is the likelihood of you finding this water dependent species near a place where it can take a drink. Impala rarely wander more than 7 kilometres (4.3 miles) from water and the breeding herds tend to remain within their preferred areas.

Sometimes referred to as “Bushveld Roaches”, the Impala favours ecologically sensitive and often overgrazed areas. Being mixed feeders they are selective short grass grazers and also browse on shrubs and forbs, so they are often found in eroded areas which often offer great broken terrain stalking opportunities.

Hunters glassing

Drive, spot and stalk is the most common way of hunting Impala. The vehicle is primarily used as a means to cover ground as quickly as possible in search of a suitable specimen. Once such an animal is spotted, the vehicle is moved out of site and the stalk begins. Some countries, provinces and outfitters require the vehicle to be 200 metres (yards) from the animal you are hunting while other areas allow to unsportingly shoot it from the vehicle. Of course there are arguments for and against this conduct but ultimately you as the client can make your own judgement call.  

Stalking a herd of Impala can be quite tricky when the herd is spread out and there are so many eyes watching from different angles and likely to give a loud danger call snort at any moment to warn the rest of the herd of imminent danger. Finding a shooting lane in these situations can be quite tricky as these animals move through the bushy scrub which often covers their vitals preventing the hunter from taking a shot. Once alarmed they tend to herd together all looking in one direction for any signs of danger.

BOW HUNTING 

Most bowhunters hunt Impala from permanent blinds where water, minerals and artificial feed is used to attract the animals to the site. In remote areas temporary blinds can be set up and built at a waterhole and it will not be long after all the disturbance in the area that the Impala will return for a drink.

Like most species the warmer the day, the drier the vegetation feed on, the greater the thirst they are likely to develop. So the best season to bow hunt is winter and early spring before the rains begin.

a bowhuner in a blind

The waterholes are generally most active in the late morning until just after midday and again in the late afternoon. So you need to plan the times you need to be in the blind. A good professional hunter will have these animals’ drinking times well patterned.

Impala can be quite nervous and very skittish knowing they are most vulnerable when taking a drink. They are quick to react at the slightest noise and many bow hunters have missed their mark when the Impala has jumped the string.

HABITS

Impala are predominantly herd animals consisting of both breeding and bachelor herds. Single males may also be found, especially in the rutting season when they will actively defend a territory. Territorial males will fight off other males in the defence of this territory and keep herding any females entering his territory to keep them within this area to be able to mate.

Bachelor herds consist of both mature and immature animals which just wander from territory to territory and while the territorial males can only chase one male at a time, the others may have their way with a female in season.  

Impala are one of the few African antelopes that are vocal during the rut. The males can be heard growling, roaring and snorting during their rutting display. It is quite unbelievable the noise that these antelopes make, some may think it’s a pig and others some sort of predator call. Watch the video below with sound to hear Impala vocalisation.

Female Impala have the ability to reabsorb their unborn foetuses in the event of unsuitable lambing conditions or extend their gestation period until more suitable ecological conditions prevail, before lambing. The majority of females lamb within a two week period of each other and will form nursery herds during this time period.

There are other numerous interesting observations passed down by hunters which may or may not be substantiated. For instance, Impala having dung middens spread over their territories and use these to escape predators that use their sense of smell to hunt their prey. Their escape route takes them over these middens and when the predator reaches this point they lose the scent trail due to the strong smell produced from these middens.

I personally also believe that other animals use Impala as a danger warning detector, or, as some people would, as “human shields”. Once when following a wounded Kudu I found the animal kept moving unitl it found a group of Impala. Then it would stop and wait just past the herd, knowing that these Impalas would detect the followup hunting party and give away their presence with an alarm call. The Kudu did this repeatedly, and thanks to the Impala alertness we never recovered this weary wounded Kudu.

An Impala ram     

BEST SEASON TO HUNT IMPALA

Impala males are in peak condition during the rut (early winter months) with shiny skins and thick necks. You can hunt them all year round in some countries, while others have set hunting seasons. 

The dry season is always recommended as the best hunting season. Coincidentally, it is the summer in the Northern Hemisphere, when most hunters are able to take leave and go to Africa with their families. Winter hunting conditions in Africa are far more tolerable than the hot summer days. There is less foliage on the trees allowing for improved visibility and the animals generally congregate at the waterholes as most temporary watering points have dried up by this time.

If you are an avid bowhunter hunting from a blind, it is important that you do not book your hunting trip too early in the season to avoid disappointment. Late summer rains can affect the success of your hunt, so rather book a later date well into the dry winter season.         

TROPHY QUALITY

Genetics, habitat and food quality play an important role in determining trophy quality. This can also be improved by management and the selective off-take of non-trophy quality males. Some outfitters do not permit the hunting of their top quality males to ensure these males are able to breed and pass on their genetic quality to future generations. So much for those who argue that the top quality males are always removed from the gene pool by trophy hunters.  

The benchmark horn length for a Southern Impala is 22 inches and anything over 24” is exceptional. In reality, in some areas Impala just do not grow horns to that size so benchmarks can vary from region to region.    

Three subspecies qualify for the SCI record book and the world record for an Impala is 36 1/8”.

an Impala trophy

QUALIFYING MEASUREMENTS

The qualifying measurements for the record books are:

Black-faced Impala (Angolan)

Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min. Rifle Min. Record Measuring Method Minimum Record Measuring Method
  47″ 67 7/8″ 1 21″ 26 6/8″ 7-a

East African Impala  

Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min. Rifle Min. Record Measuring Method Minimum Record Measuring Method
  60″ 77 6/8″ 1 26″ 36 1/8″ 7-a

Southern Impala 

Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min. Rifle Min. Record Measuring Method Minimum Record Measuring Method
  54″ 69 6/8″ 1 23 6/8″ 31 3/8″ 7-a

A black Impala on the background of common Impala

BREEDING PROJECTS

“Impala” is “Rooibok” in Afrikaans, which means “red buck”. Well, today this name is no longer fitting as we now have Black Impala, White-flanked ImpalaSaddlebacked Impala, and more recently White Impala are being advertised, all of which have been selectively bred. A few years ago some South African game breeders went crazy breeding Impala colour variants. But demand from trophy hunters for these colour variants, that they so expected, causing the breeding bubble to burst.  

These colour variants are now available for hunting, and prices continue to fall as more and more trophies are becoming available, but in most cases the trophy quality is not great. By contrast, the price of Southern Impala ewes at some point went through the roof as outfitters went on a buying spree to build up normal breeding stock and put an end to all these colour variants. Since these color variant Impala prices took a nosedive, Impala females are once again affordably priced and much sought after by meat hunters. 

FENCES

Impala are fleet of foot and able to leap distances of over 33 feet (10m) and 10 feet high (3m). They use this agility to avoid predators and could easily clear a standard game fence. Some will crawl under a conventional cattle fence and others will jump but for some reason they do not jump a game fence. Many predators, such Cheetah and Wild Dogs learn to kill Impala by chasing them into these fences where they are able to then easily catch and kill their prey.

A high fenced property in South Africa with an exemption permits allows the landowner to hunt Impala year round on their property without having to apply to the nature conservation authorities for an out of season hunting permit.

An Impala ram standing

HUNTING TIPS

  • Most landowners do not permit the use of any calibres smaller than a .243 to be used when shooting Impala. When using high velocity calibres you can expect a pass through so be careful when shooting into a herd not shoot more than one animal with a single shot. 
  • Impala have a keen sense of smell and excellent eyesight. Hunting Impala requires a well-planned cautious stalk and is often used as a hunter training exercise. Many a first time junior hunter or international client’s first hunting experience will be an Impala hunt. Due to their low trophy fee and abundance they offer plenty of hunting opportunities during a safari, unlike some of the rarer species.
  • Impalas may also be used for camp meat, staff rations and Leopard baits during your safari so you may end up shooting more than one, gaining some great experience in the meantime.     

VENISON

Besides making a great memento of your hunting trip or safari, tbe Impala are delicious to eat. More Impala than any other species are hunted for venison by local meat hunters. This versatile meat is used for roasts, stews, butterflied on the braai (barbecue) or turned into biltong, a type of jerky.    

In the early 1980s Impala venison from large scale culling operations was exported overseas. However with the increased demand for Impala venison by local hunters and stringent meat export controls, local game ranchers have shifted their focus to supplying the local hunting market.

South African consumers are also becoming more health conscious and Impala meat has also found its way into the grocery stores.

 


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