Everybody knows the Big Five of Africa: Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard. But it’s not these “iconic species” that make a list of the most popular trophies in Africa. According to an extensive study conducted by North-University of RSA, in cooperation with The Professional Hunter Association of South Africa, the five most popular animals for international hunters in South Africa are:
Impala, according to the study cited, is the most popular trophy for international hunters in South Africa. It is a graceful, beautiful creature, especially a big, mature buck with his long, lyre-shaped horns. These horns grow throughout the creature’s lifetime, and make a spectacular trophy. It is one of the most abundant African antelopes, with population pushing 2,000,000 head, and provides harvest opportunities for hunters of any income or skill level.
Herds of Impala may be found roaming the savannah, scrub and bush landscapes in the southern and eastern part of the African continent. With its delicious flesh, Impala pleases not only the eyes, but also the taste buds, and is a popular object not only for trophy, but for meat and biltong hunters, as well. In short, this handsome antelope should be on the bucket list of everyone who plans to hunt Africa.
Number two on the list is Warthog. Warthog’s appearance is familiar to everyone, even those who don’t care for natural history, thanks to Disney’s Pumbaa character from The Lion King franchise. The beast itself is striking, with its dare-devil looks, fly-whisk tail, and enormous tusks, every aspect of the Warthog just screams “Africa!”. These tusks aren’t just ornamental either, so be careful when approaching a down or wounded Warthog.
The species is widespread throughout Africa, and hunting opportunities are nearly unlimited. Affordable prices, wide distribution, and Walt Disney Studios are only a few of the reasons for the popularity of Warthog. Many warthogs are taken “incedentally” while hunting other species and hunters come across a good boar, but waiting in a blind over a waterhole, with the unlimited opportunities to observe the African wildlife, is in itself an experience not to be missed!
Springbok is a small, graceful antelope with lyre-shaped horns, which is one of the iconic symbols of South Africa. It has a unique color, with yellowish back, wide horizontal stripes running along the body, and white underbelly with snow-white hairs reaching high on the sides and the haunch. Both sexes carry horns, and the springbok have an unusual in the mammal world case of sexual dimorphism, with females larger than males. It’s delicious flesh is valued in South Africa above all other antelopes, and thousands of pounds of springbok meat are sold in stores there every year.
In the middle of the XIX century, during the “trek-bokken”, or annual migration, hunters “beheld the boundless plains, and even the hill sides which stretched away on every side of me, thickly covered, not with” herds,” but with “one vast herd” of springboks; far as the eye could strain the landscape was alive with them, until they softened down into a dim red mass of living creatures.” (Rouaelyn Gordon-Cumming, 1850, “Five Years of a Hunter’s Life in the Far Interior of South Africa). Today it is still one of the most numerous antelopes on the Dark Continent, but most of the populations are located on protected areas, including game farms, which play a not insignificant role in its well-being.
Kudu is an amazing animal. One of the biggest African antelopes, they can jump over an 8 -foot fence that marks the borders of South African “enclosures” (so much for “high fence” hunting!). The great spiral horns of Kudu are treasured by many African peoples as vessels, musical instruments, and for ceremonial purposes.
Kudu is a shy and secretive antelope,that prefers broken landscapes, where its protective coloring allows it to disappear as if by supernatural powers, earning it the nickname “Grey Ghost”. For most Westerners, few hunting trophies symbolize Africa while putting viewers in awe, without being pompous or pretentious, like a good Kudu cape mount. Kudu, an amazing spiral-horned antelope, can be found in many countries of the sub-Saharan Africa.
Blesbuck, or Blesbok, is an antelope that is native to the southern part of the Afrcian continent. This is a medium sized antelope with beautiful dark brown color and a white ‘blaze’ spot on the forehead, which inspired its name. Blesbuck are grazers who prefer the open grassland, especially in the provinces of Free State, the Karoo and the Northern Cape.
Like with many other African antelopes, Blesbuck herds are divided into family (containing mostly ewes and lambs) and bachelor. Old males usually hang out alone, except during the rut, when they protect their territory and try to assemble a herd of females around them for breeding. South African hunters hold Blesbuck in high esteem – apart from its status of the South African Top 5, it’s one of the three most popular antelopes to hunt for biltong and skins.
The Top 5 Challenge
Can you take all the South Africa’s Top 5 in the course of one hunt? Actually, it sounds like a perfect challenge: doable, but not precisely easy. The biggest part of the challenge is that the South African Top 5 species is differ in behavior and preferred habitat.
Blesbuck and Springbuck are denizens of wide open spaces, where approaching them can be quite a challenge. Blesbuck rams and ewes both carry horns and are similar in appearance, so proper trophy identification requires a trained eye. Springbok is even more challenging in this respect, with ewes being actually larger than rams. In addition, a springbok is a relatively small animal, seldom growing bigger than 50 pounds (or 22,5 kg). To connect with this target from a distance of 250 to 350 yards will require both advanced long-range shooting skills and accurate rifle for a cartridge with a flat trajectory.
Impala inhabits landscape with more cover: savannah, scrub and bush. When alarmed, the herd of impalas forms a tight group, when it is easy to lose track of the trophy you’ve chosen, and it’s easy to do a “Scotch double” if your bullet passes through and hits another animal. It’s also not the best idea to shoot Impala on the run, as they can leap in zig-zag, effectively avoiding predators. Kudu takes to habitat with enough color to take advantage of their thin vertical stripes and other protective colorings. Typical Kudu terrain is not always suitable for the now-classic African way of spotting from vehicles, so you should be prepared to do a fair deal of walking. Kudu is remarkably agile, wary, and master of camouflage, in spite of its size, so a hunter would likely have to work hard to earn it.
While the first choice for all these species is spot-and-stalk, hunting from a blind over salt licks and water holes is also possible. For warthog especially it’s perhaps the most reliable way to get a trophy. Many hunters, especially bowhunters, find the opportunity to observe the African nature from concealment an exciting bonus to the hunt itself. If you’ve never hunted African antelopes or wild pigs before, take your time to learn their anatomy and the best shot placement, as the vitals are located in slightly different places than the vitals of deer and elk.
How much will it cost to hunt the South African Top 5? A lot of people still think about Africa as prohibitively expensive. Well, let’s see if it’s so. The most expensive species on the list is the Kudu, with the trophy fees starting at about $950, and averaging $1,500. Impala and Springbok can be priced as low as $250, and Blesbuck and Warthog go for $300-$400. With daily rates, a 7-day hunt for impala, blesbuck, springbuck, kudu and warthog, will cost from $4,300, though most offers are in the $5,000-$6,000 range. Add another $1,500-$2,000 for intercontinental travel.
Sounds kinda high for a week of hunting? Let’s put it in perspective. Elk hunts in the Rockies start at $1,200, but if we are looking at fully guided, food and lodgings, trophy bull, rifle season, good area, tag inclusive, we’re looking at the same $4,000-$5,000 price range. Make it a combo – with antelope, deer, and birds – and you are precisely in the same amount of money as the South African Top 5. From black bear over bait to mountain lion with hounds, the best North American hunts are priced between $5,000 and $10,000. Which means that the average American hunter – you – can afford it!
One thing that three of the South African Top 5 animals have in common is the best time to hunt them. While hunting in South Africa is legal all year round, the prime time for Impala, Kudu, and Blesbuck is April and May, when the animals have the rut. Display and territory protective behaviors make it easier to identify the oldest, biggest males, and they are less careful than on any other time. No month is necessarily better or worse for springbok or warthog hunting, so a safari for all South African Top 5 species can be timed for the three species that rut in April-May, though possible any time of year.
Are You Ready for the Challenge?
Hunting the South African Top 5 will take you through a variety of habitats, and will require a full range of diverse hunting skills. This is precisely what Jack O’Connor meant when he wrote that in three weeks in Africa a hunter will get more experience than in a few seasons in North America. It’s the varied and diverse hunting experience, in unusual circumstances, that will make you a better hunter and will make you look differently at your hunts back home!