We were looking to take an old sable bull past his prime and with no more to contribute to a herd. Thomas and his dad have some of these animals on their property and they hunt a few very big bulls each year. They also have a lot of other plains game on offer, including buffalo. Impala and steenbok also do very well in this area and I told Thomas that if we had time during the week, I would love to shoot a big impala. I have hunted them for decades now in so many different ways, some difficult and others almost handed to me on the proverbial plate. So this time I would try for something special. However, the impala would only be an add-on to the highlight of the week, my sable bull. Oh, man, was I in for the surprise of my life …!
Early on Monday morning, after a cup of coffee, we were ready before the sun rose in the east. The forecast showed that temperatures would be reaching the high forties (Celsius) and we needed to start early. Andrew got his gear and camera ready and I was armed with my trusted double rifle, a Verney-Carron in .500 Nitro Express. I have been hunting extensively with the double rifle and iron sights set-up for the last two years, hunting everything from klipspringer to buffalo with it. I really backed myself to take down a sable with this rifle provided we could get within 100 yards.
With the dry conditions the amount of water on the property was very limited, and so the chances of running into sable on their way to or from the water would be good, especially at that time of the morning. Although I have seen thousands of these animals, I had never hunted one before and my curiosity got the better of me. I couldn’t stop asking questions about behaviour and what to look for in terms of age and trophy quality. Thomas explained that the best way to determine age was not by looking at the colour of the skin or the length of the horns, but by looking at the bases of the horns. Thick bases with the growth rings close to one another show age, and if you can see any sign of secondary horn growth, you know you are looking at a good animal.
About half-a-kilometre from the first waterhole, we spotted black animals through the dried-out bushes. Visibility would normally be limited to a hundred yards or maybe a little more but with these dry conditions you could spot animals much further away than that. We swung away, driving past the sables to get the wind in our favour and stopped about a kilometre away. We estimated between 12 and 15 animals were feeding away from the water. They were pretty scattered so we had to be very careful not to miss one and spook it. We hadn’t yet seen any bull standing out from the rest in terms of age, so we had to get closer. Although we just wanted to have a look, we were ready just in case the right animal presented an opportunity to take it. The wind was perfect and the sun was just starting to peek over the acacia trees scattered in the very dry veld. We approached very slowly, trying to avoid the thousands of dead twigs and branches on the way to the waterhole.
We saw the sables again when they were still about 300 yards distant. They were feeding slowly away from the waterhole with their backs towards us. We gained another hundred or so paces and were now getting into a position where we could study the animals carefully and without spooking them, while whispering. We spent almost half-an-hour following them at their pace and eliminating younger animals. To our far right there were three bulls that looked promising but we had to get closer in order to confirm that any one of them would be worth taking. As we moved in their direction, I realised how spread out the whole herd was. We had to circle back a bit in order not to disturb any of the other animals to our left. Up to now we had moved in silently without being noticed by a single animal.
After examining the bulls through the binos – and let me once again stress the importance of a good set of binoculars – one on the far right caught our eye. He had thick bases and they almost appeared smooth for the first couple of inches. I immediately realised that this indicated secondary horn growth and told Thomas that I would like to take that bull. He confirmed that it was indeed a very old bull. He had a huge body and his horns were thick all the way up, right up to the point where they were being worn down. The bull was about 150 yards away, so we had to make up some ground. This would be no easy task as the vegetation was very light-coloured and sparse. We got down low and carefully covered the ground up to the last bush between him and us. The other two bulls were now also feeding to the left and there was no confusion between me, my PH and the cameraman as to which bull we were targeting.