The author with the sable bull he hunted with PH Thomas Dreyer,
co-owner of Tom Dreyer Safaris. He used his Verney-Carron double rifle in .500NE
for the hunt.

During the Huntex 2019 expo in Johannesburg, Thomas Dreyer from Tom Dreyer Safaris in South Africa’s Limpopo Province approached me at our booth. He told me about some sable bulls left from the quota of the previous season that were still available to hunt. He offered me a very good deal – so good that I booked the hunt with him the next morning. Sable is one of the dream animals to hunt in Southern Africa and, needless to say, the months of preparation and waiting lay like a mountain ahead of me!

I arrived on Thomas’s farm late on a Sunday afternoon with my good friend and cameraman, Andrew. With the sun already down and the thermometer still at 39°C, I immediately knew that this hunt would not be a walk in the park. South Africa is experiencing one the most severe droughts in its history, and some areas have been hit for the sixth year running with very little, if any, rain. The Rooibokkraal area, close to Thabazimbi in the Limpopo Province, is no exception. With no rain having fallen for the last six to eight months, the ground temperature keeps on rising and man and beast feel the grip of the drought tightening day by day.

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.

Spring 2019 – the Limpopo Province is experiencing the most severe drought ever recorded.

There was no clear shot as the bull was facing us, and having paid some expensive school fees earlier in my hunting career, I did not want to take a frontal shot from 90 yards away. As the bull turned, Thomas whispered in my ear to take him and I slipped off the safety catch. Whether the sable heard the safety go off or Thomas’s voice, I do not know but he suddenly looked straight at us, not providing me with the broadside shot I wanted. I put my safety back on and for what felt like a half-an-hour, we were at a stand-off. Nobody moved and the sable kept looking in our direction, trying to figure out what we were. Eventually he turned broadside and the safety slipped off once again. It sent a very slight metallic noise through the dry bushveld, followed by the mighty roar of the Verney spitting out the 570 gr soft-nose Woodleigh. At that exact moment the sable fell to the ground. I was stunned! The shot must have been a couple of inches too far forward and it had clipped the neck where it joins the shoulder. Nevertheless, the sable was down and congratulatory pats on the back followed. It was a great stalk and a great shot – well done by the PH and the hunter!
The sable was one of the most beautiful animals I have had the privilege to kneel down beside. He was pitch black and he was huge. His horns were thick, much thicker that I had imagined. Those majestic curls came back a long way and I estimated them to be very close to 40 inches – a splendid sable bull indeed!

The sable’s massive body. Note the secondary horn growth, a certain sign of old age.

It was now just after 07h00 and when the Land Cruiser arrived, the temperature gauge showed that it was 37°C already. This did not bother us at all and we took extra time in setting up this gorgeous bull for the stunning trophy pictures he deserved. Later, back at the skinning shed, Thomas jumped in and helped his skinning team to get the cape off and out of the sun as quickly as possible. The meat also had to reach the cold room without delay as soon as the skin was removed in order to start cooling down. The heat was intense. Thomas instructed the camp cook to prepare the tender loins for us to braai the next evening.
We had a quick brunch and Thomas took me out once again – this time in search of a big impala ram. This part of South Africa has some of the biggest impala recorded over the last century. Maybe Lady Luck would be on our side. However, we had to drive around for two full days looking for the right ram. We passed up close to a dozen rams, looking for all the different attributes we wanted this ram to have: he had to be old, at least six years; have thick horns with thick bases; have a nice shape and then lastly, if all this were in place, it would be a bonus if the horns could stretch the tape over the Rowland Ward mark.
Hunting a big impala has a lot to do with luck. And oh, man, how lucky could a hunter get! By the end of the second day we saw a ram walking away from us and after one quick look, Thomas said urgently: “Take him now!” I was on the shooting sticks in a flash but by that time the impala, walking away from us, was already more than 200 yards away. I was feeling very confident. With the .30-06 in my hand, shooting a 180 gr Nosler Ballistic tip at 2 800 fps, I took a Texas heart shot. The animal collapsed on the spot and we later discovered that the lungs had been destroyed. The skinners collected the Nosler in the neck of the ram.
And what a ram it was! After hunting my first impala more than two decades previously, this was the ultimate one to take. I had never in my life seen a ram as big as this. He had the perfect

shape but had been losing condition fast, with hip bones and ribs showing as he walked through the African bush. He was on the downward slope but instead of dying a long and miserable death, surrounded by jackal and hyena, he would now forever have a place in a trophy room as one of the biggest impala rams ever to roam the Limpopo bushveld. He measured over 27 inches, a true once-in-a-lifetime trophy!

The massive impala the author downed at Tom Dreyer Safaris – it was a true once-in-a-lifetime specimen, reaching 27″.

That evening we had the most succulent piece of venison meat I had ever consumed. Maybe it was just because it was my own sable and also that I had hunted two exceptional animals that definitely added to the taste. This was topped off with homemade bread and jam – there is nothing to beat homemade food!
To Thomas and his lovely wife, Mareschka, thank you so much for treating us to a wonderful week. You have a stunning place and your operation runs like clockwork. You will see us again soon and you can hold me to that! ASM

Rooibokkraal is one of the areas where you can find really big impala. The author hunted the one on the right measuring 27″; the one on the left was hunted by an American client six weeks prior and reached 28″.

African sunset over the dry
bushveld at Tom Dreyer Safaris
in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.

Tom Dreyer Safaris runs like clockwork. This is also owing to the efforts of a very capable lady who loves catering and entertaining.

African sunset over the dry bushveld at Tom Dreyer Safaris in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.