Fable of a Sable

Many of us start hunting at a young age together with our fathers and we then develop that passion through continuously striving to make our hunting experiences more challenging. My hunting experiences were not different. As with most hunters, I started with rifle hunting, which I still enjoy, but as the years went by, I also looked for better and more challenging ways to outwit my quarry. Whether it was longer shots, better shot placement or simply trying to get as close as possible to the game before even taking a shot, all such ideas where practiced to “tighten the challenge”.

Some 3 years ago during another bushveld hunt on the farm Indabushee in the Vaalwater district, and old friend and Professional Hunter buddy of mine, Nico Vos introduced me to bow hunting as a sport. The discussion started when Nico showed me his compound bow, at that time an AR from PSE. I remember very well that his bow was set at 70 pound and I almost sprained a shoulder muscle in trying to draw the bow. That was it; the new challenge was on!

I started reading up on bow hunting and two years ago at the AIM shot show, held at Kyalami, I purchased my first bow. Choosing a bow was extremely difficult and as you all know there are many factors that play a role. I have always tried to be different to the next guy and therefore I also wanted to own a bow that was somewhat different. The bow I invested in at the time was PSE Triton. This bow was compact and could be adjusted down to 60 pounds, which was a good starting point for me at the time. It had a 7 inch brace height, which I was told will be much more forgiving in making errors. My release was a Scott which I still use today. Being “kinetically challenged”, as Herman Brand referrers to us shorter guys, meant that I could only draw to a maximum of 27 inches. Herman made up my first Carbon Impact Arrows which when fitted with a 100 grain, 3 blade Muzzy broad head, weighed just short of 400 grains.

I practiced frequently in my backyard and in a relative short time, with improving my technique; I was able to increase the draw weight to 70 pounds. This combination allowed a speed of around 240 feet per second.

About one year later, in March 2007, my good friend Nico Vos and I were chatting over the phone about passed hunting experiences and I told him of my latest bow purchasing developments. He immediately asked me if I would be interested in hunting a Sable antelope. I almost fell off my chair in amazement, as I knew that Sable antelopes could reach prices close the R100 000 mark, and I could never justify, let alone afford such money for a hunt!
Nico went on to explain that through his Professional Hunting contacts he has acquired the hunting rights on two old Sable cows on the farm Riverdance also in the Vaalwater area. This farm manages an extremely successful Sable breeding program. These two cows which were not breading anymore and through game management practices were going to be culled. The only requirement was that it had to be done quietly and therefore no rifles were allowed. Bow hunting was the only option. When he told me the price I suddenly realized that a dream has come true. I was able to afford a hunt of one of the most prestige’s antelopes in existence and this for a first-time bow hunt! Talking about being “in the right place at the right time”!

Nico and I fixed a date in April of this year and although the time was short it could not go past fast enough.
We arrived at Nico’s hunting lodge on the farm Indabushee where we stayed for that week and without any delays set up a butt and started practicing. Nico, being extremely experienced in bow hunting tactics has spent some time to go and scout the area where we would be hunting the Sable. From the photos he has e-mailed to me some days before, it was clear that we would have to be able to take 40 yard shots if so required due to the lack of dense vegetation. We therefore practiced for the next two days using different scenarios and positions from which we possibly had to shoot. Nico told me that we had only one day to conclude the hunt and at this point it became clear that we would have to consider a walk-and-stalk hunt as we could not be guaranteed where and how the Sables would be behaving on that specific day.

Then the big day arrived. We left Indabushee at day break and arrived at Riverdance some hour or so later. We were met at the gate by one of the Game wardens who promptly took us the area where the Sables were expected to be that morning. Both Nico and I jumped into our leafy suits, got the video camera sorted out, prepared the bow and assessing the wind direction started an approach towards where we were told the Sables would be found.

It took us about an hour until we spotted the first Sable bull. What a magnificent looking animal. His horns curled back so far that it looked like if they would be able to touch his back. He was pitch-black and the white markings on his face contrasted beautifully with his black body. I was totally excited and tried to control my breathing. Nico looked at me and said with a dry tone of voice ”don’t forget to breathe”. We studied the bull’s behaviour for some time and worked out what we had to do to stalk the heard. We had to be able to clearly identify the two old cows as it could become extremely expensive if we did not shoot the correct animal.

Nico identified a dry bush next to a game path where we thought the heard would possibly walk past on the way to the water when it became a little warmer. We used this bush as a hide by positioning ourselves in the middle of it with branches and leaves all around us. We sat in this spot for more than an hour and finally the heard started coming up this game trail one by one. They where definitely not in a hurry and they had no idea that we where hiding in this bush. We used my range finder to identify some distinctive bushes and markings where we thought the Sables would walk by but as you know you can never guarantee where the animals would decide to walk that day. The heard did come past our “bushy hide” but too far to take a shot. My heart was beating profusely as the game passed, especially when Nico pointed out the two old cows. It was easy to identify them as they had exceptionally well developed horns for cows and also their normally brown complexion has turned almost black.

Now what do we do? Our quarry was in sight but too far to even attempt a shot. So we waited until the heard passed us completely and then slowly crept out of our “bush hide”. We assessed again where the animals would be moving towards and than Nico took us around quite a long distance and then made me sit behind a tree stump where I then waited as the animals approached.

About another hour passed and then the animals came past one by one. We identified the cow we wanted to hunt and finally about 31 yards away there she was. I drew the bow, aimed and released. All happened extremely fast in a few seconds, although it felt like it all happened in slow motion.

The arrow was a little high and she sped off into a thick overgrown area of bush. We gave her some 15 minutes or so and started taking the spoor. She separated from the rest of the heard and we found her standing perfectly quarter-away from us about 200 yards into the distance. I crawled and stalked and at a distance of 32 yards I drew a second arrow and this time it penetrated exactly as planned just behind the shoulder and it flew straight through the buck. She ran off again this time leaving an exceptional blood spoor, easy to track her by. We picked up the arrow some 10 yards behind from where she was standing.

When we found her again she has already fallen. At the face of this picture I felt like all the adrenalin ran out through my body into my legs and a total feeling of accomplishment came over me.

I sat next to my sable for a few minutes just admiring its beauty and thinking of the events that transpired in the past few hours. I realized just how fortunate and blessed I was to have been able to enjoy this experience. It is certainly a bow hunter dream come true.

Nico Vos and me with the Sable, directly after the memorable hunt.

More in this category: « Bowhunting in SAHGCA

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