The Humble Impala
Above: A typical group of impala ewes with a dominant ram.
Any sport hunter on a first time southern African safari should ensure an impala is on his bucket list. Either representative, or trophy because they both look impressive. This prolific antelope species offers not only a challenge to the hunter, it also makes for a superb trophy. Either as a European shield mount, or a shoulder mount. Those with the trophy room space often settle for a full mount, although I personally feel the shield or shoulder are the way to go. If opting for a shield mount, ensure too, the skinning staff are fully aware you’d like the full skin. It makes an excellent tanned out floor rug/conversation piece.
Ideally, and particularly so if you’re on a first-time safari your PH will introduce you to African hunting by guiding you on the smaller yet attractive trophies such as impala, warthog etc. It wouldn’t be wise to leap into the deep end by starting your first ever African hunt on a buffalo for example, although it happens and quite often. Professional hunter’s like to know their client is both confident and proficient as a hunter and shooter. In the military I served in we called it ‘Skill at Arms’. I guess the term still holds good today, some 43 years since I last donned an army uniform.
Above: The first thing you'll do after getting settled in is go to the range and check your rifle's zero.
Obviously the first thing you’ll do on a hunt once the guns are uncased is pay a visit to the shooting range. This is merely to check your rifle scope’s zero is still good and everything is in working order after a long flight over, and after baggage handlers have probably been handling you gun-box roughly. One way of quickly becoming demoralized during a hunt is to end up with wounded and lost trophies on day one. With careful planning and attention to detail there’s absolutely no need for it.
Above: If possible it's wise to use your first day of safari getting over travel fatigue, and getting used to the light and general conditions you'll be hunting under.
If your hunt duration allows for it, try to take day one fairly easy as this allows time to recover from travel to the hunt venue. Equally important, it gives you time to get used to the light conditions in the hunting area, the habitat and cover, and in general to just relax and settle down. During this seemingly quiet time of driving round glassing and looking, you’ll invariably see plenty of impala, and especially so, if you’re hunting a well managed wildlife concession or property. Impala make up one of the main prey species for many of southern Africa’s larger carnivores, such as leopard, cheetah, and to a lesser extent, lion and hyena.
Above: A trophy impala with its lyre shaped heavily ringed horns is impressive. They stand out as a species and have a poetic grace about them. A mix of pride, nervous energy, and pure Africa. They’re good to look at and fun to hunt, and if prepared correctly the venison will pass muster as table fare in camp.
An impala breeding herd normally comprises a harem of females numbering from about 15 to 25 plus, with a single dominant ram in attendance. If there are good numbers of impala where your hunt is taking place and you can find territorial males of good trophy quality, or bachelor groups containing good trophy males, then I feel a hunter should avoid shooting a trophy quality dominant ram out of a breeding herd. Aside from unnecessarily disturbance, a quality ram’s genes are needed for the improvement and sustainability of the overall impala population. Land owners and wildlife managers, who have the well being of their wildlife at heart, won’t normally allow good males to be taken out of breeding herds, and this sound practice is reflected in the trophy quality on their ranches.