By Darrell Sterling
I have always admired the regal appearance of the jet-black sable with its long sweeping horns. They are one of the most iconic and majestic plains-game animals in all of Africa. A dozen years ago they used to be very expensive to hunt. And I wasn’t sure if I would ever get that chance…
I had lined up a safari with Monkane Safaris. Owner Kerneels Viljoen had asked if I was interested in hunting for a sable. Of course I was, but said it was a little out of my price range. However, he was kind enough to work with me to make this hunt possible. Thankfully, the price has gone done over the years as more and more farms have been raising sables, and I was now fortunate because my outfitter had made it impossible for me to say no.
My safari had been going extremely well. I had taken a couple of animals that will surely qualify for the record books, a beautiful nyala, and an extremely large eland, and much as I had enjoyed the challenge of hunting these animals, my focus was on getting a magnificent sable. That day finally came. We were going to a farm that had plenty of nice sables. I should get my chance to fill my tag of my dream animal.
I slept little that night, looking forward to the next day. My daughter Misty Sterling who had been hunting with me every day of the safari also had little sleep from excitement. We both were extremely anxious to start this hunt.
We rolled into this new hunting area at first light and hunted hard, driving for miles. We found some fresh tracks next to one of the many dirt roads we had been crisscrossing and grabbed the shooting sticks to see if we could catch up with the sable that had made the tracks. We started out slowly, but as the tracks become fresher our pace picked up. The wind was in our favor as well, so my PH Gerhard Smit wanted to take advantage of the tactical edge.
My guide pushed through the thick brush, avoiding the thorny bushes that were everywhere. My daughter and I were not so fortunate. We seemed to get stuck in one thornbush after the next. We tried to keep up, but the fast pace was not helping, and I had blood running down my legs and sweat pouring down my back as I struggled to keep close to the guide. I was afraid he would stop and throw up the shooting sticks only to find that I was 30 yards behind him. I turned around many times to check on my daughter – she was also getting beaten up pretty good by the dense bush.
I decided that we needed to slow down, or we were going to be a real mess if the pace kept up. We had already gone about three miles and Gerhard showed no sign of slowing down. I caught up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. I told him we could walk all day through the bush as we had done on previous days but not at the pace he was on. I showed him my legs and told him we needed to slow down at least a little. But Gerhard explained that with the wind and the sign in tracks, he felt the need to push our advantage. I understood, and as much as I wanted a big sable, it would be hard for me to take an accurate shot if I was out of breath and bleeding from a million cuts.
Gerhard understood and slowed down the pursuit of the fresh tracks. We went another mile or so when the track mixed in with more sable tracks. He signaled for the truck to swing by and pick us up. We checked round the area for another hour till past noon and saw hardly any animals, let alone a sable, so the decision was made to try another farm.
We drove over to the new area and on the way, I ate my packed lunch. We did not stop for the usual safari siesta but it seemed as if we might just push through, so I decided to fill up knowing we could be in for a long day. It was a good thing that I did.
We arrived at the new farm that displayed a sable on their sign, which I thought had to be a good omen. We saw animals, including a steenbok, as soon as we entered the property, but it was almost the heat of the day before we finally saw our first sable. I was beginning to tire as we had not stopped since first light. My daughter looked a little weary, but I could tell she was still excited, which only helped to lift my spirits.
The day wore on. Generally, when hunting, one goes for the largest animal possible, and the cost does not change with size, but it is different with sable. It works similarly with whitetail deer – the larger the animal, the higher the price. The first sable we had seen in six hours of hard hunting was a giant and was too big and expensive for this old cowboy to shoot. It was a little depressing having to pass on a massive old bull. I did see my first ever roan and was really impressed with the animal, and it is now on my list.
We drove further only to find five sable bulls milling about. Quickly, three pairs of binoculars went up, studying the group. A couple where brownish which meant they were not fully mature, but three were midnight black with long sweeping horns. I was worried that they all might be too big, but one bull caught my eye. He looked to be the right size and age. I asked my PH about it, and he replied that was the one that they were really looking over. I was happy to have spotted the correct bull.
I heard the magic words, “Lets get down to take a closer look.” Instantly my heart started pounding. We slowly exited the vehicle and made our way around the small herd to take an even closer look.
We had a representative from the farm with us and my guide chatted with him trying to decide if that bull was the right one for me. He was a very big bull, and my guide could get into trouble if I shot a one over the size limit that I was contracted to hunt.
There was much discussion. I reminded my guide that when we stopped in town a couple of days ago that I had bought him a carton of cigarettes and some candy and I was more than willing to bribe him with more smokes and candy! I was joking and having fun, but I had also told him that if the bull was the wrong size, then we would keep looking or go to another farm. Anyway, he still wanted to take a better look, so we stalked even closer to the herd. At one point he put the sticks up and told me to get ready. I got my Ruger .30-06 up on the sticks, my pulse hammering away. I was told to hold steady while they made the final decision.
Then the herd quickly moved away. We were now in catch-up mode and took off on foot. My adrenaline was really going now. We moved along silently through the brush to catch up to where the small group of bulls had settled down. I was sweating heavily now and trying to calm my nerves. My PH chatted again with the farmhand, and they decided it was a go. The sticks went up!
It was extremely difficult to identify the bull we needed as the animals milled about and changing places. It was tough getting a bead on which one was which. We finally figured out which bull was to be mine when the wind shifted, sending the herd off in a sprint.
We had to head quickly to the truck if we were going to get catch up and try to outflank them. We got ahead of them and jumped out of the truck moving through the brush trying to get in front of them, anticipating where they might go. The problem again was trying to pick the right bull from a small herd of animals that all looked very similar. The two guides conferred, figuring which one was the chosen one.
The sticks again went up. I was worn out as my emotions had ebbed and flowed numerous times in the last thirty minutes. I got my gun up but was half expecting us to have to move yet again, but instead I was told which bull to aim at. I tried to follow the bull as he weaved in and out of the pack. Then he pulled slightly away, and I told my guide I was going to take him. He verified which one I had zeroed in on, and once that was confirmed he told me to take the shot. I had been dragged through thorns, dense bush, and emotionally put through the ringer, but once given the green light I snapped off a shot that smacked the bull hard. He bucked and ran but only went about 25 yards before piling up in a bush. We got the binoculars and saw the bull tangled up in a very large bush. He wasn’t moving much but his ears were up still, so I was told to take another shot.
We moved closer and my gun went back up on the sticks. Another round went into the downed bull. The first shot had been a double-lung shot and some follow-up shots ensured the old sable was mine.
We dragged him out from under the bush marveling at his size and mass. My guide looked at me, smiled and said, “I might be in trouble, he is a big one.” My search for a sable was over. Nothing is quite as satisfying as a dream being realized. I would like to thank my PH Gerhard Smit and Monkane Safaris for a terrific old sable bull.