The Birthday Impala

I was happy to get an Impala for my birthday a couple of years ago! I was in South Africa on a short work assignment at Mkuze Game Reserve. I had taught a week-long course on natural resources policy at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg.

We were doing a follow-up week of applying the course material at the Reserve with the 20, or so, South African natural resources professionals. It was already early afternoon in mid-week when I realized it was my birthday, September 20th.  When the people responsible for bringing me to South Africa found out, they asked what I would like for my birthday. My quick response was "I’d like to shoot something!"

Although it is best known for its bird life, the Reserve has healthy populations of many African antelope and other game species, including elephant, giraffe, hippo, crocodile (flat dogs), and white rhino. One night while I was there, Reserve staff culled some impala. Impala are quite prolific and can soon overpopulate their habitat if not kept in check.

Culling From A Pickup
The normal culling practice is to have two shooters and one spotlight operator in the rear of the buckie (pickup). Small herds of 15 or 25 animals will often stand still in the blinding light until the shooters get them all. (The meat is put to good use.) Unfortunately, the Reserve manager didn’t think it would be appropriate for me to be a shooter in the Reserve!

Curious Cape buffalo were around.

Reserve staff also frequently culled wart hogs, which they affectionately refer to as South African police cars because of the way they run with their antenna-like tail sticking straight up. Again, the Reserve manager didn’t think it would be appropriate for me to shoot one. They did need to cull one during our stay there and it was delicious on the barbie! They let me keep the curved ivory tusks.

Following a brief, mad scramble, the locals in our group were able to set up a short hunt for me on a nearby ranch. After being introduced, exchanging pleasantries, and checking out the ostrich chicks, the rancher brought out a British military bolt action 7.62 caliber. Unfortunately, he could only find hard ball military ammo, not the best, but I wasn’t going to turn him down.

Wild Game Abounds
On our 10-minute drive to the area, he thought we’d find some impala. On the way he explained his ranching operation. It was pretty laid back, with some income from domestic cattle, some from raising ostrich (selling birds, meat, and eggs), and some from fee hunting. I learned later that he had inherited some money and didn’t need to work very hard, which was obvious from the looks of the place and his laid back attitude!

I was riding on the passenger side of the buckie with an uncased rifle with its magazine loaded while watching for both impala and baboon. Baboons were a nuisance and an opportunistic predator that can be hard on native antelope as well as cattle. We didn’t see any baboons, but saw plenty of other wildlife. 

It wasn’t long before we spotted a small herd of impala in a mostly open savanna area. At about 200 yards I drew down on a nice impala ram and squeezed off a shot. The ram went off in one direction, and the rest of the herd went another. We knew it was a hit!

A Nice Trophy
We trailed him with the buckie and caught him standing near an acacia tree about 75 yards away. A second shot from the 7.62 put him down for good. Man was I excited — I got an impala for my birthday! His horns measured about 21 inches, which is a pretty nice trophy.

The author and his birthday impala.

I didn’t get to hunt any more that trip, but I managed to return to South Africa to hunt again a while later. My greatest surprise was that hunting plains game in South Africa is not much more expensive than hunting deer or pronghorn antelope in the Midwest. The airfare is the only big-ticket item. It doesn’t get expensive until you start bagging the big five (lion, leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo, and rhino) or some of the more glamorous species such as nyala, sable, or a big hippo.

Similar to other international hunts, in about nine months a box arrived at my workplace with my impala ram. Unfortunately, this time the mount didn’t fare so well in the shipping process and was a little broken up. My local taxidermist fixed it up like new and didn’t charge me a dime. It makes a great conversation piece when I talk about the impala I got for my birthday in South Africa.

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