South Africa: 2016
A Springbok Slam
By Darrell Sterling
If you are going to hunt plains game on the Dark Continent, there is a good chance that you will hunt in South Africa. And a very sought-after animal is the springbok which has been a national symbol for the country since 1906. It was adopted as the logo for several top sports teams, most famously by the national rugby team, who then were known affectionately as the Springboks, Boks, or Bokke.
The country is crazy about rugby!
The springbok is a gorgeous little creature that only weighs between 60 to 90 pounds, and both male and female have a pair of black horns. Its main feature is its white face with a dark stripe running from the eyes to the nose. They are hunted by a variety of predators such as cheetah, leopard, spotted hyena, jackal and wild dog, and are therefore extremely skittish, and can be difficult to stalk within range.
I had a number of animals on my wish list on this particular safari and had already been successful in bagging some of the larger plains game. But I was intrigued watching the plentiful springbok on the concession that I was hunting, bounding away with high bouncing leaps up to seven feet in the air. Highly entertaining, and I looked forward to the challenge of hunting the country’s national symbol.
I was hunting with Tam Safaris with my guide and PH, Steven Tam. I could not have had a better PH to guide me, push me, and direct me on this challenging safari. I had chosen a Ruger .223 with a Hornady 56-grain bullet, propelling it at about 2800 fps, and had put in my practice time at my home shooting range. The tough part of hunting springbok is not finding them – they are plentiful. The problem is that they are herd animals, so at times could have as many as 50 sets of eyes watching as you drive by in your Cruiser.
We would drive some way past the herd and try to park the vehicle out of sight, which was almost impossible given the flat terrain we were hunting. In those situations a stalk was almost futile. We were never able to get much closer than 500 yards, and with a steady crosswind, making a shot at that distance was nearly impossible. We spent our day looking for a good shooter. We must have looked over hundreds of springbok, and occasionally came across some black and white ones. The white really stand out, making them an easy target for predators.
We found a nice buck with good bases and good horns; he was definitely what we were after. I don’t like to shoot off a vehicle, but we would have to spook the herd to get them to move and split. The plan was to use the Cruiser to separate the animals, follow the group with the buck I was after, then wait for them to slow down so I could get set up to take the long shot that would be required.
We managed to split the group which moved in different directions. We crept alongside the smaller group with the big buck, and when the animals slowed we parked the Cruiser. I was set up on top of the vehicle trying to find the buck with my rangefinder so I could gauge the distance of the shot.
I ranged the springbok at 320 yards. I looked over to Steven who also had his rangefinder out, and he nodded in confirmation. The truck was at an awkward angle, and I was not directly facing the springbok. I had to position myself to try to shoot to my far left. I lined up and shot, exhaling as I squeezed the trigger. The springbok jumped as the bullet hit his midsection. The herd bounded away together with my wounded buck.
We started the truck and tried to shorten the distance to the animals; the old buck must have had a rush of adrenaline, because he somehow found the energy to run a good distance.
When we had closed the gap to within 240 yards we stopped and I squeezed off another round that put the buck down for good. I was extremely excited as I leaped from the truck to go over and inspect what would turn out to be my record book springbok. We took plenty of photos to capture the moment. It had truly been a successful hunt.
I had taken the animals on my list, but still had a couple days left.
“What are your plans for tomorrow?” Steven asked once we got back to camp and had unloaded my trophy. I had limited financial resources left, but while I was studying the species list of the animals left for me to pursue, Steven came up with a plan that I found irresistible. He offered me a discount if I was interested in completing a springbok slam. The main lodge had an unusual arrangement of three springbok – the black, the common, and the white – mounted on a wooden cabinet with the different colored skins displayed inside it.
I wanted to have a replica or very similar mount set up in my trophy room, so I quickly agreed to Steven’s generous offer. The next day we would be hunting both black and white springbok!
We started out early the next morning covering a lot of ground and seeing plenty of animals, but the weather was not cooperating. The wind was blowing consistently around 15 to 20 miles an hour but at times would gust up to 35 miles per hour. This caused us two problems. The first was obvious – taking a shot of any distance would be extremely difficult. The second was that the animals became a little more skittish and would easily spook, flying across the open plains.
We had parked the Cruiser behind a small rise. We were going to have to find a way to stay downwind and sneak into position. The animals were all moving as the wind had them scurrying about. We were crouched down using our binoculars to scan them. A black springbok caught our eye as they ran past us to a small hill where they stopped close to a large tree. The wind actually worked to our advantage as we duck-walked and crawled closer, and the springbok were not aware of us. A couple of them even lay down. The trophy ram I wanted was hanging a little back from the herd, more toward the tree.
We were well within the range, but Steven thought we should try to get even closer because of the strong winds, and as usual he was correct. We had wormed our way to within 170 yards of this beautiful black springbok, and Stephen set up the sticks.
“Aim toward the animal’s rear,” he whispered as I was settling in to make the shot. I didn’t question him because I knew that even at that close range the strong wind would cause my bullet to drift. Once again I exhaled and squeezed, dropping the buck right where he was standing. The rest of the herd leaped and bounced off in all directions.
I stood over the beautiful dark springbok, enjoying a successful hunt. We had overcome the gusting winds and were able to close the deal. It was a very satisfying moment for a hunter. The predator versus prey game has existed since the dawn of man. You add in a crazy windstorm on open plains, and the feeling of accomplishment is incredibly fulfilling.
We took the animal to the skinning shed, and after lunch and a siesta were ready to head out again in our quest for a white springbok. The coloring on this animal makes it by far the easiest to spot, but irrespective of color, they are all very wary and easily spooked, and will bolt away at the first whiff of danger.
We looked over a few very nice herds and found a couple of good shooters, but inevitably the wind gave us away, and an animal would catch us creeping along, and off they would go moving quickly out of sight. Springbok are just tough little critters to get close to. It is no wonder they are the symbol for South Africa as they are extremely tough and challenging animals.
Back in the vehicle, we were off, still searching for a beautiful white springbok, when we came upon a fairly large herd. We stopped the truck and ranged the animals, which were around 400 yards away.
“If we try to get down off the truck they will be gone in a flash,” Steven whispered in my ear. I wanted to get on the shooting sticks, but he was right. If we moved even a little, the herd would spook. I started to get set up on what was going to be a very long shot on a small animal.
“You have been shooting great all week, you’ve got this,” Steven encouraged.
I tried to find a spot on top of the Cruiser where I could get comfortable and relaxed. I felt pretty solid, but at that range a little gust of wind in a split-second miscalculation would either result in a clean miss or, at worst case, a wounded animal. I got zeroed in on the buck that Steven had chosen as the best of the bunch. I fired the shot but flat out missed. The herd wasn’t sure what just happened, so they didn’t up and run, but just moved off about 50-75 yards. Steven had the truck close the gap and shut it down when we were within 360 yards. I made the next shot count, and less than a second later the animal just dropped. I was happy. I was able to redeem myself for missing the first shot, and I had bagged a very nice white springbok.
It had been one hell of a day, and I was extremely happy with the results. We sat around the supper table reliving the highlights of the hunt. I was beaming – I had accomplished the springbok slam, or so I thought. Steven smiled at me.
“You know you’re not done yet. There is still one more springbok left to complete the slam.” I thought he was kidding me.
“What color? Let me guess. Purple or pink?”
“It’s the copper springbok,” he laughed. He showed me a picture of the unusual animal. He also told me that he had plenty of them on the property if I wanted to get it done. I sighed. Although I wanted to finish what I started right there and then, the truth was I had already spent way more than my budget on this safari.
I will return one day soon to complete my slam, and bag a copper springbok.