Skip to main content

Boddington's Quest For A Roosevelt's Sable

Boddington's Quest For A Roosevelt's Sable

In 1837 Cornwallis Harris first described to the western world the wondrous animal we call the sable antelope. No sensible list of the world's most beautiful creatures could fail to include the sable somewhere near the top. The mature sable bull has a glossy, coal-black coat offset by a white face mask and underparts. This plus his powerful shoulders and regal bearing would be enough to set him apart, but he's crowned with thick, heavily ringed scimitar horns that on a big bull seem to nearly reach his rump.

The sable antelope is just plain magnificent, and it is one of Africa's most prized antelope trophies. Paradoxically, by both habit and habitat the sable is often not especially difficult to hunt. It is a herd animal of the fringes, preferring woodland habitat but often coming out into open dambos to feed. When caught in the open, its shiny black hide can be seen at great distances, and the sable isn't generally as wary or difficult to stalk as the greater kudu, eland or a dozen other antelopes I could name.

That always depends on the sable's relative density and the thickness of the cover. Sable seem to be sensitive to drought and also to man's intrusion. In today's Africa there aren't many areas where sable can still be considered plentiful. Where they're thin on the ground, they can be extremely difficult to find.

Sable are "on quota" in a couple of the Lower Zambezi areas where I do a lot of hunting. This is a region of thick mopane woodland with few openings, big country with a small quota, reflecting a scattered population. I've hunted this region annually since 2004, several months in total. I can count on one hand my actual sightings of sable antelope. However, I've never actually hunted sable in this area. If you dig around in the right places, you can find them.


It's somewhat different in good sable country in coastal Mozambique, western Zambia and western Tanzania, where the sable is one of the most common large antelopes. Add a large population and more open country, and sightings are common. In September 2010 I hunted the Kigosi Game Reserve in western Tanzania. I saw herds of sable almost every day, generally with good bulls in their midst. Sable were on license, but I very much wanted not to take one, because these weren't the sable I was looking for.


There are actually several races of sable. These in western Tanzania were of the most widespread common race,

Hippotragus niger niger, found from southern Africa northeast to western and central Tanzania. Tanzania has another sable, a bit smaller, often with reddish highlights in its coat. This is H. n. roosevelti, named in honor of Theodore Roosevelt. Though they were once believed to exist only in

Kenya's Shimba Hills, recent DNA testing has proven that the sable of southeastern Tanzania are in fact Roosevelt's. After Kigosi, I had a chance to spend a few days in the Kilombero Valley south and west of Selous, the sole purpose being to take Roosevelt's sable. There's just one sable on a Tanzanian license, so I had to ignore an awful lot of temptation.


Kilombero is a beautiful area of rugged hills rising from brushy valleys. Best-known for big herds of buffalo and notoriously ill-tempered lions, it holds quite a lot of sable, but the cover is thick and, as I quickly discovered, they aren't easy to find. We got on a nice herd late the second evening, but it was just too dark to sort them out. That group vanished utterly, but on the third evening we got onto a nice bull feeding in open mopane. My friend and PH Michel Mantheakis thought we might do better, but the clock was running out fast so I insisted on a stalk. We got on him, but remembering

Michel's uncertainty, I held off and the moment passed. We never saw that bull again.

This set us up for the greatest sable hunt of my life. That plus one more thing. Late the next morning, after seeing almost nothing since dawn, a gorgeous sable bull stood on a timbered ridge 200 yards above us. It was a thread-the-needle shot between trees, and although the shower of bark was spectacular, the sable was unimpressed.


We moved to the top of the ridge and briefly saw sable moving in a thick hollow below--four or five cows, a black bull, then another black bull, the two sparring. It was too thick to determine which was which, and after a brief scuffle they moved on. Much later we realized that the young bull had the herd and the old boy was shadowing, looking for an opening. I was sick, but Michel was determined. These hills had been burned, and in the powdered ash we had a chance to follow their tracks.

Mind you, it wasn't a great chance. The ridges were steep and rocky, with wide areas where tracking was impossible. We went very slowly, time and again losing the tracks and circling ahead. In our favor was that it was now blistering midday, and only the one bull had actually been spooked. What little wind was present was in our favor, and visibility in the burn was pretty good. If we could just hold the tracks, we had a good chance to find them resting in shade.

Up one ridge, down another, running short of water. Michel's trackers performed miracles, circling far ahead to find just one of the faint triangular tracks. Eventually, the spoor led us to a narrow table on top of a mountain. Here the sable had rested, leaving several piles of dung, but which way had they gone? This was the worst tracking of all--sun-baked ground the fire hadn't reached. We were moving very slowly when sharp-eyed young Andy MacDonald, our cameraman, stopped us and pointed ahead. How in the world he saw a slightly blacker spot in black shadow is beyond me, but binoculars showed it to be a sable bull, thick horns and partially seen curve confirming that it was the correct one.

There was no shot, and then, nervous, the bull took a few steps and there was another thread-the-needle shot. He bailed off the ridge, and we found him in a deep gully just below the crest, an incredible old bull at the end of his life, blind in one eye with massive secondary growth at his horn bases. I have much bigger sable of the common race, but I'm sure he will stand as my most memorable Roosevelt's.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Sighting In the CZ .557 Carbine

Sighting In the CZ .557 Carbine

Kevin Steele sights in his CZ .557 carbine rifle that he plans to use on a Colorado elk hunt.

Is That a Grizzly Bear?

Is That a Grizzly Bear?

Kevin Steele and Jason Morton are above the Arctic Circle pursuing grizzly bears in Alaska and put a stalk on what they believe is a good one.

Venison Cheeseburger Bites Recipe

Venison Cheeseburger Bites Recipe

If you're tired of the same old jalapeno and cream cheese poppers, here's a completely different take on the popular party appetizer. Easy to make, and incredibly delicious, these mini cheeseburgers, wrapped in bacon, make the perfect one-bite-fits-all snack for your next tailgate party or hunting camp.

Hunting Coues Deer South of the Border

Hunting Coues Deer South of the Border

Former Delta Force Operator Kyle Lamb hikes the rugged desert mountains of northern Sonora in pursuit of the diminutive Coues species of whitetail.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Technology is taking deer hunters, and their gear, into the future. The Best New Deer Hunting Technology Accessories

The Best New Deer Hunting Technology

Jeff Johnston - May 15, 2020

Technology is taking deer hunters, and their gear, into the future.

We're deciphering new deer data for rut success.Daylight Deer Movement During the Rut Whitetail

Daylight Deer Movement During the Rut

Jeff Johnston

We're deciphering new deer data for rut success.

The outdoor industry gets serious about recruiting new hunters with some curious marketing strategies.Are New Hunter Recruitment Strategies Working? Conservation

Are New Hunter Recruitment Strategies Working?

Andrew McKean - May 05, 2020

The outdoor industry gets serious about recruiting new hunters with some curious marketing...

Salty capers add a burst of flavor to the sauce, which pairs beautifully with the grilled venison loin in this recipe.Grilled Venison Loin with Caper-Mustard Sauce Recipe Recipes

Grilled Venison Loin with Caper-Mustard Sauce Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Salty capers add a burst of flavor to the sauce, which pairs beautifully with the grilled...

See More Trending Articles

More Stories

No longbeards, but entertainment aplenty with forming Texas tornado!Texas Turkey Hunting With a Spring "Twist" Stories

Texas Turkey Hunting With a Spring "Twist"

Lynn Burkhead - April 27, 2020

No longbeards, but entertainment aplenty with forming Texas tornado!

What is the biggest driver of anti-hunting propaganda in recent years? HSUS? PETA? WWF? All goodProtecting Our Image in the Digital Age Stories

Protecting Our Image in the Digital Age

Mike Schoby - July 01, 2016

What is the biggest driver of anti-hunting propaganda in recent years? HSUS? PETA? WWF? All...

Elephants are one of the mostly widely persecuted animals on earth. And while poaching across the7 Elephant Facts You've Never Heard Of Stories

7 Elephant Facts You've Never Heard Of

Craig Boddington - December 29, 2015

Elephants are one of the mostly widely persecuted animals on earth. And while poaching across...

If there's anything we rednecks love more than our women, beer and country music, it's gotta be ourThe Redneck Mini-Pickup-Van Stories

The Redneck Mini-Pickup-Van

Awesome Rednecks - September 09, 2013

If there's anything we rednecks love more than our women, beer and country music, it's gotta...

See More Stories

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save.

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Petersen's Hunting App

Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Petersen's Hunting subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now