Impala (Aepyceros melampus) may be one of the more common South African antelope, but they are beyond doubt one of the most striking. Their rufous colouring always makes them stand out in the veld, whether against the vibrant greens of summer vegetation or the pale, pastel shades of winter. Males with their beautifully lyrate horns make impressive trophies for those who are so inclined as to want to hunt for trophies. For the biltong hunter the meat is good tasting.
The general colour is reddish-brown, darker along the back and upper parts of the sides. The underparts are white. White patches above and in front of the eyes, throat white, sometimes a darker patch in front of the eye and on the crown of the head. The legs are slender. White ring above hoof with a patch of dark-brown hair surrounding a gland on the lower part of the back legs. A long narrow stripe on either side of the tail on the buttocks. Tail nearly reaches the hocks, with a black stripe above, white at the end. Males have horns which curve outwards, backwards and then inwards to upright tips. Height at shoulder: 90-93 cm. Males weigh 58-60 kg; females 45-48 kg.
Naturally occurring subspecies
The black-faced impala (Aepyceros melampus petersi) are found in the northern parts of Namibia and southern Angola. They are larger than the common impala and have a distinctive black facial marking. Otherwise they are very similar in appearance.
Natural colour variants do occur, such as black impala (melanistic form) but these were in the past very rare. Genetically manipulated versions are now making these rare occurrences more common and may grow to be more diverse as genetic interference increases.
Behaviour and habits
Impala are gregarious animals. Social grouping consists of breeding herds (adult male, adult females, sub-adult and yearling males and females), bachelor herds (adult and sub-adult males) and lone adult males. Males fight fiercely during the rutting season (autumn months). Sight and hearing are acute and they are especially vigilant when drinking. Males mark territories during the rut by depositing scat in piles – referred to as middens. They also rub their horns into and “thrash” bushes to rub secretions onto vegetation. Territory is also advertised by loud grunting noises and snorts. When giving alarm or on high alert impala will stand tall with head and ears erect. Ears and eyes are directed towards the source of disturbance. Eyes stare fixedly at the perceived threat. Nostrils are flared and alarm is signalled with explosive snorts. Foot stamping may also occur. Muscles are tense and the animal is ready to take flight instantly. When feeling threatened they may run off and then stand again after a short distance. The gestation period is six to seven months and a single lamb is usually born from early to midsummer. Impala are preyed upon by cheetah, hyena, lion and leopard. The latter will hoist their kill up high into a tree to keep it away from scavengers and competing predators.
Impala prefer tree and bush savannah.
Food and water requirements
Impala are mixed feeders, meaning that they both graze and browse. Impala require about 2,5 litres of water a day and will drink daily if water is available. They are usually very cautious when coming to drink and will carefully survey surroundings before actually drinking. When coming down to drink in a herd some animals will drink while others are keeping guard for potential threats.
The best time to hunt impala is during the rut as the males that contest strongly for females and territory tend to become bold and less vigilant, often approaching an intruder or coming closer to investigate a sound. They can become quite reckless, making it easier for a bowhunter to get within shooting range.
If the hunter is well camouflaged walk and stalk hunting is quite possible with impala especially if the hunter concentrates on lone rams. Stalking up to breeding herds is much more difficult as there are many eyes to see, ears to hear and nostrils to test the wind. The hunting method most likely to be successful is to shoot from a hide over a waterhole. Impala will drink on a daily basis and if the hunter is content to sit patiently in a hide he is more than likely going to be presented with a shot. Always be on the lookout for oxpeckers, which are often found associating with impala as these sharp-eyed birds can give you away. On the other hand, they can also lead you to impala when they are spotted descending onto animals.
Impala sign consists of tracks (split hoof), 45-52 mm in length, scat (pellets 12-14 mm long on average) deposited in middens during the rut, and vocalizations consisting of guttural grunts and snorts. Scat forms well-defined pellets at most times of the year, but may become semi-liquid during the wet season when impala may feed on new grass and newly budding vegetation with a high moisture content. The photos on page 12 shows examples of tracks that are very clear and ones that are older and less distinct.
The average horn length of an adult impala is 6 inches. See how many times you can fit this unit into the entire length of the horn to give you an estimate of the trophy size.
Compare ear length to horn-tip length (smooth, unridged part). If the tip is as long or longer than the ear length take the shot. Horns will be 24 inches or longer. Horns wider than ear width could be in the trophy class.
Rowland Ward method: To qualify for Rowland Ward a minimum horn length of 60 cm (235/8 inches) is required. The record to date is 80.96 cm (317/8 inches).
SCI method: To qualify for SCI a minimum score of 54 is required. The record to date is 694/8 inches.
Impala are not tough animals. They have a thin skin and a light bone structure which do not present any problems to a sharp, broadhead-tipped arrow. As in most species the two best shots are a broadside and quartering away presentation. For ethical reasons avoid frontal or rear-end shots. Shots from above, angling down into the heart-lung area or hitting the spine, are also very effective. The range at which shots should be attempted on impala will depend on the hunters competency and the speed of the arrow. Table 1 below suggests recommended hunting yardages based on arrow speed, using the appropriate arrow weight and broadhead, and assuming the hunter is competent to shoot at the yardages suggested.
Follow-up after shot
Heart/lung shot: Wait at least 30 minutes or until you see the animal go down and expire.
Liver hit: Wait 1-2 hours.
Gut shot: Wait 8-10 hours.
If an impala is not fatally wounded and you follow up too soon, it will become aware of you and make it almost impossible to get a second shot in. When wounded impala will usually look for cover to lie up in. A wounded impala should, like all wounded animals, be treated with caution, but could not be considered dangerous.