Mysterious Causes Of Death In Animals Shot Without Any Vital Organ Penetration. Part 2. An Impala Ram Dies For No Obvious Reason.
by Andrew McLaren
Trophy Left, Rowland Ward Right
The more you hunt, the more stories you have to tell!
In Part 1 I told the (very true) story about a one shot kill of a springbuck ewe.
The next hunt on which something similar happened was a few years later in the bushveld near the Limpopo River, IIRC in 1988.
This time the intended prey was impala, just any two or three impala male or female, but the bigger the better, to be used for making biltong. I and my local guide left the camp early that morning and walked in search of impala. Nothing seen by noon, and we returned to camp for a meal and water. Soon afterwards we were out there searching again. Eventually we saw a big impala ram very far away, and started our stalk. He ran off just as we started to stalk. He was very wary. We walked in the general direction to which he ran off and found him again. Again he eluded us, but this time we walked on his spoor. Saw him a third time, and, yes, you guessed it, he eluded us again. This old boy was very wary and kept a very long distance between us and him. It was getting closer to sundown, and we were a long way walk back to camp, without a shot fired all day! From time to time I heard shots far off as my hunting buddies scored in the area where they were also hunting. Yet I, had not even come close to firing one shot all day!
Then we saw him again. That should really be: We saw HIM again. Very far off and looking back towards us, who were following his own spoor. The sun was just close to setting and I realized: It’s now or never! I had a good solid tree branch at just the right height for a rest. I was using the same rifle and load used for the far shot at the springbuck ewe. But this shot was even further! At least here I had some trees and bushes to help judge the distance. I made the mental calculation: The bullet dropped from aiming point between the horns of the springbuck to just at the bottom of the body, this impala was a bit further, but then the distance from the top of an impala’s horns to his vital organs is also bigger. I decided to again just aim exactly between the tips of the horns. This ram was also squarely facing me.
On the impact from the shot he jumped right over a bush – a classical a la heartshot leap! But despite the very high leap he did not appear on the other side of the bush. Maybe he ran away in a straight line with the bush and so could not be seen by us. I said before that he was a very clever and wide awake old boy! A long walk to where he was before the shot revealed that he must have died in mid-air as there were no tracks on the other side of the bush; just a very dead big dead impala ram! Bullet impact? No blood or obvious entry hole! Look carefully, he is dead, and there MUST be a bullet hole somewhere! Nothing on the front side that faced me! Nothing at all! It is just impossible: Big old impala simply don’t die of fright if you miss a shot at them! Eventually we roll him over onto his other side. There is something, a cut in, no not ‘through’, but only ‘in’ the skin on the side of his belly. This time a 1” to 1 ½” long cut in the skin on the side of the stomach – I must have pulled the shot a bit to the sundown side. A big impala facing you directly is the ‘widest’ at his stomach. Again absolutely no blood on the ground, just a few drops oozing into the cut in the skin. The bullet did not “penetrate” through the skin, just made a cut into the skin and no meat was touched. Later on skinning him there was also no bloodshot meat beneath the cut in the skin. I personally shinned this animal to make sure that the bullet did not perhaps hit an unseen twig or blade of grass that caused it to split and one part penetrating the heart, while the rest caused the cut in the skin. Not so at all. The bullet did not result in more than about one decent sized drop of blood oozing into the wound. Nothing dropped on the ground at all. I had absolutely no idea why it died? It was also by far the biggest bodied impala ram that I’ve ever seen! He was huge! But his longest horn only measured 16 ½”, with blunt worn tips. Even if all the length of horn worn away were to be put back, he would probably never have reached a Roland Ward size. It is however the impala horns tat I keep, rather than the 26 ½” longest horns that I’ve ever shot.
My trophy 16 ½” impala on the left. A 23 5/8” or exactly Roland Ward minimum size pickup on the right.
Now, I can believe it that a young springbok ewe may die from a small cut, but this old impala was a real warrior! His horns were worn blunt from years of fighting. I could simply not believe that he died from that absolutely very near miss!