AFRICAN or CAPE BUFFALO - cyncerus caffer
No other game animal is held in higher esteem as a worthy hunting adversary than the African buffalo. The sheer thrill of hunting this mountain of muscle and attitude is unrivalled and addictive. It is one of the only beasts in the bush that looks at you as if you owe it something...
"All writers are agreed as to the hazards of invading the haunts of this savage animal, whose skulking habits, no less than his tremendous strength, render him an object to be greatly dreaded...........he is described to of so irascible a disposition that he will attack his great enemy, man, without the smallest provocation. And should he succeed in destroying his victim, it is his wont to stand over the inanimate corpse, goring and tossing it in vindictive fury with his formidable horns, trampling it under his feet, crushing and mangling it with his knees and stripping off the skin with his rough and prickly tongue; desisting occasionally, but to return again with renewed appetite, as though his revenge might never be glutted!" - Captain William Cornwallis Harris: The Wild Sports of Southern Africa
Buffalo are herd animals concentrated on the open savannah where grazing and water is plentiful. They tend to graze from early evening into the night and then the cooler parts of the day, seeking shaded cover as it gets hotter. Both sexes have horns, with males developing the much desired gnarled bosses as they get older (many of the older hunters believe that the boss of a mature bull will stand up to the penetration capabilities of many heavy calibers). They are grayish-black in color and at a quick glance may appear as large boulders. Despite their size, they are extremely well camouflaged in dense cover. Their eyesight and hearing is quite poor but their sense of smell is excellent. It is much harder to get close to a herd of buffalo than solitary bulls.
Buffalo hunting tips - the hunt
Buffalo are generally hunted on foot (this is what makes this hunting so exciting), picking up and following fresh spoor at waterhole's or across roads. Older bulls tend to separate from the herds and are solitary or form small bachelor groups often called Kakulis or Dagga boys (meaning mud boys).
The best shot placement for buffalo is to hit vital organs, hopefully breaking bone somewhere in the process. Any experienced PH should advise to go for the "boiler room". If hit well, the animal will grunt at impact and take off at a gallop, usually signaling death with a characteristic bellow. Very few shots, regardless of caliber will pull a mature bull to the ground unless the shot hits the spine. If in a herd, the wounded animal usually breaks away and heads to thick cover. Buffalo are one of the only animals that will purposefully circle back onto their own trail to "hunt" and lie in wait for their pursuer. Usually they will circle back on their trail near and anthill, a fallen tree or any area that provides decent cover.
Buffalo hunting and their dangerous nature when wounded has been documented by all the great white hunters and on various video footage. DO NOT BE FOOLED - each situation is unique and buffalo are one of the most dangerous animals when wounded. Despite their size they are extremely quick and cunning at camouflage, as they remain absolutely still until one is right upon them.
Buffalo hunting tips - the caliber
Buffalo are thick-skinned animals and the minimum safe caliber is the .375 Magnum. Many people have killed Buffalo with a well placed shot from .270s and 30-06's, one old frontiersman even claimed a head shot with a .22 hornet. However, with Buffalo you can never have too much gun. If you can afford it a well oiled gleaming double rifle packing 500 grains of lead is you preferred choice.
Most PHs swear by the .375 Magnum as a starting point, with the .416s & .458s being a good compromise on price and power. Some hunters will load a soft-nosed round for the first shot, followed by solids as the animal moves off. Remember, you want to do as much damage as possible with your first shot and heavy grained, good quality soft-nosed bullets are essential.
In 2005 I was hunting buffalo on the open Busanga plains and the client shot a large bull quartering away, with a .458 magnum. The shot was perfect, well back in the ribs online for the heart and lungs and I assumed we would find the bull dead a few yards away. After half an hour of tracking in the long grass we still had not got close. Eventually we got the bull, about 2 miles away and it turned out that the 500 grain bullet had hit the ribcage and run up alongside it between the bone and the skin. It had not penetrated the ribcage!
Buffalo hunting tips - the trophy
Trophy size judgment on buffalo is quite easy but remains an individual choice. Old lone bulls usually have worn horns with characteristic gnarled bosses. The sheer menace and presence of these bad-tempered old men make for an excellent hunt and well-deserved trophy.
A good set of horns starts with a thick heavy wide boss, running outwards and downwards (the deeper the curl the better) well past the ears before curling upwards and back in again. The points then raise upwards and backwards, the higher the better. As a rule, the further past the ears the outer upward curl of the horns are, the better the trophy. In fact, Rowland Ward measurement is based upon the spread of the horns while SCI uses this measurement as supplemental information.
Buffalo hunting tips - where
Buffalo are fairly widespread throughout Africa, with the Cape or Southern Buffalo being the largest and most hunted. It is uncommon to hunt for buffalo and return home empty-handed unless you are hunting an area that has very few or no animals.
Tanzania is still the supermarket king of buffalo package hunts as the Selous game reserve is a vast repository for these bovines. Without a doubt this is one of Africa's largest concentrations of Cape Buffalo and prices are reflective of this. However, do not expect a massive trophy and realistically you will work very hard to shoot a bull upwards of 40 inches here. Masailand and Western Tanzania used to produce magnificent bulls but these days they are few and far between. Tanzania still has the benefit of being able to offer 2 buffalo on one safari which is hard to come by in other countries.
Zambia's Luangwa Valley must rate as the best compromise between numbers of Buffalo, prices for a 7 day hunt and a realistic chance at shooting a bull into the mid 40's. North Luangwa has herds of buffalo into the thousands and the concessions here are given very high quotas each year. In addition, these hunts allow Hippo and Crocodile to be taken as well so this makes a attractive package.
Of late, owing to the country's misfortune, Zimbabwe offers very decently priced Buffalo hunts and if you choose the correct concession and hunt at the right time of year then you stand a very good chance of success. Remember that the actual picture in Zimbabwe is not as bad as one is led to believe and once you are out in the bush hunting you will not even remember the bad things you have heard are happening there.
Buffalo hunting in Mozambique is available at reasonable rates and some decent trophies have been taken. Mozambique is fast becoming one of the hottest classical hunting destinations on the continent and they do have some excellent buffalo hunting concessions. The quality and number of buffalo are very much dependant upon the different concessions with some reports of hunters walking waist deep in swamp-water for 7 days and not seeing any sign of buffalo while other areas have seen some very decent bulls taken especially in the Zambezi delta areas and to the far north in the Niassa national reserve.
In South Africa a different situation exists. Buffalo often carry bovine tuberculosis which severely effects livestock THUS an imaginary "line" drawn across the country - called the Red Line - SOUTH of which no infected buffalo are allowed exists. So if you are hunting a buffalo south of this line it means the beast has been through a quarantine process and is likely to be expensive. Buffalo are most commonly hunted around the boundaries of the Kruger National Park on private concessions and there are some massive bulls around. Prices are higher but the hunt is very similar to hunting out in the real Africa. Hunts for Buffalo in the Zululand reserves also takes place on a tender basis which also makes for an good hunt.