by Ryan Shallom, Wild Footprints Limited, Tanzania
Excerpt from a post in the AfricaHunting.com Forum, to read the full thread click here.
I have guided and hunted over 500 Buffalo in Tanzania and confirm that each trophy is unique. I was brought up hunting old animals and from a very early age have instinctively judged every animal on wear & tear before judging size. Nothing like taking an old animal and working for it. They rarely come easy and as the saying goes - its the clever ones that grow old.
01. Ryan Shallom with one of his Buffalo.
A good buff is an old buff - no two ways about it! A professional hunter should easily judge this from the boss and other factors such as body development, penis sheath, hanging testicles, posture etc. The important part of Buffalo hunting is getting as close as possible so that you can make clear judgment and also have a clear shot.
It is crucial to assess the animal from the side and the front as angles can play tricks on anyone. A fully developed boss is a clearly visible feature of a bull and if you are familiar with Buffalo hunting, easy to establish. Some are older than others, but the key is to avoid undeveloped bossed bulls as they are almost certainly still breeding bulls and part of a herd, even if not with one at the time.
Spread is judged mainly by the method explained by Jaustin ("...a common way is to use the ears to measure the spread. If a Buffalo is looking at you with his ears spread out and his horns are even with his ears you are probably looking at a 34-36 inch buff. You can estimate if they are past his ears from there..."). But in some genetic pools, like northern Tanzania, the Buffalo are much more massive and therefore could be judged smaller than they actually are (which cannot be a bad thing). If the spread of the horn is a hand-width from the tip of the ear, then you can safely assume it is in the 40" bracket and any more than that, why wonder - get a good shot in!!!
These Cape Buffalo below are not 'young' bulls, the reason I judged them as immature is due to the fact that they would most likely not be shooters on a Buffalo safari. On the close-up photo, it may appear that they have hard bosses, but they are actually just beginning to form a rough layer at the top. If you were to press your thumb on these bosses (where they meet together), you will find that the top crust will move down upon pressure, meaning that the bottom of the bosses is yet to fully form.
02. These two Cape Buffalo were found dead in Mountain Zebra National Park (South Africa) after apparently battling and their horns became interlocked. Excerpt from a post in the AfricaHunting Forum, to read the full thread click here.
03. Close up of the two Cape Buffalo.
Further evidence is from the facial features. There is no typical wear and tear on the ridge of the nose and the 'tear-path' from the eyes. The facial hair is very intact which is not a rule, but very common among old bulls. Furthermore, you will note that the horns are still angling backwards (also not a rule but common of younger bulls) plus they have 'flick-back' tips which suggest little wearing down. On the close-up, the bull facing left is the older of the two and may in some places qualify as a last day bull, but it is not an appropriate bull to take down. Even though they are alone, it does not mean that they are old bachelor bulls. Buffaloes also enjoy young bachelorhood and then rejoin a herd when they are ready to fight for breeding rights.
Indeed, it is impossible to judge when a wild Buffalo has 'peaked' or is in 'decline', but we all depend on the tell-tale signs. I have seen some really old bulls still hand around the herds and even sniff a cow or two and have seen very young bulls hand around with old dugga boys - there is no fixed rule to these habits. But in the case of the two candidates on the photo above, they would deserve a second and third glance maybe, but if the area has Buffalo, then they are to be left alone for a future date.
In reference to the 'seam of the bosses coming together', that is another misconception that many hunters have. The distance between one boss and the other is very much a genetic quality and cannot be used entirely as an age indicator. It is the HARDENING of the bosses and COMPLETE formation of the bosses according to the genes of that particular bull that safely establish whether a bull is mature or not. They could be close together or up to six inches apart. A few photos here below to illustrate various boss genetics - one meets at the seam, another is 2" apart and the other 3" apart - but they are all as old a bull as you could hope for.
04. Trophy Buffalo.
05. Trophy Buffalo.
06. Old Trophy Dugga Boy!
I admire hunters who seek exceptional trophies and encourage the practice, but in my book, a young animal, unless harvested for special reasons, is no exceptional trophy. Stay true to ethical hunting and let the young ones develop to their full potential while keeping the population sustainable. Judge your hunting before your potential trophy.
Using Rowland Ward Methods Of Measurement for horns of African Buffalo (Method 12) does require taking the spread measurement from horn to horn into account. Using Safari Club International Methods Of Measurement for horns of African Buffalo (Method 4) does also require taking the spread measurement into account.
07. outside spread of horn 40 inch (101.60 cm)
08. outside spread of horn 41 inch (104.14 cm)
09. outside spread of horn 42 inch (106.68 cm)
10. outside spread of horn 43 inch ( 109.22 cm)
11. outside spread of horn 44 inch (111.76 cm)
12. outside spread of horn 49 inch (124.46 cm)
13. A young Buffalo calf. Still too early to even tell the sex, though the thickness of the horn growth suggests it may be a male. This is the future of the herd. A healthy percentage of calves within a herd is a sign of sustainability. They are the ones who learn about the territories and grazing systems that will keep the herd in the same area for years to come. Herds are led by lead-cows who are usually of old age, bold and wise in their survival skills. Calves spend their first few years learning about the heard hierarchy, movement patterns, seasons, predators and watering & grazing locations.
14. A young Buffalo… could well be a young cow too. No signs of boss development and very slim features.
15. A very young bull. Probably between 4-5 years at the most. Leave it alone. At such an age, it is difficult to assess the potential of his trophy as it still has a lot of room for development. He will still push out more to gain spread and the bosses are not fully formed so there is no telling the drop and curl. Even his ears and skull are still growing so you cannot even judge his spread using the ear-scale. But he is most likely a 34 inch (86.36 cm) spread now and in a few years could attain a spread of + 40 inch (101.60 cm).
16. Very young bull with hardly a boss to be detected. Has a number of years to grow still. Already showing good potential, but there is no telling for sure until the boss hardens and then the extent of the dimensions can be judged.
17. Here is a bull that appears mature but is actually positioned very deceptively. He is heading to maturity but still needs some time. His penis sheath is still not fully developed and you can see that his horns still have a very notable ‘flick-back’ which is also a sign of immaturity. His head is also a give-away in terms of being a little small and the neck is more slender in comparison to most old bulls. Very difficult to judge the boss from this angle and requires the bull to turn and stare at you for a good assessment.
18. Here is a Buffalo bull with awesome genes. He has heavy structure with a little bit of everything - boss / drop / curl / spread. But he is not ready to be taken yet. The hair in between his bosses suggest that he still has a few genes to spread before retirement and it is an ethical hunters future to allow him that privilege. This bull would score very high on the SCI system of measurement, but putting him to the tape for that reason is contributing to the negative aspect of hunting. SCI does not condone hunting of younger game, it is the hunter who makes the decision to exploit and manipulate a system for his/her personal agendas. The genes of this particular bull are needed to have a good trophy future. If he were to have poor genes, he may well be taken depending on the hunting circumstances at hand.
19. A fine bull by any standards. Even though recently matured into a solid boss bull, ready to be taken. Some outfitters, knowing the quality in their area would pass on this bull due to his good genes and possibility of still being a reproductive bull. On many occasions, bulls such as this one will leave a herd during the dry season or non-productive period of the cows to live as a Dugga Boy, but may well re-join a herd when the pickings are good and spread his genes. He is a + 40 inch (101.60 cm) bull and his trophy will most likely wear-down from now on. The spread will not recede but the tips will and the horns will smoothen.
20. Here is a bull with special genes. He has gained spread by sacrificing drop and curl. Due to his extraordinary structure, his bosses are fully formed, but his facial features, structure and the fact that he is hanging out with a cow, suggests that he is very much a breeding bull. He has a spread of well over 40 inch (101.60 cm) and can be taken as is - but the fact is, given a year, he will harden his horn structure and make a much better harvest. This is surely a non-typical Buffalo though. What he has gained in spread, he has lost in drop and curl.
21. Here is a bull that is a classic trophy to any Buffalo hunter. He is big, bold & old. The bosses are huge and solid, the drop is exceptional, the curl is more than you could ever ask for in a bull this old. Evidence of his genes are right behind him - the young bull has exactly the same features as him. Bulls of his stature are what make Buffalo hunting such a special experience. It is a surprise that he is still with the herd and by taking him out, you are probably having a positive influence on the herd by allowing a younger bull to have better reproductive impact.
22. Another dream Buffalo. He is mean looking, heavily bossed with a lot of drop and curl and although lacking in spread, will make a fine trophy for any Buffalo hunter! This is the kind of old battered bull that you want to get face-to-face with and test your nerves on. Note the angle on this particular photo though - you shoot behind the shoulder and you are in trouble. At this angle you need to put your shot almost on the front half of the shoulder (a third up the body) in order to penetrate both lungs and do damage to the boiler room.
23. The reason there are many factors to consider when judging gender, age and trophy of an animal is clear on this photo. This is an old bull with a fully developed body, fully formed horns with solid bosses, a deep drop & curl and worn-down tips. Not a gifted bull in terms of spread and dimensions, but if you were ever in doubt about its’ gender and age, look between his legs!!! That pair has probably brushed every bush he has walked over and banged against every obstacle in his path. The reason they are so full is probably because none of the cows want any more of this old warrior - do him a favor and take him as a trophy. He is a fine old bull who is past his prime.
24. Remember the bull three seasons ago - well if left to grow older, this is what he may look like. This bull would measure in the high 40’s inch (101.60 cm) and is a great trophy by any standards. He has worn down his tips to knobs and smoothened the surface all along his horns. A rare, unique and special trophy to have. There would not be much debate about bagging this old boy.
25. This is a typical Dugga Boy! Solid head and worn down horn features with not much of a spread. But when you are hunting Buffalo, age should always be the priority. Just behind him is one with a wider spread and on such occasions comes the temptation for a Double Dugga Delight. Shoot well and be quick at it.
26. Now here is a Buff who really wants his money back and you can tell that you are not the only one he has dealt with recently. This Buffalo may still get very close to 40 inch (101.60 cm) despite the broken off horn. He has great character and will stand-out in any trophy room. Very old and besides the broken horn, has everything - drop, curl, boss and spread. An exceptional trophy.
Hunting any wild game is a thrill and adventure. But there is something about the Cape Buffalo that just stands out and makes it a unique experience. It is not a hunt above the rest, as all dangerous game hunts are special, but the Buffalo is game that a real hunter never tires of pursuing and no two hunts for this great animal are the same. The fact that it is a species that is in abundance also adds to the experience, knowing you can meet the challenge again and again. Lion / Leopard / Elephant / Rhino are mostly once in a lifetime hunts, but the Buffalo is a lifelong hunt. Even getting lucky with a 50" trophy will not exhaust your thirst for another Buffalo hunt. Buffalo hunting is an incurable fever. Karibu Tanzania.
Note that trophy size can differ from region to region and what may easily be found in one area may be unexpectedly large in another. As with most animals there is always localities where the bigger trophies tend to be found.