Trophy Scoring and The African Buffalo
Trophy Scoring and The African Buffalo
by Gerhard R Damm
Regular readers of African Indaba may remember the articles of Kevin Robertson and Winston Taylor in last year’s number 3 issue of African Indaba. Craig Boddington also discussed measuring systems favoring the shooting of pre-prime bulls and disturbing herd structure with a selection of highly experienced African professional hunters in his now well-distributed DVD “Boddington on Buffalo 2”. Tanzanian PH Rainer Josch took up the topic in his recent DVD “Mountain Buffalo” (see review in this issue). Rowland Ward’s initiative regarding a revision of the scoring system for African Buffalo got the attention of buffalo hunters everywhere and many positive comments and suggestions have been received.
The question certainly is not “who has the better scoring system” but rather “how can we modify the present scoring methods so that the buffalo herds in Africa maintain a healthy population structure, allowing us and future generations of hunters to sustainably harvest mature trophy buffalo bulls”. As a second objective we need to create scientifically meaningful statistical evidence concerning this harvest.
1. Mature bull with solid boss (Spread 36 inches; Boss 14 inches ‐
observe the relatively narrow boss gap)
In order to achieve the objective Rowland Ward works closely together with the CIC International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation and a number of highly qualified scientists in the field. The general consensus so far points towards harvesting bulls which have passed their prime and are not “needed” as breeding bulls in the herds anymore, respectively have been ejected from the herd. These bulls – usually over ten years of age – have not only passed on their genes, but are also harder to hunt. Moreover the trophy of such a bull sports usually a fully hardened boss with only a small gap between the horn bases. The CIC, Rowland Ward and many other international hunting associations consider that giving more weight to a well developed boss will encourage hunters to hunt older bulls. I don’t want to omit, however, that average boss width varies considerably in regional phenotypes and hunters should also assess the gap between the left and right boss.
I was rather astonished to read in SCI’s Safari Times about a “comparison of the SCI method with one of its competitors” [sic] and furthermore that an evaluation of the trophies in the SCI record book has shown that the trophy quality resp. boss measurements did not show any significant variation over the past decades. It is more than peculiar that one tries to prove the correctness of a scoring system by simply creating average statistical values from within this very system. That you shouldn’t do this is one of the first lessons students hear when they read Statistics.
Kevin Robertson commented recently again the current high ranking bulls in the SCI book – (in particular nos 1, 3, 10 and 17). None of these bulls had a hard boss – so he pointedly asked “I am not too sure how you measure something which is not there”. Robertson and a good number of other buffalo experts suggest that none of these bulls is older than 7 years, and they have been killed long before having had a chance to breed.
2. After boiling and cleaning the skull of a young bull; cartilage
dissolved and the boss gap is several inches wide
(Spread 36 inches; Boss 13 + inches)
3. Self-explaining - on the left the bull of photo 1, on the right
the youngster of photo 2
4. Mature bulls with hard boss and narrow gap and others who
would have needed a few more years to be real trophies
Once on the wall, these younger bulls make of course magnificent displays – since the soft boss, which virtually dis- solves during the boiling process, can be masterfully reconstructed to resemble a fully hardened one. Maybe some hunters have the trophies scored once they are reconstructed? I once again repeat that we need to reconsider the scoring methods for the African Buffalo – Rowland Ward has taken the initiative a year ago and the process, albeit not finished, has created the much needed awareness and public debate. This at least is one positive outcome and I am sure that at the end of this debate we will have a scoring method which does justice to the population dynamics of the African Buffalo.
South African taxidermist Rodney Kretzschmar sent me a series of photographs which underline Robertson’s point – I have reproduced four here with Rodney’s kind permission.
The trophy scoring issue is, however, not limited to the African Buffalo – this was the clear outcome of the workshops and meetings during the General Assembly of the CIC in Marrakech end of April. Since I have been appointed as coordinator of the CIC Commission Exhibitions and Trophies at that meeting, I will tackle the task with this vision in mind:
An innovative approach to trophy hunting, trophy evaluation and trophy monitoring will concentrate on scientifically viable trophy measurements focusing on methods which provide on one hand comprehensive and species-specific biological data and on the other hand the means to intelli- gently use and interpret these data to serve regionally and globally as key wildlife management tool, as indicator of sustainable trophy hunting practices and as a bridge for cooperation with the IUCN Sustainable Use Specialist and Species Specialist Groups.
I said in my presentation in Marrakech that existing systems should not be changed for the sake of change, but also highlighted that every system needs to adapt to changing circumstances in order to remain relevant. Changes need to be based on one side on significant new knowledge about game, game populations, game genetics, zoogeography and the sociobiological importance of horns and antlers in terms of geometry, morphology etc, and on the other side on changing societal perceptions of hunting. Much of today’s knowledge as well as scientific statistical evaluation methods based on state-of-the-art information technology were not available 30 or 40 years ago.
Many researchers have highlighted the influence that selective hunting may have on the population dynamics of game and non-game species. Yet it is common knowledge that data sourced from hunts are inherently biased. Hunters typically select a non-random subset of a game population usually based on anthropocentric perceptions nurtured by trophy scoring methods, thus making hunting the contrary of a random process. There is another constraint inherent with the trophies in the existing record books – in many cases only a relatively small percentage of the trophies taken are scored resp. are eventually entered. This may have consequences for the correct interpretation of hunting and trophy data. We therefore also need to adopt corrective measures for bias introduced in this way, and we need to encourage all hunters to have all their trophies scored.
Change within an existing scoring method does not mean that comparability with past trophy data will disappear. Intelligent database design will assist in safeguarding continuity. It also does not mean that we will have to use complicated formulas in field assessment – a mature trophy will always catch your eye; don’t worry about points and ranking whilst hunting – savor the moment, enjoy the hunt, and go for these old bulls!
Age Development Of The African Buffalo: The Myth Of The Closed Boss
Age Development Of The African Buffalo: The Myth Of The Closed Boss
by Ronnie Rowland
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in German in "Erongo Verzeichnis für afrikanisches Jagdwild", No. 1/2011, published and edited by Kai-Uwe Denker (for more details see www.erongo-recordbook.com). Peter Flack assisted with translating the article into English.
Lions are enemy number one for the African buffalo. Even large, mature bulls are not invulnerable, when facing a pride of lions. This is the principal reason that hardly an African buffalo dies of old age; deaths during epidemics and severe drought excepted. In southern Africa and under natural conditions, buffalo rarely reach their allotted life span of 18 to 20 years.
Young bulls attain sexual maturity at the tender age of three; however, superiority in dominance and rutting battles is rarely achieved before bulls reach seven or eight years old.
Their reproductive "prime time" and the zenith of their reproductive activity is not reached before the ninth year and lasts generally until bulls reach their twelfth year. Once past 12, bulls become solitary or join small groups of similarly aged colleagues; they may occasionally, and, possibly as protective move against predators, join up with a breeding herd.
It is, therefore, reasonable to divide buffalo bulls into three age groups when discussing age related characteristics such as the bull's headgear: those under eight years are clustered in group 1, followed by group 2, the prime bulls between nine and 12 years and, last but not least, those which are 13 years and older are in group 3.
Those of you who hunt buffalo bulls for trophies should take note that bulls under 10 years have probably not yet achieved their full potential and, most importantly, have had little opportunity to pass on their genes. For a trophy hunter, bulls start to become interesting once they reach 10 years and, in particular, once they pass 13 years of age.
The hallmark of the African buffalo bull is its massive boss, on average between 33 and 35 cm (13 to 14 inches) wide although superior bulls may occasionally boast bosses of up to 45 cm (18 inches).
The boss is an important factor when field-assessing the age of a potential trophy buffalo and the intrinsic value of its head gear as a trophy for the hunter. In bulls younger than eight years old, the boss has not fully developed yet, meaning that there are still areas of softer tissue, especially at the frontal edges of the boss above the eyes and between the horns. This softer tissue is called "green" in hunters’ lingo. Such bulls usually show a band of dark hair between the two horns. Green horn tissue can be distinguished from the fully hardened horn tissue by its color; the softer or green tissue is whitish-grey, whereas the hard horn of older growth is much darker.
When field-assessing a buffalo bull, young bulls show prominent, light silver-greyish front corners on the boss. The horn tips of these bulls are sharp and unworn; the coat is usually blackish. Viewed laterally, the bridge of the nose is long, thin and straight and spots of whitish, hairless areas on the face are absent.
Middle-aged bulls – those between eight and 12 years old – show an increasing hardening of the boss which eventually also reaches the lower boss corners above the eyes. The entire horn structure now becomes a dark almost black color, apart from residue remaining from the bull horning vegetation or mud. In this age group the boss gradually obtains a massive vaulted shape of rugose and rough horn material, similar in appearance to old tree bark.
Horn tips star to appear worn caused by the frequent horning of vegetation and mud. The coat becomes more greyish; white, hairless spots appear on the faces of these bulls, in particular below the boss and around the eyes and mouth. The face appears shorter and develops a distinct Roman nose.
The bulls now reach the zenith of both body size and mass. Two other indicators that a buffalo bull belongs to this age group are the brownish-grey bulges of hardening horn material which protrudes from below the boss and the hairless space between the horns.
It is in this middle-aged phase that the bulls become so called Dagga Boys It is also important to realize that these Dagga Boys are the prime breeding bulls in southern Africa. They are mainly found in bachelor groups and join the breeding herds for a short time only either as a protective move or when rutting.
The final phase of horn development in buffalo bulls starts around their 12th to 13th year. The boss is now fully hardened down to the lowest corners, the horn tips are roundish and show abrasions or breaks. The previously rugose and rough boss surfaces increasingly show more and more smooth and polished areas caused by continuous horning.
The whitish, hairless spots on the face become larger and the skin below the boss and in the gap between the horns hardens and appears similar to old, dried-out leather. Body size begins to diminish and the hip bones start to show. The coat appears shaggier with larger hairless areas, making old and healed scars from fighting and predator attacks clearly visible. The leathery area around the anus indicates that the digestive processes are deteriorating.
An important sign of this age group is the continuous broadening of the gap between the horns. Where the myth of the closed boss came from is uncertain. Regardless, the wide spread view that old, mature buffalo bulls must have closed bosses, e. g. without or with only a minimal gap between the two horns is, in my opinion, false. The myth of the closed boss should be laid to rest. It is a fiction and nothing but a made up tale.
Some more food for thought in this connection: In my opinion, closed bosses are, on the one hand, probably the result of genetics and, on the other hand, a distinct sign of a development phase in bulls in the eight to 12 year age bracket. In southern Africa this is rather the exception than the rule. In general, the majority of buffalo bulls show a hairless gap of leathery skin between the horns which become broader with age due to loss of horn material here due to wear and tear. Therefore, a bull with a closed boss is possibly mature but not necessarily old.
My conclusion: The older the buffalo bull, the broader the gap between the horns. Therefore, hunters should not be disappointed if they harvest a bull which does not show a closed boss. Quite the contrary, hunters should be elated when they harvest a bull with a good, leathery gap between fully hardened horns.
Scoring The Horns Of The African Buffalo
Scoring The Horns Of The African Buffalo
by Kai-Uwe Denker
Editor's Note: It appears that the present scoring methods induce hunters to taking bulls which are yet to achieve their prime. The shooting of these buffalo bulls is far from desirable as the goal should be those which are at the threshold of crossing into, or are already in, post-prime status. Consequently, many buffalo bulls are harvested before they have achieved dominant breeding status or, worse still, even before they have participated in the breeding process. Yet nothing definitive came from earlier proposals and criticism (see Kevin Robertson, Winston Taylor, Craig Boddington) and the scoring methods remain by-and-large the same and thus the harvesting of sub-prime bulls has continued. It is therefore encouraging to see a group of highly experienced professional hunters led by Kai-Uwe Denker suggesting an alternative measuring method which takes into account what the previous authors mentioned. African Indaba is proud to have permission to be the first to publish their proposals in English. The original German article appeared in 'Erongo Verzeichnis fur afrikanisches Jagdwild', No. 1/2011, published and edited by Kai-Uwe Denker (for more details see www.erongo-recordbook.com). Peter Flack assisted with the translation.
In April 2010, the trophy working group, consisting of Kai-Uwe Denker, Gerhard Liedtke, Ronnie Rowland and Ernst-Ludwig Cramer, engaged in a number of lengthy discussions. They finally developed what they consider to be the most objective way of measuring bovine horns, stating that this method focuses on tangible horn growth and not on measuring air as is the case where the length of both horns is measured from tip to tip with the gap between the bosses being included. As such, the most appropriate way was considered to be the sum of the length of the longest horn plus the width of the bosses. The conclusions led to the following proposal:
1. The length of both horns and the width of both bosses are measured and recorded on the score sheet.
2. The width of each boss is measured at the widest point, at right angles to the skull axis, following the natural curvature of the horn material, from the lower edge of horn material at the front to the lower edge of horn material at the back.
3. To measure the length of each horn, a carpenter's square is placed in the gap between the horns so that the inner horizontal edge touches the lower edge of horn material. The starting point for the length measurement is the intersection of the 45˚ angle with horn material. The measuring line starts at this point, follows the lower edge of horn material to the outer edge of the horn curve and, from there follows the line of the curvature to the tip.
4. Boss width and length of the longer horn are added.
5. The next step is the determination of the approximate age in order to determine the multiplication factor.
a. Multiplication factor 0.0 i. e. buffalo bulls of less than 8 years of age which show an incompletely hardened boss will not be ranked;
b. Multiplication factor 1.0 for mature bulls in the age group 8 to 10 years, which have a completely hardened boss, but where the boss still shows vigorous live cell growth;
c. Multiplication factor 1.1 for prime bulls in the age group of 10 to 13 years old, which show distinct signs of cell aging, like deep corrugations and a rugose surface on the boss as well as the start of horn surface deterioration such as the flaking of smaller horn sections, apart from a completely hardened boss;
d. Multiplication factor 1.12 for post-prime bulls estimated to have exceeded 13 years of age where there is an observable shrinkage process of horn material between the bosses with a corresponding wider gap covered by thick, horny and hairless leather skin, as well as conspicuous flaking of horn material over the surface of the bosses.
Call For A Debate - Scoring The Horns Of The African Buffalo
Call For A Debate - Scoring The Horns Of The African Buffalo
Gerhard R Damm:
Ronnie Rowland's and Kai-Uwe Denker's articles should serve to re-open the debate about hunting as management tool for buffalo again. We have already lost far too much time since Kevin Robertson and Winston Taylor wrote their articles in 2007. I have discussed the presentations of Ronnie Rowland and Kai-Uwe Denker with African Indaba contributor Peter Flack at length over the telephone and he has penned down his comments below. Both of us consider it important that the readers of African Indaba, especially the large crowd of passionate buffalo hunters, share their views on this critical issue. We also need to hear comments and views from professional hunters, taxidermists and trophy measurers. You can all contribute towards finding a practical and most importantly ecologically sustainable solution.
Buffalo hunting in African bush and savannah is one of the last great hunting adventures. The tense and adrenalin pushing hours of tracking without knowing what will happen when tracker and tracked meet, the search for an old buffalo warrior who has survived many seasons, lion attacks, hunters' and poachers', the old bush ghost who has spread his genes as nature demands, and the final meeting make up an adventures for many campfire nights. It's the search, the hunt and the pure excitement which make buffalo hunting so addictive. I firmly believe that most of those who have been bitten by the bug will accord highest honors to an old thirty-eight incher after an honest hunt. I am not talking about the future stories of 50 inchers from South Africa's intensive breeding operation, although I am unfortunately certain that we will be regaled with wild buffalo hunts from South Africa. Let's just hope that they don't forget to remove the ear tags from the poor beast before posing for the photo!
Peter Flack's Comments:
I hold Messrs Denker, Liedtke and Rowland in high regard and have read their proposals carefully. While I think they make a most useful contribution to the debate, with the greatest of respect, it might not take us all the way to the goal many of us share with these gentlemen, namely, the design of a measuring system which will both be adopted by the major trophy record books (a requisite, I believe, if the system is to become accepted by amateur hunters) and, at the same time, have the effect of persuading hunters to stop shooting buffaloes before they have past their breeding age and concentrate on those that have. My concerns are the following, namely:
1. The proposed system is open to abuse when it comes to judging the age of buffaloes as there is a subjective element to this.
2. A number of inexperienced hunters and official measurers, no matter how hard they try to be accurate and objective, will simply lack the knowledge to be able to judge age correctly.
3. Even official measurers with the requisite experience will find it difficult to verify age, firstly, because there is the necessary 30 day drying out period and, secondly, they will not usually have the opportunity to see the animal in the field and photographs are often inadequate.
4. In which case, what does an official measurer do refuse to register the trophy or register one that has been inaccurately scored (as opposed to inaccurately measured) because the age and, therefore, the multiplier, has been incorrectly determined?
5. A way around this, however, may be to say that no multiplier will be applied to the measurements unless it can be demonstrated by means of photographs submitted to a measuring panel of at least three official measurers (of which the majority view will prevail) that the buffalo falls into one of the three multiplier categories.
The proposed system adds to the burden of judging trophies accurately and, while many amateur hunters may have a good idea of what a buffalo with a 38 inch spread may look like, there are not many, myself included, who would know what a, say 110 inch, buffalo would look like after its horn and boss lengths have been multiplied by 1.12 which may, in turn, lead to resistance to change.
Having said this, if North American hunting guides and their clients can apply almost equally complicated measuring systems to wild sheep and goats, which are smaller and usually shot at far greater distances than buffaloes, then there is no reason why African PHs and amateur hunters alike cannot learn to do the same over time to bovines here if the spirit is willing. And it should be. The goal is such an important and worthy one.