Field Aging Buffalo Bulls

ndumo HUNTING SAFARIS

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The recent Rigby competition and numerous comments at the trade shows, has led me to believe that very few clients know how to judge the age of a buffalo bull in the field. As we at Ndumo Safaris really go out of our way to target older than 12-year buffs, I thought some of you may find my pointers interesting.

First off, let me just say that the only way to determine a buffalo’s age with approaching 100% accuracy, is to measure wear on the back molars. People like Kevin Robertson has done great work in developing a graph that can be used to accurately plot a bull’s age against the wear on his back molars. Since this is difficult to do on a wild buffalo, here’s what I consider for when looking over a potential bull. (Like in anything else, there are some exceptions, and I will handle them under each pointer.)

Hard bosses

A fully mature bull obviously has a completely hard boss. And here I have to digress for a moment, as even this is not as clear cut as it seems. When talking to potential hunters at the trade show, it becomes clear that there is a general misconception to the definition of what a completely hard and solid boss is. Quite a few thinks that for a buffalo to have a solid boss, the two bosses must be fused together without any gap between them. Not so at all. Most mature bulls with completely hard and solid bosses have a split between the 2 bosses. Very few develop completely hard bosses that fuse when they are fully mature. What you should rather be looking for is soft tissue that has not yet developed into a hard, solid boss, especially on the front edges of the bosses. Also, between the bosses, while the bosses are still developing, there tend to be a lot of hair. Bulls younger that around 5 years, are just starting to become hard, and at around 7 to 8 years, most of the boss tissue becomes hard, with just the edges remaining soft. Thus, a fused boss is no indicator of age.

Here is a bull in the 12 years plus bracket with a “fused “boss, and a bull that looks like there is no gap between the horns, but in fact is only 6 to 7 years old. This bull was shot many moons ago in my uninformed days.
Untitled.jpg

WhatsApp Image 2022-01-13 at 18.32.59 (1).jpeg

WhatsApp Image 2022-01-13 at 18.32.59.jpeg

2006_0928ZimSept2006_0092.JPG


An example of an old bull with a clear gap between the bosses:
20160621_072449-1.jpg



Exampes of an immature bulls, note the slight white between the bosses, and the front edges of the second buffalo's bosses, indicating a bull that's around 7 years old.
Untitled2.png


Untitled3.jpg


So now we can at least determine when a bull is older than 8 years old, but is that old enough?

Body mass and dewlap

At the age of around 7 to 9 years old, bulls become breeding bulls and in an ideal world should be left to breed. They start developing big, muscular necks and bodies from around 10 years old, especially in the early season with plenty of green grass available. They are easily distinguishable from the younger 7 to 8-year-old bulls, just by sheer size and muscular looks, the older bulls, around 12 years and older, also develop a distinct dewlap and a curved “Roman” nose. They stop breeding at around the age of 12 years, so tend to hang more with bachelor groups or prefer their own company. This is not to say that all bulls in a bachelor group are mature or old, as younger bulls also join these groups. Also, real old bulls may not be in a herd, but they may satellite a breeding herd for the added security. In dry areas, that they may have to walk far for grazing and water, they slim down quite a lot towards the end of the dry season. As they approach the age of around 15 years in such areas, they start losing body condition and are either killed by predators or just die of old age and general wear and tear. In wetter areas, they may live longer.

Example of Roman nose and dew lap clearly visible on these bulls:
WhatsApp Image 2022-01-13 at 20.55.17 (7).jpeg

WhatsApp Image 2022-01-13 at 20.55.17 (9).jpeg
WhatsApp Image 2022-01-13 at 20.55.17 (11).jpeg



Horn shape and wear

Horn tips that sweep back, horns that has not yet dropped at the bottom curve and sharp horn tips are all indications of younger bulls. Old, past breeding bulls tend to have blunt horn tips, the drop of the curve tend to be lower, the horn tips tend to not point above the bosses. This is not cast in stone, as genetics also play a role, and may be used as an indication only. At the age of around 12 years and older, they also start wearing their bosses smooth. You can clearly see the shine on the bosses as they become more and more polished and less and less of the grooves on the bosses becomes visible. This happens more in wooded areas than swamp areas, as the bulls wear their bosses smoother if there are more trees and shrubs in an area.

Examples of older worn horn bulls. Look at the blunt tips, and the smooth bosses:
WhatsApp Image 2022-01-13 at 20.55.17 (8).jpeg

13619981_1078565572209124_3998569694205307861_n.jpg
20160621_071353-1-1.jpg

image00003 (3).jpeg
WhatsApp Image 2022-01-13 at 20.53.47 (8).jpeg


Examples of bulls that are too young, note the sweeping horns, the high tips and the rough bosses. (Last 2 were shot as management buffalo).

111.JPG

y1.jpg

y2.jpg


Facial hair and ears

Really old bulls start losing facial hair, especially around the eyes and boss bases. Some areas (like again the swampy areas typical,) this is not so pronounced. I have seen bulls lose their facial hair at a younger age in Uganda, making it easier to make a mistake. Older bulls also tend to have more tattered ears.

Examples of facial hair loss:

old.jpg
WhatsApp Image 2022-01-13 at 20.53.47 (4).jpeg

DSCN0735.JPG

WhatsApp Image 2022-01-13 at 20.55.17 (4).jpeg



Here's a bull from Uganda, that I aged at under 10 years old, note the amount of hair loss already seen on him:

20210216_072416.jpg






As I mentioned, there are exceptions to all of the above. For instance, I have seen buffalo hunted by my colleague’s on South Africa’s ranch land that was aged at 16 years plus, which had rough bosses, sweeping horns, and no hair loss, making them look a lot younger. Remember that a lot of ranch buffalo are micro chipped when released, so the owners have a very good indication of how old they are without having to look at the molars of a dead bull. I contribute this to the fact that they obviously have a much easier life, having feed and water always available, and within short distance, plus no predators to speak of.
I know that these old bulls are not everyone's cup of tea, and when you are paying for the hunt, you do have a choice in what you want to hunt, but I really believe that all of us should target these old real dagga boys exclusively as trophies. They are not only cool looking, they are wiser, more difficult to hunt, and more cantankerous.
If you consider all of the above, and again, this is slightly area specific, you should be able to at least be able to determine that a bull is over 12 years old. Which, again, is the type of bulls we should all strive to hunt.
 
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PHOENIX PHIL

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Very informative post Karl! I’m assuming you wrote all of this in regards to Cape Buffalo, are these also signs of older Nile Buffalo?
 

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Very good and useful information! Thanks for sharing.
 

BeeMaa

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I appreciate the education. Looking forward to putting it to use.
 

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Thank you for writing this. I know your bwabwata park concession is a high quality area, but how many areas available today are actually capable of reliably producing 12+ year old buffalo bulls? The areas that can’t do you attribute to too high a hunting quota primarily or other factors?
 

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Great post that is very informative! Thanks for putting it together.
Bruce
 

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Good educational post and material Karl.

Interesting how judging the quality of a buffalo has changed for the better this millennium. Maybe the last ten years.

Next thing will be to take a rotary sander to the bosses and grind the tips down. ;)
 
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Very interesting read. Thank you for that.
 

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Great read, Thank you for posting !

I always found it ironic that hunters told me they wanted Old Bulls, Older the better & when I found them busted off hairless Old Water Buffalo & Old Greying Banteng they weren't that keen, this is for American hunters the Europeans always wanted & loved them, in the old days we had 25-30% Europeans & this kept the hunting area in fine condition then we lost most of the Euro hunters & the Boss brought in Management Bull pricing so we could shoot some of the Old guys before they died !
 

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Dankie Karl.
 

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Very informative post Karl! I’m assuming you wrote all of this in regards to Cape Buffalo, are these also signs of older Nile Buffalo?
Hi Phoenix Phil, yes, same for Nile buff except for the facial hair loss
 

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Thank you for writing this. I know your bwabwata park concession is a high quality area, but how many areas available today are actually capable of reliably producing 12+ year old buffalo bulls? The areas that can’t do you attribute to too high a hunting quota primarily or other factors?
Yes, I believe most areas with a good population of buffalo can achieve this. If not, it may be a marginal area or overshot in the past. Interesting fact is that the "softer"areas in the Caprivi, like Balyerwa which we also hunt, the bulls seem to age slower physically. And due to the great number of herds in these areas (easier food and lots of water), the dagga boys and bachelor groups are found associating with the herds more.
 

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Top thread - Thank you = a lot of information!
Do you have more information (photos) about the wear of the back molars from Buffalos 12+ years?
I think there will be are slight differences about the wear - depends on where the buffalo lives

some bulls like we should look for ... ;)
DSCN0529.JPG
DSCN0586.JPG
DSCN0582.JPG
DSCN0666.JPG
DSCN0621.JPG
DSCN1166.JPG
 
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The recent Rigby competition and numerous comments at the trade shows, has led me to believe that very few clients know how to judge the age of a buffalo bull in the field. As we at Ndumo Safaris really go out of our way to target older than 12-year buffs, I thought some of you may find my pointers interesting.

First off, let me just say that the only way to determine a buffalo’s age with approaching 100% accuracy, is to measure wear on the back molars. People like Kevin Robertson has done great work in developing a graph that can be used to accurately plot a bull’s age against the wear on his back molars. Since this is difficult to do on a wild buffalo, here’s what I consider for when looking over a potential bull. (Like in anything else, there are some exceptions, and I will handle them under each pointer.)

Hard bosses

A fully mature bull obviously has a completely hard boss. And here I have to digress for a moment, as even this is not as clear cut as it seems. When talking to potential hunters at the trade show, it becomes clear that there is a general misconception to the definition of what a completely hard and solid boss is. Quite a few thinks that for a buffalo to have a solid boss, the two bosses must be fused together without any gap between them. Not so at all. Most mature bulls with completely hard and solid bosses have a split between the 2 bosses. Very few develop completely hard bosses that fuse when they are fully mature. What you should rather be looking for is soft tissue that has not yet developed into a hard, solid boss, especially on the front edges of the bosses. Also, between the bosses, while the bosses are still developing, there tend to be a lot of hair. Bulls younger that around 5 years, are just starting to become hard, and at around 7 to 8 years, most of the boss tissue becomes hard, with just the edges remaining soft. Thus, a fused boss is no indicator of age.

Here is a bull in the 12 years plus bracket with a “fused “boss, and a bull that looks like there is no gap between the horns, but in fact is only 6 to 7 years old. This bull was shot many moons ago in my uninformed days.
View attachment 446402
View attachment 446432
View attachment 446433
View attachment 446403

An example of an old bull with a clear gap between the bosses:
View attachment 446404


Exampes of an immature bulls, note the slight white between the bosses, and the front edges of the second buffalo's bosses, indicating a bull that's around 7 years old.
View attachment 446406

View attachment 446407

So now we can at least determine when a bull is older than 8 years old, but is that old enough?

Body mass and dewlap

At the age of around 7 to 9 years old, bulls become breeding bulls and in an ideal world should be left to breed. They start developing big, muscular necks and bodies from around 10 years old, especially in the early season with plenty of green grass available. They are easily distinguishable from the younger 7 to 8-year-old bulls, just by sheer size and muscular looks, the older bulls, around 12 years and older, also develop a distinct dewlap and a curved “Roman” nose. They stop breeding at around the age of 12 years, so tend to hang more with bachelor groups or prefer their own company. This is not to say that all bulls in a bachelor group are mature or old, as younger bulls also join these groups. Also, real old bulls may not be in a herd, but they may satellite a breeding herd for the added security. In dry areas, that they may have to walk far for grazing and water, they slim down quite a lot towards the end of the dry season. As they approach the age of around 15 years in such areas, they start losing body condition and are either killed by predators or just die of old age and general wear and tear. In wetter areas, they may live longer.

Example of Roman nose and dew lap clearly visible on these bulls:
View attachment 446408
View attachment 446410View attachment 446411


Horn shape and wear

Horn tips that sweep back, horns that has not yet dropped at the bottom curve and sharp horn tips are all indications of younger bulls. Old, past breeding bulls tend to have blunt horn tips, the drop of the curve tend to be lower, the horn tips tend to not point above the bosses. This is not cast in stone, as genetics also play a role, and may be used as an indication only. At the age of around 12 years and older, they also start wearing their bosses smooth. You can clearly see the shine on the bosses as they become more and more polished and less and less of the grooves on the bosses becomes visible. This happens more in wooded areas than swamp areas, as the bulls wear their bosses smoother if there are more trees and shrubs in an area.

Examples of older worn horn bulls. Look at the blunt tips, and the smooth bosses:
View attachment 446409
View attachment 446412View attachment 446413
View attachment 446414View attachment 446415

Examples of bulls that are too young, note the sweeping horns, the high tips and the rough bosses. (Last 2 were shot as management buffalo).

View attachment 446417
View attachment 446422
View attachment 446424

Facial hair and ears

Really old bulls start losing facial hair, especially around the eyes and boss bases. Some areas (like again the swampy areas typical,) this is not so pronounced. I have seen bulls lose their facial hair at a younger age in Uganda, making it easier to make a mistake. Older bulls also tend to have more tattered ears.

Examples of facial hair loss:

View attachment 446426View attachment 446427
View attachment 446425
View attachment 446428


Here's a bull from Uganda, that I aged at under 10 years old, note the amount of hair loss already seen on him:

View attachment 446429





As I mentioned, there are exceptions to all of the above. For instance, I have seen buffalo hunted by my colleague’s on South Africa’s ranch land that was aged at 16 years plus, which had rough bosses, sweeping horns, and no hair loss, making them look a lot younger. Remember that a lot of ranch buffalo are micro chipped when released, so the owners have a very good indication of how old they are without having to look at the molars of a dead bull. I contribute this to the fact that they obviously have a much easier life, having feed and water always available, and within short distance, plus no predators to speak of.
I know that these old bulls are not everyone's cup of tea, and when you are paying for the hunt, you do have a choice in what you want to hunt, but I really believe that all of us should target these old real dagga boys exclusively as trophies. They are not only cool looking, they are wiser, more difficult to hunt, and more cantankerous.
If you consider all of the above, and again, this is slightly area specific, you should be able to at least be able to determine that a bull is over 12 years old. Which, again, is the type of bulls we should all strive to hunt.
Great post. I’m still learning and so appreciate your expertise and experience!!!
 

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Thank you, you put a lot of effort into preparing your post and I appreciate that. I think it is great that you are encouraging the choosing of old/past breeding males. It would be great if the record books thought of a way to reward the age of the animal because the old dagga boys will definitely score lower on the current measuring systems- maybe more in SCI than Rowland Ward.

My eyes are always drawn to big wide horns in a herd of buffalo but you quickly move on but those old guys with real character hold your attention for much longer.
 

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