Judging Cape Buffalo

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    Judging Cape Buffalo
    by Ryan Shallom, Wild Footprints Limited, Tanzania

    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. Old Trophy Dugga Boy!

    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 Dagga 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

    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.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 1, 2016

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