Judging Waterbuck


AH enthusiast
Jan 18, 2009
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SCI N.E. Wisconsin Chapter - WisNRA
Well lets do the same with the waterbuck ... any tips on judging them. This seems to be the place with the most views & people responding so lets keep it popular & the opinions flying!!!!

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That is a good question! I don't care what it scores...but I look for big bases and length. And I have hardly have any experience other than watching a ton of Africa film and seeing a few mounts in person up close and personal. I think side views give you a idea on how how big he is....in both length and mass. The waterbuck horns can be straight and curved and both can look like a giant! I hope to get a nice one in the Limpopo.

The one question I have is...why are some waterbuck horns white and some dark? Is it genetics, terrain....I would love to hear some African PH's..who have seen hundred's of this great antelope.
No extensive experience on waterbuck, but have taken quite a few and find that it is very difficult to judge 'sealed' horn bases on waterbuck. In my backyard, anything from 25" is fair game and a 30" is a grand trophy. But i know that in southern africa 30"+ is common or should i say attainable occassionally.

Waterbuck horns do wear down and i find that most old bucks that I have taken have lost an inch or two through age, but make a sizeable, impressive trophy anyway. The bases can be clearly identified for mass using a bino, but whether they are into secondary growth, is tougher to determine. The lenght is usually added by the forward curve of the horn which is more pronounced in some bucks compared to others.

A good trophy waterbuck usually stands out pretty well to a hunter - when you see a shooter, you will defnately glance at your PH and he/she should know immediately what the status is being familiar with the genes and dimensions of bucks in his domain.

They make excellent trophies and are a sizable animal requiring a good shot to the vitals. A wounded waterbuck can take you on a very long walkabout. Some of the discoloration of the horns has something to do with the oils that are secreted from the animals skin and glands, onto which the horns are rubbed frequently. Looking forward to seeing those monster trophies from down south :) Please post some folks...
I can certainly say the way the prices on Waterbuck have risen since my 1st sasfari in 2003 I certainly wish I never missed that Waterbuck & maybe I shouldn't have been so picky in 2007. Having hunted 7 different properties there on my 2nd safari there were hundreds of waterbuck in the 22-25" class & I only saw 2 mature animals not giving any decent shot for me! The future certainly looks more than promising if they don't raise their prices out of our wallet sizes!!
Ryan what were you refering to as a 2nd growth on the horn base? Sounds like I'm going to learn something again!!
On most antelope you have what is called secondary growth. Basically when the horn bases have grown to their normal extreme, they then extend to their full potential and that is when you have stacking at the horn bases. The bases become thicker and 'seal' at the base of the horn where they meet with the skull, creating an impressive character to the trophy. A clear sign of age.

I would say if it is your first waterbuck and you have a 26" mature buck staring at you - take him, unless your Ph feels you could do better and have a clear chance of doing so. Anything less than 25" I would question, unless it is clear that it is an old boy with lots of wear and tear, then go for it. Nothing like a worn-down character for a trophy.

Show me your wallet and I will show you a buck :) Cheers Calhoun!
When discussing Waterbuck horn measurement here, I refer to horn length for a Waterbuck in its’ simplest form which is taking the measurement of the longest horn from the base along the inside/front of the curved horn to the tip only. This, of course, is an easy method but for a primer on How To Measure Your Trophies you can read AfricaHunting.com article by clicking here.

I should start by saying that being able to consistently and accurately judge Waterbuck trophy size, quality and maturity is not so difficult. Ultimately judging this species can truly only be done properly from a frontal view as one can better assess the length and mass of the horns.


01. Judging Waterbuck trophy size from a side profile is not
recommended as one cannot properly assess the length, mass
and shape of the horns

Waterbuck usually have well matched symmetrical horns, although the spread of the horns can vary greatly, two basic types of horn shape from a more straight upward look to a more prominent wide "V" shape can be found. Most often a more prominent wide "V" shaped set of Waterbuck horns will look more impressive. However the type of spread of a Waterbuck does not correlate to the length of the horns themselves.


02. This is a prominent wide "V" shape spread on this Waterbuck


03. This is a more straight upward look on this Waterbuck.
right horn 26.57 inch (67.5 cm) - right base 9.05 inch (23 cm)

The horns from the base project backwards then curve upwards and inward to finally come back forward at the tips. The curve of the horns is more pronounced in some bulls compared to others. The horns are heavily ridged almost all the way to the tips.


04. Ridges are very prominent and pronounced.
left horn 29.13 inch (74 cm) - left base 9.45 inch (24 cm)

Using Rowland Ward Methods Of Measurement for species with unbranched and uncurled horns (Method 7) does require taking the spread measurement from horn to horn into account. However, using Safari Club International Methods Of Measurement for most animals with simple horns (Method 1) does NOT require taking the spread measurement into account.

Usually if the tips of the horns are still very sharp and have a rather thin pointedness, the Waterbuck is either still growing or is just in its' prime. When a Waterbuck bulls' horns are past their prime they do not loose as much length as they age as some species do, such as Gemsbok / Oryx (see Judging Gemsbok / Oryx article by clicking here), and their horns on the way down will often appear thicker at the top, gaining mass, as their tips wear down.


05. Waterbuck Male, a perfect mature bull with thick bases,
mass through the length of the horns and has been loosing
horn length, the perfect if you want it all, an old, thick, long
horned bull.
left horn 29.92 inch (76 cm) - left base 9.84 inch (25 cm)


06. Here is an example of mature Waterbuck bull at its' prime,
the horns have finished growing in length though the mass of
the tip has not yet occurred.
left horn 28.15 inch (71.5 cm) - left base 10.24 inch (26 cm)


07. A good Waterbuck bull with thick bases.
right horn 26.58 inch (67.5 cm) - right base 9.84 inch (25 cm)


08. Here is a good example of a young, not fully grown and
completely immature Waterbuck bull that has no length or
mass and thin tips.

In terms of trophy size when it comes to mature Waterbuck bulls, taking a top class 34 plus inch (86.36 cm) Waterbuck is something incredible. I would say that horns above 30 inches (76.2 cm) make for an amazing trophy, horns above 28 inches (71.12 cm) make for a great trophy, horns above 26 inches (66.04 cm) make for a good trophy and horns below 26 inches (66.04 cm) make for a beautiful trophy and great memories!


09. An amazing trophy Waterbuck.
left horn 32 inch (81.30 cm) - left base 9.45 inch (24 cm)

I included numbers for each picture if anyone wanted to comment or refer to an image...

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.
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Another extremely informative post Jerome...I thank you a lot for all the good work you are doing on the site.
Thanks Jerome for the great ilustrative photos... Very different from the genetics I have in my area of Tanzania. Very rare do they gain such mass at the bases and the ridges rarely become so pronounced. But just like with the elephants down here, they are long, slender lovely trophies. On your photos its very easy to note the secondary growth at the bases. Cheers,
Thanks Jerome for the great pictures & information!! It definitely shows the things to look for & thanks to the rest of you guys for your responses!!
Something I forgot to mention in my post, resist the urge to try and hit the bulls eye, ha ha :guns:.

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That got a chuckle out of this grumpy old fart this morning.
Very nice pictures and info. If i get my base 5 with time left, waterbuck will be one of the other animals i target.

Thanks Jerome
A very Regal animal the waterbuck
I got mine on the banks of old Limpopo River close to the Stockpoort border crossing.
Not that big, but good mass and a very challenging hunt that lastet close to three days.
The biggest one got away, but I´m very happy with this one.



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Arild, beautiful old bull you've got there... and it was hard earned. It doesn't get better than that.
Thank you Jerome.
Yes as you can see I´m a very happy hunter :)

The first time I went to RSA,on my first day hunting, we bumped a waterbuck.
He got away, but that great animal left an everlasting impression on me...
Well done Arild - that is a fine trophy!
Arild... That is a beautiful Bull!! It looks very good even if it isn't the big one!! With the mass of those horns all the way up it would be a prized trophy on anyones wall!!!
Arild, That is a very nice waterbuck!

I will say this...if you look at a piece of property with a lot of waterbuck on it. The dominate male will have the best habit spot all picked out...with his females. That is one way to look for a good trophy. Then look for a very big body. Then take a good look at the horns. If they are massive and over 2 feet. Get ready to shoot.

I actually had a opportunity on my last safari to look at many waterbuck and the big ones truly stand out when they are next to 24 incher's. I didn't get anything over 30 and am fine with it. A 30 inch + animal is a gift...and not a given on a hunt.

Some nice ones from last year.

This is one of the animals I would love to shoot myself and get mounted just need to save up a bit.

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Thanks for the pictures Frederik! Those are some fine waterbuck. I wish I had something other than dial-up to upload pictures. To me Kudu is #1 in South Africa, A huge Nyala #2 (You definitely have to hunt the rignt province and right property to get one of those), but the Waterbuck at #3 is no slouch. He can be hunted in a number of countries, habit, and properties. I love to hunt them because you have a better chance at a good one than a nyala. The waterbuck is noble and grand! I feel very lucky to have hunted them in South Africa!!! As far as the oily shin and bad tasting comments I hear about the waterbuck. I'm glad people think that...that means more waterbuck for me and my friends!
Bump to the front, the waterbuck is one of my favorite animals, I hope people add pictures and memories!

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