The Cape Buffalo is a large African bovine, black in color and carrying a heavy-set pair of horns. Actually, the underlying skin is gray in color, but the short thin growth or black hair covering the skin gives the appearance of being black.
Both the bulls and cows carry horns. The adult’s horns are its characteristic feature; they have fused bases, forming a continuous boney shield across the top referred to as a “boss”. Females lack the massive boss often carried by mature bulls, but the cows can also grow an impressive set of horns that reach lengths in excess of 50 inches, thus making either sex a worthwhile trophy. Both cows and bulls are very adept at using these horns in defense of themselves and their calves. The horns form fully when the animal reaches the age of 5-6 years. However, as the horn is derived from matted hair (correctly called “keratin”) the bases of the horn (which will form the hardened boss with age) is still soft, has a pulpy texture and at this stage of growth is more gray in color and not yet jet black like the hardened portion of the horn.
Owing to its highly unpredictable nature, which makes it extremely dangerous to humans, the Cape Buffalo has never been domesticated, unlike its counterpart the Asian water buffalo. On some occasions individual buffalo will seem to be happily grazing with nothing more on their mind than filling their bellies. On other occasions, and for no apparent reason, they will charge without provocation. Other than humans, Cape Buffaloes have few predators other than lions, and the occasional large adult crocodile. It usually takes several lions to take down a mature buffalo, and the lion is taking on a huge risk in doing so.
The Cape Buffalo is a very large robust species. Were it not for its short stocky legs it would stand much higher at the shoulder than its normal height of 5.5 feet (large bulls). Larger specimens will reach 10-11 feet in length. A big bull will weigh as much as 2,200 pounds. The front hooves are larger than the back hooves as the anterior end of a buffalo is heavier and more powerful than the posterior end.
The Cape Buffalo is one of the most successful grazers in Africa. Herds of buffalo mow down stiff grasses thus making way for more selective grazers such as several species of antelope. The buffalo occupies a wide range of habitat; from swamps and floodplains to savannah grasslands, mopane forests, and dense mountainous terrain. It prefers dense cover such as reeds and thickets. Getting into this type of cover with a buffalo herd and sorting out the single animal to shoot can be quite the challenge. Having a big herd storm off in a cloud of black bodies and dust mere yards in front of you can be quite the adrenaline rush.
CAPE BUFFALO (Syncerus caffer)
The size of herds can range from just a dozen or so animals to many hundreds of animals. The core of the herd is made up of related females and their offspring. These herds are typically surrounded by sub-herds of subordinate males, high-ranking males, other females, and old or invalid animals. However, any animal that has been “blooded” will be ousted from the herd. This is a “herd survival tactic” as the herd knows that the smell of blood is what draws predators. So, they will not allow a wounded buffalo to remain.
During the dry season, males split from the herd and form bachelor groups. There are usually two types of these bachelor groups: ones made up males aged 4-7 years old, and those old males of 12 years or older. These latter groups will contain the old “Dagga Boys” of historical legend. With the onset of the wet season the younger bulls will return to the herd in an attempt to mate with the females. The old Dagga Boys past breeding age will stay to themselves.
In hunting buffalo heavy emphasis is placed on realizing that buffalo usually need to water twice each day. It is not considered a good idea to hunt them directly at a waterhole site as doing so will negatively affect herd behavior and actually, over time, make the hunting all the more difficult as the buffalo will resort to strictly watering at night. Rather, it is beneficial to know (if possible) where buffalo water and try to intercept them along some path quite some distance from their habitual watering places. When water sources are numerous this can be quite a challenge. The other technique is simply to look for buffalo tracks along a dusty road and pursue those tracks if the tracks indicate the presence of a decent bull. After a herd is located and the distance is closed to adequate shooting range one of the biggest challenges is sorting out the one buffalo you want. Buffalo have decent eye sight, and their hearing and sense of smell is superb. Being a herd animal, there are a lot of eyes, noses, and ears to defeat. Often times a herd will have to be approached many times before a shot can be taken.
A .357 magnum rifle is adequate for buffalo. If this is the hunter’s caliber choice, a quality bullet with a sectional density approaching or exceeding .300 should be chosen. Because the first shot is often taken when an animal is herded up with other buffalo the first bullet should be a “soft” to minimize the risk of a pass-through bullet striking another animal. The remaining bullets in the magazine should be “solids” for follow-up shots. If a buffalo drops to the ground upon impact of the first shot the hunter should be exceedingly wary. Buffalo rarely drop at the first shot even though the first shot alone may be an adequate killing shot. Often, if a buffalo drops immediately it will signal that either the spine or the vagus nerve was shocked, neither of which may be a killing shot. Keep shooting so long as the animal shows any sign of life, and approach all downed buffalo with the utmost caution and prepared to shoot again. One of the lingering buffalo tales is “It’s the dead ones that kill you.” This saying did not come about for no good reason.