Africa’s Most Dangerous: The Cape Buffalo

In my last four articles I’ve profiled the impala, the warthog, the zebra, and the blue wildebeest. Today, I’m discussing one of the most dangerous animals to hunt in Africa: the Cape Buffalo. They are fierce, aggressive, and tough as nails. However, the are probably the most addicting and satisfying animal to hunt in Africa.

Cape Buffalo Description & Distribution

The Cape buffalo is a very large, stocky, and powerful species of bovine that inhabits the much of southern and eastern Africa. There are large populations of Cape Buffalo in Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The are very large animals, with bulls weighing over 1,800 pounds and standing about five feet tall at the shoulder. Cows aren’t quite as large or muscular as bulls, but they can still weigh nearly 1,200 pounds.

Both bulls and cows have horns. However, the horns grow differently on the two sexes: the horns on cows look like they grow out of the sides of the head while the horns on bulls appear to grow out of their forehead and have a thick “boss” there. Bulls are also bigger bodied and have thicker necks than cows.

Young bulls tend to have a “soft” boss with skin and hair visible between the horns on his forehead. As bulls mature, their boss gets larger and “harder”. This gives older bulls an advantage in fights for dominance because they tend to push each other using their bosses. Since hard bossed bulls are more mature and have probably had an opportunity to breed, these are the ones most commonly targeted by trophy hunters. The bull in the photos below is a mature bull with a very hard boss that would be an excellent trophy for any hunter.

hard boss cape buffalo

Cape Buffalo are herd animals and live in herds that range in size from a handful to hundreds of buffalo. They are also grazing animals and will eat just about any type of grass that they encounter. However, they are not very tolerant of dry conditions and must drink water at least once a day to survive.

cape buffalo cow

Cape Buffalo Hunting Methods

Virtually all Cape buffalo hunting is conducted via walk and stalk. Early in the morning, plan on checking out areas that buffalo are known to frequent to look for tracks. Once fresh tracks are found, they are then followed until the buffalo making them are found. If you’re planning a buffalo hunt, get in shape, because you will probably need to walk several miles each day during the hunt.

In some cases, it can be effective to hunt cape buffalo over water. When doing so, it’s imperative to sit for as long as possible without making any extra noise. Unfortunately, the bugs can be pretty bad in many parts of Africa. Obviously, swatting a bugs is not ideal in this situation. To minimize the negative impacts of bugs, wear insect repellent or use a device like a Thermacell.

Recommended Cape Buffalo Cartridges

In most places, either the 9.3x62mm Mauser or the .375 H&H (and the ballistically similar .375 Ruger) is the minimum legal cartridge for hunting Cape Buffalo. Topped with a good scope like the Leupold VX-5HD, a high quality rifle chambered in one of those cartridges is an absolutely outstanding choice for hunting cape buffalo.

That said, bigger cartridges also have a more noticeable affect of buffalo. Among many other choices, the .416 Rigby, the .416 Ruger, the .416 Remington Magnum, the .404 Jeffrey, the .458 Win Mag, the .458 Lott, and the .470 Nitro Express are all extremely popular and effective choices for hunting Cape Buffalo.

While those bigger bore cartridges are outstanding choices if you place your shot correctly, a bigger bullet will not make up for bag shot placement. Unfortunately, those bigger cartridges also have considerably more recoil than the .375 H&H. For this reason, many hunters are tempted to use a muzzle brake. If you go that route, make sure you wear ear protection and don’t let anybody else stand off to the sides of you when you shoot.

While hunters have certainly used cartridges like the .338 Winchester Magnum, .338 Lapua, .405 Winchester and .45-70 Government to successfully take buffalo over the years, they are all marginal choices at best for the job and are illegal for cape buffalo hunting in many areas.

The same goes for muzzleloaders. It’s certainly possible to take a buffalo with a muzzleloader, but even the best muzzleloaders are marginal for an animal like the mighty cape buffalo.

cape buffalo

Cape Buffalo Shot Placement

Cape Buffalo are extremely tough and are not impressed with poor shot placement. They are also quite aggressive and can be very dangerous when wounded. However, if you place your shot properly and use a powerful enough cartridge they will not last long.

Under most conditions, a heart/lung shot is the best choice when hunting Cape Buffalo. If the buffalo is standing broadside, aim at the center of the shoulder, approximately one third of the way up the body. If you place the shot as indicated below, the bullet will hit the lungs and the top of the heart. A buffalo hit as indicated will not run very far at all.

cape buffalo shot placement broadside

Just ensure that you compensate properly if the buffalo is quartering towards or away from you. If the buffalo is quartering towards you, aim slightly forward of the shoulder and about one third the way up the body. However, be very careful with quartering away shots. The liver on a Cape Buffalo is located on the right side of the body between the stomach and lungs. The stomach directly borders the diaphragm on the left side.

Because of this, initial shots on buffalo that are quartering away should only be taken if the buffalo’s right side is facing you. In this case, aim slightly behind the shoulder about a third of the way up the body. If you pull the shot slightly to the rear, you’ll have a little room for error and maybe hit the liver, which is devastating to the buffalo.

Never take a quartering shot on a buffalo with its left side facing you. Since the stomach directly borders the diaphragm, the odds of the bullet hitting and being stopped in the stomach are too great. A gut shot buffalo is extremely dangerous and it is better to pass up the shot and wait for a better one than risk having an angry and injured buffalo on your hands.

cape buffalo shot placement quartering away

Since they are usually more expensive to hunt than plains game, hunting Cape buffalo can be a costly venture. However, hunting them is a life changing experience and a buffalo hunt is usually not quickly forgotten. If you ever have the opportunity to do so, I highly recommend going on a Cape Buffalo hunt. If you can’t make it over, then next best thing would be to watch this cool cape buffalo hunting video.

The Perfect Shot by Kevin Robertson was used as a reference for shot placement. This book is one of the best gifts for hunters that have an upcoming hunt in Africa.

Thanks to Big Game Hunting Adventures for the photos from the Cape Buffalo hunting and Big 5 hunting pages.

Learn more about the South Africa hunting safaris Big Game Hunting Adventures offers on their web site or follow them on Facebook, YouTube, & Instagram.

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Big Game Hunter

About the Author:

I was born and raised in Texas where I started hunting white-tailed deer and hogs at an early age with my father and grandfather. Under their tutelage, I developed a strong respect for wildlife and the outdoors, as well as an appreciation and interest in firearms. Since then, I've hunted big game all over the United States as well as in Namibia and Zimbabwe. As a strong supporter of conservation as well as gun rights, I'm a member of Safari Club International, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the National Rifle Association. I live in Washington state with my wife where we both enjoy taking advantage of all the outdoor opportunities available in the Pacific Northwest. I currently serve in the United States Army and have served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a mortar platoon leader and cavalry troop commander. I was born in Texas and have hunted big game all over the United States as well as in Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. I served served on active duty in the United States Army for over 7 years and served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as a mortar platoon leader and cavalry troop commander. I live in Washington with my wife and I am currently serving in the Washington Army National Guard. My passion for the outdoors led me to create The Big Game Hunting Blog and Big Game Hunting Adventures in order to share my hunting experiences with others and to help them fulfill their hunting dreams.
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