(3.1) Explained: The Character Of The Cape Buffalo - And That Of The Real Man

Updated: Apr 28

Just as an inbetween post: When hunting Cape buffalo and approaching a group the PH will invariably warn his client or the tracker to "look out for that cow," or "that old bull over there". The facial expression, or the way the head is held - or some other body language are indicators of an individual animal's likely behaviour.


Look at this photo again:

Not only the facial expression but even the different shapes of the head will indicate an individual's character.


The 44" guy at the back has a wider forehead and a contemplative expression - he measures and evaluates you and may simply ignore you as having no value in his life. He has higher intelligence than the front one and will not attack you off the cuff because he thinks nothing of you. He of course is the better trophy of the two and I would do a brain shot on him because wounding him with a lung shot - as is possible in that tall grass - will bring out his intelligent, contemplative character and more than likely a plan to attack you from behind.


The guy in front is a compulsive confrontationalist and in fact is 1-2 years older than the rear bull. After shooting the rear one this guy will probably run, and then sneak back to check out the scene.


Readers are invited to review the following photographs and comment on what is seen regarding character:

This is not a tele-lens photograph but from the back of a high safari truck, thence the view angle. The bull has a 40"-41" horn spread and is a real nice trophy. He is unafraid of the vehicle and probably approached it to investigate, and his focus is on the human(s) on top. He has a wide skull and therefore (in my own experience) probably more intelligent than the belligerent straight attacker - in other words a schemer to be watched carefully if he is not the one to be shot.


Buffalo are carriers of food-and mouth disease (which originally was brought to Africa by domestic cattle). The tag on this one means "NOT TO BE HUNTED" - indicating that this young bull had been darted and brought alive from another area to bring new blood into a local gene pool. Two weeks before having been loaded onto a closed-in truck he would have been darted for blood to be drawn and analysed for TB and foot-and-mouth disease. Darting is a little like hunting, only a little better. You approach it on foot and shoot the dart into any big muscle from about 25 meter. The burning pain normally sets him off running and he goes down in about 5 minutes' time; he is awake and by his senses but incapable of motor function. So a distinct memory exists of the burn and the humans around him and the indignity.


After blood is drawn all hands get onto the truck and the veterinary surgeon injects him with a "wake-up" drug which works IMMEDIATELY, like a massive shot of adrenalin. For the vet's safety we always have a rifle at hand - but most of them are fit young men.



Fear and uncertainty displayed by a young adult bull. He is totally unsure of what he is - a man or a mouse, and he will cause a stirring by dashing around and and creating anxiety in the herd, hoping a leading matriarch will take some initiative.


A coalition of three bulls who have been expelled from a herd by the patriarch and they have one another's back. The older one is in the centre and not focused on the hunter / photographer-hiker but focused on some other movement. The left bull is 38", so not Rowland Ward but high in SCI points value - which is (was) a system that favoured the killing of too young animals. I do not accommodate requests for high SCI numbers. This one is four years too young to kill. He is a confrontationalist and needs to be watched. My aim would be for the old bull in the middle - even though he is below RW width he has a full character face and a substantial boss.


Important note: The moment a bull turns his head slightly to look at you with one eye (mostly when closer than 30 meter) it means he is measuring your size and the distance to you. If you do not want to kill him it is a good time to backtrack slowly, maintaining eye contact with him. This one above clearly says: "What do you want!" - not a question, but more a statement. He is a fantastic trophy and I would do the shoulder mount in exactly this presentation.



A 45"-46" real trophy. Ready to attack. A belligerent confrontationalist of lesser intelligence and threfore a direct danger.



An old, solitary bull with 38" horns. If the hunter is not after a RW set I would entice this old guy out of the draw onto level ground and take him. He will hesitantly come after you if you showed what he sees in this photo, and then slowly retire, until he is on open ground.



Note the eye slits - and not wide open eyes. It distinctly says something. A fantastic 42.5" trophy. I will really be loathe to kill him - just out of respect. He is totally fearless and a fantastic resource of excellent genes.



When a cow lifts her head like this one she is displaying anger. If you do not plan to kill her, now is a good time to backtrack to put at least 100 meter between you and her

I hate buffalo cows because I have had to run away from them a few times - not with a client but when I was alone, walking to shoot camp meat. In Mozambique I had to kill one stupid female that was psychotically possessed and not only paranoid.


One expects that one of a group of bachelor bulls will turn away and wait for you ten yards off their tracks when presssed a few times and not able to get a shot and keeping on harrassing them - it is the manly thing to do. A cow that justs comes for you when you are 80 yards away from them - like this one will - is plain female wickedness. In Mozambique I had to kill one of these.


And finally

He certainly can say: "I've been there, done that". Still alive after many, many fights that broke both horns, escaped or fought off lions, never allowed himself to come under a hunter's aim. The smooth, polished horns tell it all, and broken off they now allow him to dig up roots for the minerals they supply, and loosen the soil to lick the salt and calcium to sustain his old bones.


Old bones, but he still looks the distant 400mm camera lens straight in the eye, still fearless of whatever is out there.


When the real hunter, a real man, after days and days following the big tracks of a big bull finally comes face to face with this old man - this magnificent trophy - he lowers his rifle and tips his hat in respect and retires backwards, keeping a respectful composure. Because once in his life he has been in the presence of an aura that says: "macho".


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