Hunting Blue Wildebeest In The Karoo

Updated: Jul 27

The ranch where I am the resident PH is situated just about on the Tropic of Capricorn in the Limpopo Province. This region is known for its large numbers of big game like Cape buffalo, kudu, blue wildebeest, sable, roan, nyala, red hartebeest, eland - and of course the medium sized impala and smaller size antelope like mountain reedbuck, duiker and steenbok. This ranch is known for its big kudu and impala and also is excellent habitat for lots of big tusked warthog, lots of baboon - and therefore lots of leopard. Brown hyena, caracal, jackal and all the smaller cat-like predators are in abundance. So far this season local hunters have successfully taken 7 kudu, 6 impala and 12 warthog here. Having said that - hunting is difficult due to dense vegetation - and the animals have 6,000 acres where they roam freely and out of sight. Hunting on this ranch is dedicated hard work.

USA readers may find it interesting to see a breakdown of rifle calibres used by the above hunters:

6x .308W.

1x 30-06

1x .270W

1x .300 Win Mag.

The reader is invited to view these two cartridges objectively. If the .308W (and from experience the 30-06 / 7x57 / 7x64 / .303 Brit) have ample performance for one of Africa's toughest big game species out to 400 yards as this post shows, the excess amount of propellant and bullet kinetic energy yearning to be wasted downrange by the monster .300 Winchester Magnum on the right must be pondered.

The 6,000 acres size of this ranch pales in comparison to the 83,000 acres private game reserve 1,000 kilometres south-west of here in the northern Karoo where the Northern Cape Province borders with the Free State Province - and where my elder son and a friend went hunting for blue wildebeest recently.

After blue wildebeest

Louwrens had not hunted blue wildebeest (Conochaetes taurinus) before and he had decided that the time had come. His mechanical engineer friend and colleague by the name of Ben from the Carnarvon area in the Western Karoo was again his hunting partner like in previous years. After having arranged the hunt Louwrens and Ben decided to rendezvous in the Northern Karoo at the town of Colesberg, still 160 km south of their hunting destination which was "Big Water Safaris" on the Lauho Valley Reserve. Louwrens set out for Colesberg from Somerset West near Cape Town, some 300 km southwest of Carnarvon.

At 83,000 acres Lauho Valley Reserve is the largest privately owned game reserve in South Africa and is home to lots of free ranging eland, kudu, red hartebeest, gemsbok, blue wildebeest, black wildebeest, waterbuck, zebra, blesbok, warthog, springbok - and except lion - all the other big and small predators. Hunting is fair chase, on foot only.

In an international conservation agreement with China the reserve also maintains behind a specialty corridor-type fenced system around a 1,000 acre area 10% of the remaining world population of the near extinct Chinese tiger – a smaller subspecies of the Bengal tiger. Until the planned conservation area for tigers have been established in China this will be their breeding ground.

Readers may find it interesting to check out the following link to the Big Water Safaris website HERE, and to the website dedicated to the conservation effort for the Chinese tiger HERE.

A view over a small part of the Big Water Hunting Safaris geograpy

They arrived on the Wednesday in time to check the scopes and try a few shots from the shooting sticks supplied by Thinus - the resident PH and assistant reserve manager. Both were shooting .308W rifles with 150 gr Hornady Interbond bullets – Louwrens with his BRNO ZKK 601 and Ben with his synthetic stocked Steyr Pro-Hunter. Both these rifles have many times over proven their pleasing accuracy. For backup ammunition Louwrens had loaded some 150 gr Peregrine VLR-4 monolithic copper bullets but had no reason to use it. Blue wildebeest are known for their tenacity to life – especially the female of the species. They hate being lung shot and will punish you for that mistake by forcing you to track them for miles over rocks and hills and through canyons. Shot placement is imperative: the bullet must reach the top chambers of the heart and break at least one shoulder joint.

South African hunters hate bloodshot meat on their hunted game and therefore light weight, high velocity, rapidly expanding bullets are not popular. Cartridges with the “magnum” moniker in the name are rare to see in the hunting field unless it has “Holland & Holland” in the designation and if the hunter is after Cape buffalo, or elephant or lion.

Big female

The following morning, having driven through the tiger enclosure and after some walking and scanning the hilltops and slopes where large black rocks are hidden by tall grass they spotted a small herd of wildebeest and started their stalk. There are clusters of dense brush and Louwrens could make his way to about 180 yards from the herd when they started showing signs of nervousness. A big cow presented a perfect side on stance and he aimed dead on the shoulder bulges over the steady shooting sticks and had no misgivings about a good placement when he pressed the trigger. At the shot she jumped ahead at speed but was clearly limping. The herd disappeared over the crest of the hill at the same time that sight was lost of her - and both Louwrens and the PH thought she had gone with them.

They walked in the direction the herd went to try and view them in the canyon below but saw no animal indicating any sign of being wounded. He relates how the dichotomy of a good shot but no dead animal messed with his brain. They went back to find the position where he had taken the shot from and happened to find his ejected case glinting in a spot of sunlight under a bush. From there he re-enacted the aim to make sure where the animal had stood, from where they followed her initial flight direction and found her dead in the tall grass not 40 yards from where she was shot, the body looking like one of the big black rocks. The first time they had walked about 30 yards past it. It was a perfect heart shot with the 150 gr Interbond having not penetrated all the way through after having broken both shoulders. At 180 yards that is more than adequate performance - both by the bullet and the .308W case – the very reason this cartridge is far by far the first preference for local hunters of big and medium game. Another reason why it is liked by South Africans is because it is not an overstatement in any way – rather the opposite.

Louwrens and his first blue wildebeest - some of the best game meat in Africa.

After recovering the carcass they followed Ben and the PH at a distance. Ben then found and shot a big wildebeest bull from also about 175 yards with the same heart shot placement. Amazingly the bull stood on its feet for a while so Ben put it down with a second shot . Adrenaline likely was a factor in this instance.

Ben and his big blue wildebeest bull

The morning after this hunt Ben shot a black wildebeest cow from 340 yards. She was very wary and nervous and moved around before the shot and the impact was a little low and behind the heart - where not even lung lobes are if your bullet is just a little too far to the rear. It took some time and a 2 km walk to find her again and Ben had no option but to take a shot from a measured 478 yards over the shooting sticks as she was about to start running again. Ben’s knowledge of the .308Ws external ballistics ensured that this time the bullet went exactly through the centre of the heart and that was the end of his hunt as he had to leave for Carnarvon that same afternoon.

The following morning Louwrens and the PH went out again and found a small herd of wildebeest and a stalk through the clusters of brush in fact brought a big cow walking towards them to investigate the movement she had seen. Louwrens shot her quarter frontal-on into the right hand shoulder from under 100 yards. She turned and disappeared in close company of the rest of the herd off the plato and into a shallow canyon. They crawled over the ridge and saw her dead about 200 yards away. Closer inspection showed another perfect placement right on the facing shoulder with the bullet having travelled diagonally across the angled body, stopping against an opposite rear rib. As is typical the fact that she had seen something and came to investigate caused an appreciable adrenaline secretion which has the effect of keeping the mobility faculty of the brain going despite loss of oxygen.

PH / assistant reserve manager Thinus and Louwrens with the second blue wildebeest

Internal views and bullet path

The first wildebeest: the 150 gr Hornady Interbond broke the left humerus-scapula joint, entered the rib cage, cut the top chambers of the heart, passed through the opposite ribs, broke the opposite shoulder joint and stuck there. Just excellent performance by both the cartridge and the bullet.

On the second animal the bullet broke the right hand shoulder joint and travelled diagonally through the ribs and lungs and stopped near the rear opposite ribs.

Some takeaways from this hunt

Known affirmations of hunting big game in open country were repeated during the hunt and some new lessons were learned. The new lessons were that if the hunter trusts his rifle and ammunition and his own shooting ability he must not doubt the proper placement and good behaviour of the bullet. He must not be tempted or coerced to waste time in searching too far away for his dead animal. With a top of the heart shot placement no animal will go more than 50 yards; rarely so when it is a female of the species and particularly if it had seen the hunter before the shot.

A re-confirmation of hunting in South Africa again was the complete adequacy of the .308 Winchester cartridge on the toughest big game we have here when shooting a good quality bonded bullet – even out to distances of 400 metres plus. If there is time to use a rangefinder and if the shooter has confidence in his own ability and in that of his rifle the .308W cartridge is capable of killing a tough animal like the blue wildebeest at distances where many hunters outside South Africa will not even look at a cartridge smaller than the .300 Winchester Magnum.

On the topic of accuracy it must be said that opposite to what is often stated in USA gun media - a 2 MOA rifle is simply no good for hunting anywhere in South Africa. If your rifle already shoots 3 inches in any direction off your aim at 300 yards, and if a 4” error of aim is made by the hunter (quite possible at that distance) your bullet may be 7 inches off the desired point of impact. No good. In the area where I live and hunt with local and foreign clients the average shooting distance is less than 100 yards – but the average time available for the hunter to pull the trigger after having shouldered the rifle offhand is about 4 seconds. This may easily cause an own shooting error of still about 6 inches. Miss the heart by 7 inches (or even one inch) and a lung shot wildebeest will spoil your day in a number of ways.

The credible successes both Louwrens and Ben enjoyed was another demonstration of the reason why the .308W is preferred by South African hunters to the tune of 7x compared to the 30-06 (which, together with the 8x57 Mauser really is the standard any hunting rifle for elk size game can be measured against). Informal observation in the field shows the .308W is preferred about 15x above the 7mm Remington Magnum and the .300 Winchester Magnum.

A repeated affirmation was that once the animal has seen the predator it experiences immediate anxiety and a rush of adrenaline - with a subsequent distinct resistance to succumb to an otherwise fatal shot. This physiology must always be kept in mind by the hunter.

(My younger son Phillip who lives in Sydney, Australia was on a hunt for fallow deer over the same time, using his newly acquired Sauer in .308W. Lots for me to learn about hunting Down Under - and I assume for our USA readers as well. His story should be published here soon).

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