A big Cape eland bull

Cape Eland Hunting in Southern Africa

by Peter Ruddle

The Eland family are Africa’s largest antelopes and a beast of note. These ox-like bovids can weigh up to 2200 pounds (1000 kg), often compared with Brahman bulls, with their thick neck, hump and dewlap. Fully mature bulls even have that Brahman bull look, turning an impressive dark slate grey with age, and are known as “Blue Bulls”.

The Cape Eland are found in the most diverse range of habitats of all African antelope, from mountainous grasslands to the semi-arid Bushvled. This is an antelope species that has been hunted for thousands of years as depicted by the many San (Bushman) paintings and rock engravings scattered over Southern Africa. These age old historical paintings document just how popular and challenging an Eland hunt can be.

A painting of Eland hunt by the San people

HISTORICAL DISTRIBUTION OF CAPE ELAND

Eland belongs to the genus Taurotragus, which comprises the elegant Lord Derby Eland (Taurotragus derbianus) and the Common Elands (Taurotragus oryx). The latter group is split by the Safari Club International record book into 3 regional species, Patterson’s or East African Eland (Taurotragus oryx pattersonianus), Livingstone’s Eland (Taurotragus oryx livingstonei) and the Cape Eland (Taurotragus oryx oryx).

The Cape Eland was first described in 1766 from an animal collected near Cape Town, South Africa and is also sometimes referred to as a Southern Eland. Historically, this species occurred throughout South Africa, Eastern Namibia, Southern Botswana and the lower southern tip of Zimbabwe.

WHERE TO HUNT CAPE ELAND

Free-range Cape Eland can be hunted in Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Traditionally these animals migrated between their summer grazing areas, the interior mountain ranges of South Africa to the lower lying mixed feeding (browse and grazing habitats) more wooded areas of the country during the harsher winter season.
Cape Eland are found on game ranches within the semi-arid regions of Namibia, Botswana and western South Africa. They can also be hunted in the Highveld regions of the Free State, Mpumalanga and Gauteng provinces, as well as the Bushvled of North West and Limpopo Provinces of South Africa

Although a regular winter visitor during bygone years, Cape Eland do not survive in the Zululand Bushveld and are only found in the interior of the KwaZulu-Natal.

HOW TO HUNT CAPE ELAND

RIFLE HUNTING

Eland hunting with a rifle is usually conducted in two different ways:

Track and Stalk

Cape Eland are exceptionally mobile animals and cover great distances in a short period of time when on the move. In the free-range concessions and large game ranches, this is probably the only way to hunt an Eland unless you are lucky enough to bump them while at water or a salt lick.

When a fresh track is found the tracker and PH will try to assess how much of a head start the Eland has on the hunting party. In an area where there are few roads the hunt is likely to start there and then if the situation looks promising. Eland bulls, due to their weight and size of their hooves generally leave a very distinct track to follow and this is made easier on bare ground or sandy soils. However when tracking in long grass and over rocky soils it becomes much more difficult to near impossible but good trackers are able to anticipate and follow them even in these tough conditions. If the tracks are lost and the terrain is well known to the trackers and PH, they may attempt to outsmart the Eland by heading to a likely rendezvous point, like water or a mineral lick in the general direction that the Eland was last heading.

If the territory has a good road network, the hunting party may leapfrog from road to road to see if they can find where the Eland has crossed the road. If they cannot find any fresh tracks where the Eland may have crossed the road, then the hunting party will drive back to where they last saw the tracks and start the walk and stalk.

READ ALSO: In the Shadows of the Ancients: Chasing Eland in South Africa by James Reed 

Spot and Stalk

This sounds a lot easier than the prior mentioned procedure. Sometimes it is but the terrain has a huge role to play. When hunting in the mountains you can glass the area for any sign and you may see the animals at a distance and who knows what obstacles may lie between you and the distant Eland.

These hunts can be long and tedious and need to be well planned. Eland have tremendous eyesight and if they get wind of you, they will be off and you will never catch up to them again as they are able to cover ground at a phenomenal rate, especially when they break into a trot.

Once within range, it’s a matter of finding a comfortable and stable shooting position. As with all shooting you really need to make your first round count. These animals are able to absorb an incredible amount of lead, especially when wounded and full of adrenalin. Immediately after pulling the trigger, reload and get ready to take another shot if required.

BOW HUNTING

Eland enjoy a good drink, mineral licks and supplementary feeds provided by some ranchers during the winter months. Eland are most commonly hunted from permanent blinds overlooking some form of watering point. The majority of bow hunted Eland are taken from a blind and as is the case with rifle hunters, your shot location is critical and you need to make that first arrow count.

A blind near a waterhole

The bigger the bow and heavier the arrow the better as these are huge beasts have a massive rib cage and shoulder blades. The best angle for a bow hunters is the quartering away shot which ensures good arrow penetration and avoids any form of bone deflection.

In many instances a blood trail follow-up will be required and if hunted at last light may even entail a follow-up in the dark so remember to take your flashlight. Most bowhunting Professional Hunters have well trained dogs used in these follow-up procedures.

HABITS

Eland live in large herds during the summer months when food is readily available and while the cows are nursing their calves. However, as winter approaches and their food quality declines and availability diminishes, competition within the herd increases causing the herd to fracture into splinter groups. So during the hunting season (winter) smaller groups are likely to be encountered, as well as bachelor groups and old single bulls travelling on their own.

When close to an Eland bull you can hear clicking noise when they walk, as to what causes this noise is subject to speculation. One theory is the sound is caused by a tendon (ligament) slipping over the knee and vibrating like a string, another is due to their weight of the animal as it lifts its splayed hoof and the two halves click together or is it possibly just the back hoof hitting the front hoof when they walk. No matter what, when you hear that noise as a hunter your heart beat starts to race as you know you are close.

BEST SEASON TO HUNT CAPE ELAND

If you are trophy hunting, the dry winter and early spring months are best for hunting. When food and water are scarce the animals need to spend more time in search of food and water thus offering a better chance for an encounter. Also with less leaves on the trees it makes for easier shooting conditions.

If you are a meat hunter the animals may be in better condition during the summer rainfall months but cows should not be hunted as they are likely to be nursing a calf.

Bowhunters are pretty much limited to hunting Eland from a blind so you need to plan your trip for the driest part of the year, this being June through October. Hunting any earlier in the year could lead to disappointment when temporary water sources are still available and the animals do not readily take to the minerals and supplementary feed on offer.

TROPHY QUALITY

Both males and females have horns. Often younger bulls have longer horns than the older bulls. This may lead you to make a judgment call, you may need to sacrifice length for character. Older bulls have bigger dewlaps, tufts of hair on their foreheads, big bases but shorter worn down horns. The benchmark figure used for a good quality Cape Eland is 30 inches. However, a mature bull over 34” is considered as a good trophy.

QUALIFYING MEASUREMENTS

The qualifying measurements for the record books are:

Cape Eland (Southern) Taurotragus oryx oryx

Safari Club International Record Book

Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min. Rifle Min. Record Measuring Method Minimum Record Measuring Method
71” 79″ 116 2/8″ 2 35″ 47 4/8″

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BREEDING PROJECTS

The breeding of Eland in South Africa has not really caught on as is the case with some of the rarer and higher priced species like Sable and Roan. Some ranchers have introduced Livingstone Eland to their herds which are slightly larger and have white stripes on their flanks, to improve the trophy quality of their Cape Eland.

They do domesticate pretty well and in places have been ranched with cattle. At a stage the largest domesticated Eland herd was reputedly in Russia where they were milked to produce high quality butter. Eland milk has three times the fat and double the amount of protein than that of a dairy cow.

FENCES

High fencing is always a contentious issue with hunters but Eland are renowned for having huge home ranges and the reality is, if you want to buy and introduce Eland to your property and wish to protect your investment, retain the ownership and rights to hunt those animals you will need to fence your property. In terms of the conservation laws of South Africa you are required to high-fence your property with a minimum standard fence in order to retain ownership of those animals and to be granted an exemption permit. This permit in essence grants the landowner exemption rights from complying with the conservation ownership and utilisation laws. In other words grants the landowner the right to hunt year round without requiring any special permits to hunt out of season.

For their size, Eland are able to jump 2.5 metres (over 8 ft) from a standing start when startled and up to 3 metres (nearly 10 ft) in the case of young Eland. To this day scientists remain fascinated how the bone structure in an Elands front legs are able to absorb the force created by the animal’s weight on landing from a jump.

READ ALSO: The Evolution of High Fences in South Africa by Peter Ruddle

Eland migratory routes have been cut off in many areas where animals used to migrate from the summer grazing mountain grasslands to lower altitudes where they could find browse during the winter months. This is well demonstrated in KwaZulu-Natal where to this day animals move from the summer grazing areas in the provincial parks to lower altitudes in winter to feed on the green fodder planted by the dairy farmers for their milk cows.

A big bull eland

THREATS

High fences, urbanisation, agricultural land transformation and other manmade structural barriers have brought free-range Eland into conflict with communities and farmers growing green fodder for their cattle. This has led to indiscriminate poaching in some cases by farmers and communities protecting their crops.

Eland retained by fences in some of the higher altitude areas must be given supplementary feeding during the winter months to maintain their condition and conversely, those retained at lower altitudes in the Bushveld regions suffer with high tick loads and require dipping. Without human management intervention these animals are likely to submit to the forces of nature.

Supplementary feeding of Eland with natural products like Aloe extracts is far better than using a dip for ticks. In some areas the tick infection can be so bad that the animals lose their ears and udders. Needless to say, a cow Eland without an udder cannot raise a calf. Regular dipping also means that the animal’s natural immunity is also being compromised and in the long run tick borne diseases could kill these animals.

HUNTING TIPS

  • Always use the heaviest calibre most suitable for the terrain in which you are hunting.
  • Make sure of that first shot. You have the final say before pulling the trigger and if you are not comfortable then let your PH know and make another plan.
  • When hunting in the mountains, dress in layers so as the day becomes warmer you are able to discard some of your clothing.
  • Make use of neutral coloured clothing suitable for the area where you are hunting. Khaki, contrary to belief, is not always the most suitable colour.
  • Military camouflage is banned in some African countries so always check with your outfitter with regards to this issue.

VENISON

Eland venison is like lean beef and sought after by the domestic market and even exported at times. Not much can beat a well prepared Eland steak. Unfortunately, venison cannot be exported without the required veterinarian permits and stamp of approval from the health department. Due to this fact only commercial culling operators apply for export permits so make sure to try a steak or two before returning home overseas. For local hunters the best advice is to make sure you have ample freezer space if you do not intend turning this prized meat into biltong.

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