blesbok

Blesbok and Blesbok Hunting

by Peter Ruddle

The name Blesbok originates from the Afrikaans word for white blaze that is a distinctive feature found on this medium sized animal’s muzzle. Their body colour is brown and may vary from light to dark brown. Both males and females have heavily ringed horns and the females have more slender horns than the males. Body wise, the males are slightly heavier.  

Blesbok were once one of the most abundant species found on the grasslands of the interior plateau. Unfortunately, they were heavily hunted by the pioneers for their meat and hides, becoming very scarce by the late 1800s.

However, due to sound conservation policies and game farming their numbers have increased dramatically and the Blesbok is no longer on the brink of distinction.   

HISTORICAL DISTRIBUTION

Blesbok (Damaliscus pygargus phillipsi) are an endemic species to South Africa. Their historical distribution originally covered the high lying central grassland plateau area known as the ‘Highveld’.

The majority of these animals were found in the Free State province and the high lying regions of Gauteng, Mpumalanga as far as northern KwaZulu-Natal.

WHERE TO HUNT BLESBOK

Blesbok are predominantly hunted in the Highveld areas of South Africa. In fact, they have been introduced to areas far beyond their historical range, and can now be hunted in all the provinces of South Africa and Namibia.  

They even occur in the Bushveld and semi-arid desert regions. Although not their natural habitat, they do survive with the correct management interventions, provision of open grasslands, water and minerals to supplement their diet. They are unable to survive in the woodland areas of the Lowveld and such places as the Kruger National Park.  

HOW TO HUNT BLESBOK

Being a diurnal grassland species, they are best hunted while grazing in the mornings and late afternoons. Although laying up during the heat of the day they can easily be located out in the open grasslands and therefore can be hunted at any time of the day.

Rifle Hunting

Blesbok are normally hunted ‘spot and stalk’ style. Being a denizen of open grassland, which doesn’t often offer much cover, the most difficult part of the hunt is the approach. The Blesbok is a short grass grazer, which just adds to the difficulty of the hunt.

Unlike the woodland species that use the brush and trees for cover, for Blesbok, it is all about keeping their distance and in most cases, the safe distance for a Blesbok is beyond the average hunter’s shooting comfort distance.

Often these hunts require a well-planned stalk and maybe even a little crawling depending on the client’s ability. The average shooting distance may be quite long (300 yards) and often made even more difficult on a blustery windy day out in the open.

An alternative hunting method is to find some cover in an area that the Blesbok like to frequent and wait for their arrival. However, in most cases, a staff member (tracker) will drive the animals towards the hunter’s ambush site and while the Blesbok are concentrating on the approaching tracker, the hunter will be able to take a shot.

This alternate option sounds a lot easier than in practise. When Blesbok have been heavily hunted, they can be exceptionally wild and extremely difficult to hunt even when you are familiar with the escape route they are likely to take. 

Those who have culled Blesbok at night with a spotlight will also know that, unlike most antelope, they do not stand still when blinded by the light. 

blesbok 1

Bow Hunting

Stalking a Blesbok with a bow is incredibly difficult and can only be undertaken by extremely skilled bow hunters in a ghillie suit.  

Most Blesbok are taken from a blind. Being a water dependent species, Blesbok need to drink on a regular basis and are further attracted to these sites by mineral licks and supplementary feeding.

HABITS

Keep in mind when searching for Blesbok that they prefer short grass seeking out fresh green grass, especially on newly burnt areas and fire breaks.

Males will aggressively defend a territory during the rut and in many instances, this trait continues for the duration of the year. Single territorial males may be encountered throughout the year but horn length is often difficult to judge when you are faced with a single animal instead of being able to look over the herd.

Blesbok are prone to high predation levels where the habitat is too wooded and may be easily killed by Cheetah, Leopard, Caracal and Hyena.  Jackals kill mostly young Blesbok but as is the case with many antelopes the young are able to run as fast as the adults within a few hours of birth.

BEST SEASON TO HUNT BLESBOK

Blesbok may be hunted year round in South Africa on registered game ranchers with an exemption permit and during the trophy-hunting season in Namibia, which opens on 1 February and closes on 30 November.   

In the province of KwaZulu-Natal Blesbok may be hunted year round without any permits. All that is required is the landowner’s permission.  

TROPHY QUALITY

A good benchmark trophy would be 14” and the world record Blesbok stands at 20 5/8”.

QUALIFYING MEASUREMENTS

The qualifying measurements for the record books are:

Blesbok

Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min. Rifle Min. Record Measuring Method Minimum Record Measuring Method
35” 39″ 56 3/8″ 1 16 1/2″ 20 5/8″ 7-a

White Blesbok (Only recognised by SCI)

Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min. Rifle Min. Record Measuring Method Minimum Record Measuring Method
    52 3/8” 1      

BREEDING PROJECTS 

White Blesbok have been around for some time and recognised by Safari Club International for their record book, selective breeding of Blesbok with recessive genes has led to the increase of a number of new colour variations. To date the expected demand from trophy hunters has not materialised and Blesbok colour variant prices continue to fall both in the live market and as trophy hunted animals. Some of the new Blesbok colour variants available for hunting are Yellow (Golden) Blesbok, Copper Blesbok and Painted Blesbok.         

Scientists and ecologists are concerned about the amount of interbreeding that has taken place between Blesbok and Bontebok. Historically these very closely related species distribution ranges did not overlap. Today the number of purebred strains of each species is concerning.  

What are the main differences between Bontebok and Blesbok?

These two species are very closely related even to the extent of their taxonomic names. Generally, Blesbok are browner than Bontebok, which are more of a brown to steel grey colour. However, Blesbok and Bontebok colours in some areas may look very similar. 

The most significant colour difference between the species is that Bontebok has a very evident white rump. Other features that can be taken into consideration are that Bontebok have white lower legs whereas Blesbok rarely have continuous white leg markings. Bontebok horn colouration is very dark to black compared to the lighter coloured horns of a Blesbok.  

Bontebok and blesbok

FENCES

A normal stock (cattle) fence very easily contains a Blesbok. They do not jump and will creep under a fence if the lower strand is higher enough off the ground.

THREATS

Blesbok is a thriving species, and the only two concerns about its wellbeing come from genetic contamination between Blesbok and Bontebok, and conflict with livestock owners. 

Many Blesbok host a nasal bot, a parasite that affects the general health of domestic sheep and goats. Although it is not a deadly disease, treatment to kill these parasites comes at a cost to the farmers. There is also a fly species that deposits its larvae in a Blesbok’s eye without causing any harm but this same fly depositing its larvae in cattle or sheep eyes could cause the animal to lose its eyesight if not treated.

Although both the nasal bot and the fly are naturally occurring parasites, Blesbok are blamed for harbouring and transmitting the disease. This may cause friction between game farmers and domestic stock farmers. 

HUNTING TIPS

Blesbok may be found in large herds of over 100 strong on some properties. As previously mentioned it may be difficult to stalk these animals but once you are in shooting range you need to overcome two more obstacles:

Estimating the distance over open and flat ground is not always that easy. Trying to use a rangefinder in such circumstances may be difficult, as you would need to expose your position to take the measurement. This is made even more difficult when there is long grass between you and your target. 

Flat shooting rifles like a 270 are best for hunting Blesbok. With a flat bullet trajectory, a slight miscalculation of distance will not affect the accuracy of your shot.

Once you are in position it is often very difficult for the professional hunter/guide to ensure that the hunter is aiming at the correct animal as there are often no landmarks to use as a point of reference. The animals continuously bob their heads (because of the irritation from the nasal bots) and keep milling around. This is made even more difficult during the rut when territorial males are chasing other males in and out the herd. 

VENISON

Blesbok are in the top three most popularly hunted species in South Africa due to their price, abundance and value for money. They are bred extensively by game farmers and even found on normal stock farms with just ordinary cattle fences.

Their meat is sought after by local hunters and due to their size a Blesbok carcass is easy to handle and work the meat compared to some of the bigger antelopes. 

 

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