Cape Buffalo Hunting in Southern and Eastern Africa

Known as “Black Death”, the African, Southern or Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer) is considered by most professional hunters as the most formidable of Africa’s wild bovids, extremely dangerous, cunning, vindictive and the most aggressive of the “Big Five” when wounded. The best description comes from Robert Ruark who wrote, “I don’t know what there is about a Buffalo that frightens me so. Lions and Leopards and Rhinos excite me but don’t frighten me. But the Buff is so big and so mean and ugly and hard to stop, and vindictive and cruel and surly and ornery. He looks like he hates you personally. He looks like you owe him money. He looks like he is hunting you.”

This large bulky oxlike animal weighing up to 900kg (2,000 lbs) with short legs and massive head with heavy horns was first encountered by Europeans in the Cape of Good Hope region, hence the name Cape Buffalo


The Cape Buffalo’s historical range extended from Angola in the west, all the way across to East Africa, Somalia in the north and South Africa in the south.

Further north and west in Africa you find some of the other ecologically separated species and subspecies, namely the West African Savanna Buffalo, Central African Savanna Buffalo, Nile Buffalo and Dwarf or Forest Buffalo.


Today, free-range Buffalo distribution remains pretty much the same as their historical distribution and the species is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. Hunting permits are readily available in the following countries: Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda.  

Top quality free range buffalo are available throughout these regions with the best trophies coming from Tanzania and some from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Game ranched (high fenced) Buffalo can be hunted in Namibia and South Africa at reasonable prices.

Buffalo hunting is probably considered as the ultimate African challenge and it remains a hunter’s personal decision on affordability, hunting experience, quality and trophy size as to their choice of Buffalo hunting destination.



Hunting Buffalo can vary quite dramatically from area to area depending on the habitat. Buffalo may be encountered in forests and in swamps making for a close-up and personal encounter. One constant is that most Buffalo are shot at short range, about 20 – 60 yards. 

No rifle smaller than a .375 calibre may be used during a Buffalo hunt. Many hunters purposefully purchase large calibre bolt-action or double-barrelled rifles specifically designed and manufactured for these hunts. Most Professional Hunters who hunt Buffalo on a regular basis will all back-up with a 400+ calibre double rifle. This hunt is all about bullet penetration and stopping power.

A Cape Buffalo with its menacing look
 “…  He looks like you owe him money …”

Pursuit of the Cape Buffalo in the traditional way makes for one of the most exciting and memorable hunts you will ever experience. The hunt requires good team work between your tracker(s) and Professional Hunter. At the crack of dawn the team will scout for fresh Buffalo tracks. Buffalo are water dependent species, needing to drink on a regular basis and will sometimes walk long distances between the grazing areas and their search for water. This means that fresh tracks are likely to be found crossing the concessions roads and tracks, around water pans and natural salt licks. When a good size track is found, it’s time to gear up and begin the chase.       

This tracking process can take anything from a few minutes to hours so be prepared for the long haul and take lots of water. Begin walking on the spoor and take into consideration the wind direction as Buffalo have an acute sense of smell and sight. The colour and texture of the dung found along the way will indicate if you are gaining or approaching the herd. Once located the Professional Hunter will plan the rest of the stalk. All you need to do is follow instructions, control your pounding heart and breathing in readiness to take that all important shot.


Bowhunters can expect an even greater adrenalin rush as you need to be really close and personal to ensure maximum penetration of your arrow and you do not have the luxury of a backup shot as is the case with rifle hunters. Fortunately, most Buffalo tend to run after being skewered instead of going into attack mode as if not quite sure what has just happened to them. 

In many instances Buffalo may be taken walk and stalk style but the majority are taken from a blind over water. This can either be a permanent blind on a game ranch or temporary blind built from branches, leaves and grass on a free-range concession. High seats may also be used but the best angle to shoot a Buffalo is the quartering away shot taken at ground level to slide your arrow into the vitals without having to penetrate the rib cage which can often end up just aggravating a wounded Buffalo. 

Your bow draw weight should be the maximum you can draw. However, modern day technology, arrow heads and weighted arrows somewhat negated the fact that you need to shoot a heavy poundage bow. These technicalities need to be discussed and planned with your Outfitter.   


In some areas Buffalo herds may be over a thousand strong and comprise a mixed bag of breeding cows, calves, young animals and bulls of all ages. When hunting the herds the majority of bulls are generally found at the back of a moving herd and in many instances straggled out for some distance.

This is a typical Buffalo defence behaviour to guard the herd against attack from the ever present Lions pursuing the grazing herds.

The bulls and bachelor herds are referred to as “Dagga Boys”, aptly named after an African word for mud. Buffalo and mud baths are synonymous, a ritual they enjoy to rid themselves of ticks and flies. So always be on the lookout for Buffalo when near mud wallows.

This photo shows why they’re called “Dagga Boys”

Buffalo favor thick bush during the day and open areas at night to be able to protect the young calves from marauding Lions. They graze in the morning and late afternoons and rest up during the heat of the day.  


The best hunting is as late in the dry season as possible when the Buffalo are forced to seek adequate grazing and a water supply. Large herds can often be detected by the dust cloud they create during these marches between water and food.  

The drier the better even if you are forest hunting as rain will wipe out any spoor and make tracking much more difficult. Swamp hunting is a lot more pleasant when dry and you are not wallowing around in crocodile infested waters.

Bowhunters should be aware that booking a hunt early in the year could be a bit of a gamble if you intend hunting from a blind over water. Many of the bowhunting Outfitters offer bow blinds over water where supplementary feeding stations are also strategically placed. The drier and warmer the weather conditions, the greater the likelihood you will have of a successful hunt.


Both cows and bulls have horns. Cow’s horns do not have the big solid bosses and the world record of 62 inches was held by a cow until 2001 when news broke of a bull’s horns measuring 64 4/8 which was picked up at Manyara Park in Tanzania after being killed by Lions.

The world record Cape Buffalo
The world record Cape Buffalo

 A bull’s horns are judged by their spread and solid boss covering their forehead. The emphasis of a good quality Buffalo trophy should be placed on the fact that a fully mature bull is hunted and not a young soft bossed animal that has not reached its prime or breeding potential.

A 36 – 40 inch wide bull should be considered as a fantastic trophy, anything over 40” is a Dandy. Other considerations to be taken into account are the deep curls and for some hunters it’s even the character of a bull with a broken or broomed off horns that make for a good trophy. Once again, it’s the eye of the beholder that will make or break this hunt.   


The qualifying measurements for the record books are:

Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min. Score Rifle Min. Score Record Score Measuring Method Minimum Inches Record Inches Measuring Method
90 100 140 2/8 4 42 91 5/8 12-a


In South Africa, Buffalo breeding may have passed its pinnacle a few years ago. In 2016, a Buffalo bull valued at over R 176 million (USD 11,100,000) was sold at an auction for R 168,000,000 (source).

The most expensive Cape Buffalo in the world
The world’s most expensive Cape Buffalo

10 years ago a game ranched Buffalo bull of 36” was the benchmark trophy quality wise and 40” was exceptional. Today, trophy fees have decreased due the increased availability of Buffalo from breeding projects with many Outfitters selling Buffalo of 44-46” at premium prices.    


According to the law in South Africa, to obtain a permit to introduce or hold Buffalo on your property (whether a National Park or a game ranch), you will have to meet stringent fencing and veterinary requirements. These high fences also need to be electrified.

The main reason for this fencing requirement is to prevent diseases spreading from what is known as the “Redline”. Buffalo from within the red line zone may not be moved across this designated veterinary border line or fence. Even domestic stock, other wild ungulates and unprocessed meat should not be transported across this line and is highly regulated in countries like Botswana, a country that supplies beef to the European Common Market. 

Some game ranchers in South Africa even double fence their properties to prevent the possibility of Buffalo coming into contact with their neighbours cattle. Buffalo are also dangerous to humans and where fenced this helps to prevent human wildlife conflict.


Buffalo are carriers of the “Foot and Mouth” disease, known as “Hoof and Mouth” in the USA. Being a carrier means that Buffalo are not affected but they do infect cattle with a substantial impact to the country’s agriculture sector and revenue losses during the quarantine period. Hence the significance of the Redline as previously mentioned. 

In KwaZulu-Natal, the Zululand Buffalo carries “Corridor Disease” a deadly tick transmitted disease to cattle. So other than for hunting you can imagine these are not the most popular of beasts in Africa.

In the last few years cattle have introduced “Bovine Tuberculosis” to the iconic buffalo herds of Kruger National Park and Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park, KwaZulu-Natal’s flagship reserve. This has now been transmitted to many other species, such as Kudu, Lions and even Rhinos. Although closely monitored the devastating effect this might have on the wildlife has yet not manifested itself. All live Buffalo must be tested for this disease prior to being moved from one location to another.


Habitat invasion and destruction by an ever increasing human population with the cow and the plough leads to human wildlife conflict. This is somewhat negated by the financial hunting proceeds incentives that find their way back to the community from trophy hunting to save habitat. A prime example is the Campfire Project initiative in Zimbabwe where communities derive an income from trophy fees and receive the meat as an additional benefit. Meat is highly sought after in these protein deprived communities. The trade-off is to minimise the killing or maiming of these animals for raiding their crops and to discourage irresponsible poaching. Unfortunately, the reality is crop damage is not totally avoidable and a number of people are killed every year protecting their crops from marauding wildlife.          


  •     Most Professional Hunters have a preference on solid and soft nose bullet combinations. Most go for a soft point bullet first to prevent over penetration, especially when shooting into a herd. Killing two Buffalo with one bullet can be an expensive experience. Thereafter, it is normally all solids looking for the best penetration possible. Even with a well placed first soft nose bullet shot, you may well require numerous back-up shots. A fired-up, adrenalin pumped Buffalo can be difficult to bring down. 
  •     There is no sweeter music to a Professional Hunter’s ear than the death bellow of a dying Buffalo. But the Dagga Boy may not be dead yet, so approach very carefully stopping at a safe distance and take an insurance shot. Sometimes they may just be stunned and stand up ready to fight another day.  
  •   When you shoot a Dagga Boy out of a bachelor group often his askaris (associates) will turn and return to their fallen herd member encouraging them to get up and follow the herd. After a brief standoff these bulls normally retreat but beware that they may be lying in wait for an ambush – especially if you are in dense forest, undergrowth or reedbeds.
  •   Breeding herds may be quite docile to approach but a Buffalo cow with a young calf is always a dangerous customer.
  •   Always be especially vigilant when hunting in areas with poaching incursions. A Buffalo carrying a snare wound or injured by an altercation with an under-gunned poacher can be as nasty and mean as any wounded Buffalo.
  •     Birds, such as Cattle Egrets and Oxpeckers may in many cases may assist you to locate the Buffalo in dense vegetation or in a swamp reedbed where there are no elevated structures or trees to climb to see if you can catch a glimpse of the Buffalo. An Oxpecker sounding an alarm call in thick bush offers an early warning system that danger is lurking and you had better be alert.
  •     One final hunting tip is no Buffalo is dead until it is in the salt.     
Cape Buffalo with a few Egrets
Birds like Cattle Egrets and Oxpeckers often follow Cape Buffalo

Read more Cape Buffalo stories in our blog:

Staredown with the Devil

The Bulls of Marromeu


In the large African hunting concessions of Africa, the meat normally goes to the nearest village. Normally, the villagers amazingly  appear from nowhere to claim their bounty. Some of the prime cuts are taken back to camp where the cook will work his magic touch.

Buffalo meat looks like lean beef and can be tough so needs to be marinated or tenderised by beating with a wooden meat mallet. One hunting camp in Mozambique makes the most delicious Buffalo schnitzels and a lean Buffalo tail (Oxtail) combined with a fatty Hippo tail make for one of the best oxtail type bush cuisine dishes you will ever taste.

By Peter Ruddle


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