Poor Man’s Buffalo

From: Rean Steenkamp

Gerhard Delport tells how he planned and practiced for two years, trying to bag a specific blue wildebeest bull.

It was a cold winter’s morning. It was still dark but the sun was slowly changing the dark shapes outside the hide into trees. The birds were just starting the first overture of the morning’s bush symphony.

With a cup of warm coffee and a thick jacket, I am ready for what the day might bring and what the bush is willing to sacrifice.

My main target is a big blue wildebeest bull I have been hunting for the last two years. The guys from SDudla Safaris have game cameras on all the water holes on the concession and it was decided last night to come to this particular pit blind as the bull had been visiting the water and salt lick regularly the last week.

Blue wildebeest are found in open and bush-covered savanna in south and east Africa, thriving in areas that are neither too wet nor too arid. They can be found in places that vary from overgrazed areas with dense bush, to open woodland floodplains. Wildebeest prefer the bushveld and grasslands of Southern Africa. Their blunt muzzles are best equipped for biting short green grasses, since a wide incisor row prevents more selective feeding.


Blue wildebeest can tolerate arid regions, as long as a potable water supply is available. Since all wildebeests require a long drink every day or two, they must have water within 15 to 25 kilometres.They are unusually territorial, adult males occupying their territories for a month to an entire year. Territories range from one to two hectares. The bucks mark territorial boundaries with dung heaps, pre-orbital gland secretions and hoof scent glands.

I spent the day before in the same hide and the bull came in with a herd of cows and young animals. They spent at least 20 minutes around the water and salt, but the bull just did not give me a clear shot opportunity. There was always a cow standing in front of him or he was facing me head on. Or when he was standing broadside, he had another animal right behind him. Not wanting to wound another animal with a pass-through arrow, I just had to wait…

Blue wildebeest are probably some of the ugliest plains-game animals in Africa. They do not have the grace of the “grey ghost”, nor are they as secretive as the bushbuck or as uniquely marked as Burchell’s zebra. But I love these hunchback clowns of the bush. With their dark skin, wide horns and thick boss, they resemble the Cape buffalo. And like the Cape buffalo they are very tenacious and hard to kill. I know of a couple of professional hunters who were injured by or had close encounters with the “poor man’s buffalo”.

We professional hunters have a joke about these poor man’s buffaloes. “They are born sick and every time you give them a lead pill they only feel better and they run even further…” This typical black humour comes from long and hard experience hunting and guiding clients for blue wildebeest.

Blue wildebeest have a very prominent hump on the shoulders and mane. This makes for difficult shooting. Because the hunter shoots for the middle of the body, he may hit the animal too high and with a bullet going over the spine or just touching the spine you are going to have an animal with “his hand brake cable shot off”. There follows a long and difficult job tracking the wounded animal. Most of the time, animals shot too high will recover from the wounds if they are not found.
Even at bowhunting distances one can easily misjudge shot placement. One must remember to allow shooting angles to compensate for sitting in a pit blind, an elevated blind or a tree stand.

I prefer hunting blue wildebeest with fixed-blade broadheads. An arrow with a total weight of 420 grains should be the minimum weight for African plains game. Heavier arrows allow for better penetration and passthrough, resulting in a better blood trail.

A bow set between 65 and 70 pounds will deliver more than enough energy to allow an arrow to penetrate deeply. A lady or young bowhunter with a 40 to 50-pound bow could also do the trick on a blue wildebeest but then he or she must be sure to use a heavy arrow – something in the region of 550 grains – and restrict the shot to a maximum of 25 yards.

After a slow morning in the hide with just a couple of young impala rams visiting the water, I started wondering if the blue wildebeest would be coming back to the water that day. I have learned that perseverance goes a long way when it comes to bowhunting and that once you have moved into a hide or tree stand it is best to stay there the whole day instead of moving from spot to spot. You see more animals, you don’t spook animals around the hide and you will get the shot if you have the patience to stay put and wait.

Just after midday I was again reading the pocket version of the “Perfect Shot” by Doctari. One has to be able to visualize the vital area at the different angles the animal might be standing. I still believe the middle of the vital triangle shot is the most effective way to “pull up the hand brake” of any animal. With a top-of-the-heart and double-lung shot no animal is going to go more than 60 to 100 yards. The “middle of the vital triangle” shot also gives you the biggest target to aim at and should your arrow hit a bit low you have a heart shot. With the arrow going a bit high or to the left or right you still have a double lung shot, ensuring a quick, clean kill.

Another couple of impala came in just after 13:30 and there was a really nice ram with them. I started wondering if I should take the impala or wait the rest of the afternoon for the blue wildebeest….

I decided to gamble on this last afternoon of the hunt and let the impala drink in peace. Hopefully they would serve as living decoys. I might get a shot late afternoon at another impala if the wildebeest did not show.

Not 30 minutes later I heard more animals walking and as I looked up I saw the same herd of blue wildebeest cows and young animals I saw the day before coming in to the water. But the bull was not with them. They spent the next 10 minutes around the water drinking and I was frantically scanning the bush for a glimpse of the bull that had been with them the day before. Then some of the cows moved about 20 yards away from the water and lay down, while the other wildebeest just stood around. Finally, 40 minutes after the first wildebeest came to the water, I saw the bull. With his thick boss and wide spread of horns he really was a magnificent animal. He walked slowly to the water. By now I had the bow in my hands and my heart was beating like a blacksmith’s hammer against my ribs. I waited…

He moved from the water to the salt and presented me with a 21-yard, slightly quartering-away shot. I waited for him to settle down on the salt before I drew the 75-pound Tribute. The pin started on the opposite front leg, moving up until it settled just next to the shoulder in the middle of the vital triangle. In a flash the white fletches on the arrow disappeared into the target and the wildebeest bull exploded in a flat-out run. I kept quiet and listened to the herd running.

The author with his “poor man’s buffalo” – bagged after two years of planning and practicing.

After two years of hunting for this specific bull and a lot of practice with the bow, everything had finally come together and I was sure the bull would not go far. I called the PH on the radio and waited until he stopped next to the hide before climbing out.

We walked to where the bull had stood. 30 yards behind that position I found the arrow, with bright red blood on the white fletching. We started walking on the running spoor and almost immediately started getting a blood spoor. 50 yards farther on, there he was. The Slick Trick broadhead had once again done a great job. I am now addicted to hunting the poor man’s buffalo. And what a bonus the meat makes for very tasty table fare….

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