Hunting Waterbuck in Africa – the common and the defassa

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The waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus is a large antelope found widely in sub-Saharan Africa in Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Africa, and other countries. Males are larger than females, weighing between 430 and 580 pounds, and standing 47 to 54 inches at the shoulder. Females weigh 350 to 470 pounds and reach a height between 40 to 47 inches at the shoulder. The long spiral horns found only on the male can exceed 39 inches in length. The International Union for the of Nature (IUCN) lists the waterbuck as “Least Concern”.

The defassa waterbuck is found west of the Gregory Rift that runs from Ethiopia to Mozambique. Over 60 percent of the population thrives in protected areas, most notably in national parks in Ethiopia, Cameroon, Tanzania, and Mozambique. The common waterbuck is listed as of “Least Concern” by the International Union for the of Nature and Natural Resources (ICUN), while the defassa waterbuck is listed as “Near Threatened” by the same agency. The population trend for both animals is decreasing, but the defassa waterbuck is being eliminated from its habitat by being hunted for bush meat, and by encroaching human settlement.

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However, the common waterbuck and the defassa waterbuck are remarkably different in their physical appearances. Measurements indicate greater tail length in the defassa, whereas the common waterbuck stands taller than the defassa. However, the principal difference between the two types is the ring of hair surrounding the tail on the rump, which is a hollow circle on the common waterbuck, but covered with white hair on the defassa waterbuck.

Waterbucks are rather sedentary in nature, though some migration may occur with the onset of the monsoon. They form herds of up to 30 animals, for defense against predators. The various groups consist of the bachelor herd, the nursery herd, and dominant males. Herd size maxes out in summer, then fragments with onset of winter, possibly due to lack of food. Males start to show dominance and become territorial by age five, but are most dominant from age six to nine.

The waterbuck cannot tolerate lack of water, especially during hot days, and because of this, it stays in areas with a good supply of water. The waterbuck is primarily a grazer with grass making up almost all of its diet. It will consume reeds or newly grown rushes if that’s all that is available.  In the dry season, up to 30 percent of the day is spent browsing for leaves, small fresh shoots and fruit, but no time is spent browsing during the wet season.

Waterbucks are slower than other antelopes in the rate of maturity. While males become sexually active at six years of age, females reach the same point in two years.  In habitat near the equator, breeding takes place round, and births peak during the rainy season.  However, breeding is seasonal in the Sudan, with a four-month season.  Breeding in areas of southern Africa can last even longer. Gestation lasts eight months, with the birth of a single calf. Twins are possible, but rare. Calves stay hidden for up to two months, and are weaned at eight months.

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There are not a lot of predators hunting waterbuck. The animal’s sweat glands produce a horrible discharge that keeps the coat dry, but stinks up the meat something terrible.  When hunting waterbuck, a good pair of binoculars will be essential, as the animal can be spotted from quite a distance on the open grasslands and flood plains where they tend to stay. They have excellent eyesight and hearing, but are not hard to approach, due to their sedentary nature.

When hunting waterbuck, the choice of caliber is important. Trophy males can weigh 550 to 600 pounds and take a bit of work to get in the salt. The .270 caliber is minimal, but the 7mm Magnum or one of the big .30 calibers with good expanding bullets are a much better choice. If a broadside shot is available, aim right behind the foreleg and one-third up the body for a good heart/lung shot. Should the waterbuck be facing you, aim for the point where the neck touches the chest, and shoot right into dead center.  The hardest shot, and one that should only be taken if it looks like it won’t improve, is the front or rear quartering shot.  This will involve aiming for the quartering away leg on the opposite side of the waterbuck, then shoot through the body. This should ensure that the lungs get hit, and probably the heart also.

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The defassa waterbuck Kobus ellipsiprymnus got its name from the Amharic language.  It means tired or fatigued, and comes from the animal’s sedentary nature. Modern taxonomists, however, consider the common waterbuck and the defassa waterbuck a single species, given the large number of instances of hybridization between the two.  Interbreeding between the two takes place in the Nairobi National Park in Kenya due to the extensive overlapping of habitats.

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Despite its name, the defassa waterbuck is not truly aquatic, nor as much at home in water as the sitatunga or lechwe. It does, however, take refuge there to escape predators. It inhabits areas that are close to water in savanna grasslands, forests, and woodlands located in sub-Saharan Africa. Such areas provide food and a place to hide from lions, leopards and other predators.

The waterbuck’s habitat furnishes it with a -round source of food. Mainly a grazer, it consumes course grasses that are seldom eaten by other grazers. It feeds in the morning and after dusk, resting during the day. They are sedentary antelopes and don’t migrate or travel great distances, so territories are held year after year.

Defassa waterbucks stay in heavy cover, so hunting one will require walking and stalking in the brush around waterholes, floodplains and rivers. Often they will freeze and not run until the hunter is within a few yards. Then, with much crashing and thrashing, the waterbuck will bolt for thicker cover.

The main area for hunting defassa waterbuck is in Tanzania. Size is hard to judge from a distance. The best horns have thick bases and are best judged for curve and length from the side. A well-placed shot is essential when hunting defassa waterbuck, as they are tough animals and if hit wrongly, or lightly, can go for days. When wounded, they can be aggressive, so care is needed when approaching the animal. A good choice of caliber is the .375 H&H. A .300 Magnum with 180 grain, or heavier, bullets will do the job, but shot placement is critical with either caliber.

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Seven Waterbuck Facts

  1. Scientific name: Kobus ellipsiprymnus
  2. Male weight: 430-580 pounds
  3. Male height: 47-54 inches
  4. Horns: male only
  5. Life span: 18 years
  6. Conservation: Least Concern
  7. Population: 200,000

Seven Defassa Waterbuck Facts

  1. Scientific name: Kobus ellipsiprymnus
  2. Male weight: 400-550 pounds
  3. Male height: 44-50 inches at the shoulder
  4. Horns: male only
  5. Horn length: up to 40 inches
  6. Conservation: Near Threatened
  7. Rifle caliber: .300 – .375
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