The African bushbuck is divided into two species, the kewel (Tragelaphus scriptus) and the imbabala (Tragelaphus sylvaticus) The kewel’s distribution includes Senegal Ethiopia,Eritrea, and south to Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The imbabala, which is larger than the kewel, is found from the Cape in South Africa to Angola and Zambia in the west, and up East Africa to Ethiopia and Somalia.
Roland Wards Records of Big Game list eight different species of African bushbuck as does Safari Club International. For descriptive purposes and hunting information, only the above two will be mentioned. The kewel is more related to the nyala, while the imbabala shares traits with the bongo and the sitatunga.
The bull bushbuck stands about three feet at the shoulder and weighs between 100 pounds and 130 pounds. Ewes are considerably smaller at sixty to eighty pounds. The ram is the only sex to have horns. Horns continue to grow throughout the bushbuck’s life. A large set of horns will measure 16-17 inches. Coloration of males and females run from reddish brown to almost black brown with the male being darker than the female. Its legs and flank are white. These colors work well to camouflage the bushbuck. When in danger, the African bushbuck will lie down and not move, making it very hard to spot. Its warning call sounds like the bark of a small dog.
African bushbuck prefer living in thick bush along river banks where they can stay well hidden. Cover and fresh water are the main requirements of the bushbuck. They are browsers, but will consume most any other vegetation they can reach. Bushbuck are active around the clock, except when they are near human settlements where they become nocturnal. The ewe will give birth to a single lamb between October and January. For the first sixteen to eighteen weeks of life, the lamb is hidden by its mother until it’s strong enough to survive.
African bushbuck are solitary by nature, the adult males work at staying away from each other. Sometimes a buck and a ewe are seen together during breeding season. There have been sightings of small family groups consisting of a female with a young faun and an immature male, although this isn’t very common. African bushbuck live within an area of about 60,000 square yards and it is very uncommon for them to move out of that area.
Mature African bushbucks are prey to lion, leopard, caracal, wild dogs, and hyena. The young are hunted by pythons. The greatest danger to bushbucks is snaring and hunting with dogs. Habitat destruction also contributes to their decline. African bushbuck come out of their bushy daytime layup during the cooler hours of the morning, and browse along the edges. However, the slightest noise, or movement, will send them back into the shrubbery barking furiously while disappearing from sight.
Hunting the African bushbuck can be a real challenge as it is such a solitary, evasive antelope. The traits necessary to hunt deer in the United States will work well when hunting the African bushbuck. When tracks are found one way to hunt would be to set up a blind along the trail. A hunt can happen quite rapidly as the bushbuck can seem to just appear and disappear, so the hunter must be ready and react instantly.
Sometimes the African bushbuck can be found out in an open spot in the morning trying to shake off the cold night by basking in the warmth of the sun. Hunt along a river bank during early evening while there’s still good shooting light, or in the morning’s first light, and if you are quiet, careful and lucky – very lucky – you might get a shot. The evening is the best time as the African bushbuck is very active at that time.
The most common, and most successful method of African bushbuck hunting is by the stalk. For this, a very good pair of binoculars is a necessity. Binoculars by Zeiss, Leica, Nikon, Swarovski, Doctor and others, in 8X42 or similar are usually the best. Stronger powers, like 10x, reduces the field of vision and are harder to stabilize.
Pick a hill with a good field of view, and check feeding spots. Again, early morning or late afternoon are the best times. Shots will tend to be long, so an accurate rifle in a flat-shooting caliber is best. The .30 magnums like the 300 Weatherby, 300 Winchester Magnum, 300 Remington Ultra Magnum, or any of many similar calibers can reach out 300 yards if the hunter does his part.
One caveat about African bushbuck hunting. This little antelope can be extremely dangerous. Wound him and he will become quite aggressive, with a charge possible. Those foot and a half long horns are very sharp at the pointed end, and more than one careless hunter has had the dubious pleasure of meeting a pair at a high rate of speed. When you shoot, aim for the chest cavity. If he runs, give him a fair amount of time to stiffen up before doing a follow up.
Seven Bushbuck Facts
- Scientific name: Tragelaphus sylvaticus
- Male weight: 100-130 pounds
- Male shoulder height: three feet
- Male horn size: 11-17 inches
- Gestation: 180 days
- Hunting: April – October
- Territory: 60,000 square yards