By Ken Moody


The subject of what constitutes a trophy Cape Buffalo is one that causes me great irritation. There is a contingent of hunters who firmly believe that for a buffalo to be considered a ‘trophy,’ it must be at least 15 years old, a day away from death, and sport a scrumcap on top of its head.  These are the keyboard warriors who chastise, belittle, and criticize every photo posted that doesn’t depict a buff up their nonsensical standards.  These are also the very same hypocrites that will shoot a mature whitetail buck or elk in the rut, even though the animal is still of breeding age.  These guys really don’t know what they’re talking about but somewhere along the line, have listened to some disgruntled professional hunter who likely only hunts a handful of buffalo each season, bemoan and cry about all the breeding age buffalo bulls being killed.  Trust me, these guys aren’t buffalo gurus, they simply like to appear to be. 


The bottom line is this…the MAJORITY of Cape Buffalo killed on safaris will be mature bulls of 8 plus years in age, possess reasonably hard bosses, and likely still be capable of breeding.  This is a fact and anyone stating otherwise, doesn’t know buffalo hunting.  Here’s another fact.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with shooting a mature bull regardless of its age.  ‘Hard bossed,’ is another misnomer that is not fully understood by the uninitiated.  Some mistakenly believe that a hard boss is one that is solid completely across the top of the buffalo’s head, with no gap or hairline present.  While this horn configuration represents the ultimate in cape buffalo, horn density and growth is primarily a result of genetics, not age.  Many buffalo bulls and their offspring will never fully close on top of the horn and always have a gap between them, sometimes with a thin line of hair showing.  These are not immature bulls, per se, but bulls genetically predisposed to growing horns the same way, generation after generation. 


Other considerations when discussing trophy buffalo are client preferences and likes.  Some clients prefer to hunt the oldest buffalo that can be found regardless of horn size, while others insist on hunting for a bull with great drops and width.  These are generally 10- to 12-year-old bulls that are fully mature and in their prime, but not yet past the point at which horn deterioration occurs.  The professional guiding these clients is not there to satisfy his own ego, but to hunt for buffalo consistent with the wants of the client, though advising the client on area production, genetics, and what to expect is advisable.  In my many years of operating a safari company, I’ve found that most clients just want a great hunt with a good buffalo bagged at the end of it.  For me, that means a mature buffalo bull regardless of age. 


It generally takes 8 to 9 years of age for a buffalo bull to grow a hard boss.  A hard boss can be defined as horns that are solid in the front and on top, with or without a gap between them.   There may be a softer under cap which is visible, but there should not be the soft, salty looking, two fingers or greater, growth on the front or top of the horns.  Bulls displaying these traits are immature buffalo and should not be shot, in my opinion.  Other traits of older, mature bulls are an obvious dewlap hanging down under the chin and neck, a large, box-like head, and the classic Roman nose. The following photos depict both mature and immature buffalo bulls.  

Blunted tips, worn face and horn, this buffalo is a very old buffalo, well past breeding age.

Very old, mature bull.  Horn tips blunted, hard bossed, ancient warrior.

Top: 48” mature buffalo.  Notice the under cap.

Right: 10+ years old.  A superb, mature shooter.

These three bulls are from same genetic line. Notice the similar horn configurations and that the horns do not close on top. 

Immature buffalo, approximately 5 to 6 years old.

Immature buff.  Notice the soft top and salty front.

Two good, mature, trophy buffalo.

Nice, mature bull that will never close on top.

Young buffalo.  Notice the bosses are not developed.  The center one on the right is almost there. 

Immature bulls in both these pics.  Notice the soft appearance and salty look to the tops.

Trophy assessment is best left up to the professional, but all clients should confer with their hunting outfit and discuss the trophy quality present in the areas to be hunted.  Each will have a prevalent horn type present in the buffalo due to the genetics within the herds hunted. 


With regards to horn width, 40” has always been considered the ‘holy grail’ amongst trophy buffalo hunters but any mature bull sporting horns 36” or wider is a good buffalo.  When assessing in the field, a good rule of thumb is to use the width of the buffalo’s ears as a guide.  Generally, the ears will extend around 35” in width from the head, total distance between both ear tips.  Other factors such as head size come into play, but the above is an easy way to make a general assessment.  If the horns are a hand width wider than the ears, you’re likely looking at a 40” buffalo, but a smaller head buffalo may be 39” so rely on your professional for the ultimate assessment. 

Left: 39+” bull, notice the width of the head.

Middle: 34” – 35” Warrior.

Right: 42” bull.

What’s your estimate? This is a 45” mature buffalo.  Not ancient and past breeding but a tremendous trophy. 

Here he is grounded.

Left: 48” giant bull.  Spotted in the evening, tracked, and killed the following day around 10 am.

A trophy animal is always in the eye of the beholder.  Don’t let internet heroes with limited knowledge determine what is and is not a trophy buffalo.  It’s your hunt and together with your professional you’ll make the decision as to whether to shoot or pass.  It’s the adventure that counts and if it’s a mature animal, you’ll cherish the memory forever.  That’s the real trophy