When those who go bongo hunting reflect on the experience, it’s never a boring story.
There are few animals that are as challenging to hunt as the bongo. In fact, bongo hunting certainly qualifies as one of the most strenuous and physically arduous hunts of all the big game animals anywhere.
The environment that these shy animals live in lends itself to one of two methods of hunting: sitting in a stand or blind overlooking a watering hole or salt lick, which is a method that requires extreme patience and mental stamina, or by going into the thick bush after them, which will leave you both mentally and physically exhausted. Neither method guarantees success.
The bongo is an unusually beautiful deep forest antelope, with a coat to rival a zebra’s in its exotic patterning.
It boasts a red to auburn color with the neck, chest and legs being a darker brown. There are 10 to 15 vertical, thin whitish stripes running from the base of the neck to the rump. These narrow stripes start at the upright, bristly ridge of hair that runs the length of the top of the back. This bristle, by the way, stands at attention when the animals are alarmed or threatened. The number of stripe on each side of the animal is rarely equal.
There is a white chevron on the face, under the eyes, and a couple of white spots on the cheeks. A short, horizontal white stripe adorns the base of the neck. The bongo has a tufted, black tipped tail, which seems to be attached to a windmill when the flies are heavy.
Both the males and females carry hollow horns. These horns generally twist once to one-and-a-half times, making the set appear something like the curved sides of a lyre. Female horns are thinner and straighter; males have a set that are much more massive and curvy. Horn lengths on adults run from 26 to 36 or so inches. When they run, they lift their snouts into the air and the horns of the bongo lay flat against the neck so as to avoid getting caught in the thick underbrush they like to frequent.
This tropical African native is a big antelope. It stands around 42 to 52 inches at the shoulder and tips the scales at 500 to nearly 900 pounds in weight. It is largest forest antelope in Africa and the third largest overall.
Bongos are primarily night feeders, although they are active in the early morning and late afternoon hours, and when it’s raining. This ought to give you a clue about hunting them.
They are browsers, eating just about any plant that they can reach, from leaves, tree bark, roots, shrubs, to grasses, flowers and fruits. They do also frequent salt licks, and need a permanent supply of standing water nearby to replenish themselves. As such, hunting them from a blind or stand overlooking a watering hole or a salt lick is a common practice, and can yield good results.
The other common method is to wait until after a rain, and look for a track. Then you or your trackers follow the track through the forest. This is tough, exhausting work, where visibility is low and claustrophobia rules. Expect to come out of it sweat-soaked, dirty and scratched up.
Dogs are sometimes brought along and kept leashed throughout the tracking. Until the bongo is spotted, when the dogs are released to occupy the animal long enough for you to move into position for a shot. Either that or, without dogs, you make a very deliberate stalk and try to maneuver yourself in for a shot. But remember, bongos have excellent senses and are well equipped to detect all but the most furtive of hunters.
Ox Hunting Ranch in Texas has hunting guides in its employ who can guide you to within shooting range of a bongo, if you’re in shape and have the skills and determination necessary to undertake such a hunt.
Bongos are shy, secretive and suspicious. And they live in an environment of thick undergrowth and limited shooting opportunities. A hunter has to be on his toes if he wants to bag one of these magnificent animals. But if and when you are successful, it will be a hunting experience you will remember forever.