Hippo Hunting

Hippo Hunting in Africa

Somehow, the African hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious) has gained a reputation of being a roly-poly friendly gray animal that is sometimes seen on the big screen wearing a pink tutu.  The reality is something really quite different.  The African hippo has the reputation in African countries of being one of the most dangerous animals and biggest killers of people.  The older that African hippos get, the meaner they get.  They’ve been kicked out of their family groups, sometimes with a younger male having injured the old bull in the process.  It’s been said that an old bull hippo wakes up angry in the morning, and his demeanor goes downhill from there.

The average bull hippopotamus tips the scales between 1.5 and 3 tons.  He carries a full set of dentition in his face that can tear a fiberglass boat in half; shear a crocodile in two, or chop up a human being with little effort.  Their tusks range from 1.3 feet to 1.6 feet long and continually sharpen themselves by stropping the canines together.  When he really gets moving, he can navigate through the bush on his short stumpy legs at up to 19 miles per hour, and 5 mph in the water.

The hippopotamus subsists on grasses.  During the day the African hippo stays cool by sinking itself in water, or digging into mud.  He goes looking for grass to graze on at dusk, returning to the pan (pool) in the morning.  This is when they are the most dangerous.  A lot of villagers use hippo trails to go from their hut to the river to gather water.  If an African hippo encounters someone as it is returning to the river, the person could be in great danger of being killed.  The African hippo will run to the water anytime it’s disturbed.  It will also charge and attack anybody, animal or obstacle that’s in its path.

The African hippo is actually a bit of a coward.  It weighs 8 to 10 times more than a lion, but at the first whiff of a lion, the hippo will kick into overdrive and run headlong to the water, regardless of what or who is in the way. 

The African hippo can be found in the rivers and lakes of Africa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, west to Gambia and south throughout South Africa.  Two of the best places to hunt hippos in Africa are in the rivers and swamps of Tanzania, and in the Zambezi River area.

Hippo hunting can be very difficult.  Mostly the old bulls are hunted for their ivory and hides.  Hippos spend much of their time in the water, submerged up to their little beady eyes.  Identifying male hippos from female hippos, or estimating the hippos’s size can be quite difficult.  If a hippo gets the hunter’s scent, or spots movement, he’ll quietly submerge and either swim or walk along the river bottom to another area.

A mature bull can be identified by the presence of two humps on each side of his nostrils where his lower tusks rest when his mouth is closed.  He should be stalked as close as possible.  The perfect shot would be from the river bank, slightly above the river, and no more than fifty yards away.  Shot placement will have to be exact.  Only a brain shot to the head should be used, as that’s the only part of the hippo that will be exposed.  If the African hippo is facing the hunter, then a between-the-eyes shot into a small triangular indentation just above the eye to eye centerline can be made.  If the head is sideways, then aim just below the ears. After the hippo is hit, he will sink beneath the surface, out of sight.  In from one two four hours, he will float back to the surface.  At that time, some brave soul will have to be enticed into wading out and tying off a rope to the hippo’s leg.  Caution, and someone standing guard with some major firepower, will be required, as a dead hippo is high on a Nile crocodile’s lunch menu.

Hunting hippos in Africa can also occur on land.  Hunting hippos by this method can be an experience that gives a hunter the shakes and twitches for many a night.  A foot and a half of matching razor-sharp tusks propelled by six thousand pounds of muscle moving at nineteen miles an hour will tend to concentrate your senses quickly..  This is the time to have some decent firepower and the ability to use it well.  Of course, having your Professional Hunter next to you carrying a rifle with a caliber over .40 will be most useful too.  When  hippo hunting on land, and if you have the time to place a shot, place it on the tip of the shoulder.  If you’re facing down a charge, then only the brain shot will stop the African hippo.

THe minimum caliber when hunting hippo in Africa is the venerable 375 - be it the well-regarded H&H or the much newer Ruger 375.  A double rifle in 450 Nitro Express or the more powerful 500 Nitro Express would make a nice companion if a land hunt is planned when hunting hippo.