Hunting Bongo in Africa
The bongo is distributed from Sierra Leone eastward through Liberia, the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Gabon, Zaire, southern Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Roland Ward’s Records of Big Game show the longest horn at 36-1/8 inches with a 10-1/8 inch circumference. It was taken in 2007 in Idongo, CAR near the Manovo-Gounda-Saint Floris National Park. SCI shows longest horn to be 38-3/8 inches with an 11-2/8 inch circumference. It was taken near Mboki in the CAR.
Judging the Bongo's Horns
A bongo’s horns are fairly thick, spiraled and tipped with amber points. They are used to mark its territory, dig roots and fight – for the bongo is an aggressive fighter. The males fight each other during the rut, and it’s not uncommon to find heavy scarring on their bodies. Their horns grow rapidly and can exceed 24 inches in length within their first three years. There are two distinct shapes for their horns. They can rise vertically and be symmetrical in their spirals. The other, and rarer shape, has the horn tips spread widely in a lyre shape. These are most sought after by trophy hunters. A similar horn shape is also found on sitatunga and other plains game. Any horn longer than 32 inches would be considered an excellent trophy.
The bongo is the largest antelope found in the African rain forests, standing up to 48 inches at the shoulder, and tipping the scales at 450-475 pounds. Both sexes have spiral horns, but the male’s are larger, ranging up to 40 inches.
Hunting Methods for Hunting Bongos
Bongos are very shy, plus they stay pretty much out of sight during the daylight hours. This makes hunting trophy bongos very challenging. They are nocturnal, so the best time for tracking them is just at first light. They stay close to salt, or mineral, licks, so that is a good place to scout for fresh tracks. Most likely tracking will take time; usually it’s after noon before you close on the animal. Bongos stop to rest at midday, and that’s when you can approach them. However, they do tend to pick the heaviest bit of bush to bed down, which will make it just about impossible to come up on them silently. Your first sense of the bongo might be the sound it makes as it races away into deeper bush.
Bongo can be still-hunted from blinds set up around heavily-used salt licks. Many Central African safari outfitters have used blind-hunting during the dry season – the big dry season from December to March, or the little dry season in June. The blinds are situated in the rain forest near bongo habitat. This type of hunting doesn’t require that you be as fit as you would have to be for a long walking hunt. This makes it easier for some of us, like the author, whose middle age passed by an age ago. The bongo, like other animals, needs salt for its metabolic intake and health. Sometimes a bongo will show up at a salt lick at the same time of day for a number of days in succession. This gives you a chance to watch for him during the late afternoon, and in the early morning.
In both CAR and Cameroon, it’s fairly common to hunt bongo with dogs and Pygmy trackers. The trackers will cut the spoor of a large male bongo and begin tracking while keeping the dogs leashed. When the trackers feel that they are fairly close to the animal, they release their dogs. When the dogs bay up a bongo, they will set up a continuous barking. The trackers hear all the noise coming from the same area, and they know the bongo is stationary. If the bongo is a good enough trophy, the Pygmies will call their dogs away from the animal, which will give the hunter a clear shot. The dogs are a fairly-uncommon breed called Basenji (“bush thing”). They are a breed of hunting dog that originated in central Africa around the Congo Basin. They weigh around 24 pounds, and stand 16-17 inches at the shoulder. Depending on their training and ability, anywhere from two to six dogs will be used to bay up the bongo. They enjoy the hunt, and are quite strong for their size.
Hunting bongo is dependent on the weather and tracking ability. The hunt starts with driving the logging roads looking for tracks. Here is where the weather comes into play. Recent rains clear out the old tracks, refill the salt licks, and push the bongo out into open areas to dry off. Salt licks are very important to the bongo, as the vegetation in their habitat is low on sodium chloride. Plants don’t grow in salt licks, and animals can get to the high-concentration of salt in the clay. To accurately track a trophy bongo, there needs to be rain frequently. If there hasn’t been rain for more than three days, it will be nigh on impossible to sort out bongo tracks from all the elephant, buffalo, sitatunga, duiker, monkey, and other mammal tracks near the salt lick. The bongo will stay in the deep jungle if there is no rain; only visiting the salt licks when it is wet.
Bongo Hunting Areas
In Cameroon, the best guided bongo hunting area is in the East Province, an area bound by Yokadouma in the south eastern part of the country, the Central African Republic border in the east, the Boumba River in the west, and the Congo-Brazzaville border in the south. Very few rain forest outfitters work outside this province. There are many active sawmills there, and their roads allow good access to the forest, plus the ability to spot fresh tracks. The logging roads also provide fresh herbs and grasses along the verge that the bongo favors.
This province is fairly primitive, and hosts a number of diseases only ever seen by specialists of tropical medicine. As a side note; this is one of the few provinces where a true rain forest elephant can be hunted. The best time of the year for hunting trophy bongo is during the rainy season in the south – early April. The rain covers the noises hunters make, and the bongo move around more than during the dry season. Towards the end of May the rains become so heavy that most hunting is impossible.
The East Province can be accessed by air charters from either Douala or Yaounde. There are numerous dirt strips in the hunting areas. It is possible to drive from Yaounde through Yokadouma to reach the East Province, but the roads are in poor condition and the ride can be bone-jarring.
Bongo hunting in the CAR is mainly in the dense, green, humid jungle in the southwest corner of the country. This region is also home to elephant and the rapidly-diminishing population of lowland gorillas. Two to three weeks should be dedicated to hunting a bongo. The best hunting months are June and July during the rainy season.
The principal bongo safari area in Congo-Brazzaville is the Kabo-Pokola-Loundoungou wildlife management unit adjacent to the two million acre NouabaleNdoki National Park. This area is bordered by the Sangha River in the west and south, the Likouala Swamp to the east, and the national park to the north. Access is by commercial flight from Brazzaville to Ouesso in the north, where a two hour trip in a motorized canoe, and two more by safari truck will get a hunter to the hunting area. Private air charter is available; however it is a tad expensive. Game other than bongo can be taken on the hunt. Current animals available include harnessed bushbuck, dwarf forest buffalo, forest sitatunga, giant forest hog, red river hog, several species of duiker and others.
Bongo can be found in the DRC, but hunting there is a very iffy thing. Their numbers have been reduced by the nets and dogs of poachers. The DRC (formerly the Belgian Congo, or Zaire) hasn’t been known for its political stability. That, and numerous long-standing armed conflicts have kept safari companies out of the DRC. Game populations have been much reduced by poaching for bush meat.
Rifle Choices for Bongo Hunting
Due to the heavy bush encountered on a bongo hunt, the rifle of choice should be one that throws a fairly heavy bullet. All bullets are deflected by passing through bush, but a heavier bullet is less easily deflected than a light one. Because most shots on bongo are at short distances, major offset of the bullet won’t be a problem. Some hunters have gone to red dot sights instead of low power scopes. Shooting opportunities can come quickly and up close and personal; scopes can fog, and a red dot will come on target faster than a scope. My personal choice would be a stainless rifle with a synthetic stock and a non-magnifying red dot sight. Even a stainless steel rifle will need cleaning and oiling every night. It will be in wet conditions up to ten hours a day; either from direct rain, or contact with wet leaves and branches. And, yes, stainless steel can grow rust.
Bongo can weigh upwards of 500 pounds, and can be dangerous if wounded. For those reasons, a rifle in the .338 - .375 caliber range should be used. Even rifles in the.416-.458 range are a good choice for bongo. Big, slow-traveling bullets make large entry holes, and even larger exit holes. Because you may not be able to see the entire animal, you may have to just “shoot where he’s biggest”. If he is wounded and tracking becomes necessary, you want the biggest blood trail to follow. Barrels over 20 inches in length can hang up on brush and branches easier than shorter barrels. A short barrel is easier to swing into action in the jungle, and shots can, and will be fast.