Hunting Trophy Gemsbok in Africa

Posted On : May 15, 2018

Posted By : Nick Muckerman

Trophy Gemsbok Drinking

Hunting Trophy Gemsbok in Africa

The gemsbok is one of the more outstanding and worthy game animals in Africa and easily one of the most visually striking big game animals in the world. Gemsbok horns are absolutely impressive, jetting straight up from the unique, white and black painted face. The gray body is thick and substantial with a front end of huge shoulders that dwarfs the back end of the animal. The upper legs are jet black and lower legs snow white and the only long hair on the animal is found in its jet black tail. The heaviness of the body prevents one from describing them as graceful, like an impala or a springbok, but they exude an aura of strength and beauty that few other antelope do. Standing in a sea of red Kalahari sand, they look like they should be on a post card. And in some places in Africa, they most certainly are. To many, gemsbok are the face of the Kalahari Desert.

 The gemsbok (Orxy gazelle) is related to the fringe-eared Oryx (Orxy beisa callotis) and beisa oryx (Oryx beisa beisa). All three of these species have huntable populations in their native ranges, but gemsbok are easily the most common and assessable to sport hunters. Although many hunters would love to hunt one of the two more obscure species found in east Africa simply because they are less accessible to hunters, the gemsbok is the most impressive of all the species of Oryx in appearance and horn length.

Places to Hunt Trophy Gemsbok in Africa

Gemsbok are found all over Southern Africa, even outside of their natural range in the Kalahari, thanks to game farming that has acted to supplement and disperse the population. Naturally, their range is the Kalahari Desert in Namibia and northern South Africa and parts of Botswana. If you are looking for the best chance at a trophy gemsbok, you should be hunting the Kalahari Desert in either Namibia or South Africa’s Northwest Province. Large gemsbok are killed all throughout South Africa, but the genetics cannot be beat in the Kalahari. A good rule is this: if you aren’t standing in red Kalahari sand, you aren’t in the best place for trophy gemsbok.

Anatomically, gemsbok are cut out for the hardscrabble life in the ultra-dry Kalahari. They thrive on the sparse desert grass and minimal water and can actual raise their own body temperature and use evaporative cooling through nasal panting and sweating to more efficiently use water. Even in places with better feed in parts of South Africa, the largest gemsbok continue to come out of their natural range in the desert.

Kalahari Desert GemsbokKalahari Oryx on a sand dune

 Interestingly, gemsbok have been transplanted to parts of New Mexico in the United States and a limited number of hunting tags are given out in their state’s hunting tag draw lottery system. It always amazes me that the tags go for over $1600 for non-residents to the state and a guide costs even more than the tag for a little two day hunt. Gemsbok are not an expensive animal to hunt in their native range in Africa so it always made me shake my head to think that people would spend that much on a short hunt when an awesome international adventure can be had for a similar price with a lot more game to hunt.

Scoring Trophy Gemsbok

The gold standard for a very nice trophy gemsbok is one with 40 inch horns. Both bulls and cows have horns and are hunted, but a bull gemsbok at 40 inches is much more of a trophy than a female of the same length.

The Safari Club International (SCI) scoring method of gemsbok favors lengths over mass. Unlike a bighorn sheep or pronghorn where multiple mass measurements are taken at different quarters of the horn, gemsbok scoring only measures the circumference of the horn bases and the length of each horn. Bulls have thicker horns, but the longest horned animals are generally cows and because of the scoring method of SCI, cows often top the record book. That being said, a bull is usually the goal and a 40 inch bull is definitely the standard in the difference in a good bull and a truly exceptional bull. Even on a hunt in the right area, this benchmark is by no means guaranteed. It is a reasonable goal, especially if you are committed to taking the time to find a truly large bull.

Rifle Selection and Shot Placement for Trophy Gemsbok

The toughness of African game in general is usually overgeneralized and overstated. On one hand, there are some tough animals in Africa that have a habit of soaking up poorly-placed bullets. As far as plains game go, gemsbok are one of those tough animals. One look at the structure of their bodies can show the most casual observer that they are heavily built and very sturdy. Their shoulders are huge and muscular for fighting and defense. They are thick, tough game animals. A good shot to the heart and lungs will bring them down as fast as any other animal, but a misplaced shot could mean a lot of tracking or a lost animal.

 As stated, gemsbok have huge shoulders. This can tend to make the hunter shoot a little higher than optimal if not conscientious of this. A third of the body width up on the shoulder crease or slightly forward is a good place to aim that offers the most forgiveness if the shot is not dead on. Half body width up is cutting it awfully close to putting a bullet between the lungs and the spine.

Gemsbok like open expanses, but I have also seen them in really thick vegetation as well in the Northwest Province of RSA. That being said, shots may be short, but normally they are on the longer side for African game due to being a primarily plains type animal with good eyesight and spooky instincts.

There is way too much written on proper calibers for plains game in Africa. Use what you use for deer in the States or big game elsewhere, and you will be fine. Use a rifle you can comfortably shoot and are used to. In an optimal world, a .300 Win. Mag or similar is probably perfect for gemsbok because it is a hard hitting and flat shooting caliber, but a .270 is plenty adequate for gemsbok. Be prepared to shoot out to 350 yards if needed.

Methods for Hunting Trophy Gemsbok in Africa

There are various methods of hunting gemsbok in Africa. Generally, there will be a mix of driving, walking and spot and stalk. The Kalahari Desert is vast, hot and unforgiving. It would be rare to take off on foot for an entire day after gemsbok. Generally, your Professional Hunter will drive until game is spotted or until he comes to a place where game concentrations have been high in the past and then walking will ensue.

Oryx at a waterholetTwo Gemsbok Drinking at a Waterhole

 Hunting water can be very productive for gemsbok. In fact, this is far and away the most effective method for bow hunters to get close enough for a shot to the keen-eyed and skittish animal.           

Judging Trophy Gemsbok in Africa

Gemsbok are difficult to judge trophy size, especially when they are alone. It takes an experienced Professional Hunter or tracker who has seen a lot of gemsbok in the field and on the ground to have a good grasp of horn length. For those after the elusive 40 inch mark, inches and half inches really matter. Also, when they are in a herd and moving it is imperative to listen to your PH carefully as he tells you which one to shoot. They will look like clones of one another and you want to make sure you shoot the correct animal. No one wants to find out that an exceptional bull was in the herd but another one was accidentally shot. Be sure to keep your scope turned down to a low power and take your eye off the scope every so often to make sure there is not an animal off to the side of the herd that he is including when he says, “shoot the fifth one from the right.”

Other Considerations for Hunting Trophy Gemsbok

A gemsbok is a premier plains game animal and a safari can be built around a gemsbok. My first safari was deep in the Kalahari of Namibia and gemsbok was the main bag followed by some other smaller game. I liked hunting them so much I ended up taking three. While in the Kalahari, be sure to try for a trophy springbok and steenbok as these are also the largest in the Kalahari.

As with any wild animal, approach suspected dead gemsbok from behind and be alert. Gemsbok are not inherently mean animals, but they have long, sharp horns and necks strong enough to flip a 400 pound lion over their back so it makes sense to show some caution and respect. There is potential for harm, so be careful and make sure he is dead before you start admiring his horns.

Gemsbok are fine trophies to bring home. Not only do their striking facial coloration and size make them great candidates for a shoulder mount, but their horns are also very conducive to a European mount. A budget-minded hunter may view the money spent on a shoulder mount as money that could have been spent on hunting another species while on safari. Unlike most species, the angle which the horns come off of the head of gemsbok make really impressive European mounts to hang on a wall. Since the top of the skull and the horns are basically in line rather than closer to perpendicular like some other antelopes, the horns sit almost against the wall. Many other European mounts appear like they are falling off of the wall because of the angle of the horns. Either way, if you harvest a trophy gemsbok, the animal will make a wonderful reminder of the hunt in your trophy room whichever route you decide on.

If you hunt specifically for a trophy gemsbok, you will almost undoubtedly start and finish the hunt standing in the red sands of the Kalahari Desert, a wild place worth a visit in and of itself. You will likely leave camp while it is still dark, or possibly in the gray light of the morning. The sunrise will be spectacular above the red sand as all African sunsets seem to be. In the distance your PH will spot a herd gemsbok that deserve a closer look. Standing in the red sand in the distance they all look the same, gray bodies and long, straight horns jetting out of their heads. Using the terrain and stealth, your PH and your tracker will collaborate on a strategy for a stalk and masterfully place you within a couple hundred yards of your prey. You’ll crawl through the fine red sand that last few yards over a small rise and then behold the herd.

Gemsbok standing in wildflowersGemsbok Feeding

They walk through the sand and sparse grass in a long procession, unaware of your presence. While you stare, memorized, you’ll hear the guttural sound of Afrikaans being whispered between your tracker and the PH as they size up what is down there. After doing this for a couple of herds, or possibly on your first try, you’ll hopefully hear those magic words from your PH: “There’s a trophy bull in there. He will go a bit over 40 inches.”

Of course, you have no idea which one it is. You look through your scope and they all look spectacular. He will say, “he’s the third from the back.”

 You look again and then, for the first time, truly notice him. Some of the animals had horns longer than most, but his are not only long, but thick too. He will look magnificent through your scope, and now that you know he is the biggest, you scan the herd and see that indeed, he is truly huge. Your PH will tell you to shoot when he stops.

The whole herd looks like they are putting on a fashion show in the desert, displaying their long regal horns to the world. But your eye is on the bull, desperately trying not to lose it in the line of the procession. Then he will stop and your crosshairs will find the crease in his shoulder, about a third of the way up the body and the trigger will break and you’ll be jolted by the recoil.

The herd will take off in a frenzy of flying sand. But one will fall behind, stumble and fall. As the herd goes over the hill, only your gemsbok will remain. It will be all smiles as you approach the downed beast and when you finally put his horns in your hands, you will know what a magnificent trophy you have just taken.