Hunting Tuskless Elephants | The Dangers, Tracking and Closing

Posted On : Jan 29, 2018

Posted By : NM

Tuskless Elephant Trophy

Hunting Tuskless Elephants - The Dangers, Tracking and Closing

I believe that there is no greater trophy in the hunting world than a pair of 100 pound elephant tusks. The tusks speak of an ancient, elusive and dangerous beast hard won with sunburnt skin, sore legs and blistered feet from miles upon miles of tracking. As with any dangerous game hunting, there is also a dose of courage and risk required. Elephant hunting is one of the world’s most classic hunts and the tusks have long been a representation of that hunt.

But I also believe that the trophy is found more in the experience of the hunt than in what you may or may not take home. The only value in something hanging from a wall is because of the effort exerted, memories shared and experiences had while in the pursuit. This is why a tuskless elephant hunt is an amazing adventure despite the non-exportable status of the trophy. And on top of that, this type of hunt is much more affordable for your average Joe. At the end of the day, you end up paying tens of thousands of dollars more for tusks, but not necessarily a better hunting experience.

In hunting tuskless elephants, you will take nothing home from the hunt but memories and photos. Sure, your tracker might make you a bracelet from the tail hair of the beast, but you will have no ivory pillars to adorn your home with. You will have no stools made of elephant feet, or intricately painted elephant ears. However, you will have hunted elephants, and that is the most exciting and classic hunt that this world still offers. Besides that, hunting tuskless cows is considerably more dangerous and intense than hunting elephant bulls.

Are Elephants the Top Game Animal in the World?

As a game animal, the African Elephant has a heck of a lot going for it. A mature bull can stand 13 feet at the shoulder and weigh 14,000 pounds. The cows aren’t as big, but in my unscientific summation, they’re still pretty damn big. Their senses are undeniably acute. Their sense of smell rivals that of a whitetail deer and it doesn’t take a biologist to surmise that their hearing can’t be that bad with over 40 square feet of ears. They are undeniably intelligent and hunting them by tracking is one of the world’s most classic hunts. Elephants are hunted in some very wild and remote places. One of the most remote places is the Zambezi Valley, a place little changed since David Livingstone stepped foot there in the 1850s.

Where can I Hunt a Tuskless Elephant?

The vast majority of tuskless elephant hunting happens in Zimbabwe. The game department in Zimbabwe specifically targets tuskless elephants. An elephant being tuskless is caused by an undesirable genetic trait that is perpetuated by poaching. Elephants use their tusks for feeding. They are not just for looks. Because ivory poachers obviously have no reason to kill tuskless elephants, an already undesirable trait becomes more prominent in the population with every tusked elephant that is taken out of the population. In hopes of minimizing or eradicating this undesirable gene, Zimbabwe has specific quotas for tuskless elephants. The vast majority of these permits are for cows though it is possible to kill a tuskless bull on the same license if encountered.

Hunting for tuskless elephants is in some ways a trophy hunt. You are trying to find a specific type of animal within a herd. A shootable tuskless is a fully mature tuskless elephant that has no dependent calf at heel.

Are Tuskless Elephants the World’s Most Dangerous Hunts?

Many consider hunting tuskless cow elephant in Zimbabwe as the most dangerous hunt in the world. There are a few reasons for this. First, cow elephants, compared to bulls, are volatile to begin with. Their temperaments seem to perpetually reside in the same place a Cape buffalo only gets when 400 grains of lead is pumped through his guts. Secondly, cows protect their young with reckless abandonment. The danger is also compounded in the habit and vegetation they prefer to live in. Finally, they have the size, strength and speed to destroy anything in their path when they decide they’ve had enough.

Tuskless Elephant Close-up

As stated before, tusks are tools used by elephants to make feeding easier when they have to root around the ground. Tuskless cows do not have this luxury and the consensus among those who spend time around them is that it makes them more irritable. This, combined with the fact that cows are inherently ferocious with anything that might be perceived as a threat to their young, make them double trouble. Finally, the majority of tuskless cows are hunted in Zimbabwe, specifically the Zambezi Valley. The Valley is famous for its thick jess bush which they love to be in. The nearly impenetrable brush is so thick, it often necessitates getting to damn near bayonet distance to determine if there is a shootable tuskless and get a shot. Also, it virtually eliminates the option of trying to run away from a bad situation. In the jess, the elephants have the advantage. In the words of a good friend and Zimbabwean PH, “it can get pretty hectic in there when they figure out you’re in there with them.” I can attest to this.

Elephants, particular cow herds, have sort of an imaginary safety circle around them. If you break through their circle and they detect you, they will often try to turn you into mush. It takes almost no time for an elephant to close the distance between it and you. I’ve seen cow herds go from completely calm and browsing to full flight or fight mode within a split second once they detect the presence of a human within their circle. It makes for a very exciting hunt. But before you can get close to an elephant, there is a considerable amount of tracking.

How do I Track a Tuskless Elephant?

One of the most awe inspiring and enjoyable parts of hunting tuskless elephants is watching your tracker do his job. Your tracker will have more influence on the success of your hunt than any other member on your team, including your PH. Just like most would never understand the intricacies of molecular biology or aerospace engineering, the same is true for the lost art of tracking. It is a science and an art and I do not believe a few dozen safaris could even uncover the lid of what goes on in the mind and eyes of an African tracker. These guys are pros. When I’m on safari I try very hard to understand what they see and what prompts them to go left instead of right and I have come to the conclusion that the more I think I know, the more I realize I do not know about the actual skill involved in tracking an elephant or buffalo track to completion.

If you are hunting tuskless near Victoria Falls in the Matetsi blocks, the  tracking will be faster and easier in the soft, sandy dirt found there than the hunting concessions scattered throughout the Zambezi Valley where the ground is hard and rocky. But, be assured, your trackers will be able to follow the herd in either locale.

When hunting tuskless elephant a track has to be found that is fresh enough that the trackers think it can be caught up to before light. Usually you cut for tracks by driving, but other times you may walk an area to look for tracks. Depending on where you are at, your game scout could get a call on his radio of a herd that has recently raided a village’s crops and you will start from there.

When hunting tuskless cows you will only follow herds that are big enough that the PH thinks there is a good chance of a tuskless being in the herd. Many herds will not have a shootable tuskless in it. This is just part of the game, just like tracking a bull on a trophy hunt only to find his tusks do not match his huge foot prints. Once the tracking begins, your tracker or trackers will work ahead, followed by your PH and then yourself. If your game scout elects to help, he will likely be up with the trackers, but this is completely up to chance. Some will hang back and do very little while others are willing to help track.

You may catch up to them in a few hours, or not at all. This adds to the mystery and excitement of the hunt. You will notice the trackers and PH checking the internal temperature of the dung piles (if you check by just touching the outside, they will all seem hot because the sun is beating down on it.) The warmer they get, the better. If you are successful, you will hear what for the first time sounds like someone shooting a .22 in the distance. Don’t be fooled, however. What you’re hearing is the sound of branches breaking from the elephants feeding.

How do I stalk and close in on a Tuskless Elephant?

Once you hear the branches breaking from the elephants feeding, or any other indication that they are very close, your trackers will fall behind the group because their job is finished. Now you stalking skills will be put to the test. Your PH will lead, and you must do exactly as he says. He knows when to move and when to freeze. Do as he says and you will likely find yourself in shooting range if the wind stays constant. If you close the gap and are in range (usually 15-40 yards) it is time to shoot when an opening becomes available. If the wind changes, be ready, because you may be told to run. If your PH tells you to run, do it like your life depends on it…because it may.

Stay tuned for Part II – Shot Placement and Equipment