Boselaphus - The Blue Bull
By Bill Bahr
“... five years ago a Houston, Texas
father and his son were killed by a bull Nilgai when they approached
it too soon after the father’s ineffective first shot ...”
and Four Arrows outfitter Wayne Peeples tells this story and it
usually makes a lasting impression ... not exactly one I wanted to
think about while bumping into brush-falls in the pre-dawn darkness,
lost somewhere on the King Ranch earlier this month.
owners are not supposed to get lost because it results in major
embarrassment. Humiliation aside, being lost isn’t much fun
either, particularly when it happens to be pitch dark and in the
middle of rattlesnake country – without the benefit of snake
chaps. Admitting that
you’re lost is the first step to being found, so I finally
swallowed my pride and sat down on a fallen tree, trying to make the
best of a bad situation.
The dark morning sky slowly eased from purple
to light pink and revealed a very unfamiliar clearing in the oak-mot
forest; nowhere near my Swivel-limb tree stand set up the previous
afternoon. “Oh well, one place is as good as another when you’re
hunting Nilgai”, I lied to myself.
The tree trunk seat seemed to be in a good spot, located in a
pile of blown-down live oak branches.
Nilgai or “blue bull” as they are called in India.
|As the sun crept over the horizon a tiny sound
to my left alerted me that I was not alone.
A whitetail doe was carefully making her way behind me,
yards downwind of my position. After being undetected, I was
convinced that my new “ground blind” offered everything a
bow hunter needed.
The morning sun’s warmth and peaceful forest sounds had
the same effect as a sleeping pill.
My eyes were nearly closed when suddenly a quarter-ton
of bull Nilgai came charging out of nowhere, crashing through
the fallen brush surrounding my little hiding place.
He stopped directly behind me only 15 yards away, breathing heavily,
looking back and forth, ready to carve notches in anything that
moved. You can bet your inheritance this lost GPS owner didn’t
The next minute
seemed like an hour before he finally stepped to my right, just
enough for me to see him clearly out of the corner of one eye. He
was magnificent; a huge dark- gray animal with a white throat patch
and white trimmed ears and cheeks.
A second later he was gone.
Less than a quarter
mile away my hunting partner, Kevin Johnson, wasn’t having any
better luck. Nilgai
bulls and cows had been walking past his tree stand on both sides,
just out of range or obscured by brush.
When a trophy bull finally stopped long enough for a shot,
Kevin’s only shooting lane was almost completely blocked, and he
wisely passed up trying to “thread the needle” through a
three-inch hole in the brush.
Gun and bow hunters
both agree that it’s not his looks or horns that count, but rather
the challenge that hunting Boselaphus
tragocamelus, (his Latin nomenclature) presents. Much like the
whitetail deer, Nilgai have incredibly good vision and hearing.
Their sense of smell is not far behind either. Unlike their
distant deer cousins, however, Nilgai possess no curiosity but
rather a highly paranoid personality about anything that looks,
sounds or smells like a threat.
This paranoia translates into an animal that is constantly on
the move, one of the few consistent aspects of Nilgai behavior.
The Nilgai, often
referred to by its nickname “blue bull” (‘nil’
is Hindustani for blue while ‘gaw’
is Persian for cow) is a native of India, Pakistan and parts of
Nepal, with a total Asian population of about 10,000 animals. Imported to the Norias division of the King Ranch in the
1930’s, the Nilgai now thrives in the hot, dry south Texas coastal
plains and is estimated to number above 15,000 animals.
In its native Asia
the Nilgai’s only serious animal-kingdom predator is the tiger. In
south Texas coyotes are responsible for a small amount of predation
on Nilgai calves; however, by age three when full body size is
attained, the “blue bull” has no natural enemies, thus
accounting for its success in our state.
In addition to their marvelous defense
mechanisms, Nilgai are very big and very tough.
Mature females average between 300-400 pounds, while big
bulls will shade 700 pounds and stand over five feet tall at the
In 1993, Winchester
Arms ranked the Nilgai next to the Cape Buffalo as one of the
toughest animals to puncture with a frontal quartering shot.
They even sent a shooting team to the King Ranch that year to
test out their newest big-game bullet, the Black Talon.
At a range of about 50 yards it took American
Hunter magazine’s associate editor, John Taylor, three
shots from a .338 Win. Mag. to drop an average sized bull while it
tried to exit into the next county.
Author with a
“small” female Nilgai
|The Nilgai’s reputation for being bulletproof
comes from its massive neck and shoulder construction and very
thick skin. A “shield” of even thicker skin, much like one
found on a wild boar, also covers the shoulder area.
Sufficient bullet or arrow velocity and downrange kinetic
energy are critical for successful shots made to this area of
That same shield and overall thick skin also
allows for very little, if any, blood trail.
Before I became a serious bow hunter I shot several “blue
bulls” with a 7mm Rem. Mag. and failed to find any blood trail,
much less a dead animal. The
only Nilgai I downed was with a lucky brain shot, executed at 150
yards on an average sized female.
Right about now you are probably wondering
“what are the secrets to success when bowhunting Nilgai?”
To get the answers, Kevin and I booked our
hunt through Jerry (Doc) Pedersen of Paris Archery &
“Doc” has recovered four out of the last five he has shot
during three trips to south Texas - quite a record when you consider
the odds. Doc focuses
on three things when “blue bull” hunting ... method, location
and patience. Doc
feels that tree stands or ground blinds yield better results than
still hunting because they allow you to stay hidden until ready for
the shot. We used Swivel-limb lock-on stands that were well suited
for the small twisted live oaks that seem to dominate the landscape.
including Doc, have tried the spot and stalk method but most find
that they just cannot get inside the 40-50 yard range without being
busted. Nilgai rarely stand still, so a shot taken over this
distance will, more often than not, have disastrous results if the
|Another method for improving your odds is to
hunt the Nilgai “rut” which starts in December and
continues through March. During this time Nilgai bulls trade
in some of their customary caution and solitude for more
amorous adventures. Doc
has hunted during both periods and highly recommends the rut
hunt.Proper stand location for Nilgai seems to be one of the
more hotly debated topics.
Young and old animals alike all have a habit of using
communal fecal piles, and it’s hard to ignore these tempting
spots. The problem with setting up on only one of these
locations is that Nilgai don’t use the same pile on a
regular basis, and there are so many piles that picking the
correct one is difficult.
Nilgai however do use a series of travel “lanes” between
bedding, watering and fecal piles, and if one can find a convergence
of these lanes the probability of getting a shot will increase
Dean says, “Make sure to bring lots of help!”
|Using the methods and locations just described,
Kevin and I saw twenty-three Nilgai in two days, eighteen of
which were within 60-70 yards or less. We both had shot
opportunities and were at full draw several times but elected
to pass up on shots that were not what we wanted.
This is where the patience part comes in handy, and the
longer you stay in the field the higher your odds of getting
the shot you want.
Even though Kevin and I were not lucky enough to fill our
136-quart ice chests, quite a few of the twenty-eight
bowhunters in our camp did. Seven Nilgai were shot and four
were recovered. Al Rodgers and Wendell Hoskins of Paris, TX
both shot their first blue bulls, as did Tim Dean from
|We selected Four Arrows Outfitters
their location and excellent reputation. Wayne and Jarred Peeples
started Four Arrows and formed a relationship with the King
Ranch in 1995. They now manage between 16,000 and 75,000 acres
of prime Nilgai country. Wayne and Jarred, avid bowhunters, understand bowhunters’
needs as well as the tough business of hunting Nilgai.
$40 extra gets you
Al Rodgers is a
happy man tonight.
|Four Arrows provides all the
necessary ingredients for successful south Texas hunts. In
addition to Nilgai, they also offer opportunities for trophy
whitetail deer, turkey, feral hogs and javelina.
Their prices for Nilgai start at $100 per day from
February through July, and that price includes one javelina,
one feral hog, one turkey (in season) and barracks style
lodging per two days booked. You also have the use of their
walk-in cooler. More upscale semi-private lodging is available
for $40/night. Hunting
the rut will cost you an extra $50 per day but we thought it
was well worth it based on all the action we saw.
A few final words of advice are in order.
Although you can drive on some of the ranch roads with
2-wheel drive vehicles, 4-wheel drive is necessary to get to
many locations. A
laser range finder will come in very handy for shots over 30
yards, and even after you’ve made a good shot, expect very
little blood and lots of tracking. And last but not least, try
to remember that the best Nilgai to shoot is the one closest
to the road. Good