Recent genetic research has led scientists to reclassify the single species of giraffe into four different subspecies: the northern giraffe, the southern giraffe, the Masai giraffe and the reticulated giraffe.
The northern giraffe (giraffe camelopardalis) has three subspecies; Nubian, Kordofan, and West African. Their primary habitats are the savannahs of Kenya and Ethiopia.
The southern giraffe (giraffa giraffa) is composed of two subspecies; Angolan giraffe, and South African giraffe. Both subspecies inhabit Botswana, Namibia and South Africa.
The Masai giraffe (giraffe tippelskirchi) is the largest of all the giraffe species, which makes it the world’s tallest animal. Males can reach up to 19.5 feet in height, and weigh 3,000 pounds. Females are slightly smaller. It is found in central and southern Kenya, and in Tanzania.
The reticulated giraffe (giraffa reticulate) has a coat pattern with uniformly colored blotches and sharp edges. It inhabits Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, living both in open forests and savannas.
Giraffes are found all over South Africa. Their preferred habitat is dry woodlands or low shrub bush. Giraffes have a particular fondness for acacia thorn trees so that would be a good place to start a stalk. Their long, tough 18-inch tongue aids them in eating leaves from six feet off the ground up to fifteen feet. They don’t have to live close to water, and are not territorial animals. With eyes high above most trees and brush, and great hearing, giraffes have excellent command of the surrounding area. These factors can make a stalk difficult.
Hunting giraffe in South Africa starts with locating its spoor. It can be very difficult to place a proper shot after the animal is located. The hide is between 1.5 to 2 inches thick, and is time consuming to skin. To give a relative idea of the size of a giraffe hide, consider that just the back skin alone is larger than the entire hide of a dairy cow. Giraffe have no trophy value except for the reward a hunter gets for a successful hunt.
Big bulls can run in the 2200-2400 pound range, while an old “stink bull” (old male with an aroma that can make a skunk smell like roses – helps keep parasites to a minimum.) can top 19 feet and weigh over 2600 pounds. Females seldom weigh more than 1700 pounds. Coloration can vary from light brown skin with darker spots, to dark skin with almost black spots as found on a stink bull. Both giraffe bulls and cows have horns. However, the bull’s horns are straight and thick with a bald spot on the top. Cow horns are thinner with tufts of hair sticking above the tips.
Giraffe have exceptional eyesight. This, coupled with their height, can make for a challenging hunt. Fast, accurate shooting is a must because they are very cautious. If they are used to being hunted, they will run if they spot hunters. If they are accustomed to people and vehicles, and have not been hunted, they can be rather tame, and easy to approach.
There are many calibers suitable for hunting a giraffe in South Africa. Just about any rifle from a 30-06 on up will get the job done. Because of the size of the animal, a good .375, like the .375 H&H, or something in the 40s would be a better choice. Whatever caliber you choose, it’s much more important that you are comfortable with the rifle, and can place a shot accurately. Giraffe have even been taken with a handgun – to be sure, it was a 500 Smith and Wesson shooting a 500-grain bullet, but it did the job.
What kind of ammo for what kind of animal has been discussed since the muzzle-loader black powder days, and it will still be argued over long into the future. General recommendation is that only premium grade ammunition be used when hunting African giraffe. Ammunition is the last place a hunter wants to economize. No one wants to lose an animal because the bullet failed to perform. All current ammunition companies offer ammo specifically tailored for African big game hunting. Any ammo using Barnes, Hornady, Federal, Sierra, or similar bullets will perform well.
Most shots on giraffe will be taken between 30 to 100 yards. A good scope from a company like Leupold, Schmidt & Bender, or Swarovski will provide more light during twilight, or early morning. Plus it will stand up to recoil from heavier caliber guns. As most giraffe shots will be close, a high power scope isn’t necessary. A fixed power 4X will do the job, as will a variable 3-9X with the power turned down.
Line up on the front leg, one third of the way up the brisket. Aim one foot behind the chest protrusion.
Note: The giraffe has a large bony plate that extends from just behind the neck where it joins the body, down to the chest protrusion. Be sure to aim far enough behind it, or the bullet could be deflected or fail to penetrate. The above-mentioned one foot back will clear this shield.
This shot requires at least a .375 caliber bullet, or larger, as there’s a lot of animal to penetrate and the shoulders are huge.
Aim for the off leg, one third of the way up the brisket – the same height as a broadside shot.
Aim for the spot where the bottom of the neck meets the chest.
This shot should only be attempted of the animal is wounded, or if the hunter can be assured of hitting the spine. Aim just above the sacral vertebrae where the tail disappears into the body. If you are a little high, or low, this shot will still anchor the giraffe.
It’s best to hunt giraffe when the bush is not very dense. South African bush is rather dense from November to mid-April. June through August sees the bush recede, with the months of September and October having the lowest density bush. As there is no defined season for hunting giraffe in South Africa, they can be hunted year-round. Allow a fair amount of time for the skinning and salting, as the skinners are dealing with quite a large animal which will take a lot of work.
The best way of hunting a giraffe is to locate his spoor while driving the safari truck, and then start a stalk. Large herds are difficult to approach as there are a lot of eyes in the sky. Large bulls can be very nervous and hard to approach. They will probably see you long before you spot them if you aren’t careful. Some outfitters employ blinds or hunting hides which can be used for either rifle or archery.
Hard as it may be to believe, giraffes are easy to overlook even when closer than 100 yards. They have excellent camouflage and tend to disappear in the bush. Teach yourself to look up, above the treetops, not into the bush. These animals can give a hunter quite a surprise if the stalk is close. They are way up there, much higher than expected. It’s possible to give your adrenaline gland a real work out when you realize you are only looking at the giraffes shoulder, and the bull’s head is another 7-8 feet up, and less than 25 yards away. (Yes, I did.)
Hunting a giraffe in South Africa is for the hunter who has a bit more space than the normal trophy room. This author’s stink bull measured over seven feet from the top of its shoulder to the tip of its horns. A trophy room should have at least a nine-foot ceiling to display this type of mount. For smaller rooms, a head /half neck mount would work well.
Note: Even though the giraffe’s hide is quite thick, its hair can slip if the skin isn’t cleaned and salted quickly. The skin must be free of fat or meat. Giraffe skins are shaved to allow better penetration of the chemicals. Field preparations of the hide are the responsibility of the outfitter / professional hunter. A well-trained skinner is a necessity. Not many people are aware that a loin steak from a freshly-taken giraffe makes for a tender meal when grilled over an acacia wood fire.
Neither Roland Ward, nor SCI have trophy records for giraffe. When hunting giraffe in South Africa, or Namibia, you will likely be on a game farm. Your PH will aid you in selecting which animal to hunt. Usually an old bull will be taken. As mentioned above, they will be darker in color, and can have battle scars. Their back skin makes an impressive wall mount. However, if you intend to make a rug, you might want a younger animal whose hide is in better condition.
Namibia is home to the southern giraffe. The area south of Etosha in Northern Namibia is largely Mopane woodlands with heavy acacia, camel thorn, and blackhook thorn – a perfect place for giraffe. There are more giraffes in Namibia today than there were in 1960.
Namibian law states that only two animals of each species can be taken per year on a regular trophy hunting permit. A hunter needs to obtain a hunting license and hunting permit well before the hunt. Bow hunting is allowed, but a special permit is required.
The legendary Matetsi Safari Units of Zimbabwe are famous for excellent game, including world-class giraffe. Matetsi is located in the northwest part of the country, close to Victoria Falls and the Chobe National Park in Botswana. Those, plus Hawange National Park, offer lots of activities for non-hunters.
The southern giraffe can be hunted in Zimbabwe. However, the Angolan giraffe located in western Zimbabwe, cannot be hunted in this country. It can be hunted in the north of Namibia, though. The Southern giraffe habitat is mostly in southern Zimbabwe.
Giraffes can be found over a wide area of the African continent.. Populations exist in Botswana, Cameroon, DRC, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Some wildlife agencies state that the general African giraffe population is down, but in some countries like South Africa and Namibia, the giraffe population is increasing.