African Hunter Magazine

Hippo Shot Placement

Page Updated: June 2020

'Hippo Shot Placement' by John Northcote

I have just read with interest Ganyana's 'Hunting the Hippo - In The Water', in African Hunter (Issue Number 6 of 2003) and offer the following information and observations to the aspiring hippo hunter.

Hippo Shot Placement
The anatomy of a hippo is remarkably similar to man. The heart is placed slightly further back than on ungulates but not accesible when the hippo is submerged.

Only two hippos shot by my clients were on dry land, one by Elmer Keith in Tanzania, as described in Elmer's book "Keith", the other in Uganda by Bass Lewis as reported in my book "From Sailor To Professional Hunter" (page 114). All the others were shot in the water in Uganda or Zimbabwe.

In the Uganda Queen Elizabeth National Park in the early 1960s, it was decided that the huge concentration of hippo were eroding the banks of the Kazinga channel between Lake George and Lake Edward, they were also depleting the grazing to the detriment of the other park animals and would have to be culled.

The Nuffield Foundation of England financed this and provided vets and scientists to man the laboratory they set up at the park offices near Mweya Lodge.

The park warden Frank Poppleton now had the job of culling the hippo. This could not be done where the greatest concentration occurred, at Hippo Pool, as the tourists would see it, but on the east shore of Lake Edward. Here the road could be closed to tourist traffic on Tuesday and Friday mornings when the cull was in progress.

Hippo Shot Placement

Hippo in water seldom offer a suitable body shot. This hippo demonstating with the typical mouth agape warning and has risen out of the water, to make his point. With mouth open he offers little chance of a shot, but as he settles and gazes toward the threat, his head is almost 45° "on the bow" as described.

At first light on these two days every week for several years Frank drove his short wheel base Land Rover down to the water's edge along this road stopping opposite a group of hippo in the lake. With the windscreen down he sat and shot 12 mature hippo. Using a 7mm with solid ammunition, he shot into the ear hole when broadside-on or into the eye when 45 degrees on the bow. He did not use the frontal shot as he did not consider the 7mm bullet was heavy enough to penetrate to the brain every time. He then went home to breakfast.

Two hours later a tractor and truck with a dinghy aboard arrived at the scene followed by 12 butcher's lorries. The dinghy took a line out to the now floating hippos, the tractor winched them into the shore, where the heads were removed and loaded onto the truck for dispatch to the lab where the ivory was removed along with eyes and various glands. The carcasses were then hoisted up on sheerlegs, weighed and sold, one to each butcher.

Before the cull an aerial count showed 32000 hippo in Lake Edward, the Kazinga channel and Hippo Pool, after several years of culling an aerial count showed over 34000 hippo but the number in the park had been reduced. Frank had been shooting 1248 a year! It is believed that the shooting caused an increase in the breeding rate.

In view of Frank's experience I always had my clients shoot for the eye or ear hole when shooting hippos in water. Getting a bull to present the correct angle for the eye shot when he was usually looking straight at you or your hide when he surfaced was a problem, solved by waiting for him to submerge, then sending someone to stand in the open some distance either side. On surfacing the hippo would look at the new threat, giving you the right angle to shoot for the eye, or if the person moved further away - the ear hole.

Hippo Hunting
An almost perfect through the ear side on shot

Hippo Shot Placement-2
This quartering angle was used by John Northcote to shoot through the eye

Hippo Shot Placement-2
Often, only the ears, eyes and nostrils are visible of a submerged hippo. Even this low down in the water, the through the eye shot is possible

Shooting Hippo
A bullet placed at the base of the ear is an effective shot from this broadside position.

John Northcote

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