Exotics: Nilgai (blue bull) Cartridges

By Chuck Hawks

Nilgai bull
Nilgai bull. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) is an oddly proportioned antelope native to the north Indian plains. Mature bulls sport a blue-gray coat that is the source of the animal's name; nil-gai translates literally as "blue bovine." Mature males stand about 4 to 5 feet tall at the shoulder and run perhaps 6 to 6.5 feet in length. An average bull might weigh around 440 pounds, while a very large specimen might weigh 530 pounds and an extremely large individual animal as much as 670 pounds.

Nilgai were imported into Texas as zoo and game animals in the 1920's and there are now free ranging, huntable populations in southern Texas. Nilgai are also found on a number of Texas game ranches. The total Texas population is estimated to be about 15,000 and the total Indian population about 100,000.

According to Wikipedia, "nilgai reach sexual maturity at around 18 months and can live as long as 21 years. They are built with thin legs and a blocky body that slopes downward from the shoulder. They feature long, narrow heads topped by two small, straight, conical horns that are tilted slightly forward. Horns on trophy males are normally 8.5-10 inches in length. Nilgai have an erectile mane on the back of the neck and a tubular shaped 'hair pennant' on the midsection of their throat. They have white spots on the cheeks and white coloring on the edges of the lips. They also have a white throat bib and a narrow white stripe along the underside of the body that widens at the rear. Nilgai can be found in single sex or mixed sex herds of 4-20, although old bulls are sometimes solitary."

Nilgai are large and durable animals with tough hides. Premium bullets designed for substantial penetration with controlled expansion are recommended. Examples include the Nosler Partition, Remington Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded, Swift A-Frame and Barnes TSX.

Cartridges along the lines of the 6.5mm Remington Magnum, 6.5x68mm, .264 Winchester Magnum, .270 Winchester, .280 Remington and 7x64mm Brenneke should be considered the practical minimum for hunting these sturdy creatures. Use 140-160 grain bullets for the 6.5mm Magnum calibers, 150 grain bullets for the .270 and 150-165 grain bullets for the 7mm calibers.

Perhaps more appropriate for hunting nilgai than the standard .270 and 7mm calibers are the various .270 Magnums with 150 grain bullets, the 7mm Magnums with 150-175 grain bullets and the .308 Winchester, .30-06, .303 British and the various .300 Magnums, all with 180 grain bullets. Ditto the high intensity 8mm cartridges along the lines of the 8x57JS and the 8mm Magnums with 180-220 grain bullets.

Medium bore cartridges such as the .338 Federal, .338-06 A-Square, the .338 Magnums, .358 Winchester, .35 Whelen and .350 Rem. Magnum probably represent the upper caliber limit for practical nilgai cartridges, but should work well with 200-250 grain bullets. Essentially, the calibers proven effective on North American elk or European red stag are also appropriate for blue bull, so choose your weapon accordingly.

As always, bullet placement is the key and the tougher the animal the more important that dictum becomes. As I have repeated many times, if you get an adequate bullet into a vital spot you will very likely bring home a trophy. If you miss the vitals, you will have a problem no matter how powerful your rifle and cartridge.

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Copyright 2006, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.