Hunt Through The Midday Window
Kudu bulls are often found visiting waterholes during the extreme midday heat, as in the photo above. Note the crocodile at left.
It’s always been my belief hunting during the hot midday hours brings rewards. Too often clients and PHs return to camp at about noon to enjoy a well-earned ‘brunch’, followed by a siesta, until the day cools off. Late afternoon sees them out hunting again. Throughout my hunting career, be it guiding safaris or hunting for myself I’ve observed a pattern whereby the big antelope, and kudu in particular, like to visit waterholes during the heat of the day. Throughout a hunting career spanning over four decades I only ever had two clients shoot a 60” kudu, and both were taken in the window between 13hr00 and 14hr00.
Obviously, and because it’s not only unethical but also poor wildlife management practise, one doesn’t shoot animals at a waterhole. Rather, you locate them enroute there. My first client to get lucky with a 60” kudu bull was Bill Jenkins out of Philadelphia. We were hunting in Zimbabwe, on the lower Bubye River (pronounced Boo-bee), way south of the Bubye Valley Conservancy (BVC). It was late August and hades hot. We’d first seen the kudu bull as he followed his group of five cows across the wide sandy Bubye riverbed. They were in no hurry and stopped frequently, although ever alert. Our problem though was the kudu were making their way across the river, out of the hunting block and onto a non-hunting property. We were sat high above the river on an outcrop of boulders, glassing the unfolding and frustrating scenario. The bull’s impressive horn mass was forcing him to walk with a slightly lowered head.
When your trackers also wax lyrical about trophy quality, you know it’s good. At one point when the bull lingered, his head outstretched and swaying from side to side as he warily scanned the east bank’s dense riverine bush for danger, my Ndebele tracker whispered expressively, ‘in-Kalakatha’(huge). Given the distance we were from him, his sheer heavy horn mass with deep curving spirals, ending in outward flaring ivory tips screamed trophy quality. The depth of curl on the spiral configuration would translate into solid inches with a tape measure. When he lifted his head high to test the breeze his horns swept back along either side of his lean back, the tips seemingly reaching his rump. From our commanding position far to his rear, his foreshortened body was bracketed by an inverted V formed by his horns. It was an impressive sight.
When they finally disappeared into the brush on the opposite riverbank, and after we’d eventually moved off back towards camp in the stifling heat, I wondered if we’d ever see that magnificent kudu again. Over the next few days, we hunted hard and Bill grassed a number of other smaller plains game species. We also saw a few kudu in the high fifties but they all looked small compared to what we’d started referring to as the 'elusive bull.’ So, we passed them up. Periodically too, we’d return to our vantage point on high above the Bubye River, and glassing the dry riverbed with our binoculars will the kudu to reappear. It was to no avail and he’d become the epitome of the kudu moniker ‘grey ghost’.
Because it was late winter it was to our advantage, with the land dry and parched. That time of year when the African bush takes on a drab grey hue. The trees stand leafless awaiting the first rains to once more energize their sap flow. Waterholes had in the main dried up and were nothing less than cracked dry mud basins in an arid thirsty landscape. If we could find where the kudu bull and his females were drinking it would definitely simplify matters, unless they were finding their water needs outside of the hunting block, in which case there was little that we could have done about it.
Early one morning, Lucky Ndlovu, one of my trackers drew my attention to a rapidly shrinking waterhole an easy walk east of camp. There was plenty of game spoor surrounding it. Including kudu. The tracker was convinced it was where our elusive quarry and his harem were watering. He even pointed out how the kudu spoor from the previous day led off along a well-used game trail towards the Bubye River, and seemingly headed close to where we’d been sitting glassing. Because of my firm belief the kudu group were watering in the midday heat during the 12hr00 to 14hr00 window, I decided we’d build a blind. The waterhole was only about 450m from the river, and amidst the fresher impala and warthog spoor along the game trail, there was also older kudu spoor going in both directions. To confirm what seemed to be a regular daily visitation to the waterhole, we backtracked the spoor east, down onto, and then across the riverbed. It was a eureka moment. The spoor could only have belonged to the elusive group.
Bill at left and myself with his magnificent 60" kudu shortly after he had shot it. At the time of the photograph being taken I hadn't yet run a tape along the horns.
Without wasting time, we used some deadfalls and other dry brush to build a simple U-shaped blind 30m off the game trail midway between the waterhole and the dry sandy Bubye River bed. By 11hr45 we were sitting. It was incredibly hot and despite the hordes of mopane flies Bill chose to remain shirtless. Our wait wasn’t long, and at about 12hr45 they suddenly came into view. There were five kudu in the group and they were moving slowly along the game trail in single file. The majestic bull brought up the rear, ambling along about 10 paces behind the last female. Due to his magnificence and proximity there was no need for me to use my binoculars. I gently nudged Bill. His rifle was already resting on a branch we’d installed as a cross-member when erecting the blind. Sliding his left hand under the fore end he slowly brought the butt into his shoulder. And then settled comfortably behind the scope.
Wary as always, the kudu group were stopping frequently to survey the surrounding bush. Most animals feel vulnerable at or near waterholes and for good reason. Predators. Our luck held, and as the bull turned at an angle to us he presented ideally for a heart shot, which Bill took without hesitation. It wasn’t a long shot and in acknowledgement of being hit the bull buck jumped once. And then with his tail flagging, white under hair clearly visible, he ran headlong into the scrub before noisily crashing to the ground. As we stood up I glanced at my watch, it was 13hr05.
Approaching the magnificent trophy, we were in awe of the length and mass of his beautiful horns with their polished ivory tips. They looked out of place and way too large for his body. It took us a few minutes of silent admiration before we bent down and reverently touched the horns, our hands following the twists from ivory tip to horn base. It was only after the photographs had been taken and at time of loading, that I brought out the tape measure, an item which ranks low on what motivates me to hunt, although I understand full well why so many see it as all-important when hunting. With Bill holding the one end, we ran it around the horn keel following the spirals and then up to the tips, one horn went 60½” with the other going 60”. Our midday hunt decision had certainly paid dividends.
The next time I had a client take a 60” kudu trophy was a few seasons later. This time round I was hunting on Touch Africa Safaris magnificent Mjingwe spread east of the BVC. Sadly, and due to land invasions in Zimbabwe, it is no more. My client, Art Mariner, was also from the US. We’d passed up a number of kudu in the high fifties and I’d even stopped him from shooting one that may have gone 57”. Perhaps it’d been stupid of me because we were down to the last 3 days of the safari. Passing up on that kind of quality so late into a safari can come back to haunt you.
Sticking to my belief hunting during the hot hours paying off, we continued hunting hard without breaking for a daily siesta or lengthy brunch. We’d frequently lunch in the field, the rig’s tailgate our table. Finally, on our last hunting day and when I was becoming increasingly concerned, our luck suddenly changed for the better. At about 13hr30 my tracker spotted a kudu bull standing way out on top of a huge dwala (granite whaleback). The kudu was silhouetted against the cobalt blue sky and even at the distance we were from him, he was impressive.
Art Mariner with his extremely impressive heavy-horned 60" kudu taken at Mjingwe in Zimbabwe.
Art was shooting a .300 Winchester Magnum and had proven himself an excellent shot, even taking a huge leopard. Knowing we only had another 5 hours of hunting we departed the truck and went straight into stalk mode. Initially the kudu had been about 450m away, but after careful wind use and staying in deep shadow and cover, we got to about 200m. It then became impossible to get any closer, there was no more cover only short dry grass. Fortunately, the kudu hadn’t moved. He was standing as if dozing on his feet. Art was confident of a clean killing shot so I opened the sticks. As the sound the shot reverberated along the valley, the kudu ran blindly towards us, straight down off the dwala, and into a thicket at its base. We found him there, as majestic in death as he’d been in life. His heavy mahogany coloured horns went a solid 60” on both sides.
Over the ensuing seasons there would be other good kudu in the high fifties, all of them taken in the midday heat. Carlo Magni from Italy, hunting with me in 1995 shot a good fifty-nine and a half inch kudu at about 13hr30 one sweltering BVC late September day. Excellent trophy warthog too, can be found meandering slowly towards a waterpoint or mud wallow in the extreme heat, as can impala, and the shy elusive bushbuck. All of which gives a motivated sport hunter good reason to be out in the field, during the midday heat, whilst others less driven, may find a bit of Egyptian PT a better option.
Italian client Carlo Magni's excellent kudu which was a fifty nine and a half inches.