• Kev Thomas Writes

Kudu For A Viking

Above: Each morning after weed departed the lodge we'd spend hours glassing the densely wooded ridgelines for a decent kudu bull.

Often when I’ve guided Scandinavians, I’ve had major problems trying to get the pronunciation of their names correct. Guiding Troels was to be no different. By the last day of the safari, I still couldn’t get his full names right, although I was getting close. Troels was one of five Danes who’d booked an Eastern Cape plains game hunt with ZS Safaris. Each of them wanted a mixed bag of plains game, and Woodlands Game Ranch was the venue. PH Doug Snow and the Woodlands resident PH/Manager Keith Gradwell took care of the meet and greet aspect at Port Elizabeth airport, leaving PHs, Greg Hubbard and Braun ‘Proppie’ Ockers, plus myself, to arrive in our own time later during the afternoon.

When I arrived at the game ranch, I found the clients had already arrived at the lodge, so I had to play catch up. Our first evening was spent deciding who would hunt with whom, an exercise which was still being played out and finalised the next morning at breakfast. One thing I really enjoyed about safari in the Eastern Cape was how laid-back the whole affair tends to be. Don’t get me wrong, hunting is taken seriously but so is the laughter and ongoing banter, and if there’s a group, one always notices there’s an underlying edge of competitiveness to the whole.

Above: Checking rifle scopes shoot to zero after lengthy air travel is an essential part of safari.

Zeroing and checking rifles at the range is an essential part of pre-safari preparation, and normally takes place soon after the clients’ arrival in camp. In our case, it took place on the first morning after breakfast, with a small convoy of hunting rigs slowly making their way uphill towards the shooting bench and zeroing range. Once there each client had opportunity to check his rifle, his respective PH standing close by to assist with any glitches that may arise, or to advise and help with optic adjustments. Some shooters wisely had hearing protection, whilst others and the PHs made do Eastern Cape style.

Above: Having left their ear-protection behind when we went to the zeroing range PH Doug Snow and Proppie Ockers clown for the camera.

Our hunt was of five-day duration only, and with the clients being Scandinavian and on a package hunt, the demand was not so much for high end SCI trophies, but rather for a fulfilling safari experience with good, mature, and old representative males being taken. This kind of client is an ideal management tool for any game rancher because they’ll willingly take off those animals which the tape measure obsessed sport hunter would rather pass up.

Troels only wanted a kudu, a springbok and a white blesbok. Because his wants were so few, I decided we’d focus on getting the kudu out of the way. As a result, we hunted for the entire first day and only saw one kudu cow. She was far off. Across a valley. In the spekboom. Woodlands has a robust and well managed Cape kudu population so I started to wonder if my eyes weren’t failing me, but then consoled myself that it was after all only day one. When we eventually got back to camp, cold and damp, just as the light faded, and drove past the skinning shed, there was sign of hunting activity. Lots of hunting activity. Horns, carcasses, skins etc.

Above: PH Doug Snow offers barbeque grilled kudu back strap (fillet) to our Danish clients. Troels samples a bit of what he's yet to shoot! It was kudu venison matured, from a previous safari.

Entering the lodge bar, we found a lot of Danish festivity on the go, with PHs Doug Snow, Keith Gradwell, ‘Proppie’ Ockers and Greg Hubbard, including their dogs, all joining in. It was a fun atmosphere, and Troel, all smiles, slid onto a bar stool and was soon in animated conversation with one of his Viking colleagues. When there’s a group of PHs in camp, you know that after you’ve arrived back at the lodge, sooner or later one of them will address you with the words, “What’d you get?” or, “Did you shoot anything?” – I was asked this question by three of my colleagues, with their dogs looking on questioningly. One from an arm chair. By the hearth fire. Lying on its back with its legs spread – a dog that is, not a PH.

Above: In South Africa's Eastern Cape virtually every PH worth his salt has a loyal Jack Russell to help locate wounded game. Here, Doug Snow pampers a new and feisty JR pup he'd invested in.

I’ve been hunting for long enough to not get fazed by these kinds of questions, so answered in the negative, and also mentioned we’d had a wonderful day. I then stupidly said we’d only seen one kudu cow, and far away. The Danes all carried on sipping adult beverages and talking loudly, although my remark caused the other PHs to glance at each other as if to ask, “What’d he just say?” I was then told by all of them they’d seen plenty of kudu. It didn’t help though, because their clients weren’t shooting kudu, although I was constantly reminded during the course of the evening about how many kudu had been seen!

Our second morning’s departure from the lodge was delayed for a while. It’d been raining heavily and dense fog shrouded the valleys. We sat around chatting and drinking numerous cups of coffee. When we finally got down to hunting, Troel, tracker Tamie, and I, glassed every ridge and kloof that we could find, and although we saw a few kudu, none were trophy bulls, and the majority of those we saw were cows. And not that many. Weather wise, it was a windy, dull, and cold day with low cloud and rain squalls periodically blowing in. Definitely not kudu weather. Back at the lodge for lunch, we noticed some of the others had again killed, and I was once more asked about kudu and my response in the negative led to mild head shaking amongst my colleagues, and one of the Jack Russell’s even left the room, with a smirk on her JR face as if to say, “Boy, am I glad I’m not your dog”.

The afternoon went well, and deciding not to concentrate on a kudu due to the inclement weather, we went up onto the drizzle and windswept Bedford plains and hunkered down in a flimsy shade cloth blind. Tami then moved off in the rig, and it wasn’t long after that we were saturated and shivering. Myself a lot more than the Viking, who luckily shot an unsuspecting springbok as it passed by. By then, the rain was bucketing down to such an extent we didn’t bother with photos, and instead headed straight back to the warmth of the lodge.

Day three again produced nothing and on day four, we got away early. By that time the weather was opening up and despite a cold wind, the sun was breaking through. Moving onto some high ground, we sat and carefully glassed the spekboom thickets along the kloofs. It was then that we saw him, trailing along in the wake of three cows. They’d already topped the opposite ridge and in bright sunlight were slowly crossing open ground towards another well wooded kloof. Getting to within shooting distance meant an uphill hike back to the rig, and then a fair drive towards where we anticipated they were headed. Without wasting time, we moved off, and once within about a half kilometre of where they were, departed the rig and slowly walked in. Our approach took us towards a rocky bush covered rise, where we were convinced, the kudu would be lingering in the warm sun just below it. An absolutely silent approach was necessary. Not easy on shale and loose stones, although we got to about 20m of our objective before Tami, sneezed, and then coughed somewhat loudly and uncontrollably. When fleeing kudu turn loose shale to noisy shrapnel, you know they’re going to be hard to find again.

Sitting down, we rested, while I silently fumed, and then bidding Tami hang back, Troel and I moved off, slowly making our way downhill, through numerous dense rubbery spekboom thickets. Eventually, and after sweeping countless golden orb web spider webs aside with the shooting sticks, we reached the edge of a shallow saucer-shaped depression. And there, suddenly, shining in the sunlight on the far side, just visible in the thickets, were the backs of some kudu cows. Quietly sitting down, we began to glass, and it wasn’t long before we picked out a horn. Just the upper curl, and a forward pointing tip, before it disappeared. Thereafter, we periodically caught a glimpse of the bull, or should I say, parts of him. Back, neck, head etc as he moved along opposite us browsing continuously.

Above: Troels was using a Sako Model 111 .308 Winchester, with factory loaded Winchester Super X 180gr Silvertip CXP3 bullets. His scope was a Zeiss Varipoint – V 2,5 – 10x50 T*

Because he was moving left to right, across our front, we silently paralleled him, cautiously moving from thicket to thicket and staying in the deep shadow, out of the sunlight. Troels was using a Sako Model 111 .308 Winchester, with factory loaded Winchester Super X 180gr Silvertip CXP3 bullets. His scope was a Zeiss Varipoint – V 2,5 – 10x50 T*. Eventually, we reached an open spot directly opposite where the bull was feeding, and although we couldn’t see him, knew he was there, so we slowly crawled to a termite mound, in front of which I opened the sticks.

Glassing carefully, we again picked him out, screened by spekboom, and standing broadside on to us. Motionless. Typically, with Cape kudu, it would become a silent game of patience, the hunter waiting for a window of opportunity. I ranged the bull at 230m and whispered the information to Troels, who was on the sticks. After ten minutes the bull moved, and his shoulder presented perfectly in a gap through a thicket. It was all Troels needed, the .308 shot broke the silence and the bull disappeared from sight. Hit hard, the sound of his thrashing around in the thicket, fighting off the darkness of death carrying up to us. And then silence. Troels had his kudu.

Above: A proud and relieved Troels with his East Cape kudu - recovering it from where it was shot took a lot of labour and about three hours (and that was just to the vehicle).

Above: After the photo session Troels watches as the skinners and trackers gut, quarter, and prepare his kudu carcass for the difficult recovery to the hunting rig. Like most Scandinavian sport hunters he just opted for a shield mount which saved time.

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