It has to be one of Africa’s most majestic antelope, if not the most majestic although I know there are folk out there who’d contest that, and suggest maybe the sable has the edge. Let’s face it though all African antelope are majestic and each species in its own special way. Having said that I’m going to dwell on the greater kudu, because in my opinion it ranks way up at the top in Africa’s antelope ratings.
Any sport hunter who has been privileged enough to see a kudu bull in his prime, standing atop a granite dwala (whaleback rock mass) while silhouetted against a blood red African sky at sunset, will know what I mean. Surprisingly it’s a sight that occurs more often than we’d think, even if not witnessed, and particularly so in parts of Zimbabwe and in the northern reaches of South Africa, where kopjes are prolific. Being browsers kudu like to get up into that broken kopje country and feed on the variety of bushes and trees amongst the jumbled boulders.
Their cryptic colouration too, and coupled to their wariness is an incredible feat of nature which helps reinforce the term ‘Grey Ghosts’. To illustrate my point, I once had a client on safari with me from the US. We were hunting on the Collett family’s Majingwe concession south of Bulawayo and bordering the million-acre BVC concession in the West Nicholson area – prime trophy kudu country. Ron and I were quietly moving around on the summit of a huge plateau like kopje, our quest at the time, the nimble hoofed ballet dancer of the hilltops – a klipspringer.
As we stepped from boulder to boulder because walking on the dry leaf matter sounded like walking on cornflakes, I happened to see a slight flicker of something to my front and after my mind had fully computed what it was, a kudu’s ear appeared and then an entire kudu. I was suddenly looking straight at a magnificent kudu bull happily browsing and totally unaware of our presence. He was broadside on and about forty paces away, offering the perfect shot. Between where the kudu was standing and us there was a fallen tree, the trunk of which concealed his lower legs, and came up to about his belly line. Ron was directly behind me with his trusty well blooded 30-06 loaded with Remington Premier Swift A-frame 180 grain bullets. Because the kudu was so close all I could do was slowly move my right hand up the front of my chest and wiggle my forefinger over my right shoulder to get his attention.
Immediately realizing something was in the offing, Ron quietly moved forward onto my right and despite staring directly at the kudu after I’d indicated it with my outthrust jaw, he still couldn’t see it. Testimony as to how well they can blend with the African brush background. Gritting my teeth in frustration I continued watching the trophy bull while mentally willing Ron to spot it. The bull’s head was topped with a good 58” of heavy spiraling horns, finishing off with polished ivory tips.
Unfortunately, Ron couldn’t see the kudu until in sheer frustration he attempted another step forward while still staring fixedly in its direction. He then tripped over a branch and fell heavily, his rifle clattering on the granite rock surface. Ron’s fall certainly got the kudu’s attention, and spinning round like a polo pony it gave a typical loud kudu alarm bark before taking off down the kopje, and out onto the mopane woodland flats way below us. Its tail flagging all the while. We could still catch glimpses of it with our binoculars when it was about 2km away. Making our way back down to the hunting rig we constantly lamented the loss of a superb opportunistic trophy that had so suddenly and obligingly appeared in front of us. Our next stop was the zeroing range at the camp to check Ron’s rifle was still shooting OK.
Kudu hunting can be a frustrating exercise; however, it has surely got to be one of the most rewarding and challenging African antelope hunts available to the ethical sportsman. A kudu’s eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell are all acute but it is their hearing capability that is in a class of its own due to their huge forever moving parabolic like ears. Being a browser with their heads stuck inside bushes and leaf cover for much of their time, they need good hearing to warn of approaching danger.
Their horns too blend well.
Another safari I recall, this time in South Africa’s Eastern Cape I was hunting with a Norwegian and we were walking slowly along a track, when a bunch of alarmed vervet monkeys suddenly bounded across our front. Not knowing what had spooked them, we dropped to our knees, waiting, and watching. It was then I noticed a peculiar sight to our front.
On an otherwise completely windless day there were two scraggily looking black branches hanging down inside a fairly low, leafy, tree canopy and these dangling branches were moving around somewhat erratically. Following closer observation, they proved to be a kudu’s horns. He had his back towards us with head upturned at an acute angle while he browsed. The inverted V of his horns were hanging down either side of his neck. His neck colouration blended so well with the tree trunk I hadn’t initially noticed it, and his head was covered by leaves.
Over the decades too, and as mentioned in a previous blog, I learned the best time to hunt for a good trophy kudu bull is in the extreme midday heat during the window between 12hr00 to 14hr00. If you’re on a safari where a kudu is a priority trophy, don’t be hoodwinked by a PH who suggests the midday hours on safari are ‘siesta’ time. Get out there and I guarantee you’ll soon have a nice trophy bull in the salt. During the very hot hours you’ll always find solitary mature kudu bulls visiting waterholes or moving between them. Over the course of my lengthy career as a PH I’ve been lucky enough to have three clients shoot a 60” kudu, and a good number in the high fifties. All of them were taken between 13hr00 and 14hr00.
Campfire talk too has also taught me there are still many sport hunters confused by the East Cape kudu and the Southern Greater kudu. Don’t be confused, they’re one and the same thing. Tragelaphus strepsiceros. Safari Club International initiated the listing in their SCI Record Book of a separate sub-species, referring to it as the East Cape kudu. This was purely to give sport hunters a wider selection of trophy species to hunt. The East Cape kudu generally has smaller horns that its northern cousins and it may well be an evolutionary thing, the succulent valley bushveld (its official classification) in South Africa’s Eastern Cape is extremely dense and virtually impenetrable. A kudu with long wide horns would be at a distinct disadvantage trying to move in that kind of habitat.
Unfortunately, greed and a lack of ethics has crept into the game industry and some landowners have brought in greater kudu from areas to the north, buying them at game auctions, and introducing them onto properties that originally only had the SCI classified East Cape kudu. This mix of the longer horned kudu and the shorter horned kudu has led to confusion because some hunters are now unwittingly shooting what they think is a 56” East Cape kudu, and popping champagne corks in the aftermath. In reality 48” is traditionally a big East Cape kudu and more often than not they’re in the low 40”s, luckily for the ethical sport hunter there are still landowners out there who’ve kept the purity of the shorter horned East Cape kudu, although for a truly dedicated trophy hunter pre-safari research is a must.
Kudu hunting in the Eastern Cape is normally a more static affair than hunting a kudu in say Zimbabwe. Traditionally, and because of the brush density, kudu were driven by beaters in the Eastern Cape, and on some properties they still are. Normally though, on a safari where beaters aren’t used, in the early morning a client and PH with the trackers will move onto high ground overlooking the valleys and ravines, and glass for kudu movement. If a suitable trophy is spotted and within range, it is shot from the observation point. If it isn’t within range and it is possible to get within range by way of a stalk, a stalk is carried out. If a suitable kudu isn’t found other observation points on the property are visited and glassing continues for a trophy. This type of moving and glassing activity may be repeated over a number of days across the concession. Recovery of a kudu shot in the Eastern Cape can be a fairly lengthy and labour intensive exercise.
In the savannah woodland of South Africa’s northern reaches, and across Zimbabwe kudu are usually hunted by driving along the concession management tracks using the hunting rig and if a suitable trophy is spotted, the hunters park the vehicle and conduct a stalk. At times too, a trophy kudu may well be ‘bumped’ into while you are hunting other species. Or perhaps observed moving between waterholes. Invariably though, a stalk of some sort will take place.
In my experience, and although some disagree, the .270 Winchester using a 150-grain bullet at 2860fps is perfectly capable for use on kudu, as are any of the .300s and the 7mm family. I’ve heard the odd hunter boast of using a .243 Winchester on kudu, however, to me that smacks of gross irresponsibility. I’ve always erred on the side of using a caliber/bullet combination on any animal I hunt that will ensure a good wound channel which allows for ample blood spoor in case of a wounded and lost animal. Particularly so in thick bush.