Photo ©Ernst Scholz

THE KUDU

The goddess of the hunt smiles eventually

The kudu is probably the most sought-after trophy species for those who hunt in Africa today, whether it’s their first or their tenth visit.This majestic animal just captures the imagination with its grace and beauty and for the fact that its elusive, shy nature makes for a challenging hunt on foot. The Greater Kudu is found from as far north as Ethiopia to the southernmost parts of the continent. To get close to them is no mean feat. No wonder hunters who come to Namibia for the first time look for this challenge, and hope against hope for success. One such hunter crossed the path of Dirk de Bod.

O ne late evening, not too long ago, I received a phone call. The man on the line spoke very distinguished Queen’s English. Without pause he told me about his African experiences, which included multiple kudu hunts all over Africa. Three hunting expeditions in the Central African Republic – walking for a total of 63 days to get to the Lord Derby eland in the savanna. He saw bongo in the forest, a few Western kudu, but as always, not big enough to take or no shooting opportunity. After that he hunted in Cameroon, Benin and Zimbabwe. Several times during the one-sided conversation he stressed the fact that he knew exactly how hard and often disappointing, a kudu hunt can be. The long distances one has to walk through the savanna and bushveld, mostly with no success. While he rambled on about his wanderings through Africa, I thought that this sounded very much like a guy in need of a successful kudu hunt.

“By the way, I am Jeremy Boyd and I am a gamekeeper on a large English estate. And   while I have you on the line – when is the best time for a better-than-good chance of bagging a 60-inch plus kudu?”  “In May, next year I have an opening” I said. “From the 17th to the end of the month. I can’t promise a 60-incher, but May is a very good time of year. We will definitely see many big bulls, so we will just have to hunt hard and see if we find one you like.”

That is no lie. The best time to see the big bulls is during the rutting season, normally from April to mid-June, when they are with the cows. They are much more relaxed and easier to find then. Otherwise, bulls are either alone or in bachelor groups of two to as many as 16. I have personally seen that. When they are not with a breeding herd they browse in thick bush, sometimes high up in the mountains, moving only when they need to. During full moon they even feed at night and stay put during the day. When they become aware of you they just “freeze” in the thick bush and you won’t see them. If they don’t move, their grey brown coat is so perfectly camouflaged that it is almost impossible to spot the animal.

So the 17th came and I sat at the airport waiting for the flight from London to land. I wondered whether I would be able to identify him before he identified me. As he came through the door from customs I knew it was him. Clean-cut military style hair. An English gentleman. With him was his friend Chris Squance. We shook hands, did the formal introductions and off we went.

“How far?” he asked. “We will drive 60 km south towards the Dordabis Mountains, to a ranch called ‘Bergsig’. That is Afrikaans for Mountain View. This area is known for big kudu, because they like to hide up in the mountains for most of the year.”

After lunch we decided to drive out to sight in the rifles. At the shooting range I let them sight in the 300 Winchester Magnums with 180 grain Barnes x bullets, 1 inch high at a hundred yards, because most shots range from 150 to 200 yards. With that adjustment I knew that the rifles would be close to spot-on.

Assistant PH, Hannes and Chris decided they would head for the plains and we opted to continue along the track into the mountains. About 15 minutes down the bumpy road the tracker, Sakkie, pointed out a thicket one third of the way up the mountain. “Kudu” he said, “but it looks like they’re all cows.”

We took the rifles and shooting sticks and started walking. We made use of the black thorn bushes for cover. We needed to get closer for a better look. You never know whether a big bull may be in there among the cows playing his famous invincible trick, or whether he will stay in the thick cover until the last moment.

One by one the cows broke cover, looking around nervously as they hastily walked higher and higher up the mountain. Fortunately we still had good cover. I set up the shooting sticks to rest the binoculars on and observe the cows and just enjoy the scene.

The next moment, he’s there. Appearing out of nowhere, in all his glory.

My heart beats in my chest. I am speechless. This is the best I have ever seen. Huge deep curls that go on forever, on very heavy bases. I am elated. Stunned.

“May I take him?” Jeremy asks politely.

At last I find my voice. “Yes, that’s him!”

He takes the first shot. We could hear the delayed thump as he is 250-plus yards away. He is still moving upwards.

“Reload and shoot again. Aim high!”

Jeremy hits again, but there is still no change in his stride. Again the bullet finds its mark, but the bull pushes on. Only briefly this time. He stops, and goes to the ground.

Breathing heavily and still shaking, we hurried up the mountain. After a 25-minute climb we eventually reached the spot. I could not believe my eyes. What a magnificent animal. Even bigger than I thought.

“He looks pretty good to me”, Jeremy said.

“You won’t believe how good”, I replied.

We set him up for the photograph in the cloudy late afternoon light.
What a picture.

As the light faded behind the clouds, the trackers reached us with all the tools necessary to skin and pack him down the mountain. While the trackers skinned, I searched my backpack for my trusty old SCI measuring tape. This was the moment of truth. I knew the trophy should be over 60”, but by how much?

Jeremy helped me measure. Very carefully we followed the ridge along the outside of the spiral. We looked at each other as we ran out of tape at the 60” mark – there was still some horn to go.

We marked the 60” spot. That’s when Jeremy let out a scream. We measured the remaining horn. 66 ½ inches!

Jeremy Boyd’s trophy still ranks nr 3 in the NAPHA top 10 of all time.

The rewards for hunting kudu in Namibia are what every hunter’s heart desires:  obtaining Africa’s premier trophy, its harmonic beauty contrasting dramatically with the dry, barren and thorny surroundings.

The greater kudu is distributed far and wide on the African continent, its range extending from Ethiopia, Sudan and Chad throughout Eastern Africa to the southern subcontinent.

The one country in Africa where the kudu can always be found is Namibia. In fact, kudus are so plentiful in Namibia, that some hunters feel they are “too easy” to take. It is all a matter of how you conduct your hunt, but one thing is for sure – Namibia is the country of the greater kudu.  Kudus occur practically throughout the country and even penetrate the Namib Desert along dry river courses.  Typically they occur in less open country and prefer thorn-bush thickets and rocky outcrops or even mountainous country.  Ideal kudu terrain is to be found around Windhoek, and from there to the east, north-east and north-west.

Due to the undulating nature of many parts of Namibia, the best way to hunt kudu is to spot the animals from a high point with binoculars.  A lot of patience is needed to thoroughly glass the countryside for long hours, until an old trophy animal is spotted.  This bull is then stalked with all the skill required to take the elusive spiral-horned antelope.  In more flat terrain, kudus can either be hunted by stalking slowly through thick bush, with the hope of encountering a good bull, or they can be spotted from a safari car and then stalked on foot.

THE GREATER KUDU

Tragelaphus strepsiceros


 

Shoulder Height: 8140 cm – 160 cm
Mass:  Male: 300 kg – 400 kg | Female: 120 kg – 210 kg
Diet:  Almost exclusively browser, fruit and berries
Rut:  May – July
Life expectancy:  12 – 16 years
Gestation:  Nine months, 1 calf

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