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The Kudu

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My fascination with the greater kudu started at an early age when we lived in the then South West Africa (Namibia). We lived in Dordabis, a small settlement or outpost ,if you wish, 60 miles southeast from the capitol Windhoek. The hilly and mountainous bushveld surrounding Dordabis was a kudu paradise and as there were so many of them around it was inevitable that my father mainly hunted kudu. Grey duiker, steenbuck and baboons abounded and even cheetahs were encountered on a regular basis, but none of these were regarded as huntable game.

I could listen for hours to my father’s stories. He always told us how crafty the old kudu bulls were and how difficult it was to carry the meat down a mountain - especially in the pitch darkness of a cold winter’s night. He had the scars to prove it too. I clearly remember the night he returned home all bruised, with a bloodied leg and a badly hurt left hand. He was carrying his rifle and a kudu bull’s back leg when he stepped into a donga in the dark. If he had broken his leg he would have been in serious trouble.

When I was about nine I accompanied Father and three hunters on a memorable kudu hunt. We spotted a big bull on a mountainside and the three men filled the air with lead. This majestic old bull galloped almost lazily along the slope, seemingly unperturbed by the flying bullets. He looked so beautiful and regal that I almost cheered when he finally disappeared out of sight. My father, who did not fire a single shot, looked at the men and said with a wry smile, "None of you even touched a hair on his body." I will always remember that kudu.

Another incident, my first walk-and-stalk kudu hunt with Dad, perhaps had the biggest influence on me as a future kudu hunter. No talking was allowed, I had to communicate with Dad through sign language. The kudus evaded us all day and when we finally caught up with them late in the afternoon I was instructed to wait while Dad sneaked closer. Many long minutes passed... then a hoarse bark echoed through the bush. It was the first time that I had heard a kudu’s alarm call and it frightened me. From Dad’s stories I knew that kudu bark, but never expected it to be so loud. As far as I know the kudu has the loudest alarm call of all the African antelope species.

I stood there, rooted to the ground, breathless with fear, yet strangely intrigued by the almost primeval sounds echoing through the bush. Those kudu stirred something deep inside me that afternoon. A desire perhaps to be free, to wander like them, where and when it pleases me. Like them, I wanted to drift through the bush to explore secluded, secret places.

Kudu are great wanderers and very adaptable - the kudu is the only large antelope to survive in large numbers outside national parks and fenced game farms in South Africa. Whether that is true of kudu elsewhere in Africa I cannot tell. In South Africa they have increased their range over the last hundred years and are now even found in the middle of the dry Great Karoo.

While kudu can obtain their moisture requirements from their feed, in arid areas they do need water and will drink daily when they can. As farming regions have spread, livestock farmers have sunk boreholes providing permanent surface water in areas which could not support kudu in the past. Great jumpers, kudu can easily clear ordinary livestock fences so they have no problem accessing this water. Kudus are now numerous in parts of South Africa and Namibia that once were the domain of the gemsbuck and springbuck only.

What sets the kudu apart from other antelope is their wariness and their elusiveness, plus their sly and secretive nature and here I am especially referring to the old bulls. Blessed with exceptional senses - good eyes, phenomenal hearing, keen noses and the ability to jump two metre fences with ease, they are able to elude humans at will. Also, their grey-brown colouring provides perfect camouflage in the African bush.

Cows are generally not difficult to hunt, but bagging a big old bull on foot is a different story - especially on so-called open farms where there are no high game fences preventing the kudus from escaping. Stealth, patience, knowledge, good legs and sharp eyes are required to get one of those "grey ghosts of Africa". Kudu cows usually bark at the first sign of danger, but the big bulls simply vanish without a sound which is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of hunting them. If you spook a herd with a big bull among them and then follow, you can almost be certain that he will, at some stage, leave the herd quietly and slip away on his own.

Where they are hunted regularly, kudu are often largely nocturnal. During the day they rest in dense stands of trees or thickly-bushed areas, preferably on high ground. Kudu will move down from the mountains late in the afternoon to feed in their favourite browsing areas. My father used to call the late afternoon "kudu time". Many prefer not to hunt late in the afternoon as a wounded animal will easily be lost. However, this is my preferred time for hunting kudu - of all the kudu I have shot over the years, I have probably taken less than 10 between sunrise and noon. Hunting the bulls during the peak of the rut (April and May) is slightly easier as they will then spend most of their time with the cows. Although kudu are regarded as gentle, timid and inoffensive, bulls will fight to the death for the right to mate, and I know of several instances where wounded kudu bulls have charged hunters.

Kudu are not particularly tough or hard to kill (gemsbuck and blue wildebeest are much tougher) but they are big, especially the bulls which can weigh over 400kg on the hoof in certain areas. Cows normally weigh between 160 and 200kg. Under ideal conditions and at ranges up to 200m, practically any 150gr and heavier bullet, from 7mm up, and leaving the muzzle at 2500fps, will kill kudu reliably if placed in the vitals. I have used my 7x57 Mauser with great success on both bulls and cows. However, rather err on the side of caution and use enough gun. The .308 and .30-06 are often recommended as safe minimums but some feel that a .300 Magnum loaded with 220 grainers are preferable. Where long shots (200 to 300m) are the norm I would definitely recommend a .300 Magnum stoked with 180gr bullets and a .338 is even better, provided the hunter can handle the recoil and shoot accurately with it. A .375H&H might be regarded as overkill by some, but if you can handle this magnum, it makes a deadly kudu calibre

When hunting, keep the wind in your favour, walk very slowly and stop after every ten to fifteen steps to look and listen. Kudu often stand stock-still beneath a tree with their bodies concealed by the lower branches, so look low and around tree trunks - a leg might just give an animal away. Be as silent as possible and freeze the moment you see a kudu. If you see several cows, wait patiently there will often be a bull with them and he will always be the last to show himself. Bulls are normally at the rear of a herd and often some distance behind the rest of the animals.

Koos Barnard is an ex-professional hunter and a full time gun writer, having published hundreds of articles. He was born in Namibia and has been a keen hunter since his youth.

And when you finally have a big kudu bull in your sights, you will all of a sudden know why it has captured the imagination of hunters all over the world. A big bull is a picture of stately dignity. His movements are measured and regal, even when he flees. And those huge horns further enhance the image. To me the kudu is the ultimate trophy. Regal and mysterious in his ways, there is an aura about a big bull that sets him apart.

In every step he takes, I see the faraway places and unfathomable mysteries of Africa. And as generation after generation of these grey ghosts drift through the African bush, I instinctively follow - always trying to capture those elusive mysteries, so that I can mend my soul.

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