a kudu

Kudu and Kudu Hunting in Africa

Aptly named “Grey Ghost” for its ability to disappear as if swallowed by the earth, the Kudu is among Africa’s most iconic and sought after plains game species. Its unmistakably recognizable silhouette graces national road signs, many hunting outfitter logos, and serves as the emblem of the South African National Parks. This impressive animal with massive and very distinctive corkscrew-like horns derives its name from Khoikhoi, an indigenous ethnic group closely related to the San (Bushman) people of Africa. Like elk hunting in the United States, Kudu attracts trophy and meat hunters alike, and is topping every first time African hunter’s wish list. 

HISTORICAL DISTRIBUTION

Kudu is a browser, and is therefore found in the predominantly mixed scrub woodland, thick bush, rocky hills and light woodland areas from the semi-arid regions of Namibia, across southern and East Africa to as far north as Sudan. The group is divided in two, the most widely distributed Greater Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros) and the Lesser Kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis) of East Africa.

Just a beautiful kudu

WHERE TO HUNT KUDU

Although you will be hunting the same animal, for their record keeping purposes Safari Club International (SCI) has spilt the Greater Kudu into five ecological regions, namely the Southern Greater Kudu, Abyssinian Greater Kudu, East African Greater Kudu, Eastern Cape Greater Kudu and Western Greater Kudu which was formerly hunted in Sudan.     

Southern Greater Kudu hunting is available from Namibia, through Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Mozambique. East African Greater Kudu can be hunted in Tanzania, the Karamoja region of Uganda and should not be confused with the East Cape Greater Kudu which is self-explanatory and only found in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. The latter species generally has shorter and heavier horns and is darker in colour. Here’s more on the difference between Southern and Eastern Cape Kudu.

The Abyssinian Greater Kudu may be hunted in the lowlands of Ethiopia and the much smaller Lesser Kudu in Masailand, Tanzania. This speciality animal is a native of semi-arid country and thick bush. The Lesser Kudu stands 90-110 cm (40 inches) at the shoulder as opposed to the Greater Kudu at 160 cm (63 inches).  

HOW TO HUNT KUDU

Kudu are extremely challenging to hunt. They are exceptionally wary, using their good eyesight and massive ears, like mini radar dishes to their advantage to detect any signs of danger.  In most instances, if a Kudu has seen you the hunt is over before it begins.  

RIFLE HUNTING

You often get to bump into Kudu while driving through the hunting territory – but by the time you get ready to put in a stalk they have disappeared!

The most successful method of hunting Kudu is to find some high ground early in the morning. The colder the winter’s night the better as the Kudu will likely spend more time sunning themselves in the early morning sunlight. From a vantage point, scan the preferred habitat areas. Take your time, glassing for movement or the sunlight glistening off their horns as they blend in so well with their surroundings.

A few Kudu in their typical environment.
Test yourself: how many Kudu can you see in this picture? Scroll down to the end of the blog for the answer.

A spot and stalk hunt will then ensue. Work your way into the wind and try to keep to the high ground without being spotted so that you are able to monitor the bull’s movements. Close in carefully ensuring that you do not stand on any broken branches, crunchy soil or dislodge any loose stones that will disturb the animal.

Kudu are mostly active in the early morning and late afternoon. In winter they can be found throughout the day, especially in the vicinity of water.

BOW HUNTING

A walk and stalk on a Kudu with a bow is near impossible but if by chance you find a Kudu lying down chewing its cud, why not give it a try, it has been done.

The most successful bowhunting method is from a blind. The majority of outfitters offering bow hunting opportunities, have permanent bow blinds set up over water. Some may bait with supplementary foods and mineral blocks which works well during the winter months and in areas with limited availability of water. 

HABITS

Generally, the bulls are only found with the cows during the rut forming small family groups. Although the females attract the bulls during the rut when in season, it does mean that there are more vigilant eyes to avoid when trying to put in a stalk. However, a distracted bull seeking a favour from a cow does make for an easier hunt.

Kudu are not territorial but do have a home range and will spar with one another during the rut and sometimes get their horns locked together which may even lead to their eventual death. After the rut they often form bachelor herds with other bulls of all ages and sizes. Unlike Elk, Kudu do not bugle during the rut but both sexes will let out a loud gruff bark at any sign of danger. Once they start to run they curl up their tails flashing the white underside fur. This doesn’t not only serve as nature’s danger flag but also a navigational aid in poor light for the herd to be able to follow one another into the thick cover where the bulls will throw their horns back to prevent them becoming entangled in the vegetation as they blast their way into the nearest thicket and disappear.  

A kudu bull as it fell to a hunter's bullet

BEST SEASON TO HUNT KUDU

As already mentioned, the best season to hunt Kudu is during the rut and in the winter months when there is the least amount of foliage on the trees. Being predominantly browsers, the Kudu need to cover more ground in search of food and water in the drier months than in summer when food and water is plentiful. This improves the odds of your finding a suitable bull to hunt.

Hunting Kudu when the leaves on the trees are more abundant is more difficult as these animals have a habit of just stepping into the foliage as opposed to taking flight. Here they will stand, frozen in the spot for hours if need be, until the unsuspecting hunter has passed them by without detecting their presence.

TROPHY QUALITY

What constitutes a good Greater Kudu trophy? First and foremost, a mature bull, with horns around 50” is considered a good trophy. A bull measuring over 55” is regarded as way above average and 60” bulls as the ‘Holy Grail’. Most hunters to Africa will shoot a Kudu bull on their first safari and always be on the lookout to improve their score and for that elusive 60” bull.

Originally, the recognised world record was a 72” non-hunted bull that died of natural causes and picked up in Mozambique but the Rowland Ward record book has an entry of nearly 74”. More recently a ginormous breeding bull of 75 2/8” was measured, filmed and publicly displayed on YouTube.

A Kudu with record horns measured
“Mr Wow” measured. Photo courtesy of Wild&Jag

You may now be asking, how do you measure a Kudu’s horns? Each horn is measured along the spiral which forms a ridge at the base of the horn that can be followed all the way to near the tip.

QUALIFYING MEASUREMENTS

Qualifying measurements for SCI and Rowland Ward record books are:

ABYSSINIAN GREATER KUDU Tragelaphus strepsiceros chora                            
Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min.

Inches

Rifle Min.

Inches

Record

Score

Measuring Method Minimum

Inches

Record

Inches

Measuring Method
  98 113 3/8 2 42 59 4/8 8
EAST AFRICAN GREATER KUDU Tragelaphus strepsiceros bea
Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min.

Inches

Rifle Min.

Inches

Record

Score

Measuring Method Minimum

Inches

Record

Inches

Measuring Method
  109 145 5/8 2 50 63 4/8 8
EASTERN CAPE GREATER KUDU Tragelaphus strepsiceros strepsiceros
Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min.

Inches

Rifle Min.

Inches

Record

Score

Measuring Method Minimum

Inches

Record

Inches

Measuring Method
89 98 141 5/8 2 N/A N/A N/A
SOUTHERN GREATER KUDU Tragelaphus strepsiceros strepsiceros
Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min.

Inches

Rifle Min.

Inches

Record

Score

Measuring Method Minimum

Inches

Record

Inches

Measuring Method
109 121 158 2 54 73 7/8 8
WESTERN GREATER KUDU Tragelaphus strepsiceros burlacei
Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min.

Inches

Rifle Min.

Inches

Record

Score

Measuring Method Minimum

Inches

Record

Inches

Measuring Method
  72 127 1/8 2 42 53 3/8 8

 

LESSER KUDU Tragelaphus imberbis
Safari Club International Record Book Rowland Ward Record Book
Archery Min.

Inches

Rifle Min.

Inches

Record

Score

Measuring Method Minimum

Inches

Record

Inches

Measuring Method
  62 86 7/8 2 27 36 8

BREEDING PROJECTS

Most game breeders opted to breed Buffalo, Sable, Roan and other colour variant species. However, today’s demand is for top quality Kudu bulls genetically bred for their large horns. Such animals are sold on auction as trophy or breeding  stock at exceptionally high prices in South Africa.

Most breeding species have come down in price but good quality Kudu prices have increased and led to a relatively new trophy pricing system where animals are now sold in inch categories by many outfitters with some quoting a POR (price on request) for +60” Kudu.

There is a difference between bred and managed Kudu herds. Outfitters, like the Bubye Valley Conservancy in Zimbabwe do not allow Kudu under 55” to be hunted. This management practice has ensured that the area regularly produces top quality trophies.

FENCES

A Kudu can stand right next to the average high fence and clear it with the minimum effort in a single graceful leap. They are incredibly strong jumpers and have been witnessed jumping over a 3.5 m (11.48 ft) fenceWatch this Kudu Jump

THREATS

Besides the usual habitat destruction and human invasion of their habitat, Kudu are very prone to drought in semi-arid areas like Namibia and Northern Cape Province of South Africa. Under these conditions a Kudu becomes very susceptible to tannin poisoning caused by the over utilisation of the remaining available browse. 

Tannins are produced by trees as a natural chemical mechanism for self-defence against excessive defoliation. If the trees are overbrowsed, the intake of this toxic substance can lead to liver damage and death of the rumen flora leading to the eventual death of the animal. This is a major concern for the smaller over stocked game farms found in the Limpopo Province; it can, however, be mitigated by feeding game blocks and pellets with an anti-tannin.   

Rabies outbreaks in Namibia have also taken their toll on these magnificent animals and in certain areas of the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) has been recorded in some hunted animals. Reported TB cases have also been reported from the Kruger National Park.

Poachers, hunting with dogs are able to bay even the largest of Kudu bulls that will become aggressive and stand their ground to fend off the dogs. The dogs will eventually wear the Kudu down, tiring it out before ripping it apart. Kudus rescued in these situations usually die from the stress of the ordeal.          

Ten kudu in their natural environment
Answer: 10! Bet you couldn’t make out every single one of them.

HUNTING TIPS

  •   Although Kudu have been taken successfully with light rifles such as .270 Win, the recommended calibers for hunting Kudu would be the .300 Magnums.
  •   Big bulls may be solitary but often form part of a bachelor herd and will be the last one to walk out into the open. So hold fire until you are sure you have looked over all the bulls in the herd.
  •   During the rut, the herd bull will follow the cows and also be the last animal to emerge from the dense cover once he feels safe.
  •   Certain crops, such as sunflowers, corn, soya, wheat and cotton are often raided at night by Kudu. If you are hunting near croplands, make sure to check these areas out at first light in the morning intercepting the Kudu between the fields and their daily hideout.
  •   For those areas like the Midlands of KwaZulu-Natal and the Kalahari you often find Kudu eating the Acacia (thorn tree) seed pods which are high in protein blown down after a windy day.

VENISON

Kudu are highly sought after by local African hunters for their meat and used in home-made boerewors (farmer’s sausage), potjiekos (Dutch oven stews) and an African speciality called “Biltong”, a salted dried meat type of jerky.  

By Peter Ruddle

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