We were going down the steep, rocky slope as fast as we dared, trying not to make a noise or sprain an ankle. We had to get within range of the herd of kudu bulls slowly feeding their way towards the water hole in the trees off to our right before the light faded or they disappeared into the tree line. The setting sun was still above the horizon and it would hopefully be in their eyes for a while, helping to mask our descent down the open hillside.
We were trying to keep some small wattle trees between us and the kudus, and as we came level with the last cover I decided the range was probably right. A quick yardage check at a distant paper bark acacia with my Leica: 220 yards. Should be no problem.
I had my eye on one of two bulls in the group of eight bulls, I was estimating both at 57 inches plus. I checked with Bonniface that the slightly bigger one was number three in the group. As usual the front two kudus were younger bulls, not as cautious. I set up my three legged shooting sticks. I was going to wait for the bull to pass an acacia and then get Bonni to whistle and hopefully he would pull up and look in our direction.
As I lifted my rifle onto the sticks, my mouth very dry, I tried to steady my breathing, as I have always advised my clients to do over the years. I turned up my scope to seven power and got ready. One of the younger bulls suddenly stopped and stared intently in our direction, huge ears widely flared. “don’t move!” I whispered he’s looking straight at us. After what seemed a long time, he meandered on, his suspicion gone.
Suddenly Bonni urgently whispered to me, “Tarisa number six nhoro, ee hombe ! ”
‘Take a look at number six kudu, that’s the big one’, I took a quick look through the binos, yes, there he was! We had not seen him since that first sighting in the morning. The Bull was walking up the slope with measured steps, his massive horns held regally, being ever so wary, stopping often and checking the ground ahead. I could see the really long horns, good curls, tips curving forward; I knew this indicated the tips would be curling out, well beyond the second curl if viewed from the front.
I whispered to Bon, “Wait for him to clear the big thorn tree and then whistle, to try and get him to stand for a bit”. Now really concentrating on my breathing, my right elbow anchored on Bonni’s left shoulder, I made a mental note to be steady and squeeze the shot. The kudu bull cleared the Acacia, Bonni whistled twice. The bull stopped and slowly turned his head in our direction. I tried not to look at the massive horns, and started taking careful aim two inches above where I thought the perfect heart/lung shot should be.
I have been a professional hunter since 1995 and besides the big stuff, have always been fascinated by Kudus, their majestic beauty, long spiral horns and their cunning ways when being hunted. I have shot a couple of dozen kudu myself, but my biggest had been about 55 inches shot in the Tuli Circle in Zimbabwe way back in the late 1980.s.
I have hunted many, many Kudu with clients over the years, each hunt being special in its own way, and had only ever collected 2 trophies over the magical figure of 60 inches.
I have been working in South Africa for the last few years and still do about 3 or 4 guided hunts per year, mainly for big game.
I was now in a position, timewise and financially speaking, to finally do a bit of hunting for myself. My good friend Peter Ruddle, owner of Zulu Afrika Safaris in Dundee, Natal had shot a number of good kudu over the years in his areas and in March this year I asked whether it would be possible to hunt a kudu for myself.
So in May off I set for the weekend to look for a good trophy, hopefully something over 57 inches.
We hunted primarily on Chris Gunther’s game ranch about 10km south of Dundee, where he had excellent numbers of Kudu in an area consisting of large hills and valleys, the vegetation being fairly thick in places, great Kudu country!
I saw a number of bulls over the weekend, but nothing much over 54 -55 inches, I really wanted to hold out for a great trophy.
On the last morning, while walking after a group of kudu, we spotted a great nyala bull lying down in the shade of a small acacia at about 320 yards.
I glassed him for over half an hour before deciding to try and take him.
I sat down using a forked tree for a rest and my right arm on my tracker, Bonniface’s shoulder.
I aimed for the neck, and thankfully put in a perfect shot, the nyala simply rolled over and never moved again. Just under 30 inches, a great trophy.
Peter and Chris suggested I come back in August when the paper bark acacia pods would be falling. Apparently the kudu absolutely love to graze on these pods, one of the few times when they will graze on the ground as opposed to browsing as they normally do.
In early August Peter phoned me, the pods were dropping and the kudu were popping out of the thickets in droves. I already felt a small rush of adrenaline.
I immediately arranged to book a weekend at Chris Gunther’s excellent hunting lodge. Chris had access to over 20 000 hectares worth of hunting areas.
I travelled down with my wife, Sandra and my faithful tracker, Bonniface who has been with me for over 21 years. I was like a little boy going on my first hunt, I felt really good. Peter and Chris had arranged for me to hunt an unfenced farm to the west of Chris’s ranch where we had seen some good kudu in May, apparently the area had not really been hunted much for the last 5 or 6 years.
The first morning we were out before first light and travelled up a really rough and steep track to get on top of this huge range of hills where we hoped to get onto some vantage points and do some glassing.
As we reached the top of the hills, this beautiful open plateau opened up before us, we had already seen quite a few groups of kudu cows.
Suddenly I spotted a group of kudu trotting across the open grassland to some thicker stuff on our right, all Bulls I noticed! I immediately saw that at least 3 of the bulls had really good horns, possibly 56/57 inches plus.
I jumped out of my land cruiser and looked over the bulls with my binos. They had stopped and were milling around in the tree line, one of the bulls was looking straight at us and I saw the tall, deep curls with the tips flaring outwards, what a trophy, I dared not even think how big he might be.
I needed to see all the bulls and not be over hasty to take a shot I thought, in any case, the bulls had already started drifting off into the trees out of sight.
Bonniface grabbed the 3 legged shooting sticks, some water and off we went on foot.
I initially took a wide loop around to the left to get the light breeze in our favour.
We started moving parallel with the kudu up a long slope towards the highest crest of the hills.
As we got to the top, we noticed a huge plateau, also very open, and the Kudu had just emerged into the open about 200 yards away. We started stalking parallel with the Kudu in an attempt to get in front of them slightly, I needed to see all the Kudu before shooting.
We were crouched as low as my cranky knees would allow, the kudu were walking slowly and not stopping.
Eventually I stopped behind a bush and had to stand up straighter to see the horns properly. I saw that 3 Kudu were exceptional, 3 others were average, but mature bulls and 2 younger bulls.
At that point one of the younger bulls near the front must have seen me and he let out a deep bark, all the kudu stopped for a few moments, looking in our direction and then took off running.
To see a line of 8 kudu bulls running in open grassland, their bodies and horns rocking rhythmically as they ran was a breathtaking sight indeed.
Right, I thought, now the hunt really starts. It would have been just too easy for the big one to stop long enough to get the sticks up, aim and put in a 200 yard shot.
The bulls had disappeared over the edge of the plateau into fairly impenetrable bush full of real thorny stuff.
About 300 yards away the hillside levelled off in a series of long steps, and the bush opened up a bit. For an hour we saw nothing, as we move slowly up and down the crest, trying to see where they had gone.
Eventually Bonniface spotted some movement, and here and there we could pick out bits of kudu bodies as they slowly fed through the wooded area, dotted with the paper bark acacia, full of pods.
After watching for another hour or so, the bulls slowly drifted out of the thick stuff and started moving away to our right down a wide shallow valley. There were only 6 bulls and the big one was not among them. He was obviously being more wary than the others and keeping to the thicker vegetation.
I had to do something as they were now more than 700 yards away and getting further.
So we doubled back and descended the hill, my plan was to make a big loop to the left of the kudu, and hopefully catch sight of them in more open country and then plan another stalk.
About an hour later, with the sun really starting to get hot, we saw 2 kudu bulls feeding away from us, one of them looked really good, could this be the other 2 bulls we had not seen earlier?
Stalking as quietly and slowly as possible, we started closing with the bulls.
Every now and again we would catch a glimpse of the kudu as they fed away from us. As we reached a huge wooded anthill behind which the 2 kudu had disappeared, a deep bark of alarm startled us for an instant and I knew this particular stalk was over.
It was now past midday, and we were very hot and more than a little weary.
Sandra had remained with the cruiser and we decided to let the bulls settle down now, before scaring them off too much onto neighbouring farms where we would not be allowed to follow.
A light lunch, some much needed cold fluids from the cooler box and a little snooze under some big acacias and we were ready.
In Zimbabwe, I was used to big bulls mainly drinking in the middle of the day, when most hunters were safely taking a lunch break, but Chris had said that the kudu in this area liked to water later in the afternoon towards evening before drifting back into the thicker stuff at the top of the hills.
It was now about 3.30 and we drove off to park the vehicle far away from the one water point near the crest of the hill and where I could glass an open valley about a kilometre before the water where I hoped the Kudu would return.
Bonni and I climbed another big range of hills so that the sun and wind would be in our favour for the last few hours of daylight.
It was 4.30 or so before I spotted movement about 8 or 900 yards away, yes, it was a kudu bull! Slowly more bulls became visible and their direction would hopefully pass below us where I could get a shot.
We saw one or 2 of what I thought were the bigger of the bulls and decided we need to get in position as the slope which we needed to descend was mostly bare, hardly any cover.
Carefully we descended, trying our utmost not to give the bulls any inkling that danger lurked above and to their right.
Breathe and squeeze I said to myself, I did not want a wounded animal 40 minutes before it became too dark to hunt.
The shot rang out, I saw the big kudu rear up on his back legs, turn left and disappear into the thick stuff, a good indication. The other kudu bomb-shelled into the wooded slopes, in 2 seconds no movement could be seen.
‘Marova mushe’ said Bon, a good shot. I fervently hoped so.
Bon said he would go for the vehicle which was a good 30 minute walk and I would get to the hopefully expired animal to mark his location in the thickets.
I started down towards where the Bull had been standing, I saw the deep furrows his hooves had made when being hit, and started following the spoor in the fading light as best I could. No blood at all was evident, but I knew he was hit hard.
20 yards into the thicker stuff, I noticed a white strip parallel to the ground, my heart leaped, could that be the white line on his spine as he lay?
No, it was a dead branch, white in colour.
At this point, I was now earnestly praying that I had not wounded the bull.
Another 15 yards and suddenly there he was, lying down facing away, I approached carefully to ensure he was not about to jump up and take off. He was stone dead; a huge rush of emotion came over me, tears filled my eyes and with a big lump in my throat I silently thanked God for a good shot, an incredible hunt and a trophy which I could now see was going to be something special. 59 inches with a bit of luck. I thought.
I took a moment to appreciate this magnificent monarch of the hills, what special animals they were!
Bonni duly arrived and all he could say was Ah..Ah ..Ah! His way of showing wonder at special trophies. I grabbed his hand and thanked him profusely for his major contribution to the hunt, he had seen the big one just as I was about to take another one.
It was something special to be together with him on this hunt, we had shared so many special hunting memories over the years, big buffalo, leopard, elephant in the Jesse and more.
We quickly got some photos in the fast fading light and proceeded to cape the bull right there, without caping him and halving the carcass, we would not be able to recover the bull.
I finally reached for the tape measure, 63 and 61 inches with 12 and a half inch bases, the trophy of many lifetimes, and a hunt that will live with Bonni and I forever.
My Special thanks to Peter Ruddle of Zulu Afrika Safaris and Chris Gunther of Aloe Africa Hunting Safaris, 2 gentlemen I look forward to hunting with for many years to come.
By Paul Zorn exclusively for BookYourHunt.com