I do not remember the date! It happened many years ago. I do remember the photo! I was an impressionable youngster who lived to hunt and continually day dreamed of African sunsets and campfires after long, arduous days afield following trackers in search of Cape buffalo and long, spiraling horned greater kudu. The photo was in a hunting magazine but also etched in my mind showed a hunter with a monstrous greater kudu bull whose magnificent horns measured over 60-inches in length. The Holy Grail of African antelope! Someday, someway I would hunt Africa to pursue the continent’s bountiful dangerous and plains game especially greater kudu!
Many years past before I finally boarded a “great silver bird” and winged my way to my first African safari. Kudu topped my list of desirables.
My first as well as my second kudu was shot in South Africa’s Eastern Cape. I was shaking horribly when I pulled the trigger on that first bull. My shots were far from perfect! My first shot sounded at first light. My last shot at that same bull which put him down was just as the sun sank beyond the western horizon. Kudu fever at its worst! Before leaving South Africa I shot my second kudu bull, this one too took more than my usual one-shot. Kudu fever, once again.
I am not someone who normally measures horns, antlers and skulls. But, kudu, big bears, and Coues whitetail are different! Those species I tend to measure! My first kudu was just beyond the 40-inch mark, the second measured 44-inches, both far south of the magical 60-inch mark, albeit they were Eastern Cape kudu which generally tend to grow somewhat shorter horns. But I did not care what they measured, finally I was a successful kudu hunter!
I was hooked on the kudu hunting experience. I dreamed and thought about kudu every day, I yearned for my next opportunity to hunt them. Like an alcoholic can hardly wait for his or her next drink, that is how I felt about hunting kudu! During the next several years I hunted Africa numerous times and some years more than once, including several trips to Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Over the years I shot some truly impressive greater kudu including bulls with horns ranging from just over 50-inches to 57 ½-inches. But always I yearned for a 60-inch bull like in the photograph of my youth.
I came close to the mystical sixty-incher in Zimbabwe’s Save Conservancy on a hunt set up for me by Jim McCarthy Adventures. Hunting with Professional Hunter Johnnie Hulme we spotted a monster kudu crossing a brushy two-track paralleling the Save River. The trackers proclaimed him huge. We stopped and eased toward the river. Knee deep in water, crossing the river was a monster kudu. He was by far the biggest, widest and most impressive kudu I had ever seen in the wild or even in fellow hunters’ offices and homes.
On that hunt I was shooting a single-shot .416 Rigby and Hornady ammo. The sight of the extremely long and wide bull shook me badly. My first shot at less than 50-yards missed the bull by at least 30 or more feet! Thankfully, I recovered quickly and before the bull could run 20-yards I managed to get a quartering shot into him. He went only a little way across the river before he fell. That was the good thing. The bad thing was, we had to cross the crocodile-infested river to find and retrieve my kudu. Once we found him we had to bring him back in pieces, across the thigh-deep river. Every step I made, I expected to be “chomped upon” by a croc! Thankfully that did not happen! Safely back at camp we measured the massive long-horned and wide bull. Both horn measured 58-inches. The tip to tip spread was 52-inches! He was absolutely, stunningly gorgeous!
A few years later, after hunting and taking more kudu on annual trips to Africa I was hunting in the far northwestern corner of South Africa on the Botswana border with Professional Hunter Frikkie du Toit. The kudu rut was under way, and, big bulls were coming out of Botswana to the well-managed range in South Africa, home to a considerable number of cows.
We were driving toward a waterhole near the international border when we spotted several kudu cows and a big bull. We stashed the vehicle and went after him on foot. We cut the distance to about 300 yards. Any efforts to get closer would likely spook the big bull back into Botswana.
I set up my shooting sticks, rested my Ruger Model 77 .375 Ruger shooting Hornady 300-grain DGX ammo, then holding appropriate for the distance took careful aim on the bull’s shoulder. At the shot my kudu went down. When he tried getting up, I shot him a second time.
At first glance I knew the bull’s horns were long and massive, one side broomed just a bit. I knew he was big, and long. I secretly hoped he might stretch the tape to 60 on the longer side. Frikkie mentioned the same, “Going to be close!”
Dawn was cracking the next morning as we returned to Frikkie’s headquarters. Before putting my kudu in his cooler room we measured the shorter side first, 56 inches. Then we measured the longer, un-broomed side. It measured 59 ½ inches. We measured it a second time, but try as we may we could not only honestly stretch the tape to 60-inches. Disappointed? Not really! I had taken a legitimate, free-range 59 ½-inch kudu! Huge by any standards! And perhaps even better yet, my quest for a 60-inch kudu could continue!
After nearly achieving my goal of 60 inches, I shot more kudu, although mostly in the mid 50-inch category. Great fun, challenging and rewarding! During the next years I hunted such places Benin, Burkina Faso, Uganda as well as specifically for buffalo, elephant and other species.
When hunting with someone new to Africa, I graciously always allowed that person to shoot at whatever kudu we found. One of those instances, I watched a friend shoot at a 60-inch plus kudu. Unfortunately, he hit him too far back. Our trackers and I spent the next five days looking for the bull but we never again saw him.
I was beginning to wonder if I would ever have a chance at “my goal kudu”.
During the summer of 2016, I was in Namibia hunting with Omujeve Safaris. We were finishing a fabulous safari for gemsbok, springbok and klipspringer on the red sands and rugged peaks of the Namib-Naukluft Desert. Corne Kruger, my PH, suggested we spend a few days looking for the kudu, monstrously long-horned kudu at that!
We were driving slowly along a remote brushy creek bottom bordered by rocky “kopjes”, low rocky hills, ideal kudu habitat. The rut was going on and we soon spotted five small herds of kudu; mostly cows and calves. Each herd we found held at least one mature bull. Two of those bulls were easily 55-inches in horn length. Impressive, but not quite as big as I was looking for. Before our safari, I had told Corne I did not want to shoot a kudu unless it was approaching 60-inches or longer. Looking at and passing those bigger kudu bulls was great fun, and, rewarding! How may hunters can say they passed 55-inch kudu? Over the years I have been blessed and lucky and had taken several such bulls, still, I questioned my sanity for not shooting.
It was getting close to noon and we were looking for a nice shady spot to build a fire to prepare a field lunch. “Know a water hole where we’ll likely see elephants, where they and other species come to water during the day. We’ll head that way.” Said Corne.
We had driven about a quarter mile after Corne’s comments, when we drove up on a kudu bull laying on the edge of the creek, looking up at us. I could tell he had huge sweeping curl but could not see his length. I asked Corne to stop so I could take a photo. He did and I did. Then Corne immediately drove on for another hundred yards where he stopped. “We’re gonna go shoot that bull. He’s huge!” said my PH.
“Are you sure? He looked good with deep curls but I couldn’t see his length!” I responded.
“I could! This is one you need to take!” Said he!
I grabbed my Ruger 77, .300 Win Mag, shooting 180-grain Hornady loads I had borrowed from Corne, handed him my shooting sticks and followed him. Easing along slowly, we spotted the bull almost exactly where he had been bedded. But now he was standing. I could see the full length and depth of his horns. He was indeed huge!
I quickly set up the shooting sticks in a shooting lane, settled the crosshairs on the bull’s shoulder about 75 yards away, then squeezed the trigger. My bull took one step and fell before I could shoot him a second time.
Reloaded and ready we approached my bull. The closer I got, the bigger the kudu grew! I was thrilled! Regardless of what his horns measured, this was one fabulous bull. I was thrilled to have taken him!
After pictures and finishing a segment for my “DSC’s Trailing the Hunter’s Moon” television show we loaded my bull for the ride back to camp there to be caped, skinned and the meat properly taken care of.
“What do you think he’ll measure?” asked Dustin Blankenship, my cameraman/field producer over a delicious supper.
“I’m not certain! But he’s got to be very close to 60-inches.” I responded. Hoping more than suggesting!
Late that night we measured my bull’s horns. One side measure 60 ½ and the other 60 ¾-inches! I had finally taken a kudu I had dreamed of for over 50 years!
Am I finished hunting greater kudu? Let me put it this way…. I just got an email from a friend about an area, open range, he heard of where a hunter stands a chance at taking a kudu north of 62-inches! What you do you think?