I do not remember the date, although it had to in the early 1960’s. Nor do I remember the country, but it was in Africa. I do remember the photo of my hero Jack O’Connor long the “Dean of Gun Writers” with a monstrous greater kudu, a great gray ghost bull with spiral horns measuring over 60-inches. The photo and story made a huge impression on me.
Shortly after the photos and story appeared in Outdoor Life, I made a promise. Some day I would hunt Africa for greater kudu and take one no less big than the bull taken by O’Connor!
Little did I know doing so would take the better part of a lifetime!
I shot my first kudu on South Africa’s Eastern Cape during 1995 during my first safari. Outside of that somewhat less than impressive kudu every other animal I shot that trip had pretty well gone down with one shot.
Kudu? I was shaking horribly when I pulled the trigger on that first bull. My shot was far from perfect! That first shot happened at first light. My last shot which finally put him down was just as the sun sank behind the western horizon. Kudu fever at is best and worst! I hadit bad. Before leaving South Africa I shot a second bull, this one too took more than my usual one-shot. Kudu fever, once again.
I am not one who often measures horns, antlers and skulls, but kudu, big bears, buffalo and Coues whitetail are different. Those I have a tendency to measure! My first kudu was just above the 40-inch mark, the second about 43-inches, both far south of the magical 60-inch mark. But I did not care. I was a successful kudu hunter!
I was hooked on the kudu hunting experience. I yearned for it, like an alcoholic can hardly wait for his or her next drink. During the next few years I hunted Africa numerous times including several trips to Namibia as well as Zimbabwe.
I managed on those hunts to take some truly big and good greater kudu and I shook off kudu fever long enough to bring down several big bulls with horns ranging from just over 50-inched to 57 ½ inches with a single shot, including several in the 53 to 55-inch range. But always I yearned for a 60-inch bull.
I came close in Zimbabwe’s Save Conservancy on a hunt set up for me by Jim McCarthy Adventrues. While there hunting Cape buffalo and greater kudu, Johnnie Hulme and I saw a monster kudu cross a brushy two track paralleling the Save River. The trackers proclaimed him huge. We stopped and eased to the river. There crossing the river was a monster kudu. I was using a single-shot .416 Rigby with 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 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 sides measured 58-inches. The tip to tip spread was 52 inches! Beyond all that he was absolutely gorgeous!
A few years later after more kudu on annual trips to Africa I was hunting in the far northwestern corner of South Africa with Frikkie du Toit on the Botswana border. The kudu rut was going on 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 border when we spotted several cows and a big bull. Hurriedly 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 he went down. When he tried getting up I shot him a second time in the neck.
I knew the bull’s horns were long and massive, one broomed a bit. I thought he might go 60 on the longer side. Frikkie agreed he might indeed do so. It was just before dawn the next day that we returned to Frikkie’s headquarters. We measured the shorter side first, almost 56 inches. Then we measured the longer, unbroomed side. It measured 59 ½ inches. We measured it a second time, but try as we may we could not only honestly get 60-inches. Disappointed? Not really! I had taken a legitimate, free-range 59 ½ inch kudu, a huge bull! Huge by any standards! And perhaps even better yet my quest for a 60-inch kudu needed to continue!
After nearly achieving my goal I shot more kudu, although mostly in the lower 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 in kudu country there was always someone with me who had not yet shot a kudu. I graciously allowed them 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. 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 hunting with my old friend Corne Kruger with Omujeve Safari in Namibia. As we were finishing a fabulous safari for gemsbok, springbok and klipspringer on the red sands and rugged peaks of the Namib-Naukluft Desert, Corne suggested we spend a few days looking for the kudu I have always wanted.
We were driving slowly along a remote brushy creek bottom, nice kudu habitat. I knew the rut was going on. We soon spotted five different, small herds of kudu; mostly cows and some calves. But also, each herd held a bull. Two of those bulls were impressive, easily going 55-inches. Impressive! But not quite as big as I was looking for. I had resolved to 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.
It was getting close to noon. Quite frankly we were looking for a nice shady spot to build a fire to do 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 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 the 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. He was standing. Now 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 he grew! I was thrilled! Regardless of how long he was, 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” 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 the 60-inch mark.” 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?