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SPECIE PROFILE KUDU | Every Hunters Dream

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

The greater kudu (Tragelaphus Strepsiceros) is an animal that needs little introduction. One of, if not the most recognized by hunters around the globe and for good reason. There is no better animal to display than a kudu. With his long, twisting, heavily ridged, nutmeg colored, almost translucent ivory polished tipped horns that sit upon a head with a clean grey coat, outstanding white facial markings, enormous radar like ears and a multi colored beard that runs along his solid, thick neck.

He is cunning, almost always difficult to hunt and will make you doubt yourself as a hunter many times over. The old literature often refers to him as the “grey ghost”, if you see him in the bush and loose eyesight of him, good luck finding him again! Terry Wieland once stated that “A kudu doesn't emerge from the bush, it materializes; they do not walk into deep cover, they vanish like smoke in a stiff breeze.” with Ruark also writing “The kudu is just under your hand, and yet he always manages to escape you.” It makes you wonder how an animal with long, slender legs that stands 1.6m at the shoulder and weighs +250kg can vanish in an instant. I can only assume that, like a ballerina, he tippy toes around in the thorn bush thickets because he makes little to no noise at all. He is as sneaky as he is mesmerizing.

"The Kudu is at home in the thorn bush thickets. He is as sneaky, as he is mesmerizing." Chris Burns

A member of the spiral horned antelope, his long, cork screw horns glisten in the morning sun, rocking from side to side with each stride as he maneuvers stealthily through the brush. I will never forget the first time I saw a kudu bull. I was on foot with a rifle in my hand. The air was crisp and the sun was very young in the day as the bull was heading to water. I could only see parts of an animal as he was slowly walking through the thorn bush with his head waving from side to side and up and down. He wasn’t in a hurry, although everything was in slow motion by this stage. It was the shine of the sun from his horns that I noticed first and I immediately froze with a rapid increase in heart rate. As he materialized into a slight clearing only 40 meters away, my knees when weak with buck fever and I stood there watching with my jaw on the ground. The bull meandered away unaware of our presence and went on with his business without even knowing the sheer enchantment he had over me. When my friend Adriaan turned around to ask why I didn’t even come close to putting my rifle up on the shooting sticks he smiled a wry grin. I asked what he was smirking about and he replied that we were there to hunt, not to catch bugs in our mouths! Even though this bull allowed us plenty of time, I’m so very grateful that my professional hunter allowed me to experience this magnificent animal without being eager to rush a shot off. Its moments in time like these that will never leave your memory and add to the overall experience of a safari.

The habitat on our 110 square kilometer property in the Limpopo Province of South Africa is home to the mighty kudu and is often the first choice for hunters looking to fulfill their kudu hunting dreams. While stalking here, you will find large bodied animals that regularly sport above 50 inch horns, although the satisfaction truly is in the hunt rather than the measurement.

There is also fantastic habitat for kudu in the mountainous terrain of our property in the Khomas Hockland region in Namibia. Being that this area is free range the bulls will come and go throughout the year, this is not always a bad thing. Big bulls will travel vast distances to find cycling cows so when the rut comes around the resident females attract mature bulls from all over and a variety of different bulls will pop up.

In general, the kudu will rut around April & May, during which the dominant bulls get careless and wander from herd to herd checking which females are ready for mating. Although very rare, bulls have been known to fight to the death when they bump into other males. During this time you may see the same herd of females daily but you will find different bulls with the herd each time. Just because the bulls go rut silly it doesn’t mean the females do to. The final approaches need to be precise because if the females notice something is awry they will certainly let the other members of herd know. They let out a deep bark when they are uncertain of what the danger is. The first time a female kudu barked at me, I nearly jumped out of my boots. I had no idea that they made such a noise and at 15m you could imagine the excitement. It reminded me of hunting sambar deer in the Victorian high country, when you don’t see the deer but it honks you. Wow what a huge fright you get!

Adding a kudu to your wish list is the easy part, getting a mature representative with huge horns is much harder. Hunters always put a number on him, a 60 inch kudu is nearly impossible to find but they are out there. There are a lot of kudu hunted in Africa and after 7 days chasing him you should be able to get a good one but don’t be disappointed if he doesn’t stretch the tape as long as you had hoped. The act of hunting for kudu is far more enjoyable than running the tape measure over his horns.

Kudu in the field

Although he is very large in the body, I wouldn't class the kudu as the strongest of African animals. He doesn't have thick skin or heavy structured bones and with decent shot placement from your favorite deer hunting rifle you shouldn't have any issues finding him. That's not to say that if you make a bad shot he will go down. It’s more important to shoot where you aim than the size of the projectile you are throwing. 

Any African animal, big or small, wounded with incorrect shot placement will give you a hard time finding them. The kudu is no different, you need to make that first shot count. This is why we recommend that you use the heaviest caliber rifle that you are comfortable shooting however if your confident with a smaller caliber for the medium sized animals then bring that along. Avoid bringing a rifle that you really can’t shoot well. If you aren’t comfortable with the recoil, don’t choose that caliber. 

The preference when hunting kudu is a .30 cal or bigger with premium projectiles. Some good choices are the .30-06, .300 Mag. and .338 all using 200 to 250 grain bullets. On Renosterpan it is important to use the heaviest bullet weights available as you will be shooting relatively short range in heavy cover. On our concession in the Khomas Hochland Mountains you will need a flat shooting combination as distances can get out to over 200m. When bow hunting for kudu you need to shoot a fairly heavy set up for large game. If your current set up is working on sambar and red deer then it should be fine for hunting a kudu. They are classified as a category three large game animal which recommends that your draw mass is between 60 and 75lb with a total arrow weight of between 500 and 600 grains. As always an extremely sharp broad head is required.

When tracking kudu in the African soil you will notice that they have very similar spoor to that of many deer species. Their print is approximately 9cm in length and around half that wide with sharpish points at the front of the hoof. Their droppings are very similar in size to a red or sambar deer.

They are a browsing animal and will eat leaves and shoots over grasses. In dry seasons they have been known to eat wild watermelons and other fruit for the liquid content and the natural sugars that they provide.

Other Interesting Information:

The kudu does have a considerable range throughout Africa and can be more commonly found in thick brush from Tanzania and Kenya, down into the south where they are found in Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Mostly browsers, their habitat can vary from hills and rocky mountains to lowland mixed scrub woodlands. They are synonymous with mopane and acacia bushveld in the lowlands. Big kudu bulls will very rarely venture out into open plains and if they do it will most likely be after dark and if there is a large abundance of bushes around. They are not silly and will normally avoid such open areas to avoid becoming an easy target for their predators.

You may find it interesting that there is an almost identical but smaller version of the greater kudu that is roughly 2/3 of the size and a third of the weight. The lesser kudu (Tragelaphus Imberbis), the term ‘lesser’ denotes the smaller size, is native to Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania. He is a gorgeous little antelope with more defined markings compared to the greater kudu. Unlike the greater kudu, he has little to no mane or throat hair and his body hair appears to be velvet like to touch. These antelope inhabit dry, flat and heavily wooded regions. It is closely associated with acacia and commiphora thorn bush in semiarid areas of northeastern Africa. He will avoid open areas and long grass, preferring shaded areas with short grasses, instead. Hunting a lesser kudu is certainly a specialized affair and is more than likely going to be a safari that is undertaken after you have got your feet wet in a few different countries first. Just like the greater kudu, he will be very tricky to hunt. However, he is much more localized in his area and most definitely not as common as the greater kudu. Find a concession that boasts a good success rate and be sure to check references before booking.

Not considering the differences between the greater kudu and the lesser kudu, there is much debate about the subspecies of greater kudu as their range is so large so they are more commonly categorized into three.

Tragelaphus Strepsiceros (Cape Kudu)

Found inhabiting from southern Kenya to Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, this is the widest ranging of the subspecies of kudu. Some researchers have suggested that this group could be split again as there are very noticeable differences between the cape kudu found in the eastern cape of south Africa compared with the more northern counterparts. Tragelaphus Strepsiceros Zambesiensis (Zambezi kudu) is not commonly accepted as a subspecies as it is so closely related to the cape kudu but could be used to describe the much larger animals found in the Limpopo Province of South Africa or outside of the Eastern Cape. This alternative taxonomy was accepted in the Handbook of the Mammals of the World.

Tragelaphus Strepsiceros Chora (Northern Kudu)

These kudu are very region specific and can be located in northeastern Africa from northern Kenya through Ethiopia to eastern Sudan, western Somalia and Eritrea.

Tragelaphus Strepsiceros Cottoni (Western Kudu)

The least wide spread of the subspecies can only be found in Chad and western Sudan.

In 2001, a molecular ecology study was conducted by Nersting and Arctander on various kudu which found genetic differences in one specimen from northern Kenya (T. S. Chora) in comparison with several samples from the southern part of the range between Tanzania and Zimbabwe (T. S. Strepsiceros). No specimen of the northwestern population, which may represent a third subspecies (T. S. Cottoni) was tested within this study.

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