A dream kudu bull, hunted in the middle of summer in the northern KZN mountains.

I guess every hunter dreams of that once-in-a-lifetime kudu bull with the majestic set of horns, or the thick neck, or the humongous body. As kudu differ, so do hunters, and we all have different ideas of what that dream kudu should look like. After hunting kudu for nearly two decades, I was still searching for “that” kudu. Over the years, I have taken several kudu and have shared those adventures with readers through my articles. However, this time it was different – this time I finally found “my” kudu . . .

One thing that every hunter pursuing the “grey ghost” of Africa knows, is that you don’t go and look for a specific kudu – that kudu crosses paths with you, and then it depends on a few things whether you will take home that beautiful trophy or miss the chance of a lifetime. These factors may vary, from your budget to a just plain crappy shot.
The quest for my dream kudu spanned nearly 20 years. Let me just make one thing clear: I have bagged quite a few kudu bulls in my life, all of them tough but amazing hunting experiences – from the Loskop Valley with a double, all the way to the Botswana border near Tosca, and right to the extreme west in the rugged Khomas Hochland of Namibia. All were great bulls, old specimens with a lot of character, but “the big one” evaded me every time.
One of our advertisers, André Wagner from TriggerCam, phoned me at the end of 2020 (one of the worst years in recent history owing to the Covid-19 crisis). An old friend of his in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), Chris Gunter, had invited our AFRICA’S SPORTSMAN SHOW team to hunt a kudu bull with them in early 2021. Chris is the owner of Aloe Africa Hunting Safaris, which has its home base between the two small towns of Wasbank and Dundee in northern KZN. With breathtaking scenery and majestic mountains, it is one of the most beautiful hunting areas in our beloved country and definitely one of the best spots in Southern Africa to bag a big kudu bull.
When I learned that the invite was for the first week in January, I frowned. It is very unpleasant to hunt in KZN during the summer as it is hot and wet, with the humidity making it almost unbearable at times. On top of that, the insects can make a hunter’s life really uncomfortable. Without hesitating, I told Chris I would love to hunt in those magnificent mountains but would prefer to do so later in the year. However, Chris said that if I could not make it in early January, we would have to postpone the hunt to 2022. That got my attention, and I realised there had to be a specific reason for this date.

Aloe Africa lodge provides a dream stay for any hunter.

Professional hunter Jurgens (Yogi) Potgieter also works with Chris, and together they run Aloe Africa Hunting Safaris. Jurgens would act as PH on our trip, guiding me to track down and bag a big kudu bull. We met up with them at the beautiful Aloe Africa lodge, situated precisely halfway between the two towns. With some daylight left, we packed a few cold beers and snacks and went for a game drive on their stunning property. Curiosity got the better of me and I asked them why they prefer hunting kudu bulls in the summer heat. Their answer was pretty straightforward and made a lot of sense: in summer, the humidity and insects irritate the kudu so much in the dense bush (where they usually thrive) that it drives them out into the open. If you stayed still long enough at a vantage point, you would be able to spot the kudu out in the open and devise a plan to stalk closer to them.

The view from one of the rooms at the lodge. Now that is the perfect way to wake up in Africa!

Early the next morning, we were off to one of Aloe Africa’s concessions. The 10-minute drive went by in a flash and Chris explained that we had more than 100 000 ha (a quarter of a million acres) available for hunting. This vast area consists of free-range, open cattle farms with no less than five mountain ranges and dozens of lookout or vantage points to look for kudu activity. We drove to the top of one mountain range, where the road ended, and had to walk from there. Reaching our lookout point after a brisk 100 m climb, we glassed the mountain ranges stretching out in front of us for endless miles. As Jurgens pointed out, we were focusing on the open patches because the kudu would emerge from the thickets as the morning heated up. The thin cloud cover was also fading as the sun rose higher in the sky. Within minutes, I saw the first kudu, a young female, making her way through the bush. Soon, Jurgens and the tracker also spotted the bulls, one at a time. Some of them were more than 2 km away. It was amazing to see the method these guys used to find one of the most difficult antelope to hunt on the African continent, especially in this harsh, tough environment.
After an hour of glassing, we decided to focus on a herd of five bulls out in the open. They were very far away; my Swarovski EL Range could only range the foot of the mountain at 1 500 m, and they were still a long way from there. Jurgens explained that we would move down the mountain we were on, up the next mountain, and then proceed in a straight line over the plateau at the top of the mountain between the kudu and us. He cautioned us to be wide awake during the walk as we could bump into other kudu on the way, and might even find some on the big, open grassland of the plateau. No vehicle can go up there, and as these were all cattle farms we were hunting on, the kudu favoured these mountains as there was little human presence.
Upon reaching a sweet-thorn tree, Jurgens showed me its tiny yellow flowers. Growing up in an area with these trees, I knew the flowers and their smell well. He explained that the kudu love eating these flowers. The nectar from these sticky yellow treats accumulates on these animals’ face and neck as they move through the bush, which attracts a boatload of insects. This is one of the main reasons kudu cannot stay still, causing them to move into open patches, where it is easier to spot them.

The rugged, mountainous terrain we hunted.

After a kilometre hike up the mountain, we reached the summit, and I saw the open areas that Yogi (as his American friends call him since they cannot pronounce the name “Jurgens”) had mentioned earlier. We made our way through the aloes in the direction of the kudu we had spotted from the mountain behind us. According to my calculations, we had to be halfway there. As we were walking slowly, scouting the surroundings, I saw a young kudu bull bedded in the green grass. We immediately took cover and Jurgens explained that the chances of finding a lone, young bull were slim; there had to be other bulls with him. After a couple of paces, Jurgens almost hit the deck, informing us that there were quite a few bulls lying in the grass just to the left of the young bull. Inching closer, we discovered a herd of about 30 females and young 600 m to the left of the group of eight bulls, baking in the early morning sun. With all these sharp eyes around us, we had to be very careful.

The author (right) and Jurgens Potgieter of Aloe Africa Hunting Safaris.

One advantage was the tree line behind us, breaking our cover from the skyline. The wind was also perfect, blowing almost directly from the kudu towards us. We now focused on the bedded bulls, hoping that we were moving low and slowly enough not to raise any alarm. Taking the occasional peek, we determined that there were several adult bulls among the group. Crawling closer, we reached the last cover in the shape of some small trees and a few rocks, and knew this was as close as we would get without spooking them. I made myself comfortable on a big, flat rock. Next to me was our PH, while our cameraman (and Editor-in-Chief of this magazine), Hennie van der Walt, was at my left shoulder. The Swarovski indicated that we were just over 300 m away from the kudu. I had time to check my settings and zeroes and knew exactly what to do at this distance, the four-legged Nordiske shooting sticks being as stable as a benchrest.
The rifle of choice for this hunt was my Weatherby Mark V in .30-378 Weatherby, shooting 210 gr Nosler AccuBond Long Range bullets at 3 222 feet per second – the ideal set-up for hunting big-bodied animals over longer distances in difficult terrain. Mounted on my rifle was a Leupold VX-6HD 3-18 x 50 mm scope, fitted with a Varmint reticle. From this distance, and on a 15x magnification setting, I would aim with the second line of the reticle and hit the target at 300 m.

The .30-378 Weatherby, fitted with the Leupold VX-6HD, waiting for the kudu to stand up and hopefully present a shot.

As I scanned the herd, one bull stood out from the rest. He was lying down with all the others, facing away from us. His horns looked very big, but as you know, it is very difficult to judge a kudu’s horns from behind. We had to wait for him to either stand up or turn his head. As we eliminated the other bulls as possible shooters, this bull seemed to get bigger and bigger. My initial guess was 53+”. After a good look, I eventually ended up at 55″. However, as I knew that the longer one stares at a kudu, the bigger it gets, I met myself halfway at the 54″ mark.
This beautiful bull was surely worth taking. But Jurgens was still not convinced. He wanted to make doubly sure. This was the first big bull we had encountered and we were only three hours into our three-day hunt. He wanted the bull to stand up but we could not risk spooking the animals, so we had to wait. It was agonising, to say the least. After an hour of waiting, Jurgens noticed that the herd of females was heading towards the bull herd. Another 15 minutes dragged by and then the first bull got up. It was far too early in the season for mating but I was sure that the bulls showed some interest in the cows. They were now walking together and our bull eventually got up.
As he stood up, my thumb rested on the upright safety of the Weatherby, waiting for Jurgens to give the go-ahead. He still wanted to confirm the bull’s age but when the animal got up, one could clearly see the massive body, much bigger than the other bulls. A mature bull of well over eight years, he had certainly passed on his genes. Jurgens nodded his approval. The tricky part now was to get a clear shot as the males and females were all together in one group, increasing the risk of the .30-378 Weatherby shooting through the bull and hitting a second animal behind it.
Our bull walked slowly behind a female and as he stepped clear of some herd members behind him, I heard Jurgens whispering, “If you are …” That was all I needed. The trigger broke, sending a deafening sound through the holes of the muzzle brake that reverberated over the mountains. I knew it was a good hit as I had aimed just behind the shoulder with the second line on my reticle. The bull jumped and came to a halt after a short dash of 20 paces. Jurgens urged me to put in another shot, and even though I was very confident about my first shot, I reloaded and put in a shoulder shot. Within seconds the bull went down. The rest of the herd disappeared in a flash. Reaching our bull, I could see why Jurgens had asked me to shoot again. A mere 10 paces further, there was a drop of more than 100 m, almost straight down. The other kudu manoeuvred down but if our bull had to attempt it, it would have been an absolute nightmare!

The AFRICA’S SPORTSMAN SHOW team had to cover the kudu with branches to protect it from the sun.

Recovering the big kudu was a daunting task as we had to make a road up the mountainside. The photo does not do justic to the slope.

What a bull! This was what Chris and Jurgens wanted us to accomplish – a massive free-range kudu bull in the northern KZN mountains. What an amazing hunt and unforgettable experience to see everything pan out just as my hosts had planned and explained beforehand. To take a kudu bull in the summer humidity and in an open area (not in thick bush) certainly was a great learning curve for me. Just as Chris and Jurgens had explained, the bull was covered with flies because of the nectar from the sweet-thorn flowers. The horns were long with deep curls. I’m not sure whether Jurgens did not want to put himself on the spot in front of the camera, but he was hesitant to take a guess. Eventually, I got him to say “close to 55″”. I was also back at the 55″ mark. Not that it mattered at all, as this was the kudu I had been dreaming about for almost two decades.
Hunters from around the globe come to Africa to hunt one of these, and some spend a lifetime looking for such a magnificent specimen. This was my day; it was my turn! The bush gave us the opportunity to take a once-in-a lifetime trophy and we made the most of it. The perfect stalk and almost perfect shot, mixed with a good dash of patience, ensured we were four very happy hunters on top of that mountain! The best part is that it was all captured on film, making it possible for us to cherish and enjoy this special time for many years to come.

This angle shows the deep curls of the horns and the kudu’s ripe old age. What a spectacular bull!

A once-in-a-lifetime bull. Many a hunter will never have the privilege to hunt such a trophy, but if you do, be grateful.

After countless trophy pictures and the closing interview, it was time to get the bull out of the sun. Hennie and I cut some branches and covered the bull to cool him down and preserve the trophy as best we could. That is the one thing about hunting in rugged terrain like this – the recovery is always a bastard. Jurgens and the tracker went down the mountain and met up with Chris in his Land Cruiser, trying to cut open a road to reach the summit. After about two hours, we heard the welcome growl of the mighty V8 engine. We gutted the bull, loaded him and made the trip down the mountainside again.
To Chris, Jurgens and their team, I cannot thank you enough. You delivered a 100% what you had promised, and the cherry on top was that the bull measured well over 57″! The carcass dressed out at 201 kg – an absolute monster! The Aloe Africa Hunting Safaris team indeed have a winning recipe when it comes to big kudu. They have a sustainable model, utilising the available natural resources and preserving more than enough for future generations to come.
I have always thought that once you have hunted a big kudu, the hunger would be stilled, but this experience had just the opposite effect. I will definitely be back, hunting those mountains for yet another kudu bull! Maybe this time around, it will be a management hunt, giving another hunter the opportunity at a monster. Mine will be safely in my trophy room back home, watching over me while I tell this story to my friends over an ice-cold Jameson for many years to come. ASM

The 210 gr Nosler AccuBond Long Range bullet did a fine job, retaining more than 70% of its weight.

This kudu was massive –
the carcass weighed over 200 kg.

Africa's Sportsman Show Episode 70