Hunting Kudu of the Otjivero

HAROLD Jacobsz was taking me kudu hunting on the second day of my safari to his Osombahe-Nord farm, 125km east of the capital, Windhoek in central Namibia. On a cold, overcast dawn, we drove towards the southern end of his property along narrow red-dirt tracks. Hillocks of camel thorn and acacia bush offered good protection for the elusive large antelope.

But Southern Oryx (Gemsbok) and a Hartebeest (Kongoni) got in the way.

We’d put of several bands of warthogs – comical pigs waving aloft thin, stiff tails like umbrellas topped with flyswats. None of the boars we spotted were worth a second look. We put out a duiker and a Steinbox – small antelope on my hit-list, but again small critters. Way in the distance we suddenly spotted a herd of oryx.
In response to Harold’s knock on the roof, Pieter his offsider stopped the truck. Alita looked back through the open cab window wonderingly. Harold dropped his binoculars. “There’s a top bull in there, mate. Grab you’r rifle, we’re going for a walk.”

Ducking behind black-hook bushes, we closed the 1km distance quickly and at a range 240 metres I took the bull’s pic with my 400mm Cannon lens. Harold handed me the wobble sticks and I settled down behind my Kimber 8400 Classic and took an easy shot with the 300 Winchester Magnum. The bull went down instantly.
“I don’t think this one’ll get up,” Harald said, a reference to other oryx that had. Then that bull climbed groggily to his feet, staggered 30 metres and died. Harold looked at me and laughed. Ironic,eh.  They’re tough buggers, gemsbox (a South African name, incidentally).

As we approached the dead bull, Harold said: “I really like this bull. You got him at the right time before he’s too old and his horns start to break their tips, or lose part of the horn fighting.” The horns were very thick at the bases and 37 inches long, top stuff for Namibia.

I measured the body for taxidermy purposes, posed for pics and we manhandled and winched the 220kg beast into the back of the truck. Having just killed my fourth oryx, Harald said: “We’re now finished with oryx.”
We kept on heading to the kudu block when I spotted a hartebeest wondering by himself 800 metres off to starboard. It was 11am by now, the sun had come out and the day was muggy. The hartebeest was alone and we stopped the vehicle for a look. I’d shot one before and was only academically interested. But Harold was persuasive. “He’s a beauty, man. Very old. An outcast. You should shoot him.” I protested. “I’ll do a deal on the trophy fee”.

Twenty minutes later we intersected the bull as he wandered past the dam. From a little ridge lined with low thick bushes, I whacked him at 100 metres using an Aussie gum tree for a rest. The bull was distinctive. It featured an unusual grey-blond blaze on the forehead and the longest eyelashes of any animal I’d ever seen. “Very expressive,” Harald commented.

That afternoon, we started off for kudu yet again. We did a quick lap of the vlei (dry lake) near camp – warthog holme – but nothing stirred except a bunch of five Springbuck. “When I came here seven years ago we had over 200 springbuck. Now that’s it. The bloody cheetahs have eaten them all.” Harald hated cheetahs with a vengeance, but would he do another deal on one?

I was thinking of whether I’d lay out a few grand for another spotted cat I couldn’t bring to Aussie when Harald said: “Kudu.” A nice buck, long legged with horns about 45-inches around the spirals (I wanted 50 inches or nothing) bounded off in the scrub to the right. As he leaped over a pile of blowdown logsabout 200 metres out, a hefty oryx jumped to its feet and bolted parallel with the road.

Harald is beside himself. “That’s a huge oryx. Huge bases. Very rare.” He stoped the cars and hands me the sticks. Here we go again…

Ducking behind trees, we ran after him, dodging shin-tangle shrubs, bogs and swampy clumps catching up with the bull within half a mile. Harald is behind me as the bulls stops and turns not quite side on for a look at 340 metres. It’s his mistake. I drop to a kneel, try to control my huffing and puffing, take a steady breath and bowl him over with a clean shot in the shoulder. The MR-X Barnes 180 grainer came out the neck on the off-side.

Harald almost kisses the downed bull. “He’s the bull of a lifetime,” he says. He was slightly shorter than my first bull, but even heavier in the timber department.

We got bogged trying to get the bull from a marsh and got back to camp at 5pm.

Bright and early on day three we finally drove off to Harald’s late grandfather’s farm in the Otjivero “mountains” near the small town of Omitara – Kudu Central. It was a nostalgic trip for Harald who grew up on these 9,0000 hectares in a shallow, rocky valley about a kilometre at its widest point and lined with scrub. “It’s one of my favourite places,” he said. I could understand as it was the only hilly spot within hundreds of miles.

There were jackals everywhere, running up and down and beside the track as we entered the place. I grabbed Harald’s .22 magnum, but he stopped me from shooting. Deadpan, he said: “Can’t shoot the small stuff. The (new) owner’s wife likes ‘em.” There are bloody greenies everywhere!

A bat-eared fox, a protected species in Namibia, burst from a bush by the road 100 metres away and when we caught up to the spot, he was “hiding” almost in the open beside a termite mound. He snarled and hissed at us from just a few metres as we laughed and pointed There were oryx everywhere, but I pretended not to see them. I really didn’t want a sixth, unless it was the uncontestable world-record!

As it had turned into a balmy, unseasonal spring day, we decided  to stalk three water holes beside windmills where Kudu loved to drink. We saw plenty of oryx at the first and a good warthog witch ground down tusks which we stalked up close to within 30 metres. But as I was about to shoot, Harald shook his head and said: “We can do much better. He’s only about 25cms.” (Like elephants, warthog have about one-third of the total length buried in the jaw. Harald wanted me to get something in the 30cms class, so who was I to argue”).

We discovered lots of animals – duikers, Steinbuck, more warty hogs, jackals and then we started to see kudu galore. The track looped right around the valley two-third of the way up, circling the headwaters and back again, so it was a pleasurable drive, looking down on thick bush below and peering up to the ridgeline right beside the track.
Our Bushman tracker/skinner in the back spotted the first decent bull, hiding in the soup above us. When I finally located the animal it was the big pink ears of the little band that pinpointed him. The bull was mostly hidden with his hefty spiralling horns topped with dull ivory tips pointing skyward. “Too small. About 46 inches,” was the verdict. Harald added: “You find most of the big bulls on top of the hills, skylining themselves sometimes. Very majestic.”

That’s exactly how we found the next two bulls but they were smallish, but indeed “majestic,” their blue-grey bodies striped with white silhouetted against the sky, which grew overcast and spat down a shower every now and then.
We were nearing the end of the valley, high up, when Harald thumped the roof and pointed across the void. “Let’s go. It’s a good bull, man” it was now 4pm and the bull was hiding in bushes with four cows 1,000 metres as the crow flies. It was a good find in the gloom.

We put in a long stalk hunched over, ducking behind shrubs and trees and boulders. But eventually we ran out of cover, with the bull unmoved on the side of the valley, 100 metres from the floor and 220 ranged metres ahead. We pulled up beside a dead tree which gave cover and a rest and glassed the situation.

That bull was superb, his cape dripping off him like he was wearing a rain coat. His horns were long and, mostly importantly to me, appeared to be almost a metre wide. My last head was long and narrow; this time I wanted long and wide.

“We have to wait him out, mate, he’s a 50-incher for sure, maybe 52,” Harald advised. “Don’t rush the shot. There’s no hurry. He’s not going anywhere.” And he wasn’t. That big old bull just sat there half hidden by blackthorn bushes, half asleep on his feet. His cows wandered right to left in front of us, back down the valley, grazing among the rocks and browsing on small trees.

After about 15 minutes, the bull pulled up his lolling head and strolled out into the open. The outfitter said “Shoot!” almost as I squeezed the trigger. The bull went down, clambered up in the rocks, staggered a few paces and collapsed for good.

I was like Harald with Oryx No 6 when I found my prize. Ecstatic. “It’s hard to describe how beautiful they are,” the guide noted correctly. I ran my hands through the sweaty pelt, smelling the breeding musk and feeling the warmth of retreating life. I measured the horns around the anterior surface and taped out at spot-on 50 inches long and 33 inches wide, tip to tip. Hoof to shoulder was a dizzy 68 inches, with a massive 30-inch neck circumference. Harald had called it right.

I was elated and sad all at once. This was a mighty creature indeed, one of Africa’s finest. To me they are the Elk or Wapiti of antelope – mightiest of the mighty. The black beauty of the rare Sable, with his backswept scimitar horns, is undeniable and one is in pride of place at home. But there’s just something so very special about Kudu. Almost every Aussie wants one on his African plains game hit-list. Kudu and Cape buffalo.

On the way home that night, we put out an even bigger bull right on dark. “If ever you want a second bull, you should shoot this one. He’s better than 55 inches,” Harald said as the bull started moving off 50 metres from the driving track. If I’m being honest, I didn’t believe him. I put it down to salesmanship. I figured the $1000 trophy fee would be an outfitter bonus.

I asked innocently how the Boer farmer/hunter could be so sure of horn size, when I – a fairly experienced hunter – couldn’t pick it very accurately. His answer threw me: “When the tips turn out they’re over 50 long,” he said. I’d never thought of the out-turned tip guide to larger horn size before. And it pretty much applies to most antelope, when you think about it. It just shows, if you look and listen, you do learn something new every day. 

In my mind’s eye I saw again the rack that had just disappeared into the bush. The last six inches or so of the tips were out-turned. I’d just passed up a record-book head!

“We can give chase,” Harald persisted hopefully. I thought about it and said: “Nah, I’m very happy with what I’ve already got, thank you.” And we drove the kudu home…

This article was first published in Sporting Shooter, November 2011




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