Paul Childerley gets the opportunity to pursue a kudu bull, on an Eastern Cape farm where hunting is very much a family affair.
On one of my video shoots abroad, I was invited to hunt in the Eastern Cape. One of the quarry species on the list was the mighty kudu – often the centrepiece of any safari – but in reality, I had hunted the kudu previously, with success, so it wasn’t high on my agenda for the trip.
I was more focused on hunting a bushbuck, which I’d never had the opportunity or the privilege to hunt.
After several weeks that turned into months of planning, we set the date of 1 August to head out to the Eastern Cape, to hunt with Nico Els from East Cape Bushveld Hunting.
Travelling abroad with firearms is an experience in itself. Despite us having pre-booked our firearms (with difficulty), British Airways had only registered us as having oversize luggage, meaning the connecting flight, booked through BA, was not with an airline that allows firearms.
So on landing in Johannesburg, we had to reschedule a new flight with a different airline. Then there’s the matter of trying to get through border control when you have a brand new product that’s not even in the firearms guide.
After greasing a few palms, we arrived, with our rifles, safely in Port Elizabeth. Nico met us at the airport with such enthusiasm for our arrival and of the adventures ahead that the trauma of the flights was soon forgotten.
Nico runs the family sheep farm, which has been handed down for 130 years over four generations, and has always had an abundance of game.
On our two-hour drive, Nico explained about the generations of game management they had in place. The biggest passion of the family was the kudu. Several times a year, they would have a family get-together to meet up and head out, hunting the grounds with intentions of filling their freezers.
Their days would end with the evenings sharing the stories of past and present, all revolving around their fervor for the mighty kudu. I realised Nico and his family have the same zeal for kudu as I have for Chinese water deer. Different sizes and continents, but a common bond.
We arrived at the farmhouse, which was positioned facing a large rock face with a wide, half-dried river below. It was truly in the middle of nowhere – the nearest small town was at least a 30-minute drive.
This gave me the real feel of Africa – I could see the traditional way these guys lived and hunted over generations. It gave me a sense of privilege to be in Nico’s home area. I thought back to times I’d hunted in Gloucestershire with my father, and how he taught me not just how to hunt, but how to appreciate the environment around me and create great memories.
Sako had asked me to try out the new Carbon Wolf rifle on the hunt. It was a stroke of luck really, as I realised this was going to be a slightly different hunt than I had experienced before.
We were basically going to be hunting on foot all day, with a very short break in the middle, so the Carbon Wolf was ideal, as it was lightweight to carry, and fitted in my rucksack perfectly.
I chose the 6.5 Creedmoor calibre because I had been reading a lot of good reports of the trajectory and stopping power, both of which would be needed to complete our African task, as we know African game can be very tough animals.
We would use two different weights of bullet: the 120gn Powerhead II, a ballistic tip for the smaller quarry, and the 156gn Deerhead for kudu, and other quarry around this size.
We got the alarm knock at first light, followed by a good cup of tea and some traditional South African cookies, called rusks. Before long, we were heading up through the main vein of the farm, which was a track that threaded out from the main buildings through a dried river bed, across some stock pens, and out onto the mountainside, where the vegetation turned from grass and thorn trees to dense, forest-hugging valleys.
There was a mixture of short and tall trees; Nico explained that the kudu loved one particular tree called the Spekboom, or pork bush, where they pick out the rich, succulent buds that provide their daily supply of water.
The amount of different types of creatures is amazing when in a country like South Africa. I saw everything, from a weird-looking flying insect who might bite you, sting you, or suck your blood, to beautiful birds such as the green/blue coloured glossy starling.
Nico’s technique for hunting the kudu was to quietly stalk out to viewpoints looking over and down the big valleys of dense Eastern Cape forest and spend a long time viewing, scanning, glassing, peering, sitting, standing and looking.
You need to – these creatures are so amazingly camouflaged. They could be broadside in an open area but still would not stand out to the naked eye – their movement is so small and majestic.
On the first viewpoint, we immediately noticed females browsing through the canopy. We would stay at every location for a minimum of 40 minutes, and I could understand why – we needed to spend the time viewing these areas, as we were waiting for the slightest flick of an ear, or swish of a tail.
We were lucky enough to see several young males as well while we were looking. Nico and the family would only cull the males if the genetics did not look right.
They would be looking for a thick neck, good strong bone structure and body weight, and obviously the thickness and depth of the spiral of the horns. The other important feature of the kudu is the boldness of the stripes – the thicker and more prominent they are, the better.
The ideal kudu for him would have deep, long curls with a larger hole through the centre of the spiral.
Today, Nico wanted us to find a kudu without these qualities – an older bull with well worn horns that were not up to stock quality, one to be taken out of the gene pool. This made the hunt a bit more of a challenge – every bull we saw was either in its prime or one to leave for stock.
Several days of repeating this process makes you want to hunt these animals even more. Each day you’re out, surrounded by these animals, you are learning their habits and movements, but just spending time in the Eastern Cape bushveld is an experience I will cherish and remember forever.
On the third morning, we were out slightly earlier than the previous two, just in time to see the most beautiful sunrise where the sun broke through the mist of the valleys below us and revealed a contoured landscape of green. We were on the highest viewpoint of this area, and set off to one of Nico’s favourite spots.
Nico explained that had to be extremely quiet to get in to the correct place. When he says stalk quietly, he really means silently – these animals can hear a pin drop, so kick a pebble and they’ll know.
We were about 10 minutes away from a viewpoint, when we had a classic pair of Hadida birds flare up in front of us, doing a loop and alerting every animal around for a good few hundred metres. This meant we had a forced 20-minute break on the spot.
Once it was silent and everything had settled again, Nico gave the signal to carry on, and we soon approached the edge of a deep, long valley, crammed full of vegetation.
Instantly Nico spotted animals far and near: a pair of females 30 metres on a bank to our left, a distant group about 300 metres down through the vegetation and a group opposite us on the next bank. Here, he picked out a kudu bull that didn’t meet his breeding standards – a perfect one for us.
All the animals around were totally relaxed, so there was no hurry. The group with the bull were slowly moving down the slope, browsing as they moved.
After 10 minutes of watching them, we worked out that the bull could go through a gap, 150 metres away, where it would give me a good opportunity for a clear shot. Setting up on the sticks with the rifle zoomed in, I waited for the passing of the bull.
Writing this, it was easy, but in reality, once the gun is up, the excitement and anticipation that has been building for the past three days is at its height. After peering down the scope and checking with the binoculars, the pressure was on.
The bull used his horns to hook round and snap off another small branch, which he finished very quickly, and moved on with more than just one step, like he had been. He soon approached the gap, slowly revealed himself in the open, and was about to disappear. Nico gave a quick call, and the kudu froze on the spot, giving me the perfect opportunity.
The bull jumped and kicked, and headed straight through the scrub, crashing as he went. The kudu was down within 50 metres, and Nico could see him clearly through the canopy on one of the paths. I knew the shot was good, but obviously he disappeared straight after, and I could only hear the crashing, but Nico soon congratulated me, and I was so ecstatic and relieved.
Nico chuckled to himself. “Great shot Paul. I hope you’re feeling strong – that kudu has headed down. It’s going to be an interesting retrieval.” He rang his father and uncle and a couple of the shepherds to give us a hand to carry out. We headed down to the valley, and Nico was really pleased with the bull we had taken.
He explained this bull had fading stripes, a thinner neck, and the horns had small curls. Nico inspected the shot placement and was extremely impressed with the 6.5 Creedmoor – it was a quieter and smaller round than most people’s choice, but worked effectively.
The cavalry arrived with a motto of ‘all hands on deck’. We all had a part to play in this retrieval process. It was soon tied up on carrying poles, and six of us manhandled the kudu through thick, thorny paths about half a mile to get to the old Toyota, where we all took a good rest.
I hope I am privileged enough to be mentioned during Nico’s traditional family gathering of sharing memories of the mighty kudu. For me, this was a fantastic experience that I will remember forever.
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