South African Safari, Day 4

Kudu hunting in the Eastern Cape is a glassing game. You find a comfortable rock, perch yourself and start probing the shadows for a tell tale hint of a dappled gray, striped hide. Sometimes the giveaway is a an ear flick, others it’s the sun glinting off a horn tip. The sprawling hills are covered with acacia and Karoo shrubs with few open spots, so the glassing game is long and tedious.

Cullen Kelly knocks on my door at the customary 5 a.m. and we meet for a light breakfast of cereal, yogurt and toast. The coffee is uncharacteristically good, “drip coffee” as Cullen calls it. Usually you only get freeze-dried coffee in a safari camp, so I actually look forward to breakfast.

We decide to drive over to a neighboring farm about 45 minutes away because we’ve not had any luck seeing any kudu here at Thorn Kloof. The neighboring farm has not been hunted in a year and even then, only sporadically. This bodes well and I say so.

We arrive at the farm, ominously named Hellspoort Valley, and after checking in with the proprietor and thanking him for allowing us to hunt on his property, we’re given directions to his tracker’s house and we set off to fetch him.

His name is David and he joins Pattrick and Mike, Cullen’s Zulu trackers, in our Toyota Hilux 4x4. David tells us where he’s seen a big kudu bull, so we head there to glass.

We settle on the rim of a hill, looking across onto two hillsides in a V-shaped valley. We glass from about 7:30 a.m. until lunch, but see only kudu cows and calves. It’s rained the night before and Cullen expects the kudu to come out to sun themselves, but we’re not seeing any bulls at all.

Meanwhile, we send Patrick and Mike to another vantage point to look as well, figuring we can cover more country by splitting up. Patrick comes jogging to us and catches Cullen’s attention with a whistle. We huddle and Cullen speaks fluent Zulu with the tracker— Cullen grew up in KwaZulu Natal, so he speaks the tricky language perfectly.

“They’ve seen a nice bull,” Cullen translates. “We better go have a look.”

We meet Mike, who has stayed behind to keep an eye on the bull, but by the time we get there, Mike says it’s moved off. He indicates a general direction on the hillside where he last saw the bull. Cullen and the three trackers are discussing strategy and so I keep myself occupied by glassing where Mike had pointed.

I no sooner raise my Swarovski 10x42 ELs than I see a set of spiraling cork-screw horns the color of walnut meats sticking up above a bush.

The kudu is standing rabbit-like, unmoving and hidden from view. His body is totally invisible behind the gray-green bush. He looks good from the front, but Cullen wants to see him from the side. The kudu obligingly turns slightly, just enough for Cullen to see the depth of the curls.

“He’s got nice deep curls. I think he’ll go about 45. He’s a good bull. Do you want to try for him?” Cullen says.

I nod affirmatively and a plan is quickly made. There’s no way to get over the mountain and come down on the bull from above, so we have to climb to get perpendicular to him. He’s a lasered 507 yards away, so we have to close a considerable distance.

Slowly, quietly, Cullen executes a brilliant stalk, moving ever forward but always angling in line with larger bushes and trees to keep an object in between us and the kudu.

We gain the height we need up the hill. We’re between 200 and 230 yards from the bull, but still we can only see his horns and the top of his back. Cullen sets up the shooting sticks and whispers for me to be ready for when he must eventually move.

He doesn’t wait long. He steps out from the bush and begins walking slowly uphill. I have a momentary opportunity for a shot as he steps into an opening, but I don’t feel good about the shot and so continue to track him with my Zeiss Rapid-Z ranging reticle.

He comes into a large opening, but he’s walking directly away from me. I realize I can break his back by putting a 200 gr. Barnes TSX right between his shoulder blades.

“Shoot when you feel comfortable,” says Cullen, a wonderful phrasing. Cullen doesn’t excite you like some PHs with a frantic, “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!”

Just as I’m ready to make a spine shot, the bull turns sharply to his right and, still walking, gives me his shoulder. The trigger I compress is superb. It’s one of the things I really like on my Ultra Light Arms 8mm Rem. Mag. and it proved its light, crisp worth. The bull dropped in his tracks.

We were ecstatic. He was a very old bull. David opened his mouth and he only had two teeth left. “This is an old boy,” Cullen says proudly. “He wouldn’t have lasted the winter.”

I am mildly surprised that my Barnes TSX has not exited, but later in camp as Patrick and Mike skin the bull, they find the classic X-shaped solid-copper slug in the bull’s neck. To give you some idea of the awkward angle of the shot, my bullet had struck the shoulder on the near side, coursed up and broke the bull’s neck, lodging just under the skin on the far side.

Tomorrow is my last day here in the Eastern Cape and then I will be flying to Johannesburg to continue my safari in the Limpopo area near the town of Thanazimbi. I still hope to shoot a Cape bushbuck tomorrow. We have been keeping an eye out for one all along, but they’ve proven to be more scarce than even the elusive kudu. Maybe I’ll have “last day luck.”

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