Member’s Hunt: Quest for the Greater Kudu

posted on July 22, 2023
MH Mcmanus Greater Kudu Buck Lead

By Jeffrey J. McManus, Lancaster, Calif.

It was my first hunting safari in Africa, and I was in Leopard’s Valley, Camdeboo, Karoo area to hunt greater kudu. Known as the “Grey Ghost” due to its uncanny ability to disappear into the brush, the greater kudu of the Eastern Cape in South Africa is one of Africa’s most majestic antelope to inhabit the fertile plains and mountains of this diverse continent.

The hunt for an exceptional kudu began each morning at 0800. My professional hunter (PH) Ryan Phelan, tracker Jimmy “Man,” my son Will and I headed out near the base of the Sneeuberge Mountains at around 3,000 feet elevation, moving through trees, brush and rocky canyons searching for this elusive creature. Ryan mentioned that the kudu is much more difficult and challenging to hunt because it has an incredible sense of hearing due to its large ears that act like radar. A kudu can also stand motionless for several hours, and it has incredible eyesight. But the clear sunny days were advantageous for us in spotting a kudu because their long spiral horns reflected the sun’s rays like a mirror and instantly gave away an animal’s position.

For the first four days, we shot springbok, warthogs, duiker and blesbok, but we then moved directly to the higher vantage points, hiking to the tops of the canyons. There we would glass down into the fertile valley floor amidst deeply eroded and jagged rocks from the 5,500-foot ridgeline. We began to spot a lot of movement of adolescent kudu bucks and cows. On the morning of the fifth day, after five hours of hunting, Ryan surprisingly turned to me and whispered, “Okay, there’s a nice one.” We had found the prize!

As we scanned the base of the canyon wall below us to range the distance of the solitary kudu through our binoculars, I positioned myself near a large outcropping of rocks to prepare for the shot. As I settled into a more stable prone position, I leaned forward for what became a 41-degree downward angle. The Winchester pre-’64 .270 felt well-balanced in my hands, and as I brought the kudu into my sights, I noticed that the bull was facing away from me, with the sun still glistening off its tall, spiraled horns. Ryan looked me in the eyes and said, “Aim at the right shoulder and make the shot through the heart.” I nodded in agreement, and as adrenaline shot through my veins I steadied the rifle, took two deep breaths, visually confirmed the crosshairs on the target and squeezed off the shot. At 180 yards, the 130-grain Hornady SST penetrated the kudu’s right shoulder. The bull jumped up, lunged forward and then collapsed in the brush. My PH gave me the thumbs up and smiled. 

As we both stood up and looked toward the fallen animal, ensuring there wasn’t any movement, we breathed in the crisp mountain air and gazed at the expansive vista below. Then an indescribable feeling of excitement hit me, as I realized that I had achieved a 20-year dream by taking such an animal, which I had told my children about for years!

We spent nearly six hours recovering the 700-pound animal down the steep hill and back to the lodge. I noticed that it had unique damage at the base of its horns, no doubt from years of battles with other males for mating rights. After dressing the animal, estimated to be more than 12 years old from the wear on its teeth, I began to carry the 80-pound head on my shoulder down to the road where the truck was parked. Ryan, Jimmy and my son quartered the animal and dragged more than 500 pounds of meat down the steep hill on a tarp. We feasted on “Kudu Sashimi” with raw mustard around the campfire that night. Wild game meat never tasted better!

As I departed Leopard’s Valley, I was overcome by a profound realization that I had just lived a full African hunting experience. At that precise moment, I vowed to return to the Eastern Cape province to again enjoy the thrill of hunting the “Grey Ghost” of South Africa.

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