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African Animal of the Week: Kudu

The kudu is a large-sized antelope that inhabits much of sub-Saharan Africa. Find out everything you ever wanted to know about hunting kudu in Africa.

Like the impala and the warthog, this week's African animal of the week is another popular animal to hunt in Africa: the kudu.

The kudu is probably best known for its long, spiraling set of horns. This beautiful and majestic animal is an impressive trophy and is highly sought-after by hunters in Africa for this very reason. Though they are often shy and elusive, they are also fortunately common and widespread. Due to these factors, a trophy kudu is the centerpiece of virtually any plains game safari in Africa.

Kudu Description

Scientific Name: Tragelaphus strepsiceros, also known as the "grey ghost."

The kudu is a large, graceful antelope and is found across the large portions of sub-Saharan Africa. There are two recognized species: the lesser kudu (Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania, and Uganda) and the greater kudu (Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe). Though they are similar, the greater kudu is larger in the body, sports longer, more impressive horns, and is much more common and widely distributed than the lesser kudu.

Greater kudu can weigh over 600 pounds and stand over four feet tall at the shoulder. Lesser kudu usually weigh 200-300 pounds and stand three to four feet tall at the shoulder. Their coats are normally a greyish-brown color, though greater kudu are often slightly darker-colored. Both species have a number of vertical white stripes on their torso to go with a single white chevron on their face between the eyes.

Probably their most impressive feature is the long, spiral horns that males possess. Kudu bulls grow their horns over the course of their entire life and a mature bull will have two and a half or, in rare cases, three full curls. Greater kudu sport horns that measure 40-60 inches long while lesser kudu (pictured) have horns that measure 20-40 inches long.

Lesser Kudu

Kudu cows tend to live in herds of 5-10 other kudu, which mainly consist of other cows and young. Mature bulls will either live on their own, or in bachelor herds. They are primarily browsing animals and eat leaves, fruit, and shoots. They are very shy and elusive animals, preferring to live in thickly vegetated areas, earning the nickname of the "grey ghost."

Kudu Sex Determination

As with impala, determining the sex of both greater and lesser kudu is pretty easy: bulls (top) are bigger bodied than cows (bottom) and only bulls have horns.

kudu bull

kudu cow

Recommended Calibers for Kudu Hunting

They are not particularly tough animals, but greater kudu bulls can weigh 500-600 pounds, which makes them a pretty big animal to take down. The .270 Winchester (and similar cartridges) will work well on lesser kudu, but I recommend the .308 Winchester and .30-06 Springfield at a minimum for hunting greater kudu.

As always, there is nothing wrong with using a rifle in the .375 H&H-.416 Rigby range when kudu hunting. As long as premium, controlled expansion soft points are used, larger caliber rifles will do quite a number on a them, but not extensively damage the animal's hide or meat. Don't worry about using "too much gun" on kudu, especially if a monster bull steps out in front of you.

Those interested in bow hunting kudu should use a heavy (at least 500 grains) arrow with a sharp, fixed blade broad head shot from a bow with at least a 65-pound draw weight.

Kudu Hunting Methods

There are two primary methods of hunting kudu: via walk and stalk and from a blind overlooking a water source.

Most kudu are hunted via walk and stalk. Since they are most active feeding in the morning and evening, this is one of the most effective ways to hunt them. Even though they are very stealthy and elusive animals, a skillful and persistent hunter can often get close enough for a shot.

They drink water daily, so sitting in a blind overlooking a water hole is another popular way to hunt kudu, especially for bow hunters.

In the video below, the hunter got a beautiful greater kudu with his bow in Namibia while hunting over a water hole.


Kudu Shot Placement

When hunting kudu, shot placement is very important. Since they are so shy, you probably won't get many good shots on them, so it's important to make the ones you get count. Luckily, they aren't extremely tough animals. Just like when hunting most other antelope, the traditional shoulder shot is best on kudu as well.

When the animal is standing broadside, simply aim at the center of the shoulder, approximately one third of the way up the body (this goes for both rifle and bow hunters). A shot placed as indicated will hit the heart and/or lungs as well as give you a margin of error of a few inches in all directions in case your shot placement is slightly off.

kudu shot placement broadside


Don't forget to adjust your shot placement if the animal is quartering towards or away from you. You should aim slightly behind the shoulder if it is quartering away from you (top) and slightly in front of the shoulder if the animal is facing towards you (bottom). While a quartering-away shot is fine, I do not recommend taking a shot on a kudu quartering towards you with a bow.

kudu shot placement quartering away

kudu shot placement quartering towards

Just like with impala, do not aim for a fixed spot on the kudu's skin. Instead, try to visualize where the vitals are located and place your shot so that your bullet (or arrow) hits them. Unless you hit the central nervous system or break the shoulder, it will probably run off. However, don't worry: if you hit it properly, it won't go far and will probably leave a good blood trail.

Choosing the Right Kudu

As when trophy hunting any animal, it is important to have a good idea what a "big" kudu looks like. Fortunately, the professional hunter who will be accompanying you on your hunt in Africa should be very skilled at judging all animals, including kudu. Though it is tough to precisely judge any animal "on the hoof," they should have no problems estimating the size of an animal to within a couple of inches.

As a point of reference when hunting greater kudu, a "good" bull will measure over 50 inches around the curl of his longest horn. A "great" bull will measure 54 inches or more and an "incredible" bull will measure over 60 inches. There are many variables that go into field judging a kudu (such as how deeply the horns curl), but the most common and the fastest method involves looking at the tips of the horns.

As stated above, a mature kudu will have two and a half curls. If you spot a mature kudu bull with more than two curls to his horns, look at the direction the horn tips are pointing. This is much easier to judge when looking at the animal from the side, as opposed to from the front. Many kudu have horn tips that point to the inside. However, if the horn tips are pointing forwards, that is probably a very nice kudu that scores in the low to mid 50s. The kudu in the photo below measured 56 inches. As you can see, his horn tips were just starting to point forward, indicating that this was a really nice bull.

56in kudu

If the horn tips are pointing out to the sides (like the kudu at the top of this article), that is likely a monster, "once in a lifetime" kudu.

Cost to Hunt Kudu

Though they are pretty common and are widely distributed across Africa, kudu are not usually found in the same numbers as impala or warthog. This, combined with the extremely high demand for them among foreign hunters, makes them a relatively expensive animal to hunt in Africa. Of course, their exact price depends on the country and outfitter, but a kudu trophy fee will usually cost $1,000-$3,500, with an average of around $2,200.

Ready to plan that kudu hunting trip?

All images, unless specified, courtesy of Big Game Hunting Adventures

Like what you see here? You can read more great hunting articles by John McAdams at The Big Game Hunting Blog. Follow him on Twitter @TheBigGameHunt.

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African Animal of the Week: Kudu