The Kudu Horn

The Kudu Horn and Scouting

The Kudu horn has long been a symbol of Scouting and of  Wood Badge.  In fact, the Kudu Horn was used to summons the very first scouts at Brownsea Island in 1907 and in Wood Badge the Kudu Horn or a substitute is used in all U.S. Wood Badge Courses.

The true Kudu is a species of African antelope that is reddish gray to almost blue in color. It ranges from South Africa to Abyssinia. A Kudu bull stands almost five (5) feet high at the shoulder. Most beautiful are the magnificent spiral horns that cap the head. The Kudu has a remarkable sense of hearing, it has keen eyesight , keen sense of smell, and great speed. which makes it difficult to capture.

As a Colonel in Africa in 1896, the Kudu Horn was first identified by Lord Baden Powell, as he and his men were on a raid down the Shangani (SHAN-GAH-NEE) river, and were puzzled at how quickly alarm was spread among the Matabele warriors. They later found that the Matabele were using a War Horn of tremendous sound carrying power. A code existed, and as soon as the enemy was sighted the alarm would be sounded. This war horn, turned out to be the KUDU HORN.

It is strange that some eleven years later, in 1907, this Matabele war horn would be used to summons the very first Scouts at Brownsea Island. During the early years of the Scouting movement the Kudu Horn was silent.

The Kudu Horn resurfaced thirteen years later in 1920, when it was used in training courses. The original Kudu Horn is enshrined at Gilwell where it is sounded at the beginning of each course to summon the participants. The Horn that heralded the birth of scouting now summons Scouters from all parts of the world to do better than they have ever done before.

Listen to a Kudu Horn

Want to hear what a Kudu horn sounds like? It’s said the blower can only produce wierd sounds that can easily be mistaken for a cat fight.

Judge for yourself.

Here is what a real Kudu looks like!

To get a little better perspective on the size of this mangnificant antelope, look at this one crossing the road.

Thanks to Neil Ross, Troop 1 in Kingston, Rhode Island
from the Narragansett Council for providing these pictures.

How to Drill a Kudu Horn

Some Scouters have asked about how to prepare and, specifically, how to drill and shape the mouthpiece hole in a new kudu horn.The following are my suggestions based upon my personal experience as well as some advice that William “Greenbar Bill” Hillcourt gave me on the subject some years ago:

  • If your horn is quite new, it may have a rather foul odor. The only way I’ve found to eliminate this is to wash the horn out as well as possible and let time and nature take care of the rest. I let my horn age for about six months in my garage. That seemed to pretty well eliminate the smell. Other horn owners that I’ve talked to haven’t been able to come up with a better or quicker method.
  • Once you have scrubbed the horn with soap, water and a brush, you may need to re-cut the open end to make it reasonably even. To square the end, I would suggest using a hack saw or band saw blade designed for cutting metal. After sawing, sand the cut edge smooth.
  • Where to drill the hole is the next question . . . The first four to six inches of the pointed end of the horn is not hollow. For the best sound, you want the mouthpiece to be immediately above this solid area. The problem comes in finding where the solid portion ends. It would be helpful to be able to X-ray the horn, but barring that, I would suggest drilling small, perhaps 1/16″, holes and using a piece of fine wire to help feel for where the solid part ends. Any extra holes can easily be filled with epoxy.
  • The hole and the shape of the mouthpiece should simulate the mouthpiece of a trumpet or a bugle as closely as possible. The material will probably be a little too thin to really get the cup as deep as it is in the metal mouthpiece, but that shape is what you want to simulate as closely as is practical. I would suggest chucking up a countersink or an appropriate shaped burr in an electric drill or a Dremel tool to shape the mouthpiece. Once you have it close to the proper shape, finish it up with sandpaper.

The mouthpiece area of the horn

  • Finally, you may want to apply some sort of stain to the horn to make the color a little more even. This is a matter of personal preference and your sense of esthetics. Also, I suggest adding a sling to the horn to facilitate carrying it. I made mine of braided rawhide boot lacing. If you can find it, braided round leather sewing machine belting, such as the Wood Badge woggle is made from, would be nice.
  • At this point, I would suggest that, unless you happen to be a bugler or trumpet player yourself, you might want to go find a friend who is one to test your new horn. For rather obvious reasons, they seem to be able to coax the most sound out of these things. Like most other such skills, it takes practice for most of us to get much out of a kudu horn. For some reason, my wife never seemed very enthusiastic about my practicing at home, so I’m still not very polished at this art. Frankly, despite his criticizing the location of my mouthpiece, and subsequently giving me the advice I’m relaying to you above on where to locate it, Bill Hillcourt was able to get more and louder notes from my horn than anyone else has ever been able to do. Something tells me he had a lot of practice

Bill Hillcourt signing my kudu horn – 1987

Thanks to Tom Myers for contributing the
information on how to drill a Kudu horn.
EC-330W Eagle