Unforgettable Uganda – Part 1

Pushing off in a perilous Ungandan water craft.
Pushing off in a perilous Ungandan water craft.


It was still dark when five of us boarded the14-foot wooden canoe and headed down-stream. If everyone kept his balance and behaved, there was a reasonable chance the canoe wouldn’t tip over. The Mayanja River flows through Kafu River basin, dissecting a vast sea of tall papyrus.

We were headed to a machon, hoping to catch a sitatunga feeding at first light. The stream wasn’t very wide in many places—twenty feet perhaps. Three trackers were paddling as I kept entertained by the pre-dawn onslaught of mosquitos. Christian whispered, “Do you smell something?” I didn’t. “It’s hippo urine, he’s marking his territory.” I was too busy killing mosquitos to give it much thought. As we floated near our machon located on the water’s edge, the river became a bit wider.

Just as it was getting light enough to see some-what, I noticed what appeared to be a submarine directly in front of the boat, possibly fifteen feet away. Before I realized what it was, it submerged. Then, everybody said, “Hippo!” The big bull popped up again and we were still within spitting distance.

hippo-032414The guys had stopped paddling but our momentum was taking us downstream. Good grief! Doesn’t anybody know reverse? The bull disappeared again and the third time he came up, turned toward us. His body language displayed anger. At that point, I thought the hippo was thinking he was under attack from the canoe. A hundred thoughts raced through my mind, none of them with a positive outcome. For a few seconds, I thought for certain we had problems!

The trackers started slapping their paddles against the water and shouting. I told Chris he better be reaching for his gun before it’s too late. The .270 WSM I was packing didn’t make me feel all warm and fuzzy at the moment! Thankfully, the hippo retreated and everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief. We climbed in the machon and it wasn’t surprising that we didn’t see anything that morning. Heck, I probably wouldn’t have been able to hit the broad side of a barn after all the excitement.

The view of the Nile from camp.
The view of the Nile from camp.

The former British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, once called Uganda the “Pearl of Africa.” Home to many attractions like River Nile, gorillas, ten national parks and the largest fresh water lake in Africa, beautiful Lake Victoria. Uganda is an East African country that has hit the radar screen for hunters recently.

Our Uganda safari was with Christian Weth of Uganda Wildlife Safaris, for ten full days of hunting. After painlessly clearing customs procedures, we drove straight to Christian’s huge concession and were greeted to the traditional East African tented camp. The tents were spacious with flush toilets, running water and showers.

My original wish list was fairly modest; I was only looking for a few species endemic to East Africa. It didn’t take long for Christian to twist my arm regarding an opportunity to hunt East African sitatunga. To be perfectly honest, hunting sitatunga is not the most exciting hunting endeavor. Basically you wait in a machon for a sitatunga bull to emerge from hundreds of square miles of fifteen-foot-tall papyrus into a small clearing. The clearings we were watching were a little less than half of a football field in size. Other than bird life, which is abundant, there really are no other animals we expected to observe, so you sit and wait. Our first few attempts yielded zero. We would hunt the first hour or so, and then try a different spot later in the evenings. Luckily, during the rest of the time we could pursue other game. Nile bushbucks were crawling all over the place. Hunters are allowed two on quota and since I love hunting spiral-horned antelope, I took two nice males. We walked

This east African Bohor reedbuck is well past his prime with a lot of mass and worn down horns.
This east African Bohor reedbuck is well past his prime with a lot of mass and worn down horns.

the open floodplain one day and encountered an East African Bohor reedbuck I couldn’t live without. He was an old male with massive horns, well past his prime. Later that afternoon, we scored with an East African bush duiker, then an oribi and Uganda kob caught a free ride to the skinning shed in the days to follow.

The impressive east African sitatunga is one of Uganda's finest trophies!
The impressive east African sitatunga is one of Uganda’s finest trophies!

Our fifth attempt for sitatunga found us in the blind as daylight approached the swamp. It was windy that morning and clouds filled the sky. We had been in the machon for an hour or so when I thought it was about time to head for breakfast. I just happened to be looking at a certain spot when I noticed part of a tall papyrus shaking violently. That could not be the wind. About that time the bull emerged. What an impressive sight! It didn’t take me long to put the crosshairs of the Leupold scope on his shoulder. The bull fed leisurely along the edge and I waited for the ideal opportunity. When the Nosler bullet connected, Abu, our tracker, started hugging me, and Christian slapped my back. I was the happiest kid in Africa!

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