Though it was closed for decades, (except for a pilot program at Lake Mburo), Uganda is open to sport hunting. In March 2010, I hunted with Christian Weth’s Uganda Wildlife Safaris, one of a few approved operators. Before the hunt, my wife and several friends went on a photo safari that included a hike to see the mountain gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. After our return to Kampala, I embarked on my safari with PH Keith Charters, a Zimbabwe native who was living and hunting in Tanzania from July to December each year.
We spent the first day procuring food and driving to the UWS camp on the Ome River, a tributary of the Victoria Nile. The next morning I shot a Uganda kob. Ordinarily we would have stayed at Ome to hunt Nile buffaloes, but the bridge to the best areas was washed out. So we drove three hours to Paraa Safari Lodge in Murchison Falls National Park, which put us 45 minutes from the temporary camp for our staff. From there, we hiked, searching for tracks of Nile buffalo bulls that move out of the park to the heavy cover beyond the roadside huts in the hunting concession. Unfortunately, in some areas the trees are being converted to charcoal, the primary cooking fuel used in the cities. The cleared land is tilled and planted and the adjacent areas infested with snares–all major problems for the new safari industry.
On our third day after buffaloes, we found the tracks of a lone bull and followed our head tracker, Tall (who is 6 foot 8 inches) for an hour until the tracks returned to the park. It rained the fourth night, so when we found a big track after two hours of searching the next morning, the tracking was fairly easy in the soft dirt and knee-high grass. After 45 minutes, we heard the bull crash off in heavy cover up the side of a ravine. After another 75 minutes of careful tracking, Tall froze and Keith Charters pointed as the bull broke from a thicket.
My first 300-grain bullet broke both shoulders. Nevertheless, Keith had me pour in two more shots. They were followed by five minutes of smiling and shaking hands with the crew before walking up for photos.
The nearest we could bring the Land Cruiser was more than a mile away, but some locals volunteered to pack out the meat, cape and horns in return for some of the meat. The horns were quite good, with a 41-inch spread. The bosses had been worn completely smooth over the years and the hair had rubbed off the skin between them.
With my most important trophy in the salt, Keith, cameraman Walter Okot and I rode a boat up the Victoria Nile to view Murchison Falls the next morning. Then it was on to the UWS camp in the Kafu River Basin, nicknamed Bushbuck Camp because so many big bushbucks had been shot there. There, just two hours from Kampala, I shot an East African bush duiker and a beautiful Nile bushbuck. I didn’t hold out for one of the monsters because I wanted to allow five days to give the sitatunga a reasonable try.
Some animals can rarely be shot unless you hunt them for more than a few days. Leopards and sitatungas are good examples. In the Kafu area, I would be hunting the East African subspecies. On the first day, Keith and I scouted the swamps for tracks. About 90 minutes from Bushbuck Camp, we found some tracks and also spotted a total of eight females. We quickly decided to set up fly camp there for the last four days of my safari.
The next morning, with four small tents, supplies and a skeleton crew (tracker, cook, driver-skinner and game scout), we drove to the campsite and hunted while the crew set up camp and built a machan in a tree on an island a couple of hundred yards into the swamp. We spotted several of the reddish-colored females, and one old male that we vowed to look for again.
The next day, Keith and I sat on the platform of the machan, with Tall standing on the ladder, while the crew built a second machan.
Our strategy evolved into sitting on machans the first and last couple of hours of each day and walking the swamps in between. The walking was hard, but it allowed us to reach islands (large anthills covered with trees and brush) from which to gain a little elevation and glass the swamp from different angles. Some walking was possible on top of the floating grass, but we broke through often and had to either wade in waist-deep water or crawl on top of the grass to better distribute our weight.
We spotted the bull we wanted three days out of four, but only his horns were visible in the tall grass, and then only for a few seconds as he moved from island to island in late morning or mid-afternoon in the far corner of the swamp.
On my last morning, we were in the first machan before sunrise. The swamp was covered with heavy fog, but it dissipated by 9 a.m., at which time Keith pointed to horn tips projecting from the grass. The bull was lying down at 290 yards near a feeding female. I moved three steps down the ladder and placed my .300 Win Mag on shooting sticks that Keith laid sideways, one end on the platform and the other on a tree branch.
After 15 agonizing minutes, the bull stood so that I could see his head and horns and the top of his back, which allowed me to make the shot. It was a satisfactory end to a challenging hunt.--Ken Wilson