For those of you who are not familiar with Uganda
the concession we are hunting covers 27,000 square kilometers of the
eastern side of the country, bordering the Sudan in the north, Kenya
in the east and the Greek river in the south. It is an area of
extraordinary beauty - high mountains, thorn tree grasslands and
dense forested areas along the rivers. The trip from Kidepo would
take all day and it was time well spent. We where going to see the
more unspoilt areas that very few people have gotten to see in the
last thirty odd years and we where going to get to some photographs
of wonderful scenery as well.
think Steve, who has been a PH for many years, was as awestruck as I
was, travelling through such stunning scenery. We both had our
cameras out and where taking pictures and looking around like our
heads were on swivels. We both were looking forward to being able to
look for Bell’s old base camp site.
Steve and I where like kids, laughing and talking
non-stop and Philip was like an older brother smiling and having a
great amount of patience with the ‘children’. Philip had been here
before so it was not new to him.
We stopped at the bridge on the Greek river late in
the afternoon. As usual I had my camera out and was shooting away
while Steve and Philip were talking about the area and its history.
The bridge is only a few miles from the Uganda wildlife authority
base where we where planning to set up camp. To my amazement when we
got to camp it was on a small hill and as I looked to the north
there was a lone hill that looked like a knob.
I was amazed because I had read Bell’s book and he
mentioned ‘a knob’. He talked about climbing a hill and looking out
over the area for elephants with his telescope. I was standing there
wondering if this could be the spot where he stood. I think Steve
was getting a kick out of seeing me smile like an idiot step-child.
In fact I am sure he may have mentioned me looking like a smiling
idiot. In retaliation, I may have mentioned that he needed to shave
the hair off the top of his feet.
The tents where unloaded from the Landrover and as
it was getting late, Hassan and the guys started to get things ready
for the night. Steve and Philip supervised and I did what I do best,
I watched….and drank a cool beer to show my support for their
effort. At about this time Eddiou, the Head Game Ranger for the
entire district, came to greet us. Like most Africans I have met in
Uganda, he was a very pleasant fellow.
With the tents up and a nice fire going, Steve and I
sat down to relax from the trip and enjoy the beautiful scenery. As
we where talking about things we wanted to do in the next few days,
I heard singing and drums. It was dark by this time and I was half
listening to Steve and half listening to the singing. It was coming
from the north-east of us and when I asked Steve if Eddiou had
arranged it, I became aware that Steve could not hear it at all due
to his partial deafness.
It was like something out of an old movie. I had
never heard this style of singing in Kenya or Rwanda when I was in
those places. Philip was off talking care of the camp details with
Eddiou and Hassan. I described the singing and drumming to Steve and
he really looked quite heartbroken when I told him that it sounded
beautiful. We had a quick snack and headed for bed as we had plans
for the morning. The next day Eddiou explained that the village was
singing to bring us luck on our hunt because they knew this would
mean they would get the meat.
Up at first light, we headed out after sighting-in
the rifles. Steve knew I wanted to get a baboon or two so we asked
Eddiou, who without a moments hesitation, said head to the river
where there are plenty of baboons. The trophy fee for baboons is 20
bucks as in Uganda they are considered vermin. As we got close to
the Greek River Bridge we could see something crossing the road. It
was a large troop of baboons.
Since they had not been hunted for years they where
not very skittish. We drove to what Steve considered close enough
and got off the truck. There where still baboons crossing the road
in front of us so we moved off the road and headed in to the thorn
trees. We where attempting to get in front of some of the baboons
that had already crossed the road. Eddiou was smiling and told me to
shoot all of them, since they have been causing a lot of trouble in
After paralleling the road for a few hundred yards
we started to cut across to the river. By this time I could hear
them barking and could see a baboon scout in the top of a tree at
the river bank. We slowed our stalk down and tried to keep trees
between us and the baboons. At about seventy-five yards from the
river there was movement on our right as about a dozen baboons
started to run toward the river.
We had spooked them not knowing that they had moved
our way. We froze and waited and as we waited a large dog baboon
stopped next to a thorn tree and looked back over his shoulder at
us. This proved to be a fatal mistake! My little Marlin 30.06 spoke
to him about his mistake and convinced him it was his last.
This was the first really large baboon I have ever
been close to and I was impressed at just how big his teeth where.
YEEP! I did the Ugly Dance. Juma, our skinner/tracker made short
work of skinning the baboon and since we where right on the river we
decided to look for Bell’s old camp site.
I know, you’re all saying, how in the world could we
ever expect to find the camp-site after all these years. Well, we
had a secret weapon and that weapon was Steve and his long list of
friends, some of whom had hunted this area over 50 years ago. Also
Philip had asked some of the elders about the old camp-site. Yes, I
know old memories fade but remember Ugandans have an oral history in
between Philip having heard the song of Bell from the elders and
Steve being on the cell phone to a friend of his who had been here
50 years ago, we looked for the land marks. I believe if we where
not on the exact spot, we where within spitting distance of it. We
had a description of the soil, the water hole, the distance from the
bridge and everything matched.
After some scouting in the area we decided to head
to camp for a rest and, as they say in Africa, to make a plan. You
who have lived there, or live there now, will know what this means.
The plan was for oribi, and it was to turn out to be a little more
complicated than expected. The rains had been heavy this year and
the grass was as high as the door handle of the Landcruiser.
The Landrover was down with a cold as is the case
with them, most of the time. So with out the aid of a hunting seat
on top, we headed for the area of savanna where the thorn trees were
thin, as oribi do not like thorn trees. Like I said the grass was
door handle high, so all we could see was the very top of the oribi
heads and there where a lot of oribi heads to see. Problem number
one was, when the grass is this high; you’re right on top of them
when you see them.
Problem number two is, by the time you see them,
they are doing nine hundred miles an hour in the other direction. We
saw well over a hundred pairs of oribi by noon, or should I say, we
saw over a hundred pair of heads headed the other direction. We even
put one of the trackers on the roof to spot for us. A good idea with
bad results, for as soon as he spotted them and we stopped, they
would show off their amazing ability to run at Mach 24 through the
grass without breaking a sweat or breathing hard.
Tactic change number three was to find a small hill
and glass for oribi. The result was good…and bad, as we could see
them before they saw us, we just could not get to them before they
departed the country for parts unknown.
With more than half the day over, we were going to
try one more area, hoping the grass might not be as high. The game
scout said the grass is shorter on the other side of the hill where
camp was! As with most Africans, information is sometimes slow in
coming... we could have used this tidbit a few hours ago.
we were worried: it was 4:00pm and 20 miles to camp! Did I mention
there are only about three regular dirt roads in this area of
Uganda? So if we want to hunt an area we just pull off into the long
grass. It is like they did in the early days of automobiles.
It’s like hunting in a different time… the good old
days! (Yes, I am still smiling just thinking about it as I write
this). Where was I? Oh yes, we headed back towards camp and after
all our looking, stalking, and glassing; we find the dumbest oribi
Hooker is 56 year old and grew up in a small Northern
California sawmill town hunting and fishing. After
working as a Nurse for ten years without a vacation, he
took a trip to Kenya - and that was the beginning of his
love affair with Africa. He has spent from three to
eight months a year since that first trip traveling to
Yep, he was standing by the road at the pit where we
sighted in our rifles… just standing there and watching us. He had
good sense alright... at fifty yards broadside, just standing there
looking. Well, an animal that dumb needs to be taken out of the gene
pool! I stepped out of the truck and after a short stalk, I shot
him. After the Ugly Dance, Juma skinned him and off to camp we went.
Steve, who is also an excellent camp cook, did a great job of
cooking a hind-quarter for us that night. Since we where well-rested
and were back in camp early we had a few cool beers and swapped
lies…oops, I mean we shared our hunting adventures of the past and
yes, we laughed most of the evening into the night.