Safari in Uganda with Gary Bogner
Text and photographs: Sani Doncheva
It took me more than a day to travel to Uganda. The reason behind this was not the flight that took too long, but the two ill-fated and unsuccessful attempted landings of the pilot in Entebe. Thick clouds and fog spreading from Lake Victoria at whose bank the city spreads, were about to turn into the reason for another aviation accident. We didn’t land in Entebe, as I expected, but in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. After four-hour stay inside the aircraft that had stopped at the airport, we were finally allowed to take off and then we successfully landed in Uganda.
I was about to undertake 18-day safari with Gary and Deb who arrived several hours after me. I was standing in the arrival zone when I caught a glance of Gary’s white hair and moustache. He was pushing the overfilled suitcase trolley and it seems he was scanning the numerous faces in front of him to find me. This was followed by a warm welcome and we headed for the hotel.
In the morning, after abundant breakfast, we set off for the first camp. It is located at the bank of Katonga Lake, in whose reed we were about to look for the sitatunga. Travelling to there took us nearly four hours and a half and the main reason behind this was not the long distance, but the human crowds and bundles of vehicles along the road. We hardly got out of Entebe and after several villages merged into one, we arrived to the capital city of Kampala. It didn’t differ in any manner from the other villages – the same small houses, kiosks and all kinds of things for sale scattered along the road – beds, sofas, bananas, used wheels etc. Traffic jam was huge and traffic proved even more impossible – no adherence to rules and advantage provisions. Motorcycles being rode by 2-3 and another bundle of loads were stuck everywhere in-between cars. We were observing this with great amazement and it seems human multitude was springing from everywhere. Finally traffic got bit easier and we started crawling faster along a very nice asphalt road that followed the outlines of Lake Victoria. Not long after that we turned along a dusty road that after several hours, numerous bikers, cow herds and bare-footed pedestrians took us right to the camp. It is located at the mountain slope and provides marvellous view towards part of the lake and its adjacent marsh locality. The camp is quite simple – two tents and external bathroom and WC, as well as massive dining-room with the eternal camp fire and worn out, black kettle buried in it.
Everybody was expecting us, behind Michael that served us with hot, wet towels to freshen up and freshly squeezed passiflora juice. After we were accommodated and got an idea of the camp, the two of us with Deb look at one another and almost simultaneously asked Gary to minimize our stay here after shooting the sitatunga down as soon as possible. We boarded the jeep and set off for our first tour along the hunting territory. Here in addition to the stable, even numerous sitatunga population, we could see some of the largest waterbuck trophies, as well as the ones of bushbuck, reedbuck and warthog. Our hunting guide explained us that the population of giant forest hog was increasing, as well as the one of hippopotamuses residing in the lake. While moving amidst the bush, we saw a marvellous view – numerous herds of grazing waterbucks. Amidst them we could see some frightened warthog running by with its tale pointing like an antenna. Soon it was dark and we got back in the camp for our first gathering before the camp fire and having dinner with food worth an exquisite restaurant. The two cooks prepared quite tasty and beautiful dishes and food taste had nothing to do with their peers imported in Europe.
The next morning, on the 3rd of August, we were already shaking around along the dust by the jeep when the first sunrays lit the horizon. The plan was to go along the entire lake bank nearby in our search for sitatunga swaying in the reed. That was the end of another dry season and there was no water in the marshes – only hard and black, dry mud. Water had retrieved further back than the locals have ever seen it. We didn’t actually need the high, rubber boots that every sitatunga hunter wears. The terrain was quite suitable because it was rimmed by meandering path which was conveniently hidden in the thick shrubs behind gigantic sand deposits or trees. It was not long before we saw the local attraction – hippopotamuses. Here these are not hunted because of concessionary’s wish to ensure them comfort so that they could smoothly procreate. Even in the camp we could hear the typical hippopotamus sounds and frightening snoring of the huge female. She had propped her huge head on its already grown-up offspring and didn’t take her eyes off us. We approached to shoot it, but she stood up and quite aggressively froze before us. The tracker that was fetching our guide’s gun skilfully handed it to him. We moved backwards while preparing for its attack any time soon.
We headed for the jeep that was expecting us when our hunting guide froze and lifted his binocular. At not more than 150 meters from us a large waterbuck group was grazing. He whispered to us that there is great trophy among them and we slightly approached them. Before us there were numerous bushes and low cacti interwoven in other climbing plants to use for cover. Alex, the great tracker was continuously checking the wind direction with the white dust shaken off the woven bag. We stalked the waterbuck absorbed in grazing and hidden behind group of bushes, Gary stretched his 75-pound arch and shot an arrow with mechanic triple point. The hit was right behind the shoulder-blade. The animal started running and disappeared behind the nearby trees. The arrow pierced through the body and David, the short tracker found it was all bloody. There were several drops on the grass, but not far away from us we saw the wounded waterbuck that was standing immovably in the nearby reed. Only the black tips of its horns revealed its location.
We were standing for more than an hour waiting for it to give up. The guide gave Gary the sign to follow him and then silently started moving within the reed. We approached it and Gary sent it another arrow. The waterbuck stood up and fell down in ten steps. Its flank had two wounds, and the first entrance one was almost perfect, but its exit was pointing up – above the spine. It seemed that after entering its body it faced some bones and slipped in it while not resulting in the injury we wanted to inflict. This was the reason for it not to give up for so long.
After lunch we headed hunting once again, at the same place amid reeds, where in the morning we went round searching for sitatunga. It was six in the evening, but the sun was seriously glaring. Our guide told us that at that time sitatunga loved to sunbathe, near the bank. We were walking silently in the dried up marsh and soon we approached hippopotamuses. These were soaking at the same place where we left them in the morning. We were trying to be noiseless because of them. Suddenly Alex lowered his longish figure and pointed his finger ahead. We could only see sitatunga’s back that was peacefully grazing. We approached it with some ten meters thus shortening the distance to 45 meters off it. We could already see bigger part of it. Gary measured the distance, calmly stretched his bow and shot. It jumped up and hid in the nearby trees. There we could only see the tremble of low branches, then everything submerged. The female hippopotamus was making its frightening noises thus reminding us that we should urgently get out of there. It had direct visibility towards us and no tracker stood the chance of heading in the sitatunga direction while remaining unpunished. We had to make quire large turn so that trackers get from the counter side of the trees in the water, where the body of the dead sitatunga was lying.
Alex and David got her out of there. This was the perfect shot. The animal made a very short distance before its last breath. This was the second sitatunga shot here by a bow hunter and the locals were really thrilled by Gary’s bulls’ eye immaculate shot. Just like Archie Nesbitt last year in this very same marsh we thanked me and the hunting guide.
This evening we had a double occasion to celebrate – the successful finalization of our first and last hunting day here with two great trophies and leaving this camp. We couldn’t wait to go to the much more comfortable and modern camp at the Lake Kachera.
The next day the whole baggage, food and people were ready and boarded on jeeps. It took us around three hours to travel to the other camp along dusty and black roads.
On the 5th of August in the morning, at 7 a.m. we were already heading for the hunting territory. Here it was real hunters’ heaven especially to bow hunters. The animals are numerous and very calm. The presence of people and numerous cows turned them into steady creatures that are hard to frighten. It is a fact these are not being intensively hunted. Not more than two hunters at a time are being received by my partner, the local hunting guide. At that place he has four huge hunting areas that he uses in turns while hunting. Hence the numerous wildlife rarely meets hunters and is not afraid of people. The species being hunted in this territory are the following: cape buffalo, hippo, eland, warthog, waterbuck, reedbuck, bushbuck, impala, grey duiker, topi, zebra, leopard and oribi.
Our purpose here was everything of the abovementioned animals. Gary foresaw 16 days to this end and he wanted nice trophies. We were about to go round the bush and hunt whatever we see.
During this first morning of ours in the new territory we managed to stalk bushbuck that was not bad, but it escaped us, to great impalas that were skilfully running away, and in the end we saw several topis. One of them had very nice antlers and our guide firmly pointed it to Gary. Topi had climbed at a sandy hill and was standing and looking at us in stupid manner. I had read that this is one of the antelopes easiest to frighten, running fast and difficult to shoot. Not here. In Uganda topis stand still and if we approach them really close, they move back quite reluctantly, but they do no gallop.
Gary measured the distance and shot. The arrow fell bit backwards than the perfect place and it ran for its life. They found the arrow stuck in the land, after it exited topi’s body. There was blood trace and while following the trackers, we headed along it. We followed it for nearly half an hour until we found the lying topi. It was very nice trophy animal. This was followed by photographs and interview with Gary that are a must.
Our afternoon hunt finished quite strangely. We were going round by the jeep and after the mandatory numerous stops for checking out the impalas and bushbuck we met, suddenly we saw a grey duiker that was running in parallel with us. It suddenly stopped, looked in our direction and started running front again. Our guide fetched us in its direction while we were hiding behind quite vast group of trees with interwoven bushes in them. After we slightly showed up behind this cover, we saw the duiker standing immovably at around 50 meters from us. Gary shot and the arrow pierced it, the animal made an incredibly high jump in the air. Then it started running. We followed it with our eyes and went to look for the arrow. We didn’t find it no matter how much efforts everyone made. Grass was incredibly thick and high, it was flattened and dried in all directions. There was no blood. This was quite strange and unexpected since at the video I shot we could clearly see where the arrow fell – behind the flank and blood pumping out of its body.
It was almost dusk. We went to the shrubs where we saw the duiker disappearing for the last time. These were very thick and our guide suggested that the wounded small animal could be hidden there. He didn’t want to send any tracker inside because the place could contain everything one can imagine. We made the decision – the next morning we were about to come and look for it.
We looked once again at slow motion my camera recording and got 100% convinced in Gary’s nice shot, then boarded the jeep and went for dinner and celebrations.
In the morning, at dawn, we headed for the place but we were not destined to arrive fast. We saw and unsuccessfully stalked two very large impalas. All this took us around three hours. In the end we made it to the place from the last evening and no matter how long we looked and went around – we couldn’t find anything.
Our guide suggested that probably the duiker is lying somewhere around and because of its wound and blood, some hyena or jackal caught its smell. All locals that we met nearby, were asked should they see duiker skull or remnants to call our guide, he offered them money for this service.
We were quite disappointed when we got back for lunch. In the evening once again we tried impala hunting. Just like I warned Gary, this was about to turn into the most difficult animal for him. They were quite observant and didn’t stop moving for more than two seconds, something because of which precise bow shooting didn’t stand a chance, because every distance measurement proved the last but one. On the next day the programme was the same – getting up before sunrise, abundant breakfast and following the impala. The day was long and tiresome. Lunchtime had long passed away and we were travelling to the camp, when our guide hit the jeep brakes and lifted his binocular for another time. At some 60 metres gorgeous impala was grazing. The next moment it lifted its head and I couldn’t help it but admire her incredibly long and branched antlers. We headed frontwards, left the car behind some bushes and started getting back on foot towards the impala. She had slightly moved frontwards. Alex took out his tissue bag with white dust and checked the wind direction – it was favourable to us.
The impala was grazing and was apparently calm. Gary measured the distance, lifted his bow and made a shot. This time the shot was not good at all – it headed quite high. The animal started running and disappeared behind the trees nearby. He ran towards the shot place and David showed us the bloody arrow. There was nice trace and we slowly started following it. Here the location was not quite open like most fields, there were numerous bushes and cacti. We walked along the trace for some 20 minutes and noticed the impala. It was standing at one place. This was very well since we could easily lose it and not find it anymore. Once again we started squeezing after it. We slowly approached it at around 50 meters and Gary produced a shot. That one was very accurate and in several steps the impala swayed and fell.
It proved an incredible trophy! 29-inch one, which probably made it new world record for Safari Club in view of bow hunting. The previous two records shot here by Archie one year ago were smaller.
Gary was literally glowing, he finally got this trophy, he had an impala. He had been stalking for two days some of these.
In the evening we decided to go out for short, just to tour around. We had wandered for almost one day and after this success I believed nothing else could impress me. I was wrong! In front of us a magnificent waterbuck was walking after a female one, and in several times it tried climbing over her. These were at around 150-200 meters off us and we were nonexistent to him. Our guide told us that this was a remarkable trophy exceeding 33 inches. For the sake of comparison, the world record from this place belonging to Archie was 32.5 inches, i.e. one more larger trophy for Gary.
He was looking with his sparkling eyes this horny handsome and said that since he wants to and has the opportunity to pass his genes on to the next generations, let him do this. According to him, if this animal was his, we were about to meet him again.
We got back to the camp and decided that the next morning we would go searching for it. So we did, but in vain. We saw grey duiker and after short chase lost it and got back for lunch. Gary was quite sullen. Just like every day from the last 8 months, he went training. He brought with him arrow aim, as well as several stretching tools. He didn’t want to lose shape in stretching the 90-pound Hoyt and was about to travel in the jeep everyday, should we see a buffalo.
There were no signs of success about our afternoon outing. We headed for the new place where we hoped to see some nice eland. We found a group hidden amidst the trees that was not large. We approached them quite carefully and from afar. If they felt us, they were about to disappear in seconds. Nevertheless we made it to 50 meters off them. They were all youth. Slightly we headed for the jeep and we diverted from the road because Gary insisted on it. We saw a huge yellow baboon seated on the land before us and he asked for our guide to shoot it with his gun. These large beasts were killing many antelopes to eat them, especially their small ones. We were not successful in this endeavour – the monkey disappeared amidst the shrubs.
Once again we undertook our travel amidst the bush by our jeep. Behind a turn ahead of us right on our path we could see the beautiful waterbuck walking, after we looked for it the whole morning. It was at great distance from the location where the previous evening he was wooing his lady.
He was walking in rapid and cocky manner with master’s walk. He slowly turned his head towards us and looked at us. Our guide just told Gary whispering: “This is our guy! Take him!”. We took off the car and sneaked behind the nearby shrubs. The waterbuck had stopped and seemed to sense our presence. Gary produced a shot, but because of his emotion or impatience the arrow fell down in his belly. This was followed by the mandatory running and chasing along the bloody trace. The hit was definitely in the stomach, in its lower part. Gary was mad with fury. He was accusing himself of not being more precise and acting hastily. Fortune gave him second chance when Alex pointed his finger at the waterbuck lying in the grass at not more than 150 meters away from us. The fact he was lying was a very good sign. We shouldn’t frighten him in any way and risk losing this handsome. We started sneaking slowly and almost noiselessly towards it. He was lying and didn’t notice us. We were standing hidden behind another cacti pile wrapped in ivy, and Gary was measuring the distance to the waterbuck - 54 meters. He calmly stretched the bow-string and produced a shot. The hit was precise but the animal jumped up and started running. It stopped in the bush at 50 meters away of his initial place and fell down. What an incredible trophy! After measurement proved to be 36 inches – something that we haven’t seen so far. Our guide told us that this was record breaking for all kinds of weapons in Safari club. It seemed that Gary couldn’t realize what he had done, he was standing behind his trophy one photo after another, almost serious. Ten minutes later he seemed to regain his confidence and his face was just a huge smile.
During the next three days we went around by the jeep looking for hippo. Our task was to visit all the 7-8 marshes around where the local hippopotamuses loved soaking during the day. This was no an easy task but on the second day we already got a result. We found a male that we were about to stalk that very evening and wait for it to appear on the surface and get out of the water – two opportunities for Gary to shoot at it. On our way, while we were going round these marshes, we managed to stalk a warthog that was kneeling at its two front legs and was eating without paying us attention. Gary took it down with the first attempt and we already had ribs for the barbecue in the evening.
His second precise hit was at a zebra. He needed one arrow, right in the heart and 10 minutes later I was shooting with my cam another photo session of Gary and his trophy. He was quite impressed by the local zebras. In addition to having incredibly contrasting colours – sparkling white and black, these are so many and so calm, it is hard to believe it. When I was telling him before setting off for Uganda that the zebra is one of the easiest animals to him, I saw in his eyes his slight disagreement with me. It was only now that Gary shared with me that during his meetings with zebras so far in several African countries where he has hunted, all of them disappeared in dust clouds in seconds, after they spotted him from afar. Based on his attempts in these hunting sessions he had only one shot zebra. Hence I was not surprised when the next two days he wished for and acquired another two of these.
In the evening we headed for the marsh with our hippo. We sat onto the chairs with cups of smoky coffee and silently gazed in the water waiting for it to swim out with noisy snorting. Just in time, at 18.30 p.m. the hippo showed his head and swayed his funny small ears. We left our cups and at his next underwater diving we were already standing behind the nearby shrubs and were ready for action. This way we spent the next one hour waiting for him to show more of his body or even get out of the marsh. He didn’t want to do that. Gary didn’t get any opportunity to shoot because waterline was passing much below hippo’s heart – his shooting aim was invisible.
We headed for the camp feeling down, submerged in conversations and suggestions what the hippo could do at night – would he get back to the same marsh or we would have to go round and look for him.
Once again we woke up at 5.30, had breakfast and energetically boarded the jeep hoping to outstrip hippopotamus’ submerging deep in the marsh water. In about an hour of travelling we made it to the place from yesterday and to our disappointment we found out that he was not there. He was in the neighbouring marsh.
Our guide got a telephone call from one of the local land owners. He had a herd of buffalos at his real estate. He knew that this shared information could get him 60% of the trophy fee per shot buffalo and its meat. We headed to there. The guy intercepted us and guided our jeep while running through the grass that was no thigh showing us the way. We approached and all of us started walking after him. After 15 minutes of careful movement, hundreds of wind direction checks performed by Alex and his famous white dust and cloth bag, we approached a group of buffalos. The sun was shining so strong and it was just 9 a.m. The animals were standing still – some were lying on the ground, others were grazing. They had no idea we were there. The problem was there were shrubs in front of us and we could barely see them. We turned from afar and could see there is no male one worth shooting in the group – females with two babies and several youths. We went away.
Nevertheless we managed to perform great stalking of a large bushbuck – his antlers were very long. To our utmost discontent Gary missed it. We were at 30 meters off it, it was grazing and didn’t notice us. But when Gary stretched his bow, he did this so impatiently because he believed we would be sensed any moment and his emotion or just rushing became the reason for the arrow to rush above bushbuck’s body. We didn’t see it anymore. Maybe some of the hunters to come would stand the chance of getting it.
In the late afternoon we headed for the new marsh habitat of our hippo. Once again we started waiting holding coffee cups, when at his usual time – 18.30 he appeared above water. Gary was precisely prepared by our guide on the location of hippo’s lung – our shooting aim. According to him that was the secure aim to be shot at – he wanted to pierce both lungs in inclined pattern. Hence we were standing silent and tense waiting to see whether our male would sway in the direction we needed. The hippo appeared above water. He was swinging once again his small ears and had lots of pink spots on his body – he was very close to us – at 36 meters. Gary had already stretched his 90-pound bow and had put the 12-grain arrow with speared top and in 3-4 seconds it flew towards hippo’s body. Its flight was parabolic and stuck around 5 cm in water, at the place where beforehand Gary and the guide discussed it is supposed to be located. The hippo instantly reacted – he dived and swirled underwater several times as if in centrifuge. Then he fully submerged and with frenetic speed left his trace onto the water surface towards the marsh centre.
The next two hours there was no sign of him. We all shared the opinion the produced shot was exact and the animal got fatally wounded. But then we noticed his two small pinkie nostrils appearing above water. In second he inhaled and disappeared below water once again. This took us 4 hours. In the end we decided to leave on duty the owner of the nearby land and his assistant to watch whether the hippo is still breathing and when he will give up and his body would swim above the water.
We went hunting and looking for reedbuck.
In the evening we got back to the marsh. Hippo was still alive – he was breathing from time to time showing only the tips of his nostrils but this was not enough to see the blood running from them. We remained on duty until it grew dark and afterwards. Around two hours later, after getting viciously bitten by thousands of mosquitoes we took on the jeep and got back to the camp. We hoped the hippo would stay there and would not relocate during the night. We stood the chance of losing it. Additionally, he was badly wounded and this was serious reason for hurting someone along his way in the night.
We barely waited for the morning to come and were already travelling back to it. Our happiness was complete when we saw swollen piece above water surface, covered by marsh, freshly green plants. The hippopotamus was dead and floating above water.
We spent the next three hours in getting his body out of the water and accommodating him for photo session near the water. Around 30 locals arrived, they helped us a lot and after the mandatory shooting process grabbed the meat of the huge animal.
This success ended Gary’s 18-day Uganda hunting. Our next adventure is forthcoming – this time it would be once again in Europe.
19th of August, Entebe, Uganda