Uganda Update: Sesse Islands Sitatunga Reopens & More
(Editor Note: Hunting opportunities continue to unfold in Uganda, which only recently reopened to international hunters. News of the first Sesse Islands sitatungas to be taken by traveling hunters in over 30 years came to me early this past July when well-known hunting personality Jim Shockey sent me word and a photograph of the bull he shot with his muzzleloader. I sent out an E-mail Extra bulletin alerting subscribers to the news and covered the development in the August issue of The Hunting Report. Hunt organizer and booking agent Bob Kern of The Hunting Consortium gave me the scoop on what's happening with the Sesse Islands and other areas about to crack open in Uganda. Here's the full report Kern sent me along with some photos. - Barbara Crown.)
(Bruce Martin's Lake Albert Lodge.)
The opening of the Sesse Islands to hunting is the triumph of the tireless efforts of Bruce Martin, owner of Lake Albert Lodge Safaris. Bruce has achieved notable success during the last 4 years in reopening Uganda for tourist hunting. He had successfully opened the Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve to plains game hunting last year and is currently working on additional projects. Bruce's friend and assistant, Steve Kobrine, has been working with him on this project since its inception. Bruce' latest success, the opening of the Sesse Islands to hunting, was the primary object of our trip last month, with Jim Shockey. My associate, Corey Knowlton has been planning the launch of this new program for more than a year.
On 27 June, I met Jim Shockey and his cameraman, Matt, in Johannesburg for the 4-hour flight to Entebbe. Corey Knowlton had arrived in Uganda two days earlier to put the finishing touches on the preparations for our hunts. He was accompanied by his brother, Brady, and father, Lary, who would also hunt plains game with us.
The arrival procedures were simple and quick. We were met by Bruce's assistant, Craig, who guided us through the routine arrival procedures and the firearm registration process. In roughly 30 minutes we were on our way. We elected to drive through the night to reach the lodge, rather than wait for a charter flight in the morning. The 5-hour drive was not unpleasant and positioned us to hunt early the next morning.
(Left to right: Jim Shockey and Bob Kern pose with Uganada kob taken by Kern.)
Our group spent a very pleasant 3 days hunting the Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve, collecting all of the species desired (Uganda kob, Oribi, Nile bushbuck, warthog and East African duiker). Bushpigs and baboons are also available. The Kabwoya Reserve, being opened for only one season, is currently a hunter's paradise. The game is not at all spooky and hunting there is much the same as Roosevelt would have experienced it 100 years ago.
On 30 June, Corey and Jim with 2 cameramen, left with Bruce and Steve for the Sesse Islands. They took an air charter to Bukasa Island, from which it is an hour boat ride across Lake Victoria to Bugala Island, the largest of the Sesse Island chain. There is a fishing lodge on Bugala Island; excellent accommodations for hunters.
There are over 80 islands in the Sesse Island chain. Locals report that approximately half of these contain sitatunga. The first hunt took place on Bugala Island, but future hunts will range out into several other islands, as we are able to explore these.
July 1 was the first day of hunting. Bruce had seen to it that several high machans were constructed at the edges of the vast swamps, which cover much of the island. These swamps are virtually impenetrable, being composed of reed beds, papyrus, floating mats of reeds and some mangrove forest. The machans used are high, some of them reaching 35 feet and more, in order to see over the reeds. Corey saw one sitatunga of approximately 20 inches early in the morning, but passed this up in hopes of a better trophy. Toward evening of the first day he saw another sitatunga of about 26 inches, but the range being over 500 yards made the shot unwise in the fading sunlight. Jim saw no game that day.
June is the end of the rainy season. It rains intermittently throughout the month and our group experienced several rain showers and thunderstorms for the next several days.
(Corey Knowlton and his trophy Sesse Island situatunga - the first sport hunted in 30 years. )
The second day passed without any sitatunga being seen. On the third, day Bruce decided to use some beaters from the village, with their local dogs to try to dislodge the sitatunga, in the hopes that the hunters would get a shot. This impromptu drive, with the hunters taking various stands in front of the moving beaters and dogs produced 3 sitatunga. Unfortunately, Jim Shockey was not presented with a good shot, but Corey Knowlton was able to kill the first sitatunga, an excellent trophy of 27 inches. This then became the first legally taken Sesse Island sitatunga since hunting was closed in 1978.
That night, with Steve Kobrine's assistance, a pack of bluetick hunting hounds arrived from South Africa. The hunt the next day was much better organized and watching the trained hounds work was truly a pleasure. Not long after the hounds passed Jim Shockey's position, cold trailing one sitatunga bull, another old bull, having been missed by the hounds, arose from the reeds and attempted to sneak away from the commotion to the rear. Unfortunately for him, Jim was there and made a perfect shot with his black powder rifle, at approximately 40 yards. This second sitatunga, about an inch larger than Corey's trophy, completed our hunt in grand style.
(Left to right: Jim Shockey and Steve Kobrine pose with Shockey's Sesse Island sitatunga)
We will employ new strategies during the coming season in order to develop this hunt for our customers. Hunting from highseats will still be the primary means by which sitatunga are taken, with the occasional use of hounds for pushing the sitatunga out of the dense reed beds. We will probably also deploy some salt licks and try other techniques to insure the success of our clients. The vast reed beds of the Sesse Islands are home to hundreds, if not thousands of sitatunga. We are confident that every client will have an adequate chance to take a good trophy, if he is patient and works hard.
The hunt for Sesse Island sitatunga, is a new program offered exclusively by Bruce Martin of Lake Albert Lodge Safaris, and booked through Steve Kobrine in South Africa (011-27-823-44-2396; firstname.lastname@example.org and The Hunting Consortium Ltd (540-955-0090; Hunt@Huntcon.com). These hunts are scheduled for 2010 as 14-day hunts at the price of $20,300 each. There is also a community levy of $5,600 and a trophy fee due upon shooting of $6,500 (total $32,400). We also offer a discount for 2 hunters hunting at the same time (on a 2 x 2 basis) for $27,500, complete with community levy and trophy fee.
As the area is swampy all year long, the entire dry season is useable. There is no preference in timing. Hunts will be arranged from May through October. The air charter from Entebbe, followed by boat transfer to Bugala Island together costs $1,100. (Bruce Martin has his own airplane and picks up clients personally).
This hunt can be appended to include a week-long plains game hunt in the Kabwoya area, for Uganda kob, Nile bushbuck, warthog, oribi, East African bush duiker, bushpig and baboon for $10,150, plus trophy fees and a community levy of $2,040. (The game populations are very high and these plains game safaris are often finished in 2 to 3 actual hunting days.)
Presently, there is a small quota of 2 Nile buffalo which are sold for $20,000 each. This is the extreme southern boundary for this species, and they grow to exceptional size in Kabwoya. We anticipate taking a new world record for Nile buffalo soon. We expect to receive a new concession further north shortly, which will carry a quota of 20 buffalo. When this occurs, the price will drop and some new species will become available.
At this time we are trying to obtain several additional concessions. One, at Lake Mburo in the south of the country, and another in the East Madi in the north. Hopefully, these concessions will be on line for the 2010 hunting season, which will make Nile buffalo, Defassa waterbuck, Lelwell hartebeest and a host of other species available to our clients.
(The outside dining area at Lake Albert Lodge.)
Our goal is to bring Uganda back as a major destination for East African species. It is a magnificently beautiful country, with reasonably good infrastructure and a great variety of East African species. Game numbers are recovering well and can already sustain a reasonable harvest level. In addition to hunting opportunities, Uganda also boasts excellent fishing for Nile perch, as well as game viewing, including wild chimpanzees in the Budongo Forest and gorillas in the "Mountains of the Moon" - Virunga National Forest in the Rwenzori Mountains.
If you have any questions or need any additional information, I would welcome your call (540-955-0090).