Uganda Hunt Report
My wife Patty and I recently returned from our safari in Uganda with @JKO HUNTING SAFARIS. We had originally planned on doing this safari last November but Uganda had an Ebola breakout in October and after much debate and discussion with Jacques Spamer, who was in Uganda hunting at the time, we decided to postpone the trip until March 2023. While this was my 9th safari in Africa it was my first to Uganda and I can definitely say that I can’t wait to go back!
Uganda is often referred to as the “Pearl of Africa” and it certainly lived up to that reputation for us. Uganda, officially the Republic of Uganda, is a landlocked country in East Africa. The equator runs through the middle of the country and it is bordered to the east by Kenya, to the north by South Sudan, to the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to the southwest by Rwanda and to the south by Tanzania. As you might expect, with its proximity to the equator the country is quite lush and the soil very fertile. While we were there the temperatures were very pleasant with morning lows in the mid 60’s and afternoon highs in the upper 70’s to low 80’s. Most days were either partly cloudy all day or partly cloudy with an occasional brief shower but we did have a couple of days where it rained a bit more.
Trip Preparation and Travel: For travel to Uganda and to get your visa you need to provide proof of a yellow fever vaccine. Neither my wife or I had yellow fever vaccines but it was very easy to get one at a local Kelsey-Seybold clinic here in Houston. Yellow fever vaccines are now good for life. Once we had our vaccines it was very easy to apply for the Uganda visa online at https://visas.immigration.go.ug. Within a day or so of applying we received an email with a confirmation letter containing a bar code that we presented to immigration when we arrived. We had been advised that we would also need to provide a negative Covid test or Covid vaccine card. But upon arrival they never asked for our Covid documentation.
Unfortunately, our flights to Uganda did not go as smoothly as we hoped and during the process I learned a valuable lesson! Our intended routing was Houston to Newark on United Airlines, Newark to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines and Istanbul to Entebbe on Turkish. I have flown Turkish previously on other safaris without much trouble (except for delayed luggage that thankfully was not the firearm or ammo). But this time was different. Our United flight to Newark was on time and we had about a 4 hour layover so we spent time in the Polaris lounge waiting for our 12:30 AM departure on Turkish. We boarded the plane and settled into our business class seats. At 12:30 AM the pilot made an announcement that they were doing their final checks and we would be pulling away from the gate in a few minutes. I turned to my wife and said “I am going to take my Ambien pills now so I can go to sleep as soon as we take off”. I usually take Ambien with me on trips like this so I can sleep well on the night flights and I also usually take it for a few days upon arrival so I can sleep through the night and get acclimated to the new time zone quickly. Well at 2:45 AM my wife wakes me up out of a DEEP sleep and I say, “have we arrived in Istanbul?” She says “no, they have cancelled the flight for technical reasons and we need to get off the plane and head to baggage claim and collect our luggage”! Needless to say, and much to my wife’s chagrin, I struggled to get off the plane and help my wife collect the luggage. I was in a complete fog for the next hour or so. Lesson learned – don’t take the sleeping pills until the plane has actually taken off!! At about 4:00 AM in the morning there is little to no help in the baggage claim area at Newark to assist you with where your firearms might come out. We were instructed that after we collected our luggage we were to head back upstairs where representatives from Turkish airlines would provide us with hotel vouchers and rebook us on other flights. While still waiting for my firearms to show up I decided to head upstairs to see what that situation looked like. Well, there were already 150 to 200 people in line and only 2 people assisting the passengers with hotel vouchers and rebooking. I knew immediately that we are not going to get timely help so I went back downstairs asked my wife to get on the phone with United to see if they could rebook our flights while I called Marriott to get us a reservation at the Marriott Hotel at Newark. While on the phone with Marriott I continued to wander around the baggage claim area and low and behold I found my firearms on the floor next to a different baggage claim belt! Thank God I found them before someone else just walked off with them! Thankfully we have status on United airlines. It took over an hour but the United rep got us rebooked to Entebbe in business class. Our new routing was now Newark to Frankfurt on United, Frankfurt to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines and Addis Ababa to Entebbe on Ethiopian. There was actually the potential for a better routing through Brussels on Brussels Airlines. However, they requires 72 hour prior notice if you are traveling with firearms and while the United rep went the extra mile and called a manager at Brussels Airlines to explain the situation they would not wave the 72 hour notice.
We finally made it to the Marriott hotel at about 5:15AM after nearly getting run over trying to cross the 6 lanes of traffic with all our luggage and the firearms. The hotel buses did not seem to be running at that time of the morning so we walked to the hotel from the terminal. Our troubles weren’t behind us just yet, while the clerk at the Marriott desk could see my reservation in the system there was some problem with it and it took him 20 minutes to check us in and get us our room. So at about 5:45AM we finally were able to lie down and get a bit of sleep before going back to Newark for our flights to Frankfurt.
For those of you who have traveled with your firearms to Africa on Ethiopian Airlines you will be familiar with this next part of the adventure. I have flown them before so I was prepared for what was to come! When we landed in Addis Ababa an airline representative was waiting for us with a sign that had my name on it. Ethiopian Airlines has a process where they take you down into the bowels of the airport baggage system and bring you your luggage containing the ammo and the firearm so that you can verify which luggage has the ammo and verify the guns are yours (you do this by showing your 4457 form and matching the serial numbers on the firearms). It is best to have extra copies of the 4457 form along with copies of your passport that you can give them so they don’t need to go make copies themselves. They then escort you back to the gate so you can board the plane. We had a fairly short connection time to make our flight to Entebbe but every time I have flown Ethiopian airlines and gone through this process, even with short connection times, my guns, ammo and I have arrived at the final destination!
Upon our arrival into Entebbe the process of getting through customs took longer than normal because of a power outage and apparently the computer system went down. TIA! While we were waiting in line to clear customs members of the police came out looking for me based on the passport photo they had from my pre approval paperwork. They were courteous and friendly and said they had my firearms and luggage and would process the firearms once I got through customs. @JKO HUNTING SAFARIS is partnered with a local Ugandan hunting outfit owned and operated by Vickram Matama. Vickram’s father Kaka was one of the key individuals who resurrected the safari industry in Uganda back in the early 2000’s. More on that later.
Vickram’s camp manager, Michael, was at the airport to help ensure everything went smoothly. The firearm import paperwork submitted by Vickram to the police about a month prior to my departure was all in order and the process of clearing the guns and ammo, which entailed counting the ammo and matching the rifle serial numbers on the police paperwork with my 4457 form, went smoothly. When it was all said and done, it was about 2 ½ hours from wheels down to us walking out the door to start our Ugandan adventure. Because of our initial issues with the cancelled Turkish Airways flight we had arrived in Entebbe about 32 hours later than originally planned.…but hey, we were back in Africa so all was good!
As we departed the airport to begin the 5 hour drive to camp we had to swing by a local hotel and pick up my PH for the hunt, Van Zyl Du Toit. I had planned on hunting with Jacques Spamer, the owner of JKO Safaris, but about 2 weeks before my hunt Jacques was hit with a serious health issue. Despite his best efforts to still make the trip, it was decided it would be best for him to stay in South Africa and fully recover. Thankfully Van Zyl, a longtime friend of Jacques, was available to fill in at the last minute and he did a great job. Thankfully, Jacques is feeling much better now and is back in the field with his clients.
On our way to camp we crossed the equator and we stopped for the typical tourist photos!
We pulled into camp a little after sunset and after meeting Vickram and his staff we put our gear in our tent and headed to the dining area for the first of many great tasting meals. The chef, Tyson, has been with Vickram and his dad since 2001. While I have never had a bad meal in Africa, Tyson was one heck of a chef. Each evening meal began with soup. Following the soup, game meats like impala, bushbuck, warthog and zebra were often on the menu but we also had fish and chicken. On the side we were served fresh vegetables like tomatoes and cucumber and they were bursting with flavor. Dessert often incorporated local fruit. The mango, papaya, bananas and especially the pineapple were the best tasting I have ever had.
The camp was on the shores of Lake Kacheera and much of Vickram’s concession boarders the Mburo National Park. The camp accommodations consist of large canvas wall tents that are set on a hardwood floor. The floor is on an elevated brick foundation. Connected to the tent there is an opening with a door that leads into a bathroom with a shower, toilet and sink.
The tents include a couple of tables and a place to put your clothes. The queen size bed was comfortable and was surrounded by mosquito netting. Neither my wife or I ever had trouble falling or staying asleep. The dining area is an open air thatched roof building. It had lots of room to eat and several additional chairs to relax in.
Electrical power is provided by solar panels on top of the tent. Those panels charge batteries which are connected to an inverter to provide electricity available at night for the lights and charging your various devices. The solar power is also used to heat water for the shower. Most mornings we had nice hot showers, but on the couple of days it rained our morning showers were a bit cold!
During our time in camp we were often fortunate to see some of the local wildlife. Both colobus and vervet monkeys frequently were playing in the trees. Almost daily we saw hippos just off the shoreline near our camp and we heard them every evening as we sat around the camp fire and reminisced about the days hunt. The hippos were often vocal as we went to bed and again early in the morning. One afternoon my wife was able to get some great photos of the hippos as they bobbed up and down in the lake not 30 yards from the camp’s shore. A mongoose family occasionally made an appearance and a Nile bushbuck ram and ewe were routine visitors to our camp. One evening when I got up to take a pee I swore I heard that distinctive “sawing sound” of a leopard not far from our tent.
Shortly after dinner that first night we retired to our tent and I prepared for the first day of hunting. I laid out the cloths and gear I planned to wear and use and got both rifles out of my Americase 3 gun safari case. For this hunt I brought my Heym 450/400 double rifle and my Remington .375 RUM. I was shooting 400 gr Hornady DGX in the 450/400 and 270 gr Barnes LRXs in the 375 RUM. For optics I have Leica range finding binoculars, a Trijicon SRO on the double and a Zeiss 3-12x56 Diavari with an illuminated reticle on the 375 RUM.
The species on my list for this trip were Nile Buffalo, Defassa Waterbuck, Nile Bushbuck, East Africa Impala, Grant Zebra, East African Grimm Duiker and possibly a Hippo. For the most part, Vickram hunts problem control hippos so I would need to get lucky and have a problem hippo reported during my hunt. My plan was to use my double on the buffalo and hippo and the 375 RUM on the plains game.
As I fell asleep that night I remember thinking “I wonder how the next 10 days are going to go?” “Will I be fortunate to harvest a few good trophies?” “Will I get along with Van Zyl and is he going to be a good PH?” “Would I get an opportunity to take a hippo?” Little did I know how lucky I was going to be and what an outstanding adventure we were about to embark on!
I will post the hunting part of the report in the next day or 2!