Hunting the Sitatunga.
The hunting of the spiral homed antelopes is a noble pursuit of magnificent creatures regardless of die species, country or the environment. They're all incredible in their own way. Whether their specific uniqueness comes from colouration, horn configuration or perhaps their endemic environment, they're all special to me. Given the choice to go back and limit any of one them a second time, the decision might prove difficult.
By starting with die simple process of elimination, I will remove all the kudu, bushbuck and nyala. They are all fantastic limits and spectacular trophies in their own right but are normally considered secondary animals on most safaris I've done. I'm sure that there are collectors who may travel to remote and difficult places to take one, but for the most part they are an opportunistic pickup on a larger safari bag.
The Elands. As is the case for the kudu and the bushbuck, eland hunting for Cape, Livingstone's and Patterson's (East African) are typically opportunistic hunts. However, that wouldn't hold true for the Lord Derby's eland. It's most always the primary animal or, at worst, the second of a major split bag trophy hunt. For this reason I will leave the LDE in the running.
Typically, an LDE hunt is a purely classical tracking affair. The legendary walking ability of the LDE isn't something of urban legend. It is real. It is a worthy opponent and every single LDE is an earned one. My LDE limit in the Central African Republic was five days on track of the same herd. Every morning, we picked up where we left off the evening before. We tracked them the entire day, perhaps hearing their hooves or getting a few fleeting glimpses of these elusive giants. They don't really even seem to slow when they feed as they move through a stand of Terminalia trees. Occasionally, you will hear them breaking the higher branches off with their powerful and long horns. Normally, you will catch the herd near dark as they slow from the day's march.
The Bongo. Bongo is usually a primary safari animal, and rightfully so. They are spectacular, elusive, and nearly invisible given their environment. In some very specific safari areas, hunting both LDE and bongo are available on one safari, even though they are both found in very different environments. The bongo is only found in the deep and thick jungles of Central Africa. The LDE is a savanna antelope, moving long distances to forage.
The actual hunting process for bongo is either behind dogs ormachan (permanent tree stand) hunting. My bongo hunt was a machan hunt. I would, at some point like to experience a bongo with dogs, giving me more data from which to decide which style I prefer. I am not a particularly patient hunter; sitting for long time periods waiting for something to appear or that may never appear seems futile at times. I sat for seven days in one machan before connecting on the only bongo bull I have ever seen in the wild.
Bongos come to the salines, which are natural salt licks in the dense morass of green. They are really the only place in the jungle where you can see more than just a few feet. There are machans built high in the trees surrounding these salines. The object is to sit and wait until the trophy of your dreams simply walks out of the jungle to lick the salty earth. Some of these salines are wet, muddy bogs. You can even hear the bongos walking in them sometimes in the predawn dark.
Sitatunga. The sitatunga bull is perhaps the singularly most underestimated hunting trophy in the world. A sitatunga is a mostly aquatic, and nearly completely nocturnal, antelope to be sure. I would guess that I have more time invested in a sitatunga bull than any animal I have hunted anywhere on the planet.
If you compare the three remaining candidates, only the sitatunga isn't striking by its appearance alone. The bongo, with its orange with white striped camouflage, somehow invisibly melts into the jungle and quietly slinks away into the shadows. The LDE's white striped body, of tawny elegance and long black rutting dewlap are without doubt in the top few trophies as far as visual impact is concerned. They simply take your breath away. The sitatunga has a longish wooly coat, completely void of any characteristic colours or markings, other than the white chevron on the bridge of the nose. His hooves are specialised for walking on rafted vegetation; they are cartoonishly long and splayed. I have not yet hunted Mountain nyala, so they'll just have to wait.
What makes the sitatunga special to me is his chosen environment. He prefers the deep watery haunts of a papyrus swamp, usually far from the tempting multiple species associated with a general bag safari. One must be willing to forego opportunistic secondary species on many sitatunga hunts. Fly camping far from the comforts of a normal East African safari camp may also be required. It is considered normal to wade through crocodile and hippo-infested swamps, without the aid of a flashlight in the morning on the way to the machan. Some of these places, like the Bangweulu Swamp in Zambia have floating rafts of grass. These rafts are traversable as long as you move fast and follow exactly in the footsteps of the PH or the trackers. At times, you will break through these rafts and descend chest-deep into the black depths of Africa. I was pulled back above the foreboding blackness far too many times to count during my stay in Bangweulu.
I vividly remember choosing to sleep in my warm wet clothes, picking them over my cold wet clothes. Running out of food, running out of water, spending the midday hours hiding from the intense, hot sun in the sparse shade of a snake infested palm island, are all fond memories. Returning to the machan as the sun begins to set, I once asked my PH where the airplane was I was hearing. The terse answer of, "Steve, my boy, those are mozis you hear, not an airplane!" was all I got back.
Sitatunga hunting itself is glassing long distances of the line of demarcation between the endless papyrus stands and the edges of cover where he will feed. An occasional bark can give you some directional help as to where a bull may appear ... or he may not. Maybe, you'll hear his horns breaking his way through the papyrus as he moves invisibly away. I remember hunting the first few moments of the bitter cold morning, fighting off the shivers and the accompanying trembling of the machan. The evening "sitting" is best described as trying to squeeze those last few rays of alpenglow sunshine to last long enough for the barking bull to show himself. Shots at sitatunga bulls tend to be long affairs. Mine was 379 yards and thankfully I anchored him with just one shot.
There are only three countries to hunt them: Zambia, Tanzania and now Uganda.
So, my choice is sitatunga. Perhaps she is not the most glamorous girl in class but a date with a sitatunga bull will enthral and captivate all your hunting senses. You will have earned that most impressive set of spiral horns. The misery of the conditions will wear away with time and be replaced with warn feelings of accomplishment and some sort of desire to return. However, I have yet to hunt the great high mountains of Ethiopia for the elusive Mountain nyala.
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|Title Annotation:||Tales of the Hunt: From the men and women on the ground|
|Publication:||African Hunter Magazine|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2016|
|Next Article:||Hunters' gallery: selected Hunters with their trophies.|