By Paul Wollenman, The Shooting Channel
Motivated by the wish to experience one of the most demanding hunts in the world, I went on a Bongo hunt in the rain forest of Cameroon. Robert Johnston, son of one of my horse clients, accompanied me on this hunt. Although I tried to explain to the young man that this was not a hunt for everyone, he elected to go but unfortunately had to shorten his hunt by 4 days to attend a friend’s wedding, in Atlanta.
This safari could be divided into 3 segments: The long airline flight from Atlanta to Paris and then onto Yaoundé, which was really no problem. ( I flew coach, he flew first class! ) The second phase was the long drive to camp on mud soaked jungle roads frequented by heavy lumber truck accidents, large downed trees across the road and very slippery muddy conditions. This drive was 26 hours each way in a well-worn out Toyota Land Cruiser. The third phase was the actual hunting conditions and the stifling claustrophobic surroundings of the rain forest. In short, this was a hunt that definitely was not for everyone and the hunter had to be motivated and focused on the joy of taking a trophy bongo to put up with all the personal, physical and mental discomforts.
To say the 26 hour ride across the country through the jungle was mentally frustrating is an understatement. We made the trip into camp without any major complications but Cameroon itself is a fourth world country. The country of Cameroon is the second most corrupt country in all of Africa, has 50% unemployment and 35% AIDS. Although a gentle people, the pygmy trackers and their living accommodations are somewhat prehistoric. So are their eating habits. At one stage, the entire group of them leapt off the land cruiser and dove into tall grass brandishing their machete’s and shouting excitedly. A few moments later, after some furious hacking at something invisible to us on the truck, they emerged proudly hoisting a decapitated 6 foot Gaboon Viper. At nearly 20 pounds, this is the heaviest venomous snake species in Africa and is known for its huge, 2-inch fangs and apparently for its tender, tasty meat!
The deadly Gaboon Viper, one of the largest in the world. To the Pygmies, tastes just like chicken!
Bongo hunting revolves around the weather and hopefully it rains every 2-3 days so that during the morning drives down old over grown logging roads, the trackers can find suitable male bongo tracks. Herds of bongo tracks are not followed, but just a solitary bull track is, up until around 1:00pm in the afternoon. After that time it is too late in the day to have a successful hunt leaving the hunters and guides deep in the forest when night falls.
Once a track is found, the pygmy trackers work their magic walking through dense forest with heavy over growth, sharp prickly vines, 100% humidity, 100 degree temperature, with approximately 500 gnats and biting ants covering your body at one time. To say you will sweat and lose weight is an understatement. Both of us developed trophy sized heat rashes.
Most of the day is spent crawling beneath foliage and prickly vines trying to keep up with the pygmy’s who hack small tunnels through the undergrowth. The tree canopy over head is enormous, extending some 300 feet and some of the tree trunks are 20-25 feet in diameter. Very little wildlife is seen but over the next 12 days I did see a few pygmy elephants, a few gorillas, several forest buffalo and the occasional monkey. On the third and fifth day the pygmy’s did track up on a bedded male bongo and their local small Benshingi dogs were released and bayed up both Bongos. The first never held and broke free before we arrived at the fight. The second bongo on the 5th day broke and ran over the top of everyone, barely missing one of the pygmy trackers with his horns. Finally on the 7th day, we bayed up a respectable male Bongo and I was very glad after taking him. The five pygmy guides skin, butcher and pack out the entire Bongo after having fashioned back packs out of vines and leaves. Not one scrap of Bongo is left in the forest. The evenings were spent calling Duikers and other pygmy antelope into close range and shooting them with shotguns.
The Pygmies rule the forest.
My hunting companion left camp by himself with a non-English speaking driver in the worst of the 2 hunting vehicles after the 9thunsuccessful day of Bongo hunting for the long trip back to the United States. Unfortunately his vehicle completely broke down 18 hours into the 26 hour drive back and he was left with his luggage and gun on the side of the road while his driver walked back to the nearest village and tried to hire another car to transport him to the airport. Adding to his misery was the 3 inch gash on his arm suffered earlier in the expedition and by this point the target of numerous egg-laying insects. Having to remove a 3 inch wormlike larva from the cut served as disturbing evidence the speed with which nature can infiltrate our bodies. After 2-3 separate vehicles and multiple payoffs, he finally made it out of the Cameroon airport on his way to Atlanta without a Bongo but with great “war stories” of near death experiences.
I continued to hunt forest buffalo and Sitatunga and Duikers for the remaining 5 days and made a long but uneventful drive back to the airport. This was not your typical African safari where the hunter gets to see a great deal of wildlife and panoramic African views. Most of the views were at a distance of 10 feet, very seldom seeing the sun light in hot, humid, insect infested conditions. That being said, of all my trophies, this Bongo is one of the most beautiful, and of all my animals and its environment, one of the most interesting.
This definitely was a neater hunting story to tell than to experience.