In April 2019, my younger son Roger and I were kindly invited to Karamoja in Uganda by Franz-Albrecht Oettingen-Spielberg. The area was the Pian Upe Game Reserve, or better known to me as Debasian; named after the spectacular forested mountains climbing up into the clouds, out of the surrounding plains.
One of Uganda’s finest game rich areas, Debasian is entrusted to Franz as a concession for selective hunting and photo safaris. The Ugandan Government could not have found a more perfect person to steward this wildlife haven, as he is a dedicated and caring hunter and conservationist, with a deep love for the area.
Prince Albrecht was interested in the differences I would notice in this fabulous area, since I last hunted there in 1966 and 1967. For me it was a nostalgic safari, retracing my tracks, from concluding my last safari in that area 52 years before. I was fortunate to remember the area well and felt immediately at ease in a place that I had loved.
To say I was impressed was an understatement. I found large herds of roan antelope, East African eland and numerous bohor reedbuck and oribi, amongst other prolific wildlife numbers. Of much interest to me was that the buffalo numbers had increased enormously. Significant cheetah numbers and spotted hyena were noticed. Leopard were also very much in evidence and doing well. From camp we could hear them grunting their evening sawing coughs, announcing their presence, exclaiming: “Watch out! Watch out! Watch out!”
We even found the place where I had had an interesting experience in a cave with an angry ‘chui’ – a large, massive, well-muscled male African leopard – all those years ago, as I recorded in my recently published book, A Hunter’s Hunter. The eagle-eyed Roger even found the panga (machete) cut marks scarring some old trees where I had built a blind!
The only down turn I noticed were that lion and giraffe no longer existed there, having been killed off by the Karamajong people that surround the game reserve. However, Prince Albrecht is already on planning to reintroduce these iconic species.
Also on the safari was Simon K. Barr, owner of Fieldsports Journal and a dedicated and talented photographer, hunter and conservationist. Simon was in Karamoja to test Rigby’s new .275 rifle, built to replicate and commemorate the famous elephant hunter ‘Karamojo’ Walter D. M. Bell’s original rifle, which was made to the exacting specifications Bell had insisted on.
Bell was a brilliant marksman and hunter, who shot most of the 1,300 elephants he hunted with a .275 Rigby, using solid bullets for brain shots – not that I would recommend that in this day and age! The result is a fabulous rifle built in England by Rigby’s talented gunsmiths and craftsmen. We all shot the rifle which was a joy to shoot, being perfectly balanced and with light recoil. Simon took some photos of all of us with the rifle and I thought nothing further on that score, apart from noting Simon’s incredible talent with his camera. Then in early September this year, Simon contacted me asking if Marc Newton, the managing director of Rigby could use this photo to show the Bell edition rifle.
Without hesitation I agreed, after all it was a huge honour that Rigby afforded me, allowing me to be linked to such a legendary rifle!
This doesn’t mean that I am aligned with any particular gunmaker in the UK. On the contrary, I am a friend of the finest bespoke gunmakers in England and Scotland including Westley Richards, Paul Roberts, William Evans, Purdey, Rigby, Boss and David McKay Brown. All of whom have incredible pedigrees in the gunmaking trade.