Located on the west side of the mighty Nile River is the town called Juba. In the 1980’s this town functioned as the capital of southern Sudan, but it was a small place with only two miles of paved road and a few government buildings. Most of the inhabitants still lived in grass-roofed huts. I worked there and have one primary recollection – Juba was hot!!
To get away from the office routine of the week some of us would go hunting. Saturdays were our hunting days and we looked forward to these weekly excursions. We would awaken early when it was still dark and load up my old Toyota Land Cruiser with rifles, food and water. Then we would drive through the quiet streets to the iron bridge that spanned the Nile River. Here we would wait until the bridge was open to traffic. The barrier was lifted as soon as there was a tinge of yellow in the east. We were always the first vehicle across the bridge, leaving the sleeping town behind and heading for the wilderness. Once we reached the east side of the river we turned right onto a faint track and headed south toward our private hunting ground. At first we followed the bank of the Nile, driving through small villages and gardens, but after 30 miles the villages petered out and we were into wild country. Granite hills pointed high into the sky and the land between the hills alternated between yellow savannahs and forested ravines. Once we reached our hunting area several men would climb on top of the hard-topped Toyota and act as spotters. Wildlife abounded in this region and we would drive slowly cross-country looking for game. When the men on top saw something they would tap on the top of the vehicle. We would stop the car and the designated hunter would get out and stalk the animal on foot – hoping to get near enough for a good shot. Our hunts were nearly always successful and our most frequent kills were jackson’s haartebeest , reed buck, warthog and the occasional buffalo. Usually by noon we would have several dead animals in the back of the Toyota. We would have our lunch under a shady mahogany tree and then head back to Juba where we spent the afternoon butchering, packaging and freezing the meat.
One year we had a linguistic conference in Juba and a number of prominent guests attended from the USA. The most esteemed visitor was Dr. Ken Pike, President of the Summer Institute of Linguistics. These visitors heard about our hunting trips and wanted to see how it was done. They wanted to go on a real African safari. So we organized a Saturday hunting trip as was our custom. Dan, Denny and I were the designated hunters. Each of us readied our equipment and five visitors opted to go along to watch the hunt – including the esteemed Dr. Pike.
Early Saturday morning all eight of us crammed into the old Toyota and we crossed the bridge across the Nile just as the sun came up. But upon arriving at our hunting area we found a devastated landscape. A massive wild fire had gone through the entire region, burning the grass and charring the trees. There was nothing for the wildlife to eat and they had moved on to greener pastures. It was an extremely hot day and we cruised through the burnt savannahs looking for any signs of life. The wheels of the Toyota churned up the ash, creating clouds of soot and soon all of us were colored black except for where the sweat ran down our faces and torsos. In spite of the harsh conditions he visitors want to see a hunt so we kept driving and looking. About noon I saw a small white spot on the horizon. It piqued my interest so I drove up to it and found a lone ostrich egg sitting on the charred ground. I picked it up and shook it, feeling liquid inside. This indicated that the egg was still good so I stashed it behind the seat in some old rags. It would make a good meal for twenty people. But finding a single ostrich egg was not a successful hunt so we continued driving through the bleak landscape. The sun became even more intense and eventually we decided to give it up and go home. I turned the car north and we started making our way slowly through the burnt terrain. Then across a shallow valley we saw a small savannah that had escaped the fire. The grass was still yellow and rising above the grass we saw two black spots. I stopped the Toyota and we all gazed at the spots. We were a long distance away and could not tell what we were looking at so I got out an old pair of binoculars. We looked closely at the two black spots with the binoculars and they helped enlarge the two spots. The heat waves were intense causing the two black spots to shimmer and move, so we could not tell whether the two black spots were animals or merely dark colored termite hills rising above the grass. Everyone in the car had a different opinion and voiced it loudly. After some discussion we decided to drive closer to get a better look. I started up the Toyota and we drove slowly in the direction of the black spots, trying to stay behind bushes as much as possible. Eventually we reached a closer location that overlooked the savannah. The two black spots were still there and were now much closer. Again we got out the binoculars, but even though were nearer we still could not tell what we were looking at. Most of us were convinced that they were simply two black termite mounds projecting up over the yellow grass. At that point we could not get any closer with the car. If the spots were really animals the sound of the motor would frighten them away. It was now necessary for a hunter to stalk the black spots on foot. But not one of the three hunters was really interested in getting out and walking in the intense heat, only to find himself stalking termite hills. He would become the laughing stock of the hunting community. Eventually it was decided that all three of the hunters would stalk together. Then if the two black spots ended up being termite hills, all three hunters would share the shame.
So Dan, Denny and myself got out of the Toyota, loaded up our rifles and surveyed the terrain, making up a plan for approaching the two black spots. We chose a route that kept bushes between ourselves and the black spots. We started walking, moving quietly from thicket to thicket. Suddenly I heard a sound behind us and looking back I saw Dr. Pike and the other four visors following us. They had decided to join the hunt. I found it to be a ludicrous situation. Eight grown men creeping through the burnt forest – all stalking two black spots of indeterminate identity. As we drew near to the final thicket I signaled back to the five visitors and motioned for them to squat down and stay where they were. Then Dan, Denny and I crawled on hands and knees to the final thicket. Upon arriving at our destination we stood up slowly and silently. Now we were only 100 yards away from our quarry and could see them clearly – two large black spots. However, in the shimmering of the intense heat waves we still could not tell if they were termite mounds or living animals.
But there was no way to get any closer. I turned to Denny and whispered instructions, telling him to shoot at one of the black spots. He refused. There was no way he was going to shoot a termite hill and have to spend the rest of his life with that shot on his record. I then whispered to Dan and told him to make the shot. He also refused – for the same reason. They indicated that I should make the shot. I hesitated and then refused. I could sense that the visitors behind us were getting impatient. We had to do something so I came up with a plan. I whispered to Dan and Denny and suggested that we all shoot together at the count of three. If we were aiming at black termite mounds then we would all look foolish together. But if they were actually animals we might just kill one.
We all got in position side by side and stood up together. I whispered one, two, three – at three my sights were on the middle of the black spot on the right. I squeezed the trigger and heard only one shot. Both black spots disappeared into the long grass. They were not termite mounds! We dashed forward and found two large warthogs lying dead on he ground. The visitors came running up and congratulated us on our great shooting. We admired the long white tusks on each pig and on close investigation we found that each hog had a single bullet hole in its chest with the lead going through to the heart. To hit both warthogs through the chest was superb luck since none of us even knew what we were aiming at.
But then came the big issue. Who shot which warthog? According to our rules the person who shot an animal was entitled to the meat. Dan said he had been aiming at the warthog on the left. So that pig was his. I had been aiming at the hog on the right and I stated that I was right on target when I pulled the trigger at the count of three. But Denny insisted that he was also on target with the hog on the right. The shots had all been made at the identical second so it was not a question of one person shooting before the other. Denny and I had been friends for many years so we decided to share the meat, never knowing who really killed the pig.
Our trip home to Juba was a happy one. Though it was a tough day of hunting we were not “skunked”. We were taking home delicious meat for the freezers – and we had a great story. Back at the base we strung up the warthogs from a tree and began butchering. As Denny was skinning our hog, he felt a lump just under the skin – exactly opposite from the hole made by the bullet. He cut open the skin and out fell two pieces of lead! We had both shot the same pig! From a distance of 100 yards, shooting at a vague dark object in the grass, we had both hit the warthog in the chest at the exact moment in time – causing only one bullet hole.
Usually people do not believe me when I tell this story. But Dan, Denny and I all tell the same narrative. More importantly, we had five important visitors who saw the entire event – including the esteemed Dr. Ken Pike. He is my witness.