Here is a story of part of my time in Africa hunting the mighty African Lion
BOOOOOOOOOM! The distant sound of a single rifle shot echoed through the mopani forest;
my heart sank a little.
One of the beautiful Mopani Forests. If you look closely you can spot two bull Elephants squaring off.
One of the great sights seen during and African Hunt.
Part 1- Close Call
It was day 16 of a 23 day hunt in South Africa, and I had been given the privilege to work as an apprentice professional hunter for the summer for one of the most prestigious outfitters in the world- Madubula Safaris. One of Africa’s finest PH’s, John Abraham (owner of Madubula), was guiding a client in search of the most prized of Africa’s “Big Five” -the magnificent African lion. A very wise lion, a first time lion hunter, and a series of misfortunes had made this particular hunt even more difficult than usual. On this afternoon, John, followed by the hunter, cameraman Kurt, and John’s best trackers Vincent and Bongani, were following the tracks of a large lion we had been hunting for weeks. I had been instructed to wait with Timba at the truck. I was disappointed to be off the track, but I understood why. The smaller the hunting party, the faster and quieter they can move. Timba knew I was a little bummed and helped me pass the time with stick fighting and Zulu language lessons. Hours passed while I was learning the art of Zulu stick fighting. After a few too many knocks on the head, my head that is, Timba decided we should take a break. While he didn’t have much faith in my chance at the nightly tracker hut fights… but he said I wasn’t bad for an American.
”Bird….Nyoni”…said Timba pointing at a hornbill roosted a few yards away. I had almost perfected the pronunciation when we heard it….. BOOOOOOOOOM! The distant sound of a single rifle shot echoed through the mopani forest; my heart sank a little. I wanted so badly to be there. The two way radio chimed up. Timba spoke with Bongani for a moment, then motioned me to follow him. we trekked through the dense Mopani thickets and red sand towards the area the shot came from. I saw Kurt first, as white as a ghost. I stopped to talk to him and Timba walked on.
“He almost blew my head off!” Kurt yelled. “What happened? is everyone….” I couldn’t finish my words before Kurt told me the story. The hunting party had been walking single file, as usual, Trackers first, then PH, then hunter, then cameraman. The hunter was carrying the rifle over his shoulder when he decided to check whether the safety was on his .375 mag by pulling the trigger. The custom rifle went off inches from Kurt’s head.
My favorite Overlook, a young version of me in the middle
That was it for day 16. We headed back to camp. It wasn’t the first mishap on this Lion hunt and wouldn’t be the last.
Part 2- Lion Bait
“C’mon man! Get the rope and pull it up the tree! You’ll never get it done like that!” John stood by the truck shaking his head at me. He then rattled of a line of Zulu I didn’t understand, but I got the idea. Bongani took the rope from my hand and handed me a machete.
The idea of Lion bait is simple- smelly dead antelope = cat food! The making of said bait is more complex. To start, we’d kill and antelope of some sort usually an Impala because they are easily hunted and plentiful all across S.A. Once harvested, the impala was gutted and loaded in the truck. The guts were placed in a plastic garbage can….this worried me a little instantly, mostly because everyone was speaking Zulu or Afrikaans while pointing and laughing at me. The bait was taken to a tall tree, usually a Baobab. A tracker would shimmy up the tree with a rope tied to him, the other end to the impala. The antelope was raised about 10-15 feet and tied by the horns to a branch parallel to the ground. While this was transpiring, other trackers would cut vines of “just wait” thorn and pile them around the tree. The vine is called “just wait” thorn because once one gets you, you just have to wait for someone to free you. ”The more you that you struggle, the more stuck you get!” as described by John. The thorns are placed under the tree in hopes of pulling bits of hair of a lion’s mane after it visits the bait. This, coupled with track size, allows the PH to determine if the lion is big enough and trophy worthy to hunt. What about the can-o-guts, you ask? The barrel was left in the sun and cut into tiny chunks. My job was to make “snow balls” from the stomach contents ad throw them high in the trees so the wind would carry the smell. The rest of the barrels contents were tied to a rope and drug for hundreds of yards through the deserts and forests to make the African version of a whitetail’s scent drag. If you are wondering… No the smell doesn’t come out of your hands for a very long time.
Most bait sets were uneventful. Other than the horrid smells of 10 day old impala guts, I actually quite enjoyed setting baits. On one particular set, around day 9, I was helping Vincent with a set when I looked up and saw only dusty footprints. “Very funny” I thought. I was left about ten feet in the tree and Vincent had already completed the thorning. “How do I get down? I’m gonna be cut to shreds!” I said to myself. II finished lashing the horns to the tree and was beginning to think this was a terrific practical joke when I heard the sound of a Toyota safari truck speeding towards me. The truck was a long ways off…at least it should’ve been. What is it doing here? “GET DOWN AND GET IN! NOW!” Kurt yelled at me from the bed of the truck. Without thinking I jumped. I sprinted toward the truck. Kurt pointed his double barrel .460 express right behind me. I jumped in the back and the truck sped off. “What was that!?” I asked Kurt. “Lionesses. 3. Look..” he nodded his head at the bait. 3 hungry lionesses had watched Vincent and I and were preparing a stalk and were already climbing toward the hung antelope. “Oh. Thanks.” was I all I said. I don’t think I said much that night, I just replayed the event. To this day I can’t climb a tree in Ohio without looking for a prowling Lioness!!
Part 3- Zeroed In
“John! John! Stop the truck!” I banged on the roof of the truck. I was Looking through binoculars while riding on the safari rails when I saw it. A fresh lion kill. It was a male Waterbuck. A beautiful antelope with upward swooping horns. The entire back half was gone. “Good Job.” John said as he got out of the truck. We tied the waterbuck to a nearby mopani tree and decided to hunt it that night. John, the hunter, Bongani, and I climbed into a blind made of sticks and mud. It was cool and dark. I was curled up in the floor of the blind, I couldn’t see anything but it was very exciting to be in the heart of the action. “Here he come’s” said John. He nudged the hunter. “50 yards, put it on him and shoot.” John whispered. “uh-oh…” the hunter stammered. “I forgot to load my rifle.” John didn’t speak but hung his head. I gathered he was slightly, well, upset. Click…click…chalick! The .375 Mag chambered. “Gone, he’s gone.” John grumbled “…lets go.”
We packed out of the blind and headed to camp. I pestered John with my questions about how big the lion was and what it did. I never did see that one in person but saw the video, It was huge, black-mained, African Lion. That lion was done. It had been spooked and we would never see it again.
Zulu Tribal celebration dance as performed by Timba. This dance is often used for birthdays or major accomplishments while hunting, such as taking down Ibhubesi!
Part 4- Ibhubesi
Ibhubesi is the Zulu word for lion. The Zulu have had several words for lion, but Ibhubesi is the one that stuck with me. 21 days into the Lion hunt, it should’ve been over around day 5. Most hunts only take a week or so. Gaffs by the hunter had pushed John to exercise every bit of his skill as a PH. But these are things that separate a good PH from a great PH…and no doubt John Abraham was (and still is) great. The hunting party walked through rocky knolls, red sandy koppes and mopani forests. I got to tag along this day but stayed to the rear with Timba. It was a beautiful day. Sunny, breezy, warm but no too hot. A perfect depiction of the “Dark Continent”. I was looking at the surrounding landscapes, birds, trees, and whatever else there was to see. I was so engrossed in the scenery I almost rear-ended Timba. Everyone was a dead stop. John stood between lead tracker Bongoni and the hunter. He leaned from Bongani to the hunter. The hunter raised his rifle onto the shooting sticks and aimed at a bush, only 30 yards or so away. Bongani had spotted a patch of hair amidst the bushes. The brute African Lion was bedded in the thick greenery of the mopani. In an instant the rifle fired and the Limpopo valley went silent.
“Aiy! Good shot man! Good Shot!” John smiled and patted the hunter on the back. Ibhubesi was down where he bedded. A single shot to the neck anchored the beast. It was a large lion, but lacked the mane of the lion we saw over the waterbuck. None the less a great trophy and a spectacular animal. It is hard to grasp the size and build of this great animal until you touch it. I ran my hands over his paws, neck, shoulders, and legs. It was firm muscle, even when the mighty king f the jungle laid there lifeless, there was no mistaking the power in this great animal.
We gathered equipment and took lots of pictures. The head and neck of the lion weighs somewhere around 75 pounds, although, it is impossible to weigh, it does make keeping a smile a bit tough! Back at camp we relived the days events and the events of the past 3 weeks in appreciation of the hunt. Then we celebrated- The Zulu Way!