Although it may not seem true, this is a verifiable recounting of the hunt. Nothing in here is exaggerated.
If I were guilty of any tampering, it would be to play down an event rather than to embellish and play it up.
Success. We shot the leopard. It’s in the salt. This was the sole purpose of our fourteen-day safari to Zimbabwe. Hands were shook. Backs were slapped. And whiskey was drunk. The four of us—my father, younger brother, my girlfriend, and myself—were all very pleased with the hunt. Our guides, Trevor Lake, from Lake Safaris, and Jonathan Collett, from Touch Africa Safaris, were first class. They ensured that we put in the hard work and sleepless nights to earn shooting a prime leopard.
But the leopard wasn’t enough. Not with what we were just offered: a crack to hunt a huge legendary male lion. The Shona called him “Kumbada,” which means “The Clever One.” The whites called him the “Ghost of KweKwe,” inspired by the movie Ghost In The Darkness.
This Clever One, this Ghost, this lion…had marked ten square miles of central Zimbabwe savannah as his. He lived halfway between Bulawayo and Harare in Zimbabwe from 2005-2011. Over the previous two years, he’d killed thirty-six of the rancher’s cattle, and an unknown number of the villager’s cattle. And the big fear was that it was only a matter of time before he killed a human.
It was currently April 20th, 2011. We had until April 29th until our Zimbabwe part of this safari was over. The ranch we were on is called the Chinca Ranch, and it is one of six ranches that were formed to make the Midland Black Rhino Conservancy and protect the extremely endangered Black Rhinos. Along with the two PH’s and the main client—my father Steve Paulson—it was me, my girlfriend named Claire Willis, and my younger brother Lt. Jacob Paulson.
My father already had the right kind of equipment for a lion hunt as he had just finished his leopard. He was using a Mauser rifle built with a .375 H&H barrel, shooting 300-grain bullets with a Swarovski 2x8 scope.
None of us, including the PH’s, knew that we were about to embark on a hunt of a lifetime…maybe even multiple lifetimes. A hunt that would hearken back to Old Africa, to the romanticized 19th and early 20th Century Africa, the one of Patterson, Roosevelt, and Hemingway. And the one that hunters like us travel 10,000 miles to hopefully get a glimpse of. A glimpse if what we hoped for. So, none of us would have believed it if someone said we weren’t about to get a glimpse, but we were about to be transported back to that Africa.
April 20th, 2011 - Scouting
From the outset of the hunt, we faced two major problems. One, this lion had been hunted so long he had gotten smart. The other: the community’s feeling of impatience was turning into desperation. The community was so desperate; we were instructed that this was to be a no-holds-barred hunt. We were authorized to use any means necessary. And one only has to look at some of the history to know how serious they meant that. The following is the intelligence report we gathered before our hunt:
Bait? Tried, but failed. He is so cautious now he won’t touch it. Besides, local legend now has it that he enjoys killing so much that he prefers hunting to a free meal. This latest comes from just two weeks prior when he broke into a corral and killed three cows, but only eating ten pounds total from one of them.
Spotlighting? Not after that fiasco six weeks ago. A scared-out-of-his-mind hunter fired a wild shot that wounded him while he was spot lit. Word has it he doesn’t respond well to light anymore. He didn’t live this long by being a slow learner.
Poison? Tried, but failed. As a result, he now only eats a little of each animal he kills. Enough to satiate his hunger but not enough to ingest a lethal dose.
“What about tracking him?” I asked. Without even a momentary lapse in time, Professional Hunter (PH) Trevor Lake said, “This early in the season,” he looked over towards the thick bush that hadn’t yet even been burned, nevertheless dried out after the rainy season, “The first time we’d see him is when he was eating one of us.”
“But he does have a weakness,” the other PH, Jonathan Collett, triumphantly announced to us as he just flipped his cell phone shut from his latest intelligence report, “He did respond to a ‘caller.’”
This turned out to be the biggest advantage that we had: he would respond to a caller, mostly we guessed, because he had not ever been around other cats his whole life. This was not lion country. There was not another known lion within 150 miles. There were too many people around. In fact, no one can figure out how this lion even got here.
So, the rumor we heard was true. The latest hunters, who wounded him six weeks prior, lured him in with a ‘caller.’ Their caller consisted of playing a roaring lion tape recording on their truck speaker system. “Great,” my little brother says, “All we need then is to go buy some big speakers.” My dad laughed, “It’s not that easy though. Remember last year at this time in Zimbabwe you couldn’t even buy a loaf of bread.”
Our plan was to build a big lion calling system—subwoofer, amplifier…the works. Then, we would get some lion roaring and grunting recordings. And, to add an extra sense of realism, we would get some fresh lion scat and scatter it in his territory…just to really piss him off. We figured we had until tomorrow night to get this all put together and up and running.
When we planned it out in the fantasy world of the lodge in front of the fire, we were all very impressed with ourselves.
“Forget the speakers. Here’s what I want to know: how exactly are we supposed to get lion piss and shit? I don’t think Amazon has it in stock, nor do they overnight ship to a tent camp in the middle of nowhere Zimbabwe.” This was my question. Seriously, just think about that…how?
After four to five phone calls though, PH Jonathan was able to reach a guy who said he had lion scat. His name was Alan Austin, and just as important, his ranch was close, only an hour and half away. I literally could not believe this. I wanted to see this transaction take place personally, as I was more than dubious.
I remember this guy and his ranch to this day as clearly as I remember what my home looks like…A thick set muscular tough-as-nails Afrikaner strutted out to greet us. He had a pistol on his hip, an iron handshake, and a mischievous smile. He cackled and got right to it. “How you planning on getting his scat? You gonna hold a bucket underneath him and wait till he goes?” in his Afrikaans-Zim accent. It took us a second to put two and two together: he doesn’t exactly have lion piss and shit…He’s got a LION! A big dark-maned male lion…as a guard dog…somewhere right around HERE!
We, and by we, I mean, we stood behind a twelve foot high fence and watched the owner go into the lion’s den. He shoveled some of his pet lion’s scat into a big plastic bag. Then as the lion urinated, he shoveled all that wet dirt into a different plastic bag. Lion scat: check.
The next day, my dad and PH Jonathan drove another four hours into Bulawayo, the second biggest city in Zimbabwe, to buy a subwoofer and amplifier. And that night, we got a couple of lion roaring and grunting calls off of Jonathan’s computer. The recording was good, but the quality was low. It was a good think I brought my Mac notebook. I used Garage Band to tweak the recordings in multiple ways as Jonathan listened and gave feedback, until finally we got it sounding right.
Now that we had our hunting system in place, the last thing we sought was to get permission from everyone in the area to hunt the thing. This was a bit tricky but necessary as the lion’s ten-mile territory overlapped four different properties—three of which are private game reserves. Getting permission on the private game reserves was just a formality, as they were part of the impatient/desperate crowd. But the last was an army “base,” land that the Zimbabwe government appropriated as part of their "fast track land reform” program.
Three years ago this was the premier lodge and hunting spot in Zimbabwe. It gave us a unique chance to see how it faired under new leadership. It was beyond sad. The land was desolate. We didn’t see a single animal, literally. And the great lodge was stripped bare of any and everything valuable. A few old military cots were propped up in one of the side rooms next to a broken window that was now being used as the door. After a hostile reception, we were told we could hunt the lion here if we hired them and gave them all jobs.
We just smiled and drove away. I remember telling my brother, “Well, being able to hunt on ¾ of his territory ain’t bad.”
1ST NIGHT: April 23, 2011 - Nothing
We went out to where we figured his main territory was until two in the morning, playing our one minute long lion roaring call every twenty minutes. Nothing happened. We did not get a response. Around 2:30am, we decided to pack it in.
2nd NIGHT: April 24, 2011 - He Follows Us to Camp.
Because of last night’s failure, we procrastinated and took our time eating and drinking before we went out. We finally got into position near his main territory at 10:15pm, and he responded to our first call right away. He came charging in close to our truck to investigate. PH Jonathan managed to get an unconfirmed sighting of the beast with his red spotlight. He was less than thirty meters away.
Amazingly, after five days of planning this hunt, we did not have a plan for what to do if our caller works whatsoever. Once he responded and came real close, none of us had any idea of what to do. What made it more complicated is that all of us were trying to be extremely quiet. Not ideal conditions for trying to formulate a plan of action.
Finally, PH Jonathan announced our plan. “Okay, we’re in real thick grass. Let’s put down some lion scent and move to a more open area.” Good plan, but no one brought the scat. We left it at camp. Then as we were moving to a more open area, PH Jonathan announced the second part of his plan. “Let’s put the speaker out in the middle of a clearing and call him to that.” Bloody hell, nobody brought the long speaker cable either. It was only just past 11:15pm at this point, so we decided we had to leave the lion and make the five mile, forty-five minute, drive back to camp, regroup, and work on our communication.
Once back at camp we loaded up the equipment we had originally forgotten, had some tea, and re-strategized. We planned to drive to an area near where we just were but with thin, short grass. The idea is that we would put the speaker in the middle of the field while we sat in the truck under a little bit of cover and spotlight and shoot him while he charged the speaker. It was a sound plan. And it lasted for, approximately, the first ½ mile of our trip back out. Our trackers Peter and Philemon whistled out to us. “Look,” they pointed ahead, “His tracks are on top of our tracks.” Translation: the lion was hunting us. He chased us down the road for five miles all the way back to camp.
We improvised and decided to do our same plan but right outside of our camp. We quickly got to a suitable location with a good shooting lane, and thereupon drew straws for who was going to run the speaker out to the middle of the field. We all quickly lobbied why we personally shouldn’t have to go. My dad was the paying client. My brother already sacrifices as he is in the military. I am the best fighter etc…
When we finally called he immediately responded. Triangulated, he was again, no more than thirty meters from our vehicle and no more than thirty meters from the speaker. But he was clever. All night we heard him roaring back to us from different spots along the perimeter of the field. He was always close. But every time we shined the spotlight—nothing. He was heard but not seen. Like a ghost in the darkness.
3rd NIGHT: April 25, 2011 - Garage Blind
Even though we had only encountered him one night, we were all so embarrassed at having him run circles around us that night, we turned the lodge into a military command center. My younger brother, a Security Forces Lieutenant in the Air Force, helped us formulate a plan with a series of fortified defensive fallback positions in case we got overrun again. We spent most of the day erecting different blinds along the road and in different strategic spots.
We had a casual dinner around 7:30pm. We ate, drank, and talked until finally heading out at 9:45pm. But again, we found fresh lion tracks right outside our camp. This particularly annoyed us as we had based our whole plan and put all of our blinds five miles away over near his main territory. We figured he must have come back over here after last night. Maybe he has spent the past twenty-four hours searching for this other lion that is in his territory. Since we had all of our blinds and fortifications over in his main territory, we made the tough decision to drive back over there and call from there, hoping he would follow us. It was difficult to drive past where we knew the lion was, but part of the reason was we did not want to continue to encourage him to come over near not only where our camp was, but where the local village and ranch were.
After an hour of driving, we arrived and started calling. The next three hours passed uneventfully. The only thing worth noting was that I accidentally played the lion caller as we were driving down the road, and at that time there happened to be an impala caught in our headlights. It wasn’t until his bladder and bowel simultaneously exploded in an exorcism before he darted off into the woods that I realized how terrified he must have been. He heard an extremely loud lion roaring and saw our huge truck tearing down the road all while being frozen in our headlights.
Right around 2:00am, without hearing him call back to us and answer at all, we decided we would call it a night. We all jumped out into the bush to use the toilet and have a light snack before we would have to make the long drive home. As we were all scattered about in the dark, we heard his roar pierce the stillness of the night like the sound of thunder on a quiet day. He was very close. There is a saying that you should never run in a situation like this. I must confess it is much easier said than done. We all bolted back towards the truck, jumping in and manning our stations: PH Trevor in the driver’s seat, me in the passenger seat in charge of the caller, and my girlfriend in the relatively safest spot we could think of: in between us. PH Jonathan was in the bed of the truck with the red spotlight and night vision binoculars, behind my dad with his .375 H&H and my little brother with a 30.06. And, to the trackers supreme delight in this arrangement, they got to sit on the padded bench seat in the middle.
We hurriedly drove down the road to one of our fallback positions that we called the “Garage Blind,” because this huge blind was built for us to park and conceal the entire truck. After we got situated, we called and waited for him to hopefully show himself in one of the firing lanes. We knew he was close, because we heard him roaring some thirty meters away again. We all sat stone still for the next two hours, but no one ever saw anything. At 4:00 in the morning we heard him roar from a long ways off, so we decided to chalk up another victory for him and call it a night. The next day we returned to track and figure out what happened. The lion came to the edge of cover, about thirty meters away, and then looped around behind us. While we were all looking out the back of the truck, he stalked within five meters of the front. The ground was soft and sandy, so there was no doubt it was him. It looked as if he cautiously approached to investigate before slinking away. To know without a doubt that he was within five meters of us without any of having any clue whatsoever he was there, was unnerving for all of us.
4th NIGHT: April 26, 2011 - Live Bait Tree Blind
Unnerved from the night before, we made a new plan: tree blind. Also, we upped the stakes and decided to use live bait. I remember thinking how confident we were of our knowledge about the lion. “We know where he lives. We know where he walks. We know his routine. He answers our call. He follows our truck. And he walks on the road on the same roads every night.” We felt like we were getting closer and closer to actually getting him.
My dad and younger brother, along with PH Jonathan, loaded up into a revamped old tree blind at 4:30pm. The rest of us (PH Trevor, my girlfriend, me, and the two trackers) put fresh cow dung from where we thought the lion’s home was to the tree blind area where we tied up two sacrificial cows. I’d like to note for posterity that PH Jonathan and PH Trevor both objected to us using live bait. Also, it should be noted, not a single Paulson or local resident that had lived for two years under this lion’s reign of terror objected.
We positioned ourselves in the truck with the lion caller a kilometer on the opposite side of the blind from where we thought he was. The plan was to try to get him to come to us. As he would be coming to us, he would walk by the cattle and decide to stop for dinner. We induced the odds this would work would be extra high since we knew for the most part he hadn’t eaten the previous nights, as he spent all night chasing us around.
At 7:00pm, right as it was just actually getting dark, we heard the lion call on his own a couple of miles away. The interesting thing is that the lion’s roar sounded different. It sounded much more similar to ours, as if he had adopted our length and sound for his. This was especially amusing, as I had to take some teasing for the seemingly poor quality of our lion call.
We let him roar twice, and then we turned down our volume from 50db to 35db (about halfway) and played only a few grunts instead of the full series of roars. Then we waited five minutes, cranked the volume up to maximum, and played the full series of fifteen roars with grunting while Trevor held up the speaker in the air pointing it at him. Again, he roared back, and we decided to hold. PH Jonathan radioed in his position.
It is hard to describe how terrifying and how powerful it is to hear a lion roaring at you in the darkness of an African night. Whatever I say will be inadequate. The roar is so intimidating it appears much closer than it actually is. I ended up working out the “Rule of 3” system to identify how far away he was. However far it sounded to me, I multiplied that number by three to get how far away he actually was.
So, part of me thought the lion was extremely close to us when we heard him; however, Jonathan told us he was still another kilometer or so away from them, putting him two kilometer away from us. As I thought he was probably three hundred meters, maybe is should be more like the “Rule of 6.”
Ten minutes later he called from down the road in the wrong direction away from the live bait. We didn’t like that, and tried to throw our call like a ventriloquist as we played the full series of roars again at 40db. We heard him roar one last time right at the turnoff to the tree-blind/live bait area at 8:05 pm and figured we had him hooked like a fish.
As I reported earlier it is hard to describe how intimidating hearing a lion roar is; well, it is also hard to describe how crazy it is trying to play this cat and mouse game of calling him. I felt like it was submarine warfare. PH Trevor and I could not see anything. We had no hope of seeing anything. Not only were we in the cab, it was pitch dark. And of course even if we weren’t inside the truck, no one can hear a predator like that walking around. All we had to go off of were his roars. It was like a type of sonar. And who knows whether or not all of our little adjustments between volumes, tracks, roar length, and speaker placement matter or not to the lion. What I do know is that it gave us something to concentrate on during the long nights.
At 8:20pm we heard a cowbell shake violently, a bellowing, “Urrrggghhhh,” and then a guttural noise that sounded like a death gurgle. We, in the truck a kilometer away, were silently celebrating with each other. PH Trevor whispered, “Wait for the shot. Wait…wait…” But we never heard a shot. By 8:30pm, Trevor started cursing, “They f*cked it up. Guaranteed, they turned the light on too early and f*cked it up.”
At 9:30pm PH Jonathan radioed for us to come in to them. He climbed down from the tree blind and got some food and water while telling us that the lion attacked twice, but both times as soon as they turned on the light, he bolted. Jonathan said he wanted to try and old leopard hunting trick, and have us drive off as he gets back in the blind. Apparently, sometimes that works because the animal thinks you have left and will go back and try for the bait again.
Having the lion attack the bait but not get a shot was such a letdown that, coupled with the lack of sleep and stress, it almost destroyed our group. That morning was chaos. Everyone had legitimate gripes, and I was unsure if we would continue the hunt or call it off and go home. Some people thought the light was turned on too early. I was upset because I wasn’t getting the full detailed story about what happened. It was tense. However, after some sleep, cooler heads prevailed, and we continued.
5th NIGHT: April 27, 2011 - Live Bait Tree Blind part 2
We tried the same plan as the night before. Two different cows were selected, as one of the ones we used from the previous night had to be put down because he was so badly mauled, while the other earned R&R. We were able to get the lion to respond to our calls again; however, we did not think he was following us. It was just shy of 4:00am, when my girlfriend Claire, finally couldn’t hold it any longer and had to use the toilet. There had not been any action, and we had not heard at all from the lion in hours, so we figured she would be okay to get out of the truck to go. The toilet situation was always more difficult for her than it was for us. It is a male/female thing. We would go to the toilet off the truck if we could, or right next to the truck. But, as a lady, going off the truck was impossible. I was set to escort her back behind the truck a little ways, until the last second, when PH Trevor said, “Let’s go have a look up there real quick first.” Sure enough, less than four meters behind the back of our truck, his tracks were right there in the sandy road. Given this, coupled with the fact it was 4:00am and none of our live bait cows had been attacked, we decided that we had been checkmated again and to call it a night.
In the morning light, we learned that he had walked right by both the cows multiple times during the night. He just looked and didn’t touch. Also, he went to our exact spots that we had parked and called from. He even went and investigated spots where we had used the toilet by the side of the truck. We figure he must have sonar precision hearing to know exactly where we are to be able to go to consistently go to our exact spots.
6th NIGHT of Hunting: April 28, 2011 - We’re the bait
This was our last night to hunt before this safari was over. We had to leave at 8:00am the next morning to go to the airport, so we did not want to stay out all night again. By this time we were really getting tired, as we would hunt all or most of the night, while during the day we ran around tracking, putting out scat, building blinds, and strategizing.
We decided to move locations from the tree blind for obvious reasons. We chose to try and get him where we called from the previous night—the same place that the lion came and checked out our own personal scent. Also, we decided to try one more time to get him on live bait. This time we wanted to make it as obvious as possible. We tied a cow up half way in the road (on the previous nights we tied the cows up more or less in a field). We built the blind fifteen meters away. And, we tied up a very small LED light in a branch up in the trees above the cow. The theory was that we would gradually turn this on once he kills the cow, and hopefully the lion will think it is like the moon instead of a spotlight.
It was dark and rainy as we drove out to get set up in time for dusk. The general mood was a bit ominous. At 5:50pm we were just finishing tying up the cow and the light and making final preparations when my younger brother Jake had to use the toilet. Trevor sent him about ninety meters back into the woods behind the blind to go. While Jake was back in the woods, I heard a few grunts, but discounted them as they were so faint and no one else seemed to hear them. Besides, there are always many noises in the wild. Soon, Jake hurriedly burst from the woods traveling as fast and he quietly could holding an open umbrella in one hand and streaming toilet paper in the other. He was a little shaken when he told us that he heard some “uncomfortable noises” back there. PH Trevor thought he was making a joke while PH Jonathan dismissed it as most likely baboons.
At 6:00pm we got into the truck to drive over to the lion’s home territory, but at 6:10pm, we received the clicking radio code signal that something was up back at the blind. We turned off the engine and waited, staring at the radio. A few minutes goes by until we heard in an anxious whisper, “the lion…is right…behind us.” That is when Jake confessed he didn’t wipe.
Trevor started worrying about the scent of Jake’s bathroom break causing problems. First, the lion would scent this and know something strange is up. Secondly, the lion might find the scent and then follow it. Since Jake walked from there right by the blind, it would lead the lion right to my dad and Jonathan. Trevor was very concerned and in the heat of the moment demanded to know if Jake buried it or not. I was willing to overlook Jake’s indiscretion as I jumped in and said, “Bury! He didn’t even wipe. There was a lion right there.” Regardless, we decided to stay out of it. We hoped the lion not only wouldn’t maul them from behind but also eventually would come around in front of the blind to the bait, giving them a shot.
Five minutes later, the radio buzzed, and again we heard a whisper, this one even more terrified than the last: “Elephant.”
We all switched gears immediately. By this point, we all knew the story. There was a lone bull in the area that had recently acquired a taste for killing humans. The first incident was two months ago, and ever since then the frequency had been increasing at an alarming rate. Only a few days previous, he charged the owners truck. He only narrowly escaped thanks to some skillful and fast driving. We would not stay out of this one. Trevor floored it and we were off.
As we were driving at mach speed to get to the area to provide some type of support to my father and PH Jonathan who were trapped in the blind, Trevor was briefing my brother and me on how we were going to try and persuade this elephant to leave armed only with a shotgun and a 30.06. “If I say shoot, shoot the ground in front of him. Hopefully we’ll scare it. Don’t shoot him. We don’t have much chance of killing him with what we have. It will only piss him off. Of course, if he’s eating someone, shoot the bloody thing.” And then he went into describing where exactly we would have to try and shoot him if we were in front of, to the side, or behind him to have a chance at actually killing him.
Right as we came around the corner and slammed the breaks, we see it was not the lone bull, but the elephant herd. They walked ten meters from the blind, across the road, right next to the cow, and were now making their way off through the brush away from us. There was no real danger from them. I said to my brother as our adrenaline started to settle down, “Poor cow. Hears lions roaring. Has elephants walking by. Has buddies dying. He’s got a bell round his neck. And he’s tied up to a tree all night by himself in the middle of the bush.”
We all breathed a sigh of relief and headed up the road to turn around and go back to our original plan. We heard two soft whistles, then a faint pat on the roof, then someone reached through the window and grabbed me, and I reached over and grabbed Trevor, who slammed on the breaks. Trevor jumped out wanting to know what the problem was. They were trying to tell us that the lone bull elephant was right in front of us on the side of the road. But, we were so upset at having to always be in the front where we couldn’t hear or see anything, that we lectured them to communicate more clearly because we can’t hear or see anything. Meanwhile, Trevor and I were so busy lecturing, and the guys in the back were on the defensive, that all of us forgot about the whole dangerous elephant right in front of us thing.
So, Trevor got back into the truck and drove forward like normal. Just a split second later the people in the back—the Trackers and Jake—started going crazy whistling and hitting the top of the truck. Trevor thought they wanted to stop again, so he stopped. It was precisely at this point, while we just stopped and were both wondering why we stopped, that we heard a loud trumpet and saw the trees next to us shaking violently.
As we both looked over we saw one of the elephants eyes gleaming in the edge of our headlight. We were still confused as to what was happening and would have most likely been side swiped and killed by the elephant if not for one of the Trackers, Philemon. He broke protocol and just yelled out, “Let’s go! Let’s go!” as urgently as he could. It should be an easy choice between not being quiet and getting trampled to death; however, after you spend so much energy and consciousness always being quiet and always having that on the forefront of your mind, it is hard to break it even when necessary.
After this whole fiasco, it was still only 8:00pm. Accordingly, we drove back to resume the night’s plan to get the lion. We called up and down many different roads trying to get a response. Nothing was working. It had been getting progressively harder each night to call him in. We were starting to think that perhaps the game was up. He had figured out the caller. So, out of desperation, I played the forbidden track that I was never supposed to play. It was a lion roar recording; however, nobody liked it because the recording was contaminated with other animal sounds. Truthfully, it did sound horrible. But I know that sometimes the bad ones work the best.
As soon as I played it, everyone started groaning at how bad it was. However, the lion responded to it. And when we played it again, I heard something I will never forget. The lion did a series of roaring calls back to us while he must have been sprinting directly at us. I say this because literally, there was a Doppler Effect to his roars like you hear on an ambulance or police siren when it is coming towards you on the freeway. His final call was so close to us that the bass of it rattled my vocal chords.
After we got him interested again, we spent the better part of the next three hours trying to get him to follow us down the roads over to where my dad and PH Jonathan were waiting. He didn’t seem that interested. But finally, just before midnight, we got him to follow us. We were parked ½ a mile past the blind when we heard the cowbell start violently ringing again. Obviously, the lion was right there. But again, we did not hear a shot. Later, PH Jonathan told us that the reason the cow freaked out was because the lion trotted right down the middle of the road after us. He joked that it was trotting along after us like we had it on a leash.
We tried calling for the next hour and fifteen minutes: nothing. No response. We figured based on the previous nights experience that he was most likely over here right around our truck. Even though he was not responding, even though we couldn’t’ hear, see, smell, or know he was there, we knew he was there. So, we decided to try one last effort before we packed it in. We were going to drive down just twenty meters past the blind and use ourselves as the bait. It would be relatively safe because we would form an “L” shape between the shooter, us, and where the bait was and lion should be.
We did this because we thought that maybe the lion was confused. His ears and nose were telling him that we in the truck were a big male lion (lion caller and scat). But his eyes were telling him that we were a huge truck with humans (‘cause we were).
Our idea of using ourselves worked beautifully. We heard the lion roaring as he came in. Jake, in the back even got a bit disturbed wondering why we had stopped when he was chasing us—we didn’t tell the guys in the back our plan to use ourselves as bait—giving me the opportunity to entertain myself and whisper back one of my favorite lines from Top Gun to him, “We’re bringing him in closer Merlin.” Soon after, we heard the cowbell jingle again. For the third time, we started to quietly celebrate. But, of course, no shot. PH Jonathan said that the lion laid down in the middle of the road, right next to the cow, and was peaking around at us who were only twenty meters away. He said there for five seconds before stalking off into the bush after us. But it was so dark that there wasn’t an opportunity for my dad to shoot.
After that, and with our early flight, we decided to call it a night. Currently it was 1:30pm, and we had just seen the lion right there next to the cow. But, we had to go back and pick up my dad and PH Jonathan, as well as load the cow into the truck before we could go back. We turned on the headlights full blast, put the spot light out the back, and posted my dad sentry as we loaded up the cow. It is funny how much more secure we felt inside or in the bed of the truck than outside it on the ground. It does not make much sense, as the lion could easily pull any one of us off the truck like we would take cereal out of a cupboard. It is a psychological thing to feel safer inside a vehicle. So, now on the ground, we were all constantly looking over our shoulders as we were loading up that cow. And, we just about had a panic attack when we saw that my dad, the sentry and the only one with a weapon, had his gun propped up against a tree and was currently drinking a beer. Jake and I jokingly, but seriously, cursed him for dereliction of duty, and scrambled to arm ourselves as fast as we could.
April 29, 2011 - Future Plans
Even though we were unsuccessful, my father decided that in six weeks, if the lion was still alive, he would return to hunt it again. It was not a sure thing that the lion would live. The conservancy was always paying for hunters to come in and try to get him. The good news to us was that he had been hunted for years now, and we know just as good as anyone how hard it is to kill him. This all meant to us that the lion would live. The lion living was a good thing, because my dad had caught lion fever.
Unfortunately, I had to return to Thailand to train for my upcoming fight, my girlfriend had to go back to teaching, and Jake had to return and report for duty in Florida. So my dad would return to hunt him alone. Well, not alone, he would still go with PH Trevor, who has been his hunting partner, outfitter, scout, and dear friend for sixteen years and has accompanied him on every one of his thirty some African adventures since the mid 1990’s. And of course, he would still have PH Jonathan and the trackers.
But before we all departed, the three of us that would not return discussed how grateful we were just for this experience. While we would have loved to be there if and when the lion was actually killed especially since none of us have seen it, we all wished them the best of luck in our own way when we parted. My girlfriend Claire had one request: “You better get a good picture of it so I can Photoshop myself in.” My final words were a good-natured ribbing. After I expressed my disbelief that we didn’t bag the lion on one of the times that he walked through the firing lane, my father said he couldn’t believe it either. Then he asked what I thought the problem was. “You mean other than you didn’t shoot it?” My final quip was to make him promise that if he got any kind of a shot to take it. I didn’t want to see him become the new spokesperson for Beggars Can’t Be Choosers. Later, we would find out how cogent a remark that was. Lastly, Jake gave the standard, “Shoot straight,” salutation.
“After the first 7 days of hunting this cat,” my father Steve said, “the animal became kind of bigger than life. He was the smartest animal I have ever had the privilege to hunt. I decided that the only chance we had was to get some good night vision equipment.” After searching the Internet and asking opinions, he ended up purchasing an ATN ps22 night vision scope. The first big advantage this night vision scope has over other models is that it attaches to the end of any riflescope. The second big advantage is that it has an illuminator infrared light that mounts on top of the night vision itself for low light conditions. The infrared lights up any warm bodies against the cool night landscape. “The scope did a great job. I kind of thought it would be like cheating,” Steve said. “But it still wasn’t good enough for this cat.”
Below is a day-by-day record from my father’s diary on this part of the hunt.
June 16, 2011 - Flight to Africa
“The second part of the trip could have started better. I lost the key to the lock on the gun case. Somehow it ended up in a pocket in the back seat of my wife’s car, but we could not find it at the time with one hour to go. We needed to go to Lowes to buy a lock cutter to cut the locks on the case and then buy two more locks to solve the issue. After all this, the jet blue people said my gun case and bag were not on the plane that I was on that landed in New York. Also, the bags did not show up on the baggage transfer data to South African Airlines. I was sending emails and panic messages that I would need shells and another rifle for the hunt. Midway through the flight to Africa, somewhere over the Atlantic, the pilot came back to my seat and told me he thought there was a 50-50 chance my bags were on the plane and they would be in baggage claim when we landed. Apparently, it happens all the time. Welcome to Africa. That could have become a big issue but fortunately my bag and my gun showed up in Johannesburg.
7th NIGHT of Hunting: June 17, 2011 - Contact
“Our game plan worked perfectly. We were going to locate the lion by calling near where we thought his home was from last hunt. We were set to go out as soon as it was dark. We spent the morning looking for sign: tracks, scat, or any other indication the lion was still alive. Another PH had hunted the cat in our six-week absence, and we had to make sure the lion was still alive and with us. We arrived at the Piscotti Road, the road that goes nearest his home, at 7:30pm and called for about thirty minutes. We didn’t hear a response and so moved down the road about one mile. We called again without a response. I was feeling a little rejected. The third call was made about 1-½ hours after we started. The game plan was to call every half hour until we found him. The trackers and game scouts Peter and Philemon said they heard the lion answer us way off in the distance during the fifth call. We were about four miles from the area we thought was his home. I heard a faint roar, but it must have been at five to six miles away. As it turned out, in true form, the lion was running at us after the fifth call.
“We called for about 1/2 hour driving back down the road, trying to lure him back to where all our blinds were from the previous hunt. Finally, when we got back there, we stopped and called again, and lion answered us from about sixty yards. The night vision was all set up and ready to go, but the lion must have smelled a rat. He never would show himself. I could see the eyes on my dog with the illuminator at two hundred yards but could not see the lion at thirty yards. He must have been behind brush with his eyes closed. We heard the lion five times tonight, and he followed the truck even though he was not real vocal all night. We quit around 1:00am for a Jack Daniels break and decided to leave the lion for tomorrow night. He was not acting like he was when we left him a month ago. Maybe he had figured out that the truck with the huge lion sound and scent coming out of it was not the threat to him that he thought it was. Our goal in the chase tonight was to get him to follow the truck with the lion call and lion scat and see if we could get him to walk past one of our blinds that we built on our prior trip. We coordinated this hunt with a full moon, and it was currently only two days past full. The extra light was supposed to make it easier for us to see and for our night vision to work better. The only issue we had with the night vision was that we could not use it to look towards the moon. It was way too bright. We found out that it was possible to look towards the moon, but I would have to be way inside a completely dark area. Basically, it was kind of like standing in a room five feet from a window with a rifle instead of putting the rifle out the window.
8th NIGHT of Hunting: June 18, 2011 - Not on the Road
“We were all starting to feel dejected. We thought it would be easy with the new night vision equipment. But it wasn’t. The lion was just too clever. He really was the king of the jungle. He had no fear. Basically he was the ultimate predator, not us. He had eyes and ears that are as good or better than any animal on earth. He would come within anywhere from five to fifty yards of the truck to check us out. There have been eight guys in the truck, half of that number were professionals, and yet no one had even seen him once. I think the count was now four or five times where we have seen tracks within five yards of the truck when we turn on the headlights to start the truck and move again. They say that a coyote can tell within one degree where a sound comes from a mile away. I have heard this cat at roaring at five miles and the next time I heard him he was within fifty yards of me. I did not think that was possible. I promised myself that I would never underestimate this cat. The lion always seems to have the ability to guess our next moves and come out ahead of us.
“I was instructed by the camp staff that we needed to get a food impala (young male) today but it wasn’t going to happen. Saw lots of Impala, but never got a shot at a young ram. We also saw Zebra, Kudos, Eland, and a few duikers. Unfortunately, there were no eligible animals for the pot today. We might turn into vegetarians at this rate. There’s a Native American saying, ‘Hungry man hunts harder.’ That was what I kept telling myself when my belly rumbled.
“We spent the day today looking at his tracks from last night’s escapade, and trying to study him and get familiar with his new habits. We talked to locals and trying to figure out any changes in the lion’s behavior. For some reason from what we could gather, he did not seem to walk the roads as much as the last time we hunted for him. He followed us last night, but stayed off the road for the most part. On the last hunt, he would follow us right down the middle of the road. But this time, in the seven miles or so that he followed us, there were only three times that we found his tracks on the clear sandy road. All three of those times were him crossing the road, moving from cover to cover. None of us liked this new development. This just eliminated what we perceived to the biggest weakness this beast had.
“We set out tonight at around 8:00pm. Nevertheless, we tried again the live bait along the side of the road plan. Ken, the owner of both the Chinica Ranch and the cattle told us take one of his for tonight. He figured that the lion was gong to kill all his cattle before it was over, so we might as well take one now in a chance that it might actually do some good. ‘For the good of the herd,’ he said. The blind we set up was twenty-eight yards exactly from the cow. We know this because we measured it off to sight in the rifle. The plan was to have the lion come between the cow and us. So the shot would be ideally around twenty-five yards.
“Last time the lion laid down in the road and scared the cow half to death but never did touch it. So, we did not necessarily think the lion would attack the cow. But, we thought that the lion would at least be distracted enough by the cow that he might not see the infrared light on top of the night vision scope. The illuminator has a dull red glow to it and the lion would be able to see it if he looked right at it. He learns fast, and I did not want to take the chance of him seeing that red glow. Once it started to get later into the night and the moon was up, the illuminator would no longer be needed. However, without any moonlight, the pure night vision did not work.
“The other issue was that when I activated the illuminator, a small green light turned on. This small light lit up my face when it was pitch dark. For most other animals, this would not be a problem. But with this lion...We put a sock over the illuminator with the idea I would take it off a second before I fired. This made my job more difficult as I just did not want to wound the critter. Someone might get hurt trying to track a wounded lion at night. The plan was that if I shoot once and the lion was not lying there dead, we were going to hire a guy with dogs to find him. That was strictly a backup plan. We had already made arrangements with an apprehensive dog owner, who was afraid all his dogs would get killed. This in turn made me apprehensive. And the whole sock situation made it worse. I figured by the time I was done after three weeks of hunting, I will have bought and been responsible for the death of twenty dogs, five cows, and no lions.
“The backup plan for tonight was if the cow blind did not work, we would try one of the blinds where you can see 1/2 mile down a straight dirt road and hope we could get the cat at a farther distance from us before he got into stalking range and started off into the bush.
“With these plans, plus the extra two hours we put in dragging branches behind the truck to sweep every dirt road within a five mile radius of the blind, we thought we again stacked the chips in our favor. Sweeping the dirt roads might sound unnecessary, but there were thousands of animal tracks of every kind on the road. And we did not want to be jumping out of the truck in the pitch darkness with the lion hot on our tail arguing over whether the track was fresh or not, or whether it was indeed the lion track and not a big leopard or hyena track. We preferred to be able to stay in the truck and tell by a quick glance if it was him or not.
“The other thing we tried to sort out was the ongoing debate about the loudness of the lion call. I thought that we needed to play it as load as we could until the lion located us and answered us twice. After that I thought it needed to be turned way down to get the lion closer. The sound we made was so load it kind of sounded like a tyrannosaurus rex. Even if I was the biggest meanest king of the beasts, I would think twice about attacking something that makes the kind of sound we made Perhaps that is why he is off the roads: he was convinced there is a bigger meaner new male lion messing with his territory.
“The debate about the volume turned out to be worthless, as we had technical problems with the caller. The electronics had about ten different wires that can be knocked loose or break, so there was always something to fix. Fixing it in the day in the garage was usually not a problem. But it was considerably more difficult in the middle of the bush in the dark with the lion roaring. Trevor could not get a plug to work for the amp, but the lion called at us anyhow. Trevor ended up opening the doors of the truck and playing the call back to him on the truck speakers, which was significantly quieter and more dangerous than the regular amplifier speaker mounted on top of the truck. No matter, he was able to lure the lion in close to the blind.
“The only problem was that the lion, again, walked in from behind the blind. PH Jonathan and I heard him roar from about ten yards behind us. His roar was so powerful it literally shook and vibrated our blind. We felt like one of the three little pigs that get’s his straw house blown down. It sure sounded like he was going to visit the blind, and so again, I was ready for anything. I had the safety off and the rifle pointed at the sound as if that would help. Eventually the lion walked away. But being the ultimate predator, he decided to avoid the cow and walked in the brush forty yards from our shooting lane. The lion stayed within a hundred yards of us for two hours. I think he knew we were there, knew the cow was there, and knows that if he attacked one of the cows, he would get a light shone on him. And since he remembers light equals pain, he wouldn’t come near it.
9th NIGHT: June 20th, 2011 - Confidence at a New Low
“The lion won the previous night. PH Trevor’s confidence crashed to a new low. He was convinced the cat was smarter than us. We decided to give up on live bait. We figured the lion would never again eat something tied up to a tree in the middle of the bush. We told the owners to pass the word around the community that all they had to do is tie up there cows to a tree in the middle of the bush for the night and they wouldn’t be hurt.
“We figured we needed all new tactics, but none of us could come up with anything. My concern was that eventually he would figure out we were not a threat and ignore the call altogether. In fact, this had been a concern for seven days nights now.
“We talked again during the day about getting dogs to chase this lion. We only had three more days where the moon would be out during the majority of the night. Without the moon, we figured our slim chance would be dashed to absolute zero. Still, we had the problem with dogs that we thought the lion would kill them all. We were not sure how we would get close enough to the lion in thick brush with a lion and dogs flying around. This lion would not fight a pack of dogs out in an open field somewhere. Surely, he would lure them into thicker brush where he had the advantage. Furthermore, this particular lion had already shown to a group of previous hunters that he is too dangerous to track. They got on his trail and the lion lured them into thick grass before looping around in a circle to come back on his tracks to see who was following him. That hunting group is lucky to still be alive. Besides, I figured there was even yet another issue with dogs. We would have to run after them on foot through the brush. Someone would most likely get hurt just during the run. That someone would most likely be the oldest one—me. So using dogs was really my last choice. But I will confess that it still sounded like fun in a sick little way.
“Without any new ideas, we went back to trying to sit in a blind with a long view of the road. We were all in our usual posts. PH Jonathan and I were in the blind, while Trevor and the trackers were in the vehicle. The caller was working again tonight, and they managed to bring the lion in relatively close again. But he seemed to lose interest in the call and just laid down two hundred yards from our blind. At least that is what we thought because we heard him call a couple of times from there. We tried everything we could think of to hopefully get the lion to walk down the road or through an open shootable spot, but again, none of us ever saw him. We decided to call it off at 3:00am. We figured we were outclassed again and wanted to get some decent sleep so we had energy for the days labor tomorrow.
10th NIGHT: June 21st, 2011 - Surprise Death
“The lion was getting smarter and smarter every day. I will say it again here, only because we said it ten times a day every day: this lion learned really fast. We concluded that we probably only had a few more nights, then it would be game over one way or another. Perhaps he would completely lose interest in the caller and us. Perhaps he would maim or kill one of us (after all, we did sound and smell like a lion).
“We never did quite know what day or time of the day it was. The lion was only active at night. So, we had to hunt him at night. And during the daylight, there was usually some mission we had to do that prevented us from sleeping too much.
“During the day this time, we again had to fix the sound system for the caller. Also, we were out of lion scat again. This warranted another trip down to Alan Austin’s Ranch and his pet lion. This time, however, Alan in a typical African swashbuckler gesture, told us that if we could rig up some kind of a cage for the back of the truck, that he would us his real lion tomorrow night. We all thanked him profusely and again our hopes soared with this new possibility.
“We still had tonight to hunt though, and again, for lack of any innovative ideas, we tried our same old tactics. We were just hoping that he would eventually make a mistake and show himself. We did not leave camp or pick up the trackers until a little after 10:00pm. Since the moon rises fifty-some minutes later every night, our hunts were starting later and later.
“The start of the night could not have been worse. We could not get the lion to answer us. It was our worst fear. We figured one of these days the lion might tire of our caller. Tonight seemed to be the beginning of that. If he chose not to answer us, chose not to walk the roads, or even worse, just got sick of us, then it was game over. Not only would we never bag this lion, but the lion would continue to eat everyone’s cattle and terrorize this area until it died of old age.
“We called every ten minutes from 10:00pm until 1:30am. Without any action, how boring and uncomfortable it is in the truck starts to sink in. At 1:30am, almost ten miles from what we considered his normal hangout, PH Jonathan and Tracker Philemon said they heard a faint roar way in the distance - almost five miles away.
“I did not hear it, but I have learned to never question a tracker’s abilities. We did our normal routine response. We drove as close as we could until we thought we were about where he called from and started our call and move tactic. Again, we wanted him to follow the car along the road eventually chasing it right past one of our blinds. Of course, it wasn’t even close to that easy.
“It was by now 2:30am, and that one original feint roar in the distance was all we had heard. We talked about giving up for the night. We even joked that if we all just got out of the car, talked loudly, used the toilet, and got out the snacks, that we would surely hear him roar within forty yards of us.
“Instead of giving up, my feeling was that I had had enough sleep and would rather sleep in the bush to see if something happened. Trevor, being the good PH and boyfriend that he is, let me and his girlfriend Bookie sleep in the cab while he and Jonathan, along with the Tracker’s, drew the short end of the stick and sat in the back. By this time it was not just a wild animal attack that was worrisome. It was also the middle of winter, and the temperature was sub-freezing outside. Ergo, the back really was the short end of the stick. We had no idea where the lion was, so we decided to set up the truck right where we figured his home was.
“The plan was for everyone to do there best to get some shuteye, while Bookie and I would attempt to call every fifteen minutes or so. Trevor laid down a blanket on the ground next to the truck while Jonathan bundled up and lay down across the bench seat in the back.
“It was almost 5:00am. Now I had had enough for the night. Just before I was going to wake everyone up to start the long journey back to camp, I played the caller one last time. Trevor jumped up from sleeping, seemingly off the ground and into the truck in one Olympic worthy motion. Still out of it from being asleep, he said he wasn’t sure what was going on, but that he could hear a low rumble dangerously close in between our lion caller roars. Sure enough, the cat had come within forty yards of us and was growling at us. He would only growly while we roared, accounting for why no one else was hearing it.
“Of course, even with our state of the art night vision, we could not see him. My unofficial count by now as something like this lion had been within forty yards over sixty times during this hunt, and between all of us, no one ever saw anything.
“We took off down the road to one of our blinds. The lion chased us and became more vocal; however, he went in the bush about a hundred yards from the road. It was quickly apparent the lion had that blind figured out. He probably even watched us get into it. We figured the only way he would walk down the road or come close to this blind was to attack us. We radioed for Trevor to come back with the truck.
“We jumped in and headed for our tree blind almost two miles away. Trevor drove extremely fast as we wanted to try and get there with enough time so the lion wouldn’t be able to watch us get into the blind. In the excitement of switching blinds and the idea of having to quickly climb up into this tree blind, we were not adequately clothed. In other words, we were freezing our butts off, and it was difficult to hold the rifle steady. Nevertheless, we got set up for hopefully a twenty to forty yard shot at a forty-five degree angle into the road/clearing area. Trevor was in the car only a couple hundred yards away - just around the bend - and he was calling.
“Unfortunately, nothing happened. We heard the lion roar one last time from just about the same spot we originally heard him growl from, but nothing else. We had a radio conference. We all figured it was over. The definition of insanity…
“We planned to take three days off to go to the lake, and then when we came back we would actually bring out the real lion in a cage. If we had the real lion in a cage and we had our caller (so two lion’s calling), then we guessed we might get this lion to change his behavior and expose himself. I would have to have my head on straight and my marksmanship right because I didn’t want to pay for two lions or face the wrath of Alan Austin’s wife who raised that pet lion from a kitten. The conference call ended with Jonathan and Trevor deciding we would tough out the cold another hour or so until daylight, so we wouldn’t disturb the area.
“We were so convinced the lion was gone - either literally or figuratively - we put him out of our mind and tried to have fun with hyena’s. Trevor started playing a hyena feeding frenzy call for the last hour instead of the lion call. At 5:45am, Trevor did play the lion call one last time before he came to pick us up. But still, no response. Bookie had to use the toilet, so Trevor walked her almost forty yards into the bush to find a good spot. It was now a bit past dawn. With the daylight, I think they felt a little safer. In hindsight, this was not a good idea, nor were they safe. The lion was close to them and the truck. Trevor’s sixth sense initially tipped him off, and then a close growl confirmed it. The speed they took to return to the truck is unknown as Trevor said he was trying not to run. I don’t think that was the first time someone tried not to run from this lion.
“Trevor played the call again, and the lion started roaring before it was finished. He sounded like he was extremely close. Jonathan and I both peered out through the blind and both saw this huge truck-like animal walking right towards us at fifty yards. He was walking right towards us roaring, swaying his head with every step at least twelve inches in each direction. I quickly lined up the shot. I kept the crosshairs on his head for more than twenty feet, but I didn’t want to shoot him in the head. Once he got to within twenty yards of our blind, he quickly turned to cut off the road into the bush. BANG! In half a second, before I was able to process what happened, I had shot. The lion roared, jumped, band ran back down the road for about ten yards before disappearing into the bush. We heard him continue to run for about seventy-five more yards, then everything went real quiet. It all happened so fast; I wasn’t sure where I had hit him. Regardless, we stayed in the tree and radioed for backup (Trevor).
“Trevor said they heard a shot of course, but they could not believe it was the lion. They figured we probably bagged a meat impala or a hyena. No way did any of us think, especially me, that it could be the lion. It was light outside. I don’t think they actually thought we shot at the lion until they saw firsthand three things. 1) Jonathan and I super cautiously and speedily descend the tree and get into the truck. 2) The lion’s footprints in the road. 3) Blood next to one of the prints.
“The follow up was interesting as we drove down the roads to try and get a rough idea of which section of the bush he was in. At this point, I was very sure of my shot, meaning I was sure I hit him somewhere in the torso. We waited until it was past dawn and into full daylight before we went after him through the thick brush. We wanted to give ourselves the best opportunity possible to defend ourselves in case he was wounded and lying waiting.
“Trevor, Jonathan, and I walked three abreast guns at the ready with safety’s off. Trevor was on the left with a .375 H&H, Jonathan in the middle with a .458 and iron sights, and I was on the right with my own .375 H&H. The two trackers tracked in front of us, crawling on their bellies so we could shoot over their heads. It takes a special kind of courage and trust to crawl in the front without a weapon, and they did it. If the cat made a rush at us, the trackers were to lie still flat on the ground and the three of us were not supposed to miss.
“Trevor said the weakness a lion has when you are tracking a wounded one like this is that he will make one big roar before he starts his rush to attack. He wants you to know he is charging. As long as we could hold our water, this was good news for us as it gives us a one second warning. Also, common wisdom says that a lion will single out one and only one person and try to completely decimate that one guy. Good news for me being the biggest, and also good for everyone as that means someone should be able to at least shoot. We all found this preferable than a wounded leopard, which will pounce from five feet away with no warning and will in a bezerker fashion attack everyone at once. A leopard would send five guys to the hospital, a lion only one…or maybe that one to the morgue. Either way, we were happy it was a lion.
“We followed blood for forty yards. We ended up spotting the lion seventy-five yards away at the edge of some long grass. Fortunately, the lion was dead. One shot. But it wasn’t a great shot. I hit him too far back. I just got lucky and ended up getting both his arteries going to his kidneys.
“We spent about an hour taking pictures and rehashing the night’s events. He was as big as the back of the pickup truck. Our best realistic guess on weight was between 500-550 pounds.
“To top off a perfect day, the camp needed an meat impala. We saw a herd of twenty on the way back. I saw what I thought was young male in the brush at 100 yards. Flying high after the success of the lion, I put the crosshairs on him and pulled the trigger. I was not sure where I was aiming but in the excitement I thought I made a good shot. We walked up and there was a dead impala young ram with high neck shot dead. I never said anything but I doubt it was the one I was shooting at. Sometimes luck works. I was kind of glad that shot was not at the lion. I kind of remember aiming at his chest.
11th NIGHT: June 22nd, 2011 - Celebration
“We spent most of the day sleeping and reading kind of a relaxing day recapping the Intelligence of the lion. We concluded that had we not gotten him, it was indeed game over for us. He had us figured out. We would have had to bring in the actual real lion.
“We decided that he in ten nights of hunting him, he on average was probably watching us and within a hundred yards of us for five hours each night. That makes fifty hours total. And none of us, even with two night vision goggles, saw anything beyond unconfirmed flashes. Even worse, there were many times where he came within ten feet of the truck. Looking back, it is amazing no one ever got hurt.
“Around the lunch table, we played amateur lion psychologists. Did the lion think we were half man half lion? Did he think that this other lion sure has a strange scent? Maybe he thought we were this other lion’s pets, so that is why he never attacked us.
“At night, we celebrated with all ranchers and villagers in the lion’s territory. Almost three hundred people came. We already had the skin tacked out by then, so there was not a lion to see. Nevertheless, everyone came to celebrate together and hopefully at least see a digital picture. The hunt was truly a team effort: cows were entrusted, radio equipment was loaned, lion scat was provided, and locals eagerly reported. Thus, it was a feast worthy of the old days. Stories were told, meat was eaten, songs and dances were performed, and all of it took place at our camp in the bush around the fire. Then everyone went home and slept their first night free of the cows being pinned up in their yards for the first time in over two years. Me, I slept with the excitement of a man whose dream just came true.”
This Lion hunt probably will not be repeated any time soon. All of us consider ourselves very lucky to have been able to be a part of a hunt of a lifetime. This was the smartest predator that any of us have heard of since the lions in The Man-eaters of Tsavo of 1900 vintage. Our family, PH’s Trevor Lake and Jonathan Collett, along with Trackers Peter and Philemon, were very grateful to have been a part of the ultimate predator hunt. Moreover, we will cherish the memory of the Old Africa that showed itself for fourteen some days in the winter of 2011.