How not to hunt lions--but learning to--Part II.
I was just trying to pick myself up when Jan (who had wisely climbed a tree) shouted that the male was coming back. I reloaded three rounds from the pouch on my belt when I saw him and slammed the action shut. He was badly hit and was running rather than charging and my first bullet stopped him. I put another bullet in and then he turned to run away and I got a raking shot in. This time I reloaded fully before trying to pick myself up--it felt like every rib was broken and just breathing was painful.
With the coming of peace, though, more active steps were taken by some to eradicate the lion. My father steered clear of these night-time efforts to shoot lion. "I don't have the rifle for it", he said, "and they own the night. The lazy coward by day becomes a fierce killer the moment the sun sets. You need at least a 9.3 and preferably a .404, and it must wear a good scope if you are going to try night work.", and he left it at that. In retrospect it would appear that most of his neighbours held the same view and it always seemed to be the older boys rather than the older men who sat in the blinds near the border waiting for the lion to come in.
I was nearly fifteen before I was invited along for a night hunt. Six cattle had been taken in a fortnight by a small pride that had figured out the quick in-and-out by night trick. One had been ours but the rest were the neighbour's, and his 18year-old son was determined to sort the problem out. I can't say that my father was enamoured of the plan when I told him what I was up to. He went and had a look at the blind to make sure that it was properly built--it was--Schalk's father, who had built it, had used 3" steam pipe to reinforce the front. He also borrowed a 'scoped .375 for me to use and some good Nonna soft points. To say that that hunt was an education would be a masterpiece of understatement. Both of us went into it with supreme confidence. Both of us had seen plenty of dozy, well-fed lion shot by day and, really, there was nothing to it.
We were comfortably settled into the blind well before dusk. A drag had been carried out (illegally) up and down the border road (it was on the Botswana side of the fence) and the quarter-eaten remains of their last kill tied with a chain to a suitable dead-stop sunk deep into the sand. Neither of us really expected anything to happen since at least 90% of these excursions seemed to end in failure.
It was barely dusk when the strong smell of lion wafted in on the almost dead still night air. They were right there, somewhere ... It was still light enough to see most things, but nothing moved. Absolutely nothing. Even the bats seemed to be giving the area a wide birth. To compound matters, there were no night sounds either. The crickets, cicadas and nightjars had suddenly stopped calling. The king was around and all the creatures of the bush respectfully shut up and sat tight.
As it grew darker, I became acutely aware of the need for a really good torch. It was the night of the dead moon, and although the sky was clear, the starlight simply served to make the bushes cast even darker shadows in the gloom. We had hung a light with a red gell over it from a spindly tree next to the bait. It was operated through a rheostat and the idea was that I would gradually turn it up until Schalk could see to shoot. Both of us, of course, had torches but in the days before Mag-Lights, the little square two-cell job that came off the front of my bicycle was about as good as they came, unless you rigged a tractor lamp to a car battery or some such plan. Given that the bicycle torch threw a good beam for all of three metres, and Schalk's was no better, and that we had a motorcycle battery in the blind to work the light over the bait, it wouldn't have been too difficult to rig up a decent shooting lamp. For that matter, I could have brought along a couple of the carbide lamps that were once used down the old mine on our place and that my father used when fishing. In fact, sitting in the dark with the heavy odour of lion smothering us like a wet blanket, any sort of decent light would have been worth swapping one of the rifles for!
Schalk nudged me and I gradually turned the red light above the bait up to a very dull glimmer. Schalk looked through the 'scope on his rifle but there was nothing to be seen. A small breath of air made the leaves move, barely. If we were not so tense we probably wouldn't have noticed it at all. Now though it seemed that the whole bush was alive. Schalk nudged me again and I turned the lamp up to full brightness. All this achieved though was to make black shadows even darker and the eerie red light seemed to heighten any movement by a leaf or blade of grass.
Suddenly there was movement near the bait and a huge, absolutely monstrous lion pulled himself up into plain view, materialising out of grass not even six inches high. Both of us grabbed our rifles. At this point, Mrs. Lion decided that if the family were to enjoy an uninterrupted night's feed, she had better get rid of these two pesky pseudo-hunters watching her dinner. As our concentration was rivetted on the lion ahead, she stuck her head through the canvas flap that served as a door at the back of the blind and roared. I don't know about Schalk, but I honestly don't think more than my toes touched the ground anywhere between the blind and the Land Rover which was parked a mile or so away. The only thing that I do know for certain is that Schalk reached the vehicle sufficiently before me to smoke half a cigarette and do serious justice to the medicinal bottle of brandy in the tool box.
Daylight told the real story--and told with full measure of mirth by the San trackers my Dad bought along. There had been only three adults and four small cubs. The male with the pride was a youngster, with hardly any mane to speak of. He certainly was nothing like the six-foot-high-at-the-shoulder giant that I had seen loom out over that carcass. The female with the cubs had been hiding in the bush to our left about fifty metres away, while paw prints and scuff marks showed how the second lioness had carefully stalked us. From the time we first smelled them to the time she told us to please bugger off was nearly two hours. How long had it taken her to silently slither into position and how had she co-ordinated the move with her mate so as to ensure maximum surprise value? None of them had taken any further interest in us and the two females had then stopped being stealthy and had casually walked up to the kill and begun feeding. They hadn't even bothered to leave one of them as a sentry as they occasionally do when heavily persecuted. They obviously knew we wouldn't be back that night!
I now had a completely new perspective on lion hunting, and my personal opinion of them differed considerably from my father's. He had simply laughed at the story told in the sand the next morning and commented that "A little fear brings prudence, but you mustn't let it dictate events.", and that if I really wanted to be a lion hunter I had better learn about blinds and lion habits. Unfortunately our nocturnal lion hunting forays were soon at an end. "Dissidents" as the new guerrillas were known in the next round of the civil war put an end to any movement outside the security fences around the houses at night and fanners went back to the old Rhodesian war-days plan of putting strychnine in a carcass. This certainly killed a few lion, and had the added bonus of killing a good few dissidents, as well, who thought they had found a free meal. Unfortunately, I didn't learn a lot more about lion hunting during the next four years of spasmodic on-again-off-again war. But between the war and six buffalo culls I had learned never to panic, at anything, and once action started, to file fear out of the way in the furthest reaches of the mind.
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|Title Annotation:||Features: Of these tales, we steal time to tell ...|
|Publication:||African Hunter Magazine|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2016|
|Previous Article:||Dr Don Heath 1967-2015.|
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