The King and I: with a 450-pound cat 24 yards from the blind, you very well might question your sanity.
The wild look in Duri's eyes said it all ... "This is crazy. You re a lunatic, and I ought to have my head examined for letting you talk me into it!" But as the huge African lion quickly approached us, the wheel-bow and release aid feeling foreign in my hands, the time for second thoughts was long past.
Duri Simoes (pronounced Seemoniosh) was my PH (Professional Hunter), and I was in northeast Zambia on safari with my buddy, and benefactor on this hunt, Jim Boyer. Jimmy had called me earlier in the year and asked what I was doing in August. The archery deer and elk seasons in my home state of Colorado open near the end of the month, so I asked Jimmy what part of August he meant.
"August!" he replied. "I'm taking you to Jurassic Park for the entire month of August, and it's already booked. So you're going."
I mumbled something about his sanity, started three incoherent sentences, and finally blurted, "Where exactly is Jurassic Park, and when exactly do we leave?"
Jurassic Park turned out to be on the eastern side of the Luangwa River in Zambia, at the Mtowzi Camp of Crocodile Safaris. The camp operator, P.J. Fouche, would be guiding Jim, while I would enjoy the company of two different guest PH's over the course of the 21-day safari. Duri Simoes would be in charge of my last two weeks. He had never guided a bowhunter before, and he was skeptical.
On day 15 of the already successful hunt, as Jim had previously taken a lion, P.J. told Duri of a large lion track downriver from camp. So early the next morning, Duri, his trackers, and I were off to find the spoor of this lion to see if we could figure out a way to get within bow range. It wasn't long before we located fresh tracks.
After evaluating the area, Duri decided he wanted to hang a quarter of a hippo--an animal we'd taken earlier in the hunt--in a tree. If you've ever hung a quarter of a deer or elk in a tree, you know that can be an ordeal. Now picture hoisting a 500-pound chunk of hippo up a tree. Easy does not describe the process.
In any case, we did get some hippo meat in a tree. Now it was a waiting game to see if The King would find our offering.
TWO DAYS LATER, we were excited to see that the lion had showed up to dine, and the trackers were impressed with the sign he'd left. In his deep, Angolan-born, Portuguese accent, Duri said, "We are hunting a very beeeg lion." I didn't bother to mention that any lion would be "very beeeg" to me!
As the guys began to clear the ground at the base of a large Mopane tree, I asked, "What are they doing?"
"They're building the blind where we'll wait to shoot the cat," Duri replied.
Immediately, I turned and looked at the hippo from where we were standing. "It's too far away," I said.
"You mean too close?" he asked.
"No," I said. "Too far!"
Using my rangefinder to judge the distance, I came up with 54 yards. Duri said that was 30 yards closer than he'd ever built a lion blind before.
"Where would you like the blind?" he asked skeptically.
Searching around, I pointed to the base of a group of smaller Mopane trees and, with much more bravado than I felt, said, "This is perfect!"
He glanced at me and then quickly at the meat, and with a strange look in his eyes, asked, "And just how far eez that to the heepo?"
Raising my rangefinder again, I said, "An absolutely ideal 24 yards." Duri immediately pronounced me certifiably crazy, paced around looking back and forth from the meat to my desired location, and then, after calling me psychotic one more time, directed the guys, "Build the blind where the crazy bwana wants it."
SINCE 1991, I'VE HUNTED exclusively with a traditional bow, but just two months before our departure, the Zambian government kindly informed me that I could hunt with a wheel-bow or a rifle, but that my longbow would be staying in Durango, Colorado. That was a shock to my system, but I wasn't interested in shooting anything with a rifle. So the next day I called my good friend and incredible bowhunter Bobby Fromme to ask him to put together a couple of compound bows for me.
In very short order, Bobby sent me two Mathews Conquest 3 bows, one set up for lighter plains game, the other built for buffalo, hippo, and crocodile. Using a release, which I'd never tried before, I found both bows to be deadly accurate. To keep me company on the lion hunt, I chose the lighter bow, tuned to shoot 490-grain arrows at 73 pounds draw weight.
Some countries allow cat hunting at night, but in Zambia that's illegal. So we made our first sit in the blind the next afternoon. It was uneventful until a herd of unruly elephants moved into the area for dinner, very close to our little hide. The giants had not been sport hunted here for many years, but because they have been poached mercilessly, they have become extremely aggressive. The truck couldn't come to get us once darkness fell, as the elephants would most certainly attack it. In the meantime, we could do nothing but sit quietly and hope one of the huge animals didn't begin to feed on our blind and discover us. Sitting in the pitch black, listening to 10,000-pound beasts milling around 10 yards away is, to say the least, an unsettling experience!
ON THE SECOND-TO-LAST DAY of our safari, as Duri and I sat in the predawn coolness, enjoying the sounds of the Zambian bush coming to life, I was reflecting on the wonderful adventure I'd had in Jurassic Park. Somehow, I wasn't even thinking about the lion, which hadn't been far from my conscious thoughts since we'd first found his spoor.
Then, in the next instant, the lion hunt came rushing back to me, as he suddenly began to sing from far off in the distance.
During the next 45 minutes, as daylight arrived and the lion got closer, my adrenaline began to flow. Well, at least I thought it had begun to flow, right up until I looked out the tiny shooting window we'd created in the blind and saw the King of Beasts walking directly at me. His yellow eyes seemed to look directly into my soul.
I glanced at Duri, and the wild look in his eyes said it all ... "This is crazy. You're a lunatic, and I ought to have my head examined for letting you talk me into it]" His face showed the very real concern that we may have got it wrong--in a game in which you get it wrong only one time.
As The King reached the hippo meat, 24 yards suddenly seemed absurd, and at that point, the adrenaline afterburners really kicked in. The blood rushing in my ears began to sound like Victoria Falls, and I found myself descending into that primal state of focus that always seems to precede a shot, particularly on dangerous game. All else seemed to fade as I focused 100 percent on the deadly feline in front of me.
As the cat fed on the hippo for an eternity--it turned out to be eight minutes--he presented no good shot angle. I remained absolutely still; locked, loaded, and prepared to shoot.
AND THEN AN UNUSUAL thing happened: My heart rate slowed; the rushing in my ears quieted; and I began to hear the birds, the rustling of the wind in the trees, and the crunching of a 475-pound lion feeding on hippo meat--at 24 yards.
Incredibly, I relaxed and began enjoying the show, watching his muscles bunch and relax, then bunch again as he turned the hippo quarter this way and that, like a stuffed toy. And then, as if penned in some hunting playwright's manuscript, another lion roared off in the bush, and the cat stepped away from the meat and stood at a perfect angle, turned just ever so slightly away, listening to hear his competitor once again.
As if by magic, the bow was at full draw, the release hand was tucked tightly against my face, and the string just tickled the end of my nose. At the same time, the peep sight, 30-yard pin, and lower chest of the lion all fell into alignment.
After the shot, the lion bolted for a few yards, stopped, and looked around as if to say, "How in the heck did that other lion sneak up on me and swat me like that? I thought he was still a long way off." Then he silently moved off into the grass, lay down softly, gave one final roar, and peacefully went to sleep for the last time. The King was dead.
I'd like to thank Bob Fromme (Performance Archery), who made the quick transition from longbow to wheel-bow for this hunt possible, and Jane Clayton (Goods for the Woods) for the help back in Durango. The people and organizations who enhance my success in the field are: Chris Cox (Habu Bows), Zwickey Broadheads, Predator Camo, and Badlands Packs. And in this case, a most heartfelt "Thank you" to my friend and hunting partner, Jim Boyer!
To arrange your own adventure at Jurassic Park, contact P.J. Fouche at email@example.com or (830) 557-6091.
The author is a traditional bowhunter from Durango, Colorado. He has written several feature stories for Bowhunter.