Editor’s Note: On Friday we dig into the archives of Safari Magazine and unearth a gem. This week we join the hunt for a rogue black-maned lion, with a knack for terrorizing the countryside. This story originally appeared in the May/June 1993 issue of Safari Magazine.
The phone buzzed that funny European sound barely recognizable as the telephone. Wyatt Dawson was on the line from the states. He was already aware of my late arrival and missed connecting flight to Johannesburg. He had spoken with Roy Vincent, my professional hunter, and notified him that I would arrive in Victoria Falls two days late on a flight from Harare, Zimbabwe. Wyatt relayed Roy’s urgency that I arrive as soon as possible, as a very large black-maned rogue lion had been terrorizing the countryside for several days and the game department would have to be called upon to deal with this nasty situation if things continued. I sat helplessly in my hotel room at the Frankfurt Intercontinental listening to this, while the lion attacked the frightened natives who worked out of the compound at Matetsi Concession Seven.
May thunderstorms had hit Dallas hard and delayed my flight for three hours on the runway. Lufthansa tried to make my stay comfortable while they sought an alternate route to Victoria Falls. They did manage to get me on an Air Zimbabwe flight from Frankfurt to Harare, then a connecting flight to Victoria Falls.
Roy Vincent met me at the entrance to customs. Extremely polite and professional, and I would find out later, an outstanding hunter and judge of trophies. He had a particularly keen sense for the habits of Cape buffalo. The ride to the Westwood Wildlife Safaris concession only took an hour. The drive took us out of Victoria Falls, through the national park that bordered the concession and along the Zambezi river which was at full flood stage. Our camp was near the park border about 200 feet from the riverbank under several giant acacia trees.
My hunt centered around lion and after being in Africa only 2 ½ hours, I had shot a kudu cow for dinner and lion bait. We hung it from a tree at the base of two converging sand ridges, at the mouth of a natural spring. This basalt valley had been claimed by the lion that was attacking the workers who came down to clear the roads of trees pushed down by elephants. This lion was not afraid of man and had regularly broken into the compound’s canteen and stolen all of the Africans’ prized meat and biltong. He had even gotten into the game rangers’ canteen and made off with their meat as well as scattering several of the heavily armed scouts, none of whom had even gotten off a single shot from their assorted G3s and FN 7.62 automatics. But this lion whose roar struck fear into the workers hearts and chased armed game scouts had now disappeared. For three days we hunted the valleys, sand ridges and along the river with no success. Additional baits were needed and I shot a Cape buffalo for baits number two and three. As the morning of the fourth day dawned, the mist off the river had turned into a thick fog, blanketing the ground. Visibility was poor as we boarded the
LandCruiser for another drive to check our baits. A fine kudu bull crossed behind two kudu cows just in front of us. We grabbed our rifles and away we went into the dense growth of acacia bush. Several hundred yards from the road the bull confronted us with deep guttural barks. It presented me a quartering front-on shot and a very nice 55 1/8 inch bull will grace my home. The shot so close to camp brought plenty of help to chop a path and within an hour we were back after lion.
We picked up lion spoor near the buffalo bait and tracked along the river. The tracks led us directly up the mouth of the valley where the kudu bait had hung and ripened. Roy decided to get the vehicle and make a pass by the bait – where we found ourselves face to face with a magnificent black-maned lion. There is absolutely no hunting from vehicles in concession areas in Zimbabwe and the game department send a scout along on each hunt to ensure no one breaks the law. Upon seeing our truck, the lion disappeared into the tall grass. We made a plan to hike into the valley later in the afternoon and try to position ourselves on a rise overlooking the bait.
Roy and I walked the first mile or so and crawled the last 50 yards. Not on hands and knees, but literally on our stomachs. By 3:30 pm we were squatting on the barren ground looking down on the bait, with 50 to 60 vultures looking back at us. After a couple of hours, an impatient vulture descended onto the bait, whereupon the lion pounced from the brush below the kudu. I don’t know who was more surprised, the vulture or me. The lion had been at the bait the whole time.
Roy told me to shoot whenever I felt ready, but thoughtfully added something to the effect that if I screwed this up we were both dead. My first shot was more luck than skill as my rifle scope bounced unsteadily along the lion’s body. The shot struck through both lungs just above the heart. I never heard the report nor felt the recoil of my .375 H&H magnum. Nor did I hear the lion roaring, only the soft click-click of my bolt as I reloaded and the PH repeating “Again, again.” Three additional shots guaranteed my lion wouldn’t terrorize anyone again.
The entire compound turned out to see the now-infamous lion on our return to camp. Everyone had to poke it with a stick to make sure it was really dead. In just four days, I had become a hero in their eyes and had returned their lives back to normal.
With the rogue lion behind us, we could concentrate on my favorite of Africa’s trophy animals, the fellow that Berger warmly referred to as “Horned Death”, the Cape buffalo. We had hunted for days looking over and passing up on literally hundreds of buffalo. It seemed that most of the herds were traversing the massive Westwood vlei on their way into and out of the national park. On the eighth day of hunting we found ourselves at the south end of the vlei. It was here that two valleys formed by the Kalahari sand ridges converged. Vast buffalo herds were trekking toward us down each of the two valleys. We took up a position overlooking the approach to glass over the bulls. Roy and I could not have planned it any better on paper, for Lady Luck was really with us today. Roy instructed the apprentice hunter and the trackers to climb up the west ridge well out of the way. From this vantage point they could watch the hunt unfolding below in the long grass playing field. Roy and I crept through the chest high grass to get a good look at the second herd. About halfway across the open plain, we climbed a small termite mound. Three very good bulls were just to the rear of the herd. Suddenly, Roy caught sight of a juvenile elephant bull bursting through the brush behind us. The youngster was on a mission to disrupt this herd of buffalo. It was totally absorbed with the black masses and passed only a few yards from us, totally oblivious to our position even though we were entirely exposed. It was trumpeting wildly and thrashing its head from side to side. This made for an outstanding spectacle, with buffaloes crashing off in all directions. Having proven some point, the elephant triumphantly marched back into the dense foliage.
Roy and I had to begin the stalk again, with the buffalo spooked an nearly half a mile away. We backtracked through the tall grass to the edge of the brush and made our way toward the herd. Roy located the three bulls and I selected a beautiful 44-inch bull with good bosses and plenty of curl.
Roy and I watched as a group of old bulls approached us from the side, while my bull remained in the herd passing some 80 yards in front of us. Roy told me to shoot the old grizzled buffalo heading the group of bachelors should they threaten us, while he glassed the herd for an opportunity to take a shot at the animal we had pursued. I raised my rifle and placed the crosshairs on the old bull’s shoulder at 15 yards just as Roy gave the all clear on my buffalo. I saw the red glow of the setting sun reflecting off the blood in the old bull’s eyes as I swung around and shot my quarry. Pandemonium broke out, my buffalo exploded in a burst of adrenaline, ran about 20 yards and collapsed in the tall grass. This Cape buffalo was the third of four I have taken – but it ranks as my favorite of all trophies. For the hunt, the day, the entire event embodied the excitement and adventure of Africa, the real Africa, unfenced and untamed.—Dale Bilhartz