Editor’s note: On Fridays we delve into the extensive Safari Club archives and dust off a gem from yesteryear. This week we join PH Dennis Blackbeard and his client on an exciting stalk for a beautiful Botswana lion. This article first appeared in the November/December 1993 issue of Safari Magazine.
Botswana is lion country. Sitting around a fire with good companions, swapping stories and losing yourself in the camaraderie, the fact that you are in lion country is reinforced with the unexpected roar of the Panthera leo, a sound that seems to make the very ground under foot vibrate and tremble. When the roar turns to grunts and trail off into the darkness, there remains a momentary silence that acknowledges royalty has spoken.
My client Dr. Jess Beal and I had been up since 5 a.m. to bag the gemsbok trophy he had wanted so badly. It was now 5 p.m. and we were only halfway back to the main camp when the gauges on the LandRover went into the red. It was a bumpy trip with the rutted track limiting our speed and our thoughts were primarily on the showers, clean clothes and cold beers that awaited us in camp.
Shorty and Gramson, my trackers were chatting away as they sat on the roof rack, when Shorty signaled me to stop. I slipped the transmission into neutral and shut off the engine listening to the overheated engine cough and sputter into silence. We got out and stretched and looked up at the trackers who were now standing and pointing at some vultures. Some were circling, while others were dropping out of the sky to land in the nearby trees and then flying up again, indicating something was chasing them from the kill.
“Let’s go closer and take a look.” I said to my client, “That’s where we shot your elephant yesterday.”
Leveling with the kill, Gramson pointed to some male lion tracks in the road. We drove past for a mile or so and then pulled off the side of the road. We checked the magazines of our .458 rifles and flipping on the safeties, started following the trackers.
The kill was in a dry hollow bed, or pan, about 300 yards wide with a small outcropping of ground covered with bushes in the center. We anxiously watched the vultures for any sign of danger.
Noticing movement on the far bank, I stopped the others and pointed out the male lion sitting on his haunches looking up at the birds and in the direction of the road. Checking it out through the binoculars, we decided he was a good enough trophy to take.
With adrenaline offsetting the fatigue from wrestling the LandRover over rough terrain, we began following Gramson single file – crouching low and keeping a large Mokaba tree between us and the lion.
Within 100 paces Gramson stopped and we all huddled down as some of the vultures noisily took off, alerting the lion and causing it to look in our direction. Lying flat and motionless, we waited, allowing things to settle down. By this time the sun had set and there was only a short time of light left. We had to make our move quickly. Crawling on hands and knees we reached the edge of the pan and were making a dash to the island of bushes in the center when suddenly, out jumped another lion! Instinctively, Jess threw up his rifle and was about to shoot when I grabbed his arm to stop him. The lion was a young, mane-less male. Running around the brush, we were just in time to see the first lion stand up to watch his companion run off. This time, there was no holding back.
I saw the recoil jerk his shoulder, heard the thud of the bullet striking home. The lion was knocked over and out of our sight. Running up the slope to the edge of the pan, we came upon the lion thrashing about and biting at the brush in anger. It spotted us and dropped to its belly. With a roar it leaped up and charged, clawing the ground to gain speed and came at us with fangs bared. We both had our rifles tucked into our shoulders, fingers nursing the triggers. At 20 paces, Jess put a magnum slug between the front of the shoulder and the chest cavity, finishing the job. There was no need for the coup de grace the lion was dead when it hit the ground. Silence prevailed for a few seconds, then was broken as everyone started talking and laughing all at the same time.
Only those who have faced an angry charging lion can ever hope to describe the thrill of those forever-to-be-remembered seconds of maximum action when all thinking and feeling stops and shear automatic reaction takes over.
You can just imagine the celebrations that took place in camp that night.—Dennis Blackbeard