We got up early and I practiced with my Bowtech for 50 shots. I was dead-on and confident. After a quick bowl of cereal we grabbed the two trackers and headed out where we saw the lion. They had brushed the roads again last evening and after a few miles we found fresh tracks where he had crossed. We carefully drove down the dirt road when one of the trackers said – “lion!” He was standing 300 yards to the North next to a thick bush. His face was covered with blood. We drove out of site so not to spook him too much. We talked strategy, then the guns were checked for chambered rounds, and we slowly began working our way to him. He had flanked us. At only 150 yards the lion ran off.
We walked to where we had first seen him and realized why his face was covered with blood. He (or more likely she) had killed a young impala ram next to a watering hole. Everything was eaten except the spine and head. A big sand bed had been freshly dug and it appeared that he was enjoying breakfast when we first spotted him. Jacques and Jimmy were happy about this. “You see Pat, when the lion is full he gets lazy – especially in the afternoon heat. We would keep tracking and pushing this lion until he wears out.” Male lions are lazy and they will look for thick shady cover. We called the trackers up front. They got on the track at around 9:00 AM. This would be the start of a very long, grueling, and nerve-racked day.
The first close encounter happened at 200 yards out, the lion jumped from cover and disappeared into these incredibly thick bushes. Sometimes we'd see him ahead of time but most times not until he ran off.
The trackers were amazing – as usual. They followed tracks that were indiscernible to me. Small indentations in the sand, or the occasional broken ground and they would know in a second they were on a fresh lion track. This male had been living here for months and his tracks were everywhere, still they could tell his fresh track from yesterday’s track. At 10:30 AM we heard him calling to the female. That sound was unmistakable. We moved quickly toward it, down a dirt road for a half mile when Jimmy stopped all of us and pointed at a thick bush next to the dirt road. The lion was standing in the shade, watching us. I was behind Jacques and he put his hand on my shoulder and pulled me in front of him. We discussed an approach – but it was too late. The lion trotted off through the thickets again and disappeared. We waited a few moments then the trackers got busy. An hour later, the lion was spotted, this time in a great position for a stalk. We eased in. The lion was looking right at us. The trackers stayed behind as we inched closer. This time the lion was letting us get dangerously close. At 40 yards my heart was pounding out of my chest. I had no shot from that distance as 20 is my max. So Jacques put his hand on my shoulder and we eased in, step by step until I was only 20 yards from him. The lion was broadside, looking through brush at me. His vitals were clear all except a small twig which threw me a curve. We thought about it, and discussed the chances of my heavy arrows deflecting. But there was too much opportunity for a screw up, and if I was going to mess up on something, a 600lb lion would be last on my list. We spent 1 minute going six inches closer. I still had no shot. I took a small step to my right when the lion jumped up and ran off. Jimmy felt this was a great sign. He let us get pretty close that time.
We played cat and mouse with him all day. But then he started to lead us into brush that was so thick at times we had to crawl. This was the worst part of the hunt because the lion could bed anywhere in those thickets and you'd never see him.
“We must keep pushing him in this heat until he tires out.” Jimmy said. As Jimmy and Jacques told me, lions will tire in the heat of the day and look to lay down. The big males will let you get close. They will do one of two things. Get up and trot off – annoyed. Or they will charge you when they’ve had enough. Neither option was particularly a good one. The goal was to get him good and tired by constant tracking and bumping him from one bed after another.
This went on for hours. We would catch of glimpse of him in the brush as he darted out of his bed. A pure test of stamina. The lion led us through a maze of thickets. As we entered them everyone was on high alert. Jacques would go first with his .416 pointed and ready. Several times, while tiptoeing through these impenetrable tangles I questioned my sanity. This was nuts. This lion was huge and our goal was to keep pushing him until we ran out of daylight or he stood his ground. Whichever came first. The last lion hunt they had went horribly wrong. The female they were chasing eluded them, backtracked and then waited for them in the brush. As the hunter and PH walked past she charged them and luckily the hunter swung and killed her a few paces from them.
We were hard pressed to see 20 feet in either direction. Only twice did we ever hear the lion. He was deathly quiet. Jacques and Jimmy were amazing at spotting him. They would stop and Jimmy would snap his finger. That was our queue to freeze. Let me tell you, when he did that, every hair on the back of my neck stood up.
The lion was bedding frequently now. It was also 3PM and probably 90 degrees. He had been pushed constantly for over six hours. I had never experienced anything like this before. It reminded me a little like Mt. Lion hunting only we were the dogs.
We followed the track back into another thicket. We were probably two miles from where we had first jumped him. Jimmy’s hand went up and he snapped his finger. We all froze. He pointed to tree with a bush surrounding it and there was the lion bedded in the shade.
Jacques pulled me up ahead. We spent five full minutes glassing him, his position, and possible shooting holes. They were few. The lion watched our every move. The only clear shot looked like it was straight on. Jacques told me I may have to take a frontal shot. While I was as accurate as ever with my shooting, I was not comfortable taking that shot. They explained it is a common shot for a lion since he will usually turn to face you as you move in. I really wanted something less dramatic. I was even prepared to move closer than 20 if possible. But they strongly objected to that.
The lion was holding his ground now. He was tired of running. We continued to glass and study the situation. Jacques was right, my only opportunity appeared to be a frontal shot. My heavy bow and 1000 grain Phantom-tipped arrows could penetrate into the vitals - no problem there. But the margin of error is very small and nerves would be a factor. After 20 minutes of watching the situation, I started to get tempted with the idea. But not from 20, I had to get closer. There was a bush 14 yards from him. Jacques and Jimmy didn't like the idea. That was too close. As they put it, all he has to do is flinch and we'll have to shoot him because he can be on you in seconds at that distance. I wanted to try it. They agreed, but told me to take it deathly slow. This was now getting very dangerous. I eased slowly forward. They stayed back with their .416's pointed at the lion. It took me a long time. I was two yards from the bush. Jacques was off my right shoulder, Jimmy off my left. Just two more yards. I tried not to make eye contact with the lion but I watched him. His expression started to change. He closed his mouth and pulled his gums back in a look I will never forget. A deep, rumble emanated from deep inside his chest. This was entirely bad. His tail flicked and I knew what all this meant. This was stupid, reckless and life threatening. I clearly heard Jacques say. "Back off, very-slowly. He is going to charge."
This was too much. I pushed it too far. Now I needed to get out of it without provoking him. I was incredibly tense. I stepped backward with painfully slow, smooth steps. Letting the lion see every move. Now back at 20, his demeanor changed. His mouth opened and he was panting again. His comfort zone may be 18 yards, but at this point mine was more like 250!
“Holy Crap” I said. That was too close.
With quiet, fluid movements we backed off from this stupid frontal idea and dropped another 20 yards further out. The lion was actually closing his eyes at that distance. There was a possible shooting hole from his quarter, but it would require absolute precision - even more than the frontal shot. We eased to 20 and surveyed the scene from this angle. The lion kept watching us.
No shot. With each attempt closer, the lion appeared annoyed again. I guarantee you the safety on those .416’s was off. The muzzle never left the lion at this distance.
This went on for thirty minutes. There was a shot, but it would have to be close. The good news was there were some thick brush that could cover our approach on his flank. He was nestled in the trees in such a way that we might be able to sneak dangerously beyond his comfort zone. It appeared I needed a 15-yard shot. They asked me if I was ok with giving that another go. I was. The lion was tucked into some trees and unlike the last close encounter that would hinder his ability to spring toward us. We moved closer. And, the lion watched. We looked for the slightest warning - a flicked tail, or gums compressing. We were now at 17 yards. My heart was beating wildly as the lion watched us. They stopped moving and I took two steps forward. I looked back slowly at Jacques and Jimmy and whispered: “you ready?” Yes – they said. Jacques had given me instructions on where to place my shot. The lion was laying half on his side but his head was up. There was a small leaf dangling in front of the crease behind his front leg. A black section of hair was just beyond that. I concentrated and put my 20 pin 2 inches low. I'd have to thread the needle on this one.
I took my time. I was focused and controlled. I was not nervous. I thought about a smooth release and reminded myself to do everything just as I had practiced before this hunt. I released and the arrow hit the spot I was aiming for. But virtually nothing happened. The lion lunged forward a bit but his body hardly moved. “Great Shot Pat ” Jacques said. It took us a few seconds to sort it out. Not only had I got into his vitals, but I had also severed his spine.
The 1000 grain Muzzy Phantom tipped arrow from my 82lb Bowtech had severed the huge backbone immobilizing the lion instantly. It really was perfect – and not what we expected. After a few moments, we walked around in front of the lion and put a finisher in him. I took a deep breath. That was intense.
The cat was just huge. We guessed his weight at 600lbs. I had imagined a more dramatic ending, and had been forewarned about such a thing by the bowhunters who had stalked lions this way. In the end, I was happy there was no drama. I’ve had enough drama and don’t need any more. Jimmy, Jacques, Linda and the trackers were happy as well. It was a stressful day. It ended with a quick clean kill on a gorgeous cat. I was thrilled. This was a distant dream turned reality.
We celebrated that evening. Tomorrow we leave for the cape buffalo in the Waterberg mountains where we'll push it all over again.
Our Professional Hunters for this safari is: Madiakgama Safaris