Goin on a Lion Hunt...
by Judy VanderArk (September 2011)
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine I would hunt an African lion. But several months earlier, our good friend and hunting consultant, George Brainard, of Stoney Creek Adventures, showed us pictures of trophy lions taken at Hartzview Hunting Safaris (www.hvsafaris.com
) in South Africa. We had also met Professional Hunter Jacques Spamer at a couple of hunting shows and learned more about these hunts. It made my trigger figure itch.
Our adventure began very early in the morning of August 29, 2011 with flights from our home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan to Chicago, Washington D.C., and finally to Johannesburg, South Africa. In D.C., we connected with George and Brenda Brainard, long-time friends and hunting companions. On arrival in Jo-burg, late on Tuesday, we were met by Jacques Spamer of HartzView Safaris, who was to be our professional hunter and guide for this trip. (www.hvsafaris.com
The drive to the kalahari concession of Hartzview Hunting Safaris took about four hours, including a pit stop en route. Our accommodations in thatched-roof chalets were first rate. After a good night's rest, we were set to look for lions.
In the morning, we also met Hannes Pienaar, our professional videographer for the hunt. (www.hpproductions.co.za
) Our first stop after breakfast was to the shooting range to try out the rifle. I had opted to borrow Jacques' .375, rather than a heavier rifle, being assured that this caliber would be adequate. We have recently chosen to borrow rifles to spare ourselves the hassles and risks of traveling with our own guns.
My goal was to hunt a fully mature male lion. Also, a couple of months prior, George had asked Pete if he would like to hunt a white female lion. The property owner wanted this particular lioness taken out, because she consistently killed her own cubs and sometimes the cubs of other mothers. It hadn't taken Pete long to make a favorable decision, knowing he would always regret it if he declined the opportunity.
The fenced property of nearly 14 square miles is located west of Johannesburg in the Northwest Province. The region is considered sub-Kalahari. Vegetation was dry, brushy, thorny. Weather was cool at night, quite warm during the day, and skies were always clear during our trip. Lions in this area were living off the land, catching and killing wildebeest, impala, kudu and other plains game.
The trackers had observed the spoor of a very large male lion in a particular part of the property. So this is where we headed first. We found big tracks early in the day, but they were not very fresh. We kept driving the dusty two-tracks, in hopes of finding more recent spoor. The trackers were on foot with our little hunting truck close behind. Soon, we noticed that there were TWO sets of tracks a male AND a female! Suddenly, Jacques sprinted back to the truck, beckoned, and excitedly called Pete to join him! They had spotted the white female in the bush near the road. (Was she stalking us?) Things happened very quickly after that. Backed up by Jacques with a big gun, Pete was able to get in a good shot on the big lioness. A second well-placed shot finished her off. Everyone was astounded at how quickly this had all taken place. After photo shoots and video, the lion was loaded on the truck and we headed back to the skinning shed. By now, it was time for lunch and a brief rest.
In the heat of the day, the animals typically don't move around much. So, setting out again in mid-afternoon, we tried to pick up where we had last seen the tracks of the big male. Jacques took me and Hannes into the deep bush. Pete and the others trailed along behind. The bush was thick and thorny. But we began to see newer tracks in the sand.
Another PH, Peter, circled to where we assumed the lion was resting to see if he could get the cat moving. This was successful. Once, Peter radioed that the Lion had actually seen him and was getting crabby. Then we spooked him, and he took off again into the bush. The sun was going down as we pressed on. We would soon be losing our shooting light.
Finally the lion hunkered down, faced off and roared, an unbelievable deep-throated sound that seemed to shake the ground we stood on. He was tired of running and had decided to challenge us. It was getting dark and shadowy in the bush. I knew where the cat was, but couldn't make out his shape in the bush. Which way was he facing? Jacques said, "See that black circle? That's the mane. Shoot right into the bottom of that black circle." On my knees behind the shooting sticks, I released the safety and squeezed off a shot. (Jacques later said this shot was too low, right under the lion's chest.) The lion continued to roar but didn't move, thank God! He could have charged and been upon us in about two big leaps. I squeezed off a second shot. This one obviously hit the chest as he jumped and ran a short way. We moved up and I took another shot this one to the shoulder. More roaring and scrambling. Two more shots finished him off. It was over. I had done it! What a thrill. What a magnificent animal.
Black Maned Lion
It was now much too dark to get any good pictures or video. So, the lion was loaded up, brought back to camp where Hannes cleaned him up and posed him for morning photo shoots.
On Friday, it was time to move on to HartzView Hunting Safaris ranch, the property Jacques lives on and manages for the owner. This, too, is a first class hunting operation. There are many species of game on this ranch: eland, warthog, impala, wildebeest, kudu, springbok, blesbok, and more; but there were few species that Pete and I and George didn't already have. One trophy we lacked was the Red Lechwe. Just at sundown (seems to be my time of the day), I did get a shot at a nice Lechwe bull. Jacques said my shot looked good, but the big antelope didn't go down. Now we were faced with tracking it in the fading light. Jacques had his little Jack Russell terrier, Bullet, who took off on the trail. Bullet went the opposite way from where we all thought the Lechwe had gone. Of course Bullet was right! He chased down the Lechwe and I finished him off. This time, we took pictures in the dark.
The next day, Jacques took the guys a few hours away to other locations to hunt Caracal and Klipspringer. The Klippies got away, but Pete did bag a very nice caracal, the "African lynx." Meanwhile, the ladies had a shopping trip to Kimberly with our cook and her sister. It was a very nice outing for the four of us.
Our hunting now officially over, Jacques drove us all to Kimberly, where we took a short flight back to Johannesburg. We spent three nights at the Afton Guest House and our days touring the city.
Then it was time to fly to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, for several days of sightseeing. George had seen the falls before and had talked of little else, other than the lion hunt. Our travel agent in Vic Falls, Belinda Cooke, of Thomas & Cooke Safaris, met us at the airport along with her favorite transfer driver, Stanford. Belinda is amazing! She took care of every detail, reservations, and arrangements for transfer (being driven from one place to another). Our days were fully packed with sightseeing. Our first day was spent walking through the Victoria Falls National Park and viewing the falls from many different vantage points. There were rainbows in the mist at nearly every stop. The native people who speak the Ndebele (pronounced "n da belly") language call the falls, "Mosi oa Tunya" the smoke that thunders. The roar was louder than my lion's!
Next day, George and Brenda played golf at Elephant Hills Resort, where there are elephants, warthogs, impala, and many other wild animals actually roaming the course. Pete and I, not golfers, sat on the beautiful veranda, reading and watching animals. Later that day, we went to the old railroad bridge that spans the Zambezi River between Zimbabwe and Zambia. The "fall" from the bridge is 111 meters (360 feet.) I had heard there was a bungee jump from this bridge, as well as zip lines. Since I had done zip lines before, I opted for the bungee. No one else in our group wanted any part of it, other than to watch from the viewing platform! This was an incredible experience, second only to shooting the lion.
The next morning, we went on an elephant ride. This, too, was an amazing experience. Eighteen trained elephants go out twice each day, with two or three riders on their backs. Each has a handler on the front and one or two passengers behind him, and each knows 18-20 verbal commands. They walk in a line, with babies following, for over an hour, trekking through the bush, eating along the way their long trunks breaking off big branches and stuffing them into their mouths. The "teen age" elephants go in the line too, with just a handler aboard, to get used to the routine. When we got back to the lodge, we got to feed our own elephant from buckets of delicious elephant pellets. We could pour it into their trucks or throw it into their mouths, depending on which command we gave them.
The following day, Stanford drove us over the border into Botswana, where we were booked for an all day trip through the Chobe National Game Reserve. We spent the morning on a river boat followed by a very nice buffet lunch at a resort hotel. The afternoon was spent on a safari wagon. We saw thousands of animals: Elephant, Warthog, Crocodile, Wildebeest, Blesbok, Impala, Giraffe, Hippo, Lechwe, Cape Buffalo, and many species of birds, all up close and personal. We even saw a Leopard at the end of the drive, a rare and remarkable experience. This would be a wonderful trip for anyone wanting to take a photographic safari.
It was an African adventure to be remembered. All too quickly it was time to fly back to Jo-burg for our return to the U.S. But that's a whole 'nother story.