Master of Dawn
The following story is a tale of a hunting Lion by call in the Central African Republic
The "Trumpet" ready for action
The first rays of light touched the eastern horizon but Mother Earth was still dark and quiet. It was the time when the night animals had calmed down and the first birds were yet to start their first song. The time when quietness fills the air and the earth itself seems to hold its breath.
The roar came from very far away; the first one who heard it was Mahamt, my young and very skillful tracker. He had moved a little bit away from us and was sitting on a small anthill about forty yards away. He whistled quietly. But even if he was quiet, he could not hide the excitement that made his whistle tremble a bit. The roar continued for some seconds and then slowly died out. Nobody spoke, but everybody had heard it. It seemed as the air had in a second had turned heavy as syrup, even though it was a chilly morning. I did not dare to breathe, but then decided to make one more call.
As the first rays of light hit the canopy, the damp forests slowly awakens
My answer to the lion was long and daring, I let my full lungs make the air tremble around us and I knew the lion was listening. I could feel him, see him in my imagination where he stood; listening towards the distant call that dared him and claimed his land and territory. He probably stood there for some seconds, and then started the trot. Now the question was: did he move away from us or did he move towards us...
We waited for another minute or two but no more call came, I knew the lion was on the move. I knew where the call had come from; it was a series of natural water ponds north-east of us, the same area where we had called the previous afternoon without getting an answer. This lion had probably moved in during the night. I called my head tracker, Mongolo, and asked him in Sango what he thought. His answer was clear; “Lo yeke ga na legue ti lac nord, e yeke wara lo na milieu” (He is coming from the northern lake and we will meet him midway from there.) I agreed quietly. While we had been speaking, Lido, also a young and skillful tracker, had strapped the Trumpet up. My friend and hunter had been sitting quietly the whole time and now looked curiously at me.
“He is coming from the north east, we will cut back on the same road we used yesterday afternoon, and this will get us closer very quickly” I answered.
A little bit young, but a descent male lion called in late morning
He nodded and I started the car. It was not the first time we hunted lion together, we were old friends and we had done this before. We took left at the first junction and hit the new road with its bumpy track. We kept driving for about two miles and then stopped. I did not need to make any sign; the guys knew every move, every step, and had already loosened the Trumpet when I jumped out of the car. We sat quietly for a minute or so but did not hear anything. I called again, a series of aggressive calls. When the last had died out we sat quietly again. Nobody moved, or even seemed to breathe for a whole minute. But no answer came. The first birds had started their song and I heard a hyena laugh far behind us. We waited for a couple of minutes but still nothing. “He is moving” Mongolo said. I nodded; I knew that this would be true in any case. I have always been sometimes amused, sometimes frustrated by my trackers logic sense of humour (or lack of it). The lion was definitely moving, either away from us because he was scared and did not want to take the fight, or he against us to take the challenge. In any case he was, evidently, moving...
We strapped up the Trumpet again and I started the car. We drove the road for another mile and then stopped a second time. The same procedure was done, but this time my call had not finished before the answer came, now much closer. Only a little bit over a mile right up front of us. It was a slow cough, not as high as before, but more of a slow growl as the old lion was swiftly moving though the bush. It was easy to hear now that he was a dominant male, the characteristic deep end of the roar was very clear. Now there was no doubt, he was the master of this area and he did not like the aggressive intruder. I did not wait long before I let the second challenging call make the morning air tremble. This time, there was no answer.
We waited another minute or two but nothing more came. It was now already light and the birds were singing. An Abyssinian Ground Horn-Bill hooted at the other end of the shallow valley we had in front of us. I looked at my trackers; they had already stripped of their morning clothes and prepared themselves for the stalk. I let my jacket go and the cool and damp morning air made me shudder for a second.
My hunter and friend had already understood the move and had grabbed his rifle. He mantled a round and checked the scope. I grabbed the shooting-sticks and arranged my binoculars. So off we were.
We continued on the track towards the direction where we had heard the last call. The damp soil muffled the sound of our feet and we moved silently. The bush opened a little bit in front of us and the first of a series of water ponds we usually referred to as “the lakes” came clear. Its banks were calm and a thin mist slowly lifted from the surface. We stopped and waited; the lion should logically be coming from behind this pond and should be rounding one of the sides before turning up towards us. This was the perfect set up and I could not have hoped for any better. We sat down and I prepared the call. The sound echoed between the banks of the dam and I knew the lion was now pin-pointing us. He had probably slowed his pace and started to sink down in the classical way lions start their sneak. Our eyes tried to see through the wall of leaves on the opposite bank. Everything was dead quiet and we listened carefully but nothing came. The first ray of sun sprang through the low clouds at the horizon and the golden light was sprayed over the leaves in the trees tops above us. We sat for what seemed like an eternity, but what was most probably not more than ten minutes. I called a couple of more calls, this time slower and more growling, but in vain. The bush was quiet and the old lion too. Finally I stood up and shook my head, something was wrong. Either the lion had got frightened by our aggressive advance or he had succeeded to sneak up on us without us seeing him. I looked at Lido and Mahamat who were sitting on each side of the party with the task to watch our flanks and back. Old and cunning lions are usually very strategic and like to get their opponent from behind.
Dawn over the Chinko-valley
They shook their head and signaled that they had seen nothing. We waited again for a couple of minutes and then decided with hand signals to go around the pond and try to advance further. In order to do this, we had to walk back a couple of hundred yards in our own tracks and then follow the game trails that sneaked themselves along the eastern bank. We all rose and started to walk back, I walked first with Mongolo to my left. We had just rounded the first bend of the road and we would now have another forty yards before hitting the game trails on our left, when I froze. Mongolo too saw it instantly. There, the unmistakable imprints of a large male lion on our tracks where we had been walking only ten minutes earlier. I saw it clearly; the tracks came out on the road where the game trails cut it and they angled sharply to the right, following our tracks towards the place where we had been sitting... But only on my side of the road, on the left side were the same imprints but now walking away from us. It all turned obvious to me in a second; the lion had followed the game trails until he cut the road, here he had stopped and heard us call further down to his right. He had slowly followed the track downwards until it bent and here he had crushed down, belly sneaked the last meters to peer on us from behind a bush at the bend of the road. He had soon understood that this was not the rival male lion he had thought it would be and had turned around and started to walk back in his own trail. We followed his track until he turned back on the same game trail on which he had been coming. At the moment we came up on the trail, Mahamat whistled and we all froze. I heard it as soon as I stopped moving, it was the low coughing of an old male lion. This time it was only a hundred yards or less in front of us. “The Lion must be moving away at this stage” I thought. I quickly signaled that we should advance a little bit until we hit a spot where we had a better view of the terrain and the trail. We quickly installed ourselves and I signaled to my hunter to sit down ready to my left. I called. This time I did not use an aggressive tone but more a soft rolling call from a female lion. I let it continue long enough to end in a series of soft coughs.
Now everything was dead quiet. I was quietly cursing our mistake of continuing to the pond for our last call, instead of staying at the game trail which was an obvious arrival point of the lion. I found myself admiring the lion though, having succeeded to fool us and not come over the open area by the pond but instead sneaking up from behind and just glare at us for a while before deciding we were not to be taken too seriously. I definitely felt like a fool.
Mongolo using the "Trumpet"
I called again, the same soft cough of a female lion. No answer still and I got impatient. Either the lion was playing us the same game again or he had walked off for good. I looked back at Lido and Mahamat and they were totally concentrated to watch out on our sides. I turned back and let my eyes search the green foliage in front of us but saw nothing. I then slowly got up on my knees and took one step to the right.
The old male lion had been sneaking back in his tracks and had been very slow and cautious on the last yards that separated him from the small open area in front of us. I saw him at the same second I moved to the right; he stood there, twenty yards away, fearless and proud. He was larger than I had expected, standing tall and muscular. His bulging belly showed evidence of a successful night hunt. We saw each other at the same moment and his eyes met mine. The morning dew had made his skin wet and the first rays of sun had now penetrated down to the ground. His skin was glowing in gold and the short but worn and torn mane stood out like an aura around him. I hissed urgently to my friend who was still crouched down to my left to get up and move over to my side. He understood as soon as he saw the urge in my movement. He swiftly slid up at my side and I slowly took a step backwards, indicating him in the same moment to step out in my opening. So he did and his eyes met with the Lion who was standing like a statue, his yellow eyes following each single move. My friend slowly shouldered the rifle and I whispered “he is good, take him”.
Out of nowhere, here he comes...
The roar of the gun sliced the silence vacuum in which we had been standing. I could see as in slow motion how the bullet hit perfectly in the centre of the chest, burying itself in the curly cinnamon mane. The lion was lifted up by the chock-wave and he bent the back as he was thrown backwards. The old Lion landed on his front paws but they could not hold his body anymore and his he hit the ground with a low but deep thud. A short growl came as his lungs were emptied and I could see how the grass was moving a little bit as he made his last moves. My friend had already reloaded and was ready for a second shot. We stood there for a moment, waiting for something more to happen. A movement, a sound, whatever... But everything had gone calm. A dove moaned in a distant tree and then slowly the sounds of the early morning got back, one after the other.
We stood and waited for the time to let the world get back in its tracks while we slowly realised that we had succeeded. I clapped my friend on the shoulder and gave him a grin. I could see he had turned pale, but was now slowly getting his colour back. I glanced back on Lido who stood up and was now smiling from ear to ear. “Bamara a koui awé” (the Lion is dead) he said, slowly starting to sing the old warrior song always to be sung when a Lion is killed in central Africa. We slowly walked over the twenty yards that separated us from the place the lion had fallen. As we came up, the king of beast was lying on his side, he had stopped breathing but his eyes had not lost their amazing glare. They were even at his death, the eyes of a king. The proud King of Beasts.
Happy hunter with King of Beasts
Great story Erik! Not too many places where you can hunt Lion like this anymore.
... Excellent story!! I could almost feel as though I was apart of the hunt. It would have been great to been there & lived it for real!!!
Erik . . . I very much enjoyed your story. It was both interesting and entertaining!
Very much appreciated Erik, let's hope you're able to hunt like this for a long time to come....
What an incredible hunting ground Central Africa is. Keep those story coming Erik, thanks.