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Armchair Safari – Adventures of an Amateur Hunter in Africa

I was near the German border, 166 miles from Kijabe. We marched only four miles this day but I shot a male lion and two topis. In fact, this has been my greatest hunting day- and the thrills, emotions, sensations and joy that are mine will ever live on in a corner of my mind. A man who shoots a charging lion can never properly write what he feels, and you must shoot your own lion to understand this particular charm. I was actually eager to shoot my lion while it was charging and a kind of fortune granted my wish in mid-morning. I am writing these lines in the early afternoon.

I woke up this morning at 5 a.m. and at 5:45 we were on our way. We intended to have the porters go to a kopje about 15 miles from our camp of last evening. Mr. W. and our gun boys went in a different direction for I wanted to locate the fine waterbuck I had shot just before dark yesterday. The grass was so wet that we rode our horses, something we rarely did because we wanted to save them for galloping after lions.

It was just 6:15 when in the distance we heard a lion roar. There was a small ridge ahead of us and a mile beyond that a second ridge. The boys said that the lion must be on the second ridge. Mr. W asked if we should go after the dead waterbuck or the lion. And although it is only by rare luck that the lion stays where he is until the hunter reaches him, I decided to take the chance.

We sent Hursie, my Somali galloper, off to the right on our best horse, with instructions to get sight of the lion and keep him in view until we came up. Mr. W, mounted on the black horse, and I got on the brown, and we galloped off to the left with our gun boys holding on to the tails of our horses.

We had not gone far when Mr. W examined the second ridge, which we were then rapidly approaching and saw about 30 topis nervously watching something intently. On looking more closely, we saw that their gaze was directed at a huge lion. While I did not see the lion, I could plainly see the band of nervous topis. Mr. W suggested that he would gallop to the right and try to overtake Hursie, to explain to him that we had located the lion, while I proceeded along with gun boy to the left of where the lion was. With Juma hanging on to the horse’s tail, I galloped to the foot of the ridge on which the lion was stationed, but I soon realized that I was in trouble, for I ran into a strip of dense jungle through which no horse could possibly pass. My heart almost stopped beating with disappointment and rage. Would the lion run away?

Would W and Hursie wonder what was delaying me? I quickly jumped off my horse and told Juma to run back and get my syce to take my horse, to then circle the jungle and meet me on the other side.

Then I crawled on hands and knees through the strip of jungle that separated me from the lion. Fortunately this strip was quite narrow, but when I got through I was a sight, for it seems to me that every tree or bush in Africa is covered with thorns. I was badly scratched, my shirt was torn. However, I was so much interested in the lion that I thought little of my scratches.

I looked around and soon saw Mr. W and Hursie to whom I explained why I was on foot. In 10 minutes my syce arrived with my horse. Meanwhile I eagerly inquired about the lion and learned that he had gone. From the way the topis and zebra were acting (we now saw that there was a herd of about 20 zebras with the topis) we concluded that the lion had gone towards a patch of thick grass about one thousand yards away.

The country around here, outside of these patches of jungle frequently encountered, is an open bush country. That is to say it consists of rolling plains dotted with bushes. We all strained our eyes to catch a glimpse of the lion. At this time the zebras became very annoying, for they, as well as topis and hartebeests, have a maddening habit of getting in between you and the game you are stalking. And they are prone to snorting, barking, running hither and thither and giving ample warning of danger to the game you are after.  Zebras will even follow you, full of curiosity to see what you are about to do. It will take a month of prayers to atone for the swearing I did at those zebras this morning.

Mr. W and I were on foot, but Hursie, who  was still mounted and who possessed a better view, suddenly said, “There he is,” and sure enough I caught just a glimpse of the lion entering a patch of jungle. I had time to observe that he had a full tawny mane and was walking slowly and with much dignity. With quickened breath we hurried after him and soon discovered that the patch of jungle in which he had taken refuge for the day was about the size of a small city block and was rather diamond shaped.

It was then 7 a.m. and Mr. W decided that we should at once send for our 40 porters to come quickly and beat out the jungle. That is to say: they should enter on one side screaming, beating tins, etc., with the hope that the lion would come out on the other side. We quickly dispatched a messenger to tell the porters to drop the loads they were carrying and to come to us at once.

We stationed the gun boys and Hursie and Mr. W and myself at regular distances apart so that we surrounded the jungle. In this fashion we kept guard, waiting patiently for the porters. We waited and waited but they did not come and we could not imagine what was keeping them. The sun was getting rather high and its tropical rays were scorching. At 9 o’clock the finest waterbuck I have ever seen walked up to within 125 yards of me, but I dare not shoot because of the lion.

About 700 yards from the patch that concealed the lion was a long strip of jungle with a small stream in the center. Mr. W believed that if the lion came out of his present den he would make a dash for the narrow jungle enclosing the water. So we had the porters enter the opposite side, while Mr. W with Abdullah, his gun boy, and myself with Juma, my gun boy, stationed ourselves at one corner of the jungle, view two sides of the diamond.

The porters entered their side of the jungle and began their noise. Porters greatly fear a lion. They know that their safety lies in making the most hideous noise possible and they were a howling success. I don’t blame any lion for wanting to get away from it. They started their awful din at 9:45. We were stationed under a dead tree. Mr. W was leaning against the trunk with Abdullah just behind him. I was sitting three yards from him and nearer to the jungle, with Juma just to my left. I had my .500 Winchester and Mr. W a .450 double-barreled express rifle.

My own emotions were at the time very peculiar. I had not the slightest feeling of fear, except that the lion would escape us, but with the long waiting – every waiting minute seemed ten and the anxiety, doubt and suspense, I found my heart beating fast and my breath coming short. But my nerves and hands were as steady as a rock. I was sitting down and intended to shoot with my elbows on my knees. I felt that if I changed my position it would relieve the suspense and it did. I had not long changed my position when I saw a sight that attracted my gaze like a magnet. The lion, very much disturbed by the porters, extended his head out of the jungle just about 86 yards from where I was sitting. I think he was trying to make up his mind what plan to follow.

He gave a hurried look toward the jungle just 700 yards away, then shifted his gaze squarely to where I was sitting with Juma. He saw us both and drew his head back into the jungle with a growl, the first that I heard him utter. On his last hunting trip, Juma had been mauled by a lion and I had wondered if this would affect his nerve, but he sat like a statue.

When the lion drew his head back into the bush-and what an enormous and savage head it was!- we were afraid he would break out the other way and we would see him no more. But all the time he was just standing a few feet inside the bush, apparently trying to decide whether to break back through the 40 porters or to charge us. There was no need of his charging us for he had many ways to run if he cared to escape and yet strange to say he did not select any of them.

After waiting about five minutes I heard several loud growls and out came the lion with long, low bounds, charging Juma and myself. Fortunately, while his bounds were very long, they appeared to be very slow. Physically I seemed to be charmed by the grand beast and by the sound of his growls, but mentally I was quite on the alert and was planning how far I would let him come before firing, and just where I would hit him. I experienced no sense of fear, in fact I had no time to.

A few days before I missed a fine leopard because I had not let him come close enough and I decided not to make the same error now. I waited until the lion had covered about 42 yards of the 86 that separated us, when he commenced to charge. After taking careful aim, I fired and just before I pulled the trigger I heard Mr. W say, “I think it is about time you fired.”

With my shot I hit him squarely in the chest, my ball going through to his heart. The impact of the ball raised him up on his hind legs and he reached out his huge front paws just as a catcher reaches out for a ball when pitched by the pitcher. He then drew them in and seemed to place them on his chest at just about the spot where he was hit. While bounding towards us he was growling all the time, but the moment he was hit his growl became louder and of a different tone.

As he rose on his haunches he partly spun around, giving me a good view of his shoulder. While he was still on his hind legs I put a ball through his shoulder and he dropped down on his huge paws, practically dead. Mr. W, not knowing how hard he was it, thought he was going to continue his charge when he saw him drop on his front paws. As the lion was only 44 yards away, Mr. W fired one shot, explaining to me afterward that had the lion commenced a second charge form that short distance our positions would not have been safe. However, the lion was dead and his shot was not necessary.

Never can I express how grand and terrible a sight that lion presented as he was charging. As he lifted his huge front paws from the ground I could see the puffed cushions on the bottom of his feet. As I ran up to where he lay, Mr. W cautioned me that a lion should be twice dead before one approaches him. However, there was now no danger, and as I looked upon my magnificent prize, stretched lifeless on the ground, I felt extremely proud. Mr. W and the gun boys shook hands with me and congratulated me. The porters now came out of the bush and when they saw the huge beast dead they gave a deafening yell and ran up almost mobbing me in their efforts to shake hands. They started to sing a song, “The Big White Master Killed a Lion,” and most of them presented me with green twigs. I did not understand the meaning of this, nor did I know what to do with them, so I placed them on the lion. The excitement gradually subsided, and after I had pictures taken, the skinners commenced to do their work.

Before he was skinned the lion measured nine feet six inches from his nose to the end of his tail, but after he was skinned the measurement was just at eleven feet. He proved to be an old fellow for his teeth were well worn and his mane was fawny and long. Evidently he had recently had a severe fight with some other lions for about the face he was well scratched and on his shoulder he had an abscess where he had been clawed.

Mr. W said that when you kill a lion, all the men expect to knock off work for the day. I wanted to push on to running water but decided to camp near the scene of our success on the banks of a dirty green waterhole. I went out to shoot some topi for the pot. In the afternoon the men started to sing their song again and to add lines asking for a present. The only way to stop them was to ask my boy, Hursie, to give them some money. This stopped the dance immediately. Many of them had smeared themselves with fat cut from the lion, believing that this fat helps drive away the devil.

I shot my lion at 10 AM and at 10 PM I am finishing these notes of my first lion kill. I am now going to dream of the incidents of the day all over again.–Selected & edited by Ellen Enzler-Herring of Trophy Room Books

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