Seventeen-Year Pursuit Begins and Ends With A Charge
By LaWayne Fagan
For 10 years I worked in the oil and gas industry, living in the Far East, Central and South America and Africa before starting my own company in Texas in 1987. During those years in Texas, I mostly hunted in Texas, Wyoming and Canada, never taking the time to hunt anywhere else.
Then in 1997, my taxidermist, Jayson Bynam, introduced me to SCI and the Lubbock Chapter. My first Lubbock Chapter Banquet was a great introduction to what SCI stands for and I became a Life member that year.
I set the goal of taking the Big Five in Africa. At the time, I really did not know much about African hunting, so rather than jump straight into the Big Five, I purchased a plains game hunt outfitted by the now-retired Namibian Wilham Mans, who had donated the hunt for auction at a Lubbock Chapter Banquet.
That hunt was an outstanding introduction to African hunting. I took 14 animals, which was just a few more than the six included in the donation. It was hard to resist all the wonderful, diverse varieties of African big game.
But work has a way of interfering with hunting adventures, so I did not make it back to Africa until 2006, with another auction purchase at the 2005 Lubbock SCI Banquet. This time, I hunted with South African outfitter Charl Watts of Watts Safaris, a long-time donor to SCI and SCI chapter banquets. In addition to the plains game package, I added a lion and some extra plains game as well.
I was supposed hunt a male lion on that trip, but while stalking kudu, a female lion suddenly appeared in front of us. Our tracker out in front did an immediate about-face and breezed by me and Charl. The lioness charged from about 50 yards away.
I was a Marine Force Recon sniper in the Vietnam War, and it was just like being back in action. By the time the lioness dropped at my feet, I had managed to fire three rounds with my .338 Win. Mag. She had a total of five rounds in her by the time she expired.
After the unexpected female lion, Charl and I planned how I would take the remaining four of the Big Five in the ensuing years. But every time we made a plan, work got in the way. I managed to hunt in Texas every year, but nothing out of the U.S.
Finally, I retired in 2014, got remarried, took a few years to build a house on the Texas Gulf Coast and started Devil Dog Fishing Dynasty. I traveled the world with my new wife for a few years, managed my fishing business and started working with Charl on plans for the remaining Big Five.
In 2021, I headed back to Africa with a group of friends. While they were hunting plains game and Cape buffalo, I concentrated on darting my rhino and taking my Cape buffalo, an old dagga boy of 45 inches.
Both of these hunts were exciting, involving lots of stalking. The buff dropped where he stood and the rhino didn’t travel too far before succumbing, but you really needed to get close to a rhino to make a good dart shot. My four friends, who were all new to African hunting, harvested 58 trophies along with my rhino and Cape buffalo.
The last of the Big Five I had left were leopard and elephant. Charl and I immediately started planning for the next big hunt, but making it happen was problematic with the global pandemic. Finally, Charl managed to put it all together.
We would hunt leopard in Zimbabwe and elephant just outside of Kruger National Park in South Africa. Then South Africa shut down elephant hunting a week before I was to leave for my hunt. Charl, as he always does, found a permit in Botswana, and elephant was back on the menu.
When we arrived in Zimbabwe for my leopard hunt, it was on the 200,000-acre Drummond Ranch. They limit the number of leopards they take and have very large leopards on the ranch. I was excited to say the least!
They had started baiting for my leopard a week before my arrival and, amazingly, there were seven leopards on baits when I arrived. I started my hunt the next day, and we selected the largest track of the four male leopards, the other three tracks determined to be females.
I was in a blind by late afternoon the first day. I never considered that my rifle could have been bumped hard enough to dislodge the zero. It had never happened to me before, but I learned my lesson soon after — on the biggest leopard I had ever seen. I missed that cat.
We broke that bait station down and recreated it in another location. Persistence and luck are sometimes a hunter’s best friends. Finally, the same big cat showed up around on the fifth night. This time I made the shot. Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition! We celebrated for the next eight days before finding our way to Botswana.
The Botswana hunting concession was over 350,000 acres with lots of elephants roaming in and out. Needless to say, locating a large male and stalking close enough to evaluate a bull worthy of taking meant endless hours in off-road vehicles and on careful stalks.
It was tedious, methodical and careful work. Finally, we located two likely bulls by their tracks and worked our way to a good vantage point.
My quest for the Big Five began and now ended with a charge. Somehow the old bull sensed us close by and charged straight through the brush, right towards us.
I had my custom-built .416 Remington Mag. and made an instant decision to shoot rather than being reduced to mush by an irate bull. I hit the bull with a frontal brain shot, and he dropped 10 yards in front of me.
Charl said it was the closest an elephant had ever been killed in front of him. Meanwhile, the trackers and cameraman had disappeared. I don’t blame them. They didn’t have weapons and the outcome did not look promising!
That elephant ended a 17-year quest. I thank everyone who made it possible. The outfitters, professional hunters, trackers, skinners, cooks, taxidermists and camp staff were all consummate professionals. I especially thank my friend Charl Watts of Watts Safaris who was personally with me on every Big Five hunt.
And I thank SCI for protecting our freedom to hunt.
LaWayne Fagan is a Life member from Texas.