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Hunting Lion
Part One - Baiting and Tracking
Tracking Lion - John Northcote
No shot.
A stalk gone wrong - with a grunt the "Trophy" takes off, presenting an impossible target.

The preponderance of sandy soils in Botswana, lends itself to this type of hunting.

In my opinion, this is the most sporting and exciting way to hunt lion. In 1973, Carlo Manetti, whilst hunting lion with me in Botswana, shot a lion five feet away. Bill Buford shot his lion at seven feet. Mike Bartlett and I, were the PHs on safari with Senor Botine and his wife Paloma. Whilst hunting with Mike, Paloma shot a lion at three feet! Mike, very wisely, shot with her, as it was her first lion, and she was a bit nervous at that range, (who wouldnít be?). Mike had almost stepped on the lion, when it sneezed a fly out of its nose right at his feet. Many lion were shot at less than twelve feet, when hunted in this manner. A lion can spring 20 feet with ease. It may be that those who have hunted lion on horse back in the past, will not agree, and consider their method of hunting lion more exciting. I have never hunted lion on horseback, and tracking them up on foot is the best sport Iíve had.

Wounding a lion is something to be avoided at all costs. Since I started professional hunting in East Africa in 1948, I cannot recall a client ever wounding a lion shot at under five yards range. In most cases they do not even move, and rarely make any sound.

The most usual way to start, is to drive slowly along hunting tracks at first light, looking for lion tracks of the previous night. A track running parallel to water is as good a place as any.

When tracks are found, the first thing is to determine if there is an adult male present. If there is, follow or back-track for a short distance, to try and see if he has hairy feet, which indicate an older lion and shows in the sand if the tracks are fresh, and it is not windy. Also if he has lain down, the size of his mane will show on the sand. This is important as a big bodied younger male lion can leave just as big a track as an older lion with a big mane. One does not want to waste a morningís tracking, to find he only has a ruff.

The late John Lawrence maintained, that a hunter was lucky if one in five mornings tracking paid off, and he probably did more of it than anyone.

If there are young cubs with the pride, it is best to look elsewhere, as the females will be very alert, you might end up having to shoot one in self defence, and the chances of getting a shot at the male are remote. Killing the male of a pride with young cubs, will almost certainly result in the death of the cubs, when a new male takes his place.

If the lion have eaten or watered, they will be going to lie up for the day. You want to be as sure as possible that they will be asleep when you get up to them, not before 10 a.m., so wait a while before following, they may be only a few yards away, if the tracks are fresh.

Article continues below.

If the lion have not eaten, they will walk a good deal further before resting, and the females will be alert for any animals coming within killing range.

Fortunately, in Botswana, the prevailing wind is Easterly, so that you will be facing the morning sun which causes shadows, making tracking much easier. If they have gone down wind, it is not much use following. Unless you think you know where they are going and will soon turn up or across wind.

The fewer people following the better. More than three is a crowd, but some clients like to have a photographer along, if so, make him keep 25 yards behind and have a reliable gun bearer with him. No noise! No talking!

When the lion tire, and are looking for a place to lie up, they tend to wander around, and a brush mark will appear in front of the front paw track, this is made by the drag of the front of the paw, as a tired lion lifts it up. When this occurs, you are getting close, and should glass around every two or three steps, depending on the cover. Sometimes they will lie down once or twice before coming to the final resting place. A smart male will often go through a patch of scrub mopane or something similar, before lying down. Do not follow him through, but go very slowly round the down wind side, and you may be rewarded by finding him fast asleep on the other side. If you had followed him through the brush, the inevitable noise would have awakened him, and all you would have heard was a grunt as he took off.

If the weather is hot, they will be in shade and hard to see. If cold, out in the sun and easier to spot. The females will always be more alert than the males, and are usually the ones to give the warning growl which will send the male scurrying off.

Never allow your tracker to point, the movement will often be seen by a lion or any other animal you happen to be tracking. Metze, my long time lion tracker in Botswana, used his eyes and chin to point to me, he then crouched down, or slipped behind me. All movements must be slow.

Sometimes you will be lucky, having heard lion hunting during the night, so will know in which direction to proceed. If they have made a kill, probably the first thing you will see are vultures flying low, just over the trees, then the noise of the lion and hyena fighting over the kill, will probably be heard. An approach under these conditions is very difficult, with so many eyes to see you. The hyena is usually the first to give the alarm. The birds taking off from the trees as you get closer, will alert the lion and not help either.

The male lion will have eaten first, and will most likely be the first to leave when he has had his fill. Keep your distance by climbing a tree or tall ant hill, as he can be seen when leaving, and followed after half an hour or so, when he should be found asleep. Hold a small leafy branch in front of your face whilst watching, a lionís eyesight is excellent. If there are no vultures or hyena around, a much closer approach can be made, whilst the lion are still feeding.

I know of hunters who set - off before light, to go after lion they have heard during the night. This is giving the lion a big advantage, as they can see in the dark and you cannot. Donít do it! I recall standing outside my tent on the Savuti Channel just before first light, drinking a cup of tea, when I noticed a black bird hopping about a few yards in front of me. It suddenly dawned on me what it was. I hastily retired to my tent, where, I looked through my binoculars into the face of a very curious lioness, her black tail tuft was the bird.


Go to Page: 1 2 3 Related Articles: Hunting Lion Part 2
In Defense of Baiting Cats
African Hunter Vol.5 No.5 October 1999
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