By Scott Perkins
I just finished my third safari with Gordon Stark of Nhoro Safaris for Cape Buffalo in Mozambique; and every safari keeps getting better and more exciting every trip over to the African continent.
My first hunt with Gordon was May 2012, with my good friend, Frank Fowler, accompanying him on his successful and very exciting stalk and hunt for lioness hunt in the Kalahari. That hunt continued from the Kalahari to the Limpopo district for a plains game hunt.
The concession Gordon operates on in the Limpopo has outstanding hunting opportunities for Kudu, Gemsbok, Eland, Impala, and Waterbuck. The concession was a former black and white rhino breeding ranch and there is a healthy population of both species that was rewarding to see nearly every day in the field. The Limpopo concession offers exceptional, mature bulls of most every plains game species a person has on his bucket list if the hunter is patient and takes the opportunity that the track and animal offers. I harvested a very nice older, dark brown waterbuck bull, a terrific nyala and the Jurassic giraffe bull that the concession managers wanted off the concession as he and another similar aged bull (both long past their breeding age) had killed 6 mature breeding bulls. The waterbuck and nyala are both high Silver SCI ranked. My second hunt was November 2013 back in the Kalahari. My hunting partner, Frank Fowler, and I were after our male lions. This is a stalk and shoot type hunt and not for the faint of heart. Most lion hunting in Africa is done from the safety of a blind over baits.
The Kalahari hunt is spent driving the 3x9 mile blocks with the Land Cruisers looking for cat tracks (spoor) in the ever blowing sand and driving the block to see if the cat has moved through the block or still in the block. If the tracks indicate the cat has not left the block, the hunt is on.
Frank was first up on his lion hunt and barely 20 minutes out of camp the first day we hunted, we cut fresh male lion tracks. Frank and Gordon followed the trackers and 20 minutes into the track spotted a magnificent male watching a small herd of hartebeest from the shade of acacia trees. The stalked to within 22 yds. of the lion who by now fully aware that Frank and Gordon were in his comfort zone. The 416 Rigby barked as Frank cleanly killed his first male lion. The lion was fully mature, not in the pride and has a beautiful Tan and Ginger mane. It scored #37 SCI overall RSA-Namibia.
We spent the next 3 long days searching the vast concession in the heat and dust for fresh cat tracks. We cut a few smaller lioness tracks but no males.
The last morning of the scheduled hunt we pulled out all the stops and had three sets of PH's and trackers drive the blocks starting at first light. 2-1/2 hours into the tracking that morning, one of the crews cut fresh tracks and followed to freshly killed and consumed young Kudu bull. They drove the block and confirmed that the cat was still in the block. A few minutes later the stalk was on and we followed the fresh tracks through open grass/acacia through very thick sickle bush where we could literally walk up on a bedded lion. All eyes and rifles were on full alert as we pressed on in the pressing heat of the mid- morning.
About 2 hours into the track, we came across a small grove of acacia trees where the lion had scratched up the sand for a cool spot to lay down and digest his Kudu breakfast and continued on another half mile and found where the lion had entered a large warthog hole to get out of the heat and away from his pursuers. We took our first water break of the day and pressed on with the track another few hundred yards. The just-made tracks in the soft Kalahari sand indicated we were bumping the lion not far ahead of us. We decided to take another water break and let the lion find his shade and get settled in before we continued tracking him. With all 5 rifles resting on acacia trees, waters bottles were brought out and one of the PH's, Dons Els, went behind a sickle bush to relieve himself. Before he unzipped his shorts, he rushed back saying "he's right therThe next thing I knew someone handed me my rifle and the hunt had jumped in hyper-speed. We spread out in a shooting line rifles at the shoulders, safeties off and fingers resting on the triggers.
Not 20 yards away from the 8 of us were taking our water break, stood the large male lion, tail straight up and watching our every move. I had no idea where anyone was in relation to me other than everyone to my right beyond Juan were a blur in my peripheral vision. The lion was standing in deep shadow and from Where I was standing there was a branch that covered his front chest area. After what seemed an hour, but was only a few seconds, he wheeled to his right hand moved out of the sickle bush without a sound with Juan and I in pursuit.
We followed to him 50 yards to another set of acacia trees where huffed, roared and rattled the 416 Rem shells in pocket and just as he was about to charge the 416 barked in my hands as the 400 grain bullet hit its mark through his left shoulder. He hunched momentarily and took off without a limp to our left another 45 yards to the nearest group of acacia trees where he circled roaring and facing us as if to charge three times. He turned to my right and the 416 barked again as the bullet pierced his right shoulder. He went down on his front knees, whirled and to my utter amazement took off again another 55 yards to the nearest acacia tree he could find and climbed high in the tree until his butt was a full 10 feet off the ground. Juan and I stood there with rifles ready watching him through our scopes. I asked Juan if I should drill him through the shoulder as climbed down, his broken shoulders not able to hold his weight in the tree.
As the lion's paws raked the barks and slid down the tree trunk his back feet touched the sand and his body was fully extended 10 feet. Juan told me to wait until he stood broadside and then let him have it. As his front feet touched the sand he turned 180 degrees to face to my right and I let go with the third 400 grainer from the 416 and over he went, growling and biting at his fatal wounds. I don't remember filling the magazine as we ran and followed the lion in between shots; but as I opened the bolt to check the magazine, there were three rounds ready to go. I jacked the fourth round into the chamber and administered the coup de gras.
The magnificent, fully maned lion, king of the Kalahari made his final death throws and my first game species of the Big Five hunt was over. Hands reached out to shake mine, pats on the back and bottles of water were put in my hand. It was a boyhood dream that I never thought possible that had just been fulfilled. All those stories from Bell, Rouark, Capstick had a new chapter with a thrilling and safe conclusion - no scratches, and plenty of high drama. After the requisite pictures were taken and with much effort, six of us loading him into the Land cruiser; the adrenaline hit every muscle fibre in my body and I couldn't stop shaking until I had 3 stiff scotches and 2 hours of recanting every step, every time the lion and I made eye contact and me recalling every roar that literally rattled the 416 rounds in my left pocket. It’s been two years now since that hot dusty morning in the Kalahari sand I still get a racing earth and pulse writing these words. I hope I never lose that type of palm sweating memory until my final moments on this Earth.