Lucky or Skills

It was back in 2014 that I was in the North African country of Burkina Faso, following African lion tracks with three local trackers, a French speaking professional hunter and my hunting partner, Tim Fallon. For several days we had followed fresh tracks until we lost them on ground so hard there were no signs of anything having walked there since the the last rain or it was determined the lions were females or males younger than six years of age.


Frankly there were no lack of lion sign in the area and we had come close to seeing them a time or two. Actually we had seen one small, young lion, but only briefly. We had one morning been following a promising track when up ahead about two or three hundred yards there was suddenly the darnedest, loudest, high pitched squealing, grunting and horrible complaining. Tim and I looked at our professional hunter and trackers, all of whom were laughing, guffawing, almost rolling on the ground. And even though neither Tim nor I understood any French or the local native dialect we did understand the lions had apparently walked right into a troop of baboon which were now loudly proclaiming their displeasure of having lions in their midst. The horrible racket lasted a good 10 minutes before the baboons quieted down. Our trackers laughed nearly that long as well. Before following, after they quit laughing, the trackers finally got a better look at the tracks, seeing them where they had stepped on a patch of sand. The PH turned to us and wagged his finger, then pointed back to the vehicle. “Fa mmail” We understood.

For the past several days we had followed lions tracks. Soon as we found them, we stopped the vehicle and followed the tracks, which often zig-zagged across the two track that was about half way between the two streams that paralleled the the road.

After several track followings Tim Fallon and I suggested as best we could in sign language and drawing pictures in the sand with a stick that perhaps we should not start tracking at the first sighting of tracks but keep on driving the two track to see if the tracks again crossed the dirt road. Once it was determined the lion had not again crossed the two track, we go back to where it had last crossed the dirt road and pick up the tracks there. Doing so might well save us several miles of walking in extremely hot temperatures.


On the eight morning of the 10 day hunt we found fresh lion tracks, big tracks the PH and trackers indicated could well be a old mature male. But this time rather than immediately get on the trail we drove on about a mile and found where the lion had crossed the dirt road once again.   Obviously the big cat was indeed on the hunt, zig-zagging from one creek to the other.


Tim drew pictures in the sand indicating he thought we should walk the road to find out if the lion again crossed it, and if he did we start there and if not we walk back to the last tracks seen on the road and start following there.

We had walked a little over a quarter of a mile when lo and behold a huge bodied male lion stepped into the road, stopped and looked our direction. He was only about a hundred yards away. Tim quickly set up his shooting sticks, rested the Ruger Hawkeye African .375 Ruger there and found the lion in his scope, at the same time waiting for the PH to make the decision whether or not the lion was old enough to shoot.


It seemed like a long time, but took merely seconds before the PH said, a’Chutet!”


Tim did. At the shot the lion turned a somersault and fell dead. Soon as he shot, Tim quickly bolted in another Hornady 300 grain DGX and kept his crosshairs on the lion, which did not move.


After about minute of watching, rifles at ready we started slowly walking toward where the big lion lay. From about a 20 yard distance the trackers started throwing clods at the lion. It didn’t move. Even so rifles at ready just in case, we eased up the lions side. Making certain one more time the lion was indeed dead. All the while I kept running the words of several professional hunters through my mind, “It’s the dead ones that kill ya!”


The lion was an old one. Looking at his teeth I noticed a broken canine and worn down incisors. I looked at the PH, he held up eight fingers, then nine.


Tim’s lion was HUGE of body, likely over 400 pounds. Typical of northwestern cats he had very little mane. In spite of very little mane the big lion was indeed a handsome rascal, with numerous scars indicating some serious fights, the last one which he lost. He was by himself and probably had been chased out of his favorite hunting area by a younger, stronger lion. Looking at the pads of his feet it too was obvious we had not previously seen his tracks.


After considerable back slapping and congratulations, followed by many photos we loaded the lion in the back of the vehicle and headed to camp. We were met by quite a crowd! Later that night the lion was skinned and “put into the salt” preparatory to being sent to The Wildlife Gallery.


Throughout the hunt when not looking for lions or roan antelope and some of the other unique and local plains game, I kept looking for a western savannah buffalo bull. I had taken a really nice such buffalo the year previous when we hunted in Benin. Truth is I dearly love hunting buffalo and will do so at every opportunity.


We had followed buffalo several times, only to learn it was a herd comprised of only cows and calves, or if the herd contained a bull, he was still relatively young. Twice we had gotten to within almost reasonable shooting distance only to have the herd spooked by either western or or wart hogs. Three other times we had followed tracks the PH and trackers felt certain belonged to a big mature bull. In two instance the tracks crossed a deep crocodile infested creek, where the water was too deep for us to follow. The other time we followed the bull until it got too late to continue. Legal hunting hours in Burkina Faso are from 6 am till 6 pm.


We spent the last day of our hunt looking for buffalo. After high noon we found fresh tracks, by then normally they had bedded down to escape the heat. The herd was a big one based on tracks.


Making certain we had several bottles of water we took off on the spoor. We had gone about a quarter a mile when we found where a big footed buffalo had joined the herd. With his hands our PH indicated he thought it was a big bull. We quickened our pace. The buffalo were moving into the wind as were we. About a mile and a half farther on the track, we saw the herd about 300 yards away in some scattered trees across a broad open plain. Quickly binos came up and we spotted two bulls, one that looked not quite as big as the one I had shot the year previous in Benin. I ruled him out. The second bull was all I wanted; a reddish khaki in color with massive bases and back swept horns. He was also huge of body, standing 6 or 8 inches taller than any other buffalo in the herd. But he was also 300 yards away. I knew my .375 Ruger was extremely accurate at 100 yards and I also knew I could put shots within a 6 inch circle at 300 yards. But I had no intention of shooting at an unwounded buffalo at that distance.


There was no way to get closer without being detected. So…all we could do was wait until the buffalo decided to move. We waited about twenty minutes. Then for some unknown reason four kob between the buffalo and us started running right at the buffalo. They spooked.


Back on their trail, we followed about a half mile then the trackers saw where the big footed buffalo veered off the herd. We decided to follow the single buffalo track. We moved quickly as we dared. Tried as we might, we could not spot the buffalo, even though we knew he was not that far ahead of us. From the the relatively open savannah, the bull dropped into an extremely brushy creek bottom. We followed, fully expecting any moment to be charged. But, no charge came. The bull paralleled the river that separated Burkina Faso from Benin.


Our PH stopped, pointed at my gun and then at me. Then pointed across the river and said “Burkina Faso, nooo chute!” I understood not to shoot across the river which was only about 15 or 20 steps wide. He again pointed at my rifle and me. “You chute…you keel ded!” Then he again pointed across the river and shook his head. Again I understood. If I shot while the buffalo was on our side of the river I was to do all I could to drop him in his tracks, because if he survived long enough to cross the river and get into Benin, we would not be able to retrieve him…


We continued following the tracks through the maze of brush and tree limbs. Then suddenly only about 20 yards ahead we heard brush popping. Several birds flew. Obviously the bull was just ahead of us. I tightly gripped my rifle and did my best to try to peer through the brush in hopes of seeing the khaki-red bull.


I kept hoping the bull would leave the river bottom. But then I heard what I dreaded, the sound of splashing. Then all water sounds were quiet. We followed the tracks which lead to a sand bar. They there disappeared into the river. Across on the opposite bank we could see tracks and where water had dripped off the bull as he walked up the bank into Benin….


I stared across the river at the disappearing tracks, then reached up and tipped by hat to the bull that had gotten away….

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