Jack Brittingham's 2003 African Hunt
Field Report #2 - July 4, 2003
Lion Hunting in the 21st Century
As we all know, the advance of modern technology exceeds the speed required by the human brain to keep up. As one who is still struggling to learn the different ways a computer can make my life simpler, combined with my struggle to keep up with the latest in both video and video editing equipment, there are those rare moments when I find good reason to continue my battle to keep abreast of all modern technology has to offer.
As most of you know I have been a strong proponent of proper wildlife management, not only on my ranches, but in every location I have hunted for the last fifteen years. I have carried my management philosophies and criteria to such remote locations as Tajikistan, at altitudes greater than 16,000 feet, where I turned down a magnificent 58 inch Marco Polo ram because close examination revealed he was still too young to shoot. You can tell this in sheep because a ram in his prime has a very rounded posterior, whereas an old ram past his prime has a rear that is angular to the degree of being pointed. My Russian guide thought I was crazy for passing this ram, as doing so meant another 2000 foot climb to kill an old ram that was much smaller than the one we were looking at on the basin floor. My logic was that I was planning to come back the next year and, by then, this ram may be the ram of my dreams, exceeding 60 inches on each horn. Long story short, I never made it back and this ram probably died of old age, but not before breeding many more ewes; I still think it was the right thing to do.
What does all this have to do with lion hunting in Tanzania, you ask? The answer is that yesterday we discovered a buffalo kill made by a pride of lions only two kilometers from our base camp. In this pride was the finest lion I have ever seen. We spent yesterday afternoon with the pride trying to get a look at the cubs, lionesses, and the male, to confirm the dynamics of this particular pride before making a final decision on whether or not we should try for this male. As darkness fell, we were undecided, so we returned this morning after a night full of lion calls, and again spent several hours trying to determine if the cubs were of sufficient age to survive without there patriarch (I hear him roaring as I write this at 11:39 PM).
Without a clear answer to our dilemma, a call was placed via Sat-phone to the main office of Tanzania Game Trackers in Arusha. Further discussions were held, and a great volume of lion research data was consulted. Additional calls and e-mails were made until this decision reached the very top of the food chain in the organization and the executive order was given. The Verdict: This lion had been with the pride for at least three years, he has been the dominant breeder during that time and the subadult cubs could survive without his further protection. The lion is at a point where natural succession is imminent and to wait longer would very likely guarantee that he disappear from his current role as pride leader, only to be taken apart in a solo battle by his mortal enemy, the hyena.
It is difficult for me to express the emotional rollercoaster this process has taken me on. My fundamental belief that wildlife management is more important than trophy harvest has been fighting with my primordial instinct which says to hunt this magnificent creature no matter what. Finally, after employing all that modern technology and good science has to offer, the hunt is on. Does this mean I will most definitely get him? Most definitely not. Lions have been known to feed at a kill until there bellies are full and then move on for several days to mark there territory. When no lionesses are in estrus there loyalty to the pride is limited.
Tonight, even though we wern't hunting the lion, we had an unbelieveable experience. At 6:20 PM we heard a noise close to us as we were preparing to exit the blind. Only one of the three of us could see what was creating the commotion so close to us. It was a very large leopard that had climbed a tree only 16 yards away, to gain an advantage over the grass to see how best for him to steal the lion's bait. We got it on on video prior to his departure, once he became aware of our presence. It was the second closest I had ever been to a leopard. The closest was in South Africa in a ground blind set up next to a dry river bed. The leopard came in along the riverbed and sat at 6 yards from the blind. Once he smelled us he departed rapidly with no opportunity for a bow shot.
So our hunt for the lion we could not kill was prosperous from the standpoint of giving us a once in a lifetime experience. Knowing that tomorrow offers similar opportunities, as well as the chance for Mr. BIG only increases the excitement. Does this mean I probably won't sleep tonight, due to extreme anticipation? You bet! This is the most magnificent African trophy I have ever seen and the simple prospect of having a crack at him is more than I could hope for. Whatever happens, I can be certain the right amount of decision making went into this plan. We will do our best to take him if we can. But the excitement is less in the kill than in the anticipation of the hunt, and the anticipation is absolutely unbelievable for me right now.
I hope all of you are as happy as I am right now!
Next: Finally Got The Lion