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When the truck arrived, I was pretty disappointed. I couldn’t believe the leopard hadn't come in. but, on our way back to camp we got to see some waterbuck, kudu and impala. Then the truck stopped. The trackers jumped out and started speaking in Afrikaans and pointing at the ground. I could see a big cat track right over the top of the tire tracks where the truck had just driven. John looked up at us and said, the lions have come into the area and there is a very big male". They were very close by. Wow! It just amazed me that we were in a truly untamed area where all these dangerous animals are absolutely free to roam where they want. It is such a different feeling than walking around the mountains of Wyoming.
When we got back to camp we were finally told that our flights had been postponed so I could sit at the new blind for one final night. I was ready to go home and was so tired of all the drama. Plus I was missing my kids terribly. But I knew this was my absolute last shot and my record on past hunts has been to always harvest my quarry up to the last hour of the last day of the hunt.
John and I crawled into the blind at 4:30 in the afternoon. We went through the routine of setting up the camera, chairs, bow and blankets one final time. It was near silent as we waited for dark to come.
At about 6:00 some baboons way off in the distance started barking. John leaned over and whispered that the leopard was coming. I had a thought I should turn on the video camera right then but decided not to because it could take an hour for that leopard to get here. We continued to listen to the baboons bark angrily along with an occasional bird that squawked warnings as well.
I looked out the blind at the bait as the last light began to fade. I told myself, this is it. Relax, aim behind his shoulder and make sure to look through the peep. A twig snapped. I turned my head toward the sound behind me. John nodded his head as if to say, 'he’s almost here'. I could now hear footsteps. I leaned forward out of the chair to turn the camera on. It squeaked just a little. It was loud enough that the leopard stopped just outside the back of the blind.
John held his hand out to stop me from turning the camera on, fearing that would be too much noise. I froze. I could hear the deep growling breaths as he was just on the other side of the branches behind the blind. He kept breathing and I noticed my leg begin to shake a little. I stood motionless, knowing that in one move that leopard could be in the blind on top of me before I had the chance to grab my rifle. I was thankful I remembered to chamber a bullet when we got into the blind that night. It seemed an eternity that the leopard sat outside the blind. He had obviously caught our wind because he came in from the back. He knew we were in there and now it became a question of who was hunting who.
He finally started to slowly work his way toward the bait. I could visualize him stealthily taking each step past my the blind. His steps seemed louder than the other nights. When he finally made it the 18 yards to the bait John whispered in my ear that it was too dangerous to turn the camera on at this point. I agreed. The clawing sound on the tree was music to my ears though because I knew the leopard was away from us and in the tree. I also knew it was time to get ready.
I heard the loud crack of the bone as the leopard bit into the bait. Then something hit the ground. Another crack of the bone, then another thud on the ground. I looked over at John wondering what was going on. He was shaking his head, then mouthed.... “It’s a lion!”
Just then the lion jumped to the ground and ran straight to the blind. I could hear my heart pounding. John had his .458 Lott pointed toward the sound but it was pitch black by then and we couldn’t see a thing. I don’t know how to describe the sound of his breathing. It was almost guttural, so deep and loud It was so eery I was really starting to believe that the lion was going to kill us. I could hear him actually touching the leaves of our blind, only a few feet from me.
After several excruciatingly long minutes the lion turned and walked back toward the bait. I could hear each soft footstep and I could still hear him breathing. He jumped back into the tree and John told me to get ready. In my mind, I was thinking, 'Are you crazy?' This is not the time to be shooting an arrow at a hungry lion that knows exactly where we are. but I silently picked up my bow and stood up. Just then, in a comedy of errors, my backpack rolled slightly forward. I'm sure it wasn’t very loud but it sounded like thunder to me. It was certainly loud enough that the lion heard it. He immediately jumped out of the tree and ran back to the blind. I thought, well, this is it.
PHOTO 2 (
My thoughts were filled with questions; will John be able to shoot him off me, will I have time to grab a blanket or pack to protect my head from his lethal bite, what if he grabs John, will I be able to shoot him off of John and how will I get help from camp, will other lions come for me? I was terrified and my legs were now shaking uncontrollably. His terrifying breathing was so close to me. I knew for certain that he was going to jump in the blind with us. He paced back and forth for a minute then abruptly returned to the bait. Relieved, my heart restarted and I began to breathe again.
John whispered, "Get ready". Here we go again. I drew back, unable to see even an outline of the lion in the darkness. He whispered, are you ready? I said, “No”. We could hear the crunching of bones, knowing we could be next. John leaned over and said put the bow down and get your rifle. Relieved I set the bow down and started feeling around for my .375. It sounded so loud as my hands brushed the leaves of the blind searching for the gun. I knew the lion could hear me. The chewing stopped. It was quiet for a moment. I swallowed, knowing full well that if I survived this, it would be the closest brush to death I had ever experienced.
The chewing began again. John asked if I was ready? In my mind I thought, heck no! But I whispered 'yes'. He said he was going to shine the Marauder light. My eye was focused on the red dot of the Aimpoint sight when the red light came on and there he was. A full maned, huge male lion standing in the tree 18 yards away from me, bigger than life. I shot. The lion fell sideways to the ground. Those three short seconds of seeing that lion in the tree will forever be etched in my memory. I then realized my whole body was shaking. We heard the lion crash, then get up, then crash again. I could still hear the growl of his breathing.
John grabbed my arm and whispered, “Well done!” But it was still not over. A wounded lion is one of the most dangerous creatures on earth and will not hesitate to attack anything that seems threatening.
Back at camp, they heard the faint sound of a rifle and knew something was up. Either we had shot a leopard or we were in trouble. John quietly tried to radio the camp. We could hear them, but they could not hear us. Hendrick said in Afrikaans, "Click once if you are OK, click twice if you are in danger". John clicked twice.
It seemed like an eternity for the truck to arrive. When it finally did they faced the headlights toward us. John had his gun pointed and ready toward the direction we had last heard the lion. He had me shine the light for him and stay behind him as we worked our way to the truck. When my husband reached for my hand, my legs turned to jelly. What had just happened?
Don’t forget to watch my hunt on Eye of the Hunter airing on Versus, on Thursdays at 2:00 pm EST
Next: Day 13 Final Hunt 1; Stay tuned for Quest for Africa's Big 5 - Hunt 2