Further Wanderings of a Lone Hunter
By Paul McCay
To further hone my shooting ability, I joined the local Bisley Rifle Club and was shown the finer art of range shooting. Here, I had to eat humble pie. I had believed I would be a better shot than any of the others, what with all my years of shooting and hunting…
After I realised my folly, the top shottist took me under his wing and taught me the proper way to shoot Bisley, and I later became one of their best shots, winning quite a number of shoots, both locally and against teams from Nyasaland (now Malawi) and from Southern Rhodesia. But I was more interested in getting out into the bush.
Fort Jameson was only eighty miles away from the Luangwa Valley Game Reserve with the adjoining open hunting areas. The cost of an open general hunting permit was ten pounds for the year which gave one the right to hunt many different species. I had acquired a Fulton regulated .303 rifle that was used mainly for Bisley, but I also used it to great effect on all plains game and also managed to take several buffalo with it. On one occasion I shot three buffalo bulls with it, and the third one, although down, was not dead and I had used up my traditional loading of only three rounds as taught to me by my father. Thankfully, a rogue elephant fiasco had taught me not to rely on someone else to carry any spare rounds, so I was able to reload and despatch the bull with the next shot.
One year, on my annual three weeks leave, I loaded up my Land Rover with basic supplies and headed for the bush. I intended to travel through the bush and the Luangwa Valley, and keep heading northwards to the Muchinga Escarpment – the northern boundary of the valley – and eventually link up with the Great East Road. Going west, this road would take me to the small town of Kapiri Mposhi. East would go to Tunduma on the Tanzanian border. I had time, so I visited both places before making my way back to Fort Jameson via Lusaka.
During my trip I had camped out in the bush and set up my stretcher under a very large leadwood tree. The head of my stretcher was against the bole of the tree, and along my sides I had built up a small thorn fence for some form of safety. On one side of my stretcher I had my rifle and on the other a shotgun. It was full moon at the time, and after a small dinner I went to sleep. In the early hours I felt something pulling at the end of my sleeping bag and sat bolt upright.
Nothing was to be seen and I thought I had been dreaming, so lay down and was just going to sleep when the tugging happened again. I sat up and again saw nothing. I lay down, but placed the shotgun between my feet on top of the sleeping bag.
Almost immediately the tugging started once more, and without sitting up I fired and landed up in a heap, having blown away the end of my stretcher, as well as a big hole in my sleeping bag. Lying at the foot of my bed was a very dead hyena with most of his head blown off.
I was asked to collect a specimen of a black lechwe for the museum. My knowledge of this buck was very limited, and I understood it to be quite rare, only occurring in the Benguela Swamps of Northern Rhodesia (now Bangwelu Swamps, Zambia) so declined to my regret, as I lost the only opportunity to have gone there, and never got to experience its rich diversity of fauna and flora. I did meet some folk from the south-western region of Zambia and had a few hunts in the Kafue floodplains where there were many thousands of red lechwe, as well as roan antelope, sable and eland. Later, I discovered that my grandfather had befriended Chief Lewanika who was the paramount chief of the Barotse people. I was given a letter by my father – which I still have – written by Chief Lewanika to my grandfather.
After three years in Fort Jameson I was transferred to the Copperbelt town of Kitwe where I met other hunters and was able to do a limited amount of hunting north of Kitwe in the Solwezi district. Being back into city life was not working for me and I asked to be transferred back to Rhodesia. This was not possible as UDI had been declared and relationships between the two countries did not exist for me to do so. I resigned from the bank with the intention of returning home, but fate took a hand. I was offered a post with a company in Ndola and decided that it was worth the change. How fortuitous, as I met and married my wife there, and only two years later did we pack up and return to Rhodesia where I joined my father with the intention of becoming a farmer.
My brothers and sisters married and had children of their own. I was always called upon to supply the increased demand for game meat, so as their children grew, I was tasked with teaching each one – girl or boy – to shoot. First lessons were with the air rifle, then a .22 and then finally a .410 shotgun, until those who wished to were taken out to shoot their first buck. My own three boys were also taught, but under much stricter guidance, as I did not want to show any favoritism. If they wanted to come with me they had to carry any food or water they might need. They very quickly learnt that I would often be out most of the day! Due to our conservation practices the wildlife numbers had grown and there were too many animals. We had to undertake a culling exercise which was carried out under very strict guidelines of our National Parks and Wildlife Management Department. The off-take was more than sufficient to feed our staff and the growing families, and kept me in the bush for most of my spare time.
Shortly after returning to Rhodesia I was called up to serve in the territorial services of the country in our bush war. Each call-up was for six weeks with six weeks at home. On one of my first call-ups my unit was sent for border patrols along the western boundary in south-western Matabeleland and the Shashi River. I fell in love with the area with its dryness and diverse wildlife. I was a member of the Zimbabwe Hunters Association that had the concession to hunt there, known as the Tuli Safari Area.
To be able to hunt there, a member had to apply, and then a draw would take place. I was lucky enough to get several hunts there over the years, and one particular incident occurred on a 14-day hunt in July/August of 1988. On arrival we were warned by Parks that we should be aware of a very aggressive lioness that had only half a tail.
One afternoon we found lion spoor at a waterhole and were discussing whether to try and follow this when we heard an elephant trumpet nearby. Changing from soft nose to solid bullets, we set off in the direction of the elephant and walked right into some lions. My hunting friend, Pete decided he would shoot the lioness which was only about seventy yards away. She folded to the shot, but in a flash got up and took off. We immediately changed back to soft nose, and while doing so the lioness came running back, stopped and stood looking at us. Pete chambered a round, and as he raised his rifle she took off again and his second shot missed.
We now knew we had a wounded and angry lioness to find, and set about tracking her down. Blood spoor was very minimal, and about two hours later Pete’s tracker said he had heard a low growl. The situation was very tense as the bush was extremely thick, and any charge was likely from a mere few yards. I saw a small opening and said I would go there while Pete backed me up, and that he should join me when I got there. I stood holding my .425 rifle to my shoulder with the barrel half raised, trying to locate the source of the growling which was now continuous. Pete had almost joined me when the lioness broke cover and came for us, with both of us firing almost simultaneously. Thankfully, she dropped dead with her nose almost touching my feet. The speed she had come at us was incredible, with no chance to get off another shot.
The next day we went to the area where we had heard the elephant, and as we drove across a river I saw what looked like fresh droppings. Getting out of the vehicle I felt a pile and found it very warm. While crouching down I scanned the thorn scrub around me and saw some rather large-looking tree trunks. The elephant were resting up and within thirty yards of us. The wind was in our favour, so we quickly reversed back across the river as we were too close to turn around. After moving a little way back we parked the vehicle and, taking our rifles, returned to where the elephants were.
The wind was eddying and the herd started to move off into a forest of croton trees, and we followed to see if there was a bull worth shooting. Being the designated shooter, I was in front when I saw a lioness come out of a thicket about fifteen yards away, which was between me and the elephants. She ducked back into the thicket, and I said to Pete that we should back off as the lioness would not run towards the elephant. He had not seen anything, and as I pointed out the thicket, she came out again and was demonstrating her displeasure at our presence by pawing the ground and growling very fiercely.
I told Pete to back up a little and to cover me, and then he said I should now move. Without taking my eyes off her, I took a couple of paces back and stepped right into a hak-en-steek (hook-and-stab) thorn bush and was held quite fast. I turned my head to see the best way to get out of this mess, and when I looked back the lioness was a mere five yards in front of me and about to attack. I raised my rifle to shoot her, and at that moment three small cubs came out of the bush at my feet and went to their mother, and she growled again and slunk off with them. It was the lioness with the half tail, and having cubs was probably the reason for her aggressiveness. Why she did not press her attack all the way home I will never know, but to have been charged by an angry lioness twice in two days is something I will never forget.
The rest of the hunt went without any more drama.