Harry’s Hunt

Poss pull quotes:  

Harry suspiciously eyed me. “So you will be hunting with us?”

In the shimmering heat of the horizon, I saw a small herd, led by a heavy-bodied bull.  “Hell’s teeth!” said Harry “That’s bloody far!”

His horns were magnificent, altogether more than thirty inches long! They rose straight up for a least eight inches, then arched gracefully down to taper into sharp points. A trophy hunter’s dream!

We were miles from camp, at night, in unfamiliar country.

My sense of humour was gone. Completely. I tripped and fell over low shrubs armed with thorns. Bare legs badly scratched, I stumbled onto a foot path and followed it

Zambia:  year??? 

                Harry’s Hunt

By Geoff Wainwright

Harry Swanson’s lion hunt really began in the farming district of Karabwe where I lived with my girlfriend Cecilia Krigie. It was late at night. We were asleep when the telephone jangled – the frantic voice of the late Lew Games was at the end.

“Could you please do an urgent lion hunt?” he pleaded. The PH he had booked to guide Harry’s hunt, was no longer available – his Land Cruiser had broken down in a remote hunting block.

“Yes!” With a hint of dawn on the horizon, the first rooster crowed. My safari gear loaded on my truck, the engine fired up, I left the farm and eagerly looked forward to a new adventure.

I drove into the sleeping city of Lusaka and parked in front of the plush, four-star Pamodzi  Hotel. Lew awaited my arrival a smile of relief. With a feeling of apprehension we hurried over to a husband and wife who stood guard over gun cases and luggage.

“Good morning, you are Harry and Irene Swanson from Reno?” he asked. They shook hands, then Lew introduced me as their Professional Hunter. They looked shocked, dreams shattered – not at all what they were expecting!  Harry suspiciously eyed me. “So you will be hunting with us?” He gestured Lew aside out of ear-shot, and talked quietly, casting nervous glances towards me as I stood and engaged Irene in pleasant conversation. Then they strode over, Lew called a porter, and their luggage was loaded on my truck. We crammed ourselves into the cab and left the urban sprawl of the city.

En route we became acquainted. Harry, still uneasy, quietly probed into my hunting background, but his confidence grew when I mentioned past hunts and clients’ names that were familiar to him. At mid-morning we arrived at the Nalusanga Game Guard Post. The register was signed, and the boom with a buffalo skull wired to it was raised. We entered the Kafue National Park surrounded by GMA hunting blocks.

At midday, as the sun shimmered overhead, I cut the engine and parked below an ancient fig tree. These magnificent trees are traditionally used by villagers for sacred rituals. The canopy was alive with birdsong. We ate a picnic lunch off the hood then pushed on to the Lushimba Springs Game Post.  From a miserable collection of native hunts, some snotty-nosed children and scruffy game scouts emerged. We greeted them, signed the register, and finally reached our destination at nightfall.

The camp was grey and looked like a small town, the thatched huts in the night shadows of tall trees, the car park criss-crossed with paths made by the staff. I cut the motor. Shouts of delight welcomed us. The lanky Robert Dahl appeared with his attractive daughter, Sissy at his elbow, her red-dyed hair on fire. Out of the shadows, two burly men approached – I was among old friends – Zambian PH, Rory Gellatly and Zimbabwean hunter, Alex Strauss. In the chetinge (dining room) a party atmosphere prevailed. As we ate our supper, Harry stiffened, head cocked to one side.

“Quiet, please!” he snapped “Listen!” On the night breeze, we heard the moaning roar of a lion. Harry peered over his glass. “A good omen!” As he pinned me with a look, I made a mental note of its whereabouts.  Supper finished, we were tired, and went to our huts.

The next morning when the light was good enough, we zeroed Harry’s .30-06 and his .375 in on a target. Our crew, dressed in green overalls, watched. Karim a skinner and Bemba by tribe, his face scarred by tribal marks; Muka, a tracker of Kunda descent, jockey- sized, his eyes deep-set and far-reaching. Harry’s marksmanship was fine. His rifles were placed into the gun-rack and he clambered on board with Irene next to me.

I drove along the edge of the Lushimba plains, a sea of yellow grass surrounded by miombo forest. A flock of guinea fowl took off with a reedy clatter and landed among low, termite mounds. We saw herds of impala that frisked nervously over open ground. A rap on the roof signaled “stop!”

Mpelembe!” (roan) said Muka. Glasses raised, we searched between the trees but saw nothing. I followed the direction of his outstretched arm and a movement caught my eye. In the shimmering heat of the horizon, I saw a small herd, led by a heavy-bodied bull.  “Hell’s teeth!” said Harry “That’s bloody far!”

A roan was high of his wish list, so we waited for females to lie down, the Land Cruiser parked in the shade, Irene told to stay with it. Karim rolled a cigarette out of old newspaper. Muka held the water bag. The smell of shag tobacco smacked into our noses and we watched the direction of his smoke. The breeze was in our favour. Rifles slung over our backs, we began our stalk. At first we walked upright. Every so often, we stopped to glass our quarry, then pushed on. We took cover behind colossal anthills and got closer, but here the area offered no hiding place and the herd was in sight.

We crawled the last hundred yards with our rifles pushed out in front of us. The sun baked down and our lungs heaved until we finally reached the last anthill crowned with a low palm, and caught our breath. Wet with sweat, we drank from the water bag. Muka and Karim hunkered down to wait, while Harry and I climbed to the top. We sat and quietly parted the fronds for a view over the herd. My eyes took a while to get used to the surroundings.

The females were all bellied-down under low trees, covered by mottled shade. Glasses raised, I searched for the male. At first my heart missed a beat when I couldn’t find him. Harry moved to sit next to me and whispered, “Look carefully. There he is – in the background!” I found him a hundred yards away from the females. His head was hidden by leafy branches.  He took a few steps forward and shook his head as he stood and guarded his harem. His horns were magnificent, altogether more than thirty inches long! They rose straight up for a least eight inches, then arched gracefully down to taper into sharp points. A trophy hunter’s dream!

With hand signals, I instructed Harry to sit next to me and whispered, “When he moves closer, get ready to shoot.” Harry got comfortable and rested his rifle on an old tree stump. A fickle wind blew, making the fronds rustle, and the females stumbled up, their noses pointed in our direction. The bull, alarmed, ran a few paces towards them then suddenly stopped. He shook his head, snorted and he stamped one foot. “You’d better shoot now!” I urged. But, just as Harry squeezed the trigger, the roan suddenly wheeled around and the shot only tore our surroundings to shreds.

The bull bolted with his harem in tow. There was a thunder of hooves and the herd vanished in a cloud of dust. We searched for blood that would prove Harry had wounded it, but found none. We followed them up and were later convinced that his shot had gone astray. I called a halt to the hunt. Downcast, we returned to the truck.

“While you were away, those buck,” Irene said, pointing to brown shapes in the flood plain, “popped up out of the grass!” Glasses raised, I saw a group of a puku! They had their backs towards us as they grazed and raised horned heads to peer about from time to time. It was a bachelor herd in search of females.

Harry checked his .30-06. My counterparts were told to stay with Irene. We stalked to within a hundred yards of the puku. Hidden behind a stand of wispy grass, I set up the shooting sticks and talked Harry through his shot. A good trophy folded to the ground. His rifle now blooded, we returned to camp in good spirits. Robert Dahl and Sissy greeted us with smiles, recounting their successful sable hunt. The two friends congratulated each other and we joined their hunters, Rory and Alex round the camp fire.

The next morning after our parties had breakfasted together, we split in different directions to hunt and set off. A loud knock on the roof made me stop the vehicle. The ground was covered with buffalo spoor and fresh dung, the tracks easy to follow on hoof- ploughed soil. We abandoned the truck, the air still crispy and cold, and made steady progress over the floodplain, the spoor taking us to a forest of low trees festooned with pearl-white cattle egrets.

We stalked between the deeply shaded trunks, dew still on the grass. The skyline lightened and we stopped on the fringe of a clearing. Screened by branches, we looked through a gap and saw hundreds of buffalo in their hustle and bustle of daily life. Calves bawled and young bulls clashed horns. Others filed down to drink from a waterhole. Karim fiddled with his cigarette and took a long pull. He blew out the smoke and he handed it to Muka. For a few seconds the smoke hung in the air, then wafted into our faces – the wind was good. Harry and I bent low and sneaked over to a fallen tree trunk covered by brambles. Were took cover behind it and rose up slowly to peek over. The opportunity was too good to pass up! A solid-bossed bull with wide, menacing horns, stood facing us.

“Shoot him!  Below the jaw!” I said. Harry’s .375  rent the air like a blast of thunder. The Barnes .270 soft point coursed through the animal’s chest, broke its spine and the buffalo collapsed. Chaos reigned as the shot rang in our ears and the herd stampeded away. Our buffalo gave out its mournful death bellow.

Like phantoms veiled in dust, our party walked over to examine Harry’s kill. We all stood back and watched in silence. An emotional Harry, ran his hands over the horns, lifted its tail and stroked its back. Muka then surprised me. “I can drive!” he said. I tossed him the keys and he vanished. Karim and I caped the buffalo, and as our knives flashed in the sun the first vultures arrived and the morning warmed. Later the truck arrived and we wrestled the buffalo on board. Muka sat dwarf-like behind the wheel. Irene beamed as he drove us to the vicinity where the lion had roared on our arrival in camp. On the edge of the grass-covered floodplain, we tied the carcass shoulder-high into a tree. The ground below it was cleared, the slippery intestines pulled out to taint the air. We made a skirt of grass and covered the carcass. Our day done, as night fell we returned to camp.

After two days of checking the bait, only a hyena had fed. We hunted a reed buck and impala, and each evening gathered round the camp fire. We were disappointed – no lion, the surrounding bush only loud with silence. On the third morning we gathered round the bait. Muka and Karim smiled. They pulled off long mane hairs and pointed to lion tracks moulded into the ground. Now there was plenty of work to do. We recruited extra labour from the nearby game post. By mid-afternoon we had all toiled hard and a machan, a rickety tower of poles had been built. Muka and Karim drove away with strict instructions to wait at the Game Guard Post. Only at the sound of our shots were they bring the truck back!

With high expectation we climbed the ladder into a grass blind on top. The door closed behind us, we sat and looked through our peep holes at the bait. Blue bottle flies buzzed. The wind blew true and the smell of rotting meat was in our faces. Harry checked his .30-06.We waited. The sun tilted below the horizon. Then there was a faint rustle, the snap of a twig and the lion ghosted out of the grass! I swallowed hard and tapped Harry on his shoulder. My nerves jangled as it stopped below the bait and peered up. It had a powerful head and dark mane. The light began to fade rapidly and I whispered, “Shoot!” A feather of flame blasted from his barrel.

The lion gave a gut-wrenching roar, arched its back and vanished back into the grass. There was loud rustling followed by a short period of grunts, then silence. We stood up, nerves on edge, talked in low tones and scanned the long grass below. Harry suddenly cranked his bolt and made a snap shot down into the shadows. Still silence.

“How was your first shot?” I asked. “Good!” he reported. Spirits high, we scrambled down the ladder and waited for my truck to arrive. Half an hour passed. Impatient, we fired in the direction of the Game Guard Post. All was quiet. Harry fired a third shot and still we waited.

We were miles from camp, at night, in unfamiliar country. Harry climbed back into the machan. Rifle over my shoulder, I followed the vehicle tracks which were silvered in the light of a sickle moon. Some twenty minutes later, I saw my truck in the darkness. On checking, I found the ignition keys were missing! I shouted repeatedly but received no reply. I fired into the air and waited. My frustration was compounded by concern for Harry. Then, in the distance, between the trees, I saw the orange glow of a fire. I left the track and headed towards it.

My sense of humour was gone. Completely. I tripped and fell over low shrubs armed with thorns. Bare legs badly scratched, I stumbled onto a foot path and followed it. The sound of children, dogs, and jovial voices grew louder. I broke into a clearing to see villagers dancing and circling a fire in wild delight! They chanted and stomped to the rhythm of clapping hands.

Rifle held across my chest, I stormed into the firelight and saw my men seated in a circle, a calabash of traditional beer doing the round! Shocked by my sudden appearance, the festivities immediately stopped! I strode furiously towards them. They staggered to their feet, eyes glazed with booze. I gave vent to the full force of my pent-up anger! Then, cursing loudly, I chased them back along the path to my truck. They clambered unsteadily on board and collapsed in the back. I raced over the floodplain, worried about Harry. Finally, the dark outline of our machan loomed against the night sky and my bright lights revealed him.

His rifle was propped against the steps. “Please!” he said smiling, “let’s load up this bloody lion and get back to camp to celebrate!”

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