The Lion Charge
By Frank Paino
As a young kid growing up in Brooklyn, I always longed to be outdoors. I had a quiet life and I was always looking for activity. When I was about twelve years old, the movies Th e Snows of Kilimanjaro and King Solomon’s Mines came out. I thought they were great movies on Africa, but I never imagined I would go there.
The closest I got to an outdoor lifestyle as a kid was going upstate in the summertime. My father was
originally from upstate New York; he met my mother when he came to New York City to see the doctors there for an injury to his leg that occurred while he was playing ball. My father’s family still lived upstate, and every summer as a kid I was allowed to spend a month up there. My father’s brother was a welder, and every afternoon I would wait impatiently for the factory whistle to sound and for my uncle to come home from work. He would take me out while it was still daylight and we would do some shooting. I wasn’t allowed to have any fi rearms at home, so this was very exciting for me. Th ere was a time when my other uncles from Brooklyn went a little bit upstate to shoot a .22 rifle. No one could hit what they were shooting at, and they finally let me try. I hit it with one shot. This was my opening to ask my father if I could get a .22 and leave it at my uncle’s house so I could use it when he and I went out shooting.
My father had a small produce store in Brooklyn where I worked, delivering orders for five dollars a week, and that’s how I paid for my first .22. I also wanted to take a Hunter Safety course, but my father didn’t want me to. I told him it was free.
He said “You’re never going hunting, so why bother?”
I told him again it was free, which was important since we never had any money and lived in an apartment. He finally relented and said I could take the course.
There was a small camera and gun store about four blocks from my father’s store and I was constantly topping in there. I became friends with the owner, Frank. Every September Frank and his friends, who were all small business owners, drove to Wyoming to hunt mule deer and antelope. While they were gone, I would often stop by the gun store to ask Frank’s wife, Jenny, how the hunters were doing. Eventually Frank got tired of having his gun store broken into and he sold the business and moved his entire family to Wyoming.
At that same gun store, I met another friend, George, who owned a produce place. I told him that one of these days I would like to do a hunt in Wyoming. He had money and said, “You arrange the hunt, and we will drive to Wyoming in my Lincoln Continental.” Th at was the first of my hunting trips.
I eventually got a job at a bus company in South Jamaica, Queens, and drove a bus for ten years before becoming a supervisor. I worked all the overtime I could, going for weeks with no days off. It took me twenty-six years to get a Sunday off, and twenty-eight years to get a Saturday and Sunday.
I read an article by Ken Elliot of Hunting magazine about a hunt he had done on the Vermejo Park Ranch in New Mexico for bull elk. Th e article inspired me, and I booked an elk hunt at Vermejo. I hunted at Vermejo every other year, about four times. While there, I met many hunters with wide hunting experience and I always asked them about Africa. A few of them told me it was too dangerous there. I finally realized if I kept making elk hunts every other year, I would never get to Africa.
I often purchased books from Safari Press, and one day I got to speak with the owner, Ludo Wurfbain. I mentioned to him I would like to go to Africa. Ludo suggested I attend the Safari Club International (SCI) convention in Reno, Nevada. I told him the outfitter I was thinking of going with, and Ludo said he was booked with that same outfitter, that same year. Ludo said, “Come to the convention and I will introduce you to him.”
I made the trip to Reno, and Ludo introduced me to George Angelides, the owner of Tanzania Safaris in Arusha, Tanzania. We got along very well and things started to fall into place. George suggested I hunt in two different areas of Tanzania during my hunt, since certain animals are only in one area. I booked the safari with George for the following year, 1991, which gave me some time to get the money together. I was concerned about jet lag, so I arrived a week early and stayed in the Mount Meru Hotel in Arusha.
George was on safari with another client, and his wife, Gill, invited me to their home for dinner. Their children, Michael, Kathryn, and Nicholas, were young then. During the week, Gill sometimes had one of the men on their staff take me into Arusha to buy souvenirs. I was anxious to start my safari. Th e Mount Meru Hotel had offices in the lobby offering tours to see the various game parks; the tours cost about $100 each. But I was counting every penny, and I figured there was no reason to go to these parks since in another week I would actually be on safari. I was taken to a small airstrip at the end of the week and boarded a small aircraft. I flew 450 air miles to the Rungwa area of Tanzania. When the plane landed, I met several friendly people there who were waiting to leave.
They had just finished their safari with George, and they told me I would have a great time.
I was fortunate that during this last safari they had been hanging baits for cats, and the baits were still up.
The first two nights in camp, I heard lions roaring all night. My tent was in the center of a long stretch of land, with George’s tent at one end and the camp staff at the other end. One night, I unzipped the tent to go to the bathroom, and when I looked out of the tent with my flash light I could see the eyes of several hyenas looking at me. I shook the canvas opening of the tent and the hyenas moved off.
The next morning George told me there was still a lion roaring by the bait tree, and he suggested we try to get him before he left the area. As we approached the bait tree, the lion heard the vehicle and took off at a fast trot. It was a split-second decision if he was good enough to take. We stopped the vehicle and I got out, and while the lion was moving away, I fired. He took off into the tall grass, and we waited a while. Then George had one of his men get behind the steering wheel, and George and I got in the back of the vehicle, which had no doors and an open back. George stood on one side and I on the other side, with our rifles ready. We drove through the long grass, expecting the lion to leap into the vehicle at any moment. When the long grass ended, we all got out of the vehicle and we began tracking the wounded lion. We were tracking for about twenty minutes when we came to a dry river bed with just a trickle of water flowing in the center. When we walked to the edge of the embankment, which was about six feet high, the lion began roaring. Th e hair on the back of my neck stood up at this tremendous roaring. They say you can hear a lion roaring five miles away in the bush, and we were right on top of this one.
We immediately backed up, and then approached to the edge again with the lion still roaring. He could see us, but we couldn’t see him. He was in the palmettos on the opposite side. We backed up again, and George said, “We will go downstream farther, and cross over to the other side.”
We did that and as we got closer to where the lion was, the trees blocked our view. George turned, looked me in the eye, and said, “If we go any farther, he will run out and grab somebody before we can shoot him.”
George told me to go back to the other side with Hamesi, his lead tracker. He told Hamesi in Swahili to get the shotgun, which was loaded with bird shot. When we were in position, Hamesi was to shoot the bird shot above where we thought the lion was. George told me to be ready, since the lion was going to come out, but we didn’t know what side of the dry river bed he would come out on. So, George stayed on that side and I went back to the original side with Hamesi.
Hamesi hid in a bush so the lion wouldn’t see him. When I was in position, standing at the edge of the six-foot-high embankment, Hamesi fi red above where the lion was roaring. Th e lion didn’t come out, but I saw Hamesi walking toward me from my left side. He speaks only Swahili, but he showed me the shotgun, which was jammed. I didn’t want to put my rife down with the lion still roaring. I saw that the follower from the gun’s magazine had caught a shell, so I was able to get my Puma knife and I used it to push the follower, which cleared the jammed shell. Hamesi went back to the bush again and fi red another bird shot round above the roaring. With that, the lion came out straight at me, and everything seemed to happen in slow motion. I said to myself, here he comes. As soon as the lion was in my cross hairs, I fi red. Th e rifle wasn’t completely up to my shoulder but I had to fi re immediately, and when I shot the scope came back and hit me above the eye. I started bleeding profusely. Th e lion turned away at my shot and I fi red again at his side as he turned. With that second shot, the lion turned again and came back at me at full charge. I fi red into his chest with the third shot and that dropped him in his tracks.
My rifle, a .378 Weatherby, holds only three shots, one in the chamber and two in the magazine. I had read that professional hunters would place two shells between their fingers to reload their double guns in an emergency, so before the charge I had placed one shell between my fingers—one was all I could manage and still hold my rifle correctly, since the shells are so large. After the third shot, I took the shell I was holding and put it in the chamber. I walked around to the back of my lion and fi red a round into his back as an insurance round. All of the shots had been killing shots, but the lion was full of adrenaline that kept him going long after he should have been dead.
George and the men came to my side of the riverbed. My lion measured more than ten feet from nose to tail and he would score No. 34 in the Safari Club International record book. This was only the third day of my first safari, and there I was, just a guy from Brooklyn. We don’t see too many lions in Brooklyn. As we say back there, “Fuhgeddadboudit.”