Hunting Lions in Africa
For the serious hunter, hunting lions in Africa is at the top of the bucket list. Pursuing a lion or lioness can make for an exceedingly memorable hunt. The African lion (Panthera Leo) is the second largest living cat after the tiger, and the largest cat in Africa. A mature male African lion weighs up to five hundred fifty pounds and stands nearly four feet tall at the shoulder. From teeth to tail he goes 10 feet. The female African lion is smaller than the male, but what she lacks in stature, she makes up in aggression. Neither the male nor the female have much fear of man, especially at night. Their night vision is excellent, and they have superb hearing. Couple those traits with very impressive fangs and claws, and you have an extremely powerful, successful hunting machine.
African lions differ from other members of the African cat family in that they live together in a social group called a pride. The lion pride consists of an older female, the matriarch, several of her sisters with their cubs, and a dominant male. Older males usually are kicked out of the pride by younger, stronger males.
Lions are on top of the predator group. However, they will scavenge carrion whenever they get the chance. Normally, lions do not see humans in their food group, but there are more than enough stories about man-killer lions to provide hours of lively reading. For instance, two lions, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, caused the entire Indian work force on the Ugandan Railroad to walk off the job somewhere around the time the 45th coolie had gone to his maker courtesy of two male lions. People have been conditioned to look at lions, and other big cats, as not much more dangerous than an average alley cat. Truth is African lion hunting is hunting for dangerous game, and if not done with great care, they can come back and bite you - literally.
Only the male African lion has a mane which usually develops between two and three years of age. Some male lions either don’t grow a mane, or live in bush so thick that it gets rubbed down to fur, but they can still be recognized by their larger musculature build and size.
African lion hunting is exciting. There’s no other animal that will get your blood pumping like a lion. They are very fast, can turn in the space of two paces, are unpredictable, and can cover 100 yards in less time than it takes to read this paragraph.
Lions can be hunted by tracking or baiting. Baiting the African lion is a bit different from baiting a leopard. Bait is set up in much the similar fashion to that of leopard, excepting that the bait is hung up in the tree just high enough that the lion can reach it. The jeep is used to drag the bait around, creating a scent trail, and a blind/hide is built as soon as the lion starts feeding. Bait may be an animal that is hung in a tree, or it can be an elephant carcass, or other large deceased animal lying on the savannah. The lion can be taken at the bait site, or nearby where he has gone to sleep off his meal.
The second method used for hunting lions in Africa is to walk-and-stalk after lion tracks are located. The tracker will quickly determine just how old the tracks are. As soon as fresh tracks are found, the hunt is on. Guns are loaded, water is packed, and then the hard work starts. The tracks are easily lost on hard ground, but if a tracker is good, he can pick up the tracks by casting around the area. During the midday heat the hunter can expect to find lion in a shady spot, however, that shady spot might be four or five miles from where the tracks were intercepted.
All of a sudden the tracker stops. He has been tracking with his head down and eyes on the paw prints. Now his head comes up and he makes the sign to halt. The Professional Hunter stops, then checks ahead and will slowly lift his binoculars to his eyes. He’ll judge the lion, and if it’s a good one, will bring the hunter up. The lion is yards in front and it’s time for the shot.
Minimum caliber by law for hunting lions in Africa in most countries is .375. Bullet choice is up to the hunter, but a high-quality, rapidly-expanding soft point is necessary as the lion is thin-skinned and the bullet needs to open quickly. A good selection of ammunition for the 375 includes; Nosler 300 gr. Partition; Hornady DGS 300 gr. Roundnose; Federal Cape Shock 300 gr., and many others. Also there’s a 270 gr. bullet loaded for the 375, but with a lion, the hunter needs all the advantage of the heavier bullet that he can get.
Many disturbed lions will charge even if they are not wounded, however, the majority of hunter or PH maulings happen with a wounded lion. The hunter may have hit the lion through a vital organ like the heart, but there’s still enough oxygen in its system to carry its charge quite a few seconds. The African lion when wounded will wait and charge from a very short distance. He hurts, and he wants someone to pay for it. A lion with a bullet in a less than lethal area, like in a gut shot, will lie in wait until the last moment, then come out flying.
When it charges, it comes very fast. Old Leo will present a small target that looks more like a brown blur than a lion. A wounded lion charge from 80 feet, accompanied by hair-raising growls will definitely upset an already scared hunter. The stopping shot is difficult because of the short period of time available, and because the shooter doesn’t hold low enough to lead the cat sufficiently.
A wounded lion will charge a group of hunters, but he will fixate on just one person and go after that person with the intent of killing that hunter to the exclusion of all the others in the party.
Usually the PH will not let the client follow up a wounded lion. If he does, the hunter must listen carefully to his instructions and follow them without fault. On a follow up of a wounded lion, the largest caliber rifle the hunter is comfortable shooting should be used, especially if tracking in heavy brush. The shot will be fast, unaimed, and just possibly from the hip.
Hunting lions in Africa is exciting indeed. The trophy on the wall will bring back memories of the hunt that will last forever. Some hunters say it was the most thrilling hunt in their lives - and that’s how it should be.