African Morning

As you begin to stir, your eyes quickly tell you that it is still very dark. You suddenly realize that what has truly broken your restless sleep is a deep, but distant, chest rattling ROAR! It is Simba, Lord of the jungle, leader of his clan, and fearsome protector of his pride. He has chosen this predawn time to announce his presence and to alert every animal that this is his domain!

Well, that was all I needed. It was hard enough leaving the campfire comradery last night, but I turned in a little early because of my PH’s (Professional Hunter Danie “Donny” Clifford) statement.

He grinned broadly and matter of factly told me that the trackers had picked up the prints of what they said was a “mighty’ Simba! Donny quickly flashed a thumbs up gesture and extended his two large hands forming his thumbs and index fingers into a large open circle, saying, ” pie plate sized paw tracks, he’s the big boy we have been searching for over the last 5 days.”

Now I could hear the mighty roar of Simba, the sounds flooding my mind causing images of a large bodied, dark mained, Lion, sitting, head erect, mouth wide apart, huge teeth shinning in the moon light. My god, now, at this moment, I began to realize that my dream of taking a great African Lion seemed possible! That all the many days and months of dreaming, and planning for this safari, may in fact, be about to come true.

Thirteen months ago I stepped off of a South African Airlines plane and into the opened arms of a seasoned, long time veteran Professional Hunter, named Danie Clifford. Danie, pronounced Donny, was not only a renowned PH, but also the owner and operator of Mahlapholane Safari and Hunting Lodge, located north of Johannesburg in the Wambath area of the Northern Province of South Africa. A more beautiful lodge or location would be almost impossible to find! Every possible creature comfort and a fantastic staff ready to cater to your every desire. All of that, coupled with an unbelievable view of “real” African scenery, complete with just about every African animal you can imagine, told me that my dream and quest for the African Dangerous Game Big Six was finely and truly beginning. “The Hunt”

Well, that was it for sleeping. Those mighty roars trashed any possibility of my falling back to sleep. I jumped up, and for the umpteenth time began to go over “all” of my gear. I started with the clothes I had carefully laid out before turning in: boots, socks, underwear (thermal, June in South Africa is winter and cold, very cold, specialy if you live in Florida), shirt, sweater, jacket, and gloves. Then on to what seemed like a mountain of “equipment” starting with my backpack. Into which I “again” checked, and placed, the following items: emergency “stuff”; whistle (incase I was being eaten by a Lion and wanted to let everyone know that I considered that event to be a “foul play”), butane lighter, med-pack, combination compass, signal mirror, and magnifying glass, lip balm, 10 extra Garrett Cartridges 420grain Hammerhead bullets for my Marlin Brockman 45-70 lever action rifle, lens cleaning cloth, hard candies, small bottle of water, small camera and extra film, binoculars, sun glasses, and back-up ID papers neatly encased in a zip lock bag.

Then, onto my “real” equipment. I began with my rifle. It is a caliber 45-70, lever action Marlin rifle, tricked out for me by Jim Brockman of Gooding, Utah and loaded with 420 grain Hammerhead Garrett Cartridges produced by Randy Garrett of Chehalis, Washington. As expected, it cycled flawlessly. Its’ bore was as clean as I could possibly want it and everything “felt” right about it. I laid it with the backpack and picked up my belt and made sure that my 10 round cartridge holder was filled with the appropriate Hammerheads and that my “last stand knife” was firmly in its’ sheath.

Having accomplished all of those tasks, I now was free to dress and head to what I knew would be another great lodge breakfast.

We had almost completed gobbling down our breakfast when the head tracker came running in and had an excited conversation with the PH. Donnie barked, “let’s go, they got him tracked out”. We grabbed our rifles and gear and out we went. After what seemed like a never ending trek, the head scout tracker raised his arm and gestured with his index finger pointing at what appeared to me to be the most magnificent Lion my mind could possibly conjured up! A huge body, about 600lbs if not more, with a long flowing red-black main! The stuff of dreams! The Lion lorded over a large, partially eaten, male Blesbuck, probably part of his morning meal. Donnie whispered in my ear, “God all mighty, he is huge! We need to sneak up a little closer using that bush as cover. You can nail him from there”. We did just that. We hunched over and slithered forward until we made it to the bush. I took up a kneeling stance and clearly saw the Lion standing facing me slightly broadside about 50 yards away. Donnie, using his binoculars, started mumbling something about God awful big and then clearly said, “take up a steady rest and aim carefully, put him down as quickly as you can”. I picked up my Marlin, released the cross bolt safety and placed the fire red glowing cross hairs from the Leupold illuminator scope on his left front shoulder. I eased back on the trigger and sent one of Mr. Garrett’s 420gr Hammerhead cartridges slamming into exactly were I had aimed. The Lion went straight up into the air making a 180-degree turn while still air born! As soon as his feet touched the ground, he put about 20 yards between him and me, then without warning, he instantly turned around, roared, and came straight at us! Donnie had long ago dropped his binoculars and had his rifle pointing straight at the oncoming Lion. As soon as the Lion reached about 30 yards from me, I did what I had to do, but with great concern. I had his eyes clearly in my glowing sights, and squeezed the trigger, sending a Hammerhead right into his brain, knocking him over with his feet straight up in the air! We cautiously moved forward to my very dead African Lion!

Talk about excitement! We exchanged high fives and bear hugs all way round. The Lion truly was magnificent. He had everything any African hunter could possibly want or dream of! Long, beautiful main, huge body, enormous paws and teeth that sent shivers down your back! He was after all, the senior boss in his territory and carried all of the credentials to prove it! But now his reign was over and shortly there would be new fearsome roars resounding throughout the vast plains. They would announce both the arrival of the new King, and the rising sun of another African Morning!

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