A truly once-in-a-lifetime lion trophy! From left to right: Tienie Bamberger, owner and PH of Warthog Safaris, Stefan Fouché, editor of Africa’s Sportsman Magazine, and the author with the .375 Ruger which he used on the hunt.

By CH Meyer

I had been listening to my friend, Stefan Fouché, and others talking about the controversial topic of lion hunting in South Africa for the past year or so. In that time I heard so many opinions – from ‘captive-bred lion hunting is unethical’ and it ‘being the same as breeding any buck in a camp and hunting them’, all the way to ‘whatever you do on your farm needs to be economically viable’.
To be honest, I had never imagined myself hunting a captive-bred lion. I thought that if I ever hunted a lion, it would be a wild lion up in Africa somewhere.
It was on the plane trip to America, also for a hunt, that Stefan and Tienie Bamberger had enough time to convince me to do a South African lion hunt.

A week or so after returning from America, Tienie contacted me and we started to make arrangements for my lion hunt.
I immediately realised that I was not confident enough to face the possibility of a lion charging me. I reloaded ammunition for my .375 Ruger, went to the range and timed myself shooting fast-appearing targets. More than half the time on the range I was cycling ammunition through my rifle without actually looking at the rifle but keeping my eyes on the targets. I also practiced a lot of instinctive shooting at targets closer than 10 m.
In view of the type of hunt that awaited me, I removed the scope from my rifle, as hunting at close range is easier without it.
The big day finally arrived and Stefan and I took the long road to Tienie Bamberger’s farm in the Limpopo Province. We arrived in the late afternoon and enjoyed a lovely dinner with the staff and clients of Warthog Safaris.

Day 1
That first morning started with Tienie explaining the action plan for the day. I realised then that the particular property we were on had multiple lions in the veld, and that they had been there for a number of months. Tienie also explained that the toughest challenge would be to find the lions or fresh tracks. He also mentioned that there was an exceptional male lion on the farm, and that we would try to locate it.
As always, we were full of laughter and jokes but as soon as we entered the lion camp, I could feel a strange sense of seriousness come over me. I was eager to start the hunt, but having heard quite a few stories of captive-bred lion hunts, I was concerned that we would come across the lion too quickly. (Knowing what I do now, there was no need for this concern, of course.)
We cut down a small tree and tied it to the back of the pick-up truck so that we could drag it behind the vehicle to sweep away any old tracks. This would give us a ‘fresh canvas’ and the best chance of finding fresh tracks.
We walked the area to make sure we did not miss anything. At the end of the day we had clocked in excess of 15 km on foot and had seen sable, giraffe, kudu, crocodile, wildebeest – so many species but no sign of any lion, and no fresh lion tracks! All the tracks that we had come across were 2–3 days old.

Try to locate the lion track in this picture – it will give you some idea of how expert the trackers of Warthog Safaris are.

Sometimes the bushveld makes it impossible to see tracks on the ground. Then you have to rely on your skills, trying to anticipate and follow an aerial spoor. Note the strands of lion mane stuck in the branches.

Day 2
On the morning of day 2, as we exited the gates of the lodge, we were greeted by a bunch of warthogs, both big and small, and I realised where Warthog Safaris got their name from.
We set off to the hunting area, and I was full of confidence that we would find the lions that day. It was still early when we found some fresh lion tracks and strands of lion mane caught on the bushes. We followed the tracks and spotted something in the road about 2 km ahead of us. At first glance through the Swarovski I thought it was a large round bush, but soon realised that it was a male lion. I was amazed at the size and dark colour of the mane. This was my lion and the hunt was on!
While we were pursuing the lion, and getting closer, rain started to fall softly – and about halfway along the rain became quite heavy. We were concerned that the rain would wash away the tracks but had no choice – we had to take cover and wait it out. The lion moved into a mountain area, so we decided to back off, take an early lunch and then see if he would come out towards the flat veld again. The rain had abated somewhat and we knew that we would be able to find and follow the tracks.
After lunch we found some fresh tracks moving towards the mountain but did not find any tracks leaving the mountain, even though we checked all the roads and areas around the mountain block. We did not see that lion again! We retired for the day after some 10 km of walking but at least we knew where to start looking the next day.

Day 3
Starting off, we knew that any lion tracks we found that morning would be fresh as there had been about 39 mm rain during the night – a very welcome 39 mm in a very bad drought-stricken area of Limpopo.
Early on we spotted a lioness in the grass near the mountain area where we had tracked the male the previous day. We moved closer to see if there were more lions, and more importantly a male nearby. After no sign of a male in the immediate area, and no male lion tracks leaving the mountain, we knew that he should still be on the mountain and we decided that it was time to go and look for him.
When we started up the foot of the mountain, I quickly realised that we now had to stay focussed and pay attention carefully, as the vegetation was very dense and we could barely see 10 m ahead (the last person in our group of six could not see the leader). This was physically very challenging but what got to me the most, was the mental challenge of overcoming the tiredness and staying focussed and sharp. This was tough, especially as birds such as pheasants would fly up and surprise us as we tracked.
Day 3 ended with no success, and we would have to start the next day from scratch. Our feet were hammered with more than 15 km of walking – and most of that traversing the heavy rocky area. The count on the GPS was equivalent to climbing 21 floors! At least there was an amazing meal waiting for us at the lodge and we enjoyed it thoroughly.

Day 4
The first lion tracks we found was on the road at the base of the mountain. It indicated, however, that the lion had once again moved up the mountain. We would have to continue where we had left things the day before. The difficult terrain forced us to blindly search the mountain because tracking here was so difficult – it felt like we were looking for a needle in a haystack.
Suddenly, the lion jumped up less than 5 m right in front of us! There was just a bush separating us from him – but instead of charging, he decided to flee. It looked as if the lion was finding the terrain equally tiring and limiting. We followed and glimpsed him a few times but always within the thicket of the bushes and there was no opportunity to get a shot in. We found lion tracks and mane caught on vegetation as we pushed forward through this demanding landscape but the day again ended with no success.
This was the most challenging and exhilarating day so far as we encountered the lion several times. By now we had covered well over the 50 km and our feet were feeling it!

Day 5
We started off in rainy weather but were forced to stop eventually and take a very early brunch to wait out the rain.
After about three hours we found fresh lion tracks on a flatter part of the mountain and came across the spot where he had slept. It was still warm, so he was close. We immediately started tracking and could actually hear – but not see – him move in the bush ahead of us, just out of reach. After about 30 minutes the lion had circled and we were crossing our own tracks from that morning.
We spread out at the top of a ridge, searching the surrounding bushes for any movement. Then I saw him about 100 m further down the slope of the mountain. I snapped my fingers, trying to signal the others, and suddenly the lion and I were in a stare-off. He looked directly at me and my focus was fixed on him only for those five seconds. A stare-off. Rushing to where I had seen him, we found fresh tracks along the road for quite some way along the base of the mountain. We picked up the pace and started jogging along, hoping to put enough pressure on him to force him to turn right towards the flatter, more accessible veld. We’d already had more than enough of this mountain climbing thing! We could see the end of the mountain coming into view. Suddenly the tracks turned, not right to the veld, but left up the mountain!
We struggled to follow and he gained some ground on us but we only found tracks again on the road on the other side of the mountain. Hope flared as the tracks again headed towards the lower slope of the mountain – maybe he had turned towards easier terrain?
However, as Murphy’s Law would have it, he had made a 90-degree turn right up a very steep ridge of the mountain. I’ve never seen disappointment flooding so many faces at once on a hunt! We did our best to track him but lost all signs of him once on top of this mountain for the umpteenth time.
We were not really sure who was playing whom at this time.
Obviously disappointed, we headed back to the lodge – but in a weird way deep in my heart I knew that this day had been even better than day 4. Though gutted and drained off all energy, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction at how hard we had tried.

Bushveld lion hunting differs somewhat from Kalahari lion hunting. You spend more time walking than driving in order not to miss any lion tracks crossing a road. Note the thick grass cover which makes it easy to miss a spoor from the back of a vehicle.

Day 6
Fresh lion tracks were found in almost exactly the same place as the day before. Now a big part of our plan would be trying to track the lion, at the same time pushing him towards the more level parts of the mountain and away from the steep ridges.
At this point I could feel the hard terrain and the mental torture starting to take its toll on our concentration and focus. This was dangerous.
At about 9:00 our effort started to pay off and we were able to push the lion towards the flatter terrain. We knew that we were just about five minutes behind him and we had to make a call: either have a quick lunch or continue tracking. We unanimously decided it would be better to stay with him as this offered the best chance of success.
By 14:30 we had seen this lion about five times but again just couldn’t land a shot. From his tracks we noticed that he was running at times, which was a good indication that we were gaining on him. At the end of the day we had done about 21 km and 10 hours of walking and tracking, without lunch, without stopping. We were all exhausted.
On a positive note, this day, if at all possible, was even better than the previous one. If this trend continued, success could not be too far off. (By now I was really resenting the concern I had felt on day 1 of maybe finding my lion too soon and having to take a shot early in the hunt.)

Day 7
Our day started with dragging the roads to sweep away any old tracks. From the start of this hunt the plan was to get within 20 m of the lion for me to take a shot. Now, however, with time running out, I let the trackers and PH know that I was willing to take a shot from further away.
We found fresh lion tracks quite some distance away from the mountain, which gave us hope, and we noticed that the tracks were from two male lions moving together. We followed these tracks, but on the hard soil they disappeared, leaving no sign of the direction the lions might have taken. After a couple of hours circling and searching, we realised we were now back where we started on day 1! No indication, no sign and no clue as to the location of any lions.
I had started this day off with more confidence than before – but by about 14:00 I was at my lowest and very disappointed, realising that the day, and the hunt, was quickly coming to a very sad end. At 17:00 we called it a day because everyone had other responsibilities to see to. We had walked about 100 km during the 7 days. We were physically and emotionally drained.
We decided that we needed to finish what was started, and agreed that we would return to Warthog Safaris in the next few days to continue the hunt.

Day 8
We were back at Tienie’s place, back in the veld. Freshly bathed and shaved and full of excitement, we were ready to continue where we had left off a few days before.
We spotted lion tracks and were suddenly brought down to earth with the disappointment that they were heading, as before, up the mountain. It was a long day. We even split up into two groups and there was one sighting but the lion outsmarted us just as before.
Exhausted, we once again retired for the day, hoping the next day would be more successful.

The sun setting on day 8 of the hunt. We walked more than 120 km during our nine-day hunt. Very few people experience a hunt like this in their lifetime.

Just imagine hunting a lion in thick bush like this! This is where the author shot the lion at a mere 18 paces.

Day 9
Wonderful rain had fallen throughout the night but it stopped about an hour before we headed out. In the veld we found two sets of tracks – one set heading up the mountain and the other into the veld. The trackers could identify raindrops on top of the tracks going up the mountain and none on the ones leading into the veld. This was good news as the fresher tracks obviously headed into easier terrain.
We started tracking and, as before, the lion crossed and circled so much that we found tracks on top of our own tracks. To be honest, this lion criss-crossed so much that we were starting to get confused. Just as we were about to lose hope, the tracker spotted him. He was inside a large thicket – and obviously the hunt of nine days had taken its toll on this majestic beast as well.

This was it …
At first, I could not see him clearly. I could make out the lighter parts of his body but not which was front or back. My eyes adjusted and I could discern where his dark mane started. I made a quick decision on where to place my first shot, double checked with the PH and pulled the trigger. The second shot followed very swiftly. The lion was down but rolling around. I reloaded another two bullets, all the while keeping my gaze on him. I could hear him growl and moan. I brought the rifle up to my shoulder, aimed and took a third shot. It looked as if he was trying to sit up and as my sight focussed on his shoulder, which I could see clearly now, I took my final shot.
We could hear from the sounds he was making that he was close to his last breath.
The moment I realised that this male lion, my lion, was dead, a sense of relief and accomplishment flooded through me. I could hardly believe that the hunt was finally over! After nine days of extreme physical and mental challenges, it almost felt as if the last few minutes had happened too quickly.

Look at the size of the front paw compared to a Leatherman Wave!

On the left are Werner and Tealmore, the two trackers, and next to them the proud and relieved author. Tienie is on the right.

Thank you
I want to thank the team of Warthog Safaris and my friend, Stefan Fouché from Africa’s Sportsman Magazine, who accompanied me every step of the way. I also want to compliment Tienie and Ananja on their great hospitality and the delicious food that we enjoyed on this trip. You guys run a great operation and provide a client with a real once-in-a-lifetime experience. ASM