Preparing for your lion hunt
By Don Heath
The story goes, that under the heading "Eland Stew" in the cook book, the first essential is "find your eland". Hunting lion requires this first step as well. It is no good festooning the countryside with baits until you are sure that there are lion in the vicinity. Once you have seen spoor, heard them calling or detect vultures circling over an area, you at least have a starting point. Lion are fairly nomadic in their habits and tend to follow the most easily accessible routes like road paths and watercourses. Consequently these are the areas to concentrate on when first looking for lion.
When preparing to bait a location there are a few basic essentials that need to be considered and where possible adhered to when choosing your site and preparing your bait
Ideally, your bait should be in the vicinity of water, although too close could mean your lion lies up close to the water rather than your bait. He must be encouraged to drink and then return to guard his meal against outsiders.
The chief outsiders are of course hyena and vultures. Should your bait be too low, rest assured that it will be devoured up as far as a hyena can leap, at least 1.8 metres off the ground for the lower end of your bait. Bear in mind that a lion, when he stands on his back legs can reach up to at least two metres with his jaws.
Vultures can be countered by piling some leafy/thorny branches on top of the bait and/or tying a shiny object on the bait out of sight of the lion's gaze. Tin foil has its uses out of the kitchen! It will deter the scavengers especially if it moves with the breeze.
The bait tree needs to be fairly robust to take the weight of your offering. Obviously you have to work with what you have available in the way of meat, but in order to detain a hungry male lion or possibly more than one, you need to be able to present a substantial meal. (Most hunts for lion will involve shooting a buffalo as well. If a hippo or elephant are to be hunted they too provide good bait).
Therefore, a half buffalo suspended at a height which allows a large male to feed with difficulty is a good bet. Try and suspend the bait so that it is able to move when the lion attempts to eat. There needs to be a balance between difficulty and ease of eating, otherwise if it becomes too difficult, he will move off to greener pastures. I prefer to use chain and D-shackles or good trek chains that can be locked in position to secure the bait. They don't fray, twist out of shape or leave unsightly tangles of wire scattered around the bush. If it is too easy, he or they will finish the meat and move on before you arrive to take up your position in the blind.
Leaving the skin on your bait is preferable. I feel for a more natural presentation, but once lion are feeding, they accept all manner of largesse with equal favour. Again it comes back to a balanced approach and a bit of common sense. Hanging an elephant's leg bone or a carcass stripped of meat as a bait is not going to detain your average lion very long. I have found that lion would feed on impala very readily, but it became prohibitive if the baiting went on for any length of time as they were able to remove them from the retaining chain or rope with ease, if any degree of purchase was available to tooth or claw.
To construct a blind or hide need not be an elaborate or complicated exercise, the best ingredients being a practical option with a dash of imagination thrown in. A screen of hessian or a grass structure to fence off an area camouflaged with a few judiciously placed leafy branches will suffice.
Bear in mind that lion are not stupid, although not in the same league of alertness as a leopard. So, do not build a pile of leafy branches on a frame in the middle of an open patch of ground. If nothing else, curiosity will draw an animal closer to investigate the unusual. Distance and good visibility are two vital points to consider, with a concealed entry way essential. Even moving in at night, you need to be concealed from the bait area as far as possible.
Camouflaged inside a bush or up against a tree or in a slight hollow, the blind should be large enough for two chairs side by side. (Even if you are not hunting with a P.H. you should be hunting with a companion if after dangerous game). The floor should be levelled and cleared of debris to ensure quiet movement in and out. A couple of poles with V-shaped tops fixed in the ground to support your rifle which will be pointed at the bait area. The minimum length of barrel should protrude to avoid excessive movement attracting attention and reducing the possibility of light reflecting off the metal. Once the lion is at the bait, it should require minimum movement to align your weapon and with a dead rest your shot should be on target. You will of course have sighted your rifle at the exact distance before hand.
Clear a pathway in to the blind, sweeping all dead leaves off it and removing overhanging twigs or thorny branches that can impede your quiet movement. Marking the path with small bits of white paper for ease of navigation in the early hours is also a good move.
Your tree should be visible from your blind with few vestiges of cover close to it. Again a balance is required - not too open to discourage lying up and not too dense to conceal.
Once you have your site picked and prepared your bait and blind, you need to broadcast your intended meal's presence, so if possible do a drag either side of your bait to attract potential customers. A good drag of some choice ripe entrails across the line of where you think the lion may be moving to and from in an area, or around a feature such as a waterhole, will entice the cat to your bait and blind. It will also attract the small scavengers whose nocturnal chorus may bring the lion to investigate the possibility of a free meal. They are not averse to free meat and will happily feed on what is provided for as long as you are prepared to keep doing it. Being cats and perverse by nature, they are not entirely predictable however.
To the uninitiated, the time passed in a lion or leopard blind sounds a little tedious and unsporting. I have found out that it gives me the time to relax in the initial stages of the wait with a good book, or purely to allow the mind to wander and ponder - something that our modern life styles do not afford us the opportunity to do very often. As the waiting progresses you have to sharpen your lesser used senses like hearing, and try to decipher the sounds around you for a clue as to whether your quarry is about. The call of a bird or baboon, the alarm bark of a bushbuck or kudu can mean that your cat is on the move. You are now at a disadvantage in that you are enclosed within a blind with a very limited range of vision while your quarry is roaming free.
Any feeling of superiority one may feel is instantly dissipated when you are sitting in your chair facing the aperture and the sound of sniffing comes from the rear and a glance reveals a lion's eye at the crack of the door trying to ascertain what is within the strange structure. To rise from one's seat and to land back on it facing the said door with rifle aimed in one movement is an involuntary reflex that no amount of practice could achieve if you tried it a hundred times, without the feline stimulus.
If you have followed the basic rules, prepared as best you can, and most of all - if the hunting gods are in a favourable mood, you will end up with your trophy - the biggest blackest maned lion anybody has ever seen.