While other hunters were opening the fall hunting season chasing mourning dove across Central Texas, Tyler’s Gary Howell was scrambling to find a flight to Africa.
Another hunter had booked a lion hunt in Botswana, but backed out at the last minute. Howell jumped at the chance to fill the slot even though it created a logistical nightmare.
“I had three days to get airline tickets and everything else together. I flew from DFW to Frankfurt (Germany), which is 10 hours, then after a 12-hour layover I had a 10-hour-plus flight to Johannesburg (South Africa), an hour flight to Pretoria (South Africa) and then a three-hour bush flight into Botswana,” he recalled.
Even landing at the camp was difficult.
“We had to fly over the airstrip twice to chase the springbok and wildebeest off the runway,” Howell said.
Finally on the ground, what was scheduled as a 10-day hunt quickly got underway on the 200,000-acre concession, an area 10 times the size of Lake Palestine.
With that much land to cover, the style of hunting could best be described as spot-and-stalk. The hunting party would leave the camp each morning in a Land Rover and drive until the trackers spotted a lion sign. From there the hunt would be on foot.
The hunt was on the edge of the Kalahari Desert in southwestern Botswana where it shares a border with Namibia and South Africa. The terrain shifted from sandy desert-like conditions to thick cover dotted with acacia trees. For hunting the daily temperatures ranged from a pleasant 50 into the lower 90s.
“We trailed three cats, but two of them were just not very large,” Howell explained.
Midway through the hunt the stakes increased. The trackers found a track that belonged to a mature lion.
“We had lunch in the field as we did every day. We got back on spoor about 2 p.m. and tracked him until about 5:30,” Howell said.
When they first spotted the big lion it was apparently looking for its next meal.
“He was on his haunches under a large acacia staring at several wildebeest in the distance,” Howell said.
It looked like an all-too-easy of a set up. Something had to go wrong and it almost did. Having the wind in their face the party was able to get within about 100 yards, but either there was a slight shift in the breeze or the lion heard or saw the approaching hunting party.
“He turned his head and got up on all fours and turned his head our way. My guys had set the shooting sticks and I had just laid the .375 H&H Whitworth magnum in the sticks when he turned,” Howell said.
The hunter fired and one of the 300-grain bullets hit the lion and it went down, but not for long.
“He quickly righted himself and ran with a roar into very thick acacia cover. The PH told me to immediately bolt up another shell and we began the adrenaline-rushing tracking of the blood,” the hunter said.
The party slowly moved through the thick cover, making it about a quarter mile when they could hear it roar again.
“Of course the major concern at that point was whether he would charge,” Howell said.
Then everything went eerily silent for several minutes until the lion was spotted, still alive, about 75 yards away.
“The wind was still in our face. The sticks were placed down again and I hit him with a second shot that was within an inch of first. He went down on all fours and rolled over, kicked a time or two and that was the end,” Howell said.
The 8-year-old male, Howell’s first lion, met the criteria that wildlife experts have set as the perfect male to be hunted. They have identified the ideal huntable male lion as being at least 6 and not known to be the head of a pride. Research has shown that taking males 5 or older will not affect overall population dynamics, but the call is for taking 6-year-olds because of the potential difficulty in quickly aging in the field.
While lions are not endangered in Botswana, hunting is. Beginning last week the nation has ended all forms of hunting.
“Botswana has closed its border to hunting in the future so I felt fortunate to be able to get one of last hunts,” Howell said.
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