It was June 2007 that crushed my dream of hunting the magnificent Marco Polo Sheep. I'm not sure weather it's the Tajikistan Government or our all knowing Fish and Wildlife service that was more to blame, but the fact remained that the hunt was off – at least for this year. Upon my realization that there was no way I was going to Tajikistan, I began scratching around trying to find another suitable hunting adventure. That when I crossed paths with American Professional Hunter Nathan Askew.
I had always heard that hunting in Africa was a place that could be hunted as an "old man" and so hunting there has remained on the back burner. However, time was running late for booking another hunt to Russia for this year and I had been saving for two years for the sheep hunt. My friend and potential sheep hunting partner, Dr. Dennis Granberry, called and told me about Nathan Askew. Since I was still dejected about the sheep hunt I did not get real excited about setting up another hunt. A few days later I get "the call" from Nathan about hunting in Africa. This kid said he was from Sikeston, Missouri and had been an African Professional Hunter for several years.
At the time I thought, Great, I'm sure this guy knows a lot about hunting in Africa." Nathan went through all the options and the basic workings of African safaris. He also informed me that most people warm up with plains game then move onto the Big Five. I informed Nathan that I had been hunting brown bears all over the world and that I was not scared of anything! (Huge Mistake) If I was going to Africa I was going to hunt a lion or a leopard the right way. I did not want any type of canned hunt, I wanted a Real Safari. I asked him what our chances were of taking both cats, and he said 50/50. Yes, can you believe it - there is an outfitter that actually tells the truth! If he had told me 100%, the answer I was expecting to hear, I probably would not have booked the hunt.
We planned a 21 day safari in Tete Province of Mozambique and he assured me we would have a real Africa safari. I had in my mind we would ride around in the truck all day shoot a bunch of animals, go back to the huts, drink a few beers, take a bunch of pictures and talk about how great of hunters we were. (Second Huge Mistake) I flew from Jackson, Mississippi to Johannesburg on August 2 and the adventure begins.
Aug. 3 - Fly from Johannesburg to Tete City, Mozambique, via Maputo and then Biera on some airline I have never heard of, but we made it. Luggage was of course lost somewhere in Africa. Nathan met me and we traveled to the main camp. Sleep in a nice bed in a huge safari tent with on suite bathroom; this is important later in this story! Aug. 4- Up early and away we go. Nathan had been scouting and pre-baiting for lions and leopards for several weeks before I arrived so he had some hot spots to check. We arrived at one of the blinds. Nathan and I were looking at the partially eaten hind quarters chained to the tree; quietly discussing what he thinks is going to happen when we hear a lion roar. The sound seemed to come from a long ways away. Nathan had seen the lion on the bait in day light 3 days prior so we decided just to sit down and wait. At this point, I think we will sit for a couple hours and a lion will walk up (just like on TV) and I will kill him. Then we can leisurely move down my list of animals. After 12 hours, no lion has shown up. Darkness settled in and so did we; due to the logistics of hunting an area this size we decide to stay the night and hopefully shoot the cat early the next morning. About midnight we hear something crunching bones. (At 56 Yards) I always wondered why Africa was called the 'dark continent' and now I know, because it gets really DARK after the sun goes down. Nathan said that he did not think it was a lion because there was not enough noise during the feeding. We sat there for another hour listening to the Hyena feed. Then we heard something that sounded like a Tyrannosaurus-Rex roaring.
The roaring turned into growls and screams – I think the T-Rex ate that poor Hyena. This was the first time in my life that I have really been afraid. We could only see a small portion of the lion, he stayed around for about an hour making noises and feeding. I think it was about this time that I realized this was not going to be as easy as I thought. Sunrise finally came. The lion had moved off just before daylight. We walked back to the truck for what I thought was going to be a ride back to the camp for breakfast and a nap (Wrong Again). This was going to be a day of riding through the wilderness checking baits and dragging dead things all over Mozambique with no sleep.
Aug. 5 - Check baits all day with no hits. Late that afternoon we are back in the lion blind, with a few more comforts, like water and energy bars. By this time we are both getting a little sleep deprived, but pressing forward. We heard the lion calling as he approached the bait. This time we got a really good look at him. I was in total awe at the size of this thing, and the sounds that he made where truly unbelievable. Due to the fact that the lion's mane was not large, Nathan suggested that we wait and try to find a larger maned lion. The lion continued roaring at 56 yards, eating and making all kinds of strange LOUD noises. When he walked away from the bait he was really was roaring and he walked to MY side of the blind. For the next 6 hours he was really close and really loud. I felt so much better when he was on Nathan's side of the blind. There would be times during the night that he would stop roaring and then we would hear something close making small noises and for the first time in my life, I was scared for my life. Sometime during the night I had to tell myself to stop being afraid; if the lion came for us I was going to avoid shooting Nathan, while trying to make sure all my bullets were discharged. That way when they found my bones next to an empty gun, they would say "Well, he at least that Ronnie Richardson tried to shoot his way out of this." My strategy worked well and I felt better, until the lion roared again! Finally about sun up, we heard him walking away, still roaring. It has been written that without fear, there can be no courage. Believe me, by this time I should've had PLENTY of this courage thing they were talking about!
Aug. 6 - Get to the truck at daylight and check baits and drag dead things around all day again. Late that afternoon we were back to try our luck at the blind. This time with a collapsible mattress to sleep on, however this was eventually discarded due to the excess noise it made. On the way to the blind, I just happened to ask Nathan about Black Mambas and if he had seen any during pre-baiting. I was expecting the answer of NO since we were sitting and sleeping on the ground every night. However, the answer I got went like this "Oh yea, we saw one the other day attack a Puff Adder and it was going to eat it before we scared him off". Very reassuring story Nathan, thanks a lot. Sit in lion blind dusk to dawn with no activity and no sleep.
Aug. 7 - Arriving to the truck after daylight led into another long day of check baits. No luck. We hung some additional baits and ran into some elephant. Back to the main lion bait with no luck.
Aug. 8 - We checked baits until lunch. After lunch the trackers suggested that we go to the witch doctor for some help with locating animals. This ceremony consisted of 2 beers, one coke, some chicken bones and a cigarette. We left the village headed back to the famous lion blind, but on the way, we had 4 Lichtenstein Hartebeest cross the road in front of us and I managed to kill a mature bull. This really established the witch doctor's power with the locals. This also established the fact that we had to drive back to the camp and it was almost dark. What a relief, sleep in a bed.
Aug. 9 - Up early check baits all day. No luck. Lion blind all night again with nothing coming to the bait.
Aug. 10 - Check baits until lunch and stopped in at the camp for a short rest, a sit down lunch, and a quick re-supply. When we left the camp to check baits, we locate a nice Kudu Bull. In no time we have him loaded in the truck and pressed on to see about the rest of our baits. It was close to dark we headed back toward our camp (sleep again!). On the way back we found a mature sable bull. Soon we had him loaded on top of my Kudu and where on to the way to bed, I mean camp.
Aug. 11 - We where up early and check baits all day with no luck. Late in the afternoon we listened for lions calling just before dark. We didn't hear any.
Aug. 12 - Today we located large lion tracks, so we knew he was back. The track was from the previous night. Due to his extensive scouting before I arrived, Nathan was certain that he knew where this lion was headed. We got the caller, a Kudu shoulder and went to the spot. We set up and called for the Lion. Eventually Nathan said he heard the lion roar. We hustled to get everything into place and called to him one more time. In a few minutes, we heard him sneaking into the bait. It was amazing how accurately the animal could locate this sound. All the sudden he was there, and he was huge. In an instant he darted back into the thick bush. Nathan whispered "don't worry – he'll be back".Sure enough the lion crept back to the bait and I took my shot. The Lion exploded straight upwards about 6 feet and growled ferociously at the .375 bullet that had passed through him. After the shot, it took some time for us to calm down and go look for him. As it turned out, the lion went about 5 yards and died but he was still hard to see in the grass in the dark. We celebrated a long time and finally made it back to camp. After additional celebrations at camp, I mentioned to Nathan that I needed some sustained sleep. He responded with "You have 3 hours while we skin and salt this cat, then we have to check leopard baits."
Aug. 13- After 3 hours of sleep we began checking leopard baits and YES we did have a big tom leopard hit out bait and YES we got to spend the night in the blind. Sometime early in the morning a Hyena wanted to get into the blind with us. This didn't bother me too much I was more concerned about the snakes.
The remainder of the hunt went exactly the same until I simply got burned out and on about August 20th . We moved camps to the Zambezi River outside of Tete, Mozambique for hunting Crocodile and Hippo. This was like being in Heaven. We had a cot each night and hunted during the day, kind of like normal people. We did manage to kill a hippo on Aug. 23. I managed to brain shoot the hippo while he was feeding in shallow water.
There are so many things that I have left out of this story that will remain with me for the rest of my life. The most important thing I realized from this hunt is that you should NEVER under estimate the difficulty of hunting Africa. Also, you should NEVER believe that you are above the food chain, because you're not.
The seed has been planted in me, as it was in Nathan several years ago, and a bond has been established. When Nathan Askew told his father that he was going to Africa to be a professional hunter, his father told him there were at least three reasons why this plan was not going to work. Dr. Askew proceeded to outline, "First of all, Nathan, that is a stupid idea; second of all, Nathan, you won't make any money; and third, Nathan, you're going to get yourself killed!" I have hunted with many guides and outfitters throughout the world and have never hunted with one that was as well prepared and as hard a hunter as Nathan Askew. I felt several times during my safari that my life was in his hands. Under these types of circumstances you can never feel completely safe, but I knew that Nathan would do his part if things went bad. If my funds can hold out, I will hunt Africa every year for the rest on my life and will not make a move without Nathan Askew. Even if he does not outfit the hunt, I will only go if he is able to hunt with me.
Written by: Ronnie Richardson, Magnolia Chapter SCI President