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Clean shots are criticial when hunting big game

DALLAS SAFARI CLUB CONVENTION AND EXPO—Nothing moved and the only sound was that of our footsteps as we stood shoulder to shoulder, slowly moving through the mopane trees. With our rifles raised and every one of our senses on overdrive, my PH and I had only covered 75 yards in what seemed like an eternity. With each step, we got closer to what we knew was an uncertain ending. Time was now standing still as just minutes before things had changed with just one squeeze of the trigger. What was a great hunting day was now something else—something ominous you just can’t describe and something every ethical hunter wants to avoid. We now had a wounded lioness on our hands in heavy cover.

Which animal is the most dangerous? Obviously, it is the wounded animal. No matter what you may be hunting, any animal capable of goring, stomping, scratching or biting a hunter is exponentially more dangerous once wounded. The unfortunate thing is that, as hunters, we have all experienced a less-than-perfect shot. But when we hunt dangerous game, whether in Africa, Alaska or elsewhere, we need to do our best to avoid a misplaced shot not only for the obvious reasons, but for the ones we sometimes don’t see. Family at home would like us to come back from these excursions, but what we often forget is that our guide or professional hunter as well as the staff that accompanies them also have families back home.

There is only one task we as hunters will be required to do: make the shot and make it count. To do this, we must know our gun, our ammo and our ability. But we must also understand that our “ability” will always be somewhat in question. It is easy to practice shooting on a range, but it is quite different when you are in the field facing a life or death situation. While our guides, professional hunters, trackers and all the other support staff will be required to not only make our trip enjoyable, they are also tasked with knowing the area, the game, taking care of the equipment, transportation as well as a list of other minor details the hunter will never notice. They also understand that, in some circumstances, they will be asked to risk their lives to fulfill someone else's dream.

As we exited the blind on that crisp clear day, my PH walked over to the bait to look for mane hair and just by chance, I looked directly behind the blind to see a large lioness lying in the grass watching us. I whispered to my PH and he came back to where I was sitting so I used his shoulder as a rest. Unfortunately, the cat was now heading for the mopane thicket. However, she stopped one last time to look back which gave me time to take a shot. After the shot and after the sounds of her roaring stopped, we all stood assessing the situation staring at what little dark blood we could find. When asked about the shot, I confirmed that I was rushed and was not confident about bullet placement. This is when it all started to sink in.

It was decided we would get the vehicle and follow the blood trail as far as possible and then proceed on foot. When we reached the heavy mopane cover, we turned off the vehicle and listened for any sounds of movement, we then got down and, side-by-side, we moved slowly forward on the spoor.

We moved maybe two feet at a time stopping and looking for what seemed like hours examining every leaf, every blade of grass, every shadow and listening for any sound that might give away her location. We did this for probably 75 yards when my PH whispered that it was just too dangerous to go on and that he was sure she was waiting on us. We slowly backed out 10 yards and decided to send for another PH to join up with us and then they would finish the task. Having a wife and kids, I certainly did not argue, but hated that I would not be able to finish what I had started and hated that gnawing feeling that was building up inside me, knowing that I had now placed my PH and friend in a very dangerous situation.

It was several minutes later, as the adrenaline started to subside, that it happened. Standing with a tracker just to my right and my PH to my left, at maybe ten or twelve feet, the silence was suddenly broken by a deafening roar. As time now moved in slow motion, the tracker raised only one finger to point where the lioness was waiting approximately 35 yards from us. Without thinking, I moved to see beyond a small mopane tree in the direction he was pointing. The cat, seeing my movement, exploded from the leaves. As she stood to charge, her eyes locked clearly on me. I brought the rifle up to settle the crosshairs on her chest and fired once. She fell silently in a heap.

The next thing I remember was my PH grabbing my barrel and lowering it, telling me it was over. As we stood there looking at each other, the PH we had sent for showed up and on seeing the situation, he simply said, "you are lucky." Upon closer inspection, we saw that my first shot had hit her back as she angled away and had nicked the liver. This was a lucky ending, but we have all heard stories of hunters and their PHs getting hurt. Had I missed I would not have had time for another shot, and my PH's first shot would have been just a few feet away from me. I had finished what I started, but I also learned a dangerous lesson and, with each new hunt, I remember the consequences of dangerous aim.

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