Lion Hunts in Africa

African Lion Hunts

Lion hunts in Africa are at the top of every hunter’s wish list.  Lions are truly kings of the jungle and are the beasts of legends.  The taking of a male lion has been a challenge that man has pursued since the dawn of mankind,  and even today, the taking of a majestic male African lion is a magical moment. Lion hunts in Africa still offer the modern day hunter the challenge of facing off against this most fearsome of beasts.  The African male lion is the largest cat still being hunted on the planet.  Along with the leopard, these two cats make up two of Africa’s big five dangerous game animals.

Lion hunting in  Africa can be broken down into two major classifications.  Wild lion hunts and high-fence captive reared lion hunts.  Both lion hunts can offer the hunter a great challenge if done properly.  It is estimated that there are approximately 32,000 – 35,000 wild lions left roaming in wild Africa.  These lions are mostly located in what is known as stronghold areas.  Wild lions are under pressure from man’s expanding footprint on the African continent and from the resulting human / lion conflict that arises from this encroachment into the lion’s historical range.  Wild lions are typically hunted by hanging bait at multiple locations and then waiting for a mature male lion to hit the bait.  Once a suitable lion is feeding on the bait, a blind is quickly prepared and the hunter lies in wait hoping to catch the lion feeding during daylight hours.   An effort is being made in many African countries to only take male lions that are 6 years of age and older and therefore have passed their breeding prime.  Permits are very limited for wild lions and therefore are expensive.  Wild lion hunts start around $55,000 and run upwards of $100,000.

High fence lion hunts involve releasing captive raised lions into a large enclosure and then allowing the lion time to adapt to its new habitat.  The lion hunts are then conducted via tracking, many times in the Kalahari Desert.  These type of lion hunts in Africa allow for close up direct confrontations with lions and can prove to be very exciting.

A Brief History of African Lion Hunting

The first South African Legislation on the Killing of Predators was established in 1656. Six realen were awarded to those who shot or captured lions.  During the last decade of the 19th century, more than 4,000 lions were killed in Kruger National Park, and its surrounding territories.  The first 30 years of the 20th century, park rangers killed another 1,200 lions.  In ancient Egypt, lion hunts were reserved for pharaohs. The lion is now totally extinct in North Africa.

Lion hunting, wherever it may be done, is an exciting and sometimes dangerous pastime for the hunter.  Contrary to the Walt Disney company portrayal of lions, the African lion is an apex, fearless predator that has rightfully been named “The King of Beasts”.  It has also been called a somewhat less positive name – mankiller!  One famous pair of lions terrorized railway workers in the Tsavo River area of Kenya in 1898 by reducing the worker population by between 28 to 31 men (unlike the 100+ that were portrayed in the movie The Ghost and the Darkness). 

African Lion Hunting Methods

Baiting Lions

This method requires that a bait be hung in a tree in such a way that a lion can reach the meat but cannot drag it off.  A machan (blind) is built 30-50 yards from the bait where the hunter and his Professional Hunter (PH) can wait for the lion while not being seen.  The bait will be checked every day, and if a lion hits on it, the hunter will go into the machan in the early afternoon, and hunt the lion.

Spot & Stalking African Lions

Usually this method involves the hunter, the PH and one or more trackers.  The safari truck can be employed to search for lion spore.  Then the hunt begins on foot.  This is a very exciting way to hunt lion in Africa.  The animal is unpredictable, fast, and stealthy.  If the animal isn’t dropped with the first shot, life can get quite interesting quite rapidly.  A wounded lion will sometimes lie in wait, then charge when the hunter is close.  It will target a single individual, and not stop until it is killed.

Hunting African Lions with Hounds

This method was quite popular during the first 30 years of the 20th century but is in decline as of now.  Some countries do not allow the use of dogs when hunting lion in Africa.  The preferred hound is the Rhodesian Ridgeback; however, many terriers and mongrels have been used.  This method involves the dogs being released over fresh spoor in an area where lions are known to inhabit.  The dogs will then chase the lion and bay it up until the hunter can arrive and kill the lion.  This method can be hard on the dogs.  Your author has had the privilege (?) of watching a PH suture up a dog’s stomach with fishing line after the dog got within the lion’s reach.  It was a small rip – no more than 6-8 inches in length. Made me think about the advisability of shooting straight and quick.

Lion Hunting by Country

Hunting Lions in Mozambique

Mozambique is slightly smaller than Namibia with a land mass of 309,000 square miles.  The population is estimated at just under 30 million people.  It’s located on the southeast coast of Africa.  There are over 200 mammal species in the country.  As of 2012, over 90% of arable land is uncultivated.

The country gained its independence from Portugal in 1975.  However, it fought a civil war from 1977 to 1992, during which the animal population suffered badly.  As of today, the country has put a lot of time and effort into rebuilding the much-reduced safari business, and the wildlife population has rebounded to the point where hunting is sustainable.  Due to the fact that Portugal ruled Mozambique for more than 400 years, Portuguese is the native language, but English is widely understood.

Mozambique has relatively relaxed regulations regarding trophy hunting.  Their hunting season starts on April first, and runs until the end of November, which happens to coincide with the dry winter season.  It is legal to hunt lion at night with artificial light.  Mozambique hunting concessions are seldom high-fenced which will appeal to certain hunters who want to hunt trophy animals in almost boundless wilderness.

There are no minimum caliber or power restrictions when it comes to rifle hunting.  However, prudence dictates that a proper rifle be employed for the particular game hunted – especially lion.  I’d suggest something in the .375 family, but would not feel over-gunned with a .416.  But I’m old and slow, and have bad knees, so my running and climbing days are but a fond memory. 

A Mozambique lion hunt is usually done over bait, usually a buffalo or plains game animal from a previous hunt.  Success cannot be guaranteed, but it is likely.  A hunter can be expected to hunt a mature male lion between 5 to 6 years old.  A 21-day hunt is the norm.  Camps will be traditional African fly camps equipped with electricity, and cold and usually-hot running water.  The Niassa Province in the north is one of the better areas for hunting lion in Africa.  It covers slightly more than 47,000 square miles, and only supports a population of one million people.  This makes it the most sparsely populated province in the country.  Plus, the place is just lousy with lions. 

Hunting Lions in Namibia

Namibia’s hunting season runs from February through November with the peak during the winter months of May through August.  Temperatures run between 45 in the morning, to 75 in the afternoon.  Northern Namibia is in a malaria zone, and proper precautions must be taken.  The terrain varies from arid with small patches of greenery to heavy bush and trees.  Depending upon location, shots could be anywhere from 350 yards to just off the end of the barrel of your rifle.  Be advised that there is an abundance of acacia trees all across Namibia, and they come with a special nasty thorn that is quite happy to insert itself into your rosy red fundament should rapid movement become necessary.

Namibia is one of the few countries where a hunter can hunt all of the Big Five – Cape buffalo, leopard, elephant, black rhino – and lion, of course.  The majority of the dangerous game hunting takes place on the Caprivi Strip – a narrow strip of land that extends eastward over the northern border of Botswana for 300 miles.  Due to the small size of the Caprivi Strip, and the corresponding amount of animals available, a limited number of lion permits are issued each year.  For plains game hunting, Namibia is an excellent choice.  For lion hunting in Africa, either Zimbabwe or Tanzania would be a better choice.

Hunting Lions in South Africa

All lion hunters (and all hunters) need to have a South Africa Firearms Permit (SAPS 520) to bring firearms into South Africa.  The best way to handle this is to submit this form, and all other necessary paperwork, no later than three months before entering the country. It is possible to fill out the form at the police station in the Johannesburg Airport, but be prepared to spend some serious time in the process. 

South Africa is similar to Zimbabwe and Namibia in that the winter months of June, July and August are the best for hunting due to the cool, dry weather.  Also, the long grass has had a chance to either die off or burn down.  In certain months, the grass can be so high that a lion is virtually invisible.

Most lion hunting in South Africa is done on private game farms behind high fences.  A lot of the farms are large, 15,000 acres, or larger, so they are essentially free range.  There are a number of game farms that are over 250,000 acres in size.  It is entirely possible to hunt an entire 10-day safari and never see a fence.

The Northwest Province in South Africa accounts for 70% of all lions taken, with the Limpopo Province adding a further 20% to the total.  Lion hunting in South Africa can be as challenging as lion hunting in any sub-Saharan country.  Lion hunting in South Africa is subject to the issuing of CITIES regulated tags, which can determine just what areas can be hunted. 

Fair chase hunting of lions is the legal and ethical method of lion hunting.  Both male and female lions can be hunted – the female at a reduced rate. 

Prices for South Afric lion hunts are set by body size and darkness and size of the mane on males.  The larger and darker the mane, the higher the price.

The minimum caliber to hunt lion in South Africa is the .375.  However, a larger caliber, in the .400 class, is encouraged, if the hunter is comfortable with it. 

South Africa is one country where a handgun can be used on a lion hunt.  Two years ago, this author took a Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum on a lion hunt.  It was loaded with 440-grain hardcast lead bullets with 1532 ft-lb of muzzle energy.  (There is also a 700-grain lead bullet with 2238 ft-lb of muzzle energy, but my wrist would go out on strike if I used it.  However, picture the power of a ½ inch diameter 700-gr lead slug travelling at 1200 fps.  Does raise the little hairs at the base of the neck, does it not?)

The end result?  One shot in the spot where the shoulder joins the neck; one dead lion.  The bullet passed through the body, coming to rest in the left rear leg.

Hunting Lions in Tanzania

Tanzania is a prime location to hunt lions in Africa.  Ever since Theodore Roosevelt and his son Kermit hunted there in 1909, it’s been a number one destination for hunters (see his book, African Game Trails; an Account of the African Wanderings of an American Hunter Naturalist.)

Tanzania is slightly smaller than South Africa with 365,756 square miles.  It’s located just south of the equator on the eastern coast of Africa.  Due to its proximity to the equator, the country has a tropical climate with little variation in temperatures between summer and winter.

Hunting there is much more regulated than in most other countries in Africa.  Tanzania’s hunting season runs from the end of June to the end of March.  Hunting from a vehicle, or over a water hole is prohibited. It’s illegal to hunt at night, or with artificial light.  Minimum caliber for lion is .375.  Tanzania does have the enviable reputation of producing some of the finest lion trophies, and more than a few are in the record books. 

One of the best areas to hunt lion in Africa is in the Selous Game reserve.  It is reached by an air charter from Dar es Salam.  It’s very remote and full of wildlife.  It has good lion available.  This area is a great place to book an all-around safari where numerous animals will be hunted.  Another great area for lion is in far western Tanzania.  The area is known for its big-maned, large-bodied lions, and some real monsters have been taken from there. In Masailand, up near the Tarangire National Park, is an area where quality lions are found.  This area has the advantage of being only 2-3 hours from Arusha.  A hunter could hunt quality game and incorporate Masai culture into the experience.

Hunting Lions in Zambia

Prime concessions in Zambia can yield large-bodied black maned lions.  However, it is a hunt that requires patience and experience.  Zambia’s history of big game hunting is a short one.  Zambia only opened for safari hunting in the 1970s when it created Game Management Areas (GMA).  Lion hunting is done over bait, and can be done just about anywhere in the country.  The best months for hunting are from June to November.  Hunting facilities are normally tent camps, and some of them are quite grand.  Some camps have permanent lodges or thatch-roofed bungalows.  A lion hunt requires an 18-day safari, with other game available, including plains game.

Most of the Zambian hunting areas are centered around the Luangwa Valley, or the Kafue Plateau region.  There are no set hunting seasons, but hunting safaris are usually conducted from May to the end of November.  The rainy season starts in mid-November, and heavy storms continue into April.  Due to its altitude, most of Zambia has a pleasant climate.  The highest daytime temperatures are found in the Luangwa, Zambezi, and Kafue valleys. 

Hunting must take place during the daylight hours.  No night hunting is allowed, and the use of artificial light is forbidden.  The Zambian government strictly controls the number of days for a safari based on the species being hunted.  Zambia requires that the minimum caliber for hunting lion in Africa be a .300.  You would be much better served by upping your rifle to a ,375 caliber at least.  Tracking a lion that has been wounded by a .300 caliber bullet is said to be rather interesting, and no small challenge.

Hunting Lions in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe is a medium-sized African country – larger that California, but smaller than Namibia.  It is located in southeastern Africa, and is bordered by South Africa to the south.  Shona is the most common language spoken in Zimbabwe, but English is understood by a great percentage of the population.  Zimbabwe has no official hunting season; however, most safaris occur during June, July and August in the winter.  Temperatures vary across the country due to elevation changes. 

Zimbabwe has been in a state of turmoil for a number of years, but still has large populations of lions and other dangerous game.  It has been said that Zim isn’t a place for the first-time hunter, but its people are friendly, and bringing in firearms is hassle-free.  This author has hunted the Limpopo Valley and the Matetsi Game Reserve with good results, and has had no problems.  After the hunt, we stayed in Victoria Falls at the Kingdom Hotel, where the service was excellent, and the dinners were accompanied by local dancers in tribal costume.

Lion is hunted by baiting exclusively, and can be found in almost all areas of Zimbabwe.  Hunting areas are one of three types; governmental hunting areas, private hunting areas, and tribal hunting areas.  Each area has its own specific rules and regulations.  Some of the governmental areas and private concessions can encompass hundreds of thousands of acres, all of which is unfenced.  Due to the concessions’ immense areas, it is necessary to travel by safari truck until the lion spore is located.  Then a blind is built and bait is hung from a suitable tree.  Usually more than one bait will be hung where lion or lion spoor has been seen.  The bait is checked daily, and if a large male lion hits on it, the hunter and his PH will enter the blind in the early afternoon, and wait for the lion to return.

There are no regulations controlling the number of days for a safari.  If there is a minimum, it is set by the outfitter.  Lion hunting can take place from one half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset.  No hunting is allowed within 440 yards of a waterhole.  Zim requires that at least a 7mm round with 3200 ft-lb of muzzle energy be used for lion.  I firmly feel that if I have to sit behind a grass wall, no more than 35 yards from a hungry lion with a bad attitude, I would require something with a lot more authority.  The number of PHs who enjoy tracking a wounded lion in rapidly-failing daylight is small indeed.

Hunting Lions in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.)

Over the years, C.A.R. has seen a number of political changes, however hunting has continued through all the turmoil. Recently, fighting between the Muslim majority and the Christian minority has made the C.A.R a less desirable hunting location and many operators have left the C.A.R for other countries.

Lion is found throughout all the hunting territories that are in the central, eastern and northern part of the C.A.R.  Lions are only hunted by tracking; no baiting is allowed.

Hunting areas in the C.A.R. are quite large and are not fenced, making for true free range hunting.  The hunting areas range from 250,000 to 3,700,000 acres, and as would be expected, the habitat is quite varied.  Most of the C.A.R. consists of Sudano-Guniean dry, green savannas, broken by areas of dense forest.

Due to the lack of roads, and the long distances involved, travel by vehicle is not practical.  Charter flights from the capitol of C.A.R., Bangui, average 2-3 hours. Hunting concessions are usually owned and managed by French outfitters, but English is widely spoken.

Some hunting is done on foot directly from the camp, but more often a safari truck is driven to the hunting area, then the hunter continues on foot once spoor has been found. The eastern and central part of the C.A.R. is relatively flat, making tracking relatively easy. However, if an animal like a kudu is on license, the hunter must travel to the northern part of the C.A.R where the terrain and climate can be hard and hunting can be more physically demanding. 

In the Central African Republic, the hunting camps are permanent, comfortable, and air conditioned, which makes the hunt much more pleasant.  Days can be quite hot, sometimes reaching the mid-90s F.

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