Two years before Norissa and I started filming Universal Huntress, I had a dream. That dream was to hunt in Africa and take one of the Big Five — the King of the Jungle. Lion hunts have become very controversial the past several years, especially if you are a woman who hunts. Because this was a dream of mine, years before the antis had made such a big deal out of it, I decided that I wasn’t going to let them stop me from doing a hunt that I had dreamed about. I did my research, and I will tell you that if you have ever googled lion hunts, every bad You Tube clip you can imagine will come up. I researched not only videos, but articles on conservation and how captive bred lions are hunted. I needed to determine if the hunt was ethical or not. One of the reasons that people, even hunters, speak out against these hunts is because they don’t understand it. I was determined to understand what it was all about and I did. After a 20-day safari in Limpopo, Norissa and I, as well as our Producer Kappie, climbed into a vehicle and drove 15 hours to the North West province, where I would be hunting my lion. We arrived around 11 at night where we buzzed a gate that clearly stated “Danger Lions Roamin.” That alone got my adrenaline pumping! We waited inside the gate until our PH, Tollie Jordaan, drove up to greet us. I jumped out to shake his hand and was politely told by Tollie that he didn’t shake hands, he hugs. I thought to myself, “This guy is our kind of people!” It was freezing outside so we jumped in the vehicles and followed Tollie to camp. The same warning signs were posted around camp, and as we sat around the outdoor dining areas fire, Tollie told us that they had lions come up just outside of camp and they were able to track them the next morning. How exciting was all I could think! We sat down for a hot meal and Tollie led us in prayer. Because it would be an early morning, we all went to bed after dinner.
That morning, I woke up before my alarm. I am passionate about hunting, and this was a hunt I had been looking forward to for years. I knew that this was a different kind of hunt than Blacktail and Plains Game that I am used to hunting. Captive bred lions are always hunted by walk and stalk, and wild lions are typically hunted by baiting them. Captive bred lions can be extremely dangerous, as they don’t fear people. I felt that I had a big responsibility ahead of me and that I needed to make a good shot. Tollie was there at breakfast, and I was already asking a million questions because we hadn’t had time the night before. Our second PH came in, Schalk Willem Du Preez, but everyone calls him SW (pronounced Esvia). Tollie introduced us and little did I know he was quite a legend in that area and had hunted hundreds of lions in his lifetime. I found this as an opportunity to find out as much as I could from both PH’s experiences. We sat down to breakfast and Tollie quickly said another touching prayer. He asked for guidance and safety on our hunt, and thanked God for the opportunity to hunt one of his beautiful creations. Norissa and I were both touched by his sincerity.
Next, we went to the shooting range. Tollie felt that my .338 was a little too small of a caliber and asked if I wanted to try his .375. I am always weary of shooting other peoples guns as I am only 5 feet tall and I have all of my guns custom fitted to my short arm length. Tollie had this one cut down and to my surprise it fit me perfectly. Kappie filmed me shooting the gun and later he told me that as he walked back to the truck, one of the guys asked him if we were going to live or die that day!!! I don’t think he had hunted much with women. Women are typically good shots, and Norissa and I are as well. We started hunting and the wind was bitterly cold on my face, but I refused a blanket on top of the truck, as I wanted to be as ready as possible. Several hours later we finally came across a fresh track from earlier that morning. I asked Tollie how they could tell how old the track was, and he started telling me about the trackers and their knowledge of lion prints. You can tell if the wind has blown over the track, and if you can still see the prints, much like a fingerprint in the sand, you know it is a newer track. The trackers also never point at the track with their fingers, because in their culture it is disrespectful, they will point at the lion track with a stick or shooting sticks if they are carrying them.
We got off the truck and shed several layers as the African sun had started heating up. The temperature difference was so different from the freezing mornings to sweltering afternoons. I remember feeling my heartbeat in my throat. I had never been so nervous for a hunt. Of course, I wasn’t about to let anyone else see me be nervous so I just started breathing steadily and thinking about everything I had researched and learned the past two years about lion hunting. We took off following the trackers with Kappie and Norissa in tow filming the entire hunt. Tollie told me to stay by his side at all times because the lion could have circled back and be at our side while the trackers were following his prints in the sand. After several hours of tracking, Tollie said he could tell that we were getting closer to the lion. The trackers showed me as they had told me earlier that the tracks had what looked like finger prints in them, which meant they were fresh and the male lion we were tracking was nearby. About 500 yards into the bush after Tollie had told me we were close, we all stopped suddenly as the trackers had spotted the lion sun bathing in a thicket of thorns with his feet in the air. What a sight! He had no idea we were there and we went in for a closer look. I remember thinking, “No way, this is too easy…” and I was right. The wind shifted slightly and the lion was on his feet roaring as he ran in a different direction, unsure of where the new scent came from while he was fast asleep. We were only 40 yards from him! All of our adrenaline was pumping and I sat there speechless. He was more beautiful than I had ever imagined in person. Kappie was even impressed and he has seen many lions in person while filming in Africa over the years. Kappie asked me to tell the camera what I thought, but I didn’t have words. He was so magnificent and I knew this hunt was going to be more amazing than I had imagined.
We continued on the track very weary now, as we knew he could be close by. We came to an opening, and we knew that he wouldn’t stop there so we continued. We followed the track as quickly and quietly as we could. When we walked back into the bush, Kappie turned on the camera, and just as I was about to turn to talk to him, the lion jumped out of the bush roaring at us and darting away from us for a second time. I didn’t have a good shot and I knew that I couldn’t make a bad one with this many people on the hunt. I also knew what my PH had told me about lions. Typically, you can bump them once or twice, but if you don’t get a shot the third time, they can be very dangerous and even charge you. We decided to let him have some room and reluctantly called the truck so we could eat some lunch. After eating, we jumped back in the truck to head in the direction of his tracks trying to stay on his trail. Before we stopped, I noticed that all of the guys were very quiet. I asked Tollie what was wrong. He said he felt that this lion was very dangerous and clever. He knew to stay in the thick bush where I couldn’t get a shot, and he felt that he may charge us. Tollie has hunted many lions in his lifetime, and I asked him “Are you nervous?” He said “Yes, you must always have respect for the King of the Jungle.” I agreed with him.
More than 6 hours after finding the first tracks, we found fresh tracks again that showed us he was close by. Kappie insisted that Norissa stay behind because of the aggressive nature of this lion. Norissa, not one for dangerous situations, agreed and jumped back into the truck. As we climbed off the truck, I felt as if my heart was beating in my throat. Everyone was quiet as we walked stealthily into the bush. Not 500 yards from where we had spotted his tracks off of the road, we heard a menacing growl. I knew we were close and I took a deep breath. The lion had surrounded himself with big thorn bushes, and as we approached, I could see movement. He was clearly agitated, and as I looked through my Swarovskis, I could see him chomping at the thorn bush and swishing his tail in annoyance at us. I knew these were all signs he was ready to charge us. We got set up about 60 yards away where I had a clear shot. As I bore down on my rifle, he jumped straight into the air and faced us. I instantly switched my safety off and was ready to fire. Tollie had done the same, but whispered to me to wait, it wasn’t a good shot. The last thing I wanted to do was make a bad shot and put anyone in jeopardy of being hurt. We circled the lion to get a better shot. He continued to growl menacingly. We were about 40 yards away when Tollie whispered to me “Here you have a clear shot.” Now remember I am 5 feet tall and Tollie towers well over 6 feet tall. I did not have the same viewpoint that he did, and in a different moment, I might have found that amusing, but I knew what that meant. The only choice we had was to get closer. We closed in on 30 yards. My finger never left my trigger guard not knowing if the lion might charge us at any moment. I knew that my PHs wouldn’t shoot until he was10 yards so my shot must be good. I quickly lifted my rifle to the sticks and, in a matter of seconds, tried to remember everything I had studied for the past two years about shot placement on a lion and everything Tollie had taught me in the short time we had spent together on this hunt. It’s not easy when the lion’s mane covers its shoulders as this one did. I felt my hand trembling as I looked through my Swarovski scope, I positioned the crosshairs exactly where I thought the front shoulder was at. He was crouching just in front of a tree growling at us, I had no room for error. If my shot was bad, he would be on us in under 10 seconds, barely giving me enough time to reload. I took a deep breath and squeezed the trigger softly. The bullet rang true and the lion growled and jumped in the air running away from us! Tollie shouted to me “The shot is good!” He told me to reload and shoot again just to be safe. The lion went down and I started shaking. I am not a woman who cries, but when one of the trackers went to the truck to bring Norissa and I saw her coming towards me, all of the emotions of this hunt hit me when I saw her. The tears started coming, and I couldn’t stop them. I was so happy and relieved all at the same time. I had made a perfect shot on the most important hunt of my life! I was shaking with excitement, and Kappie loved getting all of that on camera.
Darkness was quickly approaching, and we prepared the animal so we could film and get photos. After we were done, I wanted to sit with him before they took him back to camp. Feeling the peacefulness of the bush and showing my respect for this beautiful animal was an emotional moment for me. I felt a newfound kinship with these men whom I had only recently met, but had guided me on one of the most important hunts of my life. We went back to camp and celebrated with champagne and a toast! Tollie told me I was one of the bravest women he had ever met and that dynamite really does come in small packages. We all smiled and raised our glasses.The next day we drove 12 hours to Tollie’s home and the concession where we would film and hunt a black Springbok (to go with my lion mount) and a Lechewe for Norissa. The history at the farm was five generations of the Jordaan Family. We were excited to learn about this beautiful area, which surprisingly had a similar terrain to my home town in the mountains of Northern California. It was a high desert climate. Tollie told us that his family was farmers and when they came to his property in the East Cape of South Africa many years ago, they had hunted all but four of the species of animals that roamed the property until there were none left. They were farmers and the animals were competing for the same food source as their livestock. Tollie used this example of his family history to explain about game farming in Africa. Norissa and I were intrigued about how much he knew about conservation. Since he had taken over his family farm, Tollie had done many things, but the one most important to us as hunters was reintroducing 22 species back onto his farm that had been hunted to extinction in this area. This included the lion. Those of you who will not be able to do the research the way I did, by going to Africa several times before doing the hunt, I recommend that you go to Tollie’s website and read his point of view on captive bred lion hunting www.safari-in-africa.com. Tollie has helped bring back the same African animals that once flourished in his area many years ago, flourish again in the same terrain, but the area is now high fenced. The animals are an asset to his farm, and when hunting at Tollie’s African Safari’s, you can tell that this is a family business and they take pride in their game as well as their property. It was an honor to hunt with such an amazing spiritual person like Tollie. Norissa and I have a newfound friend and home in another area of South Africa.