Jared slowly shuffles forwards through the undergrowth on his elbows and knees, his hunting rifle cradled in his arms. Brush scratches at his face and the midday African sun beats down hard. He’s grateful for the shade offered by his wide-brimmed hat and the sweet succour of his water flask.
Water supplies are running low, as are the other provisions in his small backpack. He’s been in the bush for over a week now, tracking the king lion. He picked up the lion’s trail on the second day, tracked him for hours, then lost it again. There were several days of nothing, just casting around searching for spoor and carefully observing the behaviour of other African wildlife for any hints of his quarry’s movements.
Jared was tired. Sleepy. Beaten down. But he was still focused on the prize.
There’s a noise from a large copse of trees a few hundred yards away. A few birds are startled into the air then wheel away to fly over the horizon. Jared investigates. He reaches the copse and his heart races – he’s found tell-tale spoor of a lion. He follows the trail.
Hours pass. He once thinks he catches sight of the beast through dense trees. It was just a flash of colour and movement. He’s not even sure he saw it. Nerves taut, his eyes seeing everything, he follows the tracks to the best of his ability. And ability honed over years.
When it happens, it happens fast.
Dead silence, eerie, and then suddenly the crack of tree branches snapping and a roaring fiend leaps from the gloom. Jared rolls, raises his rifle, and lets off a shot. The huge beige shape flies overhead, so close he can smell it’s perspiration, but so fast it’s a blur. He thinks he hears a yelp of pain as well as a flash of red blood.
As fast as it came, the beast has disappeared. Jared lies on his back, pushed up against a fallen log, his heart pounding and his knuckles white from gripping the rifle close to his chest. What just happened? Did he hit the lion? Why did it suddenly retreat?
For two more days he tracks the beast but his water runs low and he’s forced to trek back to base camp, empty-handed. He arrives as dusk has settled over the plains. Light peeks out from inside once of the tents and there are sounds of merry-making. He rests his rifle against a rock and ducks inside the tent, announcing his return.
There’s another hunter there, one he’s never met before. He must’ve stumbled across the camp while on an expedition of his own. A big husky man with impressive side whiskers and a ragged checked shirt. He introduces himself as Robert and pours Jared a draught of ale from his bottle.
Soon they are sharing hunt stories.
“I bagged four just last week” boasts Robert, grinning widely. “It was quite a haul. How about you?”
“Nothing” muttered Jared. It wasn’t uncommon to spend two weeks in the bush and never take down the big game. “Nothing in ten days.”
Robert poured him another drink and slapped him on the back in good humour. “Never mind. Come out with me on the next trip. I’ll show you how it’s done.”
The next day the pair are riding horses through the plains. Jared looks around but they seem to be riding away from lion country. A few hours later they crest a hill and on the other side is an oasis. A herd of wildebeest are drinking at the water source. Robert slides off his horse and shoulders a high-powered rifle with scope.
“Watch this” he says and kneels down.
He sights onto a fat wildebeest sleeping in the shade of a tree, then lets off three shots. Two strike the ground but the third hits the sleeping animal in the head, killing it.
“Now wait” he says, and lights up a tobacco pipe. A few hours later the herd moves on and Robert walks down to the dead animal. “There’s number one. I’ve got a good feeling about this trip.”
Jared shakes his head. Technically, you could call this hunting, he thinks. Somehow it doesn’t feel like the same thing.