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Wiltz: A legendary bungled archery hunt

If I started rambling on today about Saxton Pope and Arthur Young, it may not ring a bell unless you are an archery hunter. Today, the record book and measuring system for recording trophy North American big-game animals taken with bow and arrow is named for Pope and Young. Many of today's readers are recorded in this book for deer they took locally with an arrow. Ever wonder how Pope and Young earned such recognition?

In 1925, Pope and Young were wealthy men. They had money and time, and they were good hunters. They had taken grizzly bear, brown bear, black bear, moose, wild sheep, mountain goats, cougar and deer with their homemade bows, and because of their success, they had gradually become obsessed with the idea of taking an African lion with their archery equipment. Rifle hunting was no longer a challenge for them, and their bravado cultured the notion that they had become good enough to take a lion with archery gear without backup from a rifle. And so the naive duo headed to Africa.

Their arsenals included six homemade bows apiece. Young's bows were made of osage. Pope's were made of yew. Draw weights varied from 60 to 90 pounds. Pope's "heavy bow" was crafted of lemonwood, and each man packed 200 arrows. For something to do on the ship over the long journey, they packed components, including turkey feathers, for making an additional 2,000 arrows.

Somewhere along the line common sense crept into the picture as both men decided to pack Model 95 Winchester lever-actions—Young a .30-06 caliber and Pope a .405. They also included a .22 for camp meat. This common sense went even further. They would be covered by riflemen friends as they let their arrows fly. It appears that they often launched their arrows from an open vehicle which gave them a chance to flee a charging beast if necessary. Outrunning a lion charge in an open 1925 vehicle must have been interesting.

The first lion encounter targeted a beautiful black-maned male. A flurry of Pope and Young's arrows barely wounded the beast, and the big cat charged. A rifle shot to the face knocked the cat end over end as he landed stone dead ten feet from the vehicle. The men were stunned by the ferocity of the cat, and then and there decided that more space was needed. Pope and Young's new firing line would be at 70 yards! So much for their rifle sentiments.

The next lion encounter involved a lioness that had climbed a tree. Now Pope and Young fired a volley of arrows that were wild and inaccurate until two arrows finally struck her head. Before the enraged lioness could position herself for an attack, three arrows found their mark. One hit her throat, a second bored into her flank and the third into her chest. She fell dead from the tree. No bullet holes this time. They had fired 29 arrows. 13 stuck to the tree, 7 entered her body, and 9 missed entirely. In spite of the shoddy marksmanship, the men were pleased.

After two weeks of hunting, Pope and Young had twelve lion hides. Four had been killed with arrows and eight with the backup guns after their failed attempts to make archery kills. Finally Simson, an experienced lion guide, suggested a boma or blind. The two archers, plus a rifleman, would occupy the blind. They would hunt at night, and Simson, armed with a rifle, would operate a large flashlight. A dead zebra was used as bait.

The hunters first heard purring and grunts. Eventually a lapping sound followed. Simson turned on the light, and the threesome was startled to see three lions chomping at the zebra. Pope and Young fired in unison. Two lions bounded from sight. Pope drew a second arrow and took a shot at the remaining cat before it leaped into the darkness. The men felt good about their shots as they spent the remainder of the night in the blind. In the morning, following a lengthy but futile search, they returned to camp much disappointed. No lions.

Their final tally included five lions killed solely with arrows while sixteen lions fell to rifle fire during charges. In the end, the famous duo did not recommend archery lion hunting. Rifle hunting was dangerous enough. Today's story was taken from the May/June 2017 issue of Sporting Classics magazine. "A Try at Lions" was written by Dennis R. Ballard.

The above story troubles me. It took too long for Pope and Young to realize that lion hunting with bow and arrow was an exercise in futility that brought about needless suffering by the lions. Should Pope and Young be remembered today as archery's pioneer heroes? Perhaps Fred Bear would have been a better choice although Pope and Young's feats prior to the lion hunt were amazing.

For those readers unfamiliar with archery hunting, today's archery hunting is humane. Close shots, most often within twenty yards, are the norm. Hunter concealment is a refined science. Hi-tech bows and arrows are lethal. I admire archery hunters. They are far more talented than I.

I often think about the wood—lemon, osage and yew in the bows of Pope and Young. What did our early Native Americans use for their bows? What about the middle-age Europeans? Thanks to the late Dr. William Delaney of Mitchell, I own some antique bows and arrows that were once carried in East Africa by the Masai. The bow material is extremely hard, and I dare not draw it. The arrow tips may well be poisoned. We may look over this collection in a future column.

Please note the ad in today's paper on Page A3 about ordering my book. The book will also be available soon in local businesses at a lower price. I vastly underestimated shipping costs. It costs $6.50 through the U.S. mail and $9 by UPS. I am planning some book signing sessions.

See you next week.