John Steel

My Trophies Will Live On

The black askari's wakeup call dragged me out of my sleep. I'd been awake most of the night. First, an elephant squished through the muddy creek ten yards from the front of my tent, then, a couple of hours later, something killed something across the ravine, and a million baboons, perched in the fig tree next to our camp, set up a clamor that lasted most of the rest of the night.

Now, it was 5:30 a.m.; this was the Masai/Mara, on the edge of the Serengeti, and we would find lion in the coolness of the early morning.

I'm sure that, ever since we were kids, my generation of hunters has, at one time or another, dreamed of Africa, the Holy Land of the game. Now, at fifty-nine, I lived the dream.

The words Masai, Samburu, Isawa, Ngorongoro, Ambaseli, the fierce, guttural names were realities, and topi, eland, and impala were no longer merely pictures in a book. There'd been a big, well-fed male leopard on a tree limb fifty feet over my head, I'd watched the cheetah kill, and been charged by an elephant, a bluffer.

I was hunting again, but my trophies would live on -- for this once, my weapons were cameras.

I've always hunted, and always will; the heat of the stalk is part of my makeup. However, given the option of a rifle, the choice, this hunt, would still have been photographs.

Perhaps I'd read too much or seen too many National Geographics on the end of Africa as it once was. Or, maybe it was the very real awe brought on by the multitudes of species stretching out as far as my eyes could see, on the African plains.

It was like going to church.

This day, on the Masai/Mara, I was to count and take, at close range, thirty-seven lions.


John Steel

6/14/21 - 8/9/98



[Daughter Ellen received a call near Christmas not long after this was written.

"I've decided," her dad said, "the only thing I'll shoot animals with any more is a camera." She said that was the best Christmas present she'd ever received. And so "this once" became a way of life, and the warrior/hunter at last found peace.]

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