For most people, the natural reaction to a roaring lioness charging within 6 ½ yards is run away like your life depended on it.
The gutsy, smart maneuver is to draw back your bow and pump an arrow into her heart and then follow up with two more in quick succession, which is exactly how Joella Bates handled the situation.
Bates, a native Tennessean, managed to pull this feat off after tracking the cat for10 hours through the loose sand of the Kalahari Desert. With blisters on her toes and calves on fire, Bates, her trackers and professional hunter Tienie Bamberger covered about 30 miles, listening to animals reacting to the stealthy carnivore along the way.
When the moment came, Bates knew she had to stand her ground even when the trackers ran away after the lioness roared and mock charged. Bates immediately went to full draw when Bamberger commanded, "Shoot your lioness."
On Sept. 7, 2009 at about 6 p.m., Bates completed the first leg of her Big 5 hunt with Warthog Safaris and was one step closer to being the first woman to arrow Africa's big 5.
Since she killed a cape buffalo in 2001 with a bow on her first trip to Africa, Bates was ate up with the thrills of dangerous game. A bona fide adrenalin junkie, Bates was no stranger to close encounters with wild game.
In her 20 years of bowhunting, she's pursued elk, moose, caribou, wild hogs, bears, alligators and dozens of other species (54 to be exact). Now she was after a lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, white rhinoceros and leopard. Any one of these animals would present the thrill of a lifetime, but experiencing that in the span of a month is off the hook.
Bates traveled to Africa knowing she could die chasing dangerous game. Yet, she said she never imagined how she would feel when that lioness roared and charged.
The next stop was Zimbabwe, and an elephant was on the "to do" list.
While African elephants are listed as endangered, they were reclassified in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia due to strong anti-poaching measures. In fact, increasing numbers of elephants are causing problems for Zimbabwe villagers by raiding their raised veggie bins while people/elephant conflicts are on the rise as well.
Bates knows quite a bit about problem elephants now after stalking within 10 yards of a trumpeting, feeding herd. She was poised to take a bull at 25 yards to her right.
Just a few days before Bates arrowed this six-ton bull, a cow freaked out upon seeing the trackers run away and charged the hunting party. Two bullets to the brain stopped the cow just two steps away from Bates.
While waiting for him to turn broadside, she was at full draw with her 90-pound bow. The bull was posturing, and showed his dominance with some urinating and a mock charge. Bates said his mock charge "scared the trackers and they took off like scalded dogs."
Suddenly Bates felt the wind change on the back of her neck. A cow standing in front of the hunter spooked when the trackers ran. The cow first mock charged and then rushed forward in a full charge with her head down and ears pinned to her sides.
Bates quickly switched gears and now was aiming the pin at the cow's chest. At two steps, the cow was felled by two bullets to the brain delivered by the PH and assisting PH. Had her trunk fallen toward the group, she would have hit Bates.
Her PH apologized profusely for burning the tag, though Bates knowing you can't outrun an elephant was pleased to not have been stomped to death.
Plus, a dead elephant gave Bates a chance to test her bow and arrow to see if it could do the job. The arrow penetrated 27 inches into the kill zone, which gave Bates all the confidence she needed.
Now the problem that confronted the huntress was obtaining another problem elephant tag. She wasn't about to come home empty handed, though the second tag almost emptied her bank account.
Just days after nearly being trampled by a cow, Bates placed three arrows tipped with a 175-grain First Cut broadheads into the heart of a behemoth six-ton bull elephant from 20 yards. Bates was thrilled and so were the local villagers, who enjoyed the meat from both elephants that were killed.
On Sept. 18, Bates got a frontal shot on a cape buffalo with her 90-pound Athens bow. The meat from this 3,000-pound bull was donated to local orphanages and church camps.
Two days later she green hunted a white rhinoceros, shooting him with an arrow tipped with a tranquilizer-filled syringe. While the rhino took a short nap, they snapped photos and gathered blood and other data. He was observed a few days later in good condition, though still sporting a bad attitude over the ordeal.
The final leg of her safari came Oct. 3 when she killed a leopard with her 75-pound Athens Accomplice. The leopard came from an area where ranchers can barely raise calves into adult cows because of an abundance of these efficient feline predators.
"My African big 5 safari was the hunt of a lifetime," Bates said of her miraculous adventure. "I have never been so close to so many dangerous animals and to come out of the adventure with only scratches from the thorns only happened because my guide, professional hunter Tienie Bamberger of Warthog Safaris kept his cool and instinctively protected me and the hunting party during near-death encounters with these dangerous animals."
Bates was not only the first woman to successfully bowhunt Africa's big 5, but she believes she's the first person — man or woman — to do it in a single safari.
Still hungry for adventure, Bates plans on going back to Africa to pursue more dangerous game. With God in her corner and her PH by her side, Bates said she can accomplish anything if she wants to bad enough.
By Tammy SappESPNOutdoors.com