Henry Poolman, A Very Brave Professional Hunter


Brian Herne related the following story in his excellent book, WHITE HUNTERS.


At Kuka Rombo one morning Henry Poolman drove up a low rock kobje outcrop to scout the surrounding country. From the kobje, the keen-eyed Poolman spotted a trophy black-maned lion lying on the lava bed far off in the shadow of a patch of thorn. Poolman glassed the intervening terrain. He saw there was no way to make a direct approach towards the lions from their position – the country between them was far too open. He decided to walk in a wide half circle, mindful of the wind, make his approach at right angles to the lion using a few thorn bushes for cover.


It happened that one of Poolman’s African gun bearers, Ethia, was ill and had remained in camp. To replace Ethia that day, Henry had brought along a young trainee gun bearer named David to assist veteran gun bearer Gatia.


As usual Henry carried his double-barreled .470 rifle, and Barrett a .458 magazine rifle. Gatia shouldered a Czech-built 7mm Brno in case Henry had to make a long running shot. Most professionals do not like to use heavy double rifles for long range shooting. The 7mm would be handy if the lion was getting away, and a long shot was required to stop it. Some hunters also like to have a 12-gauge shotgun on a lion hunt in case point-blank work is required, provided there is someone to carry the gun. The advantages of 2 barrels and a charge of SSG, or buckshot, is favoured by some, yet others prefer a heavy double or even a heavy magazine rifle in such situations.


Henry gave his shotgun to David, Ethia’s replacement. The hunters began a careful approach sneaking from bush to bush. The nearer the hunters got to the lion, the thinner the cover became. The wind remained right, but the lack of cover was crucial. Henry figured that if they could reach a place where the line of bush ended and the lava flow began, they would be within one hundred yards of the lion.


Inching forward Henry took satisfaction on arrive at his chosen spot and hoped the group had not been seen by the lion. He paused to catch his breath, then raised his head to see whether the lion had discovered them or had changed position. Henry saw the lion, but the same moment the huge cat saw him, and drawing itself up, stood broadside watching the hunters intently. At this point Henry knew there was no chance of getting any closer. Barrett had impressed Poolman with his shooting at similar and longer ranges. Henry knew the ideal hunting range for a lion is between 40 and 60 yards, while 100 was about as far as one should risk a shot. It is not that a well placed bullet will not instantly kill a lion at this range, or even at much longer ranges, for almost any good bullet can do that, but it is more a question of accuracy. It is hard to shoot a heavy rifle well at long ranges. If the first shot is not well placed on a lion, it will trigger a swift adrenaline response. There is little question subsequent body shots are, for the time being at least,, going to do very little to slow him down. If that first shot is not immediately fatal, the lion may quickly become the most formidable terrestrial animal on earth. There is one more undisputed fact about an aroused lion: he is likely to be extremely brave. In the opinion of many experienced hunters a wounded lion is the most dangerous of the Big Five – the bravest of the brave.


Clearly, Henry Poolman had no qualms getting Pete Barrett to shoot his lion from their position. Pete Barrett calmly aimed his .458 rifle just as the lion started to move off. The big, smoke-colored cat slid behind an acacia thicket, reappeared on the other side, and paused momentarily to check on the hunters. As the lion paused, Barrett was ready for him. He fired, but just as that fat soft-nose 510-grain bullet left his rifle barrel, the big cat was already moving again. Barrett fired twice more as the lion bounded across the lava and over a low ridge. Pete Barrett thought he had missed the lion, but the two gun bearers – Gatia and the new man, David, both of whom had been standing behind the hunters on higher ground – insisted they had seen the lion collapse behind a lava ridge.


The hunters cautiously went behind the ridge, and fifteen yards behind it, they found the lion lying motionless, facing away from them. The old-timer’s credo, “It’s the dead ones that kill you!” is African hunting dogma. It seems that Henry Poolman was convinced the lion was dead. He saw no reason to put another hole in a magnificent lion skin. Henry reportedly said, “Congratulation!” At the sound of a human voice, the lion raised its head, spun around, and with flattened ears and bared teeth came like a bullet straight for Pete Barrett.


Despite his size Poolman moved with the agility of a cat. In what his colleagues know was a typical gesture, and later confirmed by Barrett and Garcia, Poolman sprang in front of Barrett to take the lion’s charge himself. At the same moment he fired two shots simultaneously from his .470 double rifle. Henry shots were so closely fired they sounded like one. The lion was in full charge by the time it reached Poolman, and while its believed the lion took both of Henry’s .470 bullets at point-blank range, they did not stop him. Instead the four hundred pounds cat knocked Poolman over like a sack of cotton, and his rifle flew from his grasp. Even the impact with Poolman’s muscular body hardly slowed the lion. It went over him intent on Barrett, and caught Pete, throwing him to the ground. While one arm was in the lion’s jaws, Barrett fought back with his free arm. Behind the lion, Henry was back on his feet, but he was unarmed. There was not a moment to loose, no time to search in the grass for his .470, reload, and shoot the lion again., seeing the lion savaging his client, Henry seized the enraged animal by the tail, and with all his great strength he tried to haul the big cat off Barrett and deflect its ferocious attack upon himself.


While this was all happening in the blink of an eye, Henry’s gun bearer Gatia rushed in with the 7mm rifle, and quickly fired three shots into the lion’s rib cage. The lion did not react immediately to the shots, for its adrenaline was up. With remarkable purpose it continued to savage Barrett on the ground, while Poolman tried to bodily tear the lion off his client.

In this frenzied melee of struggling men and a crazed lion, the series of events was not exactly known, but it seemed that David, the replacement gun bearer, now wildly excited and probably very frightened as well, was facing the lion while Henry was behind the huge animal, desperately trying to drag it off Barrett. David leveled the shotgun at what he thought was the lion’s head or body. Facing the lion from a few yards away, David hastily fired the twelve-bore shotgun. The deadly load of high-brass buckshot missed the lion and, at a range of only a few yards, the full charge plowed into Henry’s chest, killing him instantly.