Larry Tucker’s unusual house cats

If a guy bass fishes long enough, he’ll wind up mounting one on his wall, some 10-pound lunker with a plastic worm dangling unceremoniously from its gaping mouth.

In the homes of hunters, though, you’ll find larger life forms stuffed and preserved for posterity: brilliant mallards, sprawling turkeys, noble 10-point deer, the occasional hulking bear.

At Larry Tucker’s house, the beast at your feet is the African lion he killed.

Hunters talk about a bond they share with their prey. You could say Tucker has a fairly memorable bond with the adult lion preserved in his Baton Rouge home. After all, it tried to kill him.

Tucker grew up hunting small stuff in the woods and swamps around Greenville, Miss. But as a grandfather who’s enjoyed a successful career operating and investing in a string of Sonic restaurants, Tucker and a few of his friends in the business saw their hunting options widen some.

After the West, Canada, and Central and South America, they reached for the brass ring of hunting: a one-month, government-supervised safari in Tanzania, Africa.

The entire trip cost about $100,000—including travel, gear, government permits ($6,500 for the lion alone), and the cost of the taxidermy specialists who preserved and mounted his trophies.

The Tanzanian government carefully controls its wild animal population, collecting fees from international hunters who must win their permits by lottery.

The group’s base camp was 1,700 miles away from the nearest anything, and their one-month lease gave them exclusive hunting rights on 1 million acres. They spent days scouting and preparing hunting sites, always under the close supervision of professional hunters and government officials.

As they finally crept toward the 8-year-old male lion panting under a tree in the gathering dusk, the group spooked a leopard that had been hidden in a tree overhead. The cat shrieked and raced into a thicket of tall grass; it took Tucker’s racing pulse 49 minutes to slow enough for him to take his shot at the lion lying 60 yards away.

“I knew I had one shot, and one shot only,” he says.

He fired, sending the lion into an astonishing vertical leap. “All four legs came off the ground by maybe two feet, and his back arched,” Tucker says.

Its roar was another matter.

“Incredibly unsettling,” Tucker deadpans. “This was not a roar you hear at the zoo where you say, ‘Wow, that’s pretty strong. That’s impressive.’ This was a roar that says, ‘I’m ready to kill somebody.’”

Spotting Tucker’s muzzle flash, the startled lion broke into a thundering gallop straight toward the flimsy bamboo blind behind which the hunters crouched.

With only 10 feet between them and the lion, they heard several ground-shaking thuds, then silence. The lion was dead: Tucker’s shot had gone clean through the heart.