Sunday Select - A Wounded Leopard
Sunday mornings hold for most the promise of a break in the routine in the form of a cherished sleep in, followed by a lazy proceeding toward the warm homecooked lunch.
When maintaining a pack of hounds however the chores of cleaning kennels Hi-Jacks this privelage, staff are off and the necessary tasks are left to yours truly.
I was busying myself with just such work when my fiance came striding toward me wrapped in a bath towel with dripping hair and that look on her face that is certain I did something wrong. Her outstretched hand revealed my cellphone and her sense of urgency gave me a flash of concern. On answering I found relief as the vioce on the other side introduced himself as Jan Du Plessis of Select Safaris near Ellisrus.
He described the exciting events that had unfolded during the preceeding 12 hours while I made some mental notes……..wounded leopard, 300 Wim mag, possible high shot, no evidence of broken limbs in spoor, blood for some distance then nothing, 2 attempts at tracking by sight unproductive, neighbours terriers unable to find the cat, shot approximately 11 hours ago, brush dense, terrain steep and rocky.
Well today would now become a routine breaker.
Most the crucial equipment is stored conveneintly permitting me to pack and be on the road within an hour of any urgent call outs, but being a Sunday our speedy departure was a little delayed in waiting for my handler to ready himself.
Four hours later after travelling through the magnificent pass that leads from Potgietersrus to Marken and further on to Ellisrus we finally met Jan at the pre-arranged place.
It was already past lunchtime and there was still some distance to travel to the camp in order to collect the rest of the hunting party.
By 15h00 we were inspecting the clear tracks left by the wounded cat which had made its way up a sideline road just before entering a grove of Lavender tree, his course heading due south.
Predicting the numerous possible scenarios that could unfold relative to the terrain, scent availability, temperature and path of travel we discussed the actions to be taken and then clarified everyones job.
After manouvering my vehicle close to the position where the spoor enterd the bush I unloaded my 2 main start hounds and directed them to the track. Rocks seem to hold scent very well, supposedly due to its porous and minutely pocketed surface, and fortunately in this case that was to prove true.My female locked in first indicated by an immediate stiffening of her body right up to the tip of the tail which started to sway, then shudder like a rev needle.My male, the younger of the 2, optimistally casted back and forth for some distance searching for a hotter scent before resigning himself to enganging in the ‘cold’ track that the female was busy with. The elusive scent was scarce on the North facing slope that had been exposed to the pounding sun for the entire day and the hounds struggled along grinding it out until topping out on the peak of the ridge. There was some more grass vegetation and also shade and the more ubandant scent resulted in a notable gear change by the hounds and now they really started to move the track in full cry. I radioed for the rest of the pack to be released from the vehicle bar the 3 hard bay hounds which were to be led in on leash. It was not long before I was seperated from the trailing hunting party, and after negotiating several obsacles the hounds led me to some suitable terrain permitting a pause in order to contact Jan while still monoriting the hounds progress. The Leopard had travelled to a secluded steep sided valley, just as Jan had predicted, and by shouting we agreed for him to wait on the Southern slope thereby opening a superb view of the North face.
About at the same time I heard the hounds make the jump and the cat was on the move.
The absense of any deep growling indicated the wound had definitely not paralysed the Leopards mobility as he was maintaining a lead on the hounds. The load crack of a shot , followed by another, filled the air in that steep gorge and the distant cheering heard high at my rear could have been mistaken for a triumphant end to the follow up but the grunting of the Leopard and the painful whelp of one of the hounds proved it was not finished yet.
Later it was relayed how the Leopard had chosen a large rock fig in which to seek refuge from the pursuers and how this had opened a clear shooting opportunity for the Client some 250 – 300 meters away on the opposite valley wall. The shot was regrettably low and prevented the cat from climbing the tree resulting in him venting his fury on the first brave hound to arrive.
I called the hounds to me and checked out the injury to the little female, fortunately only some slight subcutaneous damage in the muscle from where the Leopard had locked his jaw on the area where the neck meets the shoulder. She would be sore but fine.
At this time Jan was shouting directions informing me on the slow progress of the Leopard and I returned with a call for the 3 hard bay hounds to be brought in.
Julia my fiance, partnered by Servius, my handler and tracker had understandibly found difficulty moving through the tight terrain with 3 highly motivated hounds restrained on leash and it took them some nerve wrecking time to get within audible range of me. But moments after the call to release the 3 was obeyed I could see them making their way to my position.
I gave the three soldiers a couple of minutes to greet the rest of the hounds and myself then directed the whole pack back to where the cat had ambushed the brave female.
The air was saturated with the musky smell of Leopard and my oldest hound opened with a roar, and was off with the pack in tow.
We were moving down into the brushy valley floor but just short of reaching it came the unmistakable grunt from the angry cat and the full cry of the baying hounds. The distraction of the furious hounds allows One some time to quickly scan the terrain and plan a suitable path of approach. This I did and promptly came out above the Leopard in full view of his exposed flank. A careful check that there was no exposed hound on the opposite flank of the Leopard from which the bullet might exit preceeded the shot from my CZ 550 9,3 by 62mm and the cat leapt high in recoil from the projectile’s impact. He contested death with a typical repetition of loud grunts and snarls but finally succumbed and slipped between two large boulders and passed.
It was close on 17h00 when I checked the time again while the scene for trophy pictures was being prepared.
Recalling that day now as I type it up, I look out at the kennels and admire my hounds lazily bathing in the sun during this summer rest period and it pleases me that that days Client, sitting on the other side of the globe, could also be admiring her full mount trophy Leopard, closing her eyes to replay the faded scenes again for the umpteenth time.