I just returned from my third attempt at bagging a Leopard. This was a second try with Jonathan Collett at Touch Africa Safaris right next to the Bubeye Conservancy in southern Zimbabwe. On my first try with Jonathan 2 years ago we had nine cats on baits but they were all females. My first attempt 4 years ago at another location was cut short by an accident that resulted in an injury for which I had to rely on Global Rescue to get me home for surgery. As I left home on the 10th of April I was lamenting the fact that in 21 days of hunting Leopard, I had yet to sit in a blind. So I packed up my bride of 40 years and we struck out again. This hunt was to prove different. After settling in to the wonderful facilities at Touch Africa we began our quest. The first morning we shot an impala right off the bat to get the first bait hung. We followed that up with a Zebra just before lunch. Over lunch the Zebra was left at the skinning shed and prepared into 5 baits. We hung three of those baits that day. The morning of day 2 we found one of the baits had been hit. We had hung a trail cam at this bait and could see that it was an older female. Buoyed by our progress we hung the other two Zebra baits and shot an Impala and another Zebra. The Impala was hung and the Zebra left at the skinning shed over lunch once again. That afternoon another 3 baits were hung and at the end of day 2 we had 8 baits up. The weather was excellent and we had very easily settled into the now familiar baiting routine. The morning of day 3 we found our female had returned again. According to the camera she was in 4 times day and night. We refreshed the bait with some Impala to keep her coming and proceeded to hang the rest of Zebra #2. The morning of day 3 we found activity at 3 baits. Our female had returned 4 times again. According to the trail cam she came back in the previous day only 15 minutes after we left from checking the bait. She obviously was up in the brush on the side of the gomo watching us. Lead tracker Philemon said he felt like he was being watched the previous day. We had yet another bait hit by wild dogs. This was a first for Jonathan and he felt a cat would not revisit that bait now. We shot another 2 more Impala and hung those baits as well. We now had 12 baits up. We also had another bait with minor activity. We found the tracks of a female and a scuffed up track that looked like it might be a male. The bait had just been nibbled a little bit on the very bottom edge about 6 feet off the ground. Not enough to really call it a hit. That's ok, I was ready to sit. Jonathan wasn't though. We put up a trail camera and crossed our fingers. I was on edge all that night wondering what was going on at the bait. The next morning we struck out to check baits. The female had returned again. The others we checked were untouched. Jonathan waited until about 10 oå›£lock to check our most crucial bait to be sure we weren't early enough to spook anything that might be hanging around. Bingo!!! The trail cam told the story. A big male had been in at 7 pm, 1 am and 5 am. It was time to build a blind! Jonathon uses a portable blind that we set up behind some bushes 70 yards away across a dry sandy river bed. We covered the blind with brush and set up chairs and a rest for the rifle. We also set up a wireless microphone and transmitter near the bait. Jonathan would monitor it through head phones that night. We then bugged out for lunch and a useless attempt at a nap. We had a front moving in and it was getting hot and humid with a breeze kicking up. We loaded up, left my wife behind, and were back at the blind and settled in just after 4 oå›£lock. Boy was it hot in that blind. We both just about melted. We read until we lost our light and then sat. My ass was killing me in the chair. It felt like I was back on that damn Delta flight! At just after 7 Jonathan made some kind of a motion. I had just shuffled my butt a little and thought I was being chastised. Turns out later that he had heard some other animals reacting and thought the cat might be coming in. It didn't but we later found tracks to indicate that it had walked by. It was very quiet for another 2 hours. I couldn't get comfortable but dozed a little here and there. Just before 9 Jonathan poked me and had his finger to his lips. He had heard activity at the bait! We waited for a minute or two, though it seemed much longer, and he told me to get to my rifle. I got in position and he turned the red light on. I couldn't see anything at first. I had the lighted reticle in my Nightforce 2.5-10 on. Then suddenly there he was! He moved around a little and then sat down quartering slightly to us and appeared to look at us. His eyes looked like Christmas tree lights shining brightly in the red glare. That picture will be burned into my mind forever. Jonathan whispered that he wanted him to stand and reach up to feed on the bait. He didn't. I picked one rosette on his chest right by his arm pit and held steady. Jonathan asked if I was comfortable with my sight picture. I answered that I was and he told me to go for it. I touched her off and the cat disappeared to our left. He didn't drop in his tracks as I visualized. Sh**!!!! We sat quietly and listened but couldn't hear anything. Jonathan then explained he felt I had either missed or we had a fatal shot. He said that if wounded with a poorly placed shot all hell would have broken loose. Growling and jumping around and thrashing with his claws at anything and everything. Still, we didn't know what we faced. Had I really missed what had to be one of the easiest shots of my life from a dead rest? Jonathan began to prepare for the worst. He got his Benelli 12 gauge automatic out. He has this outfitted with an extra long magazine so he can hold 8 shots. Double ought. He affixed a tactical flash light to the underside. I put on my extra bright head lamp and replaced by spent shell. When the trackers arrived we crossed the river bed and climbed the bank to the bait. There was no blood where the cat was sitting. Sh** again!!! My shoulders felt like they slumped to the ground. Philimon started to range out in the direction the cat had gone. About 10 feet away we found 2 small drops of blood. At this time I didn't know if that was good or bad! Maybe missing would be better than wounding and placing everyone in danger. We had no choice but to wade in and follow. Jonathan left a cat for morning several years ago and lost it to Hyenas. He swore never again. Also, as I reflected later, I think I would prefer to go in in the dark with lights that will light up the cat's eyes like Las Vegas than wait till daylight when you couldn't see him until he was on you. So in we went. Jonathan took the right side about 10 feet in front of the trackers and to the side. I took the left just to the side of the 2nd tracker. We moved in one step at a time. Philemon was about on his knees with his flashlight looking for any sign he could find. We move forward. My mouth was very dry and every sense was on high alert but I was calm and didn't feel fear. I had visualized many times this situation with a cat coming in and sticking the barrel of my rifle right in his face and pulling the trigger. Foolish man! We move forward more. More. More. Fantasies are wonderful when they don't come true. Philemon turns around with big grin on his face. There he is and he is a beeeeeg one!!!!! It's over. The shot was a perfect heart shot. The cat was dead before he ever took off. He had gone about 50 yards and dropped mid stride. He was facing away the way he was going when he ran out of gas. He had not stopped to look back and plan an ambush. Jonathan was really upset because he hadn't seen the cat first as he swept the light and barrel back and forth. He was blocked by a tree. If the cat had come at that time he would not have been able to react before it got to Philemon. What had seemed like 20 or 30 minutes following that track turned out to really be 8 minutes. The trail cam told the story as it captured us heading in and coming out. Now it was all over but the pictures and the stories. This was a 35 year dream for me and it had taken 26 days of hunting to fulfill it. It was worth every minute of it! The pressure was off now. Cat down 5 days into an 18 day hunt. We spent the next 10 days leisurely cull (market) hunting. I shot several Zebra, Wildebeest and a Giraffe that didn't look as good as it should. Lots of fun stalking these animals in the thick vegetation we still had at this time of year. Everything went immediately to the skinning shed and walk in cooler and at the end of that time was loaded into a refrigerated truck and hauled off to Bulawayo to a meat processer. It will all go into jerkey, sausage and brauts etc. The cash flow serves to meet month end payroll. Just good management of the resource. Following that I finally got my bride to Vic Falls on the third attempt. The first try was cut short by injury and 2 years ago we planned to go but after the hunt when we got to the airport in Bulawayo we learned that was the day Air Zimbabwe ceased to fly!!! This ended up being a perfect hunt. I can't say enough about Jonathan and Touch Africa Safaris. The accomodations and food were fantastic. The entire Collett family is first class, and after 2 trips we seem to know them all now. Right down to Steven and Susie's lovely little girls. Trophies all go to Steven at Collett Wildlife Artistry and there are no worries. I also wish to thank Terry Wagner for his efforts as well. The first picture below is of 2 mature kudu we found fighting in Chobe National Park.