Matabele Leopard

Fritz Rabe

AH veteran
May 7, 2012
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South Africa
Member of
CPHC-SA, South African Bowhunting Association (SABA) Instructor, NSRI
SA, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique, Ethipoia, Cameroon, CAR, Tanzania, Canada, USA, Spain
Matabele Leopard

The year was 2002. Zimbabwe was in the midst of unrest and turmoil. A country once described as the true Garden of Eden was becoming a waste-land. The world famous Ghonarezou National park and it's equally famous twin, Hwange National Park were being destroyed because nobody could care what happens to wildlife or the ecology when the people are starving.

It was with all of this happening that Yawan and I decided to go Leopard hunting close to West-Nicholson in South Matabele land. The area was perfect for cats. Broken hills with lots of gulleys, rocks and savannah bushveld provided good habitat for all that a Leopard needed.

We drove east for a few hours on a tiny dirt road that turned off the main Beit Bridge to Bulawayo highway to reach the Conservancy where we would spend the next 14 days. Eight years later I was hurt, angry, sad and frustrated when I drove the same road and saw nothing. No more beautiful bush. No more water. No more nothing??.

We arrived at our campsite and immediately started organizing ourselves to get some bait animals. I quickly shot 3 Impala after we scouted the area and decided on the best places to hang the bait. I would prefer to use Zebra or Hippo as the area was very hot and Impala carcasses do not last longer than 3-4 days before becoming totally useless as bait but I had to make do with what we could get.

The first morning we did the (bait-run) with a lot of enthusiasm expecting a hit on every bait but we got rewarded with 2 out of 3 baits being hit by Honey Badgers. The third bait had nothing. Not even flies. It was the one that I personally believed was the best to produce a cat. When a Badger hits the bait there is nothing you can do. You let him have it and go make a new one, hopefully where he can not get to it as no Leopard will ever go to the bait if a Badger is there. Badgers do not like Leopards eating their food so they attack them viciously.

Three more baits were hung during the day and we even got lucky and Yawan shot the most beautiful Klipspringer at 18y on one of the rocky hills where we made the last bait. It was a difficult shot at a steep angle but Yawan pulled it off with great success. We went to bed that night full of hope that the morning would bring good news.

A big tom Leopard came and inspected the bait that I was confident in. He did not feed but spent a lot of time there and left just before first light. His tracks were all over the place. I could not understand why he did not feed. Maybe it is time to convince him that two and a half day old Impala is just what he needed. The bait would not last much longer even though it was protected from the sun by a huge overhang on one of the rock faces. We went to the river that runs through the area and fished for Catfish. Soon we had a nice 6kg fish in the bag and I went to the bait to fasten it inside the Impala. Cats love fish and will not say no to this one, was what I believed. With the catfish fastened and the blind build we left to check on the other baits.

At 4pm that afternoon we were snugly seated in our chairs with the nice smell of rotten Impala letting us know that the wind was still good. If you can smell the bait, the wind is good. At last light we thought that we heard something off to the left and behind us. It must have been some animal that got a whiff of our scent. The next moment a steam engine blew its valve with an ear shattering (phiirrrrrrr) followed by the drumming of feet, bush breaking and approaching very fast. We flew out of our chairs, crashing into each other trying to decide if we should run, hide or face this (mad as hell) Black Rhino that did not fancy the smell or the origin of us in his domain. He came charging right up to the blind and for a moment I thought that we were done for. He stopped a few inches from us and spun around still not sure what he should do. He made an awful noise and farted a lot.

That was our signal that this Leopard would never be hunted. We vacated the area as fast as we could and had a few good laughs about Dangerous game PH,s and clients running around like spooked children in the face of an upset Rhino. We had no alternative than to go back the next morning and retrieve our scattered equipment. I was close to tracking that beast and putting a few bullets into him when I finally found my broken flask of tee a few yards from the scene. I am very attached to my tee and nothing must separate us.

One of our other baits produced a hit. It was on the banks of a small river and the Impala was hung high on a big, horizontal branch of a Nyala tree. The blind was only 20y from the bait and we decided to come to that bait in the afternoon after we rigged the rheostat light and got all the equipment in the right place and order. We arrived at the blind just after 5pm and our jaws dropped. Of the beautiful totally perfect, camouflaged blind, there was nothing left. Our equipment was strewn all over the area again! The chairs were broken and the light cable for the rheostat was gone. A breading herd of Elephants came and decided that our blind tasted better than the surrounding food that was available to them. Who said that Leopard hunting was easy? Just to get into the blind was proving a challenge.

We went back to camp as there was no way that we could repair everything in time before it got dark. The next morning found us hard at work repairing the blind, finding scattered equipment and making a new plan so that nothing will prevent us from hunting. We took a long nylon rope and tied it around the blind at a height of about 2,5m above ground and more or less 5m away from it. I believed that if an Elephant should walk into the rope that he will feel the resistance and inspect it with his trunk. He would then be reluctant to modify the blind to his liking. Good or bad, that was the plan with the tools we had on hand.

That afternoon we were back in the blind. I had everything double checked to make sure that we did not make any mistakes this time. We got settled into that familiar stage where you just sit and do not even blink your eyes to fast. By 7pm we heard the cat climb the tree. He made a lot of noise and some birds made a racket because Ingwe disturbed them from their roost. Yawan finally got up and drew the bow to the wall when the rheostat light showed us a nice male feeding.

Zippp-Thwak!! I shall never forget that sound in my life. When you hit a Leopard with either an arrow or a bullet, it growls loudly the same instant that it jumps/falls from the branch. Something was missing from this scene. Yes, there was the zippp followed by the thwack. Yes, the cat did jump out the tree but the part where the cat growl was missing. Now what? We gave him an hour and went to have a look. The 210gr Steel-force broadhead was buried about 4 inches into the branch the cat sat on. The three, 4 inch long, white feathers on the arrow were perfectly shaped and shined brightly in the light of the torch.

(You shot the damn tree!!) I said to Yawan. He was looking at the stars and the moon as if nothing in the world was wrong. (I did not. The bow did) was his reply. Now how can I argue with such a remark? Luckily it was not wounded. Back in camp we tried to find the reason why Yawan missed the cat. (It was a trophy tree) was Yawan,s expert reply. (I saved you from getting all scratched and bitten. It is easier to track a tree than a cat at night).

That is why I have grey hair and my eyes twitch and I regularly have to take blood pressure tablets. Not much bothers Yawan. He is as cool as ever and thought that it was a good joke.

The next morning we saw that the cat came back and had a good feed. We had no choice but to be back in the same blind that afternoon. I could clearly see the white patch where the arrow hit the tree the previous evening and where we had to chop out the broadhead. We were still moving and fidgeting before we settled in when we heard the loud (crunch) from the bait. I froze and looked up through the peep-hole. A cat was broadside on the branch with its head buried in the Impala. Yawan was already going through his pre-draw routine. (It is a big female) I whispered to Yawan. (It has spots) was his reply. The arrow flew from the 90lb Hoyt Viper and the growl came this time. It was not even dark yet. We smiled and sat down to allow the arrow to do its job. I really hoped that it was a good shot because Leopards do not like it if you do not shoot them well and tend to repay the compliment with interest.


An hour later we found her not even 30y from the bait. The arrow went in on the shoulder bone of the right leg an exited on the left flank. She was an old female with worn teeth and a patchy hide. She was beautiful. I think that she found the bait by accident and decided to take a look. There were no female tracks around the tree during the previous two days that we were there. Yawan was as happy as always and I grew a few more grey hairs. It was a great hunt with lots of excitement and good memories. Every time I drive the main road between Beit-Bridge and Vic-Falls, I look to the right when those broken hills come into sight and I smile a happy smile.

Fritz Rabe
Askari Adventures & Fritz Rabe Bow Hunting
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