ZAMBIA: Leopard - 3rd Time A Charm?

Discussion in 'Hunting Reports Africa' started by Hmaxwell, Jan 5, 2018.

  1. Hmaxwell

    Hmaxwell AH Senior Member

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    Well, made a late season dash to Zambia to try for leopard one more time for 2017. Earlier this year, I had two trips to Zimbabwe in order to try to catch up with Mr. Spots and was unsuccessful. Luckily my wife and children obliged and set off for Zambia to hunt with Alister Norton, Makasa Safaris, and give leopard one last chance. I had been wary of Zambia due to the price, but after two trips to Zimbabwe was game to try, especially with late season discounts. Let me tell you it was well worth it.

    Zambia is wild Africa and beautiful to say the least. Frequently from our camp we would watch elephants, hippos, and crocodiles along with many species of plainsgame. The weather was hot and humid.
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    My dad and I planned this trip for after corn and soybean harvest so new it would be late and a little bit wet. Indeed it was wet, the rainy season was just beginning and 3 times we were properly stuck. Arrived Lusaka on Monday night (11/27) and stayed over at a lodge. The next day we were picked up and on the road for an 8 hour trip, which was half paved and half pasture roads. We settled into camp around 2 in the afternoon and confirmed our rifles. I had only one thing on my mind and that was to get some meat in the tree. In Zambia prebaiting is not allowed and I knew the clock was ticking. Luckily we came about a Lichenstein’s hartebeest. He was above average and a very nice specimen, but I couldn’t help but think of meat in the tree the whole stalk on him. The next morning we hung four baits from him in trees that earlier in the summer had leopards feeding on baits. It rained and rained the next few nights and all that fed was a female.
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  2. Hmaxwell

    Hmaxwell AH Senior Member

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    My dad shot a nice Puko and we still wanted to get more baits up so I found a real nice impala to take. It was day 5 when we hung the impala at a new site. We halved the impala and wired the halves together to get one good bait in a new tree. It rained hard again that night and we got stuck checking baits, so we decided to hunt Cape Buffalo, which was #1 on my dad’s list. He sealed the deal on a great buffalo. We then checked our baits and of the 9 we had up only the female was feeding. About this time my mind started racing and wondering if I was going to get this done. We had been seeing a lot of young impalas and wart hogs running around and I asked the question if all this young prey was affecting the feeding habits of the leopards. The thought was that this fresh infusion of young animals was indeed impacting the feeding behavior.
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    The night of Sunday (12/3) it didn’t rain so we thought we could get to the impala bait. We arrived at the bait to find it had been fed upon early on 12/4. The track indicated a male leopard, due to the size, but Alister was unsure how big the cat was. Early on we discussed that with two unsuccessful trips to Zimbabwe earlier in the year that I didn’t need a monster, just a mature male that was a good representation of the area.
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    With the other baits lacking activity we fashioned a blind out of local materials and it sure is an art to watch the workers put the blind up. Around noon we finished the blind and headed back to camp for lunch and a short rest with the idea to head to the blind about 3:45 with an arrival by 4:30. I was pretty excited for the afternoon so rest was hard to come by.
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  3. Hmaxwell

    Hmaxwell AH Senior Member

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    Before we departed for the blind we checked my Winchester Model 70 .375 H&H – still spot on. The ride to the blind took forever, there were storm clouds building in the south and the wind was strong and swirling. One last stop to empty our bladders and we were in the blind. The temperature was hot and humid, about 90 degrees and 90% humidity. As we settled into the blind, Alister, Billy and I were dripping with sweat and every inch soaked. Alister lit a match to check the wind, it had shifted but we were still downwind of the bait.
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    It started to get quiet in the bush. After about 20 minutes Billy coughed and we heard a foot stomp behind us. Alister got up on his chair to look over the back of the blind and some elephants had moved into about 15 yards. He grabbed his rifle and “tinked” his flashlight on the barrel to get the elephant’s attention so they would move off and not get startled if they got too close. Another 10 minutes had passed and Alister heard some movement and confirmed a honey badger had come to the bait tree and was wandering around the tree. Another 10 minutes and we heard more noise and there was no mistaken what it was. The leopard charged into the area and immediately took on the honey badger. The fight lasted about 2 minutes and the sounds – grunts, screetches, screams, growls and noise was something I can’t describe. My heart was pounding, I thought my chest was going to explode. Adrenalin was rushing and I couldn’t decide what to do – scream like a little girl and run or climb a tree. I reached over and grabbed Alister’s leg and whispered “ WHAT IS GOING ON?!!!” He softly replied back, “The leopard is messing up the honey badger, real bad!” The whole fight played out 20 yards from our blind. I have never been so scared and excited at the same time. Things quieted down and as we were in the last 30 minutes of daylight, some men at a local fishing camp about 400 yards behind us started yelling, screaming and banging pots together. Seems the elephants that had moved off from our blind was now in their camp wreaking havoc. My mind instantly went to, “Come on the leopard is here, just what I need now for luck is the fisherman scaring the leopard off.” The yelling went on for about 5 minutes and everything was real quiet, except for the deafening noise of the insects in unison. Eventually we heard the leopard again grunting. We heard the clicking, scratching noise of something on the tree and the rustle of grass. I didn’t know at the time but this was the leopard on our bait tree and working the bait. Alister reached over and told me to get ready. I was like, “Get ready for what?” as I figured there was no way the leopard was still around after all the commotion. He said, “Get ready because you are about to shoot your leopard!” My vantage point was not very good with my rifle poking out of the blind and I wanted to stay perfectly still during everything as to not screw up the opportunity. Little did I know Alister and Billy had perfect vantage points for the evenings show. I moved up to my rifle and got ready. Billy coughed and the cat started moving off the bait. Alister needed to confirm it was a male before the shot. As the day’s light was leaving quickly he confirmed it was a male, I had the sight picture in my scope and at his whispered direction, “Shoot!”, I squeezed the trigger. The leopard bucked and bounded twice on the branch and then jumped off the tree. We could hear the leopard as he bounded off grunting and then everything went silent.

    Immediately Alister and Billy fired up smokes. I have never smoked in my life but asked for one and then declined. They asked me about the shot. I told them it was a good shot, but maybe a tickle high. They immediately switched languages for a discussion that was not understood by me. Alister said Billy saw a branch fall behind the leopard at my shot. So they wanted to know more about my shot. I said it was good, but maybe a little high. I know I hit him from his reaction at the shot. I had the best view as the dust in the grass skirting around the blind shook loose at the shot and their views were poor.

    Finally, the truck showed up and my dad asked what all the noise was about. They were about 1.5 miles away and could clearly hear the fight between the honey badger and the leopard. They also heard the men shouting at the elephants. Finally when they heard the shot, the trackers all started cheering.

    “Back to your shot,” Alister questioned, “how high was it?” I said maybe an inch or so high. Immediately they were relieved. Billy and Alister loaded their shotguns with double OO. Boston, our government game scout locked and chambered his AK-47 and Bonne the tracker was armed with a machete. I asked if they wanted me to come along. Alister stated that since it was my cat I was more than welcome to come along, but since it was now dark the more people on the track meant more targets for a charging cat and if I was to be bitten he would take no responsibility for any injuries. That was enough for me and stayed back by the truck.

    As the four left the truck and headed to the tree, many emotions were going through my mind. In my mind’s eye I was replaying the shot – it had looked good, but what about the branch? Did I deflect off an unseen branch? I prayed for everyone’s safety as they marched out in a diamond formation. The next minutes lasted forever, they moved very slowly and deliberately. After about 5 minutes of tracking they started flashing their flashlights and started hooting and hollering. Seems my shot was perfect and destroyed both lungs. The cat hit the ground and sprayed blood everywhere. He ended up running 30 yards into the thickest, thorny bushes, turned around and expired.
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    On the way back to camp the men on the back of the truck sang triumph songs the whole way. Back at camp they put out a chair and hoisted me up in the air as everyone was dancing and singing. Truly moments I hope to never forget.

    The next night we had leopard steaks for supper.

    It was the most difficult 45 yard shot of my life. The entire time in the blind I was coaching myself to keep my head down, control my breathing and squeeze the trigger. The raw emotion of the sight picture in my scope is permanently scorched into my memory. It would be so easy to get lost in the moment and lose control. I said before this trip that if successful, I will not need to hunt leopard again, but this 3 trip journey has been frustrating, exciting, depressing, exhilarating, challenging and rewarding – I think I must do again! And best of all, I got to share this time and create memories with my Dad!
     

  4. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN AH ENABLER SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR LIFETIME TITANIUM BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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    That fight would have been an epic to witness. The Leopard sure took ownership of that bait.
    Congrats on surviving the roller coaster and getting your Leopard.

    Your father obviously deserves congratulations as well.

    Thanks for sharing.
     
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  5. Nyati

    Nyati AH ENABLER AH Ambassador

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    Congrats. that was a great experience !
     
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  6. mikeinarkansas

    mikeinarkansas AH Veteran

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    Congratulations! What a great story....my pulse was up just reading it!
     
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  7. cls

    cls AH Elite

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    Congrats, excellent read.
     
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  8. MMAL

    MMAL GOLD SUPPORTER AH Enthusiast

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    i would have loved to see that fight. Congrats on the cat and well done on the report.
     
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  9. stug

    stug AH Fanatic

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    Well done! Persistence pays off. Can't be too many people have their leopard beat up a honey badger first.
     
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  10. PARA45

    PARA45 AH Fanatic

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    Wow, what a great story. Congrats on finally getting your cat! Well done!
     
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  11. Upton O. Good

    Upton O. Good AH Enthusiast

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    Great story, great cat! Well done!
     
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  12. neckdeep

    neckdeep AH Enthusiast

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    thank you for sharing, I have heard Alister is a great PH and a all around great guy. Which concession did you hunt on?

    thanks again
    Gale Johnson
     
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  13. Redruff

    Redruff AH Enthusiast

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    Congratulations on putting Mr. Spots in the salt! And to share the adventure with your father is the icing on the cake.

    Thank you for sharing it with us.

    R.
     
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  14. gillettehunter

    gillettehunter AH ENABLER AH Legend

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    Man oh man. 3rd times the charm. Gotta say you sure pushed the envelope going at the beginning of the rainy season. Congrats
    Bruce
     
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  15. Hmaxwell

    Hmaxwell AH Senior Member

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    Nyakowle. Yes, terrific guide and host.
     

  16. Philip Glass

    Philip Glass AH ENABLER LIFETIME BRONZE BENEFACTOR AH Legend

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    Took me three tries as well! Congratulations sir
    Philip
     
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  17. BRICKBURN

    BRICKBURN AH ENABLER SUPER MODERATOR CONTRIBUTOR LIFETIME TITANIUM BENEFACTOR AH Ambassador

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  18. Hmaxwell

    Hmaxwell AH Senior Member

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    I wish I would have been able to see it going on. Also wish this picture had audio! Thanks!
     

  19. CAustin

    CAustin AH ENABLER BRONZE SUPPORTER AH Ambassador

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    Congrats on taking Mr Spots sir. Your story was so well written that I fel as if I were there with you. Cheers for your excellent shot!
     
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  20. bassasdaindia

    bassasdaindia AH Elite

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    Congrats , nice write up
     
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